Sunday Hikes: Mariscal Mine

Long before Texas’ Big Bend country was made into a national park it was populated by a handful of small ranches. In 1900 Martin Solis discovered cinnabar near his farm and quickly tried to capitalize on it. Mining continued here sporadically until the creation of Big Bend National Park in 1944. The mine was fairly unprofitable in it’s day but has become a benefit to all future generation as a protected historical site. It is now an eerie reminder of the past in the heart of Big Bend’s backcountry.

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We visited the derelict mining town after a long day of exploring backroads and canyons on the park’s east side. From the Rio Grande Village area we took the River Road East towards the center of the park. We set up camp at the Fresno backcountry site (the only place you can camp near Mariscal Mine) around 5:30pm and as the sun was setting we rushed to explore the mine.

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At this point I will say that purchasing the Guide to Big Bend’s Dirt Roads book from any of the camp stores of visitors centers in the park. This book is a well of information for all the parks roads and it has a nice map of the Mariscal Mine complex telling you what each building is and what it was used for.

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The hike begins in a small dirt parking area with rock houses scattered around where the former miners once lived. There is a sign at the trailhead with a warning not to touch anything because of the mercury that has soaked into the bricks. Up on the hill we could see the mine blending in with its surroundings as it is made of rock from the hill it sits on. The trail up to the mine is loose and rocky dirt so we had to be careful not to slip while trying to take pictures and hike at the same time. The largest structure in front is one of the many furnaces used to melt down the mercury containing cinnabar ore.

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The trail curves past the large furnace and gains some elevation to get a view of the complex from above and to see the mines themselves. Large deep and dark pits with metal grates blocking entrance. some went like a doorway into the mountainside and some were just a hole in the ground dropping vertically  to the center of the earth (or close to it at least). The only other people out there, some kids and two adults with them were dropping rocks and sticks into the largest mine shaft and counting before it hit the bottom.

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We reached the end of the trail at a high point overlooking the mine with great views of Boquillas Canyon and the east side of the park as well as the setting sun and west side of the park. After enjoying the view for a bit we started to head back down, peeking in the mines along the way.

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We spent about an hour hiking and exploring the Mariscal Mine area with the trail being about 2 miles out and back. The mine is in the middle of nowhere and takes an hour to drive to but it is well worth the trip!

 

Thanks! – Josh

Sunday Hikes: North Rim Trail, Tallulah Gorge

Our home state of Georgia is mostly woods and farmland and that’s about the extent of some people’s view on Georgia’s landscape. Some people are surprised to find out we have mountains (small ones but mountains nonetheless). Even fewer people are aware that the state contains large canyons, three to be exact (Providence Canyon, Cloudland Canyon, and Tallulah Gorge). Obviously that is nothing compared to most western states but to a state of mostly farms and pines they are a big deal.

 

Tallulah Gorge is perhaps the most popular with it’s massive waterfalls, steep 1,000 foot cliffs, and unmitigated beauty. Tallulah Gorge State Park’s North Rim Trail is a great trail that takes you to six incredible overlooks above the canyon. The trail is mostly flat and only 1.5 miles round trip.

Overlook #1 is also originally named “Inspiration Point” and shows Oceana Falls and horseshoe bend rock formation.

Overlook #2 gives a slightly new view of Oceana Falls as well as Bridal Veil Falls (another unique name)

Overlook #3 shows off three more waterfalls; L’Eau d’Or Falls, Tempesta Falls, and Hawthorne Cascades and the Hawthorne Pool.

Overlook #4 is another view of L’Eau d’Or Falls and Hawthorne Pool. From here the ruins of an old water compressor plant can be seen. As well as the Tallulah Falls Dam.

Overlook #5 is an awesome view of Tallulah Falls Dam which was has been around since 1913. Georgia’s oldest living resident is 113 years old and would have been 8 years old at the time of the dam’s completion. It is likely that no one alive remembers or could recall this natural wonder’s natural state. Each overlook is no more than a fence or a small wooden porch built on the canyon’s edge except for 5. 5 has a large stone and concrete platform. When I went recently and took these pictures the whole thing had a giant pool of snowmelt in it.

Overlook #6 is another view of Hawthorne and also just a great view of the gorge.

Tallulah is an easy day trip from Atlanta, Asheville, or Chattanooga. There is also so much in that area that a weekend trip or even a weeklong trip could be spent in northeast Georgia. I love the western United States and there is no denying the the nature there is bigger and wilder than the heavily populated a long inhabited east but there is still wilderness and extreme beauty here in the east and I would encourage anybody to get out and explore it.

Thanks! – Josh

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

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

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!

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Picture of the Day: Snowy Sandias

Sandia Peak rises 5,000 feet above Albuquerque, New Mexico and well into spring can have snow atop the peak. The views are incredible and despite being a popular weekend spot you can often find the peak void of people on weekday mornings.

Thanks! – Josh

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

The 5 National Park Hikes on My Bucket List

Yesterday I wrote about my 5 favorite National Park hikes that I have completed. It brought back a lot of great memories. If you missed it, check out these favorite hikes here.

Today I am writing about the Top 5 hikes I want to hike. Without further ado, here we go!

1) The Narrows in Zion National Park. This is a 16 mile hike literally in the Virgin River flowing through a slot canyon with walls as high as 1000 feet. It requires a permit to hike. I was able to get a taste of this a few years ago and have wanted to come back and hike the entire Narrows ever since.

2) Cascade Pass in North Cascades National Park. I’ve wanted to hike in this National Park ever since seeing it out of an airplane window. Cascade Pass is a great day hike with panoramic views of peaks and glaciers.

3) The Teton Crest Loop in Grand Teton National Park. This 30 odd mile hike would include some backcountry camping in the heart of the Grand Tetons. As beautiful as the Grand Tetons are from Jenny Lake, I bet it’s even more gorgeous up in the Tetons. This trail requires a permit.

4) The Peekaboo Trail in Canyonlands National Park. From Grand View Point in the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands, I was able to gaze into the ruggedly beautiful Needles section and I’ve wanted to go there ever since. Bonus is this 10 mile trail through classic Canyonlands landscape is only accessible by 4 wheel drive!

5) Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Possible the most iconic and photographed hike in the National Park System. It’s also dangerous and incredibly difficult. I keep telling myself it can’t be scarier than Angels Landing, but I think it may be. 14.2 miles via the Mist Trail and all those famous waterfalls and then up those steel cables to the summit of half dome. This one requires a permit also.

One thing that makes it difficult to get these hikes all done is that most of them are only open in the summer and require a difficult to obtain permit. The limited hiking season (and limited vacation time) means it will take a few more years for me to hike all of these.

I’d love to hear what National Park hikes are your favorites or are at the top of your bucket list. Let me know in the comments. Thanks! rk

5 of My Favorite National Park Hikes

I thought it would be fun to share my 5 favorite National Park hikes that I have completed. All of these are great and if you are an avid hiker you should put on your bucket list.

1) The Highline Trail in Glacier National Park. This trail delivers breathtaking beauty around every turn. Starting at the Continental Divide at Logan Pass it follows the Garden Wall through the highest elevations in the Park. Read more about my hike here.

2) Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park. This trail was named when an early explorer exclaimed that only an Angel can get up there. This trail is not for those with a fear of heights (or falling!). Read more about my hike here.

3) The High Peaks Trail in Pinnacles National Park. Scampering up and around the High Peaks of this National Park while surrounded by California Condors, what’s not to like! Read more about my hike here.

4) The Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park. Technically this is a non technical climb as much as it is a hike. The views of the island and the Atlantic Ocean are unparalleled. Read more about my hike here.

5) The Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon National Park. You haven’t truly experienced the Grand Canyon until you reach the Colorado River. Beautiful and extremely difficult trail. Read more about my hike here.

Next up, I will share the 5 National Park Hikes that I haven’t completed but are at the top of my list to do.

Thanks for reading. rk

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