Rio Blanco County Highpoint

Saturday morning, Sprocket and I headed up the Mandall Lakes trail bound for Mandall Pass and the Rio Blanco County Highpoint. Initially, I had grand plans for a loop including Orno Peak and Point 12008 but I was just feeling tired and sluggish so I forced myself on to at least the county highpoint where I could reevaluate what else I wanted to do.

The Mandall Lakes trail climbs up in to a series of meadows with a whole lot of small ponds: Slide Mandall Lake, Black Mandall Lake, Mud Mandall Lake, and Twin Mandall Lakes. It was a lot of fun to alternate between these fairly large meadows and the shade of the trees. We had some great views back south towards Flat Top Mountain that we’d climbed the day before.

Flat Top Mountain from Mandall Lakes Trail

Mandall Lakes Trail

Looking towards Mandall Pass

For awhile, it seemed like the pass wasn’t getting any closer and then suddenly we were at the base of the final climb! I had lost the actual trail (located to the right, or east, of the small ridge-thing and shown on the map) so instead, Sprocket and I scrambled up to the left of that ridge-protrusion thing and found ourselves at the pass.

Approaching Mandall Pass

I was still feeling kinda “meh” so I headed straight for Rio Blanco CoHP (12,027′). Although it looked like fun and not difficult at all to head out to Orno Peak, I just really wasn’t feeling it. Sprocket and I took a break at the summit, soaking in the views.

Looking north-northeast:

Summit views

South-southwest:

Summit views

South-southeast towards Orno Peak:

Orno Peak

Summit selfie

Looking back at Rio Blanco County Highpoint:

Rio Blanco County Highpoint

Even those days when you’re out in the wilderness and you’re not feeling in top form, it’s pretty hard to complain:

Mandall Lakes Trail

Flat Top Mountain: Garfield County Highpoint

Another weekend, another camping trip for Sprocket and I! This time, we headed to the Flat Tops for a couple of county highpoints. I was excited to explore yet another new area of the state and Sprocket was just happy it was time to go. We stopped so I could get dinner in Glenwood Springs where I treated myself to another fantastic #selfdate at The Pullman.

#Selfdate

It was almost 11:30 by the time we pulled into the Stillwater Trailhead. I had entertained fantasies of getting up early and hiking to the summit for sunrise but when my alarm went off at 4:45 I just could not fathom getting up so I slept until about seven when I woke up to this:

Sprocket wakeup call

I looked up at Flat Top looming above us and then started up the trail.

Flat Top Mountain

Almost immediately, we came to Stillwater Reservoir and were treated with a pretty fantastic view of the upper Bear River valley. The famous Devil’s Causeway is further to the east above the valley.

Stillwater Reservoir

I was also able to get a look at the saddle between Flat Top Mountain and its unnamed neighbor from the causeway of the reservoir:

Flattops

Just past the reservoir, we passed into the Flat Tops Wilderness. I always try to get a photo of Sprocket and the wilderness sign and he always is way more interesting in continuing his hike than being photographed…

Flat Top Wilderness

We moved along at a pretty good clip since the trail was well graded and the elevation gain was pretty steady. It was a really pretty hike alternating between small meadows and the forest.

Approaching the saddle

Once I hit the saddle, I was able to look north towards the Rio Blanco County Highpoint (Saturday’s hiking goal). I am actually a little bit surprised that these photos don’t more distinctly show the haze in the air from distant wildfires (as in really distant: the biggest fires around are in Idaho, Washington, and Oregon right now).

Views north to Orno Peak and Rio Blanco County Highpoint

Leaving Saddle

The elevation gain continued steadily from the saddle. The trail appeared and disappeared but the walking along the ridgetop was pretty easy. We saw some cattle in the distance but they seemed to move on shortly after seeing us.

Flat Top Mountain with Flat Top West in the foreground

Looking down to Stillwater Reservoir

Finally, we reached the summit! It was a little deceiving as we approached: I could have sworn the highpoint was the more southerly “Edge” benchmark and I naturally wanted to drift that way instead of to the very north end of the almost truly flattopped mountain where the summit was.

Summit of Flat Top Mountain

Summit Selfie

It was a really pretty hike that I think both Sprocket and I really enjoyed. We covered nearly 9 miles with 2100′ of elevation gain in 3:40 having reached the summit in about 1:50. We had the whole mountain to ourselves and ran into a few groups as we were almost done with the trail.

Back at the car, I decided it was too late in the day to start the 12 mile round trip hike to Rio Blanco’s county high point so we headed the 13 miles back into Yampa to explore the town. Exploring town took us a whopping 10 minutes (it’s not very big) but they had a nice city park where we relaxed for awhile. When the adorable looking Antlers Bar & Cafe opened at 3, I headed down and had dinner. It is totally my favorite thing to visit a local bar and talk with interesting people and the Antlers didn’t disappoint! After dinner, Sprocket and I headed back down the Bear River valley to camp and get ready to tackle our next hike.

New Hampshire Adventures

A couple weeks ago, I headed back East for Stacia and Andrea’s wedding (you might remember seeing their engagement photos here on the blog and on Amanda’s blog). Susan, who wrote about dating and rock climbing while I was in Jordan, was kind enough to pick me up at the airport in Manchester, New Hampshire and drive me to Sunday River, Maine for the wedding. I tried to take her on her first county highpoint hike to Sandwich Mountain but we were foiled by high water in the creek. Instead, we had a lovely, leisurely hike chatting and getting to know each other in person!

Sandwich Range Wilderness

Creek

Susan

Creek

Signal Peak

Signal Peak, located just south of Quartzsite, Arizona, is the highest point in Yuma County. I’ve been meaning to climb it since last year when we first visited Quartzsite but finally convinced F and Mike to join me on Wednesday; Mike’s dog Katie and Sprocket joined us as well. Signal Peak (4,877′) stands high over the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge (fun fact: the word “Kofa” comes from “King-OF-Arizona” a mine that used to operate south of Signal Peak).

The drive up Kofa Queen Canyon Road is gorgeous. Traveling just north of the Signal Peak massif, it heads up through some very impressive spires and rock formations. The angle of the morning light wasn’t ideal for photography but I did grab some on the way out. Signal Peak is one big chunk of rock!

Signal Peak

After bouncing along Kofa Queen Road for quite awhile, we finally found the trailhead. F and I quickly confirmed that what we were seeing on the ground matched our online beta about the route and away we went. While preparing for the hike, I’d read several trip reports that said route finding was tricky. Using the photos available on the SummitPost.org site, I’d say that it was really quite easy to find your way.

Ten Ewe/Indian Canyon

Just barely on the trail, we spotted these gorgeous Desert Bighorn:

Desert Bighorn, Kofa Wildife Refuge

Part of the way up, Katie started limping a bit so Mike decided that he’d turn around and meet us back at the truck. F, Sprocket, and I continued heading up the mountain. The promised “scrambling” section of the hike barely rated a class 3. It’d been awhile since F had been on a hike like this with Sprocket and I and we all had a blast. I think we were both quite proud of Sprocket: he’s become quite the little mountain goat!

F and Sprocket

Along the way we spotted some more Desert Bighorns. They’re so amazing to watch run along the steep cactus covered hillsides!

Desert Bighorn

Cholla

Eventually, we asended into a bowl between the summit of Signal and Ten Ewe Peak:

Ten Ewe

At the summit, we took some time to relax, eat lunch, and try to name as many of the mountain ranges around us as we could. We’re slowly starting to learn the geography of western Arizona and far-eastern California!

Kofa 2 Benchmark/Signal Peak

View from Signal Peak

Signal Peak view to the southwest

Signal Peak was one of the best hikes I’ve been on in awhile. The drive in is long but breathtaking. The hike itself is challenging but not too horrible (it did not feel like 2,000′ of gain in less than 2 miles). And the view from the top is astounding.

 

Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Backpacking

It’s been a long time since I shouldered my pack and headed out for a few nights. It’s been even longer since I hit the trail with Sprocket. F was headed down towards Phoenix for a motorcycle ride so Sprocket and I seized our chance and headed out north of Clarkdale, Arizona.

Sycamore Canyon

Beth on trail

We descended down from the parking lot to the bottom of the valley floor. Sprocket took a nice swim in the creek so he’s be a little cleaner for tent sharing and then we headed north into the canyon. There is no camping allowed for the first four miles of the trail but we dallied here and there so Sprocket could enjoy the rare Arizona water.

Parsons Spring Trail

Sycamore Canyon

Sycamore Canyon

Sycamore Canyon

Most of our hike was pretty lonely but we did run into one couple so I asked them to snap a picture of Sprocket and I.

Beth & Sprocket

Sycamore Canyon

Sycamore Canyon

Sprocket

At the end of the Parsons Trail, the stream disappeared below ground and we made our way north along the cobbles between boulders the size of our van. I must admit that I wasn’t quite prepared for Arizona backpacking—in the Northwest and Montana water is pretty much available anywhere you need it, Arizona is not like that.

Sycamore Canyon

Sycamore Canyon

Sycamore Canyon

Sycamore Canyon

By about 3pm, I could tell that Sprocket was about done and honestly, my feet were pretty much done with rock hopping so we called it quits for the day. I set up the tent and then we basked in the sunlight before it dipped below the canyon wall. Then we moved inside and cuddled up, Sprocket even found a way to put his head on my pillow and stick his nose in my sleeping bag.

Sycamore Canyon

In the morning, we headed further up the canyon. We found some water and kept trekking north. When the canyon opened up, we scrambled up the western bank to find ourselves on the Sycamore Basin trail. Once we hit the trail, we turned back to the south.

Sycamore Canyon

Sycamore Canyon

Sprocket on Sycamore Basin Trail

Sycamore Basin

I’m really glad that I made the loop instead of an out and back in the canyon because Sycamore Basin was beautiful! I always find myself drawn to the inner canyon floor but sometimes a mid-level of the canyon can be astoundingly beautiful.

Sprocket

Sycamore Canyon

Sycamore Basin

View north

Sycamore Canyon

Hiking in Sycamore Basin

As we climbed above Sycamore Basin, I got a text message from F saying that he was sick and headed back to the RV. I took a quick glance at the map and decided that we’d make it home that night instead of staying out another night. Sprocket, trooper that he was, followed me as I picked up the pace over Packard Mesa. The trail wasn’t always really apparent but Sprocket was always there right behind me.

Sprocket

As we descended back to the canyon floor, Sprocket jumped out in front of me despite having done a really long day for him (we wound up doing about 15 1/2 miles). I had planned for a fairly leisurely three day trip that turned into two pretty tough days. As always though, I wouldn’t trade my time exploring a new place for anything!

View up Sycamore Canyon

Sunday Sermon

“Man must be able to escape civilization if he is to survive.  Some of his greatest needs are for refuges and retreats where he can recapture for a day or a week the primitive conditions of life.”

William O. Douglas

 

 

 

 

 

 

-William O. Douglas

Sunday Sermon

“There is nothing quite so pleasing to the senses…so soothing to the troubled mind…so refreshing to the soul…as a joyous journey back to those special places where the works of man are not present. Come on along and breathe the clean fresh air of wilderness.”

C.W. McCall

 

 

 

 

 

 

— Bill Fries (C.W. McCall)

Respect For Public Lands: Garbage

I wrote this a few months ago (not so long after another Public Lands discussion)—I’ve tried to let my anger simmer down a bit but it still just astounds me that beer cans and water bottles (and fireworks debris and discarded clothing) don’t distract from some people’s outdoor experience… Then last week I was riding my bike to work and watched an individual toss their Kleenex on the side of the bike trail. I was furious.

Kim Kircher put up a post today called, “Don’t Be A Pig” and I figured now was as good a time as any to put up my post.

We drove by the first can abandoned on the gravel road and then the second. After spotting a few more cans, Forrest started slowing down so I could reach down, grab them and toss the garbage into the basket of the quad. At each passing can…Budweiser…Bud Lite…Coors…Mountain Dew…I got more upset.

Surrounding me were modest mountain peaks presiding over beautiful basins. Creeks full of clear, cold snowmelt rushed down and through it all winds a terrific tangle of Forest Service roads and old mining and timber roads. Harmlessly they sit there and allow for enormous amounts of recreation. A jarring exception to this beauty is the collection of garbage left behind by those who came to recreate.

We turned on to a less well-traveled trail that headed up into a small valley. Marking the entrance of the 4-wheeler trail to the main road was a Solo cup and a disintegrating wad of toilet paper. Just up the trail, more beer cans, water bottles, a blanket, and granola bar wrappers. And lots more toilet paper (it was likely buried in the snow by snowmobilers…out of sight out of mind).

So gross. Whyyy??? (source)

On to our quad when the wrappers, bottles, and cans and as we drove away from the beautiful but toilet-paper-stained-place I seethed. These are our lands. Americans have more space to explore and enjoy the outdoors than any individual could possibly expect to fully know in their lifetime and rather than take the simplest of steps to preserve our abilities to enjoy the outdoors, the opportunities are taken so horribly for granted.

I’m an advocate for wilderness and motorized access. Team 3Up uses both areas for recreation. Those who abuse the land are usually the ones to pipe up most shrilly when gates are put up and motorized access is curtailed. (I almost never see garbage more than a half mile up a foot traffic only trail and really never see it beyond a mile…) Motorized access depends on treating the land well.

The rules are simple, unobtrusive and easy to follow: Pack out trash. Bury human waste (and do so well away from trails). Stick to established trails (of which there are plenty). Pick up the wrapper that may have strayed from its owner.

Is that really so very difficult?

America’s Public Lands: Under Attack

Conservation means development as much as it does protection. I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us. -Teddy Roosevelt

America has a lot of public land—in fact, more than 30% of our land area is public. In August of 2010, I heard Tim Egan speak in Wallace. He spoke about Teddy Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, the Fire of 1910, and his book The Big Burn. The thing I remember most, and that I scribbled in my notes from the evening, was his comments on the importance of America’s public lands, “‘We didn’t have a home on Hayden Lake like the swells,’ Mother said, ‘We’re richer than the bastards! We have the national forests!'” In an op-ed piece for the New York Times, he elaborated: “Not long after I was old enough to cast my first vote, I realized that with American citizenship came a birthright to my summer home.”

The land area of the United States is about 2.26 billion acres. Of that, the Federal Government owns 605 million acres that are administered by the public lands agencies: the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, the National Parks Service, and the National Wildlife Refuge system. In addition, state governments own 197.5 million acres. The lands are administered in a variety of ways, they include recreation areas, forest land sold for timber purposes, and the lands in the National Wilderness Preservation System (cited data). Whether it is Tim Egan acknowledging the wealth the lands grant to all Americans (and millions of foreign visitors) or Teddy Roosevelt designating 230 million acres of public lands America’s public lands have been repeated acknowledged as an asset to our country.

Public Lands: BLM

Continue reading “America’s Public Lands: Under Attack”

The Importance of Blue Highways

F and I (and Sprocket) have done our share of road tripping. We’ve had boring days on the road, stressful ones, action packed ones, and the elusive blissful travel days. I’m starting to come to the conclusion that the blissful travel days really aren’t all that elusive, it’s the ability to put all the necessary ingredients together that’s a bit tricky but not elusive.

I alluded to this yesterday but this weekend we stuck to Forest Service Roads, county routes, and minor state highways a lot of the time and it was awesome. It’s just a wayyy better way to actually experience a place rather than passing through it. Have a good travel partner, only a general destination, avoid interstates (and major highways), explore, don’t be afraid to talk to locals, and take a walk or hike…you’ll have an awesome trip

Anyway, we left Thursday after work heading for Pendleton, Oregon. We took the interstate and Highway 395 because, well, sometimes you just need to get out of town, fast. We arrived in Pendleton ready to have dinner and sample some beer at The Prodigal Son Brewery. Unfortunately, they were over at the Oregon Brewers Festival and were closed. Instead we went to The Great Pacific and ordered a pizza and pints of Beer Valley Brewing Co. (Ontario, OR) Leafer Madness Imperial Pale Ale and Terminal Gravity (Enterprise, OR) IPAWe enjoyed them at an outdoor table with Sprocket curled up on our feet; what a perfect start to the weekend. (By the way, the pizza and the beers are all recommended.)

Cruisin’ in the Blues

Continue reading “The Importance of Blue Highways”