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Posts tagged ‘nature’

Channel Islands National Park Day 4

So far our trip has consisted of idyllic backpacking on Day 1, fearsome wind and fog as we hiked across the island on Day 2, and being stranded on the island, holed up in an empty ranger station on Day 3. That brings us to Day 4 when a short break in the weather might finally allow the ferry to reach us before we get cut off from the mainland again.

Overnight the brutal wind gusts felt like they might blow the roof off the barracks as we slept. Fortunately, morning brought calmer winds. We used the ranger station’s internet connection to view NOAA’s marine weather forecast. It indicated that the wind would pick up throughout the day, then stay high for several days. If the ferry left the mainland soon, it might be able to get us off the island today. Otherwise we might have to spend several more days on the island, including Christmas.

All 15 stranded campers gathered in the main ranger station house. Joe picked up the mic. He was getting good at the radio lingo and protocol: “Dispatch, dispatch, this is Santa Cruz visitor…”. The National Park Service and Island Packers ferry service responded over the air.

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Island Packers said they would attempt to make a pickup this morning. If conditions were so bad that the ferry couldn’t make the crossing or dock on the island, then they would turn back around. If the ferry pickup failed, there was talk of calling “Aspen”. We later learned that the USCGC Aspen is a large Coast Guard cutter with a crew of 50.

Somehow the authorities had determined that there were two people still at Del Norte campground (the backcountry campground without water on the far side of the island). If all went according to plan, the ferry would stop at Prisoner’s Harbor to pick them up first. Then they would motor around the island to pick us up at Scorpion Harbor.

We packed up our stuff, then took everything down to the beach to await the ferry. Joe stayed by the radio in case there were any updates. We were anxious given the strengthening winds predicted by the forecast.

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We waited on the beach, scanning for boats and wildlife. We spotted a seal! We’ve seen so much amazing wildlife on this trip.

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Channel Islands National Park Day 3

High winds made for a very noisy night on Santa Cruz Island. Gust after gust whooshed down the valley, rocking trees and sometimes cracking branches. As the sun rose, before everyone else woke, Chris decided to explore the cliffs above Scorpion Campground. Up there he found a perfect mix of drama, beauty, and solitude.

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Channel Islands National Park

The wind remained fierce. When Joe and Becky emerged from their tent, it immediately blew away with all their gear still inside. They quickly retrieved the tent and collapsed it, preventing it from turning into a kite again.

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Scorpion Campground

We had planned to kayak through sea caves today, but that trip had been cancelled due to the bad weather. Now our hope was to catch the emergency ferry back to the mainland at noon.

Over the past two days (see Day 1 and Day 2), we heard so much conflicting information regarding ferry times and weather that we didn’t fully trust anything people told us. We decided to be on the safe side. We packed everything up and walked to the dock, planning to wait there all morning in case a ferry arrived before noon.

While we were eating breakfast on the beach, other campers came by and informed us that they called Island Packers and were told that the emergency noon ferry had been canceled. There would be no ferry service to the island at all for today. We were shocked, and to be honest, a bit skeptical because of past misinformation. We decided to hike up to the cliffs ourselves, hoping to find a cell signal to call the ferry service.

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Channel Islands National Park Day 2

In our last post, we were enjoying beautiful Santa Cruz Island, seeing lots of wildlife, and having a great time hanging out with our siblings. Unfortunately we were told that due to an impending storm, our trip was going to be cut short and we would soon have to take a ferry back to the mainland. For more details, read the full Day 1 blog post.

Things got stranger on Day 2 (December 21). This map of the island will help orient you:

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Santa Cruz Island detail (source: National Park Service)

Our second day on the island began early with a variety of birds chirping around the Del Norte Camp. Ever curious, we got up and tried to spot them.

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We found a loggerhead shrike as the morning sun pleasantly illuminated the hills and water.

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Loggerhead Shrike

After breakfast, we went on a short out-and-back day hike on the Del Norte trail.

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The views were amazing.  We saw an island fox, a spotted towhee, house finches, and several other birds.

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Channel Islands National Park Day 1

We went on a sibling backpacking trip in Channel Islands National Park this past December. Chris’s sister Becky and Anna’s brother Joe joined us for the adventure. We were very excited to spend some quality time with them, and to explore a new place at the same time. We planned two days of hiking, a day of kayaking, and a half day of snorkeling before heading back to mainland California. We could never have guessed what surprises the park held for us!

We woke early, piled gear into Joe’s car, and headed about an hour north of Los Angeles to Ventura, CA. We arrived at the harbor on time, checked in, and put our packs below deck. It was a sunny, gorgeous winter day. The only odd thing that morning was a terse email from Island Packers ferry service stating “We are running the trip to Prisoners Harbor today.  The crossing to the island will be rough.” That couldn’t have been farther from the calm, sunny weather we were enjoying on the shore.

Minutes into the ferry crossing, the captain got on the loudspeaker, slowed the engines and started taking about a Stellar sea lion he’d just spotted. He explained that it was rare to see a Stellar sea lion in Southern California waters because they mostly live near Alaska. It was huge, much bigger than the California sea lions we’d seen before.  The captain also explained that the large semi-circular scar near the sea lion’s tail was likely from a shark bite. The sea lion made a deep call and even stuck out its tongue at us as the boat drifted by.

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Stellar sea lion

Farther from shore, the wind picked up and the waves grew taller. The ferry started to rock and roll. As we rode wave after wave high into the air, then fell into an empty void below, it felt like we were on a roller coaster. Salty spray drenched the boat as the fierce wind chilled us. Dolphins seemed to like the waves and the ferry. For a few minutes, several swam playfully alongside us, even jumping occasionally. They were so beautiful and graceful.

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Dolphins swimming next to ferry

The ferry ride was turning out to be part of the adventure, not just transportation to the island! The first stop was Scorpion Anchorage on Santa Cruz Island. The majority of passengers, many of them birders, were to disembark here. Unfortunately the dock at Scorpion had recently been damaged by a mix of climate change-induced sea level rise and a king tide. With the dock unusable, passengers had to be skiffed to shore six at a time.

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Skiff dropping people off at Scorpion Anchorage

Our stomachs started to feel uneasy while waiting over an hour on the bobbing ferry. We watched the horizon to fend off seasickness.

Finally, the ferry started moving again. We passed steep cliffs and grand arches carved into the rock. Whitecaps kept the boat rolling. We were glad when we arrived at Prisoners Harbor, and set our feet on solid ground.

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Pacific Crest Trail: A Journey in Photographs Book Sale

We will be spending time with family over the Thanksgiving long weekend, including doing at least one hike. But first, we’re putting our book on sale for the holidays!

Click to get 20% off Pacific Crest Trail: A Journey in Photographs through December 18th:

The book is also available from Amazon with free shipping.

If you are outside the US, please order through the Pacific Crest Trail Association’s Online Store.

We hope the great outdoors will be a part of your upcoming festivities. They will be for us! We’re planning Colorado day hikes at Thanksgiving and kayaking and backpacking in Channel Islands National Park in December.

We’re thankful for all the amazing people in our lives — family, friends, trail angels, and all of you who read and comment here. Wishing you all the best!

Fowler Trail, Eldorado Canyon State Park

Eldorado Canyon State Park, a short drive from Boulder, CO, is immediately impressive. Cliffs tower overhead as you enter.

South Boulder Creek flows below in the bottom of the canyon.

South Boulder Creek

South Boulder Creek

We decided to hike Fowler Trail, which winds along the cliff edge. It offers great views of the creek gushing below and the peaks above, including many climbers scaling the rock faces.

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Our First Bike Camping Trip

We don’t own a car so we walk and bike everywhere in town. Biking is fun and it keeps us in great shape. There was even a cool article in Bicycling Magazine recently about how Chris inspired a co-worker to start biking to work. Basically, we love bikes!

As readers of this blog, you already know that we love spending time in nature. We’ve always wanted to combine these two loves, bikes and backcountry camping, into one trip. This is the story of our first bikepacking trip. Not everything went as planned, but we definitely came away with good lessons we can apply on future trips.

On a Friday night in August we pulled out all our normal backpacking equipment, minus the backpacks. Instead we packed our gear in panniers. Then we added some additional bike-specific items: a mini pump, tube repair kit, tire lever, spare tubes, a multi-tool, bike water bottles in place of our water bladders, mountain bike shoes for easy walking and good traction, padded bike shorts, bike locks, and helmets. We also included a full 10-liter dromedary since our destination wouldn’t have any water sources.

Saturday morning we were filled with excited and nervous energy as we headed out for a new type of adventure. We rode north on the Poudre River Bike Trail. It’s a paved, flat path with great scenery. We were off to a good start.

Biking along the Poudre River

Biking along the Poudre River

Crossing one of the bridges on the bike trail, we met a cool multi-species team out for their own Saturday adventure.

Pony and dog pulling a small carriage

Pony and dog pulling a small carriage

After 7 miles on the bike trail, we turned left onto County Road 23. One and a half miles later we made a right onto County Road 25. The rolling hills in this section had us working harder, especially with the added weight of the camping equipment and water in our panniers. We considered the extra challenge a good excuse to pause and look at the rock formations and birds around us.

Biking to Lory State Park

Biking to Lory State Park

One of the first bike camping difficulties we noticed was that our cameras, stashed in our panniers, were hard to access quickly. We ended up using them less than we would have on a hike, where they’d be close at hand on our backpack hip belts. Instead we took lots of phone pictures, since our phones were always in our pockets as we rode.

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Tent Rocks National Monument Day Hike

In May we had the chance to spend a week in Santa Fe with family. We couldn’t wait to visit the desert again! Our itinerary included an excellent day hike in Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. At 3 miles roundtrip, the hike was short, but it included some fantastic geology.

The hike began with flat or gradual uphill sections beneath tall canyon walls. We were impressed that some large pine trees were able to grow despite the difficult conditions.

Family hike in Tent Rocks National Monument

Family hike in Tent Rocks National Monument

We found a kingcup cactus flaunting its bold red flowers near the trail.

Kingcup Cactus

Kingcup Cactus

As we continued, the walls around us narrowed. Rock strata were on display with varying white and pink tints. It felt like we were walking through a piece of abstract art.

Uncle Bernie walking through the canyon

Uncle Bernie walking through the canyon

The elements had carved beautiful shapes into the rock. Shadows painted the graceful curves.

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Waterton Lakes National Park

We love Glacier National Park, but had never visited its Canadian side, known as Waterton Lakes National Park. We arrived at Waterton to find it had gotten snow too, just not as much as Banff and Jasper. Our first stop in the park was the Prince of Wales hotel. It resembles a massive Swiss chalet, built on a hill overlooking Upper Waterton Lake. Thick clouds added to the hilltop panorama.

Upper Waterton Lake

Upper Waterton Lake

Next we headed to the visitor center, where we asked a ranger about the best wildlife viewing spots. They said someone had spotted elk by Hay Barn Road that morning. We headed down that dirt road. The elk had moved on, but we did find this grouse munching on bright red berries.

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Grouse

Looking out into a grassy meadow, we spotted a coyote! Awesome! We watched until it trotted off.

Coyote

Coyote

We headed towards Red Rock Canyon next. On the way, we noticed a car with binoculars pointed up towards the hillside. We stopped and asked what they saw. A black bear! The bear ate constantly as it plodded along the snowy hillside. Mid-September in Waterton meant winter was closing in. The bear must have been filling its tummy before hibernating.

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Jasper National Park

After a chilly night in camp, we headed into the town of Jasper seeking a hot breakfast. The forecast showed heavy cloud cover all day so we opted for a relaxed day in town. We rented a room in somebody’s house (Canadians call this a Home Stay). It worked out great. Internet and showers were a real perk. From the Home Stay we could easily stroll into the heart of Jasper. The town is cute and walkable with many unique shops. We did some grocery shopping to get food for tomorrow’s three day backpacking trip to Berg Lake. And we had two food firsts: we ate Tim Hortons donuts and a vegetarian version of poutine. Both were yum.

We had heard that star gazing at Maligne Lake was incredible, so we set out in the evening despite the continued clouds over head. You never know what will happen.

Our first surprise was seeing this herd of bighorn sheep walking down the road!

Bighorn sheep

Bighorn sheep

Then we saw a fascinating waterbody. It was a wide shallow lake with a brilliant turquoise river branching through it. It was really beautiful.

We learned that this lake was named Medicine Lake by aboriginal people because of its seemingly magical powers. The lake behaves unusually due to its unique drainage system — the water exits through sinkholes in the bottom, rather than a visible outlet. In the warm summer months, glaciers melt more quickly, increasing the flow of the Maligne River. The river fills the lake faster than water can leave the sinkholes. This gives Medicine Lake the appearance of a traditional alpine lake. In the colder months, incoming melt water slows and the lake begins to disappear through the sinkholes. The lake then becomes a mudflat with scattered pools. We were happy to witness Medicine Lake’s in-between stage.

Medicine Lake

Medicine Lake

We continued driving and reached an almost completely deserted Maligne Lake. Though the clouds remained and no stars could be seen, it was a lovely spot. We walked around the lake’s edge until it started raining harder.

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