Muir Woods

img_04571I was talking to a friend who is flying into San Francisco and visiting Napa Valley for a few days.   He had some spare time before his hotel check in, so I mentioned that he should visit Muir Woods just north of town.    This was something he wasn’t aware was so close to San Francisco and Napa Valley.

Muir Woods is an impressive grove of old growth coast redwoods.   It is also part of the National Park system, having become a National Monument in 1908.  The Coastal Redwood is the tallest growing tree on the planet with the specimens here towering to as high as 258 feet.   These trees should not be confused with the giant Sequoia’s in Sequoia National Park which seem to be as big around as they are tall!

Driving to Muir Woods from San Francisco International Airport is almost as fun as visiting the park itself.   Muir Woods is 12 miles north of San Francisco, so you will drive through the Golden Gate Park, over the Golden Gate bridge and through the hills north of Sausalito.   One of the most vivid memories I had was of smelling the eucalyptus while driving through the switchbacks on the way there.

At the park, there is a series of trails that wind through the trees with many an opportunity for an iconic photo.   When I was there the banana slugs were mating or something and were everywhere.   They were pretty cool and up to 10 inches long.

To get over to Sonoma or Napa Valley it is just a quick one hour drive northeast of Muir Woods.   I doubt it adds more than 15 minutes to your trip to go this route.   Well worth it.

rk

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Sunday Hikes: South Kaibab and Bright Angel Trails

The sky was vivid blue and clear.   I could feel a nip in the air as I was dressed lightly in anticipation of hotter temperatures in the day.   My son Josh and I were packed and ready to descend into the canyon.   Which canyon?… the Grand Canyon of course.   The first time I visited the Grand Canyon, I had wanted to go down to the Colorado River.   Josh shared that dream with me and so we booked plane tickets from Atlanta to Phoenix.   Since we were unable to get a permit to camp in the inner canyon, we planned to hike from top to bottom and back up again in one day.   This is highly discouraged by the National Park Service and I would never recommend it in the heat of the summer.

Our hike was scheduled for late April (2016).   Our plan was sound and we were prepared.   At 7am, we headed down from the South Kaibab trailhead.   It was 36*F.   We both had backpacks loaded down with an excessive amount of water, high protein granola bars, peanut butter crackers, trail mix and an unfortunately large bag of dried apricots.    I was a little nervous.  I was in pretty good shape for 43, but could I keep up with my 18 year old son and the 13 miles of switchbacks back up the Bright Angel Trail?   My excitement and the easy start to the descent quickly made me forget about any anxiousness I may have had.   We marveled at the colors of the rock walls and the amount of blooming flowers.   6 miles and 2 ½” hours later we arrived at the Colorado River.   It is a very dramatic entrance as you go through a tunnel blasted through the rock face and cross a bridge that is somehow affixed to the rock wall on the south side of the river and leads to the north side of the Colorado River.   Our packs were much lighter having constantly chugged water and munching on our snacks on the way down.

We refilled our water bottles there at the bottom knowing the hike back up would be much harder.  Along the trail running parallel to the river, we found a picnic table in the shade to rest and prepare lunch.   The temperature at the bottom was a scorching 91*F.   We finished up our lunch and I was surprised to see that I had eaten almost the entire bag of apricots on the way down.   I went ahead and finished it off.   After spending a brief 30-45 minutes soaking up the views and watching a very tame deer, we were ready to head back up.   The unknown was a little scary at this point.  I figured that it might start getting dark in the canyon by maybe 4 or 5pm as the sun was blocked by the canyon walls and I was unsure how long it would take to climb back up to the top.

The first part of the ascent of Bright Angel was pretty easy as it followed the river for a ways before taking a sharp turn up through a pass and leading us back up the cliff face.   As we proceeded, the apricots started to make themselves known in my gut.   I quickly realized my mistake in consuming the large bag of apricots and I was struggling with stomach cramps as we ascended the trail.   We passed a beautiful small waterfall but I couldn’t stop to enjoy it as the apricots were causing me severe discomfort.  I was in desperation mode when suddenly we turned a corner and found ourselves already at Indian Garden.   Indian Garden is natural oasis with running water, trees and most importantly, bathroom facilities.   Crude facilities to be sure, but I never was more happy to see a hole in the ground.   After a rest in the cool shade, we resumed our journey and the more steep inclines.   Several hours and many a stomach cramp later, we turned the last switchback and crested the top of the trail.   My legs were like jelly and I was exhausted.   Josh looked like he could do the trail again.   Ah, to be young and strong again.

I must say I was proud to have done the hike in the time we had completed it.   8 ½ hours to complete 15 ¾ miles with 8000 feet of elevation change and a lifetime of memories to share with my son.   I would recommend this hike for everyone…..just leave the dried apricots at home.

rk

 

Canyonlands National Park

I was able to spend a day in Canyonlands National Park near Moab UT recently (July 2016).   Canyonlands is a massive National Park split into 3 main sections:  Island in the Sky, the Needles, and the Maze.   It would easily take a couple weeks to explore it all.  With limited time, I decided to take in the Island in the Sky portion of the park.

Island in the Sky is amazingly beautiful and filled with those iconic views you think of when considering the Southwestern United States.  Island in the Sky is a mesa overlooking 1000 foot drops in every direction surrounded by canyons and the Colorado and Green rivers.   You can get a great overhead view of the Needles portion of the park on the other side of the Colorado river.  Needles is full of colorful spires that reach into the sky beckoning you to come hike through.   The Maze portion is far off and remote.  The Maze is one of those places it takes a few days of backpacking to get to (no roads!).

When visiting Island in the Sky, make sure you leave your car and take the short hike to Mesa arch.  It is gorgeous.  I was able to catch it with the sun rising behind it.  The trails over at Upheaval Dome and Whale Rock are a bit longer but also great hikes.   Make sure you take in the overlooks at Grand Point and Green River.   Both have those views where you just don’t want to blink in case you miss anything.

When leaving Island in the Sky, stop off a Dead Horse Point State Park near the entrance to Island in the Sky.  It is an extra fee, but well worth it for the iconic view of the horseshoe curve in the Colorado River.  The picture of me with my daughter linked to this post is actually from there.   It looks more dangerous than it is!   I promise.

A return trip here for hiking in the Needles section is definitely on the bucket list.  I can’t wait to return.

rk