Tag Archives: Hiking

Minnesota’s Forest Coral

I wanted to photograph the frosty plants on a foggy November morning. By the time I got all of my gear and began hiking the temperature warmed enough to melt much of the frost and with it, my goals for this day. Kicking myself for not moving earlier I begrudgingly continued on my desired hiking route just to enjoy the day and see if there was anything interesting along the way.

Great color combinations and textures of some mushrooms

My hope was to hike to a more secluded lake and photograph migrating ducks if nothing else caught my attention before hand. As I moved along the trail I happened to see this mushroom covered log. For some reason I’m drawn to mushrooms on a log. All of these rounded little plates sticking out from a disintegrating portion of wood. Yet through a number of attempts there haven’t been any interesting photos from any of my attempts. Although I’ve not had some of the equipment I brought this time either since my original plan was to photograph frosty crystals as intimately as I could. Maybe that same idea would bring out what attracts me to these mushrooms.

The amazing texture and color of lichens contrast nicely against orange mushrooms

As I neared the log I was amazed at the incredible display being put on by these mushrooms which happed to also be surrounded by lichens putting on their own colorful display on this cool, wet late fall day. The seemingly random textures of the lichens made them very intriguing along with their beautiful variations of colors, from bright greens to light blues made them stand out among the multicolored mushrooms. When I returned home later and looked on the computer they looked just like a coral reef to me.

Stepping along some mushrooms full of great texture

Throw in a little dark green moss and it became a world all it’s own. What else lives among all these vibrant formations? Eating mushrooms or lichens, seeking shelter in the many crevices? A dew covered web confirmed this little world most of us never even know of. I loved all of the fuzzy rings stacked on top of one another creating each mushroom for the spider to climb searching for its’ next meal before succumbing to winter.

Dew covered web connecting mushrooms

As I continued to explore around the fallen branches I came across some vibrant orange mushrooms which contrasted beautifully with the dark lichen covered bark. Patterns within these mushrooms amazed me along with their shapes and waves. Add to that the green, yellow, and blue lichens and this scene is just exploding with color.

An orange mushroom showing bright in late November

Eventually the daylight was getting dimmer making it more challenging to photograph these mushroom filled branches so I packed up and headed back for the car. On my return hike rain began to fall so it was a good time to leave and pack away the camera. A great substitute for missing most of the frost covered landscape. In the picture below you can see the fallen tree that first caught my attention. Very easy to continue on walking as this is a pretty common scene in a forest. Glad I stopped to examine it closer.

Mushrooms covering an old downed tree

 

Climbing Longs–A Reflection

A good gage for me of if I liked an experience is would I do it again. Would I hike/climb Longs Peak again? It depends on when you asked me. For a couple of weeks following I would’ve told you I was glad I did it but probably would not do it again. Asking a couple of months later I would definitely consider doing it again if the opportunity arose in the next couple of years. Maybe that’s me just being stupid and forgetting how strenuous the hike is even before getting to the keyhole and how difficult the thinner air above 10,000 feet makes this hike. Being stupid or not I know now what to be prepared for.

The amazing sunrise alone was worth the hike to this point

For 2 days following the hike to Longs Peak I had difficulty walking because of pain in my legs. Getting up from sitting and sitting back down were functions I lacked without assistance. I credit this to going 6 miles downhill at a fast pace without taking breaks allowing my legs to gain adequate oxygen while trying to avoid the surrounding storms. The other piece that took away from the enjoyment of this hike was difficulty in breathing for much of it. It felt like I was always gasping for air whenever I wanted to climb after passing the Boulder Field Campground. It would not have been as demoralizing if there wasn’t a timeline due to storms and my ride at the trailhead pre-scheduled without a means of contacting my ride to re-schedule allowing for more enjoyment of a slower pace. I was unsure of my abilities in these conditions so I had to estimate a pick up time which turned out to be too early in the afternoon.

One of the beautiful waterfalls we passed in the night on our way up Longs Peak

While on the mountain trying to decide if we should continue on from the Trough or not I kept trying to determine if I would regret not summiting if that was the decision we made. Well, it’s been a couple of months now and I do not regret our decision. For the conditions it was the right call for us. It likely would have taken us an additional 2 hours to summit and make it back to our position above the Trough. We would have gotten caught in increasingly difficult conditions due to storms in our descent increasing the risk of injury or worse. I wish the conditions would have allowed us to continue to summit but that just was not our situation. There is such a great respect for those that take on this climb after having done almost all of it.

One of the many views from the top of the Trough

Upon completing this adventure I could not figure out how I felt about it. Was it worth all of the effort required to do it? I now feel a huge sense of accomplishment and satisfaction tackling Longs Peak. It was completely worth the work, pain, and dedication to climb this mountain. What an unbelievable experience and to have been able to share it with my oldest daughter is priceless. It would have been great to also share it with my youngest daughter but that would have been more than I could handle on my own given the risks involved above the Keyhole. The scenery was so beautiful and peaceful both on the way up in the serenity of a moon lit landscape and the way back down as the mountain tops turned white from the snow while we got rained on. It must have been a great accomplishment as I’m considering a hike to the top of Mauna Loa on our final Monopoly adventure to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park which surprisingly tops out at over 13,600 feet. Additionally I monitor the Longs Peak trail conditions and webcam having a more intimate relationship with this mountain now. I love adventures and this was an amazing one!

The Rocky Mountains from Longs Peak

 

 

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.

 

Climbing Longs–The Keyhole

Now at the Boulder Field Campsite we were able to take in some of the surroundings, enjoy a little camaraderie with other hikers attempting to do the same thing, and use toilets in preparation for the next portion of our morning hike. (To catch up with our journey thus far click here to read the previous story.) It was noticeable how much colder the air was here. Even though we were almost the same elevation as the top of Flattop Mountain it seemed much colder to the point of being able to see our breath from time to time. Fortunately the sun was quickly warming us up. While studying the boulder field it became obvious that these boulders filled in the keyhole and more at one time. What natural event occurred causing this part of the mountain to crumble forcing all these large pieces of rock to fall making a river of boulders and leaving this keyhole? Was it ice, an earthquake, or something else?

Looking up at the boulders to be climbed to reach the Keyhole

As I scanned around I kept wondering how can the remaining portion of this hike to the summit be all that difficult? It didn’t appear to be all that long distance wise or a great elevation change from the boulder field. Of course elevation is a major factor for those of us not use to it. After 15 minutes or so we decided to continue on towards the Keyhole. There were several other hikers that climbed up ahead of us providing information on the climb we were about to do. Watching from a little distance it appeared they were going up fairly slow and taking their time. I’ve climbed over rocks before and it doesn’t take that long to continue upward.

A marmot coming to be pet with a hiker in the background climbing boulders

We decided to pack our trekking poles away as they weren’t likely to be much help on the boulder terrain and lifted the packs back onto our backs ready to continue. For this section of the hike on Longs you are basically boulder hopping. Stepping towards the next boulder hoping it’s stable while making your way increasingly higher. At least that’s the plan as it’s easy to just stay at your current altitude and just go sideways if not paying attention. Quickly you begin to realize the altitude makes things increasingly difficult simply because the thinner air causes problems getting enough oxygen to breath normally. It feels like you are running and out of breath after a short time slowing down the pace. Now it makes sense why the hikers ahead of us appeared to go so slowly up into the keyhole. In addition, the higher you go the larger the boulders get and the steeper the incline gets. Looking at the photo above you see a marmot that seemed to want to get pet. In the background is a good comparison of the boulder size next to a hiker.

Exploring the vaille

Getting closer to the keyhole we reached the Agnes Wolcott Vaille built as a place of protection from storms for those attempting to reach the top of Longs Peak. Finally almost there! A few minutes exploring this shelter and it was to the keyhole to view out over the Rocky Mountains. We’ve reached the main goal of this adventure – the Keyhole!

One of the views from the other side of the keyhole

Many hikers ahead of us proclaimed the amazing views while perched among the slim layer of rocks forming this keyhole continuing to encourage those below to reach it. They were right about the incredible views sitting in this unique rock formation. From both sides of the keyhole the landscape humbled us with its beauty and vastness. We felt so small among these huge boulders forming large mountains. It seemed to take forever to climb from the campground into the keyhole but according to the timestamps on the photos taken it only took us about 20 minutes or so to complete. While sitting in the keyhole eating a Clifbar and drinking more water we examined the next portion of trail that would take us to the summit of Longs Peak if we felt up to the challenge. I think the expression on Lysa’s face in the picture below gives a good idea of our thoughts!

Sitting in the Keyhole studying the next portion of the trail

 

Climbing Longs–Getting There

Our journey towards Longs Peak began at 2:30 am. That’s 2:30 am at the trailhead! We were not the first ones there at this time of day as this is a relatively busy trail in the summer but you must start early because it is a long and challenging trail with rain/snow/thunderstorms possible during the afternoon. We began the trail half asleep and unsure of what lay ahead but there were several others here in the same situation so up we we go. Surprisingly it was quite warm at almost 60 degrees F at the start of the trail. I was expecting temperatures in the 40’s during this time of night so off came the jacket before even starting as 60 degrees F is very warm for this strenuous of hiking.

Getting ready to hike to Longs

The entire trail to the summit of Longs Peak using the Keyhole Route is about 7.5 miles long each way with most of that trail needed just to get to the Keyhole. This takes you from the trailhead, up through the trees before reaching the alpine environment above the tree line, and around Mount Lady Washington. Hiking this distance on easier terrain is not terribly difficult for me and I’ve been preparing for this for several months, as you can read here, however this is continually hiking up, often time over steps, rocks, and tree roots, at a fairly steep incline. Even at that, the hiking was not as challenging as I expected which was a nice surprise. The difficulty came with the altitude. Above 10,000 feet, breathing becomes more difficult for me slowing down the pace in order to get adequate oxygen to continue on.

Longs_Peak_map

As we reached the tree line and began hiking in the tundra we got our first view of Longs Peak from closer up. It was a beautiful moonlit morning with the full moon hovering just above the mountain giving us a perfect outline of where we were headed.

Hopefully this is making sense because there are thunderstorms with a lot of lightning as I’m writing this causing distractions.

We took a few minutes to rest and enjoy the surroundings. It was fun to see all of the little lights bobbing along the trail both ahead of us and behind us. Like a little hiker road. While taking this photo the camera low battery symbol began to flash and I realized I forgot extra batteries for this camera and didn’t charge the batteries for the GoPro so taking a lot of pictures was out. This bummed me out because when am I likely to be here doing this again? After coming to terms with my lack of picture taking ability we moved on around Mount Lady Washington.

The first view of Longs Peak with a full moon just above

Almost around Mount Lady Washington and to the boulder field, the sun began to cress the horizon giving us an amazing sunrise way up on the mountain. A sight I hoped to see since preparing for this hike. It took my breath away! Maybe that was just the altitude while hiking. At this point people had created a relatively smooth trail placing stones together to create a sort of sidewalk making it more of a walk than a hike for a little distance. What a nice reprieve from steps and stones! Thank you to whomever did this.

With the sun rising we got our first good look at the mountain we were aiming to climb which is the main photo above. Surprisingly it didn’t look as insurmountable from here as it did from Flattop Mountain and other areas around Rocky Mountain National Park. We’ll see if that stays the case once we get there. Off towards the right I could see the Keyhole which has been the first goal of this hike. Anything after that would be a bonus. A short time later we arrived at the Boulder Field Campground and took a much needed rest before climbing up into the Keyhole. Yes, there really is a campground up here.

It took us about 5 hours to reach the campground and we traveled about 6 miles to this point. Feeling the strenuous hike it felt nice to sit for a little while and take in the views while mentally preparing for the next part. In my research it was said that this is the easy part of climbing Longs Peak. It didn’t seem all that easy to me! What are we in for next? To be continued…..

Sunrise on the mountain

 

Exploring Flattop Mountain

Back in 2009 we visited Rocky Mountain National Park to hike to Flattop Mountain Trail and we did that successfully. Unfortunately that was done after a long day of exploring so there wasn’t much energy to continue further. I’ve wanted to attempt the trail again if the opportunity presented itself. Well, recently we made the opportunity happen and once again found ourselves on the trail. Surprisingly the beginning of the trail looks very different from what it looked like seven years ago as proven in the next two photos.

Flattop Trail in 2009

Flattop Trail in 2016

The top picture was taken in 2009 and the next one taken just a few weeks ago. I can find now similarities to them which made it a little challenging to begin this hike since there wasn’t really recognition of the beginning of the trail causing me to question if we were on the right path or not. Especially since it was still dark when we got to this point. Trusting in the trail signs we pressed onward towards the top.

Flattop Trail Head when we began our hike from Bear Lake

Our hike on Flattop Mountain began at 4:30am as we passed Bear Lake. The scene is pictured above. In the dark, armed with flashlights, our journey on this mountain trail began to climb towards to top. In a short time we began to see light on the horizon however the trail swallowed by trees continued to be dark requiring artificial light sources to make our way over rocks and tree roots as we went up, up, up, to the sky.

Sunrise from the mountain

As we continued on this trail we could begin to feel the effects of the ever thinning air making it more difficult to breath and hike at a fast pace. Increasing our breaks while we trekked higher the trees began to decrease in size indicating the approaching tree line where they can no longer grow in the cool mountain air. Daylight finally penetrated this forest trail just as we broke above the trees bringing spectacular views of the mountains surrounding us with Emerald lake in the valley below. Our climb began below this lake and now look how high above it we are. Progress.

Overlooking Emerald Lake

Marmots appeared from the rocks in the mountain to greet us as we passed their homes. They made for a more interesting hike once reaching the tundra of the alpine zone on Flattop Mountain. Watching as they climbed in and out of boulders and finally on top of them to grab the warmth of the morning sun before gathering food for the day was extremely entertaining.

Marmots came out to greet us

They would definitely not be outdone by their smaller tundra mates – the Picas. These smaller alpine mammals would give a sharp squeak but would not always come into view as they moved between the rocks and boulders. If you watched long enough there would be a glimpse of movement and out would come one of these soft Picas running across the surface as they gathered portions of plants to store in their nests giving another squeak as if to say good morning while we passed.

Picas roaming around on the tundra

After several hours of hiking and a number of breaks to catch our breath we reached the summit of Flattop Mountain. I always imagine mountains as these immovable pieces of solid stone reaching towards to sky. It surprises me as we walk the top of the mountain that the top is scattered stones and boulders showing they are not as solid as originally perceived. The elements continue to work on these mountains breaking them apart slowly over time. For now it’s a great challenge to climb to the top of these massive rock formations.

Reaching the top of Flattop Mountain

In our picture above you see Hallet Peak to the right which is the next mountain over and one we briefly discussed climbing but decided this was enough for today as the real  challenge rests in the left of this photo – Longs Peak. A hike for another day. With our goal achieved for today we spent some time exploring and taking in the sights of our amazing surroundings, and watching some of the animals as they went about their business for the day.

One of the vast views from up here

After a little rest and energizing food we ventured to the nearby Continental Divide Trail. I’ve read about people hiking this entire trail covering over 3,000 miles from Mexico to Canada and wanted to walk a little of this beautiful trail. There were large cairns marking the trail most likely to show where it is during the spring and fall when snow could cover it making a more challenging hike and increased likelihood of getting lost. Further exploration on the CDT was tempting but it was time to head back down the mountain. With our destination successfully found we began the descent back to Bear Lake.

Exploring the Continental Divide Trail

 

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.

 

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

 

Window Trail

Entering Big Bend National Park

Our Monopoly board brought us to explore Window Trail which lies inside of Big Bend National Park. This is a moderately difficult trail which covers 3.6 miles in total and covers some beautiful scenery along the way. We were fortunate to be there during the spring when many plants were beginning to bloom and the temperatures were ideal for a hike in the desert. Not to cold and not to warm.

Walking through the desert

Along this trail we enjoyed a number of great sights including Yucca’s and cactus in bloom, a couple of white tail deer, colorful birds, and a friendly road runner. This trail follows the bottom of a canyon most of the way where water drains during heavier rainfalls.

Taking a quick break on the trail

About halfway to the end of the trail we decided it was time to explore a place to take a few minutes to relax and take in the great desert mountain scenery. What’s the first thing kids want to do when stopping near rocks? Well climb them of course and this we did as some of the nicest seats were higher up. This is not recommended by the park although we were definitely not the first ones to do this as I found an orange peel in one of the crevices left by a previous climber.

Window Trail through the canyons

Once entering the canyon portion of the hike there were stairs built to make the trail easier to traverse as during other times of the year there can be water flowing through here which is, of course, the way this canyon was created.

The window where the trail ends

At a couple of points along the way we wondered if we were at the end of the trail. I can say definitively now that the end is very obvious because of seeing the window it was named after and it drops off to the desert floor very abruptly. I’m not sure a person would survive a drop from the window.

Rocks smoothed by years of water and debris sanding them down

As you get close to the window the rocks become extremely slippery due to the running water carrying debris which has sanded down the rocks giving them a polished appearance and feel. It was interesting, especially in this dry season, to see how high the water can get in this canyon and how fast it must rush through to wear down the stone underneath.

The end of the trail with a steep drop to the desert floor

Carefully climbing near the end there is just a narrow slot with a large drop-off which is all very slippery requiring some care to get to. It would be interesting to see this area from the other side after a heavy rain. There must be an interesting waterfall for a short time.

A road runner encounter on the trail

During our trek back we encountered this road runner that didn’t seem to care we were there as it walked right next to us on the trail. Other hikers behind us had the same experience. This particular bird must be use to hikers on this trail and understand prey can be found scurrying as hikers pass by making them easier to find. It gave us the opportunity to all see a road runner finally as each time before the birds would be gone before everyone could see them running across roads in front of the car.

Lewis Falls Trail

After a full day of hiking in Shenandoah National Park, it was time to retire to our cabin and get ready for our evening meal. The only thing was that the forecast for the next day was for clouds and periods of rain and we had one hike left to do in our short time in Shenandoah – Lewis Falls Trail. This was the most important of our hikes in this great national park because it was the trail on our National Parks Monopoly board. It was decided then, another hike that was longer and covered more altitude than the others we had completed earlier in the day.

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This trail is 3.3 miles round trip from our cabin and back again. It’s not the distance that makes it more challenging, it the 1,000 feet of altitude that you change from the start to the waterfalls and then you have to climb that 1,000 feet again on the way back. To make things a little more challenging, we wanted to get back before 9 pm when the nearest restaurant closes otherwise there is not really a place to get food after a full day of hiking in Shenandoah.

Looking over the top of the Falls

The trail starts out relatively flat and easy to hike but eventually that drop in altitude finds you and it starts going downhill quickly. Downhill is easier but remember to watch out for roots and rocks in the trail that could trip you. We made it to the falls in pretty good time passing only a couple of other hikers on the way. Lewis Falls

Lewis Falls is a nice waterfall and one of the highest in the park at 81 feet tall but at the time we were there the stream going over the cliff is not very large compared to several other waterfalls in the park. Getting a good view during the summer is a little more challenging because parts of the waterfall are covered with leaves and the steep cliffs around it make for getting a different and better view difficult. Still, I enjoyed this waterfall and the adventure to get to it.

Our Wildlife Encounter on Lewis Falls Trail

Due to time restraints and wanting to get back before the restaurant closes we didn’t spend much time at the falls taking it in. Also, we weren’t well prepared to be on the trail after dark so we needed to do the most difficult portion of our hike at a faster pace. Along the way back we encountered a deer taking the trail toward us which was kind of fun to see but delayed our return both because of wanted to observe the deer and not wanted to chase it. After awhile of watching it decided to meander off the trail allowing us to pass and continue our trek up the mountain. We were all really tired and hot after this hike but we did manage to get something to eat before total darkness enveloped the area.

Dinner in the Big Meadows Lodge