Posts Tagged With: hiking

Hiking to History at Mesa Verde

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon was the farthest point from home on our epic western road trip of September 2015. As we turned back toward home, Colorado offered us a couple additional sites we hadn’t visited before. We thought we’d check out the “four corners” where Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado meet. At the risk of sounding super cheap,  when we heard the entrance fee was $5 per person, we decided to pass. It just had the feel of a tourist trap.

On the other hand, Mesa Verde National Park, established in 1906, and a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1978, is no tourist trap. This amazing park contains nearly 5,000 archeological sites including 600 cliff dwellings that were home to the Ancestral Pueblo people (Anasazi) from 550 AD until the late 1200s.


Entrance to Mesa Verde National Park

The visitor center is located in a valley at the foot of a winding road up to the mesa. Stop here first to plan your visit and purchase tour tickets.


Visitor Center at Mesa Verde NP


Visitor Center at Mesa Verde NP

The approximately 21-mile drive up to Chapin Mesa delighted us with breathtaking views.


View from the park road into Mesa Verde NP


View from park road into Mesa Verde NP

Five dwellings were open to the public in 2015; Spruce Tree House and Far View allowed self-guided tours but Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Long House required tickets for ranger-led guided tours. In September, Cliff Palace and Long House were already closed for the season but fortunately for us, Balcony House, the “most adventurous cliff dwelling tour” (Mesa Verde National Park Visitor Guide) was still open. We paid the $4 per person ticket price and scheduled our tour for the following morning. In 2016, only four dwellings remain open to the public. Spruce Tree House closed because of safety issues related to falling rock and will remain closed for the foreseeable future. How lucky for us to see this cliff dwelling before it closed.

Spruce Tree House is the third largest and best-preserved of the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde. The trail is short but steep, changing elevation by 100 feet in a quarter mile.


Trail to Spruce Tree House


View of Spruce Tree House


Spruce Tree House

We saw only a fraction of the 120 rooms and 8 kivas at Spruce Tree House. A kiva is a chamber below ground that in modern day pueblos was used for religious, social, or ceremonial purposes. Because the Ancestral Pueblo people had no writing system, we can’t know for certain but archeologists believe the purpose was the same in prehistoric times.


Kiva in Spruce Tree House


Jim climbing down the ladder to a kiva in Spruce Tree House


Inside a kiva at Spruce Tree House


Spruce Tree House

As I said, Cliff Palace was closed for the season when we arrived. The largest and most well-known cliff dwelling in North America, Cliff Palace contains 150 rooms and 21 kivas and was inhabited by around 120 people. Fortunately for us, we could view it from a distance and photograph it even though we couldn’t tour it.


Cliff Palace

Our ranger-guided tour of Balcony House the next morning was as much about the journey as the destination. The strenuous hike included steep stairs, three ladders, and a tunnel.


Getting ready for the hike to Balcony House


Our park ranger briefs us


Trail to Balcony House


One of the ladders on the trail to Balcony House


My hips aren’t as wide as Jim’s shoulders and it was a snug fit for me going through the tunnel.


We both made it without getting stuck!


Bringing up the rear, quite literally.


Catching my breath and taking a photo


Jim nears the top

The destination was well-worth the effort, however. This cliff dwelling consists of 38 rooms and 2 kivas. Our ranger knowledgeably shared information about the site and the Ancestral Pueblo inhabitants.


Balcony House


Balcony House



Kiva at Balcony House


A room with a view at Balcony House

Because Long House was closed for the season, we decided not to drive the 12 miles over to Wetherill Mesa where it’s located. We did, however, hike the Far View area. The Far View sites are farming communities on top of the mesa rather than cliff dwellings.

National parks in the United States preserve and protect historical and cultural sites like Mesa Verde as well as our amazing and abundant natural resources. For a couple history nerds like us, Mesa Verde was a place to immerse ourselves in the history and culture of the Ancestral Pueblo people. As a result, we are better educated about and appreciative of the time and place of these early people.

Based on events of September 2015.


Categories: National Parks, Uncategorized, UNESCO, USA | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Panic to Perfection at the Grand Canyon

After completing our tour of the Mighty Five–the five national parks in Utah, it was time to move on and what better icing on the cake than a visit to Grand Canyon National Park? The North Rim was just 98 miles away, close enough not to be missed. Grand Canyon Village on the south rim, on the other hand, was 253 miles away. We decided against that option as we’ve been to the south rim several times in the past. We’d never been to the North Rim, however, so that became our next destination.

As I’ve mentioned before, finding lodging was sometimes a challenge and cell phone coverage was an even bigger challenge. When I finally got a signal, I called the Grand Canyon Lodge and just missed securing the last cabin inside the park by minutes. Kaibab Lodge, the closest accommodations outside the park, was fully booked as well. My next option was Jacob Lake, 45 miles north of the North Rim Visitor Center. On our way to the North Rim, we stopped at the Jacob Lake Inn and found they had only a couple of rooms still available. Since the place looked a little rustic to me, not in a charming way but more tired and worn, I asked to see a room. They refused to let me see one because they were still cleaning and it was before check-in time. So I asked if I booked the room and it wasn’t suitable whether they’d refund my money and they said no. All my suspicions were aroused but they had us over a barrel. There was literally nothing else for another 40 miles. We hoped for the best, booked the room sight unseen, and drove on to the North Rim.


Check out the flip flops which are part of this story

We went directly to the visitor’s center.


Jim, Grand Canyon NP

With breathtaking views, the visitor center is a comfortable place to enjoy the moment and relax awhile, both inside and out.


Inside the North Rim Visitor Center


North Rim Visitor Center patio with a view


View from the North Rim Visitor Center



Taking in the view from the North Rim Visitor Center

The trail to Bright Angel Point was only 1/2 mile round-trip so we thought we’d take a quick look. Jim asked if I wanted to go back to the car to put on my hiking boots but I didn’t want to waste the time so off I went in my flip flops. Big mistake! 


Trail to Bright Angel Point

I saw our destination in the distance and captured it on the photo below. I cropped it so that you can see it better below that.


Looking to Bright Angel point from the trail–see the people on top?

Version 2

Close-up of Bright Angel Point

The trail was wide and paved at first. The views were a little hazy but impressively magnificent.


Jim in the shadows on the trail to Bright Angel Point


Bright Angel Point Trail

As the trail narrowed, the drop-offs seemed to get closer and I felt very unsteady walking in my flip flops. Finally, I had a full-blown panic attack and was unable to take any more photos. I kept inching along the trail and Jim tried to talk me through it. When we reached drop offs on both sides of the trail with no railings, I thought I wouldn’t be able to continue but somehow I did. When we got to the final outcropping in the photo above, I stayed back by the tree. Of course, now I regret it and I especially regret  my lack of photos from Bright Angel Point. The lesson is: Wear your hiking boots!

After our hike to Bright Angel Point, safely back in the car (where I donned my hikers), we drove to Point Imperial, the highest elevation in the park at 8803 feet. Along the road, yellow aspens whispered and shimmered in the sunlight, displaying autumn splendor at its finest.


Drive to Point Imperial


Point Imperial


View from Point Imperial


Definitely a ‘thumbs up” view at Point Imperial

We returned to the visitor center in time to enjoy a romantic dinner outside on the patio while we watched the sunset. The food served on the patio is the same as the food in the restaurant but glass is not allowed outside so it’s packaged in styrofoam, not the best presentation but tasty nonetheless. Jim ordered the venison meatloaf which was delicious and I stuck with my usual salad.


Ordering dinner



Jim’s generous portion venison meatloaf and my salad.



North Rim Visitor Center looking toward sunset


Sunset over the Grand Canyon



Grand Canyon sunset

Sunset did not end our experience at the North Rim. September 27, 2015, happened to be the night of a rare occurrence of a total lunar eclipse of a super full moon, and a blood moon at that.

My camera is really not suitable for photographing events like this but I did the best I could. We thought at first the clouds would prevent our sighting of the event but they passed.


Clouds obscuring the moon


Lunar eclipse of super blood moon


Lunar eclipse of super blood moon

It was a perfect ending to an extraordinary day. But wait, we still had to drive 45 miles back to Jacob Lake and check into our hotel room. After braking six times for numerous deer bounding onto the roadway, our nerves were frayed by the time we arrived. We were grateful not to have to drive any farther and my hotel room standards were lowered by each deer sighting. Happily, our room was fine and I can recommend a stay if you can’t get lodging in the park.


Jacob Lake Inn


Jacob Lake Inn


Based on events from September 2015.

Categories: Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

More Mukuntuweap (Zion)

Because a rock slide blocked the east entrance, we entered Zion National Park (Mukuntuweap) from the south entrance adjacent to the town of Springdale, population 548. Parking, as I told you in my last post, is a huge issue. We first arrived in the afternoon and all lots inside the park were full and closed. We searched Springdale for street parking to no avail. We finally found a lot off the beaten path requiring a bit of a hike to even reach the shuttle into the park. That accomplished, we boarded the shuttle and rode the short distance to the park.

Once inside the park, the only way to see the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is on the free park shuttle. This service, initiated in 2000, reduces the traffic, parking issues, and pollution, and provides a measure of protection to the park.  We decided to ride to the last of the 8 stops, the Temple of Sinawava, so that we would see the entire scenic route from the bus before we got off at each stop on our way back to explore further.


Jim riding the Zion Canyon Shuttle

The Riverside Walk, an easy 2.2 mile, partially paved trail, begins near the Temple of Sinawava bus stop. We enthusiastically joined the throng.


View of the Virgin River from the Riverside Walk


Respite along the Riverside Walk

The hanging gardens along Riverside Walk in the picture above and the video below are fed by trickling waterfalls. Watch the upper right corner of the brief video to see the trickling water.

At the end of the Riverside Walk, hardier hikers continued on to the Narrows, a strenuous trail over 9 miles long that is only accessible if the water is not too high. Signs everywhere in this park warn visitors to be aware of conditions, take care, and bring water.


Swimming in the Virgin River at the end of Riverside Walk



View of the Virgin River from the trail



Jim at the beginning of the Narrows

On the return trip, I had an experience that is worth sharing. There are squirrels everywhere and they appear to be tame…probably from too many tourists feeding them. I had just seen a photo of a hand with a squirrel bite in the Zion National Park Map and Guide with the caption, “The squirrel bit me in less than a second” along with the  admonishment, “Wild animals can hurt you. Do not feed them.” Then I saw a child around middle school age trying to pet a seemingly tame squirrel while her mother watched! I couldn’t contain myself. I said, “Please don’t try to pet a wild animal that will probably bite you! Read the park guide and see what damage they can do.” They both just gave me that “mind your own business” look. I moved on, not wanting to see what happened next.  Please help keep wildlife wild.


One of the many “tame” squirrels that frequent the area

The next stop was at Big Bend where I took this shot of the Organ and the Great White Throne.


The Organ and the Great White Throne

Weeping Rock boasted more hanging gardens fed by trickling spring water.


Weeping Rock

Friends who have met the challenge strongly recommended we hike to Angel’s Landing but as a recovering acrophobe, I thought that was pushing it. This 5.4-mile hike is billed by the national park as strenuous with “long drop offs. Not for young children or anyone fearful of heights. Last section is a route along a steep, narrow ridge to the summit” (Zion National Park Map and Guide). I have no regrets about our decision.

Here are more spectacular views along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.





View along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive


Another view of the Great White Throne


As we rode the shuttle bus back to the visitor center, the driver told us that the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway was cleared of the rock slide and reopened that day at 5 pm. (This road is normally open to vehicular traffic unlike the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.) We decided to get our car and drive this road through the long tunnel. That morning we had driven from the east entrance to the tunnel where the road was closed which I covered in my last post.


Views along Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway



Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway



Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway


We readily identified the location of the rock slide by the debris remaining in the area and the orange cones still on the road.


Where the rock slide was located on Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway

We drove through the 1.1-mile tunnel and then turned around and drove back. I especially wanted to see the gallery windows. I’ve been through many tunnels but I’ve never seen a window in one. Unfortunately, I was unable to get any photos out the windows because you can’t stop or slow down in the tunnel.


Entrance to the 1.1-mile tunnel on Zion-Mt.Carmel Highway



Light shining in through one of the gallery windows

When we decided against the hike to Angel’s Landing, we determined instead to hike the  Emerald Pools Trails early the following morning. The Lower and Upper Emerald Pools Trails combine an easy and a moderate trail totalling a little over 2 miles. We climbed  enough to the Upper Emerald Pools that I felt like I had hiked further than just 2 miles, however.

We arrived before the crowds and had no trouble finding a parking place. Zion is a very different place without the crowds. If you’re a morning person, as I am, get there early to experience the peaceful nature of Zion without the crush of people.


Early morning at Zion NP

We saw few people along the trail as we started out.


Trail to Emerald Pools along the Virgin River in the early morning


Enjoying having the trail to the Emerald Pools to ourselves


Jim on the trail


Check out the cacti


Beautiful trail view


The climb gets steeper

When we arrived, I realized why they are named Emerald Pools. The reflection in the pools of the greenery surrounding them is indeed emerald.


Emerald Pool


Emerald Pool


Emerald Pool

The waterfalls along the trail were especially impressive. I took several videos to better showcase them.


The end of the trail crossing the Virgin River


Back to the parking lot that was now full with cars circling like vultures waiting for our spot

After our hike to the Emerald Pools, we were ready to have a picnic lunch then hit the road for our next adventure even though there are lots more things to see and do in Zion National Park. We barely scratched the surface but we believe we got a pretty good overview and enjoyed a memorable experience.


Based on events from September 2015.


Categories: Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Do Not Miss Denali

I have very few travel regrets. I traveled to Belgium and I didn’t visit Bruges. I went to South Africa and I skipped Cape Town and a side trip to Victoria Falls, Zambia. Every time I hear about these places I think, “Why did I miss that?” As a result, I now do better research to find the “do not miss” places in the vicinity of my travel destinations. Do not, I repeat, do not go to Alaska and skip Denali. It was, without a doubt, the highlight of the trip for me. I only wish I had spent more time there.

The original name of the highest mountain in North America was Denali, a Native American word meaning high one or great one. It was renamed Mt. McKinley by William Dickey in 1896 when gold was discovered and William McKinley was running for President. The 2 million acre tract of land was named McKinley National Park like the mountain when it was established in 1917. Then in 1975, Alaska restored the name Denali to the mountain but the federal government continued to call it Mt. McKinley. In 1980, Congress expanded the park to 6 million acres and changed the name to Denali National Park and Preserve. Finally, in September 2015, the name of the mountain was also restored to Denali at the federal level by executive order. Confused? Needless to say, all of this was mired in politics but suffice it to say the name of the mountain has been restored to the original Native American name and the national park is named after it.


Entrance to Denali National Park and Preserve

In spite of the distance to Alaska and the relatively small state population, Denali National Park and Preserve hosts over one-half million visitors each year. To reduce traffic and emissions, the park restricts traffic beyond mile 15 to shuttle and tour buses. Green shuttle buses are the hop on hop off variety but there is no narration provided. Fares vary from $27.50 to $52.50 based on time and distance.  The tan tour buses provide a narrated tour with a box lunch. Prices range from $70.75 to $165 also  depending on time and distance.  We were scheduled and assigned to the Tundra Wilderness Tour by the cruise line as part of our package. If you visit the park on your own, reservations are not required but you can schedule your tour ahead of time here.

Our tour started in the afternoon so we hiked some of the trails and checked out the Denali Visitor Center in the morning. Free courtesy shuttles provide transportation from the hotels to the entrance of the park where various hiking trails begin. We chose the Horseshoe Lake Trail which was moderately difficult but people in worse shape seemed to handle it and the spectacular scenery was definitely worth it.


Jim and Sheryl setting off for a hike


Our first view from above on Horseshoe Trail. We climbed down then back up on the hike.



Nary a bear to be found but I was alert, nevertheless


Quiet, peaceful beauty of the trail


Horseshoe Lake


Nenana River


Horseshoe Lake


Horseshoe Lake


Jim on Horseshoe Lake Trail


Sheryl on Horseshoe Lake Trail


After the return climb from Horseshoe Lake Trail

After hiking the 3.2-mile loop, it was on to the Denali Visitor Center to check out the informational materials they had to offer. The displays were beautifully presented with lots of mounted animals that are found within the park.


Denali Visitor Center

The only bear I saw happened to be outside the Visitor Center welcoming visitors. I joined the kids in getting a photo.


Laura and the bear

After a bite to eat in the cafeteria we caught our tour bus that would take us further into the national park.

Our tour guide, a trained interpretive naturalist, was engaging and well-informed, providing us with natural history details galore while keeping an eye out for wildlife.


Our tour guide

The “big five” in Denali are bears, Dall sheep, caribou, moose, and wolves. We hoped to see them all and the sign below raised our hopes even further.


Sign on Park Road

Our first wildlife sighting was of Dall sheep high on the far-off slopes but they are just white dots on my photos. Tip: take a good camera with a telephoto lens if you really want to get the shot.


White dots on the ridge are Dall sheep

Fortunatley, the driver had a telephoto video camera that he showed on a screen in the bus.


Video screen on the bus to see distant animals

We saw lots of caribou. I can’t tell you exactly how many we saw but by the end of the tour, most tourists didn’t bother to look when one was spotted. The first views were exciting, however. Our naturalist told us that mosquitoes relentlessly torment the caribou. They are literally covered in mosquitoes and they look for snow or mud to bury themselves to escape the misery.




Caribou laying in the dirt trying to avoid mosquitoes

Try as we might, we didn’t see any bears, wolves, or moose but we did see  beautiful scenery. Many of us tried to capture a bit of it from the bus and each time we stopped.


Denali National Park and Preserve from the tour bus


Denali National Park and Preserve


Denali National Park and Preserve


Denali National Park and Preserve

And then we saw this. The second day of clear, pristine views of Mt. Denali. Our enthusiasm was not dampened in the least by continued views of this spectacular moutain.


Mt. Denali (aka Mt. McKinley)


A shuttle bus on the Park Road with a view of Mt. Denali


Selfie with Mt. Denali


Mt. Denali



Mt. Denali


Based on events of June 2015.


Categories: Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Cinque Terre—Hiking Shoes Required


CHEEN-kweh TEH-ray

Learn to say Cinque Terre the Italian way by clicking on the YouTube link below.

Five captivating, remote fishing villages along the rugged Italian Riviera make up the Cinque Terre, Italian for the 5 Lands.  If you want to see soaring Mediterranean views with quaint and colorful villages built on steep mountain slopes, and you’re willing to travel light to climb LOTS of stairs, Cinque Terre is for you.   The villages are best accessible by train although I understand the truly dauntless may attempt to drive the steep and narrow winding roads only to find they have to park their cars outside of town at exorbitant rates once they arrive.

We stayed at Elisabetta Carro’s Rooms (a click will take you to her website) in Vernazza, seeking the best views at the best price and we were not disappointed.  The strenuous climb up endless stairs along narrow, uneven walkways carrying our “rolling” backpacks from the train station was absolutely worth the effort.  The views were exactly what we had hoped to find. Our room was tiny but very clean and Elisabetta was delightful.  When we returned muddy from hiking, she even helped Jim clean his shoes over my protests.  One evening when we returned, a man stood looking wistfully at the stairs to our place behind the gate and asked if we were staying there.  He told us he tried to book a room but the last one was rented just before his call.  When he asked if the views were as good as he envisioned, we invited him and his companion up to the terrace to share the wine we brought back with us.  It turned out he was a priest, Father Frank, from the U.S., traveling with his sister.  We had a great visit, enjoying the view while he bemoaned his missed opportunity.

Views from Elisabetta Carro Rooms

(Hover over the photo to see captions or click on the photo for a slide show.)

Getting Around

The train from the southeast at La Spezia takes you first to Riomaggiore in about 10 minutes, then 2 minutes more to Manarola, 3 additional minutes to Corniglia, 4 more minutes to Vernazza, and finally 3 minutes more to Monterosso.   There are few views from the train, however, because most of the trip is through tunnels.  Tickets are inexpensive; from town to town costs less than 2 euro and the ticket is good for several hours from the time you validate it, or you can purchase a Cinque Terre Pass that covers unlimited train travel and use of the trails for varied periods of time.  You can also travel by ferry with stops in Monterosso, Vernazza, and Riomaggiore.  Make a plan for each day then calculate whether a pass or individual ticket is more cost-effective.  We actually found that individual tickets were right for us.

Each village has its own charms.

Food and Restaurants

Food is such an important part of travel and the Cinque Terre is known for its seafood, olive oil, and mushrooms, among other culinary delights. In high tourist areas like this, it’s often difficult to find good food at reasonable prices. Indeed, it’s sometimes difficult to find good food at any price. The number 1 rated restaurant in Vernazza on TripAdvisor is Il Pirata–The Pirate.  I was VERY skeptical about a place with such a kitschy name but the food was excellent and the owner took special care to recommend gluten-free dishes for me. The reviews were varied on some of the places where we ate, but fortunately, we enjoyed good food and good service everywhere.

Hiking the Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre was designated a national park in 1999, with a fee to hike the trails between villages.  The ravaging floods and mudslides of 2011, however, destroyed many of the paths.  In October, 2013, when we visited, the easy trails connecting Riomaggiore and Manarola, and Manarola to Corniglia were still closed.  We hiked the more difficult trails from Vernazza to Monterosso and from Corniglia to Vernazza.  Had the easier trails been open, we may have missed the more arduous but rewarding hikes that we experienced.  Things usually work out for the best, don’t you think?

We hiked Trail #2 from Vernazza to Monterosso, then from Corniglia to Vernazza.  The first segment at 1.8 miles, is reputed to be the most difficult section, and takes around 2 hours to complete.  There are many uneven stairs, up and down; steep grades; narrow passageways; and the path surface varies from stone to gravel to dirt to mud.  On this section we encountered a young couple geocaching, which is “the real world treasure hunt, that’s happening right now, all around you.  There are 2,412,846 geocaches and over 6 million geocachers worldwide”(   I’d actually never heard of it before.  Jim told them he thought the cache would be at the rest stop with the bench and all the cats.  When we saw them again later, they confirmed his guess had been correct.

The 2 mile section from Corniglia to Vernazza is somewhat less difficult.  It begins with views of grape vines growing in verdant fields followed by lush olive trees and stunning views of the Ligurian Sea.  There are still plenty of uneven stairs and narrow passages, however.  Wear comfortable hiking shoes, layer your clothing, and bring water.  Stop and rest when needed along the way and enjoy. the. view.

Views from the Trail

Based on events from October, 2013

Categories: Italy, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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