Friday, January 6, 2017

When mud is in the name

I really like hiking in places that are close to home. Mud Springs (in southwest Colorado) doesn’t look like much when you get to the trailhead. But the parking lot is big and the road there is paved so I can get there in my little car while the high country is covered in snow.
View from the parking area makes it look flat and boring.
The map is intriguing though. It has these areas that are shaded in that say “Free travel play areas”. Which sounded pretty exciting. Like maybe there would be rope swings.

Those of you familiar with ATVs and rock crawlers probably know where this is going. But as an ever-hopeful hiker that sometimes takes thing too literally and tends to not know a lot about motorized things, I made a beeline to find out what the "play areas" would hold.
Trailhead map
"Free Travel Play Areas"
A road begins from the trailhead. Muddy this time of year. Mud is in the name though, right? At least it’s honest.
Walking in the snowy part of the road
Turning down the muddy trail. Can't avoid it now.
Views into McElmo Canyon and far away to Mesa Verde.

After crossing the canyon, climbing up to the rim with a nice view of Sleeping Ute Mountain.

I head off trail and find some graffiti from 1923. Which makes it a historic inscription.
A cool tree. No rope swing here either though.
The mud is so slippery it’s hard to stay upright. Feet seem to slide in all directions, except forward. Each step is a challenge. Maybe this sliding around is really playing in the mud. Which is alright.
Techniques for hiking in mud vary. One main thing is not tiptoeing around the edges— that just widens the trail. Better to plow right into the middle of things. Embrace it. Become one with it.
When I finally get near one of the "play areas" there is some of this. And also a lot of ATV tracks. Still, it's nice to just wander around and see what there is to find.
Did I cover all the ground? This helped me keep track. Sort of fun.
More information
BLM's Mud Springs

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Snyder Ridge Jungle Gym

Found some trip reports I never got around to posting from last year...

Tired of the crowds in Glacier National Park and looking to add some gymnastics to your hiking experience?  Try the Snyder Ridge Fire Trail in early season.

Others have called this a “poorly maintained trail through a wooded ridge with limited views” which is true. But where else can you have the trail all to yourself in Glacier (at least without a ford)?
A series of single blowdowns of varying heights provide a warm up on the climb to the ridge. 
First you have to find the trailhead.  You won’t see the sign from the road unless you look deep in the shadows. There is no parking area, just a turnoff on the other side of the road and the sign hiding in the trees.
A few triples. You can almost get a rhythm going if you get a running start.
All quiet going through massive groves of old-growth cedar.
Rest at the view-through-the-trees once you gain the ridge
Along the top, extensive areas of forest along the ridge were upturned. The trail here is completely covered by a huge tangled jungle gym of stacked-up downed-trees. I suspect it was recent, since there was no sign anyone had been this way- no footprints, no broken branches.  Maybe sometime it will get cleared?
The forest is an endless abyss of disorienting branches that attack with their stabbing and jabbing and snagging. 
Then a clear part. It's enough to get your hopes up that maybe it won't be so hard the entire way.
Then more of this.
After a while, when you give up on thinking of this as a walk and give into the reality, try imagining you are still a kid, climbing up and over and around and through the tangled trees and pretend you are having fun. Work on balance beam moves. 
Some trees are so big that have to launch yourself up to get up on top of them.
More excitement: Climb to the top of the heap of broken up trees, and scan the area as far as you can see for some sign of where the trail might go.  Did you forget which way you were going when you were climbing up and over and through, trying not to plummet into the sea of sticks and needles? 
Navigating the playground is not a walk in the park.  Over seven miles of gymnastics is exhausting.  Especially when you get turned around and end up going the wrong direction for an hour.

Did that just happen?  An entire hour of not once checking map, compass or Gaia GPS?  Not once looking up to see the mountain peaks on the wrong side? Not even looking at the cell phone!

When’s the last time *anything* has been that engaging?
Close up view of beetle galleries.
The state of exhaustion is reached. The idea of turning around and hiking through that mess again seems completely crazy. 

It’s OK to bail.  The Lincoln Creek Trail intersects the Snyder Ridge Trail and leads 1.7 miles down to the Sun road.  It’s a well-maintained trail, another world.  Near the trailhead, there are even people! Hitchhiking in Glaicer is easy.  Much easier than doing this as an out and back. 

THANK YOU to the sweet young couple from Bigfork for the ride back to my car!

For more information
Snyder Ridge Fire Trail

Date hiked: 5/2/2016

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

View of the Swan

The park where I lived while I was in Montana the past two years was perched on a mountain on one side of a long narrow valley. Past the expanse of development, the mountains on the opposite side stand tall above the valley floor. The Swan Range.
View across the valley of the Swan Range from the park
The park I was at is noted for the scenic overlook of this valley. On the first interpretive hike I led (about wildflowers), when we got to the overlook, one of the visitors pointed across to the mountain and asked, "What is the name of that peak over there?"

I had to reply, "I don't know but I'll find out."

And while it made me frustrated that she couldn’t she just ask about flowers, that question got me motivated. I actually went kind of overboard. Not only did I end up learning the names of all the peaks (which no one ever asked once I’d learned them), but I took it a step further and hiked many of the peaks and the length of the mountain range she pointed to, the Swan, in my two seasons in Montana.
First trip to the Swan in May of 2015. I was hooked from the start.
Last trip to the Swan in August of 2016.
What was really special about my Swan trips was seeing the seasons change, the snow melt, the flowers come out and then whither and go to seed. And seeing this change from year to year.
Early season
The Swan became that place that I could go when I was tired, sad, happy, or full of energy. It was reliable and served all purposes. Within 30 minutes of leaving work, I could be climbing and that was all that mattered. And I think that’s why I often didn’t write about many of my trips there. They were all mine.
View from my campsite on one of my solo trips that didn't make the blog
While it’s not as classically scenic as Glacier, I never tired of being able to see across the valley back to where I lived. Knowing geography of local area is important.  Maybe more important to me than scenery. A sense of place gives that inner calm.
Another sunrise over the Swan from the park that I called home for two years.
Watching the sunrise over the Swan every morning also served as a link between my days on and my days off. No matter what my day held in store, I tried to hold the view of the sunrise in my heart. Knowing that I had hiked those mountains the previous weekend, or would hike them in just a few days. Remembering that could carry me through anything.
Looking back across the valley from the Swan range.
Last summer, I started watching the moon rise above the Swan too. And we put on a full moon hike at the park and invited everyone to come out to watch the moon rise with us. It turned out to be our most successful program at the park. I was so excited that I could describe all the peaks and point out where the moon would appear.
Watching the moon rise with more people that I ever dreamed would join us
Explaining where the moon rise would happen (as viewed from the park's overlook)
Hello moon. Right where I knew you would be.
Rising more.
Watching the moon come up between 6 Mile Mountain (that I’d climbed) and Big Hawk (where I’d been swimming last year) filled me with such joy.
View from the summit of 6 Mile Mountain.
Having those connections, especially in remembering that very first hike I’d led, where I hadn’t known any of this, makes me smile. I had no idea where that question would take me!
Summit of Mt. Aenes.
In thinking about moving, I wonder what new places will speak to me, and where my trips will lead. How do you find new places that make you want to know their every peak and valley? What modivates you to get out on your days off?

For more about my hikes in the Swan, links here.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Reflections on 2016

Life continued to follow a different path following my 2014 Pacific Crest Trail hike.
Highlights of the year— first job at a national monument, returning to Montana for a second AmeriCorps term at a state park, and returning to the PCT for a month-long section hike-- were all things I never though I'd be doing before the PCT.
Plus volunteering at this national mounument in Colorodo at the end of the year
After the PCT, I switched from doing scientific research to interpretation and outdoor education. This year I really appreciated living in beautiful locations, doing work that felt like it made a difference, and having the opportunity to learn new skills.
Planting trees in Montana
Teaching about the water cycle
What I loved about working in parks
Because I lived in parks while I was working, my daily walks through incredible scenery were as captivating to me as my weekend trips. Even if it was three months of the same two miles.
Evening stroll around the park I was at in New Mexico
My mornings in Montana often included watching the sunrise from the park's overlook
Because I lived in beautiful regions of the country, my weekend trips provided easy access to spectacular locations. In New Mexico, El Malpais National Monument and Petrified Forest National Park became new favorites. In Montana, I continued to volunteer on loon and mountain goat surveys for Glacier National Park’s citizen science program. Despite my initial fear of grizzlies, I came to love Montana.
Mountain goat survey in Glacier National Park
Another thing I finally did this year was take a 72 hour Wilderness First Responder course. A few experiences made me realize I need more background in how to respond to medical emergencies and accidents, so I’m really glad I’ve finally gotten more training.

But there were downsides to living the dream

A lot of moving meant the sadness of leaving friends. Will moving ever get easier?

The No New Gear experiment helped me not dip into my savings with the low AmeriCorps stipend. But I wish I could not be so nervous about my bank account and my future job prospects.

Things got pretty busy this year. Looking back over my photos, I realized just how many trips I didn’t have the energy to write up.
One hike in Glacier that never made the blog
 The line between work and play was often blurred. Many early mornings were spent taking wildflower photos for the wildflower identification posters and guide I made for my state park. This was a project I’ve been dreaming of doing for years (even before I got to Montana) and allowed me to learn more about a favorite topic (plants!). Sometimes I'd wonder, why am I doing this? And then I'd remember, because this is what makes my life seem meaningful and fulfilling-- especially seeing visitors come to the center to ask me about plants or show me photos they'd taken of what'd been blooming.

Backpacking on the CDT and PCT with friends
Even though I moved a lot, one great thing was that my hiking buddies came out to visit me (in Glacier and New Mexico) and met up with me (in Washington and Oregon on the PCT). Despite having my highest mile day ever this year (30 miles to Mt. Taylor), the majority of my trips this year prioritized exploring the natural world, being with friends, and lollygaging (i.e. swimming in lakes and just sitting and watching).
Me and Jan on the PCT in Washington
This approach allowed me to avoid injury and I feel like it was a good balance to the hectic pace of working in parks. What I really wanted to do was connect with friends and really have a sense of place.
On the PCT in Oregon with Renee
What’s next

I’m moving yet again next week to start at another park. Hopefully I'll be able to talk a few friends into visiting again and hiking with me (hint- this means you!).

Finally thanks to all of you for reading and commenting on the blog! Really appreciate your support.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Bears Ears National Monument

President Obama declared Bears Ears a National Monument yesterday! As someone who has hiked in this area and who cares about protecting valuable cultural and historical resources for future generations, I'm thrilled this finally happened.
Bears Ears Buttes, as seen from Natural Bridges National Monument (where I camped last month.) The newly established Bears Ears National Monument surrounds the existing Natural Bridges National Monument.
Bears Ears National Monument includes a wealth of American Indian cultural sites and thousands of years of human history. It’s like an outdoor museum, inviting exploration and wonder, but also has been hit hard by vandalism and looting and part of it was even sold off earlier this year. That's why protecting it now as a national monument is such a big deal (read the eloquent presidential proclamation here and see the map of the area here).

Many people have been pushing for Bears Ears to be made a National Monument including a coalition of tribes who have sacred sites here and trace their ancestral homes here. One thing that is unique about this National Monument designation is that American Indian tribes petitioned the President to create the Monument and that it includes establishment of a Bears Ears Commission made up of tribal members that help to manage the area for the future.
Sign at Natural Bridges about the significance of the butte.
Last month, I visited Comb Ridge (part of the area that is within the new monument) with an member of a local archeology group who has been visiting this area for many years. We hiked up to an Ancestral Puebloan site and petroglyph panel and she pointed out a lot of things I hadn't noticed when I'd visited here before. She says that since she started coming here, she has noticed a big impact- there are fewer and fewer pottery sherds for example.
Ancestral Puebloan site on Comb Ridge that we visited in November of 2016. This site is now protected!
Sherds like this one used to be more abundant. Sherds contain a wealth of information about the lives of the people who lived here- including when they were here, the history of trade, and even what they ate and drank. Loosing these artifacts robs these places of pieces of their history.
Corn was farmed by the people who lived here. It's amazing to see this after hundreds of years. I hope future generations also get a chance to hold pieces of the past like this.
The establishment of Bears Ears as a national monument has been controversial due to arguments about development of mineral rights and also resistance to federal lands (read more about that here). It is possible that the Antiquities Act of 1906 will be challenged in the coming years. So be sure to stay current on this issue and make your voice heard.
Climbing up Comb Ridge, now part of Bears Ears National Mounument.
No trails here, so you're free to explore.
View from the top of Comb Ridge.
Want to see more photos from this area?

In 2015, Jan and I spent a few weeks traveling around Comb Ridge, Valley of the Gods, and Cedar Mesa, all areas that are now protected now as part of Bears Ears National Monument. 

Read Jan’s trip report too.
Ending this with paintbrush, which was still blooming in November.