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

Tips:

  • 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!

Resources:

Links:

CO – Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument

I suck at driving in traffic. It creates the worse type of anxiety. After spending the morning at Paint Mines Interpretive Park northeast of Colorado Springs, I had to reverse direction with Lost Creek Wilderness as my next destination. I was happy to shake off the stress of the drive by visiting Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. 

The Petrified Forest loop trail showcases large stumps of what once was a redwood forest. This one is the largest at 38 feet in circumference.

While there are 15 miles of hiking trails, don’t expect to see any fossils. Many are housed in the Visitor Center. 

Adventure Date(s):

  • May 15, 2018

Resources:

Links:

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

Tips:

  • 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.

Resources:

Links:

NM – Chaco Culture National Historical Park

After spending significant time visiting ancient sites in Utah, Colorado and now New Mexico, Joan encouraged a visit to Chaco, considered the epicenter of ancestral Puebloan culture and architecture. 

I wished I’d researched and planned a little better so I could have spent at least a couple days at this very interesting Park. I entered via the north entrance which was a very long slow bumpy 16 miles. I exited on the 20-mile southern road which took me a good hour. The campground was full and there aren’t any nearby dispersed camping options. After spending some time at the Visitor Center I drove the Chaco Canyon Road visiting the sites along the way. For the inquisitive, be sure to buy the very informative interpretive guidebooks.

There are around 500 rooms in this site including both excavated and unexcavated areas. An interesting factoid according to the interpretive guide, “There were an estimated 215,000-225,000 trees used in the construction of all the excavated great houses in Chaco Canyon.” Dendrochronology or tree-ring dating is used to determine age of timber used in construction.

Treasures abound for those willing to search. 

The Park promotes quiet, respectful visitation of this outdoor museum. As I wandered around the word that stayed at the forefront of my mind was reverence, “deep respect for someone or something; a feeling or attitude of deep respect tinged with awe.”

I talk about regrets frequently, and my goal of doing what I can to minimize that feeling. Oh how I wish I’d visited this site earlier in the day when lighting was optimal. 

Other cool find, petrified wood! 

Life among the artifacts. 

Adventure Date(s):

  • April 24, 2018

Tips:

  • Prepare for lengthy time consuming drive. I highly recommend camping at the Park.
  • Morning light on the petroglyph panels is best.
  • Buy the interpretive guides.
  • Ask for the Backcountry Hiking Trail handout if interested in further exploration and hiking.
  • Trails and sites typically are open 7am to sunset.
  • I’m always curious about which structures are original as excavated vs rebuilt vs stabilized, thus one of the questions I’ve learned to ask.

Resources:

Links:

 

 

NM – Bisti Wilderness . . . in search of WOW geology

Besides stopping to share a week of adventure with Joan in Utah, my spring goal was to spend extended time in New Mexico. My map was marked with lots of options. So at 3,400 miles into this jaunt it was goodbye Colorado, hello New Mexico. 

The first point of interest was in the northwest corner of the state. Photos I’d seen of this area had me adding this to my geology WOW list a few years ago. I couldn’t wait to explore myself. 

There aren’t any trails in this area and it’s an extremely fragile area, so it’s important to walk in the water channels and stay off the features. I recommended tracking your walk as it’s pretty easy to get turned around.

So a wandering I went. Here are a few of the WOW features I enjoyed. 

Extra credit:

I found a few wildflowers. 

And a survey marker. 

Petrified wood. 

Snow? Quite a surprise I awoke to after a night of heavy wind and dust storm in my semi-protected nearby dispersed campsite. I thought it was alkali at first as I’d seen it elsewhere during my hike.

Temperature check? Yep 30 degrees. 

I finally cried uncle and said it was time to move on. 

Adventure Date(s):

  • April 12, 2018

Tips:

  • 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 for the last couple miles returning to my car. I was bummed as I really wanted to explore more the next day but Mother Nature had other plans for the next few days.
  • Looks like smoke, but it’s dust. First time I’d ever experienced such a thing.

Resources:

Links:

AZ – Petrified Forest NP – The Trees are just an Appetizer

My friend Joan, aka Hemlock, had recently visited this national park and strongly recommended I do the same. Although I thought . . . petrified wood . . . ho hum . . . I knew Joan wouldn’t lead me astray.

YES, there was petrified wood, but what really enamored me were the sandstone formations. I’m quickly becoming a geology geek.

It’s strange to think that a mere 225 million years ago (and we think a decade or a century is forever), this area had a humid and sub-tropical climate with flora and fauna much different than today. Thanks to geologic activity, much of this history was preserved under silt, soil and volcanic ash allowing us to glimpse into the past. 

There is only one road in the park and it runs in a general north/south direction. I entered from the southern end and spent my first day visiting the main attractions in that area including Long Logs, Agate House and Giant Logs. Of the three I’d recommend skipping Giant Logs.

Although the logs appear as if cut by human hand, the weight of the sandstone actually caused the splitting. 

I obtained a wilderness permit for backcountry camping at the southern end of the park. I was looking forward to enjoying the sunset, a starry starry night, sunrise and the other surprises that come with sleeping in such a special place. It had been VERY windy all day, and after trying unsuccessfully to find an area protected from the high gusts, I finally gave up on the idea and headed to the park exit where there is free camping at a quirky museum and gift shop. I might have been pouting a little as I said goodnight to the possibilities. 

A funny aside story from the day: Within 5 minutes of meeting an extremely flirtation guy from Quebec, he was ready to become my travel mate and friend with benefits, ah a story for another time . . .

Day 2

I guess my guardian angel was looking out for me. The 6am rain showers turned to hail within the hour. Winds had grown more ferocious, the temperatures were biting cold. I elected to spend the bulk of the day in Holbrook, catching up on photos and internet chores. The quick passing storm opened the opportunity to spend the afternoon in the park where I hiked the Crystal Forest loop (recommend), then drove to Blue Mesa (impressive), the Tepees (recommend), and Newspaper Rock (a bust).

Day 3

The park offers a unique program called “Off the Beaten Path Hikes.” The handout they provide includes a written description of the area and hike, a basic topo map and GPS coordinates for highlight destinations. The first area I explored was Jasper Forest where I found two unexpected surprises, a herd of pronghorn antelope and a colorful choo choo train.

The Blue Forest Trail was next on my list to explore. But first, I hiked the Blue Mesa paved loop trail and a bit of the connector trail. Hands down, my favorite section of the park.

Approaching the Blue Mesa area via the Blue Forest Trail is a very different look, but just as enchanting.

These little rocks on the trail were like marbles on a sheet of glass. 

Today’s light was much better for viewing and photographing the Tepees area.

The Painted Desert is at the northern end of the park and is one of their more recent acquisitions. I had a wilderness permit for a short overnighter into this area while simultaneously planning to take another Off the Beaten Track hike, this time in search of the Onyx Bridge.

Day 4

I met a hiker from Columbia, who’d camped nearby. We shared the hike to find Onyx Bridge.

SUCCESS!! Doesn’t look like much, but it’s a Triassic conifer tree that’s about 210 million years old. Still don’t know why it’s called Onyx Bridge.

The cafe at the Painted Desert Visitor Center had outstanding food, and what a great way to reward myself for a fantastic 4 days in the park, enough to know I’ll be back. 

Time to find a hotel, the first in the 24 days I’ve been on the road.

Date(s) Hiked: 3/11-14/16

Road Trip Day(s) #21-24

Jan’s Tips:

  • Don’t be fooled by the Museum/Gift Shop/Visitor Center flanking both sides of the road at the south entrance. They are private concessions. HOWEVER, they both allow for primitive camping. When I was there, camping near the facility on the east side was free. Camping on the west side included RV hookups and had a small fee. This is a convenient option as there is no car camping within the park.
  • The gates at the entry/exit are closed at the end of each day. But don’t worry about getting locked in. They open automatically as you are driving out.
  • Overnight parking and backcountry camping in the park are fairly restrictive. Information is available at the Visitor’s Centers.
  • This is a great park for those who don’t hike. There are lots of views from the roads as well as many paved trails.
  • Link to the Off the Beaten Path Hikes handouts
  • Link to Hemlock’s Post about her Off the Beaten Path experiences.
  • Links to my other Arizona Jaunts

Resources: