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Archive for July, 2016

Great National Park Hikes

One of the best things in life for me personally is the ongoing opportunity to explore and share the natural wonders of our one home earth planet with fellow travelers and adventurers.

Some of the hikes I am about to share have been favorites for years, but others I have come to know and love more recently through friends and colleagues who have in turn shared some of their favorite trails.

Please always remember, though, that hiking is definitely a proceed at your own risk type of activity. Consider your current health and fitness level, as well as your physical challenges and limitations, and be forthright with others in your hiking party.

Check on local weather and trail conditions, and check in with the land agency managing the place where you are considering hiking, too. Bring a first aid kit, be prepared, and most importantly, be flexible and willing to forgo or change your plans based on what unfolds on your hiking adventure. Thanks for also practicing Leave No Trace Principles-in sum, leave only footprints, and take only pictures.

Here are a few selected national parks and hiking trails to consider to get you started:

In Yellowstone National Park:

Beaver Ponds Loop Trail near Mammoth Hot Springs is a five-mile meander that takes you through a variety of habitats and a proliferation of wildflowers during the warmer months. This trail is best done early in the day, or in very late afternoon once it’s started to cool down. You can also hike to the Beaver Ponds and then return the same route if you end up hiking mid-day, as that way you will have more shade on your return hike as compared to hiking through open meadows with very little shade if you were to do the complete 5-mile loop. This is a classic “Northern Range” Yellowstone hike with good opportunity to see lots of wildlife, including bears, so be very bear aware of course!

Storm Point Trail east of Fishing Bridge is a wonderful, fairly flat three-mile loop leading you to well named Storm Point overlooking Yellowstone Lake, which is the largest high elevation lake in the U.S. From the actual Storm Point you can look across (on a clear day) to the Red Mountains to the south, to the Absaroka Range to the west, and on super clear days you can even see the Teton Range from here. Marmots are busy hanging out on sunny rocks during the summer months, and hikers often see bison. ground squirrels, rabbits and lots of waterfowl. If you’re looking for a short hike by Yellowstone Lake with a real wilderness feel, this might be a good fit for you!

In Grand Teton National Park:

The Phelps Lake Trail is a beauty and is about a three-mile loop altogether. Consider getting dropped off at the Laurance S.Rockefeller Preserve to get started, as the parking lot here is small and often fills up by late morning. You can increase your distance about a mile by following the trail around Phelps Lake, which is often a very nice temperature to swim in during the hotter summer months of July and August. When the timing is right, there may even be huckleberries to pick and savor! The Rockefeller Preserve is about 4 1/2 miles north of Teton Village..

The Bradley and Taggart Lakes Trails offer options for doing loop hikes totaling about four miles in either direction. If you decide to visit Taggart Lake itself, you’ll be adding another mile to your itinerary, but it is also a gorgeous lake and well worth the effort. The trailhead for these two hikes is about 2 1/2 miles north of the Moose Visitor Center.

In Glacier National Park:

Near Logan Pass, two awesome hikes include the Highline Trail on the north side of the road, and the Hidden Lake Overlook Trail on the south side.

The Highline Trail climbs steadily in elevation and is a fairly narrow trail at times. There are steep drop-offs in places so if heights are an issue for you, consider taking the Hidden Lake Overlook Trail instead. Nonetheless, the Highline Trail gives you a more immediate and palpable sense of what Glacier’s backcountry feels like as it’s not as crowded as the Hidden Lake Overlook Trail. The views along the Highline Trail are rewarding and expansive in all directions, but if this is your first time on this particular trail, I’d highly recommend just going in a mile or two then returning to the trailhead the same way you came from (back to Logan Pass and the Visitor Center there).

The Hidden Lake Overview Trail is one of the most amazingly beautiful short hikes you could ever do in the Lower 48 U.S. states, but because of this you might be sharing the trail with quite a few nature lovers. It’s about 1 1/2 miles each way to the overlook, and about a 500 foot elevation gain to boot. If you want to continue down to Hidden Lake, add another three miles to your total trek, plus about an 800 foot elevation drop and then gain as you head hack to the overlook. Regardless of how far you travel, you’ll be rewarded by stunning views. Maybe some bighorn sheep and/or mountain goats might be grazing nearly, marmot chirps and cries will echo off canyon walls, and amazing summer wildflowers will bless your path. Please, though, do not feed any of the begging rodents that may approach you on this trail.

Both the Highline and the Hidden Lake Overview trails are close by the Logan Pass Visitor Center on Going-to-the-Sun Highway in Glacier National Park. I highly recommend taking the free Glacier National Park shuttle buses once you have paid admission to visit the park. That way you’ll miss out on combat parking in the small parking lots and have more time to enjoy all of Glacier in its glory, as the buses make frequent drop-offs and pick-ups at the Logan Visitor Center and other popular park locations.

YOU CAN ALSO GET MORE INFO HERE:

Yellowstone National Park:

http://www.nps.gov/yell

Grand Teton National Park:

http://www.nps.gov/grte

Glacier National Park:

http://www.nps.gov/glac

P.S. I’d love to hear what are some of your favorite hiking trails in these or other national parks, and also receive feedback after the fact if you decide to hike any of these suggested trails. Thanks! As the weather cools somewhat I’ll suggest some hikes in other national parks.

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The Park Can Kill

 

When you have little to no contact with nature on its own terms, with wild nature, it’s quite easy to get yourself into trouble. Carnage, injuries, and even death can follow as a result. GPS devices, smart and mobile phones, and all the technological gear you have at hand may not be enough to save your ass or get help when you most need it.

You can also be incredibly experienced and familiar with wild places, and end up that same proverbial creek without a paddle. None of us escapes from having lapses in judgment in life-sometimes we survive them; sometimes we don’t.

Whether we live in large cities, sprawling suburban areas, or rural places closer to wild places, it’s nearly universally rewarding to have spent time in nature, then arrive safely back home elated and re-charged, eager to share stories from our most recent adventures.
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This summer, though, far too many adventurers to the world’s first national park, Yellowstone, have already experienced tragedy and death in the wild..

A few weeks ago Yellowstone had its first thermal feature death in nearly 16 years after a young man wandered off trail with his sister in the Norris Geyser Basin area. Since 1890 there have been at least 22 such deaths in the park, and the two-volume book series, Death In Yellowstone by Lee Whittlesey, continues to educate and warn readers of the myriad unforgiving perils that accompany the remarkable beauty and wildness of this majestic place. No amount of signage, guard rails, or messaging will ever eradicate the real possibility that the park can kill, still.

There were 4,100,000 visitors to Yellowstone in 2015, and current trends indicate that that number may be surpassed this year as well. Since April 2016, at least two other people have experienced thermal burns in the park. In another incident, a Canadian film crew, operating without a commercial permit, deliberately walked and filmed being illegally off trail on fragile crust overlying near-boiling temperature waters near Grand Prismatic Spring.

Well-intentioned visitors removed a lone bison calf from the wild and placed it in their car, concerned about its fate. Later, park officials had to euthanize the calf., as it was no longer accepted by other bison due to being handled by humans. Outside the park, a similar incident occurred when people happened upon a newborn pronghorn antelope..

It’s hard to restrain ourselves when we see a young and apparently helpless animal. We’re used to exciting rescues, miraculous reunions, and happy endings in the media, but nature plays no favorites. Visiting a national park and other wild places begs for more restraint than we may be used to exercising at home. It also begs for being more thoughtful and prepared, and for being more kind and considerate to others who live and visit there, resident wildlife included..

It’s akin to spending time in another culture or country. Before we visit, it’s wise to learn about the customs, manners. nuances and challenges that may be different there than they are at home. National parks and other wild settings are some of the last places where animals such as grizzly bears and wolves can still roam, make a living, and call home. In many ways, we are visiting someone else’s home.

Indeed, despite your own advance preparations, or after having read up on park rules and regulations, you may still see others off trail in thermal areas, or crowding an adult bison (which is always a bad idea) to get a better photo. In another sad incident this spring, someone was struck by a car as she tried to cross the road between Madison and West Yellowstone, near where bald eagles have historically nested. Videos and selfies were also posted on line of folks posing with their backs to bison (another really bad idea), and others of people getting way too close to elk in the park.

It is heartbreaking to hear of people who are killed or seriously injured in a place they very likely have loved from afar and have wanted to visit for a long time. Accidents can and do happen. But please don’t leave your brain at the gate, or join the crowd doing something that will either result in harm to themselves or others. You’re a long ways from a hospital in any direction, and may need a life flight to get urgent medical care and treatment.

Be prepared, and remember that human drivers are far more dangerous statistically than grizzly bears and bison, both in and outside the park.. Where it gets tricky is when and where to intervene with others, and how to be kind and firm if you decide to do so.

It may be tempting to embarrass, ridicule and rapidly judge people who may be behaving in an unsafe manner, whether that’s in Yellowstone or somewhere else they have come to enjoy and experience the natural world. It takes some diplomacy to let them know it’s unsafe without calling into question their intelligence, but again, we all have lapses in judgment, and the goal is to help that person decide to change their behavior so they no longer endanger themselves or others.

I get it that maybe folks just want to contact a ranger to deal with people doing unsafe things in national parks and other public places. People are understandably fearful of an escalating confrontation, plus with national parks allowing people to have firearms within their boundaries (a really really bad idea) that makes many visitors even less likely to speak out when something is awry.

Just like in the natural world itself, there are no easy answers for how to resolve this challenge. It’s so easy to get in deeper than our own comfort zone, but paradoxically that’s where huge learning, discoveries and breakthroughs often occur, if we survive the moment or experience..

Consider that at one time, there were less than 30 remaining wild bison, period, and where their numbers are today. Consider the phenomenal rebound of wolves in Greater Yellowstone after they were extirpated by the 1930s. Until about 1970, people were feeding bears in Yellowstone, and leaving garbage strewn around to attract them for photo opportunities. Collectively and individually, we’ve changed our mindset and ways of relating to nature over time, and hopefully that will continue to evolve.

It’s also easy to believe that our actions don’t matter or are harmless when visiting wild places, but it’s super sad to see a lone petrified tree encased by an iron fence to keep out souvenir collectors in Yellowstone, or people’s initials carved into bacterial and algae mats in many thermal areas.

Being in a crowd and being fairly anonymous drives some folks to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do. For some people, they may genuinely not know that something is harmful, or they may not have read the regulations and rules, or they saw someone else do something and decided to follow suit.

For others, they seem to be suffering from a bad case of “No one can tell me what to do,” “You’re trampling on my freedom to do what I want on government land,” or they loathe government entities entrusted with preserving and protecting lands belonging to all Americans..

The National Park Service’s mission, as stated in the U.S. Organic Act of 1916. reads as follows:

The National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park system for the enjoyment, education and inspiration of this and future generations.

Some generations later, the National Park Service’s Centennial Goal is to
“Connect with and create the next generation of park visitors, supporters and advocates.”

The number of park visitors will almost certainly continue to grow, prompting some hard conversations about how we can truly protect places and leave them unimpaired for future generations. Connecting with and growing the next generation of park supporters and advocates is also crucial.

That hinges on simultaneously educating people that their actions and inactions do make a difference in the integrity and future of wild places, no matter where their feet are, whether you actually and physically visit a place, or are enjoying and exploring it from afar.

Wild places can be great teachers. Yet they also command respect, restraint and humility, as an excerpt from a 1970 Billings Gazette editorial stressed following the death of a park visitor to Yellowstone that year:

Death is a frequent visitor in raw nature. And Yellowstone National Park, despite the cabins and roads, is raw nature. The Park is the untamed and unfenced wildlife and the amoral energy of thermal wonders. It cannot be treated lightly; when it is it erupts in death…The park is not Disneyland, Rocky Mountain version. Nor is it a zoo with moats and fences separating the wild and the domesticated. For all the trappings of men, it is wilderness. And the man who fails to accept it as such dies.

Travel safely, and travel well this summer!

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