Dan and Hannah Wonder About Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park

Cliffside chains at Angel's Landing

Cliffside chains at Angel’s Landing

Are you crazy? Hannah and I didn’t think so at the time. You see, when Molly, Robyn, and Will were preteens in 1992 we took them on a ranger-recommended family hike to Angel’s Landing. Naïve to be sure, Hannah and I continued the “family hike” even though for the final half mile we were all grasping on to heavy metal chains 1500 feet above the canyon floor.  Angel’s Landing was named by a Methodist minister, Frederick Fisher, who said, Only an angel could land on it.  Attempting to summit the lofty perch of Angel’s Landing, we were not candidates for parents-of-the year.

AL2 Sign with AL in backgroundYears later, while Robyn was serving with the US Army in Afghanistan in 2006, Hannah and I took Molly and Will to Zion National Park again. When the discussion of hiking Angel’s Landing came up, I was in the “No way Jose” category.  Molly and Will wanted no part of it either. Only Hannah wanted to go, but she wasn’t going to do it alone.

AL1A AL imageIn 2010, Hannah and I returned to Zion National Park, hiked the two miles to where the chains begin, looked at them, and turned back.  In the summer of 2012 Hannah had surgery for a fractured tibia. Just three months ago, when we were planning this hiking trip, she said that she just didn’t want to risk the good health of her leg hiking Angel’s Landing.

But as our late February trip to Zion drew closer, something was changing. Not in me, but in Hannah; she began to find the idea of hiking Angel’s Landing a little more appealing. I was fine with her hiking it. We each make our choices. I just didn’t have the “want to” to hike Angel’s Landing.

AL  Wildcat Willies sculpture with HanPreparing to hike on a Friday morning, we breakfast at Wildcat Willie’s with a free breakfast voucher as part of our stay at the fabulous Bumbleberry Inn here in Springdale, UT. Hannah’s blockbuster scrambled eggs between biscuits covered in gravy with bacon on the side and my three egg to-die-for omelet, western home fries, and sourdough toast put us in an upbeat mood to consider hiking Angel’s Landing.

At this point, the Universe is talking and I am beginning to listen. Five events started turning the tide for me to at least consider the assault of Angel’s Landing.

The trail to Observation Point

The trail to Observation Point

First, the day before we had hiked the Observation Point Trail (OPT) here in Zion; I felt good climbing the trail despite its harrowing drop offs. Our daughter Molly (and her hubby Tip) having hiked this very trail the week before we arrived thought that if she had down the OPT before they approached the mountain chains, she might have tried Angel’s Landing. If Molly considered doing it, maybe I should.

Hannah's fractured tibia

Hannah’s fractured tibia

Second, Hannah was 60/40 that she would climb, but needed to get to the point of the chains to decide. Nearly three years since her fractured tibia surgery, she felt healed and finally strong. With Hannah on board, I really didn’t want to be left behind. I was getting to 50/50.

Third, a guide book said this is not a hike if you are extremely afraid of heights. Well I’m just afraid of heights, not extremely so; so maybe I could climb it. Hundreds of people do this hike every day.

AL AL decalFourth, I know this sounds shallow, but I saw an “Angel’s Landing” car decal and thought that would be really cool on my Hyundai Elantra back in Maine. How shallow can one be?

And fifth, what would a blog be, dear readers, if I just got to the start of the chains? I want some drama for the blog.

Hannah as the trail to Angel's Landing begins

Hannah as the trail to Angel’s Landing begins

With showers, rain, and snow forecasted for the weekend, we set out on this 34F Friday for the Grotto trailhead on the Zion Park Scenic Drive. I, in my jeans, long sleeve tee shirt, and sweatshirt, and Hannah similarly bundled up take to the mountainside switchbacks.

Looking down on the trail to Angel's Landing

Looking down on the trail to Angel’s Landing

With its 1500 feet of elevation gain, the Angel’s Landing Trail immediately grabs our attention with its steepness. Let the labored breathing begin. Within five minutes, I catch a hiking rhythm following Hannah; I am feeling the “want to” to climb the final half mile; but I have turned back before.

Entering Refrigerator Canyon

Entering Refrigerator Canyon

Hiking above the Virgin River Valley, we are on a red sandstone paved trail switching back and forth up the mountain. Hannah with her backpack of lunch and warm clothes and I with my fanny pack of lunch and gloves steadily climb with purpose and a growing commitment to hike to the perch of Angel’s Landing.

AL3 Walter's Wiggles

Walter’s Wiggles

A mile into the hike the trail heads inland through Refrigerator Canyon on a sandy red rock trail with 20-30 other hopeful hikers. Soon we are climbing Walter’s Wiggles, an architectural masterpiece of switchbacks, that take us to the staging area for the final half mile assault. I’ve erased all doubts at the ridgeline and will give the first stretch of chains a shot.

The last half mile begins

The last half mile begins

Leaving Hannah’s backpack and my fanny pack plus our extra clothes under a pine tree, we waste no time in attacking the first set of chains on the west facing wall of the mountain. My strategy is to take any fear of heights out of the equation.  How?  I will never look to the right or later to the left down to the canyon floor below.

The chains before us

The chains before us

When I first grab the one-quarter inch metal chains, I grab with a death grip. I lean into the mountain and just focus on the sandstone one foot ahead of me. I am gripping tightly and the tension courses through my entire body. But my grip is not so tight that I feel unsteady with my grip. Hannah climbs ahead at a faster pace, but still in sight, which is reassuring.

With catlike movements, Hannah scales the trail to Angel's Landing

With catlike movements, Hannah scales the trail to Angel’s Landing

There are chains for 60-70% of the half mile hike to the perch at Angel’s Landing. Behind us are a 12 year old Jocelyn and her mother Dixie. At the trailhead there is a sign that six people have died hiking this trail since 2004. I have heard these stories. That must mean 20,000 have made it. Doing the trail math boosts my confidence.

Looking back from where we've been

Looking back from where we’ve been

Over the first 200 yards of chain grabbing hand by hand, I swear to myself I will never do this again. I am tense and nervous, but…moving forward. With no thought of turning back now, we climb through rock slots on the wall and cling to chains on the mountainside. I never look to the canyon floor below. Never. When we reach a level area with no chains, I stay focused. I am not into conversation.  We nod and proceed.  My hands are shaking nervously as I snap a picture on my iPhone; but I am not so nervous that I feel frozen with fear.

There's plenty of company on the trail

There’s plenty of company on the trail

There are times where we rest waiting for others to pass; they have already been to the top and are now descending. There is no doubt that these chains could handle a 300 pound man. I don’t look upward to where Hannah is. I just look at the sandstone rocks before me and pull myself up by the chains.

The trail dips before one more ascent

The trail dips before one more ascent

With each pull of the chain, I gain more confidence. And then, before I realize it, there is just 100 yards more of careful rock walking to go. I do not relax nor lose my focus.

Atop Angel's Landing looking west down the Virgin River Valley

Atop Angel’s Landing looking west down the Virgin River Valley

And then Voila. There I am with twenty others on Angel’s Landing. Views up and down the Virgin River of 360 degrees are stunning. It’s an accomplishment that soothes and calms me.

After viewing this video, you’ll see why we have to return to Angel’s Landing.

Virgin River Valley from Angel's Landing

Virgin River Valley from Angel’s Landing

I never felt fearful on the chains. I was charged, energized, nervous, gripping with grimness. But not afraid I might fall. There is a celebratory feel to the summit. The twelve year old appears nonchalant; her mother most pleased. Of the hundred plus hikes Hannah and I have done throughout the United States and Canada together, Hannah says this is her favorite, “the prize.”

Hannah on her way back down the trail

Hannah on her way back down the trail

You might think well guys, you do have to go back. And we do, but it’s easier. I have conquered the initial fear. We can hold on to the chains and walk backwards down the sandstone cliffs when necessary. There is lightness to my grip and a growing confidence that this is a reasonable hike that thousands and thousands do each year.

Damn! We made it.

PS It snowed that night. Rain with thunder, and lightning overwhelms the area the next morning. We would not have been able to hike Angel’s Landing the next day. The universe unfolds in goodness and opened a door that we stepped through.

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Dan and Hannah Hike to Observation Point in Zion National Park, Utah

OP map of area useIt’s a simple hour drive from St. George, Utah along Route 9 east to Zion National Park. Zion has been a favorite of the Rothermels for a good long time. When Molly, Robyn, and Will were young, we as a family drove here to hike to Angel’s Landing and tube the Virgin River. Hannah and I have returned twice more to hike the red rock mountains of Zion, an easy three hours from McCarron Airport in Las Vegas.

Late afternoon from our second story deck at the Bumbleberry Inn in Springdale, Utah

Late afternoon from our second story deck at the Bumbleberry Inn in Springdale, Utah

Arriving at the gateway to Zion in Springdale by 1030A in late February, we pull into the Bumbleberry Inn parking lot to see about a room. In the off-season, we find that they have a sweet deal for $58 with 10% off for breakfast at Wildcat Willies. Bonanza! The room is large with a king size bed, fridge, microwave, and a second story deck that looks out into the mountains of Zion National Park.

Then Hannah wants to push it!  She wonders if they take AARP. I can’t believe it. We have a burning deal and she wants more. I say, if you want to ask, go ahead, but I won’t. Fearless, she does and gets us an additional 10% off for being AARP members plus finds out the hot breakfast at Wildcat Willies is free. That’s my girl.

OB1 Zion NP signA mere mile from the entrance to Zion, I dress for a cooler day with jeans and sporting a VCU/Richmond long sleeve tee shirt. Listed at eight miles roundtrip with a suggested hiking time of six hours, the Observation Point Trail is one of the macho hikes of the park. With an elevation gain of 2100+ feet, the trail is described as strenuous with long drop offs; it can be deep in snow as it was last weekend.

OB1 trail sign warningOff season in February, the park is nicely devoid of the masses that swarm here from April through October. During this peak season, visitors must park at the visitor center or in the town of Springdale itself and take a shuttle down Zion Canyon Scenic Drive where the trailheads of the major hikes and the Zion Lodge are. Today unencumbered, we drive along the Virgin River and onto the Scenic Drive. Our Toyota Yaris thermometer says it’s 48 degrees at 11A.

The trail to Observation Point begins

The trail to Observation Point begins

The trailhead for the Observation Point Trail is at Weeping Rock. With parking for no more than 15 cars, I see the towering mountain and am reminded that steep drop offs aren’t my thing. On the plus side, our daughter Molly, who hiked this very trail the week before with her hubby Tip, said this trail did not have the fear factor of Angel’s Landing (i.e., the need to cling to chains on the mountainside 1500 feet above the canyon floor). For me, her endorsement was the tipping point to make this climb.

Climbing higher to Observation Point

Climbing higher to Observation Point

At the outset, the trail is wide enough for us two to walk side by side as we immediately begin breathing heavily on the switchbacks up the cliffside.   Whenever I can, I hike closest to the mountainside. Hannah, like is she is on highways, is just fine hiking down the middle of the trail.

VCU Ram in his mountainous element

VCU Ram in his mountainous element

Three miles of the Observation Point Trail are paved over the Navajo Sandstone rock of the cliffside trail. Today chunks of pavement have washed away, but in general the hiking is easy on the feet as we take to the soul saving switchbacks.

The switchbacks of Observation Point trail

The switchbacks of Observation Point Trail

Quickly we are above the trailhead parking lot with the zig zags of the switchbacks beneath us. The sand sagebrush and hackberry trees of the lower elevations give way to spiny and barrel cacti and scrub brush. Drop offs are one hundred to five hundred feet or more. As we climb, the sun soon starts to emerge from the relentless overcast. We hike mostly in the shade of the cooler north facing mountain sides.

Heading to Echo Canyon

Heading to Echo Canyon

The trail heads through rock narrows where it appears workers long ago carved out passage ways through the sandstone to make these walking paths. After heading into the interior through Echo Canyon, we emerge to see the entire canyon floor of the Virgin River. At these times, I lean towards the mountainside of the trail. I never look down or step near the edge. Mama didn’t raise no fool.   But never do I feel the anxiousness that I once did grabbing mountainside chains on Zion’s sister macho hike – Angel’s Landing.

Some hour and twenty five minutes in to the hike, the trail levels off and we are in a high desert mountain of scrub brush. It seems odd to be walking on the level atop the mountain. As we pass the snow on the trailside, the trail turns muddy from last weekend’s melting snow. Then voila. After an hour and three quarters, we summit. A fellow hiker takes an Instagram picture of us that I successfully transmit to family and friends from this outpost in southwest Utah.

OB4C final assaultLunching on pb&j at the summit of 6500 feet, we start to chill down as we overlook the valley. The wind has picked up and coal black clouds are moving in, though there was no forecast of rain.  By the way, our ponchos are in our suitcase back at the Bumbleberry Inn.

OB5 H descending

Having made the climb, I am now less fearful, though still most respectful, of the drop-offs. Oh, I bend to the mountainside when I can, but the cliffs are no longer on my mind. Twenty minutes into our descent the first snowflakes fall. Picking up the pace, we feel the ping of raindrops ten minutes later. With a purposeful descent, we see the clouds roll further down the valley and the precipitation stops.

OB1A  falling rock sign

Today my sense of accomplishment climbing two thousand feet above the valley floor to Observation Point trumps my acrophobia. It’s way cool having done this climb. If you have a strong fear of heights, this is not the trail for you. If your fear is a healthy respect, then this trail is doable and not really dangerous at all.

Angel's Landing from the Observation Point trail

Angel’s Landing in the distance from the Observation Point Trail

As we descend, I am starting to rethink my decision to never climb Angel’s Landing again. I summited it once with our  family back in 1992. During our last two visits to Zion, I wanted no part of the last half mile of that trail with its chains 1500 feet above the canyon floor. Maybe, it’s time to rethink that absolute position?

OB  Angel's Landing chains

Some of the chains of Angel’s Landing high above the Virgin River valley floor

After hiking to Observation Point today, I have opened the door and peeked in to the possibility of climbing Angel’s Landing tomorrow.   Though no one cares if do or don’t climb Angel’s Landing, this VCU Ram might be ready to take the plunge.  Wrong image.  Climb every mountain.

PS  The preview picture of Hannah high above the Virgin River Valley on the Observation Point Trail is the best picture I have ever taken.

Dan and Hannah Hike the Valley of Fire in Nevada

Pool and Jacuzzi at La Quinta Summerlin

Pool and Jacuzzi at La Quinta Summerlin

La Quinta Red Rock/Summerlin Motel has morning golden biscuits that melt in my mouth and soothe the raging breakfast beast within. Fact is, I highly recommended this motel away from the Las Vegas Strip. Our queen bedded room has a hide-a-bed couch for relaxing and a full kitchen with counter, flatware, and silverware. Two or three times a day we soak in the outside Jacuzzi.

Las Vegas to Valley of Fire State Park

Las Vegas to Valley of Fire State Park

Raring to hike 55 miles to the northeast, we escape Las Vegas by 9A in light traffic through a highway system designed to move the gambling public. With no interest in the terrible odds for winning at slot machines or the smoky atmosphere at the blackjack tables (who else still allows smoking inside a public place!!), we drive north on I-15 heading for the Valley of Fire State Park near Lake Mead.

Approaching Valley of Fire

Approaching Valley of Fire State Park

In these wide open spaces, the 75 mph speed limit acts as a suggestion as we cruise at 80 miles per hour to exit 75. There at the truck stop advertising a casino, liquor, and a smoke shop, we take the shoulderless Valley of Fire Road through the treeless desert landscape of scrub brush and miles of sand.  You would not want to break down here as there are no services and a climate only a lizard would love; and, of course, Mainers escaping the snow and cold of New England.

Indigenous VCU Ram at Valley of Fire

Indigenous VCU Ram at Valley of Fire

Gladly supporting the state of Nevada, we pony up $10 to enter the Valley of Fire State Park, named for the red sandstone throughout the park. Contrasting with the green (and much of the winter white) of New England, the landscape welcomes us to a quiet part of our country.

VF map of park itself

At the visitor center, the volunteer behind the counter suggests that we drive to the end of the six mile scenic road and start our hiking at White Domes. With an average of four inches of rain per year, Valley of Fire has summer highs well north of 100F.

The sandy start to the White Domes Trail

The sandy start to the White Domes Trail

The Mouse Tanks Road (Mouse was an outlaw who used this area as his hideout) climbs among red rock canyons into the high desert. Ahead, we see a Nevada State trooper’s squad car angled across the road. As we slow, he waves us by and we wonder what gives?  A mile down the road another trooper has us slow again; I wind down the window and learn that the Ford Motor Company is filming a commercial with the spectacular red rock background.

Descending the rocky White Domes Trail

Descending the rocky White Domes Trail

This winding narrow two lane road under Arizona skies (brilliant blue without a cloud anywhere) has us spotting other seniors in RVs and SUVs. The White Domes trailhead has room for 20 cars and sheltered picnic tables.

Trails throughout the Valley of Fire are short and sweet, maybe a mile or so. The White Domes Trail has red rock sand that we don’t sink into like we would at a beach. Heading into the wilderness on a well-marked trail, we descend on sandstone steps to ease the steepest points.

The narrows on the White Domes Trail

The narrows on the White Domes Trail

Our son Will would love scrambling the rocks above us to our right and left. This one mile loop trail bears right through “the narrows” sandy bottom canyon wall. Aware that there is the Prospect Trail off this loop, we look for it to get an extra mile or two of hiking to reach our goal of three hours of hiking today.

All the desert we could want

All the desert we could want

We wonder about the protocol for passing other hikers when the trail is wide enough for only one?  Deferential by nature, when in the lead, Hannah always steps aside. The male in me figures there are other guidelines. I step aside for those older than us. I expect dog owners to step aside as they approach, which they usually do. I think those climbing up have the right of way.

VF3A  Prospect trail signIn 30 minutes, we return to the trailhead never having seen the Prospect Trail. Checking out the trailhead map we see that the Prospect heads through a river bed; Hannah suggests we retrace our steps and do the loop in reverse. With no signage directing us, we venture around a large sandstone cliff and spot this sign.

Desert-style bushwacking on the Prospect Trail

Desert-style bushwhacking on the Prospect Trail

Unmarked trails are not Hannah and Dan hiking. We like well-marked trails with company so we can be reasonably assured we are not lost. There is no joy in being uncertain whether we are on the trail or not. That said, we decide to explore further for fifteen minutes, always aware of the way back to the White Domes Loop Trail. The elevation gain is at most a couple of hundred feet and the sand and sandstone are easy on our feet.

VF4 D at Fire WaveReturning to the scenic drive back that will take us back to the visitor center, there are other side trails that we can take. We choose the Fire Wave Trail (1.2 miles roundtrip) through the desert and along the sandstone rock formations. My hiker’s hat blocks the full sun and we never think once of what we are missing in February, the snowiest winter in Maine since the Ice Age.

Fire Wave of Valley of Fire

Fire Wave of Valley of Fire

Hiking midday has its advantages – we have had a leisurely motel breakfast with Sports Center and the USA Today; it’s also warmer. What is not great is the light for picture taking; we miss the morning and late afternoon brilliant sandstone reds.

Among the red rocks of the Mouse Tanks Trail

Among the red rocks of the Mouse Tanks Trail

As we drive back towards the visitor center, we take twenty minutes to see the petroglyphs of the Mouse Tank Trail. Though we haven’t hiked many miles, we are ready for our 90 miles of driving back to I-95 through Nevada and Arizona to St. George, Utah, where will stay free, thanks to credit card points we’ve earned through Choice Privileges.

Adios

Adios

Our Comfort Inn at St. George, UT has us poolside for our evening Dos Equis, a Jacuzzi for a late soak, and ESPN2 for some VCU basketball v. Richmond. All the comforts of home and none of the snow.

 

 

Dan and Hannah Hike in Red Rock Canyon near Las Vegas, Nevada

 

RR Map of NevadaI’ve been roughed up of late.  This Maine winter has beaten me down pretty good.

Four weeks ago, Hannah and I took a two week bite out of our January by hiking on the coast of California. Today we begin ten days on parole thanks to the Snow Warden in New England to visit the red rocks of Nevada, the mountain perches of Utah, and the deepest desert in California.

RR route one traffic

Traffic heading to Logan Airport in Boston

Leaving home in York, Maine at 540A for our 855A flight to Vegas from Boston this late February morning, we cruise down I-95 quite blissfully.  Then boom.  We get snarled in the Monday morning commuter traffic of big bad Route One in Danvers and Saugus, Massachusetts.  Crawling along at 15 mph, we finally arrive at Park, Ride, and Fly in Revere where we leave our Hyundai Elantra and get ready to take the shuttle van to Logan Airport.  Unfortunately, delays due to this past weekend’s snow storm mean the shuttle doesn’t arrive for us til after 8A.

RR jet blueWith minutes to spare, we arrive for our Jet Blue flight. Never again will we cut it so closely, as the stress of “will we make it or not” messes with the start of our hiking vacation in the West.  Jet Blue knows how to soothe the beast within the air traveler: an individual TV makes my six hours of non-stop flying, well, fly by.

Once in Vegas, we take two shuttle buses to get to the Fox Rent-a-Car lot; we always rent the cheapest car we can. Today we end up with a Toyota Yaris. It is basic wind-up toy – hand crank windows, no cruise control, side view mirrors that you adjust by hand.  At $226 for ten days, it’s all good.

And by the way, we always tip, be it shuttle drivers or housekeepers at our motels. We are the fortunate ones to share our wealth. Tipping is like praying. Praying changes the one who prays. Tipping changes us for the better.  As Maya Angelou says Giving liberates the soul of the giver.

Welcome to Las Vegas

Welcome to Las Vegas

Can you believe it? It snowed last night in Vegas; on our arrival Monday the temperature never gets above 50 degrees.  Have we brought the curse of the New England winter west?  Let’s pump the brakes.  We are lucky to even be here on a day when 1500 flights are cancelled. It will be -7 degrees tomorrow morning on the coast of Maine.  Fifty degrees is an excellent alternative.

Looking to be as far away from the Vegas Strip as we can, we settle in at the La Quinta Motel in the Summerlin section of the western Las Vegas suburbs. A mere eight miles from our first day hike in Red Rock Canyon, La Quinta has the requisite free breakfast and a Jacuzzi by the pool as a bonus.

RR blackjack tableThough Hannah and I want no part of traditional Las Vegas, I once was a blackjack card counter when we lived in Arizona. I’d take an airline shuttle at 8P from Phoenix, play a minimum of $5 bets through the night, and then be flown home the next morning.  All for $25! Weeks ago, thinking I might recapture some of my blackjack glory, I planned to study the basic strategy for blackjack (this system is online and legit for it gives the player a break-even chance of winning). And yet I couldn’t make myself study and put in the time for the chance to make a little spending cash. The memorizing of the proper blackjack plays was just too much work.

RR 4 map at end of trail CalicoTraveling east to west, we have ourselves a 27 hour day this Monday. By 7P Pacific Time, I can’t stay awake and zonk out.   The bad thing about that is that I awake at 230A the next morning (530A ET). I listen to Hannah breathe as she sleeps and think, Damn I’m lucky to be here just lying in bed, not subfreezing in York.

RR 1A D at RR sign

After yesterday’s high of 49 degrees, 60s with full sun are promised for our hike in Red Rock Canyon.  Heading out Charlestown Avenue, we have our senses blasted by the red rock mountains to the west. Pulling into the lane to pay at the Red Rock Canyon, we learn that the 13 mile one-way Scenic Drive is currently closed due to snow removal.  Really?  The visitor center is open; the Moenkopi Loop and the Calico Hills Trails are ready and waiting for us.

Hannah hiking on the Moenkopi Trail

Hannah hiking on the Moenkopi Trail

The terrain is déjà vu for us one-time Arizona residents. There isn’t a tree within the area. Scrub brush and cacti are our only friends. A lizard checks us out, but on the surface, the landscape has all the earmarks of a barren wasteland.

From yesterday's snow storm

Remnants from yesterday’s snow storm on the Moenkopi Trail

At 3400 feet, the Moenkopi Trail is a 2.5 mile loop that the guidebook says will take 2 hours. Nonsense. It’s, maybe, an hour or so over this mostly level terrain. With the wind whipping, I opt for shorts and Hannah capris.  Sweatshirts are a must as the full sun does balance out the wind and we are rocking along on, as you might imagine one would do on a rocky trail. Much of the time we can walk side by side. Always in sight of the visitor center, we never feel like we could get lost.

Red rocks of the Calico Hills Trail

Red rocks of the Calico Hills Trail

Once at the far end of the Moenkopi Loop we cross over the Scenic Drive to the Calico Hills trail. We meander between the road and the Red Rock cliffs. As a popular hike, we are not alone on what is the beginning of Spring Breaks across the country. The Red Rock cliffs are favorites of rock scramblers and sport climbers.

The Calico Hills Trail

The Calico Hills Trail

The rock scramblers are the ones who are just plain nuts going up vertical cliffs while sport climbers go up and over the boulders set in their way on, say, a dry creek bottom or mountainside. For us the Red Rock Canyon is a great transition from the cold of New England to the warmth of the West.

RR 3D along Calico trailOnce the park’s Scenic Drive opens, there are tourists up the ying yang at both Calico I and Calico II lookout points.  Far below, at times we lose the trail of loose rocks and scramble us some boulders back to the trail. The many loose rocks make for an uneven hike but not a difficult one.

The sport climbers gulch

The sport climbers gulch

First days of our hiking vacation in the West have good energy and all the possibilities lie ahead. The snow?  Forgiven and forgotten.  The Valley of Fire State Park on the Colorado River awaits for Wednesday and Observation Point at Zion National Park on Thursday. We are at home in the Mountain West.

 

Spring’s Open Window Policy

Monday was the first night this spring that we didn’t close all the windows in our house before we went to bed.  In New England, we have been buttoned up all winter to keep the cold weather at bay. Yesterday when the Weather Channel said it was 64F in York (must have been measured at the ocean in York Harbor), our thermometer read 79F, two miles from the Atlantic as the crow flies. We celebrated with the freedom of wide-open windows, all day long.

Open Window 2In the evenings on Chases Pond Road, little traffic passes by after 9P. So the occasional car or truck is a soft reminder that there is still much more time for sleep. It seems as if not even one car passes down our country road after midnight. With our bedroom windows pulled down from the top, the cooler night air makes our flannel sheet feel just right, draped over our winter-worn bodies.

Dawn comes early at 530 this morning. Our out-in-the-country birds (I never learned their names and at 67 probably never will) begin their morning conversation. Rather than being a disturbance, they remind me of spring’s welcome to work in the yard or bike into town. Come out and play they sweetly repeat.

Our day-to-day world is expanding as we unshutter the pent-up hopes of being outdoors, long doused by snow and cold. This morning I don’t go to the thermostat immediately to warm up the house against the outside cold. Through the open windows, the sounds of many more cars heading off to work and school are the background music to a second day with open windows.

Dan and Hannah Hike at Point Reyes near San Francisco, California

The snow trench in front of our house in Maine

The snow trench in front of our house in Maine

As we awake in northern California, thirty inches of snow has fallen in Seacoast Maine this late January day. Though the snow has stopped, life in New England has come to a standstill. Crawling highway traffic; backroads under siege; driveways waiting, and waiting some more to be cleared. It turns out that this blockbuster of a storm was just the first of a string of snowstorms during the epic winter of 2015; there will be more snow than we have ever seen in 33 years living on Chases Pond Road.

Reyes map of coast

But that’s a challenge for tomorrow, for today we are more than 3000 miles away in California. Leaving Tree and Scott’s place after five days together, we drive south on the oceanside of the Pacific Coast Highway with its steep cliffs plunging hundreds of feet below us. Riding shotgun, I lean Hannah’s way as she drives the lofty serpentine roads; the white line is all there is to the shoulder on my side.

The interfaith chapel just off the Pacific Coast Highway in Sea Ranch, CA

The interfaith chapel just off the Pacific Coast Highway in Sea Ranch, CA

As we pass first through Sea Ranch and on to Jenner, Bodega Bay, and then Tomales on our last day in California, we are heading for Point Reyes National Seashore, some 45 miles north of San Francisco on the Pacific Ocean. Once down from where eagles fly, we mellow out as it takes us two hours to go 70 minutes on this section of the Pacific Coast Highway.

Reyes map of parkWith our red-eye flight at 11P from San Francisco to Boston still on schedule, we drive through the small town of Point Reyes Station in the late morning. Taking a sharp right at the Bear Valley Inn B&B at Bear Valley Road, we motor an easy half mile to the visitor center.

Reyes2 - Bear Valley Trail signThere the ranger asks what we are looking for; they have 150 miles of trails. The Dan and Hannah prescription: Sunshine and three hours of hiking! The most popular trail to the Pacific Ocean is the Bear Valley Trail. The ranger provides a fabulous trail map with distances to the tenth of a mile.  Being within an hour of San Francisco, Point Reyes gets two and a half million visitors each year.

The Bear Valley trail begins

The Bear Valley trail begins

The Bear Valley Trail begins as a gently rising fire road on this mid-week Wednesday in the sunny 60s. To our right, Morgan horses are sheltered and trained to patrol the park. Wide enough for four to walk abreast, the trail has couples with young children, women out for an afternoon walk, and retired couples.

1906 San Francisco Earthquake

1906 San Francisco Earthquake

We are crossing the San Andreas Fault where the earth’s crust is “floating on a sea of molten rock.”   In 1906 the underlying rock moved 20 feet in less than a minute which caused massive devastation in San Francisco. It could happen again in 30 minutes or 300 years. Fortunately, it did not happen today.

VCU Ram on his last day on the coast of California

VCU Ram on his last day on the coast of California

The warm sun is just the sendoff we savor before returning to the snowy East. Just two-tenths of a mile into the hike, the trail turns shady, forest covered. Putting on our sweatshirts, we climb some 400 feet of elevation gain through the coastal mountains; beside us is a west flowing trail stream bracketed by ferns.

Spotting a young couple seeming to be struggling with the backpack for their ten month old, we are impressed that they are out miles from the visitor center this afternoon with their child. We ask if they need any help, but they just smile and thank us.

Bike rack here half way to the Pacific?

Bike rack here half way to the Pacific?

Coming across this bicycle rack two miles into the trail, we wonder what gives.  What’s a bicycle rack out of New Jersey in the 1950s doing here?   It takes me a while to make sense of this anomaly.  Any idea why this bike rack is two miles into the wilderness?  See below.

The coastal trail within a half mile of the ocean

The coastal trail within a half mile of the ocean

The trail map shows we have two and a half miles to Arch Rock now that we summit at the Divide Meadows. One last walk along the beach sounds pretty sweet.   The gently rising trail means we can keep up a three mph pace heading to the ocean. Our hike only offers glimpses of sunshine through a Douglas fir forest, but it’s no sacrifice to be in shorts in dappled sun rather than be housebound due to the blizzard of 2015.

Northern coastline as we stand atop Arch Rock

Northern coastline as we stand atop Arch Rock

With Arch Rock on the Pacific in sight, we realize that the perch is 70 feet above the water, which makes the beach inaccessible from the trail. Checking out the coastline north and south from Arch Rock, we learn that the Arch itself is below us as we stand on the shoreline mesa.

To the south from Arch Rock

To the south from Arch Rock

There is a descending steep rocky trail to the river bed rocks and the arch. On the climb down, we grab the rocks to steady ourselves as we slip slide down to the creek. Through the arch we can see the ocean, but there is no way we can navigate these rocks through a very cold mountain stream. We lunch on our pb&js and dismiss the thought of any more rock scrambling.

As we climb out we see the couple with the bambino, not fifteen minutes behind us. We approach and say how impressed we are with their hiking with a baby. They smile. We ask where they are from.  It turns out it’s Switzerland.   This little hike is small potatoes compared to other alpine hikes that they have done before with their son.

As we head for the trailhead, we know that the snow is not going away and we are just going to have deal with it. Thanks to Nolan, we are able to drive into our driveway after the red-eye. Two days later, all is right in snowy New England world as we spend the morning with Owen and Max while Molly and Tip go out to breakfast.

The reason there is a bike rack in the wilderness

The reason there is a bike rack in the wilderness

And the bike rack?  Trail bike riding is only allowed to a certain point. After that, bikes are prohibited; hence the 1950s Radburn (NJ) School bike rack.

Fissure at Arch Rock six weeks after we hiked to this promontory point

Fissure at Arch Rock six weeks after we hiked to this promontory point

Since our visit in late January 2015, tragedy struck at the Arch Rock of Point Reyes.

This recent hoto provided by Point Reyes National Seashore shows a fissure that has opened up atop Arch Rock less than two months after our trek there. One person died and another needed to be treated for life-threatening injuries after the bluff at the end of a popular hiking trail collapsed on Saturday, March 21, 2015. Two visitors were standing on the Arch Rock lookout point just before 6 p.m. when the bluff gave way. The pair fell about 70 feet and were covered with rocks and debris. One of the hikers was pronounced dead at the scene. The other was airlifted to a hospital. (AP Photo/Point Reyes National Seashore)

We hiked this trail and stood atop Arch Rock on January 28, 2015.   The trail is no longer open to Arch Rock.

Click on this this link or copy and paste it to read more about the fatal rockslide.      http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/3703372-181/hiker-killed-in-point-reyes