Sunday Hikes: Blue Mesa Trail

The Blue Mesa Trail is a one mile paved loop trail in Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park. The trail takes you through blueish-gray badlands littered with petrified logs and a couple signs about the areas history. According to one of the signs this area was once a swamp filled with dinosaurs but now it’s a unique and beautiful desert filled with Dino ghosts. Petrified Forest is one of the most fossil filled places in the country and Blue Mesa has some of the most fossil discoveries in the petrified forest. So keep an eye out while hiking and maybe you’ll spot a prehistoric giant alligator skeleton sticking out of the ground (probably not though).

I woke up early in the Kaibab National Forest 15 minutes from the Grand Canyon’s rim where I had spent the previous day. I made some coffee and hit the road for Petrified Forest National Park. I got to petrified forest around 9am and I spent my whole morning in the southern end of the park where the majority of the petrified logs are. Around noon I arrived at the Blue Mesa area and set off to hike.

The trailhead has great views of the surrounding desert and it looks like the perfect western landscape looking out at the rugged terrain while a train chugs along in the distance. There is a “sun shelter” at the trailhead which is a nice spot to make a little lunch before or after the hike. The trail is paved for the entire mile but is very steep at the beginning as the trail drops from the top of the mesa to the bottom. I loved the views from here as I descended into the ancient dino swamp.

After the steep descent the trail is mostly flat as it makes a loop through the bowl shaped area created by the walls of badlands around. My favorite part of this trail was how the badlands looked completely different from every angle making it feel like there was always something new to look at and examine.

The park’s namesake petrified forest of logs also inhabits the Blue Mesa reminding everyone that there used to be trees in this now empty desert.

I made my way around the loop, taking pictures along the way and then found myself at the bottom of the steep incline back up to the trailhead. I was surprisingly winded once I reached the top so I took a second to drink some water and enjoy the badlands once more before I departed from the area.

The Blue Mesa Trail was one of my favorite hikes I did that day and I would gladly return to hike it again!

Thanks! – Josh

Camping: Sage Creek Campground

Sage Creek is one of two campgrounds in Badlands National Park. Unlike the luxurious Cedar Pass campground, Sage Creek is primitive with no running water and pit toilets. The campground is located at the end of Sage Creek Rim Road, a dirt road off of the main road in he park. Camping is first come-first serve and free. This campground is awesome. It is just a big circle in the plains. Bison roam through freely and prairie dogs burrow all around! The campground probably has room for twenty tents with a good bit of space between them. There is a large hill next to the campground that gives you a great view of the area. There is also a small canyon nearby that is perfect for exploring, just watch out for the massive bison that are everywhere.

The campground from above.

Making coffee at the picnic table.

Bison in the road held us up for 20 minutes

Thanks! – Josh

Friday Favorites: Roosevelt Elk and Other National Park Wildlife

One of my favorite parts about visiting National Parks is the opportunity to see wildlife up close in its natural habitat.

This video is of a Roosevelt Elk that blocked my path in Olympic National Park. It came right down the trail towards me and then stopped to munch right off the trail.

Probably my favorite wildlife experience was in El Malpais National Monument in New Mexico where I was driving my Jeep down a dirt road while a herd of Pronghorn Antelope ran alongside me at 40ish mph for several minutes. It was exhilarating. rk

Picture of the Day: Badlands National Park


This is right outside of Sage Creek Campground in Badlands National Park. We woke up early to wander around before packing up but our morning stroll was cut short by these two bison enjoying their breakfast right in our path! 

Six things you must do in Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park is one of our new favorite National Parks.   There is so much to see and do.   Having said that, here are six things you must do during a visit to Badlands NP.

1–Visit the Ben Reifel Visitor Center — I really found the Paleontology Lab here fascinating.  This National Park is loaded with fossils of prehistoric mammals and turtles and this working lab lets you watch paleontologists make scientific discoveries.

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The Ben Reifel Visitor Center

2–Hiking —  If you read this blog, then you know we like to go hiking.   There are about a dozen well marked trails near the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.   Some are as short as a 1/4 mile and others as long as 10 miles.   Nearly all of them route through the black hills that this park is known for.

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Many of the shorter trails are on boardwalks.   This is the kid friendly Fossil Exhibit Trail.

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The Cliff Shelf Nature Trail

3–Camping — Hear me out here if you are not a camping savant.   This Park has two campgrounds, Cedar Pass and Sage Creek.   Cedar Pass has all the hookups and electricity etc.   I’m telling you go to Sage Creek.   This primitive campground is considered backcountry.   It does have pit toilets and picnic tables, but all that is worth it for the fabulous scenery and close encounters with bison and prairie dogs.   Plus its free.

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The Sage Creek Campground.   (Do you see the bison milling about?)

4–Look for wildlife — It is almost impossible not to see bighorn sheep, bison, and prairie dogs here.   My youngest son was excited to see a turkey vulture also.

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This bighorn sheep was just hanging around near Panorama Point

5–See the stars — If you get a clear night and a new moon then you are in stargazing heaven.

6–Stop and see the overlooks on the scenic Badlands Loop Road — The overlooks here are amazing.   You will be glad you stopped to see them.

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The White River Valley Overlook on the Badlands Loop Road

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Bigfoot Pass Overlook on the Badlands Loop Road

 

The Best Bargain in Travel

The best bargain in travel is the United States National Park Pass.   The cost is negligible really.   We purchased an annual family Interagency National Park Pass last June for $80.   If you are a senior, it is only $10 for a lifetime pass and the US Military get in free always.

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Having the National Park Pass gets you into all National Parks, Monuments, and Federal Recreation sites at no additional cost with no limitations on visits.   Before I had the National Park Pass I had been to 6 National Parks in 43 years.   Since June, I have been to 9 National Parks with 7 of them new.   In addition, my adult children have used the pass to visit 3 other National Parks and between all of us have scheduled trips this winter and spring to at least 7 more.   The National Parks are spread all over the country so while some of our trips have been based around the Parks, others have been because we have been in the area.   Work trip to New Hampshire, then drive up to Acadia in Maine.   Weekend getaway to Seattle, lets squeeze in Mt Ranier etc.

The United States National Park system represents all that is great about America.   To quote writer and historian, Wallace Stegner, national parks are “the best idea we ever had.  Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”   The National Park system preserves the most beautiful, special, and culturally important places in our country.   To visit them widens your view of the world and fills you with awe to the beauty created by God.

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Parks visited so far this year by our family include Acadia NP, Congaree NP, Cuyahoga NP, Zion NP, Canyonlands NP, Arches NP, Capitol Reef NP, Bryce Canyon NP, Grand Canyon NP, Saguaro NP, Mt Ranier NP, Olympic NP, Shenandoah NP, and the Great Smoky Mountains NP.    Scheduled trips over the next six months include Joshua Tree NP, Yellowstone NP, Grand Tetons NP, Badlands NP, Big Bend NP, Guadalupe NP, and Carlsbad Caverns NP.   I’m sure we will sneak in a few more as well!

rk