Sunday Hikes: The Chimney Rock Trail

Chimney Rock sounds to me like a hike you would find in Great Smoky Mountains National Park or maybe in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. However, in this case, the Chimney Rock Trail is located in Point Reyes National Seashore in California.

Chimney Rock is a 1.75 mile round trip hike out to a popular whale spotting overlook. The trail gets its name for a small rock island in the ocean visible from the overlook. In addition to whales, the trail promises lots of opportunities to spot elephant seals and sea lions.

The trail starts thru a grassy section heading uphill. I promptly spotted my first wildlife with a rattlesnake crossing the trail about 5 feet in front of me.

Quickly you come to a crest in the trail with a gorgeous view of the coast off to the right. You can see sea lions lounging down below.

Sea Lions are pretty lazy

Continuing to follow the trail up and over the crest soon you are surrounded by ocean on three sides. It is a very beautiful spot to just soak in the views.

Right above the view of Chimney Rock is the best spot to see whales. Remember to bring binoculars! We were lucky as a pod of whales was passing by a few miles offshore. With the naked eye I could see their spray and with binoculars I could see some fins and their backs as they swam by. Pretty cool!

Chimney Rock. My iPhone camera couldn’t pick up the whales sadly.

Looping back, I noticed that there were quite a few elephant seals lazing about on the opposite side of the shore of the peninsula we were on.

Going downhill now, I arrived at the parking lot in short order. There is another shorter trail on the far side of the parking lot with leading to an overlook with a huge population of elephant seals. Some of these were playing in the water so it was good to see some actually moving about.

More elephant seals.

Point Reyes and Chimney Rock didn’t disappoint. I recommend checking out this trail and the rest of the National Seashore if you are ever in the area. Thanks for reading. rk

Friday Favorites: Black Gap Road in Big Bend National Park

Much of Big Bend National Park is primitive roads requiring high clearance and off road tires. 4 wheel drive is a plus! Since Josh has popped several tires in the Park before, this time he decided to bring me (and my Jeep).

My favorite section was Black Gap Road. This area required 4 wheel drive to navigate and since we backcountry camped nearby, we had the road to ourselves. Black Gap Road traverses a rock canyon and we had a blast.

In the video below, you can hear me worrying about splashing Josh, and Josh worrying that I’m going to leave him behind. In any case, off-roading and exploring the backcountry and ruins was my favorite part of Big Bend National Park. rk

Picture of the Day: Sunrise at Big Balanced Rock

Big Balanced Rock is a cool rock formation at the end of the primitive road, Grapevine Hills.   After camping in the backcountry site, we did the short hike to Big Balanced Rock where we watched the sun rise as we brewed coffee.   This was a peaceful and beautiful beginning to our trip at Big Bend National Park.

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Sunday Hikes: The Windows Trail

One of the more popular and iconic hikes in Big Bend National Park is The Windows Trail.   The Chisos Basin in the center of Big Bend is a secluded valley surrounded by the Chisos Mountains, with a small “window” in the mountains to see out into the surrounding area.   The Windows Trail is the trail that leads to this notch.   At 3.6 miles round trip, it is a fairly easy trail to navigate with some fun scrambles near the end through and around a stream.

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It was foggy as we started the hike and I couldn’t even see the Windows which normally is visible from everywhere in the Chisos Basin.   We parked near the campground and strolled through the campground to the trailhead.   The trail was pretty much all downhill, but not a very steep grade.   Of course that meant the return would be the opposite.   The trail winded through some small stands of trees and other flora.

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As the fog began to lift, I was able to start seeing the mountains around us and my first glimpse of “The Window”.

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While the hike to this point had been fun, there hadn’t been to much that was notable other than the loads of fog.   As we neared the Window, we caught up to a creek that the trail followed allowing us the opportunity to climb, jump and scramble with the risk of getting a little wet if we slipped in.   This part was my favorite part of this hike.

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The trail finally narrowed to just a gash with what seemed to be a huge immediate drop on the other end with the stream rushing through the gap.   Other hikers went as close as they dared seeking the perfect instagram picture, risking what would be a certain and thrilling death with one slip down and out of the Chisos Mountains.   I perched as close as I felt safe and got my picture and then we headed back the way we came.

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The Windows Trail is a must do when visiting Big Bend National Park.   You can knock it out fairly quickly and you get a much better feel for what the Chisos Basin is like from hiking this trail.   Thanks for reading.   rk

Picture of the Day: Rio Grande River

I was surprised how small the Rio Grande River was in Big Bend National Park. I saw some Mexicans crossing on horseback to refill their trinkets left for sale on the American side of the border along with one American tourist who just waded across so he could say he went to Mexico. Near Solis on the backcountry River Road, I settled for just throwing a rock across the Rio Grande. We camped one night at the Buenos Aires campsite just a few hundred feet from the river. rk

Sunday Hikes: The Heart of Rocks Loop and other trails at Chiricahua National Monument

Chiricahua National Monument in southeast Arizona is a real gem. I had a free day in the area and wanted to see as much of this park as possible including the Heart of Rocks Loop. This remote part of the park is only accessible by hiking several other trails. I mapped out a route beginning at the Echo Canyon trailhead, but taking the Ed Riggs Trail to Mushroom Rock Trail, up and back Inspiration Point Trail, and then down Big Balanced Rock Trail to the Heart of Rocks Loop, then down the Sarah Deming Trail, up the Upper Rhyolite Trail connecting to the Echo Canyon Trail back to where I began. This route is 9.5 miles total.

Chiricahua National Monument is known for its balanced rocks, spires and hoodoos formed by eroding volcanic rhyolite rock. I was excited to see this but I had no idea that there were probably millions of this features. Certainly more than you could count.

After packing my bag with lots of water and snacks, I took the quick connector trail from the Echo Canyon Trailhead to the Ed Riggs Trail. I snapped some shots of some standing rocks that I would have just strolled by later without barely noticing because of their commonness.

I scooted down the Ed Riggs Trail in record time because my adrenaline was pumping. The features on this trail were stunning but would pale to some of the rock formations later to be seen.

Quicker than I could believe I cut down the Mushroom Rock Trail. This trail had some incline in it that slowed me down a bit. The namesake Mushroom Rock looked more like an inverted triangle to me. I don’t understand how it doesn’t fall over. After passing Mushroom Rock you could see that this area had been affected by wildfires sometime recently.

Inspiration Point is a 1 mile out and back spur trail. It is the highest part of the park at just over 7000 ft elevation. I was really surprised by the view at Inspiration Point. It views right down the valley and out of the park to the flat ground outside. I climbed up on a rock, had a snack and soaked in the amazing view. You can see how prevalent the rock formations really are in the picture.

I returned back to the main trail and resumed by going down Big Balanced Rock Trail. After a while I saw this big balanced rock and took a bunch of pictures because it was so amazing. Turned out it was just some unnamed but still cool rock feature.

The real Big Balanced Rock defied gravity and for scale look at the specifications on the sign.

From here I took the Heart of Rocks Loop. This was really fun as parts were a rock scramble and you felt really in with the rocks. The Pinnacle Balanced Rock was my favorite in this area.

After completing the loop I continued down the Sarah Deming Trail. This trail went down the entire time losing much elevation. It was also much more wooded.

From here I connected onto the Upper Rhyolite Trail which crossed the valley floor including over a rocky wash and started to go up the far side where it joined with the Echo Canyon Trail.

Echo Canyon was the last portion of the hike but it may have been the best (aside from going up, up and more up). It had many of the same cool rock formations but also some slot canyons and rock caves to pass through. It was on this trail where I saw the first and only people I would see while hiking in the park.

I made it to the parking lot exhausted but thrilled and happy. I cannot tell you enough how amazing this National Monument is. If you like hiking and exploring then add Chiricahua to your bucket list now. Thanks for reading. rk

Picture of the Day: Congaree National Park

I stopped in Congaree National Park in South Carolina yesterday to see the effects of the government shutdown. Other than the visitor center and bathrooms being closed, everything else seemed normal. The recent rains had flooded it out, covering the boardwalk in places and overflowing Weston Lake. rk

Sunday Hikes: The Hugh Norris Trail in Saguaro National Park

I arrived at the Red Hills Visitor Center on the West side of Saguaro National Park around 230pm. I wanted to hike and see the park, but was worried about the early December sunset at 515pm.

I decided on hiking the beautiful Hugh Norris Trail and seeing how far I could get. This trailhead is located off of the Bajada Loop Drive.

It didn’t take long to find the trailhead and start hiking. I quickly realized that the trail pretty much goes up indefinitely, but that was good since the return trip would be faster. I took a series of pictures as I ascended to the first pass.

Giant 30-40 foot saguaros were everywhere! There was a cool rock formation, similar to a hoodoo, off to the right as well.

The sun was getting lower in the sky by now with a pretty orange glow starting to appear on the clouds behind me.

At the top of the first pass were several large rocks that you could scramble and take in some gorgeous 360 degree views. Of course, I took advantage of that. Off in the distance you could see mountain ranges all around me.

I hurried on through the similarly spectacular terrain, glancing over my shoulder repeatedly at the sun setting creating orange and pink stripes across the sky. Soon the dirt seemed to change to a more yellowish tone and off to the right was a fenced off hole in the ground. I wasn’t sure if it was an old mine, a cave, or the den for a mountain lion. I didn’t tarry long. Almost immediately after the “big hole” as I dubbed it was my turnaround point at the trail interjunction with the Esperanza Trail.

I had made it 2.7 miles with a return trip looming of another 2.7 miles with a race against the setting sun. Fortunately for me that included non stop views of the sun setting which made the hike all that more enjoyable.

Man what a great hike! I was able to do the 5.4 miles in about 2 hours and 10 minutes which could have been faster if I hadn’t stopped to take so many pictures. If you are in Saguaro definitely hike this trail. Thanks for reading. rk

Picture of the Day: Sunset in Saguaro National Park

We’ve shared the sunsets in Saguaro National Park before, but they never seem to disappoint. I caught this one a few days ago off of the Bajada Loop Drive. rk

Defying Gravity in Chiricahua National Monument

I would say that Chiricahua National Monument is equal or superior to many of our National Parks in facilities and grandeur. Located in southeast Arizona, not far from the Mexican border, this National Monument is shockingly beautiful.

Probably tops along its features is the tremendous quantity of hoodoos and balanced rocks. Formed by a volcanic eruption 27 million years ago, the Rhyolite rocks have eroded and fissured into a “Wonderland of Rocks”.

Check out just a sampling of the gravity defying rock formations in Chiricahua National Monument. rk

Pinnacle Balanced Rock

Big Balanced Rock

Mushroom Rock

This one is unnamed but still crazy!

Duck on a Rock