CA – Picacho State Recreation Area

While visiting my friend Petra in the Yuma Arizona area, she invited me to join her for an adventure in Picacho, the California Picacho not the Arizona Picacho. How confusing! More so as I had the Arizona park on my list for chasing wildflowers and had never heard of the California park.

Of course I said YES. I love new adventures and especially ones recommended by friends. You all know by now I’m an opportunist and when opportunity arises I usually say YES!  This park is 25 miles north of Yuma and includes the Colorado River as well mining history and colorful badlands. Upon arrival, we were joined by Petra’s friend Lorene and hiked the Picacho Mills Historic Trail.

According to park interpretive literature, “the colored slopes are natural formations of volcanic tuff. Minerals cause the color variations.” As one who loves this type of geology, I was in heaven. That’s the Colorado River a haven for folks who enjoy fishing and boating.

The trails are in good condition and easy to follow, however they are made of decomposed rock so can be slippery.

The Beavertail cactus were just beginning to bloom. The bright pink was such a standout among the otherwise barren landscape.

The history is interesting.

Such fun to experience an area long loved by new friends Petra and Lorene.

Later that evening we were joined by another friend Jan, what two Jans? Ha! We hiked up Red Mountain.

We were treated to views like this.

What a fun hike. So great getting to hang with new friends.

Later that evening, we took a short jaunt to the river where the group was catfishing. Would this spooky full moon result in good fishing? YES!

We stayed in the park campground where I said good morning as the moon said goodbye for another day.

Temperatures can be unpleasantly hot as this is the Sonoran Desert. In fact the park brochure indicates huge swings in temperatures from 20F in the winter to 120F in the summer. Since I was still in winter mode, anything above 70 seemed hot. Thus we got an early start. I’d provide a photo of the lake . . . but it’s dried up.

The hike though is mostly on ridges, definitely my preference.

Thank you Petra for being an amazing host and adventure partner.

This shows what I believe are the maintained hiking trails but there are many roads and others to be explored. 

Adventure Date(s):

  • March 20-21, 2019


  • This park seems to be under visited in part due to it’s remoteness. Be prepared to drive 18 dirt miles, rough but okay for most any car. Call or visit the web site to check on current road conditions.
  • Plan to stay in the park campground although there is nearby public land available for dispersed camping. A benefit to staying in the campground is showers as well as much more walkable access to trails and the river.
  • The best time to visit is mid-October through mid-April.



Photo Credit: Lorene

OR – Three Sisters Wilderness, Tam McArthur Rim Trail

I love interpretative signage. 

The hike climbs out of the Three Creek Lake basin providing views of the cascades. My friends Jill and Robert were great about helping to orient me and learn the names of the peaks. 

You also get views of the Tam McArthur Rim high above the lake.

As you enter Three Sisters Wilderness, you lose the views while wandering through the forest.

There was still a bit of snow around on this mid June day. 

Looking back at Three Creek Lake from Tam McArthur Rim. There were wildfires and subsequent smoke affecting the distant views. 

This is the jump off point for further exploration including Broken Top summit attempts. 

From this vantage point you can see Broken Top and South, Middle and North Sister Mountains. 

Mount Bachelor appears to be a hop, skip and jump away.

Broken Top (you can see how it got it’s name). 

I had a hard time picking up my jaw when I saw this view. WOW WOW WOW! 

Then we off in search of Lava Bombs, which I’d recently learned about during my visit to Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. The Wikipedia definition, “A volcanic bomb is a mass of molten rock (tephra) larger than 64 mm (2.5 inches) in diameter, formed when a volcano ejects viscous fragments of lava during an eruption. They cool into solid fragments before they reach the ground.” 

There was so much to love about this day. Thank you again Robert and Jill. This was my kind of place. Your company and knowledge added much to this adventure. You know I’m in heaven when I take a zillion photos!

There were lots of other volcanic treasures to explore. 

Adventure Date(s):

  • June 19, 2018

Hike Details:











ID – Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

From Dinosaur National Monument, I continued my wanderings by taking a drive through the Sheep Creek Geologic area in Utah, followed by a quick but uneventful visit to Fossil Butte National Monument in Wyoming (maybe third time will bring success), and finally I reached Idaho. 

With a few days remaining before I needed to be in Boise for a wedding, I found the perfect place to explore.

Of course my eyes were immediately drawn to the Pioneer Mountains. I wondered how soon they’d be accessible.

I found the geologic history interesting. 

These tiny pink monkeyflowers were a great accent to the black volcanic landscape. 

I hiked most of the trails with the exception of the Wilderness Trail. 

Signage was exceptional. 

Since there weren’t many wildflowers I found myself drawn to rocks.

Hiking the Broken Top Loop Trail provides many opportunities for learning. Be sure to grab an interpretive guide from the Visitor Center. 

Pressure ridge 

Pahoehoe (ropy) lava flows 

Tree molds were one of the more challenging features to find. If you look closely at this picture, there is a trough just above the sign and to the right. Per NPS literature, “tree molds are an impression left in the lava of the charred surface of a tree.” 

I also visited several of the lave tube caves including this one on the Broken Top Loop Trail. NOTE: be sure to grab a cave permit from the Visitor Center as one is required to enter caves.

Collapsed lava tube 

A benefit of staying in the park campground was hiking at sunset and sunrise. The North Crater Trails begin at the campground. 

Views along the North Crater Trail were exceptional. 

It was an awesome experience to walk the ridges of the cinder cones, especially early in the morning when I had the place to myself.

Yep, all MINE – even mid morning on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend. Notice the duck tape on my fender.

If you’re lucky, you might just spy some petrified wood. 

Keeping the cinder from shifting isn’t an easy task. Kudos to the trail builders and maintainers. There’s a reason they ask hikers to stay on trail and to respect closed areas. 

Look at all that volcanic activity. So much history in one place. 

My wildflower finds. 

It’s a harsh environment for wildflowers. They are few and far between as demonstrated in the following photo. 

I truly love being surprised when places exceed expectations; this one was a home run! 

My one frustration this trip was road construction. I got stuck several times waiting my turn in one-way traffic but this incident topped the cake. I’d planned to hike the Caves Trail when I completed my early morning jaunt on North Crater Trail. But, due to construction the normal one-way driving loop to Caves Trail was blocked with only access to Broken Top and Tree Molds trails. Since I’d already hiked Broken Top I hiked the Tree Molds trail. On my return I was happy to find the Caves Trail parking open. I hiked to the various caves but upon returning to my car I found myself and many others included a couple buses of preschoolers blocked in. No one was manning the blocked entrance/exit. I was first in line to exit. We waited and waited and waited as the road has just been sealed. We called the visitor center and they didn’t know status either and weren’t able to contact the contractors. Finally the bus drivers decided to bust through the barricade. What was I to do but follow? HELLO, this was the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. 

Adventure Date(s):

  • May 24-25, 2018


  • Obtain a cave permit from the Visitor Center. It’s free and required to enter the caves. Also grab a copy of the caves interpretative guide.
  • Pick up a copy of the free hiking trails guide from the Visitor Center, plus the one detailed for Broken Top.
  • If you are interested in geology be sure to ask for the free handout at the Visitor Center. 
  • Consider staying at the NPS campground. It was worth it for me to have evening and morning access although there is dispersed camping opportunities within 30 minutes of the park.
  • Photography is especially challenging under harsh sunlight conditions.
  • It’s a HOT place in the summer!



CO/UT – Dinosaur National Monument

I landed in Fairplay after my Lost Creek Wilderness backpack trip. I was on my way to a wedding in Boise. With a week and 800 miles before my deadline, it was time to update my loose itinerary. Options, options, options . . . 

Weather as usual would play a role.

I decided to put in a few driving miles on this weather day, pushing my way north to Steamboat Springs. I enjoyed seeing the fresh snow dusting the mountains, but most of all these glacier lilies. 

I took a stroll through the Yampa River Botanic Park in Steamboat Springs. It was impressive.

I found more signs of spring as I headed west. 

You know it’s gonna be a bad day when . . . my morning started by accidentally activating my pepper spray in my car, then this deer decided he should take a run at me from behind (surprisingly he/she survived).

Remember those new tires I got a few weeks ago? Well that front tire got smacked hard but no damage thank goodness, although the deer hair was embedded around the rim. I was lucky. My car was driveable and I wasn’t injured. 

Not only does Dinosaur National Monument straddle Colorado and Utah, but it also has several access roads and offers so much more than dinosaur fossils.  Canyon Visitor Center is on the Colorado side near Dinosaur, CO. I was on my way out Harpers Corner Road when the deer decided to smack me. Rather than continuing on into a more remote area I decided it was best to have my car check out. First though I stopped at Quarry Visitor Center and Exhibit Hall on the Utah side. 

I was beyond impressed with what I saw at the quarry. I could have never imagined such a display. My photos couldn’t begin to capture the x size with 1,500 embedded fossils. 

The area marked in red is what’s available for viewing and known as “the wall of bones.” 

The interpretive materials were outstanding. 

A shuttle bus takes you from the visitor center to the Quarry in the summer, or you are guided there on foot in other seasons. You have the option of returning to your vehicle via the Fossil Discovery Trail, a 1.2 mile jaunt. 

I found these beauties along the way. 

I drove Cub Creek Road, and using their interpretive guidebook found more photographic worthy subjects. 

Lots of geology to learn about. 

Petroglyphs can often be found on rocks with varnish (the dark areas) such as these. 

McKee Spring Petroglyphs

Rainbow Park deserves further exploration. 

Car maintenance was the first priority before further travels. 

It worked surprisingly well and held my car together for several months before returning home to have it properly repaired. Yes, it was a great conversation starter!

Adventure Date(s):

  • May 19-21, 2018


  • Fill your gas tank. My #3 near miss on this leg of the trip was almost running out of gas.
  • Avoid wet weather trips if you want to go off the paved roads.
  • This area can get quite hot in the summer. It was in the low 80’s during my visit in late May.
  • One day wasn’t near enough to experience this park. I’ll give myself much more time on my return visit.



CO – Paint Mines Interpretative Park

While in Colorado Springs getting new tires, I noted my map was marked with a nearby POI flagged for geologic and photographic opportunities.

Flowers were nice accents among the sandstone formations. 

I bet these fields come alive with color a little later in the spring.

The bunnies seemed quite happy to claim ownership of the preserve. 

Well the bunnies do have to share with butterflies and ladybugs. 

Adventure Date(s):

  • May 15, 2018
  • Hiking Stats:



  • Park hours are dawn to dusk
  • Photographers will want to plan for best light on the formations; most are east facing.
  • Signage is excellent. 



NM – Bisti Badlands Wilderness . . . it’s a new day

My attempt to spend a few days exploring the Badlands a couple of weeks earlier was somewhat thwarted by wind storms followed by a drop in temperatures and snow storm. However, my abbreviated first visit gave me plenty of motivation for a return (link to related post). With no home for the night after departing Chaco Culture National Historical Park, I headed to Bisti in hopes of catching sunset colors. 

It wasn’t WOW but I was grateful to experience without gusty wind and blowing sand. 

The next morning I headed out early hoping to catch the golden hour of light. A little surprise caught my attention instead. 

YEP a cow. What the heck? This is a protected area with gates and fences. Imagine my disappointment when I saw this cow followed by bike tracks. What a bummer. 

While the lighting ended up being far less than ideal I was thrilled to find large pieces of petrified wood. 

Yes, that once was a tree!

Incredible to see two exposed long logs.

One of the cool things you can find in the area if you keep your eyes peeled are giant bird nests; I found three on this day. There’s a shelf on the tallest formation housing one. Second photo is zoomed. 

Can you see the nest off to the right? It appears to have been abandoned and is slowly returning to nature. 

Lots of cool features and acreage to wander. There aren’t any trails thus best LNT practice is to limit steps to water channels, hardpan and sandy areas. Plan to turn around frequently when channels run out. In general I found the area in surprisingly good shape.

On my Gaia app the dashed line represents a suggested trail. The red is my wanderings. I strongly recommend using a compass and GPS or app if you are navigationally challenged like me. It’s really easy to get turned around as the sandstone features make you feel as though you are in a mini mountain range. You can see the times I turned around when I ran out of LNT options. The thin red line was from my first outing (link to related post).

It’s a magical landscape.

THE balanced rock at Arches National Park has nothing on this one. 

At the trailhead, BLM provided an overview map which shows some named features such as this one called cracked eggs. 

Remember the first photo of the cow? Sadly I found this incredible damage. Who let the cows in? So much for LNT.

This gate was closed each time I visited but with plenty of fence around perimeter I’m sure opportunity exists. I didn’t notice any cows in the area surrounding the wilderness.

Maybe the sign should have included warning about non-aggressive cows. 

Adventure Date(s):

  • April 24-25, 2018


  • You don’t want to be in the area during time of heavy wind. My face was sand scrubbed and my eyes felt like sandpaper after getting caught in the wind.



NM – Valles Caldera National Preserve

After learning about volcanic tuff during my visit to Bandelier National Monument and Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, how could I skip the place responsible for creating these geologic marvels?

“Valles Caldera began erupting 1.25 million years ago. Once the eruption ended, the massive pyroclastic flow material inside and outside the caldera began to cool and solidify, forming a rock geologists refer to as tuff. Solidified pyroclastic flow materials from the Valles Caldera and Toledo Caldera comprise the Upper and Lower Bandelier Tuffs. Much earlier, 7-6 million years ago, Bearhead Rhyolite erupted in the southern Jemez Mountains sending debris flows over the area now known as Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.” Source: Valles Caldera National Preserve Guide and Map by High Desert Field Guides

At the time of my visit, this park was touted as the “Nation’s Newest National Preserve.” The Valles Caldera Preservation Act of 2000 signed by President Bill Clinton on July 25, 2000, created 89,000-acre Valles Caldera National Preserve. By the way, valles is pronounced VIE-yays or va-yes.

Beware of restricted access hours. I found myself at the gates saying OPEN, OPEN, OPEN. 

Little did I know a reward for my timely arrival was a road filled with hundreds of crazed prairie dogs racing back and forth creating a death-wish obstacle course. I wish I would have thought to video this frenzy. The rangers said it was the first time they had witnessed such an event. When I left later in the day all was quiet. 

As I looked around I noticed these porta-potty looking buildings. I learned they are used by grad students studying prairie dogs as part of John Hoogland’s Prairie Dog Project, which he began in 1974.

It was funny to see the prairie dogs labeled like race car drivers. 

Their homes were also labeled. JB will you come home?

Many roads had not been opened for the season so my options for exploration were fairly limited. Experienced anglers brought bikes as a way to reach more distant water features. Adjacent to the Visitor Center is the 1.6 mile trail around Cerro La Jara, one of many hills left behind after the caldera collapse.

Be sure to pick up a free interpretive guide at the Visitor Center. 

Cerro La Jara was not much to look at. I’m guessing it’d be nicer during green grass and wildflower season.

To gain a view of the preserve, the rangers recommended I hike the trail up Rabbit Mountain. 

You know how much I enjoy hiking through burn areas. Sigh! 

Good reminder of LNT. I met some hikers collecting antlers on a nearby road, so this seems to be a thing in this area. I heard collectors are paid well.

The aspen trees are sure to put on a show in the fall. 

I hiked up to Rabbit Ridge, about 5.5 miles round trip with a little over 1,000 feet elevation gain.

For some reason I don’t think I’ll be visiting Bandelier National Monument from this trail. Just say no to bushwhacking.

The views from the ridge were less than stellar but I’m sure better than before the fire. 

Chasing butterflies in honor of Joan was a good distraction. 

The trail was well marked. 

Adventure Date(s):

  • April 23, 2018