Category Archives: Adventure

A Snowmobiling Adventure

Last winter I had so much fun snowmobiling in Northern Wisconsin that I couldn’t wait to do it again so this year the plan was to go earlier almost guaranteeing enough cold and snow to fly across the wintery landscape. As luck would have it the upper Midwest has been relatively warm with precipitation falling as rain instead of snow once again bringing questions of trail quality and snow cover. As the planned day arrived a fresh coat of snow fell bringing many of the trails into great condition for snowmobiling. Let the fun begin!

Getting ready to hit the trails

After a brief check of the snowmobile it was time to hit the trails for a day of adventure through the forests of the North. Thankfully it was a warm winter day under a bright blue sky dulled only by a few wispy, white clouds making for perfect weather to fly on top of the snow covered Earth. As the day progressed miles kept flying by bringing different beautiful landscapes around the next corner.  Portions of the trail glide through dense forests while others are wide open fields with the occasional lake added in to keep the picture ahead changing.

Cruising along on the snowmobile trails

As sunset approached the mileage was reading almost 150 miles clocked during the daylight hours. It was definitely fun amassing those miles through every turn and hill set before us including one that was a little sharper than expected causing a sled to cruise through the corner almost flipping over and running over a few small trees before stopping to allow damage assessment. Fortunately there was none except maybe to a little tree or two which had to be removed before the snowmobile would move under its own power once again.

Taking a few moments to watch the sun set

With the sun now down below the horizon it was off towards our final destination of the day ending at a hotel for a few hours of rest before returning the snowmobiles for the weekend. As the trees flew by the sky continued to amaze with beautiful colors changing from yellows and oranges to reds and pinks distracting from the trail in front.  Fighting through that distraction came yet another one with a full moon rising above the horizon bringing with it a reminder that there was suppose to be a partial lunar eclipse but probably not visible at this Northern Wisconsin location. As daylight turned to darkness this partial eclipse shown across the face of the moon continuing the challenge of focusing on the trail ahead.

Watching a full moon rise partially eclipsed

A quick stop to refuel and off again into the darkness of trees reaching over snow covered trails meandering up and down and side to side until my snowmobile continually slowed down even though the throttle was pushed until it stopped and a small pop came from under the hood. Now what do we do here with nothing but trees as far as we could see. After a half hour of trying to get it restarted without success we decided our current adventure was complete and unknowingly a new one was about to begin.

Thankfully our second snowmobile was a two person sled so we moved the dead snowmobile off of the trail and headed for the nearest town to hopefully secure a place to stay and figure out what to do with the broken one. As the night progressed we learned how to disable the drive on snowmobiles and how to tow them all thanks to Youtuber’s. Grabbing a tow rope we headed back to the disabled snowmobile, disengaged it’s drive belt and towed it back to the rental place over several hours in complete darkness with only the flashlight of our phones to see what we were doing as the moon was now covered by a layer of clouds. Once completed we fell, exhausted into our beds for the night ending this Northern Wisconsin adventure.

Climbing Longs–Continue On or Not?

While taking in the views sitting in the Keyhole, Lysa and I discussed the next portion. Are we up for the next portion of this hike, which becomes a climb, and is considered more difficult than what we just completed. Our initial decision was to sit and enjoy our surroundings and return to the trailhead while the weather was in our favor as storms were predicted for the entire afternoon and clouds were beginning to form. You can see in the above picture of the next portion of our hike. There is a group following the trail towards a valley called the trough. Actually the trail looks fun except for one issue – being able to breath adequately at 13,000 feet. Going beyond the Keyhole the hike becomes increasingly more dangerous as a wrong step on parts of the trail can lead to serious injury and even death as has happened here before.

Sitting and enjoying the awesome surroundings while watching others maneuvering the trail was nice but a feeling kept burrowing deeper inside us. What’s it like on this trail and what’s around the corner that we can’t see? Well there really is only one way to find out! On went the packs as we moved to boulders making up the trail which is marked by red and yellow bulls eyes. The morning sun was warming us at the Keyhole but as we began this portion it was in the shadows with colder temperatures. Thankfully we had gloves as the boulders are quite cold up here. The trail wasn’t too difficult as long as you take your time and watch your step while grabbing boulders to maintain balance and support among this unforgiving granite.

Making our way to the Trough in the background

Time flew by as we slowly made our way up and over numerous rocks towards the valley called the Trough. There are a few challenging boulders to climb over but for the most part it was a nice climb/hike. Reaching the trough fatigue was beginning to set in.  This is concerning because it can lead to poor decision making in a place intolerable to it. Even though we took a few breaks along the way we needed to stop for a longer period of time to regain our oxygen levels and leg strength before the next section which requires continually climbing up.

Clouds continued to build around the mountains causing us to try and push towards the top so we began climbing the Trough as quickly as possible. About a third of the way up we began to get light headed and dizzy at times along with trembling legs. At this point we knew we had to slow down and take more breaks in order to get enough oxygen to continue our climb. After this point we would climb about 10 or 15 feet up and take a short break. That seemed to help maintain our strength but slowed down our climb. While we were climbing up there were others working their way down sliding from time to time making us realize up may actually be safer than coming back down. Occasionally a rock would come flying down towards us from other hikers above requiring us to take cover from time to time until the rock passed without incident. Eventually we picked our way through the rocks getting close to the top of the Trough reaching, what at first glance, was an impassible boulder. Taking some time to study our options we chose a path and nervously worked our way up and over this boulder and arrived what felt like on top of the world. There’s a geological marker here stating that we had made it to 13, 749 feet. Only 500 feet left to the top of Longs.

Climbing the Trough

We sat on a narrow strip of granite taking in our surroundings and resting after this energy draining climb up the Trough in preparation for the next section. Again the discussion arose of continuing towards the summit or not. After a few minutes we came to the conclusion it was time to call it a day and turn around. There were multiple reasons for this. First, clouds were continuing to get darker and there were obvious rain showers in the distance working towards us. Next, we had someone picking us up from the trailhead at a designated time and looking at the current time we were already going to be pushing that time. Finally we were very fatigued and still needed to climb down these difficult sections safely. I estimated we would need another 2 hours in order to make it to the summit and begin our descent which I was not interested in doing in thunderstorms with wet, slippery rock. Especially with my daughter.

The view from the top of the Trough

After taking some additional time enjoying the view, eating and drinking to replenish, and resting to re-gain strength, and talk with other hikers about the situation we began the climb down scrambling around this almost impossible boulder while others tried to figure out their way around it climbing up. With their assistance we made it down safely over this boulder and continued down the Trough making our way to the Keyhole once again. It felt good to be back to this point safely before any rain started to fall. Taking the last few minutes at this altitude we surveyed the area as it’s so incredible knowing we will not likely be back here again in our lifetime.

Taking in the views

Shortly we made our way down to the Boulder Field campground feeling good about what we accomplished and that it’s all down hill on relatively easy trails from here just as thunder began rumbling off in the distance. Better get moving in an attempt to reach the tree line before storms reach us. We didn’t make it far before thunder began to boom overhead bringing with it a rain/snow mix which we hiked in for the next couple of hours. Fortunately there wasn’t visible lightning striking the mountains allowing us to continue our hike instead of seeking out a depression along the trail to take cover in. Yes, the decision to forgo reaching the summit now seemed like a good call as we would have been caught somewhere above the keyhole on wet boulders or possibly snow as the mountain peaks around us were turning white making the hike even more dangerous and time consuming. The rain passed as we reached the tree line with only a few more miles to go before meeting our ride and the end of this adventure filled and tiring day.

Approaching rain/snow and storms

The return brought us down over 6 miles almost without stopping in an attempt to reach safety with storms expected much of the afternoon and then to reach the car. Because of this our legs became increasingly more sore with each step down we had to take. If we would have taken a few breaks to rest we would have been in good shape having accomplished an amazing hike.

 

Scott’s Bluff

Sounds like a high stakes card game doesn’t it. In this case it’s Scotts Bluff National Monument named after Hiram Scott who died here. While driving through the plains and fields of Nebraska for a significant time the landscape begins to become a little monotonous making any change stand out. In the panhandle of Nebraska lies these beautiful white bluffs. Kind of an entrance to the mountainous terrain of the Rocky Mountains.

The bluffs at Scotts Bluff National Monument

Our family was on our way to Colorado to explore these mountains and stopped near Scotts Bluff National Monument for the night so decided to learn more about the significance of this national park. It was a beautiful sunny Midwestern late afternoon with temperatures hovering around 90 degrees Fahrenheit and a gentle breeze to keep us cool.

There are 3 tunnels through the bluff taking you to the top.

The first stop was in the Visitor’s Center to pay our entrance fee and learn more about the significance of the area. In this place passed several important trails in history including the Oregon Trail, Mormon Trail, California Trail, and a Pony Express route for a short time. While these are all significant pieces in United States history, the Oregon Trail was the portion that intrigued me the most. I don’t know if it’s simply because the first computer game I played was called Oregon Trail on an Apple computer or because of the historical significance of people migrating west on this long and difficult trail.

Sun moving closer to the horizon behind the bluffs

After this educational stop we progressed to the Summit Road leading to beautiful views on top of the bluffs. Once at the top we took about an hour to hike around the top looking at different views which enhanced all that was recently learned in the Visitor’s Center as well as just enjoying the landscape from this vantage point. As we finished taking in the sights on the bluff we decided a trip to check in at our hotel nearby and refresh after a long day of travel was in order along with dinner before returning to walk along the Oregon Trail as sunset engulfed the horizon.

Walking along the wagons of the Oregon Trail

As the air began to cool and the sun relented it’s midday power we returned to find the park shutting down for the day with only the parking lot left open to explore the Oregon Trail. A very humbling experience to walk along these wagons depicting the horse and ox drawn trains of people and all their belongings attempting to find a better life in the west. Difficult to imagine traveling about 20 miles a day and having to obtain food, water, and shelter each night for the many months it took to reach the western destinations. Certainly an evening such as this was one of the easier days to make this trip but these types of nights only lasted a few months. Not long enough to complete their journey.

Sunset over the Prairie

What a beautiful way to end another day along our journey west!

 

Preparing for a Rocky Mountain Hike

Since exploring Rocky Mountain National Park in 2009 I’ve wanted to return as it is such a beautiful place. Our last trip was to hike to Flattop Mountain Trail which is the location on our National Parks Monopoly Board. In 2009 we made it to the sign and returned to the car. I’ve always felt that I would like to hike the trail in its entirety someday.

Flattop Mountain Trail

That someday will happen this summer. Or at least we are going to be back in the park and hopefully the weather cooperates allowing me to hike to the top of Flattop Mountain which is a 10 mile hike round trip. Typically 10 miles isn’t a concern for me but it gets a little more difficult with the incline/decline and altitude in a mountain setting. Flattop peaks at just over 12,000 feet altitude and while this has an impact on me it wasn’t very bad the last time I was at this height.

Look at the beautiful surroundings

In addition to Flattop Mountain I’ve added in the challenge of hiking to the top of Long’s Peak which is a 15 mile trip and tops out just over 14,000 feet in altitude. A few years ago I would have never considered doing this as I’m not in physical condition to do so. After reading a few long distance hiker’s blog I began to consider it and figure out what it would take for me to do.  The idea of hiking to the top of the tallest peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, which I’ve looked at from an airplane, and see it from the other direction is a challenge I want to take on.

In order to be successful at these hikes I’ve been in training since January to build my legs and also try and increase my lung capacity as much as possible to prepare for the thinner air at higher altitudes. This training has included hiking several miles at a time carrying a 45 pound training pack which is at least double the weight of what my actual backpack will be. Hopefully the actual pack will feel quite a bit lighter so I don’t mind carrying it for a much longer distance. The training pack also put a heavier load on my legs building those muscles a bit more.

One of my practice hiking trails

Additionally I’ve been working with inline skates and biking with the occasional walking up and down stairs for 45 – 60 minutes with a loaded backpack on. Some days have been more challenging than other to go work out just like it is for anybody. In January I would go out on the trail even at temperatures of –12 degrees F and in the summer heat and humidity when I would return home so full of sweat I looked as though I had jumped into a lake. During these time I just needed to think about climbing mountain trails and my motivation would quickly return and I could walk faster or pedal harder forgetting about the conditions I was training in.

Biking on the trail

The time has come to see if all of that training will pay off in the form of an easier and successful hike. Certainly some of the mountain trails, especially near the top of Long’s Peak, have been a little intimidating but I’ve seen enough video and photos of the trail and have enough confidence in my abilities that as long as the weather remains favorable I’ll make it to the top.  If the weather does not cooperate than the risk does not become worth the reward of summiting Long’s Peak and I will turn around which is why the planned start time is around 2:30am to increase the odds of completing my goals. It’ll be fun either way I’m sure as there is nothing but amazing scenery all around.

 

Mystery Cave

A few years ago I searched for caves of Minnesota, after exploring Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, and found Mystery Cave. This is a state park which offers tours through the largest caverns of the cave located in the bluffs of Southeastern Minnesota. We’ve attempted to plan a visit when we first discovered it but plans fell through so we kept it on a list of “someday” things to do. Fortunately this “someday” event actually was achieved this summer. We hosted a French student for a few weeks and thought this would be an enjoyable place to show some of the many faces of Minnesota. He had never been in a cave before and was fascinated with it.

Walking through the caverns carved by water

Caves are very fascinating places and this one was no different. As is common, it is cool in Mystery Cave which felt nice on a hot summer afternoon. After descending a couple of flights of stairs we were transported into another world. Here is complete darkness surrounded by layers and layers of stone carved over thousands of years of water carrying away each piece it can grab until it can no longer flow through this area. These natural tunnels continue to transform yet today as water from the surface still drips through these rocks altering their environment.

Veins of Mystery Cave

As this water drips down the stone walls it carries with it minerals from above which separate from the water as it flows down these walls creating these veins throughout the caves giving them an appearance of life. The veins of Mystery Cave give it a beautiful and amazing ambiance adding to the wonder around each new cavern. What will this cave look like in a thousand years from now? What will be the same, if anything? What did the cave look like a thousand years ago?

An underground lake

This is the first cave I’ve toured that I saw an underground lake. While it was smaller than I was prepared for it was incredibly clear and had a very deceptive depth that could only be realized by shining light through the surface and moving it around. Even then the deception required a focused realization and understanding of what you are viewing.  We continued through some of the narrow passageways returning to the beginning and climbed out to natural daylight squinting while adjusting to it once again. It was cool enough inside and hot and humid enough outside that everyone’s glasses fogged immediately upon exiting the cave making those with corrective lenses laugh as this usually happens during the winter, not summer.

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The Lost Mind Trail

This is what we would call the trail but the real name is Lost Mine Trail which is in Big Bend National Park. It’s listed distance is 4.70 miles however my hiking app registered 5.30 miles round trip. The difference could be all the little side trails to see different views we ventured on that all added up to the extra half mile.

Lost Mine Trail map

We drove a short distance to the trailhead and as soon as we emerged from the car we were in awe of the incredible views surrounding us bringing energy and excitement to get on the trail and climb higher to see even more vistas. This was a trail that was most recommended to us and the trailhead views lived up to those recommendations but could the rest of the trail compete with these amazing sights.

The rocky Lost Mine Trail

 

Fortunately the trail is well traveled making it easier to follow but it’s littered with rocks to step over so as long as you are capable of walking at an incline for several miles while carefully navigated over and around the rocks. Staying on the trail in this climate is very important in preventing severed erosions during heavy rains which can wash out portions of the trail. These ‘shortcuts’ are tempting but not worth the potential damage for those hiking another day.

As the trail climbed up, the views became more impressive

As the trail continued higher and higher the views continued to be impressive making for distracted hiking and slowing down the pace to get to the top although a water break from time to time is a good idea allowing you to stop and view your surroundings. In addition to the desert mountain scenery we were confronted with cactus’s beginning to bloom adding to this great trail experience.Yet another distraction pulling attention away from getting to the top of the mountain.

Cactus's beginning to bloom

At different points along the way we were joined by other critters, mostly birds, looking as though asking how our hike was going and if we were enjoying the trail. Yes we were having fun for the most part. Unfortunately one of our group had inadequate footwear making the stones on the trail feel as though piercing into their feet with each step. If that’s the worst part than it’s a successful hike.

Mexican Jay joining us on the trail

Arriving at the top the trail levels out providing a sense of relief from continually climbing up, up, up towards the sky. Time to sit and taking in the vast mountainous landscape on this bright, sunny morning and join the others doing the same thing. While taking in the views I got the first opportunity of seeing a road runner closer up just before it decided to jump off the ledge and out of sight forever.

A road runner just before it plunged over the edge

The top of the Lost Mine Trail is actually quite large allowing many people to take in this high point without really creating problems moving back and forth among the boulders. There are many different view points to take in all amazing each to their own making this a nice way to spend an hour and possibly even enjoying a picnic surrounded by rocks and boulders rising from the ground. Watching a sunrise or sunset from this location would be breathtaking I’m sure as long as you’re not alone and with flashlights because the hike to get here or leave here would be in darkness. And ohh yah, there are these little things called mountain lions which tend to be more active during these times.

Taking in the views at the top of the Lost Mine Trail

During most of the time on top of this trail I kept looking at this rock which kind of looks like Homer Simpson and wondered how to climb up to the gap under his chin. I just couldn’t find a good path and without ropes it didn’t seem safe to both get there and climb up the rock. After spending some time exploring the area I decided it wasn’t a safe venture so kind of gave up on the idea. What kind of example would that be for the kids?

A little rock climbing along the way

By the way, challenge accepted.

For more stories of Big Bend you can read posts on the Rio Grande and Window Trail

 

The U. S. National Anthem

Every time I hear the United States National Anthem, there is a deeper meaning after visiting the place it was written – Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland. One of the first things you can see upon nearing the fort is the tall flagpole carrying a huge American flag which author Francis Scott Keys was looking for during the bombing of the fort by British soldiers.

Canons protecting the fort

Once inside the fort, you can see where the canons that defended this fort during the attack were placed. This brings the attack to life imagining soldiers maneuvering cannons and loading them to fire back at British ships in Chesapeake Bay outside of the fort while taking cover as these ships fired back.

Looking out into Chesapeak Bay where the National Anthem was first written

Walking along the top of the fort walls, Chesapeake Bay is clearly visible shining in the bright blue, sunlit sky. After seeing the fort and many of its canons you begin to visualize British ships in the water firing almost causing you to quickly duck back behind the brick walls for protections.

Watching the flag flying in the wind high over Fort McHenry

It’s very humbling to think of this large icon of America, its flag, flying in the wind while soldiers engaged in heavy battle firing at each other through a smoke filled sky created from canon fire. To imagine what this must have looked like to Francis Scott Keys and the impact it had on him during these days. His surprise, joy, and pride to see Fort McHenry and the United States flag continuing to exist in all their glory once the battle ceased. On this Independence Day I have further respect for those who have given much to give us our freedom and continue to defend it yet today!

A huge American flag flying in the courtyard

 

Young Bald Eagles

I’ve been fortunate this year to watch bald eagles as they maintained their nest and are currently raising young eaglets. I don’t visit frequently as I prefer to allow them to continue without being disturbed too frequently risking their departure earlier than they should. I’ve only been close enough to see the nest a couple of times.

Stretching their wings

The first was in March before there were any leaves on the trees making it easier to find. They could also see me easily and were not happy about me being in their territory. It was at that time that I learned exactly what bald eagles sound like and have been able to identify their calls since. There have been several times I’ve been in the area and heard their calls telling me they’re still occupying the nest and raising the young without going near the nest. Being able to recognize their calls have directed me to other nests now that I know what I’m listening and looking for.

Being Spotted

My second visit to their nest was later in the spring after all of the trees grew leaves hiding the nest from most spots on the ground. Fortunately I found an area to observe and photograph the eagles for a short time. During that time the adults fed their eaglets and the young eagles danced around the nest before and after eating.

While photographing I didn’t realize that one of the adults was searching for the sounds my camera was making until it was looking directly at me. Once spotted the eagle began screeching and flew a short distance away while the eaglets hid inside their huge nest built from large sticks.

A little while later the young eagles began peering over the sides at me again and I decided it was time to leave them so they could continue on with life. Soon I expect they will be flying and difficult to find near the nest but it was fun and educational to watch them for a few hours.

Unhappy adult Bald Eagle

 

Petroglyph

Excited to begin our Spring Break adventures, we landed in Albuquerque, New Mexico on a warm spring like day in mid March headed to Petroglyph National Monument. This National Park is a smaller park in Albuquerque established to preserve the rock drawings created hundreds of years ago. This was our second Monopoly board excursion with much to see and learn.

Walking through Petroglyph National Monuments enjoying the snow capped mountains behind

Petroglyph has a number of short hiking trails which bring you near many of the drawings carved into volcanic rock by people living in this area long, long ago and a modest visitors center to provide more information of this area and its formation. We took in a few of these hikes while enjoying the warmth on this bright, sunny afternoon with mountains lining the horizon. A great day to be here, especially since when I returned a week later it was to snow and ice blanketing many parts of this area.

Studying on of the petroglyphs

Most of the hikes wonder around and through rocks and what must younger people do when approaching rocks? Well they must be climbed of course. Before allowing them to touch a rock we tried to find any petroglyphs so they would risk damage even though these rock drawings have been there for hundreds of years and likely have been climbed over numerous times before.

If there are rocks around, they must be climbed

While hiking we would come upon a petroglyph which was interesting but it seemed like a bunch of kids were let loose in the park with sticks or rocks and told to draw on the rocks. How did we know if the drawings were 5 days old or 500 years? It was hard to know in most cases so we had to just believe these have been there for a long time. We were amazed at how well preserved they were given how long many have been here although I’m very poor at analyzing them to figure out what they may be showing so well preserved or not, I couldn’t really decide what they were portraying. Most of the petroglyphs were simple shapes to depict and animal, bird, or person with some being more intricate to show a particular type of person or event. Seeing these rock drawings in person provided some great historical education to think back on when traveling to different places.

Climbing Around in Shenandoah

After a long day on the road that started in Knoxville, Tennessee, we ade it to Shenandoah National Park in time to view a great sunset. The next day was for exploring the park. Driving along Blue Ridge Parkway we came upon a trailhead and stopped to see where the trail lead. It was Bearfence trail leading to Bearfence Overlook, a nice 1 mile hike to start out on.

Climbing up Bearfence trail

There are two options to hike on Bearfence. First, you can take the Appalachian Trail for most of the way to the overlook and then cut up on Bearfence Trail to arrive at a beautiful mountain view or you can take Bearfence Trail most of the way climbing up and over sharp rocks for a good portion of the mile. Which one would you take? The rock scramble route it is.

The Rock Scramble

The trail starts out on a portion of the Appalachian Trail but quickly begins climbing up into the mountainous rocks of Shenandoah. Some of these areas are fairly steep and go over sharp plates angled up towards the sky. Navigating through the trail requires following blue painted markers on the rocks which are fairly easy to find among the different boulders.

Taking a break

As we neared the top we took a few moments to enjoy the views around us before continuing to the Bearfence overlook. On this beautiful sunny morning we could see several valleys and hills covering miles from these gray colored boulders covered in multiple colors of lichens. The wind was blowing strong enough that we had to be a little careful in our steps otherwise we would be moved off of the trail and in the wrong spot that could result in slipping causing an injury.

Plants growing in the rocks

Something that struck me as interesting was the pockets of water tucked amongst these massive rocks making up the mountain and the different types of plants growing out of the rocks. In a single grouping, such as the one in the photo above, you would have moss, ferns and sedum all protected in a crevice. Moss and ferns generally like moist conditions while sedum tend to thrive in dryer situations which is why these plants growing in the same spot seemed odd to me. Does that indicate the different conditions over a year that combine to create a harsh environment? Wet at times and dry in other times?

Nearing the top

Continuing on the trail, we climbed up and around rocks and boulders as we explored all it had to offer forgetting the workout required to get to the top. It was just fun to experience the Appalachians in Shenandoah National Park in this manner. We were never sure where the end was or if we passed it so we just followed a trail and kept on hiking.

Bearfence Lookout

The end became very obvious because there was no more trail on top of a rock with drop offs on three sides. Once again the views were amazing as we looked out over the neighboring hills separated by meandering valleys and trees all around us typical of these mountains. After a short time we worked our way back to the car, off to explore other areas of this National Park.