Posts Tagged ‘National Park Odyssey’


August 21, 2013

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is just south of Cleveland and close to three interstates.  Despite the proximity to noise and people, the place is quiet, and there are many miles of trails.  I chose the Towpath Trail out of Boston, walking it for about 5 miles and back.  There is a lot of bicycle use, and the trail is popular with runners, too.  There is a river, several large ponds, some marsh, and old locks along the trail.  An old paper mill is there as well.

For those wishing to do a one way hike, shuttle service exists for some of the trails.

There is a small store run by volunteers in Boston; I did not go to other parts, deciding to eat and then walk where I was.  There are many interconnecting trails, and for mountain and even road bikers, this would be a delightful place to be.  For runners, walkers and picnickers, this is a lovely place.

River view and Highway 8 bridge

Typical trail view

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Footbridge that was removed, sent to Elmira in 1992, restored, sent back, and rebuilt!


July 29, 2013

“Oh, those damned government regulations.”

I looked towards the voice, that of a fortyish woman, with stylish boots, dyed blonde hair, and a southern accent, who was talking to a park ranger at Katmai, 400 km southwest from Anchorage, and a long way from any part of the lower 49.

I almost let her have it, because rangers have to be nice, I don’t. I’m an elder in my society, and I was a lot more in my environment than she was.  I was wearing boots that had walked the over peaks in the Brooks Range, in Kobuk Valley’s sand dunes, both above the Arctic Circle, in Alaskan rivers, and on tussocks and ice.  Hers had probably just spent their first time on a dirt trail.

At Katmai, there are two viewing platforms at Brooks Falls, the lower, where one can go as long as one wishes without waiting or time limits, and an upper, where 40 people are limited to one hour, then have to get into line again for another hour, should they wish to see more.

Brown bears at Brooks Falls, Katmai NP, Alaska

There is a question, and I think a good one, whether we should be having people view the bears in the Brooks River feeding on salmon.  We don’t know what effect we are having on the bears.  Perhaps none.  Perhaps a lot.  Katmai is pretty enough without having to see the bears close up, but most go to see the bears.

The upper platform, next to the falls, has more fish, and that is where the males, and the big ones, congregate, so people want to go there.  Forty are plenty.  Put 50 or 60 there, and the last 20 aren’t going to see much.  I waited for 20 minutes when I arrived, spent an hour at the upper falls, left, got back on the list again, went to the downstream viewing area a second time, skipped lunch, and waited my turn to go to the upper falls.

The downstream viewing was great.  I saw a bear sleeping in the mud on the other side of the river and pointed him out to others.  A bear ran right under the walkway with a salmon, off into the woods to eat it.  There weren’t many people talking, and within 45 minutes, I was back at the upper falls.  That wasn’t a long wait.

Bear napping in mud, Brooks River, Katmai NP

Bear taking salmon into woods

That second time was special.  I saw a boar chase a cub up a tree.  When the boar left, the mother came with two more cubs and soon all 3 cubs were in the tree.  Later, another sow with spring cubs, much smaller, appeared.  The whole time, several bears were fishing the river.  I had a good time and as I left the check-in station, I heard the woman complain.

Sow with her 3 cubs.

I almost let her have it. But being an elder means having wisdom, and I knew I would be more emotional than wise if I said anything to the woman wearing the stylish boots.

I would have started with the failure to properly regulate flights properly over another national park: the Grand Canyon.  On 18 June 1986, a helicopter and a fixed wing collided over Tuna Creek, killing 25, many of whom were Dutch tourists, who likely burned to death before they hit the ground.  The FAA stepped in.

I would then have asked how much better off we might be today had we regulated the financial industry, so that people who almost took down the world’s economy, which is still struggling years later, got bonuses that themselves were in the top 0.5% of US income.

I might have asked her to imagine Katmai as a private park with a bus to the viewing platforms, so people wouldn’t have to walk 1.2 miles, selling tourists a salmon, then putting them on a tram over the falls, so people could look down and drop salmon to the bears, getting that “special” picture to post on their wall.

Ten years ago, during bear hunting season, many people went into Lake Two in the Boundary Waters without permits.  It’s an easy lake to get to, and surprise–people don’t always regulate themselves.  When my wife and I tried to camp there, with a permit, coming the other way, we were tired, disappointed, and angry that the lake was full.  We had to paddle a lot further before camping.  Afterwards, rangers were posted at the entry point to ensure people had permits.  Regulations make it possible for me to have my rights protected, too.  Even with rules, parks get trashed; without them, I shudder to think what would happen.

She probably would have screamed at me if I asked when a person’s right to own a firearm interfered with my right to be safe at my local Safeway, where Gabby Giffords was shot. Yes, I know, guns don’t kill people, people kill people, because if they are angry, it is easy to move a finger without thinking of the consequences.  Using a knife or a fist makes it a lot more personal, risky to the attacker, and requires enough time where maybe somebody can think “I shouldn’t do this,’ which is what I did before telling the woman in stylish boots what I thought of her.

All but forgotten now, the memorial to the 6 killed and 19 wounded in Tucson. Just a question: When was the last time you heard “Newtown”?

I’d like to know what the lady would think of regulating food quality and safety, something a good looking congressional candidate from my district wanted to do away with, since he had never had seen a case of typhoid fever or hepatitis, or a child die of shigella or salmonella.  That candidate scared the daylights out of me and missed winning the seat by 4,000 votes, because people were angry about the Affordable Care Act, many of whom were on Medicare or military retirees, ironically receiving government funded medical care.

No, lady, we regulate our public lands, because if we don’t, they will be lost for all time and be turned into money makers for a few.  The forests will be cut, the land mined, the water ruined, the silence gone, the animals gunned down.  I’d conclude with: “What about my rights and the rights of those who have yet to be born?”

I wonder whether she would kick me with those stylish boots.  Or think.


July 26, 2013

Katmai National Park is for bear viewing and the valley of the 10,000 smokes.  I didn’t see the latter, but I did get to the former, and the bear viewing was spectacular.  Located about 220 nm SW of Anchorage, it is reached by float plane, with about an hour and a half ride over rather spectacular scenery.

Scenery on flight to Katmai

One arrives at Brooks Lake, and gets off the float plane on the floats.  There is a short walk to the visitor center, where the ranger talks, and there is a good 10 minute video on dealing with bears.  These are not the same behaved bears as in the Brooks Range, who have likely never encountered people.  These bears are near people, but so long as people stay on walkways, there shouldn’t be much of a problem.  The bridge over the Brooks River can be closed if there are bears in the vicinity, however, and bears are unpredictable.

The area for viewing has a lower and an upper platform.  The downriver or lower platform is open without waiting, and the smaller bears tend to congregate there.  The upper platform has room for 40, and one may stay no longer than an hour.  However, after one leaves, they may immediately put their name on the list to go back.  I did just that and spent an enjoyable 45 minutes at the lower platform seeing one bear sleeping in mud and another carrying his prize catch back into the woods.

Brown bear sleeping in mud.

Look what I caught!

The upper platform has a great view of the falls and bears will walk under the platform.

Some of the bears at the upper falls viewing area.

Fishing from the top.

The highlight was a cub chased up a tree by a big boar, who barely missed him.  Young bears until 3-4 years of age can climb, but older bears fuse joints necessary to climb and no longer can.  After awhile, the boar left and the sow returned with 2 siblings, sending them up the tree as well.

\ Literally climbing for his life

The reason.

Mom at bottom.


The third.

Mom with spring cubs.

The three cubs did come down from the tree, Mom got them a salmon from upriver, and they disappeared into the woods.  It is difficult to know how many will survive.  There is a lot of food, but there is also a lot of predation.  The spring cubs got a much later start, and it will be less easy for them.

We don’t know the effect of human visitation has on the bears.  Hopefully, it is not significant.  The day was spectacular, and this is a park I definitely want to see again.


July 21, 2013

Wrangell-St. Elias is the largest park in the US, and conjoined with adjacent Kluane in Canada, the largest area of protected land on the Earth.  The park is difficult to get to.  For those who want to set foot into it, you can’t–without a significant drive or a day on a bicycle.  It is 7-8 hours from Anchorage up the Richardson highway, which has a lot of no passing zones on the first part and construction with flagmen on the second part.  Then, one takes route 4 south about 30 miles.  The visitor’s center is along this road, but you are not in the Park.  You turn at a sign that says Chitina 33 miles, McCarthy 93 miles, and the distances are accurate.  The last 60 to McCarthy is on a dirt road, which is better than it used to be, but the first 10 miles aren’t great.  Plan on 35 mph after that, and watch for those who are doing 45 or more coming the other way.  You end at a river, where you park for $5 a day, and call a lodge to bring a vehicle down to pick you up.  It is about a half mile walk, and camping is allowed at the river for $20 a night.  The town is not in the Park, but one has passed through the Park and Preserve many times on the drive in.  The town is lovely, quaint, and the food/lodging good.  It’s 5 miles up the road to Kennicott, but there is a shuttle, should one wish.

For me, this is a climbers park and a fly-sightseeing park.  There is certainly good backcountry for camping, and there is a lot of it.

McCarthy Road

McCarthy road.

Trestle from a century ago, McCarthy Road.


Copper River

Matanuska Glacier, Richardson Highway.



May 7, 2013

It was time; indeed, it was past time, to get back into the woods again, even for a day or two.  A good hike in the mountains around Tucson would help, but I really wanted to get deeper into the woods.  The Vermilion Community College Scholarship Banquet is held the last Thursday of April, and twice I have canoe tripped into the Boundary Waters before the banquet.  I decided I would do the same this year.

I also decided I could probably see Mammoth Cave National Park on the way, if I went to Minneapolis by way of St. Louis, and drove from St. Louis to Mammoth Cave.  The distance is about 330 miles, but it is good road the whole way, and on a Friday I did just that.  Illinois, in exceptional drought the year before, was now in flood.  I could have canoed in the forests along the road, or in the open fields that would not be ready for planting for some time to come.  I was just behind the latest storm, and as I reached Mammoth Cave in late twilight, the temperature was in the low 50s, down 30 degrees from the day before.

The next morning, I awoke to fog over the Green River Valley, which cuts through the center of the park.

Morning Fog, over Green River Valley

One of many springs

Mammoth Cave is truly mammoth.  It is the largest cave in the world, nearly three times the length, in passages, of the next largest.  With more than 400 miles (650 km) of passages, the Cave offers several tours.  With my time limited, I took two tours, one in the original entrance, the other in the new entrance, that was blown up to make way for an entry point, back before the cave became a national park and entrepreneurs took people down into the cave, people wearing top hats, long skirts and high heeled shoes.

Saltpeter for gunpowder used in the War of 1812 was made here;

Saltpeter for gunpowder used in the War of 1812 was made here;

Bat on wall

In between the tours, I walked the 12 miles (20 km) of trails near the visitor’s center, then took a wildlife flower hike to relearn what I once knew about wildflowers, such as jack-in-the-pulpit and trillium.  The trees were just beginning to leaf out, and the temperature was mild.



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The Second Tour took us in a different entrance, one that was blown open when some cold air was exiting the cave and a small hole discovered.  This one descended about 270 steps and went through a wider variety of terrain.  There are longer tours that will show more of the passages, and there are caving tours, for those who want to see what exploring is like.

Gate to keep people from touching stalactites and stalagmites, since one touch will destroy any future growth. Past generations of visitors did this.

IMG_3064 IMG_3083 IMG_3084 150 meters below ground.

On Sunday, I drove back to St. Louis, first looking at the Green River Ferry:

Green River Ferry

….and doing one more trip around an area over one sinkhole and looking down on an underground river, above ground further south in the park, and here emptying in to the Green River.  This part of Kentucky is full of sinkholes.

Underground river emptying into the Green River.

Underground river emptying into the Green River.


June 28, 2012

I was in Redwood National Park in 1970 and again in 1973, although I didn’t know it, and I only saw the part on US 199, between Grants Pass, Oregon and Crescent City, California.

This time, I drove down south of Crescent City, into the first grove, where there is an 8 mile stretch with headlights required, it is so dark.  Then there is an open area through about Klamath, and then a Parkway, which takes one into the groves.  There are many trails that both parallel a small stream on both sides of the road.  This makes it easy to be near the road.  There are other trails that head deeper into the woods.

Perspective of size of Redwood:

Car next to tree. With trig, this is about 80 m. tall

Redwoods are delicate in some ways.  They cannot tolerate salt spray from the ocean, but they need to be close to the ocean to catch the ocean fog.  They stand almost all completely straight, although I found a few crooked ones.  What is amazing, aside from the height, is the number that have huge holes at the bottom, where lightning struck and burned for some time.  One tree had only four supporting parts, and the trail went right through the tree!

Redwoods, like Sequoias, to which they are related, can tolerate fire well.  The forest has limited canopy, except in those few areas where sunshine can penetrate to the forest floor.

The diameter of most of these was 3-5 meters, the height 70-90 meters.  In the canopy are species that we never knew existed, until tree climbers discovered them, high up, off the forest floor.  There is enough moisture from the coastal fog to support life, and until recently, this canopy life was unknown.  A New Yorker article in early 2005 discussed Redwood climbing.  The tallest trees are kept secret, as well they should be.  Big Tree was almost cut down 100 years ago, so somebody could allow dancing on the stump.

Big Tree — a couple said, “Aren’t they all?”

Being in the trees is being in a natural cathedral.  It is silent, for the most part, with an occasional Swainson’s Thrush calling.  The trees have been this way for 500, 1000, or 1500 years.  It really amazes me what they must have experienced during this time.  Certainly, people were around in North America at this time.

China has the oldest civilization; Europe has old cities.  North America has the biggest trees (Sequoias), the oldest plants (Bristlecone Pines), and the tallest trees (Redwoods). I think we got the best deal


January 24, 2011

I had planned on going over to see the Channel Islands  to camp for a couple of days.  Like a lot of things in my life, that didn’t work out as planned.  My niece was getting married in Malibu, so my wife and I went over a day early to Ventura.  We went through Island Packers and took the boat out to Santa Cruz Island, about an hour and a little more away.  We landed, got the briefing, and walked uphill towards Smuggler’s Cove.  We had lunch, looped back and had a delightful, if brief, and non-camping trip.

On the way back by boat, we saw whales and dolphins as well.  I might go back again, but I would fly to Burbank and try to avoid as much of LA as possible.  There are several islands, and it is easy to take camping gear out there.  One can also rent sea kayaks.  Like all national parks, this is a real gem!


October 21, 2009

Acadia (1971)

Great Smokies (walked through it on Appalachian Trail 1998-99)

Shenandoah (1965)

Voyageurs (1991)

Glacier (1970)

Grand Teton (1969)

Yellowstone (1969)

Rocky Mountain (1968)

Great Sand Dunes (1969)

Mesa Verde (1975)

Petrified Forest (1975)

Grand Canyon (Multiple, multi-day backpack trips 1975-85)

Saguaro (right next door)

Zion (Multiple, multi-day backpack trips 1978-80)

Bryce Canyon (1978)

Mount Rainier (1970)

Olympic (One multi-day backpack trip 1987)

Crater Lake (Multiple trips 1970-71)

Death Valley (1984)

Denali (1982)

Glacier Bay (Multiple trips 1982, 1990)


October 11, 2009

I puffed my way up the last of the steep climb to the Petrified Forest Plateau, the forest itself several miles and several millennia behind me.  It must have been quite a sight, given the size of the stony logs and stumps, still so realistic, they needed to be touched to prove their composition was inorganic. 

The plateau was a sea of short-grass prairie, a small remnant of the original.  I walked south on the Maah Daah Hay trail, 13 miles from Medora, North Dakota and 86 miles from its northern terminus along the Little Missouri River.  This was Roughrider Country, and I was in wilderness that bore the name of the 26th president. 

The hiking itself was easy for one who is used to mountains.  The pool-table flat prairie afforded views into the eroded hills with juniper trees on their north facing slopes and sparse grass on the warmer, drier southern facing ones.  Trail markers were visible a mile away, allowing me to easily detour when I encountered bison.BISON IN THEODORE ROOSEVELT NP 

I had long wanted to see this area, which was on “The List,” affording it special status in my life.  “The List” currently contains 29 items, places to see or things to do in my life.  It is dynamic.  Each year, an item or two gets put on it.  Each year, if all goes well, a few items are checked off.  This year was particularly good — I saw Isle Royale and Theodore Roosevelt National Parks, and a wolf in the wild, the last having been at the top of “The List” for many years.  “The List” is the most deeply personal thought I publicize.  Because it is so personal, I don’t believe in the “1000 places to see before you die” concept.  That is somebody else’s list.  Mine is mine.  If you have one, which I hope you do, yours is yours. 

“The List” began as a figure of speech many years ago.  In my forties, I wrote it down, becoming more aware of life’s lack of guarantees.  A neurologist, I saw too many people disabled or dead before they did or saw what they wanted to.  When I reached my fifties, the realization hit me that much of “The List” contained wilderness areas that required good health and good physical condition.  I almost put off the trip to Dakota for another year, but I knew if I went now I wouldn’t be kicking myself next year if something came up.  Indeed, a bicycle accident in July left me with a broken scapula and three broken ribs, all of which healed but were a stark reminder of what can happen. 

Occasionally, I delete an item, but only if I am really no longer interested.  Namibia’s Skeleton Coast and Etosha Park remain, but it’s a long trip, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have traveled twice to South Africa.  I don’t know if I’ll ever finish the 1500 miles of the Appalachian Trail I haven’t hiked.  Nevertheless, finishing the AT is on the list.  Some items are easier — I want to show my wife Hawaii, and I want to spend a night camped out in the Rincons.  Right now, the Arrigetch Peaks in Gates of the Arctic are at the top.  I’m going next summer, while I still can. 

“The List” is not completely rational.  North Cascades is on it; the Everglades are not, although I do want to see them.  “The List” is a written reminder not to squander good years.  We have to make a living, but we ought not forget things outside of work that are important to us.  I’m not a city person, but seeing London is one of the items. 

I day hiked in North Dakota.  I had never done a trip like that before and found it rewarding.  I covered serious mileage each day because I carried less.  Water is an issue there, and bison are dangerous, both good reasons not to camp in the backcountry.  It was also nice to sleep in a bed when the temperature was in the low 20s.  In addition to bison, I saw pronghorn, wild horses, deer as well as hearing and seeing bugling elk, a real treat.  But time in wilderness usually gives me more than visual memories.  I generally come out of the area looking at the world differently.  I left Billings County with a surprising sense of optimism, given the current state of the world.  Theodore Roosevelt came to the area in 1882 as a young man.  An avid hunter, he realized the uniqueness of that particular era and envisioned a time when the bison were gone and the prairie no more.  He said, “What makes our country great is not what we have but how we use it.”  Three days after another September 11, ’01 – 1901 – he became president, the first interested in conservation.  It’s difficult to travel in Roughrider Country without encountering:  “I never would have become president had it not been for my experiences in North Dakota.”  I think he would be pleased to know the bison are still around, and the area he loved became first a memorial to him and then a national park.  He worked to save what he could, and it changed America.  Those of us who do our part can change America as well. 

And while you change America, don’t forget your list.


October 6, 2009

This is an urban/suburban park around and in Hot Springs, AR.  It made for my being in all 50 states, never having found much reason to go to Arkansas.  The Park itself has surprisingly good hiking on a ridge that is several miles long with some climbing.  Much of the hike goes through hardwood forest before coming out on a road.

There is plenty of sulfur-smelling water that people bring jugs to fill up with.  I dispensed with the baths, but the hiking was a pleasant surprise and there were very few people present in the “backcountry”!