Tag Archives: hiking

Destructive Grazing in the Wilderness Hurts Everyone

30 Oct

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Cattle living in the mountains where there is literally snow melting into streams in August. 

The summer of 2017 ushered in many new habitat changes in the San Juan Mountains – none more noticeable than a grazing uptick. This was most prevalent in the South San Juan Wilderness near Tobacco and Quartz Lakes – where sizable herds reside.

Cattle cause problems in numerous ways and when living in pristine places – the results are disturbing. They damage the ground by widespread trampling while also devouring flowers and grass. Lush green pastures perfect for taking a nap become a cesspool of ants, flies, mud, and loose rock. Flowers don’t automatically grow back yearly and the ground doesn’t magically reform either. It takes decades to fully recover.

In areas of competing public use these effects are worse. The herds sleep at obvious camp spots, making those inhabitable – littered with foul manure and swarming insects. This means looking elsewhere and finding new spots – putting more pressure on an over-stressed environment.

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Hiking to Tobacco Lake

The same applies for hiking trails. The trails become so disfigured and muddy – hikers have to step off and go around. However, the most significant damage is done to our water supply.

High altitude places in the Western US should be known clean water – a vital natural commodity.  In the South San Juans, these high-altitude watersheds flow into the Rio Grande River. Tobacco is the highest lake in the wilderness at nearly 12,400 feet. Yet, dozens of cattle graze just beneath the shoreline.

I’m all in favor of responsibly herding cattle but not between 8500 – 12,000 feet at beautiful mountain lakes. Can’t we find some place more appropriate? In most towns, chemically treated tap water tastes poor and bottles waste millions of tons of plastic each annually. If our highest and finest natural resources are tainted by bovine – we’ve all got issues.

In case you are wondering how much it ranchers pay for their grazing rights – it’s now 1.87 a month for a cattle and calf. That’s down from 2.11 during the Obama Administration. I think they do more damage than that in an hour. Let’s put politics aside and all agree this is not right.

If you are interested in more evidence please check out my video uploads here. I’m sure I’ll revisit this topic again in the future. Your thoughts, opinions, and input are always appreciated.

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Noticeable damage to the banks of lovely Quartz Lake while the water color is a murky green it should be a silty blue. The forest service touts this lake as a hiking destination but a herd of 20 cattle live onsite making picnics here less than desirable. 

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5 Tips for a Better Backpacking Trip

6 Oct

For many October represents the last month for backpacking without traveling. Here in the Southwest, it is the beginning of the backpacking season. Whether you live close to the mountains, forest, ocean or desert, these are five tried-and-true backpacking tips to help you get more out of your next adventure.

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Off-trail backpacking in the Weminuche Wilderness

  1. Pack Smarter – One way to maximize your travel load is to pack items that have more than one use.  For instance, mix olive oil in hot food for extra calories and  use it as a nighttime facial moisturizer. Likewise, a trowel is primarily used to dig latrines but can also come in handy in emergency situations. Carefully selecting multifaceted items helps keep pack loads lighter because you can do more with less. Traveling lighter also makes hiking more enjoyable.
  2. Invest in a Better Sleeping Pad – It’s amazing how many people still carry the old-school foam sleeping pads. While ultralight, inflatable sleeping pads are more expensive, it’s a worthwhile investment. Not only will you sleep better but you’ll be warmer as high-end inflatable pads are insulated and keep you off the ground. Improving your sleep quality in the backcountry means a more enjoyable experience and you’ll think more clearly too.
  3. Count Calories – Packing the right amount of food is an art and taking the time to stay organized pays back dividends. How much is too much? To save money, starting purchasing food several weeks before and stockpile. Visit a variety of grocery stores to get the best deals. Once your cache is complete, divide the food into days by meticulously counting  calories per package labels. Two-thousand calories per day is sufficient. Store in bags and label each day. Bonus tip: consume your heaviest and bulkiest items first. If buying dehydrated meals like Backpacker’s Pantry – buy in bulk to save money. These meals last for years.
  4. Cut Labels and Packaging – The majority of cutting will be performed on food packaging. Cut the ends without compromising freshness. If the original packaging is too bulky (usually bags) repackage altogether (except for jerky). Also be sure to cut the labels off of your tent, sleeping bag, and clothes. Labels and packaging add up. You could save between 12 – 15 ounces easy.
  5. Mental Preparation – I am huge proponent of mental preparation. Study the weather reports and comb over topographic maps. Make sure you know the elevation and distances for each leg of the trip. Identify an areas on your hike where the trail could be faint or a creek crossing difficult. If finding water is an issue, this is where you need to plan accordingly. Most adventures hold surprises and mental preparation could be the difference between having fun or making a serious blunder.
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Taking in a backcountry sunset in the South San Juan Wilderness

September Decisions

14 Sep

Autumn, the time when the weather cools, school starts, football returns, the leaves change and fall, and everyone’s lives get a little busier. This is notably true for landscape photographers as the fall is a consensus “favorite” season for many shutterbugs.

Late September is an unpredictable time as the last days of summer usher in a wide variety of atmospheric conditions. Humidity decreases, so does the bugs and crowds, creating innumerable possibilities for those fortunate enough to travel.

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I was hoping to revisit my favorite waterfall while in Yellowstone. This shot was captured in September 2009.

I find myself currently in this position with my girlfriend who works for a major airline, the opportunities are endless to explore new places. The plan was to return to Yellowstone, as September is known as the “golden month” in the world’s first national park. However, the upcoming weather forecast is calling for below normal temps and extended periods of precipitation (rain/snow mix), which makes backpacking less fun.

Long story short we decided to look elsewhere. Some of the places we considered were Acadia National Park and Baxter State Park (ME), Blackwater Falls SP (WV), Cathedral Gorge State Park (NV), Lassen Volcanic NP and Channel Islands NP (CA), and now the search continues. We still haven’t decided on a destination although it is now looking like California again. What places do you recommend during this time of year?

In other news, I am back in editing mode working on my new releases gallery. Most of the images will be from summer backpacking trips around the San Juans as I am diligently working toward a printed version of my book. However, you’ll also discover images from other states too. It is a work in progress but check back regularly for frequent updates and happy leaf peeping!

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A high key black and white image from Yellowstone Lake in early October

 

 

 

Arizona’s Top 3 National Monuments Part 2

7 Jul

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Arizona is brimming with enchanting places to explore including over a dozen national monuments. This is the second of a three part series on my favorites, including the pros and cons, best times to visit, and other key travel tips.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

A long, winding dirt road pierces the desert floor leading toward a crest of crimson cliffs. While speckles of jubilant yellow dot the hillsides, this is a foreboding place. Chiseled by arroyos and protected by chollas, views fan out beyond the unseen international border. Despite the crusty terrain, the ride is smooth and the warm, dry air is surprisingly fresh.

By mile four, undulating gardens of distinctive cacti animate the landscape. In the fading light of day, these haunting figurines mimic the human form. Normally, the patriarchal saguaro rules the Sonoran but in this lonely pocket of country features a rival. The banana-shaped organ pipe cactus is not as tall as the saguaro but much wider. While common in Mexico, organ pipe are only found in this US park, which is also a UNESCO biosphere reserve.

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At nearly 331,000 acres Organ Pipe Cactus NM is the largest national monument in AZ with 95% of the land designated wilderness. Park visitors can explore via two scenic loop drives. The Ajo Mountain drive is the most popular and scenic. It is a 21-mile, one-way loop that traces the base of the mountains before circling back toward the visitor center. Across the highway is the Puerto Blanco Loop, a 37-mile drive through mostly open desert and gaping views. Other rough 4WD roads are options for longer stays and seasoned visitors.

The park has several official hiking trails but the premier trek is summiting 4808-foot Mount Ajo, the areas highest peak.  This is a full-day hike, partially off-trail totaling 9 miles with a cumulative elevation gain of 2800 feet. Definitely not for beginners. A shorter and easier option is hiking the trail from the campground to the visitor center. Enjoy pleasant views of the mountains while traversing through copious cholla gardens. There are a few benches along the way.

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The exceptional Twin Peaks Campground, featuring 360-degree views, was fully remodeled less than ten years ago. There is reliable vacancy nearly year round. If interested in hotels, find a few in the town of Ajo about 35 miles away.

Summers at Organ Pipe Cactus NM are hot. The ideal times to visit are between November and early April with pleasant daytime highs and cool nights. Delicate ground flowers such as poppies and owl clover flourish in late February and early March. The strength of annual blooms vary and flowers wither when daytime highs exceed 85 degrees. Saguaros and organ pipe cacti don’t bloom until May.

Dining choices are also limited. There is a convenience store and small diner in Lukeville, a military-border town about seven miles away. Purchase a few snacks and cold water at the visitor center, otherwise, it’s a lengthy drive to a restaurant.

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If you are interested in seeing the best of Organ Pipe Cactus NM consider joining me on a group workshop. Due to high springtime demand of my private tours,  I’m assembling a 3-day group event in March of 2018. If interested, message me for more information.

 

Arizona’s Top 3 National Monuments Part 1

26 Jun

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Arizona is brimming with enchanting places to explore including over a dozen national monuments. This is the first installment of a three part series on my favorites, including the pros and cons, best times to visit, and other key travel tips.

Canyon De Chelly National Monument

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A gaping chasm of sandstone reveals a lush valley with zigzagging patterns of stately cottonwood trees. Hidden in this oasis are myriads of ancient ruins, linking the past to present. My strongest impression is indulging in the palpable silence of sunrise while standing on the precipice of a sheer 1,000-foot cliff. A whispering breeze slices through the stillness of this lonesome landscape. Carefully navigating the rocks only inches from certain death invigorates my soul. Occasionally I hear from a companion, a cawing raven struggling in the cross currents.

Canyon De Chelly is the premier national monument in Arizona and a top-shelf scenic attraction. Established in 1931, the Navajo Nation owns this national historic treasure. A series of roads surround it connecting unique vistas with interesting names and stories. Getting around may confuse first-time visitors as Canyon De Chelly actually comprises four canyons and features complex geology.

Many viewpoints feature wide, sprawling platforms perfect for scrambles and exploring. It is easy to find solitude among the many nooks, overhangs, and ledges. However, there is only one public trail in the park. A 1.2-mile route (Whitehouse Ruins Trail) leads down a winding rock passage from an overlook to the valley floor. Further exploring is prohibited without a Navajo guide. (Easily book a private or public sightseeing tour near the visitor center. Prices are negotiable.)

The most iconic landmark is Spider Rock, a lone, towering spire in a secluded basin that shimmers at sunset. A brief 10-minute walk introduces the best views but some sight lines are obscured by dense foliage and dangerous outcroppings. Local residents (a.k.a.) outgoing canyon dogs sometimes tag along for fun. The Spider Rock Overlook is about a half-hour drive (16 miles) from the visitor center and campground.

 

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Photo by Dean Hueber see more of his work here

 

In addition to the campground, other lodging options include an in-park hotel and several others in nearby Chinle, a town of about 5,000 people. The privately owned Spider Rock Campground adds the unique experience of staying in a Navajo hogan. A three-day stay is a perfect introduction to this spellbinding place. Canyon De Chelly is a true four-season park with fall colors usually occurring toward the end of October. It is a five-hour drive from Phoenix or about fours from Albuquerque, NM.

 

 

Photographing Ice Lake

16 Jun

In addition to hiking, my book also includes a photography section for each lake. This provides useful information for both the serious shooter and the casual looking to improve his or her (smartphone) shots. While each chapter is unique, topics include instructional, technical and creative advice. Also discussed are nearby points of interest, strategies for finding the best composition and more.

You might learn something that isn’t obvious too. For instance, notice the distance from the water in the picture below. It’s about a half mile and 500 feet of elevation away. In many spacious basins, it is challenging to explore everywhere in one visit. That’s why tips on where to go help.

Below is partial excerpt for a popular location in the San Juan Mountains. July and August are the perfect times to visit. For an amazing experience, consider personal instruction and guidance by yours truly this year! Find more information about this here.

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Ice Lake Basin, Colorado, August

Capturing or witnessing Upper Ice Lake Basin’s signature alpenglow is an exclusive experience available to those willing to spend the night. Golden Horn is the most iconic peak and befittingly shows off the best display of crimson morning light, both before and immediately after sunrise.

During times of peak wildflowers, compositions are plentiful. The most iconic shots feature alpenglow reflections and successful ones accentuate form. Consider shooting at an intimate tarn as opposed to Upper Ice Lake. Sunrise images won’t display the lake’s vivid color, which needs direct midmorning light. Be sure to bracket shots or use a graduated neutral-density filter.

Another alternative is shooting Ice Lake’s hefty outlet stream. Several sections of rippling cascades offer excellent vantage points. These dynamic compositions usually do not include the lake. Use a wide-angle lens and try blending for depth of field.

Perhaps skip the water altogether and fill your foreground with a bouquet of splashy wildflowers. This works best on still mornings and emphasizes spectacle. Whatever you choose, the best plan is staying more than one night to ensure the greatest opportunity for success.

Sunrise is not the only time for mesmerizing photography. Midmornings on partly cloudy days also yield outstanding results. Remember to use a polarizer and shoot when the groundcover is in partial shadow. Even in harsh midday light, the lake photographs well with a smartphone.

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Hiking Hope Lake

10 Jun

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Below is an excerpt from my new book, Capturing Colorado: Hiking & Photographing Lakes of the San Juan Mountains. Celebrate summer with a definitive guide to Colorado’s finest range. Find out more about this exciting guide here.

Clouds play hide-and-seek amid unearthly red peaks and motley fields of flowers en route to Hope Lake. The price to pay for this special occasion is a paltry one – 2.5 miles and 1500 feet of altitude gain. A relative drop in the bucket compared with the taxing work necessary to reach other locations with similar scenery. Hiking is part of the allure, making this adventure an ideal choice when exploring near Rico and Telluride.
Begin on level dirt venturing through a shaded forest before reaching a hillside gulley. The streambed is wide and shallow but floods after heavy rains. An unobstructed presentation of a looming crest soon appears. Accentuated by the chattering sounds of water, these stately sights impress.
Effortless hiking continues for over a mile, including a brief downhill stint on a series of meandering switchbacks. Views progressively improve with shimmering Trout Lake and the unorthodox skyline of the Lizard Head Wilderness afar. Twenty-five minutes of walking brings the confluence of two major waterfalls and the trail traces them upwards. A wooden sign marks the beginning of this climb, which is a natural resting spot. Nearby, a tree-covered ravine makes an enchanting place to investigate.
The final push takes place on moderate switchbacks through a timber canopy and open understory. An occasional window offers compelling views of an imposing peak. Walk on soft ground while enjoying the roaring sounds of water splashing down the mountain.
Above the trees, enter a medium-sized meadow with unbelievable vantages of the burnt-orange slopes of 13,897-foot Vermillion Peak. Enjoy outstanding views of this mysterious mountain amid dizzying scenery. Wandering forward toward a notch in the hills, catch your first glimpse of soothing Hope Lake. You may find yourself wondering, “Is this place real?”

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