Saturday, September 10, 2011

Family Summer Trip Day 9 - Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

It was a pretty hefty drive from West Yellowstone to the Canyon Area.  It was cold and rainy and it seemed like a good day to be lazy, but it was also our last full day in Yellowstone.  We were going to drive the next day to Salt Lake City, UT.  So, we packed everyone up and set out.  We stopped off near Yellowstone Lake and Grant Village.  A lot of the areas near there were closed off due to the Elk Calving season.  We headed up to the Canyon Area.  By the time we got there, it was lunch time, so we grabbed a quick lunch and then headed down to the Lower Falls and Lookout Point.  This is another special place in Yellowstone and the pictures can never do it justice.  The falls are gigantic, 300+ feet high and about 70 feet wide.  There's a path that will take you down to the edge of the falls, but we didn't make it down there.  We stayed along the edge of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

Everyone was a bit cold and tired, so we headed back to the cabin after this.

But first, one last stop to play in the snow...

Family Summer Trip Day 8 - Old Faithful Geyser Area

On Day 8, we headed to the Geyser Basin in Yellowstone to see Old Faithful and other hydrothermal activity offered in the park.  The day started off with a bang when we came upon a traffic jam near the Old Faithful entrance.  We pulled over to see what everyone was gawking at and spotted the large Grizzly about 100 yards from the road.  This would be the first of two bears we would see today.  The other bear ran right through the Old Faithful boardwalk area.  In both cases, the bears seemed extremely scared of all the people around.

Walking around the Old Faithful area is an awe inspiring sight.  There are so many different types of hydrothermal items such as geysers, hot springs and fumaroles.  There's the distinct smell of sulfur in the air as well.  If you go and you take kids, make sure they stay on the boardwalk.  Getting off the path is illegal and deadly.  It was amazing though to see the animals such as the buffalo and grizzly just walking around, seemingly unfazed that they could fall through the crusty earth at any time and be boiled alive.

We spent probably 2 hours just walking around the Old Faithful area waiting for the timed eruption.  While not the most reliable eruption, they pretty much have it down to a 15 minute window when it will erupt again.  So, we found our viewing spot, sat down and waited.  Sure enough within 5 minutes of their guesstimated time, Old Faithful started to bubble, gurgle and spew.  If you've never seen it, it's well worth it. This was high on Linda's to-see list and it was a great show.

After that, we headed over to one of the many restaurants around the Old Faithful Lodge and grabbed some lunch.  Shortly after lunch, we headed over to the Black Sand Basin area and then hike back over to the North end of the Old Faithful area and then over to Biscuit Basin.  It's an easy hike, but there's usually not a whole lot of people out there, which is nice.  About half a mile in, we ran into a small herd of buffalo hanging out by one of the hot springs.  We snapped a quick family pic and moved on by them.

At the far North End of the Old Faithful area, most people turn around, but you can take a small trail North towards Biscuit Basin.  We did so, despite the signs of "high bear activity".

It wasn't until we got to the Biscuit Basin that we found this sign.  Which prompted a visit by the Park Ranger, asking us if we had just come through there and if we had seen any bears. 

The boys got a good picture with them and the Park Ranger.

I walked about 1.5 miles back to the Black Sand Basin area and got the truck and came back to pick everyone up.  It was a fun filled day.  On the way home, I stopped off to try my hand at fly fishing, but had no luck.  The water was gushing with snow melt.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Family Summer Trip Day 7 - Tetons Taggart Lake Trail

Today was a much clearer day.  The sky was still cloudy, but the clouds were turning into the higher, white, puffy clouds and there was much hope that we would finally get to see the Grand Teton.  We had to check out of the Lodge today so we got a little bit of a late start, but we were on no timetable as we weren't supposed to be in West Yellowstone, MT until around 5:30, so we had plenty of time.  The plan for today was to hike up to Taggart Lake for lunch, then hike back and then drive up to Yellowstone.

We arrived at the Taggart Lake Trailhead and make the 4 mile loop to Taggart Lake.  There was a lot of people across from the parking lot looking at something below the road near the river.  We went over to see what it was and saw that there was a moose and her calf in the brush.  Moose are one of my favorite animals to see and watch, but definitely from a distance.

After the moose disappeared into the wilderness, we got packed up and headed up the trail.  This is a fairly easy trail, with only a moderate elevation gain of 300 or 400 vertical feet in 2 miles to Taggart Lake.  There's an option when there's not a lot of snow to go up to Bradley Lake which I believe adds a degree of difficulty and some more distance, however, we were told not to try it due to snow and ice.  

We still had some other difficulties to deal with.  There's one section through some new growth pine trees where the snow had melted and the trail was covered in about 6 inches of water.  The new growth was extremely dense making it near impossible to weave through.  So, we ended up sort of sidestepping and using the trees bordering the trail to allow us to swing out over the trail, but keep our feet on the high side as demonstrated by my agile daughter below.

Emerging from this stretch, we came upon a clearing with some small patches of rocks.  We found a black marmot, something I've never seen before.  He appeared to show no fear of us and wanted to show off his nice, shiny black coat.

Shortly after this, we found ourselves at Taggart Lake.  This was my first time here and it actually felt a bit like being in the backcountry.  We were directly below the Grand Teton and it was extremely quiet.  We only saw a couple of other groups on our hike.  .

We found a nice set of flat rocks and set our lunch out.  You can see the Grand Teton between my son and my wife.  What a spectacular view for a lunch.

After lunch, I set up the tripod in a tree and snapped a good picture of the family.  Unfortunately, the Grand got hidden by the tree.  I only wish I'd brought the fly rod.

The rest of the trail was fairly uneventful and not much to see.  There is a nice meadow and you get some good views of the city from above, but overall, I thought the North side of the loop was much nicer.  We did however see some sort of snake along the trail.  I wasn't aware there were snakes in the Tetons.  I'm sure it was a garter snake or something like that.

We were hoping to see some bears, but were not fortunate enough to see any.  But, there's always Yellowstone, which is next up on the trip.

Driving out of the Tetons, I took one last snapshot of probably my favorite mountain range.  They are truly special.

Yellowstone National Park is just a short 30-45 minute drive up the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Parkway.  There were huge snow banks from the snow plow on the side of the road the entire way.  When we got inside the park, Lewis Lake was frozen over.

Lewis Lake Frozen Over
We drove through the park from the South entrance to the West entrance to West Yellowstone to check into the house we rented for the next three nights.

The house we rented was called the Bear Tracks Inn.  Like I mentioned earlier, I found this on Vacation Rentals by Owner, which is a great site for finding houses pretty much anywhere in the world. The rate for the house was very reasonable and it was very clean.  It was a 3 bedroom house (perfect for the family of 6) and had a big kitchen which was great for making breakfast and dinner saving us a few dollars.  Dining in West Yellowstone is not cheap and the food is not that good.

The property managers run the Golden West Motel in West Yellowstone.  They are extremely nice folks and if you ever need a place to stay, check out their motel.  The owner of the home lives across the street and works in town at the local hardware store.  She came over and greeted us and told us how to get in touch with her if we needed.

The house is conveniently located in West Yellowstone and is less than 5 minutes to the West entrance of the park.  The one downside to the house was that it was located on one of the busiest streets in West Yellowstone, but I think I have more traffic sometimes on my street at home so it wasn't bad and it was very quiet at night.  It's within walking distance of a grocery store and several restaurants, but I didn't find any restaurant in town that I'd recommend.

We got settled in and made our plans for tomorrow, head to Old Faithful and the Geyser Basin.

Family Summer Trip Day 5 and 6 -Teton Village and Jenny Lake

After a long day of driving from Estes Park, we arrived late in the evening to the Signal Mountain Lodge in Moran, WY near Jackson, in the heart of the Grand Teton National Park.  We checked into our cabin and made some dinner.  The weather in the Tetons was cold and drizzly and the outlook was pretty much the same for the next few days.

Our plan was to stay two nights in the Signal Mountain Lodge and then camp two nights between the Tetons and Yellowstone in Lizard Creek Campground.  However, upon checking into the Lodge, we were told that the Lizard Creek Campground was closed for another week due to heavy snow pack.  This set off a big scramble to find a place to stay, near Yellowstone, over a weekend, in Summer, that would sleep 6 semi-comfortable and not cost a fortune.  That's a tall order my friends.  While doing laundry at the Lodge, I scoured the internet for deals on hotels, motels, and cabins.  I wasn't having much luck and the wi-fi at the Lodge was a bit sketchy.

Finally, around 2:30 am I found a place on Vacation Rentals by Owner (VRBO).  I'll tell you more about the place we found when we get to around Day 8 or so.

The next morning we awoke to what looked like a nice day, giving us hope for some clearer weather.  By the time we were all dressed and ready to go, the skies had darkened and the drizzle came back.  But we set out anyway, carrying all of our cold weather gear and rain parkas.  We were heading over to the Teton Village to ride the Tram to the top of Rendezvous Mountain.  We were told there was about 20 foot snow drifts on top and knowing we would climb to almost 11,000 feet, the temps would be be in the 30's and the winds would probably be gusting.

We arrived at the Teton Village and as hoped, the weather was improving.  It was still cloudy, but very little if any rain.  We bought our tickets for the Tram and hopped aboard. If you're ever up here, always check around at your hotel or in the newspaper for coupons for the Tram.  We got $3 off each person from the Lodge, but later found $4 off in the local paper.

With the greater than normal snowfall this year, apparently, tourism was taking a hit.  There was too much snow to hike on and not enough to ski on.  We were the only ones on the Tram headed up, so we got our own personal tour guide.

When we arrived at the top, it was a winter wonderland.  The kids had a blast climbing on the snow drifts and playing in the snow.  My oldest son even built a small snow cave as seen in the picture below.  My daughter decided to roll all the way down the hill and found out just how cold the snow actually is.  We also made some snow angels.  Us Texans don't get to see snow like this very often.

At the top of Rendezvous Mountain, there's a small cabin called Corbet's Cabin.  It's a great place to go in and warm up with some hot chocolate or coffee (plus some liquor if you'd like).  They also serve home made waffles.  These are served fold-over sandwich style with your choice of toppings including strawberry jam, maple and brown sugar butter, or Nutella (a chocolate/hazelnut flavored spread with a peanut buttery texture).  We got some with jam and the butter.  They were quite tasty.  My personal favorite was the jam, but my wife preferred the maple and brown sugar butter.  Both were really good.

We hung out on top for about 2 hours or so, then caught the tram back down and then headed over to the Jenny Lake area.

Our original plans were to take the boat across Jenny Lake and then walk up to Inspiration Point and Hidden Falls, but due to the heavy snows, they were not allowing the boat to drop off on the other side of the lake.  So, we set out on a short little hike around the East side of Jenny Lake.  We were just going to hike a few miles and then turn around and going back to the Jenny Lake Visitors Center.  The entire hike around Jenny Lake is around 7.7 miles and is fairly level.  

We hiked in about 1.5 miles admiring the views of Jenny Lake and the base of the Tetons the whole way.  The tops were still covered by the clouds.  I was pointing out to the family where Cascade Canyon and Paintbrush Canyon were and I was trying to describe the wildflowers you would normally see, but they were completely covered in snow.  Below is a panoramic view of the Tetons across Jenny Lake.

We saw a lot of signs of wildlife along the trail including tons of elk tracks, an eagle's nest and even a bear print where he had been digging.  After about 45 minutes, we turned around and headed back to the Visitors Center.  We made a quick stop over at String Lake.  There is a special place in my heart for this area and I look forward to coming back... many times and sharing it with my family.

String Lake is where I began my backpacking trip in 2008 and I was getting that itch again.  I plan to someday soon take my wife and kids into the backcountry in the Tetons.  I feel the Tetons are all about the backcountry.  The frontcountry here is beautiful, but it pales in comparison to the backcountry.  It's a lot of work to get into the Tetons backcountry, but the payoffs are huge.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Family Summer Trip Day 4 - RMNP Fern Falls Trail

Today was to be our only full day in RMNP and I planned on taking the whole day to explore a trail none of us had ever traveled, the Fern Lake Trail.  The trailhead is near the Moraine Park campground where we were camping.  My first thought was to just make the 2 mile trek to the trailhead, then hike to The Pool, then around to Cub Lake and back to the campsite.  Then, I decided to save the initial 2 mile hike to the trailhead by driving to there and then letting the family go on back to the campsite while I hike 1 mile back to the car.  Sounded like a do-able plan.

The Fern Lake Trail to The Pool is fairly level with very little elevation gain or loss.  It is only about 2.5 miles from the Fern Lake Trailhead to The Pool.  Our plan was to hike to The Pool and have lunch, then hike around to Cub Lake and back to Moraine Park Campground.  The total hike was going to be around 6 miles.  If we felt energetic, we'd maybe try and get up to Fern Falls, but we'd heard there was quite a bit of snow and ice beyond The Pool.

The hike to The Pool is like most in RMNP, it is very beautiful with spectacular views of creeks, rivers, waterfalls, mountains and snow.  I have found very few hikes in RMNP that I haven't enjoyed.  This is a terrific hike for families, especially ones with small children as it is very easy and there are very few, if any, spots for the little ones to get hurt or get into too much trouble.  While we didn't see any, and probably never would, I could imagine parts of this being inhabited by Mountain Lions.  It was very warm and there were some nice cliffs overhanging the trail.  This would be a great perch for a big cougar.  I meant to ask the ranger about it, but if anyone can confirm this, I'd like to know.

About 1 mile in, during the spring or after a rain, there are some spectacular ephemeral waterfalls coming off the cliffs above and to the North side of the trail.

About half way, you come to a large rock which appears to be standing on end.  I believe this is called Arch Rocks.  It's amazing to see how these large boulders can stand like this for years without teetering over.  The pictures give you some idea of the scale.

Carrying on from here for about another mile, you arrive at a footbridge over the outlet of The Pool.  Just across the bridge are some rocks that sit above The Pool which are great for having lunch or a snack.  Below is a picture of The Pool.  It's a turbulent gathering of water along the Big Thompson River.  I fired up my Snow Peak Giga Stove and made the kids some Mac-n-Cheese as a reward for a good hike up.

We spoke with a few people while at The Pool who told us that we had done this hike in reverse and it was much easier to start at Cub Lake.  They said the hike from The Pool to Cub Lake was pretty strenuous.  My wife warned me not to burn the kids out this early in the trip.  Knowing we were still planning on going to The Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone, Bryce Canyon and the Escalante-Grand Staircase, I opted to just hike back to the car.  As she is most of the time, my wife was probably right on this occasion.  Besides, we had seen Cub Lake before, remember?

The next day, we'll pack the car up and drive to the Tetons!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Family Summer Trip Day 3 - RMNP Alberta Falls

We arrived in Rocky Mountain National Park early and were able to set up camp prior to lunch.  We had reserved campsite D147 in Moraine Park.  This was our second time to camp in Moraine Park and felt that this campsite was the best location.  We had a perfectly unobstructed view of Long's Peak, we seemed to be shielded from the wind and we were a good distance from our neighbors.

As usual, everyone helped out in unloading gear, setting up tents and organizing the cooking area.  The kids quickly explored the area and found a small rock outcropping that made a perfect "base".  The youngest boys took some of their camping toys down to their base where they could have stayed for hours..  My daughter found a tree that was perfect for climbing.  After camp was set up, games had been played and we ate some lunch, we grabbed some light hiking gear and headed over to the Glacier Gorge area for our first official hike of the trip.

Our plan was to make the short hike up to Alberta Falls.  We had heard there was a lot of snow in the area, but figured that the low elevation of Alberta Falls and the warm weather they had experienced recently, that there would not be an issue with snow pack.  We were badly mistaken.  Within about 200 yards, we ran upon our first patch of snow/ice and we were on and off it all the way up.

My kids decided they didn't need to wear their hiking shoes, since this was going to be a short, easy hike.  This would make traversing the snow a bit of a challenge for my oldest boy.  My daughter opted for her Keen Newport H2 sandals.  Her feet got a bit cold.  My two youngest just enjoyed slipping and sliding and stabbing the snow with the trekking poles.

The hike to Alberta Falls is fairly easy.  There's a couple of places where there are some switchbacks and it was a bit difficult to judge the difficulty this trip due to the amount of snow, which added a high degree of difficulty to the trip.  I think it's about 1.5 miles to the falls and you could easily make it there on terra firma in 1 hour.  I'd plan for about 2.5 - 3 hours round trip allowing you time to enjoy some of the scenery.

I have to admit, I'm a big fan of waterfalls, and Alberta Falls is a pretty one.  The icing on the cake was the amount of water running through it due to the recent snow melt.  The sound of the falls was very impressive and you can walk right up next to the top of the falls and get a sense of the power generated by nature.  We spent about 30-45 minutes sitting up near the falls having a snack and enjoying the sound of the falls.

We made the trek back down to the trail head safe and sound and everyone enjoyed the hike.  If you have about 3 hours and your looking for a nice short hike with great scenery, I'd highly recommend the Alberta Falls trail.  Don't expect to get much solitude, as "short" and "easy" translate to "busy", but it's worth hiking in company because it is gorgeous.  Plan to spend some time sitting by the falls.  There's a lot of great places to sit and have some snacks and just enjoy the rushing sounds.  I will often record the falls just for the sounds.  Here's a short video I took of the falls.  Enjoy.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Family Summer Trip Day 2 - Boulder

Ok, Boulder, I think is tops on my list of places to live.  The weather is great, the scenery is out of this world and the town is really nice.  Again, on this trip, Boulder is just a stop along our way to Rocky Mountain National Park, so we didn't stay long.  We stayed at my favorite hotel in Boulder, the Millennium Harvest House Hotel.  It's not a 5-star hotel or brand new with the finest amenities, but it's really close to downtown and sits right on Boulder Creek across the creek from the University of Colorado.  I stay there a lot when I am working in Boulder and it's really nice any time of the year to walk down the paved path along Boulder Creek to downtown Boulder for dinner.  We did just that.

Here are a few shots of our walk along the creek.  We ate at the Walnut Brewery.  If you're in Boulder and looking for good food and a beer, I highly recommend it.

I have plans on being back in Boulder around the end of July.  I'd like to get out and see the famed Flatirons.  If anyone has a good hiking recommendation, please post it.

Family Summer Trip Day 1 - Colorado Springs

Colorado Springs is one of my favorite cities and would place this in my top 5 places to live. Every time I come here, the weather is gorgeous and there's a ton to do outdoors. On this trip, though, we unfortunately were just passing through, but made enough time to explore one of the best urban parks in the country, Garden of the Gods.

If you've been here, you know how special this place is, if not, you've gotta go sometime. On this day, unfortunately, we were there on a weekend and the park was extremely busy. Even with the crowds, though, there's plenty of places to go and see and get away from the people. There are miles of hiking trails and lots of interesting rock formations to see.

My family really enjoys the main entrance near Balanced Rock.  They love to climb around all over the big sandstone slabs and act like they are pushing over the rock that somehow is balancing on about 16 square feet of surface area.  We also got to watch several groups climbing some of the large fins (see the top picture above to see what the fins are) of sandstone and we all contemplated what were the best routes up the rock.

If you are ever in the Colorado Springs area, definitely stop in and spend a couple of hours at least, if not a whole day, in the Garden of the Gods.  There's no entry fee and there is plenty to do and lots to explore.  Be sure and stop by the trading post / visitor center and look around at some of the interesting items they have for sale and maybe have some lunch.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Bears in the wild... Finally!

Coming to Rocky Mountain National Park, Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park, we had hoped and expected to see some bears, and in the Tetons and Yellowstone we really wanted to see grizzlies.  For our two days in the Tetons and the first day and a half in Yellowstone, we didn't see any sign of a bear, much less a griz.  But, finally, we got a good view of two different grizzlies.  The first, we were driving along the park road when we hit a traffic jam.  There were cars parked all over the road and people jumping out with their kids and cameras.  We saw the bear about 100 yards in the Upper Geyser area off the road and got this great shot.

Later that afternoon, we saw another bear near Old Faithful.  This griz ran right through the Old Faithful Geyser area straight across the boardwalk and up into the woods.  

This same bear was later reportedly spotted near a trail we had just hiked in the pic below, notice I'm carrying my bear spray.  The Park Ranger stopped us at the end of the trail and asked us if we saw it.  In this case, unfortunately, not.  But we got a great pic of the little guys and the ranger.

If you ever get the chance to observe these great creatures, consider yourself lucky.  As we observed in this trip, most of these animals want nothing to do with humans and will run away knowing you are in the area.  But, when in bear country, you must take the proper precautions.
  • Carry bear spray - it's not a repellant an should only be used if the bear is actually charging
  • Talk loudly and often when walking the trail (Blake and Dylan are our best defense with bears as they talk a lot and very loud)
  • Keep in a group, don't get separated and stay on the trail as much as possible
  • Protect your food from the animals to help protect the animals
  • Be constantly vigilant about scanning the surroundings for bear markings, scat and food they like such as berries
  • Check with Park Rangers about areas you will be in to see if there are bears reported in the area
These animals should be respected, not feared.  Enjoy seeing them when you are able to.

Having a picnic under the Grand Teton

Yesterday, we got to have lunch in the shadow of the Grand Teton.  For wilderness experience, I haven't found too much that can compare to the Tetons backcountry.  Because of all the snow that Grand Teton National Park has received this winter, most of the backcountry trails are closed and quite a bit of the front-country trails as well.  With the whole family, getting too far into the Tetons backcountry is difficult.  So, we took a 3.6 mile loop hike to Taggart Lake.  This was a spectacular hike that should be on anyone's to-do list when going to the Tetons.  It can also be included in a trek to Bradley Lake, but due to the snow, we had to just limit our trip to Taggart Lake.  Here's some shots of the family at our lunch spot.  I wish I had brought my fly rod, although I didn't see too many fish in the water.

Fly Fishing Fun

Ok, I promised to give Fly Fishing a whirl while on our trip and I got to today.  I stopped off in Yellowstone National Park near the confluence of Nez Perce Creek and the Firehole River.  I wanted to try out my new fly rod and reel.  I was fairly successful in making a few casts, but quickly snapped my line somehow.  I definitely need some lessons on casting and presentation but enjoyed the experience nonetheless.  Tomorrow, we plan on heading over to Yellowstone Lake and I may give it another go.  Otherwise, it may have to wait till Utah.

FLASK - Florida to Alaska

Today, in Yellowstone National Park, I met a gentleman named Craig Randleman who is on a bike ride from Florida to Alaska.  He is currently about halfway to his destination.  I was so interested to hear about his story I stopped him and talked to him briefly and got my picture with him.  Here's the blog,, where he's posting his story, and also his plans for other epic adventures.. I'm definitely interested in reading his posts to find out how he's doing and WHEN he finishes.  If you're interested in helping Craig in his quests, you can also donate via the blog.