WCWS Road Trip: Capulin Volcano National Monument

After dropping Stacia and Andrea off at the airport I headed west immediately; it was time to get back to the mountains! I’d hoped to be able to hike New Mexico’s Sierra Grande, Union County high point but as I entered New Mexico the summer afternoon thunderstorm clouds began to gather.

Understanding that hiking it just wasn’t a good idea, I continued on. The storms had brought in some afternoon cooling so I decided to check out Capulin Volcanic National Monument along the way.

Since the visitors center was closed for renovation, I quickly perused the temporary gift shop and headed up the mountain. While the ranger at the top said that I could hike the rim trail, she did point out the gathering clouds “about 11 miles away” and asked that if it got much closer that I come down.

The rim trail was only a mile long so I knew it wouldn’t take me long to hike. Because I hadn’t had a chance to check out the visitors center, I was really excited to see the interpretive signs along the way. Capulin Volcano is only 60,000 years old!

It was a really different set of views than I’ve had in the past. I could see Black Mesa, Oklahoma’s state highpoint, off in the distance:

My views of Sierra Grande were excellent but the clouds continuing to gather around its summit confirmed to me that I’d made a good choice in taking a pass.

Back at the car, I grabbed Sprocket and walked him around the parking lot while inhaling a sandwich. My pup is one patient dude.

On The Page: The Western San Juan Mountains

Not having internet at home has been excellent for diving into some deeper reading material. I recently dived into The Western San Juan Mountains: Their Geology, Ecology, and Human History. Edited by a professor of geology at Colorado’s Fort Lewis College, The Western San Juan Mountains has three sections exploring each of the topics mentioned in its subitites. Each section is divided into chapters written by experts in their fields (most authors hold doctorates).

While the book isn’t necessarily written for an academic audience, it is detailed and uses a significant amount of technical language (particularly noticeable in the geological section). The chapters all conclude with a reference section. These reference sections pose an immense threat to my book buying ban but that’s a personal issue of mine. I found it more than readable but for some readers it might be a sort of dense slog.

The geological section was probably the most condensed broad sweeping geological overview of the San Juans (or at least their western portion) that I’ve read so far. I definitely want to do more to make this all fit into an organized schema in my mind but knowing more about the deep history of my home mountains makes me really happy.

The biological section was detailed (and contains one chapter that will probably make an appearance as a reading in my biology class next fall) and as someone inimately aquainted—ahem, scratched to bits—with the “mid” elevation horrors of Gambel oak (more commonly known as “scrub oak”), I found it interesting if not particularly groundbreaking. The human history section was more adequately covered by Exploring The San Juan Triangle, recently reviewed on this blog.

The Western San Juan Mountains, published by University Press of Colorado, is probably only of interest to big old nerds like me. Since this is my blog, I’m assuming that at least some of you fall in my camp and, in that case, you might really enjoy this book before a visit to the region. Each of the sections could be read separately which means that it can be fit into a busy life before a trip. Theoretically, each chapter stands alone but I think they made a lot more sense when grouped with the other chapters in their section.

Running Natural Bridges National Monument

Yes, I know, running is not the first thing you think of when you think of Natural Bridges. When I passed by the entrance sign on my way home after exploring the Henry Mountains a bit and checking out Bluebell Knoll I figured with Sprocket nursing his broken nail it was as good a time as any to check it out. I didn’t want to leave him in the car alone too long so instead of doing what I really wanted to, hike under all the bridges through the canyon, I ran down from the road below each bridge and then back up.

Well, ran up is a gross exaggeration but I did mostly run down! The first bridge, Sipapu, was my favorite hike but I think Katchina was the coolest looking bridge. I even tossed in the short run to the Horse Collar Ruin overlook.

Sprocket stayed nice and cool thanks to a stiff breeze on the rim above the canyon that was blowing through the open Jeep windows. I, on the other hand, spent the entire afternoon a sweaty mess: sports bra running forever.

Not flashing gang signs, just proud of finishing bridge 2 of 3..

The hikes are all pretty short (the longest is 3/4 mile, I think) so it didn’t amount to much but it was a fun challenge. I briefly felt guilty for “rushing through” the highlights of the park but it sure beats just looking from the overlooks and driving on!

All three complete!

Winter Desert Weekend: Part 3: Honaker Trail

We woke up in our gorgeous campsite, made some coffee and breakfast in the morning chill while enjoying the view. The pups happily jumped in the car and we headed off to find the Honaker Trailhead. I’d hastily discovered the existence of this trail while en route from Paige so I hadn’t had too much time to thoroughly research it but hearing that we could hike from the canyon rim near Goosenecks State Park down to the San Juan River itself was enough for me.

Our directions to the trailhead were pretty vague and we drove past it the first time but eventually we found the 2WD parking area and walked down to the large pile of rocks marking where to descend into the canyon.

The Honaker Trail was originally built in 1893 as a supply route for gold miners exploring in the area. Along the way, numbers can be seen painted on the rock walls. These were added in the early 1950s for a geology symposium.

The trail is remarkably easy to hike. Although it descends about 1,200′, it takes about 2 ½ miles to reach the shores of the San Juan which makes for a pretty mellow (if exposed) hike. The whole way down I couldn’t quite believe that we were going to be able to make it all the way down to the river!

Yes, that is the trail switchbacking below my vantage point:

Finally, we found ourselves at the river. The pups immediately indulged their retriever tendencies and went for a swim in the silt-laden water.

Thanks to the long rest grades, we made great time on the way out of the canyon enjoying the views the whole way.

Geology nerd that I am, I wish I would have had this illustration of the stratigraphy of the canyon on the hike!

Photo: Daily Kos

After our hike, we quickly packed up camp and hit the road. While distracted from my navigational duties by my DJ duties, I accidentally instructed Kelly to turn left onto Highway 261 (I was thinking we were at the UT 261 and US 191 junction!). I was alerted to my mistake when I heard “We’re driving up that?

Turns out that I’d directed us at the Moki Dugway instead of on our intended route. We just rolled with it and enjoyed our tour of Cedar Mesa on our way to Blanding and then home.

I had such a great weekend in the desert. Thanks to all my friends who helped make it awesome.

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park

Sunday morning, F and I were figuring out our plans for the next week and gave Wilderness Dave a call to see what he was up to. He and Wilderness Wife were planning an outing up to the Payson area to check out some potential campsites and invited us to come along.

After passing through Payson, we continued north on Arizona 87. We realized that most of us hadn’t been to Tonto Bridge State Park and decided it was probably worth checking out. I blanched a little at the $5 a person entry fee but the consensus was that we really should check it out. It’s been awhile since I’ve been in a busy national or state park and was a little taken aback by how busy the parking lot and trail were.

After wending our way around the people on the Gowan Trail, we got our first glimpse of the natural bridge. It was pretty darn cool. The path continues under the bridge on a delightfully slippery path.

Back in the car, we pressed on to Pine to find lunch. At THAT Brewery we ordered a sampler and some food. It was nice to sit around talking beer and hiking (and plotting a Picaho Del Diablo trip). After lunch, we continued up onto the Mogollon Rim to take another short hike through the pines.

Post hike, we drove down to Camp Verde and circled back to Phoenix via I-17. Thanks so much to Dave and his wife for welcoming us on their Sunday drive, letting us shower and stay the night at their place!

Mud Pots

Last year when we were at the Slabs we spent most of our time exploring the Slabs themselves rather than checking out the surrounding area. I’ve heard a couple of times about mud pots located out near the Salton Sea. This year, we headed out to see what there was to see.

It was totally fascinating! We both kept calling it Yellowstone without fences. Most of the features appeared to be “cold” and just emitting sulfur gas although we did find one that was warm.

If you’re visiting the Slabs, it’s definitely worth the drive to check it out!

Big Island: Lava, Part 2

The fresh lava flows were the star of our hike but there were plenty of cool older lava formations to see along the way.

Lava formations
Artistic lava?
Rippled lava flow.
Forrest “catching” the lava.
Palm tree lava cast
There was even a sea arch!

Big Island: Hawaii Volcanos National Park

At Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, we stopped off at the visitors center to get a feel for what is in the park. Unfortunately due to increased volcanic activity most of the Crater Rim Drive has been closed since 2008 along with the trails in the Halemaʻumaʻu crater. We watched the videos in the theater and began to get excited about seeing lava up close and personal (more on this coming soon).

Enjoying the steam vents

Leaving the Visitors Center we headed for Jaggar Museum. Along the way, we stopped off to see the steam vents and the overlook in the crater. At the museum, the plume from Kilauea was slightly visible through the mist. Since the weather was rather damp, we opted to check out Chain of Craters Road before picking a hike for the day. Along the way, we stopped to walk through the lava tube and drive Hilina Pali Road.

Looking into the Halemaʻumaʻu Crater
View at the end of Hilina Pali Road

At the end of Chain of Craters Road, we walked out to where the lava had flowed across the road in 2003. It was really impressive to see the volume of new rock that so easily disrupted our piddly road system. From the sea plain, it was also really impressive to look inland and see the older lava flows coming off the hills.

End of Chain of Craters Road
Forrest is pretty sure it doesn't have to be closed....
Forrest is pretty sure it doesn’t have to be closed….
Anyone know how the rock gets cool rainbows like this?
Anyone know how the rock gets cool rainbows like this?
End of the road
End of the road
Lava flows over Holei Pali
Lava flows over Holei Pali

After our walk on the lava, we headed mauka (“towards the mountains”) to find ourselves a delicious plate lunch for dinner.

Wedding, Part 1: Departure

I had planned on working Monday and then a half day on Tuesday before the wedding but things sort of fell apart when, on Monday morning, the office manager asked me if I was working a half day and then hitting the road. Right there my motivation to be in the office drained away. Since I’d sort of been given permission (I mean, she had suggested it, right?) I called F and told him I’d be home by 3 and we could go.

So happy we have a van for all this stuff

When I got home, he had the van all ready to go. We put the hitch on the front of the jeep, hooked it up, put the bike on the back of the jeep, and hit the road.

Adventure train

We made a stop in Missoula to hit up Costco, Walmart, and Albertsons for the fresh ingredients and food for the week. The Costco Polish dogs for dinner hit the spot! It felt really good to get back on I-90 and feel like we were on our way “for real.” Monday night we made it to the truck stop in Butte, filled up both the van and the jeep, and crawled into our cozy Sprinter bed.

Sunrise over the Continental Divide

Tuesday morning we were up way before the sun and it started to crest the mountains just as we were passing (back) into Idaho. We made good time down to Salt Lake, fueled up and grabbed lunch at In-N-Out. The haze we’d driven in through most of Montana and Idaho seemed to still be surrounding us but we hoped that in the next few hundred miles it would dissipate. As we descended into Price we were disappointed to note that the haze was still following us. Reaching I-70 I was elated to be almost there but really sad to note that we could barely see the La Sals.

Fall color along Highway 6
Coal seam on Highway 6 descending into Price, UT
Highway 191 heading towards Moab

Once we arrived in Moab though, the smoke didn’t matter at all—it felt so good to finally be there! We drove to Danette’s house where we washed the van and the jeep and just finished as she and Robin pulled into the driveway. We got to catch up and discuss our plans for the wedding and relax with a beer or two before heading to bed.

Yellowstone, Day 2

Our second day in Yellowstone started in the parking lot of Canyon Village. We ate a quick breakfast in the cafeteria and headed for Mt. Washburn. It was a short and sweet 3.1 mile climb to the summit. It was one of those hikes with a perfect grade–we didn’t feel like we were working but still managed to gain 1,400 feet!

Summit of Mt. Washburn (10,241 ft.)

After the hike we headed up the Lamar River Valley towards the Northeast entrance of the park. That was by far the most beautiful part of the park in my opinion–there were just some gorgeous mountain cliffs and the valley got nice and small as we approached the park entrance.

Continue reading “Yellowstone, Day 2”