Tag Archives: tourism

Top 10 Parks to Visit During the Summer

11 May

Today, we are going to start with our first ever Top 10 List, the best parks to visit during summer travel. My goal is to make these posts as fun and informative as possible. Starting today, with number 10  – we’ll count down in our blog to the number one national park in the lower 48 to visit during summer travel.

 Please keep in mind, I define summer as the period of days starting on June 21st and ending on September 21st.  Before we start, one thing I’d like to make clear is that I have not visited all the national parks – so for the sake of this list I am only including the parks I have visited during the summer. Also, I am unable to access some of my computer files right now so I will update each park on this list with a picture sometime in the near future.  I hope that makes sense! Without further a due…

10. North Cascades National Park, Washington    http://www.nps.gov/noca/index.htm

pros:  small crowds/solitude, pleasant temperatures, world-class scenery & adventure

cons:  inconsistent weather, poorly maintained roads, unusually dangerous terrain, limited amenities and services

date(s) visited:  August 2007

I have only had the privilege to visit this park one time and it was at the end of August a few years ago. I was there to do a charity climb for the non-profit group Big City Mountaineers. I spent about 4 days there and the weather was extremely erratic. The first day and half it was beautiful – sunny skies, highs in the 80’s…let me give you a picture. Snow capped mountains, dramatic vistas, glacial fed lakes, incredible waterfalls, lush greenery, endless beauty. The night after our climb of Mount Shuksan, I was awakened to the sound of snow cascading off a 1000 foot cliff. It was amazing. 

Then it started to rain. And it rained, and rained, and rained. It actually never stopped. And it rained hard. It wasn’t a drizzle that you can go out and walk about in.  I actually had to leave early because I just couldn’t anything it was raining so hard.

Despite all the spectacular scenery, the one thing that left the most lasting impact during my visit was the lack of crowds. I visited the main visitor at 4pm on a Saturday and it was practically dead. I couldn’t believe it. What a surprise!

One other thing that really got my attention was the topography of the land. It is extremely rugged and dangerous. You really can’t hike off trail. It is just too overgrown with thicket hiding unexpected drop offs. The rocks around the water here are extremely slippery. Just writing this conjures up so many incredible memories of this place.  Because its been a few years and I have only visited it once, I think this park would move up the list before it moved off.  It is certainly that special.

How to Watch TV in the Wilderness

7 May

Today, our discussion involves one other potentially important item of business while vacationing in our National Parks – television programming. Now, I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I do enjoy sports. And occasionally, when I am on the road, there is a sporting event that I’d like to catch. So one could say I have a lot of experience in this subject matter.

Let me give you a quick story to illustrate this post. At the end of last summer, I found myself in Capitol Reef National Park hiking and photographing on the weekend leading up to Labor Day. Coincidentally, it was also the start of the college football season. Because I was camping in the park I ended up missing the first game of the season, Boise State v Oregon. It turns out Boise State won the game, which wasn’t that great, but you might remember Oregon’s star running back, Legarrette Blount ended up sucker punching onr of Boise State’s players after the game, and long story short, and a melee ensued.

That was on a Thursday night and on Friday my fiancée and I were trying to figure out where to watch the Ohio State (my alma mater) game on Saturday. It was their first game of the season against Navy. We didn’t want to get a hotel room in Hanksville and we thought maybe we could watch it at a bar or restaurant. Our initial plans were to head up to American Fork Basin just south of Salt Lake City spend Friday night in the wilderness and then stay in a hotel room Saturday and Sunday in Salt Lake.

The problem was the Ohio State game started at 12pm EST on Saturday. There was just no possible way to make it work. We didn’t have time. We thought maybe we could spend an extra night in Capitol Reef and stop somewhere on the way to Salt Lake City, but for those who haven’t been to Capitol Reef – it’s literally in the middle of nowhere. And there just isn’t much between it and the two hundred and some miles to Salt Lake. Also, between either backpacking and or driving we figured there was no way to drive to Salt Lake by 10am and find a place that was open with ESPN. I mean, this isn’t New York City, it’s Mormon country. In the end, we ended up driving to Salt Lake on Friday and getting a hotel room Friday and Saturday night instead of Saturday and Sunday. It worked out well, because the game was very exciting and Ohio State won 31 – 27.  That’s what this post is all about – how to watch TV in the wilderness.

 However, this isn’t all about sports though…it can apply to whatever it is on television that you are interested in watching. What’s the best way to go about doing this when you can’t get any TV reception in the park even at a hotel? Well, I am going to list out some comprehensive guidelines to understand. Follow these and your won’t miss your favorite show or sports broadcast while on vacation in the parks.     

1)      The amenities at every park hotel are different. For instance, in Death Valley NP you can get cable television at the hotels, while in Yellowstone NP there are no televisions at all.

 2)      Don’t assume the hotel you are staying at has the channel you want to watch. Call them and find out! I’ve been burned on more than one occasion because of this.

 3)      Make sure you know the dates ahead of time. This applies to the time of the show or event, and where you’ll be staying on that date.

 4)      If you are staying at a campground inside the park – plan on driving to the nearest town to watch your show. There are some notable exceptions to this rule – make sure you call the park and find out if there is anywhere in that area to watch TV.

 5)      Be fully aware of which time zone you are in. When traveling around the Southwest between Nevada, Arizona, and Utah this can be particularly confusing.

 6)      If possible, try to stay in a hotel the night you really want to watch television. This takes a lot of planning, but it usually worth it in the long run. It’s also the best tip I can offer and it works great for sports. Because many sports, like football, get played on the weekends, we usually stay in hotels then and in campgrounds or the backcountry during the week. This is best of both worlds because the parks are much more popular during the weekends, especially the campgrounds, and it’s the perfect time for some peace and quiet in a hotel.

 7)       Have an equal amount of planning, preparation, and flexibility. Unforseen circumstances can easily come up and its good not be locked into too tight a schedule. For example, road construction, natural disasters like forest fires, or even a flat tire or a bystander in need of some help. Always err on the side of caution when planning commute times and activities.  In my opinion, it is good to tentatively plan out most of your trip, but be mentally prepared for change if necessary.

 Hopefully you’ve picked up some good tips from this list and we will continue with the list theme on my next post when I talk about the 10 best parks for summer travel in the lower 48. We’ll see you then. God Bless!

Intricacies of Decision Making

29 Apr

Let me give you an example. This one has to do with backpacking, but it can easily apply for even the most “metro” of travelers. Last summer, we made an epic voyage backpacking through the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne in Yosemite National Park. For those of you who don’t know, the Tuolumne River provides the city of San Francisco with its drinking water and has to be one of the most inspiring and pristine rivers anywhere in the world. In a course of approximately 20 miles, its aquamarine, crystal clear waters turbulently spill, plunge, and drop through a canyon of sheer granite walls and almost unimaginable beauty. 

 We made the trek in early July of last year when water levels were still very high. This had its pros and cons. The waterfalls were absolutely incredible running at almost peak volume. Around every corner and turn, there was white water. Conversely, it was difficult and dangerous to swim because the current was SO swift.

 I greatly enjoyed my experience, but if and when I visit again, I’d like to come back in late August or early September just to experience a different kind of tranquility. Water levels are lower and much slower moving then. It is easier to go swimming, especially when it is very hot out.

What’s even more interesting is the reason we chose this time of year. It was because of the water levels, but it’s not what your thinking. You see, we were doing a backcountry loop of 70 miles, which finished in the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, but didn’t start there. The trip began with a 13 mile passage on the Pacific Crest Trail, through an area known as Virginia Canyon, which has notoriously very little water in it. The streams there trickle and by late in the season run dry. We didn’t want to deal with spending a night in the backcountry without a reliable water source for cooking and drinking and that factor greatly influenced our decision to make the trip earlier in the season. 

Here’s the ironic part, because of the water (the snow was still melting at 8000 ft) and time of year, the bugs were absolutely atrocious! (see picture on previous post). Knowing what I know now, I would rather deal with the lack of consistent water sources and have little bugs then vice versa. So if I were to do the hike again, I’d do it in late August instead of early July. In case you are wondering, yes, we closely monitored the temperatures in making our decision and early July and late August are historically about the same in Northern Yosemite. It’s the middle of July to the beginning of August that are the hottest times of the year there. 

Standing at the top of the Waterwheel Falls section of the Tuolumne River after 60 miles of hiking with 40 plus pounds of gear. It was a grueling trip. This water was really moving fast and one slip could end in certain physical death! This picture was taken near the top of the canyon coming out and there were many more tributaries down below adding to the rivers intensity.

Hopefully,this story gives you an entertaining and insightful glimpse into how these factors (temperature, time of year, elevation, bugs, wildflowers, and water levels) all influence one another. There are always pros and cons in every decision and it just depends on what is important to you and how it fits into your schedule. 

Lord willing, during my next post I will discuss one more potentially important consideration when making your summer travel plans to our National Parks. You don’t want to miss it. Until then, may the good Lord bless you and have a wonderful day and we’ll talk to you again soon. 

This is Return Creek. A major tributary of the Tuolumne River. This scene was about 3 or 4 miles down the canyon from the last shot. One interesting tidbit about Return Creek is that it also forms the northern boundary of Virginia Canyon - so we actually crossed it twice. Joyce captured this wonderful image from a bridge, but while leaving Virgina Canyon - we precariously forded this puppy! In between, we looped around up and over two high mountains passes and up the canyon for 40 miles.

The Dichotomy of a Park

26 Apr

First off,  sorry for the delay in between posts. I really apologize for the lag. I am going to more than make it up to you today with an information packed double post that you don’t want to skip. 

Moving forward, let’s continue with hot tips for summer travel in America’s National Parks. Last time out we talked about the importance of research and guidebooks. Let’s follow-up on that thread and focus on visiting parts of the park that receive less traffic. 

 Before we get into this,  I want to define the word “parts” for you – so you can fully understand what exactly I am talking about. Most of the larger national parks have different areas within the park that offer different visitor services. These services may or may not include things like: gas, convenience stores, lodging, restaurants, a ranger station, visitor center, campgrounds, gift shops, extra parking, trailheads, and even a museum or art gallery.  Some of these areas or “parts” are larger than small towns, while others just meet the bare bone, minimum requirements to be considered; that’s basically an official designation on a park map, usually because it is near a featured geologic or historical attraction. 

This is my focus for our conversation today: specifically seeking out and visiting some of these lesser known “parts” of America’s parks. This sounds like a great idea, right? It sure is because there are some real gems out there. However, before we get too far into this,  I want to touch upon roadblocks or causes for concern when trying to visit these areas. 

This is a going to be a complete and exhaustive list and for the sake of time, we’ll get started on this today and finish up sometime later this week the good Lord willing. This topic is addressed in a question and answer format to help you understand potential issues you may encounter and how to resolve them. These are factors you should always consider before making any travel plans… 

Problem:  How do I deal with weather, climate, and temperatures at certain times of the year? 

Answer:  When dealing with huge tracts of wilderness, you also will have extremes in temperature ranges. This is normally because of the difference in elevation. Make sure you know the elevation of the “part” you are visiting and the best time of the year to go there. You can find elevation levels on any park topographic map and probably somewhere on the Internet as well. 

 For example, one area of the park may be at 7,000 ft elevation, while another is at 3,000 ft. That difference in elevation represents anywhere 12 – 15 degrees in temperature. Again, a little research goes a long ways. If you get stuck – your best bet is to call the ranger station in that “part” and point-blank ask them when is the best time of the year to visit and find out your information that way. 

Problem:  What other seasonal considerations are there? 

Answer: Temperature is obviously the biggest, but there are several other major factors as well. Bugs are another huge consideration. Depending on the year, most of the high altitude parks have both mosquitos and biting flies and they can be just brutal. The months of June and July are when they are most active. This is a time when many high altitude areas are still drying out and it is especially bad near lakes and large swaths of melting snow. By the middle of August, the bugs are usually gone in most places, but make sure you call ahead because every year is different.  

Unfortunately, I don’t have any magic answers for you when it comes to solving this problem. Just the usual advice: wear long sleeves, gloves, a mosquito head net, DEET, and try to avoid areas where they are high in intensity and concentration.  Please make sure you are aware of the potential circumstances of your visit and prepare accordingly. Because these little pests can severely affect your overall enjoyment level of your trip. 

A graphic reminder not to overlook mosquitos when visiting the parks - that's part of my leg! Ouch!

 

Another more pleasant consideration are wildflowers. Again, this all goes back to elevation and also latitude to some degree. Wildflowers bloom across the board in the spring and summer throughout North America varying from April in Yosemite Valley up to the beginning of August in areas like Mount Rainier National Park in Washington. Also, some areas of the park you are visiting might have prolific wildflower blooms while another area doesn’t have any. I found some park’s actually have online forums dedicated to people’s recent hiking and trip experiences and you can get some great information on them for this type of research. It is probably even more reliable than calling the ranger station as sometimes the information you get from them can be dated a week or two weeks and is simply not accurate. 

A final consideration is water levels. This is where you really have to dig deep for research. Generally speaking, water levels decrease as the summer drags on high in the mountains. I am talking about streams, waterfalls, rivers, creeks, lakes…just about everything except the ocean. Sometimes this is a good thing and sometimes it is a bad thing – it just depends on where you are.   To be continued…

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