Fred’s Rocky Mountain National Park

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My piece on Rocky Mountain National Park, park No. 58 out of No. 59, will be shorter than my usual dispatches as we are packing for our rafting trip with Claire and Kyle down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon. By the time you read this is post, we will have already been on the river for a couple of days experiencing what I know will be great adventure. We have been here in Estes Park, Colorado, for the past eight days staying at a campground near the entrance to the park.

The weather has cooperated and I took full advantage of this going into the park almost every day to hike and shoot photos. Like in Glacier NP, there is a 45-mile scenic road that winds through the park with many places to pull over and take in almost surreal vistas. Also as with Glacier, the hikes were really spectacular, and many of the ones that I did climbed up to beautiful alpine lakes. On quiet mornings, the lakes were like glass and reflected perfectly the mountains of the Continental Divide that soared behind them. Laura was still taking it easy as she recovers from her bout with giardia, and did not get into the park as much as she would have liked. Her top priority was ensuring that she is 100% for our nine-day raft trip and then the trip to visit our last national park, National Park of American Samoa.

So this odyssey is slowly winding down, but we have indeed saved some really wonderful parks and experiences for our final turn. Continue reading

Fred’s Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

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The dunes came into view over five miles out from the entrance to our 57th park, Great Sand Dunes Naitonal Park and Preserve in southeastern Colorado. Almost in unison both Laura and I saw them for the first time and had a similar reaction: WOW! Looming behind the dunes, which cover around 30 square miles of terrain, was the dramatic Sangre de Cristo mountain range with peaks exceeding 14,000 feet. As we pulled into our campground just outside of the park and made our way to our site, we were treated to a sweeping vista of the dunes and the mountains behind them. This would be our view for the next five days.

Besides seeing the park, we also rendezvoused with friends whom we met two years ago when we were camping outside of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania. Like the two of us, Ron and Tina enjoy everything that is the outdoors, and Ron and I in particular share an interest in photography. We had a wonderful time catching up with them and shared a number of delicious meals during our stay. Ron, Tina and I also took on the challenging hike to the summit of High Dune. Laura did not go as she was still recovering from a bout of giardia, picked up during our time in the Alaskan backcountry.

Looking back on the experience, I really did not think that it would be that challenging of a hike. After all, it could not have been much more than two to three miles to the peak of High Dune (the second highest dune in the park) with around only 700 feet of elevation gain. Normally, a hike with this profile would take no more than a couple of hours. It took us five. Granted, we did take many photos, took our time at the summit to enjoy the incredible view, and lingered on the way down to watch a few folks descend the dunes on snowboards (photos of one such individual are in the photo group below entitled, “Wipeout.”), but this was one tough hike, with much of the trek through loose sand with no best route to the top defined. Did I also happen to mention that the hike started at an elevation of 8,200 feet and topped out at almost 9,000 feet. Pretty thin air at that altitude for flatlanders like the three of us. But nonetheless, we made it up and back and had not only an incredible experience to show for our efforts, but also a few decent photos to share. I also took advantage of ideal conditions a couple of nights to star gaze and photograph the stunning milky way that was clearly visible at such a high altitude in the pure, dark sky. Continue reading

A Couple of Weeks in the Rear View Mirror

The posts we are sharing here on our travel blog are on a delay with our current location; in other words, we’re behind with posting about our adventures once again!  I’m writing this from Flagstaff where tomorrow we pick up Claire & Kyle from the airport to commence our rafting trip down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.  But a lot has happened between our last post and today that we’re trying to capture because this travel blog also serves as our personal trip journal.  Fred has some great photos and is finalizing a couple of posts on our visits to Great Sand Dunes NP and Rocky Mountain NP — places we’ve been in the past two weeks — but before we get to those, let me share a few of our other adventures, albeit viewing them in the rear view mirror.

Fort Laramie NHS — Yet another fort we have had the pleasure to visit, this one in eastern Wyoming, Fort Laramie’s history dates back to 1834 when it was established as a fur-trading post bringing trappers and traders together.  By the mid-1800s, as weary westward-heading pioneers followed the North Platte River along the Oregon, California and Mormon Trails, they found Fort Laramie a good place to rest, repair their wagons, and resupply for the next portion of their journey.  The fort was acquired by the U.S. Army in 1849 as tensions with Northern Plains Indian tribes grew.  Finally, it was abandoned in 1890 and homesteaders took over the upkeep of the little settlement until local public agencies came along to protect it permanently.  Today, Fort Laramie National Historic Site tells the story of commerce, westward expansion, and the Indian Wars; it is a blend of beautifully-restored buildings and foundations of what once was.

Continue reading

Fred’s Glacier National Park

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Laura has already written a wonderful piece on Glacier, so I will simply tell my Glacier story with photos. I will echo Laura that it was really wonderful being able to share this experience with our good friends from Chicago, Bill and Lisa. It was the second time that they have come out to meet up with us on this odyssey, and it is always great to see friends from back home. Glacier is indeed a stunningly beautiful park, one that in many respects defies one’s ability to capture its grandeur in a simple image. But I’ll have a go at it.


Keep reading for a collection of photos from our visit to Glacier NP. Continue reading

Glacier National Park

Glacier NPSo often people ask us what is our favorite national park.  Fred has a good answer to that question, “The next one,” for he really does relish in the anticipation of what he’s going to see and photograph in the next park we’re visiting.  My answer has fluctuated over these past couple of years, as we keep discovering new parks that vault to the top or near the top of my list.  Acadia National Park in Maine comes to mind — our visit there in the fall of 2014 was fabulous and for awhile that was my favorite park.

With our visit to Glacier National Park, I now have a “Top 3 for sure” park… although it’s funny, because I don’t think I could name #1 and #2 — there is just so much beauty out here in all of the parks and it’s honestly too difficult to pick a favorite.

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Bill, Lisa, Fred and I on the famed Grinnell Glacier Trail

We were supposed to visit Glacier NP last year when we were in the Pacific Northwest, but the region’s forest fires and smoky, hazardous air conditions kept us away from this area at that time.  But lucky for us, our friends from Chicago, Bill and Lisa, had Glacier NP on their bucket list, so we coordinated a visit to Glacier together this year. Continue reading

Fred’s Kobuk Valley National Park

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In my previous post I wrote about the first six days of our recent ten-day trip above the Arctic Circle to visit Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve and Kobuk Valley National Park. That first portion of our Alaskan adventure found us kayaking down the Noatak River for around 80 miles through the Alaskan backcountry and camping on the beach each night along the way. We were visiting these two parks with eight other adventurers and two guides from Alaska Alpine Adventures (AAA). These were our last two parks to visit in Alaska out of the eight in the state as we saw the other six on our trip north last summer.

At the conclusion of our time on the river in Gates of the Arctic NP, two planes flew in and landed on a piece of gravelly tundra near our camp. All of us and our equipment could not fit on these relatively small planes, so we split up into two groups and made our way to our next destination: Kobuk Valley National Park, which is west of Gates. In Kobuk we visited the great sand dunes in the southeast portion of the park. These sand dunes cover an area of over 30 square miles and can reach a height of 100 feet. From the plane the dunes can be seen from a great distance and as we came in it became apparent that we were going to land right on the sand, being able to do so given the planes were rolling with oversized balloon tires.

Camp was established at the bottom of a tall dune amongst a stand of pines and near a clear stream. As it turned out, we also shared the area with a multitude of mosquitoes and both Laura and I were glad that AAA had suggested that we bring bug netting to cover our head. Over the course of our four days in Kobuk we struck out from our base camp on three hikes over the dunes that ranged from five to ten miles in length. One of these excursions took us through a pine forest where the ground was covered with white cladonia and other lichens that gave the appearance of snow, quite appropriate for this part of the world. Continue reading

Fred’s Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

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Visiting national park numbers 54 and 55 would be the most adventurous excursion that we had undertaken since we left on this trip over two years ago. Granted, our backcountry trip into Denali last year was certainly Out There, as we camped for four days near a glacier about 20 miles into the park. But this was a whole different level of Out There. On this trip Laura and I would end up spending 10 days in the backcountry of Alaska above the Arctic Circle experiencing the extreme wildness of Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve and Kobuk Valley National Park. Further, this was not a case where we simply established a base camp and then worked from this post over the 10 days exploring and doing hikes. While our exploration of a portion of Kobuk Valley NP was centered in a base camp at the edge of its great sand dunes, our time in this park was preceded by a six-day trip traveling over 80 miles down the Noakak River through Gates of the Arctic NP on an inflatable two-person kayak, making camp each night along the river. In this post and my next I will provide a collection of photos that chronicle our visits to Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve and Kobuk Valley National Park. Normally, I would only feature a group of select photos from each of these parks, but for these two national parks I have decided to share a more comprehensive perspective on what life was like making our way down the Noatak and then amongst the dunes. Continue reading