The Lewis River in Yellowstone National Park

Editors note: Grant wanted to share the following from his June trip to Wyoming. Hopefully we will see more of his travel insights soon.

The Lewis river is located in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. We were driving to our campsite when we stopped to look at the river. I am still in awe that there’s still snow on the ground in June. Gk

Sunday Hikes: Wright Lake Trail

The Wright Lake Trail is a 5 mile loop trail in Florida’s Apalachicola National Forest that shows the diversity of plant life in Florida’s swamps. Dad and I hiked this trail in late March on a weekend trip. The trailhead is found at the Wright Lake day use area across from the Wright Lake Campground. We arrived early in the morning and caught the light just right to see the trees and clouds reflecting on the lake. At the trailhead is a large sign with loads of information about the different types of swamps and marshes that the trail goes through. Dad and I took a minute to read the sign and then went on down the trail.

The Apalachicola National Forest has been logged heavily and is mostly rows of pine trees planted for future logging with small pockets of swamp and marsh scattered throughout. It’s a very strange and unique looking place. We hiked through it while keeping an eye out for alligators and the pitcher plants that grow in this part of Florida.

We came to a dome swamp filled with bald cypress trees with some deep water and only one way to cross; a long plank not even a foot wide across the middle of the swamp. We went one at a time because we didn’t trust the bridge but it proved sturdy and gave us a nice view from the center of the swamp without getting mucky.

After the bridge we walked through the forest a bit more before we came to a sandy forest service road that cut through the forest straight and flat. After the road the trail makes a large loop and crosses the road once again. After this it curved around a circular depression of trees that looked like an aliens crop circle.

As we neared the end of the trail we came to a wonky bridge with a sign that said “Bridge Closed”. We decided to pretend we didn’t see the sign though and took the bridge anyways. It felt sturdy but about half way through the bridge made a 45 degree turn and the entire thing seemed like it had been lifted up on one side and was very slanted. There was a sign here that read “Marleen’s Magic Corner”. We weren’t sure what that meant but we figured there was a witch living nearby or something.

Soon we returned to the trailhead after a nice hike and we hungrily headed out to find some lunch. We never saw any pitcher plants on the hike but there were a lot of pretty wildflowers. We did find some pitcher plants off the road and stopped to take some pics.

I was very surprised at how much I enjoyed the Apalachicola National Forest and I think it’s worth visiting especially if you like plants and/or boating in swamps with alligators and snakes.

Thanks! -Josh

Sunday Hikes: Table Rock Mountain, North Carolina

Table Rock seems to be the go to name for any mountain with a flatish granite top. It seems like half the states have a Table Rock Mountain and all of them have incredible views! Perhaps one of the most popular and most beautiful is Table Rock Mountain in North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest. About two hours from Asheville, Table Rock rises 2,000 feet straight up from Linville Gorge with a squared off peak that makes it impossible to miss when driving towards the mountain. It is easy to see Table Rock’s 4,101 foot elevation on paper and dismiss it since that is not very high even for east coast standards but the views from the top rival any other mountain range in the country!

After camping in an awesome little campsite off of Forest Service Road 210 (the long dirt road that leads up to the trailhead), we woke up a bit late at 9am and made coffee before heading up to the trailhead about 1.5 miles away. The road is typically fairly well maintained but the recent hurricanes on North Carolina’s coast sent enough rain to wash out the roads in a few places and create somewhat rough conditions. It is certainly still driveable but be careful in low clearance and 2 wheel drive vehicles. The trailhead has a large parking lot to accommodate how many hikers and rock climbers come to this area. I think we saw more climbers than hikers here actually. We excitedly hit the trailhead with perfect weather and an eagerness for great views.

The trails length is a bit iffy because there are many side trails to explore and an open granite top to run around on but if you hike from trailhead to where the trail ends and the mountaintop opens up then the trail is about 1.2 miles round trip. The trail is steep, slippery, and a steady incline but it is still a relatively easy trail thanks to the short distance.

Driving up the steep road I saw sneak peeks of the great views to come through the trees. The first opportunity for a view unencumbered by trees is made possible by a large rock sticking out from the trail that looks out on the Linville Gorge. Even from here (about halfway up the trail to the top) the views are amazing and make this mountain feel huge!

From here the trail continues steeply through the trees with long switchbacks and rocky steps. Soon the trail goes through two tall rocks and up some more before a split about halfway through that will take you up and right to the summit or down and left to some great rock climbing spots and is part of the Mountains-to-Sea through hiking trail.

After some more swithbacks through some dense rhododendrons the views start to really open up to the west and soon we created the peak of the mountain where there is the foundations of an old rock house that once stood at the summit.

There are many bushes on the large flat peak of Table Rock with chunks of granite poking out and giving way to incredible views. To the north is Hawksbill mountain and a thick forest.

To the west and south west is Linville Gorge plummeting down and in the distance clouds shrouded the black mountain range and Mt Mitchell, the highest peak in the eastern US.

To the south is Shortoff Mountain and Lake James.

And to the east is the flat North Carolina country that seems so far down if you fell you’d never land (don’t test that).

In every direction the views are breathtaking and worth a long while to take in and enjoy. We found a nice spot to sit down and brew some coffee and enjoy the beautiful day and beautiful views around us. We sipped our coffee and explore the top of the mountain a bit longer before deciding it was time to hear back. On our way back we ran into a friendly older man who knew everything there was about these mountains and just had to share it. He asked if we knew about the “stack rock cave” and when we said no he told us to follow him. So we did. He took us back down the trail and just after the two tall rocks we followed him somewhat warily through the brush and scrambled up a small rocky cliff and at the top was indeed a cave created by two pillars of rock that was layered making it a “stack rock cave”.

The views were very cool from here and despite the somewhat sudden and weird nature of us finding out about this place we were grateful to this guy for sharing his knowledge with us. After chatting with him a bit we headed back down to the trail head to eat our lunch. We made sandwiches in the car and then headed back down for Asheville and eventually home wishing we were still on the mountain.

Thanks! – Josh

Sunday Hikes: Beehive Trail

The Beehive Trail is one of Acadia National Park’s “iron rung” trails meaning it is mostly a non-technical rock climb up the Beehive cliffs with the assistance of iron rungs in the rock places there by the NPS. The nearby Precipice Trail is similar but involves more rock scrambling, higher cliffs, and is all around scarier but sadly it was closed due to peregrine falcon nesting when we last visited in July. The falcons don’t seem to like the Beehive cliffs though which is good for me since the Beehive is one of my favorite hikes! My only complaint is that it isn’t longer at two miles round trip (only .5miles or so is climbing).

We had just been at Sand Beach and walked across the street to the Beehive trailhead to begin our hike. It was a beautiful summer day on the Maine coast and the greens of the trees and blues of the water were vibrant as ever in the afternoon sun. Last time I hiked this trail was in the peak of Maine’s fall leaf season and the whole place was lit up with reds, oranges, and purples that glowed on the mountains. One day I hope to visit Acadia in the dead of winter to experience it in all seasons. But anyways the trailhead marker is a small stump with words carved into it and the trail starts off very rocky and uphill.

Soon we reached a fork in the road in the shape of a circle with hard granite sticking out of the dirt. A sign pointed left and a sign pointed right toward the Beehive and that’s the way we headed. Soon there is a sign warning of the dangers of climbing Beehive and it includes the fact that multiple people have fallen to their deaths on these cliffs.

With this grave news the Beehive pokes up through the trees looming as a high up peak with little ant-like people on its face. The reason it is called the Beehive is evident with this view.

The trail doesn’t take any time getting to the climbing and pretty soon we were waiting behind an old lady stuck 3 feet up with her family telling her she probably should sit out of this hike. After they talked her down we carried on upwards with some big rocky steps and a couple iron rungs. After the first few sets of iron rungs a view opens up of sand beach and the bay where we had just been. The water a deep blue that shone in the afternoon sun.

From here we climbed up several sets of iron rungs before crossing a small wooden bridge sticking out of the side of the cliff. The views here are great.

After the bridge we turned a corner and after a few more iron rungs we were up at the rocky top of the mountain with amazing views of Mt. Desert Island all around.

After we took in all the great views we went over the top of the mountain to reach the return trail. The return trail takes you down quickly with a bunch of steps cutting through the aspen forest. It felt like no time before we returned to the fork and then soon we were back at the trailhead and ready for the next hike.

I love the Beehive Trail! It is so fun and unique with great views! If you ever have the chance to visit Acadia I would highly recommend the Beehive trail.

Thanks! – Josh

Camping: Alamo Canyon Campground

Organ Pipe Cactus are a type of cactus that grows in the rocky Sonoran desert with many tall stems that grow from one short stump resembling a pipe organ. Their territory falls within the Saguaro’s territory and just like their iconic cousins the Organ Pipe Cactus only grow in southern Arizona and Northern Mexico. Out in the remote Arizona desert on the Mexico border is Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. This is one of the best places to explore these plants limited range and just like any remote National Park the best way to explore is by camping. The monument has two campgrounds, a larger one with running water and showers and RV hook ups, and a primitive one with a vault toilet and only four campsites out in a remote part of this already remote area. Naturally I chose the small remote Alamo Canyon Campground over the larger Twin Peaks Campground in my recent visit.

To reach the campground you must drive south on Highway 85, just before you enter the National Monument you will pass a border patrol checkpoint on the north side of the road, once you enter the Monument the campground is located down the unmarked dirt Alamo Canyon Road at mile marker 65.5. The road goes for 3 miles before dead ending at the campground and is suitable for most cars.

While driving down this road late at night I noticed a flashing blue light in the direction of the campground. I thought perhaps it was a police car or park ranger but as I got closer I realized it was a tall 30 foot pole with a large box bolted on. The box had a large red button with simple instruction above: “press if you need help”. This vague button with the combination of signs in the park saying that known smuggling routes exist in the park was a little disconcerting.

We arrived at the campground around 10pm and quickly set up and spent some time watching the stars. Having only seen this area at dark at this point I couldn’t help but feel a little spooked from the tall Saguaro silhouettes and the looming rocky mountain behind us but at the same time it’s hard to feel too spooked with the stars unfolding in the sky.

In the morning the place felt peaceful and quiet and we enjoyed our coffee among the tall cactus before departing. I really liked the Alamo Canyon Campground and will go back as soon as I can! There’s nothing like camping out alone in the desert wilderness!

Thanks! – Josh

Sunday Hikes: Wasson Peak

I visited Saguaro National Park for the first time a few years ago and loved it! I visited the west side of the park (or Tucson Mountain District) for the first time in April this year. Saguaro is unique among the National Parks because of its proximity to a fairly large city. The Park is cut in half by the city of Tucson and each side has its own special features. On the east side (or Rincon Mountain District) the park’s namesake cactus that only grows naturally in southern Arizona and Northern Mexico are older and larger (meaning they are often 100+ years old and can reach astounding heights close to 50 feet tall). In contrast the west side’s Saguaros are younger but more densely populated. The east side also provides the opportunity for backcountry camping along the Tanque Verde Trail in the Rincon Mountains. While the west side doesn’t have backcountry camping it does boast the highest peak in Saguaro National Park, Wasson Peak at 4,687 feet above sea level.

So out of desire for great views and a great hike Erin and I set off in the early afternoon to take on the 7.8 mile hike up to the peak and back with 1,800 feet in elevation gain. Before setting off we decided it would be smart to ask a ranger for the best route since there are many intermingling trails in the park that can take you up to the top. The park ranger said he thought it would be best to hike up the King Canyon Trail and back down via the Gould Mine Trail. He also recommended to go up the wash that runs parallel to the first section of trail because the terrain is a bit easier to traverse and there would be more shade. We thought that all made since so we headed out towards the trailhead excited for our hike! I quickly filled my water bottle up and above the water fountain I noticed a sign warning of “Africanized Killer Bees” in the park. It warned how painful their sting is (though not really deadly) and that if you disturb them they will chase you for up to a quarter mile. I showed Erin and we both agreed that we didn’t want to run into any killer bees.

Finally at the trailhead we started our hike from the King Canyon Trailhead. You can either go straight and up along the old jeep road paved with loose gravel or you can go left and down into the wash that has nice rocky footing and more shade from the Arizona sun. I recommend the former and here is why. We went in the wash just as Mr Ranger Man has suggested and it was all great and dandy. Their were lots of Saguaros to take pictures of along with the blooming ocotillo and lizards galore hopping about.

We hiked for about half a mile and then the trail began gaining elevation via a slight incline but mostly through small cliffs that we climbed up with ease while picturing the waterfalls that form here when large rains fall.

In the next quarter mile we encountered a couple more of these small ledges before coming to the largest one that was a little taller than me. I began climbing up and as I poked my head up above the top my ears were filled with the buzzing of bees and my eyes took in the terrifying sight of a hundred killer bees that had taken up residence right in the middle of our wash. Without much thought I hopped down from the cliff and we started back to take the jeep road. Luckily the bees were busy bees and didn’t pay us much mind but we didn’t want to risk trying to go around the bees since it felt like the permeated the entire airspace above the trail. And so we hiked back 3/4 of a mile cursing that ranger for sending us into the hornets nest.

By the time we returned to the trailhead the sun was right overhead and gave us a typical springtime temp of 90°F with no wind chill. The jeep trail gained elevation much steadier than the wash and we quickly were treated to great views of the desert and mountains behind us and our mountain top destination in front.

Pretty soon we had finished the first mile of trail (not including the wash detour) and were at the first of many crossroads. To the left you could go to the hike-in picnic ground and connect to the Gould Mine trail (where we would later descend) or continue straight and upwards to Wasson Peak.

That is what we did and with most of our elevation gain ahead in the next 2.5 miles. As the trail steepened the view widened and the sun beat down harder on us. In the most strenuous parts of the trail with no shade whatsoever we would use the thin shadows of the Saguaro to hide from the suns insidious rays. (I say “we” but I really mean Erin did that while I poked fun at her even though I knew it was a brilliant plan). Anyways we kept on upwards while the sun shone down and we cherished every time the occasional breeze would blow by to keep us going.

After another 1.5 miles we created a ridge that then gave way to our first views of Tucson and the eastern mountains. The view to the west was great too and we took a moment to take it in. Here we met our second crossroads with a right turn on the Sweetwater trail that goes around Wasson Peak and meets with the northern end of the park and a left turn leading to our summit.

Soon after the left turn we crossed over a fallen Saguaro in the trail that seemed like before its downfall was one of the larger cactus around.

After a horseshoe of a turn in the trail and before the next we spotted a fenced of area to the right and went to investigate! The fence blocked off entrance to a cave where miners once dug for iron. With rusted iron bars obstructing the deep blackness of the cave it made me think two things, one being that I wish we could take advantage of this cave’s shade and secondly that somewhere in that blackness could be the den of a cougar which I shuddered at the thought of and decided to continue on hiking.

After another mile from our last split we reached the third crossroads. A left turn which began descending back to the parking lot and a right going another third of a mile to the top.

The homestretch was upon us and forgetting the heat we rushed to the top and were treated to 360° views of the beautiful Arizonan landscape. There are many reasons why I love the desert and a big reason is it’s lack of obstructions. In our home state of Georgia we are at all times surrounded by forest and even atop our highest mountains the trees cloud the earth below (not to say it isn’t pretty. I love Georgia’s mountains). Out West in the desert though the landscape rolls out and unfolds forever only interrupted by large mountains or the limited sight distance of the human eye. Sadly though no matter how many carrots a human eats their eyes reach a limit and there’s no way around it. There is a way around the mountains though and that is to climb them. From atop a mountain in the desert the earth shows its form and what looked like a hill or a ditch from the bottom becomes a part of a landscape that no man could create that despite being dirt and rock comes alive and fills me with excitement and awe.

Anyways after taking all that in it was time to start back on our 4.3 mile return trip. Back down from the mountain we went and along the rest of the trail the views were great as the sun went from it’s piercing position up above to meet the horizon. After a quick two miles of downward hiking and all around enjoyment of our surroundings we came to our next crossroads with four directions all shooting of in different directions to different corners of the park.

Our turn was left and so we went left to connect to the Gould Mine Trail. The crossroads sat atop a ridge and the trail went down the side and turned back east to cling to the canyons side that led us back to the trailhead. We turned a corner and noticed a deep orangey red dirt ahead that stood out greatly from the tan dirt we were used to. Turning the corner more we saw another fence and larger iron grate that covered a deep mineshaft whose bottom must have been in the earths core. I assume the redness of the dirt was either because the miners accidentally came across some artifact that cursed the land and made it red or because of the iron they were mining.

There was also an old stone miners hut here.

After we passed the mine we came across a lot of old rusted metal from the miners lunch boxes and tools. We passed another mine shortly after that one and kept on down the trail that now took us through the valley’s floor. The sun was setting quickly now and as the changing light gave a golden hue to the desert we were suddenly back at the parking lot after crossing the wash that we had started in so long ago.

With a bit of a drive ahead of us to our next destination we made some coffee and got rolling but not before taking some pictures by the entrance to the park as a classic Saguaro sunset unfolded before our eyes.

This hike is one of my favorites and I’m very glad we hiked up to Wasson Peak and would encourage anyone else that loves a good hike and great views to do this hike as well!

Thanks! – Josh

Camping: Forks Campground, Gila National Forest

The Forks Campground in New Mexico’s Gila National Forest is great for many reasons. The first being that it is free. Who doesn’t love free? It’s location just off of highway 15 makes it the perfect location when visiting the nearby Gila Cliff Dwellings. The views aren’t bad either as the campground is next to a very cool canyon formed by the West Fork Gila River. Once the sun goes down and you can’t see down into the canyon anymore then you can look up as the stars come out in the millions. The Gila is one of the darkest places in the contiguous United States so unless there are clouds you’ll be stargazing all night at this campground.

The only downside to the campground is the lack of potable water so be sure to bring enough water for your camping trip! (You can hike down to the river quite easily if you are in dire need of water but be sure to boil it before consuming!)

There are vault toilets that are fairly well maintained by the forest service and a large fire pit in the center of the campground if you want to have a party. I prefer to find a nice secluded site and hang out by the fire though. Whatever you do here though I’m sure it’ll be a great time!

PS. Be sure to check the fire hazards for the national forest. As a native New Mexican, Smokey the Bear wouldn’t be too happy if you started a wildfire in his home state.

Thanks! – Josh

Picture of the Day: Starry Night in the Gila National Forest

I took this picture in early April from my campsite in the Gila National Forest of southwest New Mexico. The stars were beautiful that night and I’m really glad I got a good picture of them to remember! I hope this encourages you to get out and go see some stars for your own! The new moon will be tomorrow night (the 12th) so go find a dark area near you and stargaze a little!

Thanks! – Josh

Sunday Hikes: Waterfall and Lime Kiln Trails in Big Sur

Josh and I camped at the delightful Limekiln State Park in Big Sur back in April. This was a great campground right off the Pacific Coast Highway with campsites right on the beach and others nestled in the redwood trees.

There are three trails in the back of the campground each about 3/4 of a mile in length. They share a trailhead and branch out from there. Josh and I tackled the Waterfall Trail first. We had fun hopping on rocks and branches crossing the stream multiple times.

We arrived at the fan shaped waterfall quickly. After taking a few pictures, we hopped across the creeks again to where the Lime Kiln Trail split off.

It was a quick and easy flat hike to the Lime Kilns. These were much larger than I thought and I found them fascinating. Before this area became protected, the lime kilns were used in the production of cement.

We decided to skip the Hare Creek Trail and walk through the campground to the beach. The stream flows right into the surf and it was an idyllic setting.

I really enjoyed this campground and it’s hiking trails. I highly recommend it when you visit Big Sur. Thanks for reading! rk

Picture of the Day: White Sands Morning

These pictures were all taken just after waking up from sleeping in the backcountry of White Sands National Monument. The morning light on the sand dunes is beautiful and something I could stare at every morning! From even the small ripples created by the wind to the large mountains in the distance, every bit of this area is stunning!

Thanks! – Josh