wildflowers

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

Journey Through Nebraska and South Dakota

Ever since returning from our short “vacation from our vacation” in L.A. to see Garrison Keillor’s last show, we have been turning it up on national park and park unit visits.  We are taking advantage of the nice summer weather by spending the better part of July in the north central part of the U.S., a.k.a. the Great Plains grasslands area which, incidentally, we just learned is the largest ecosystem in the U.S. — who knew?!  Anyway, we are having a busy three weeks in Nebraska and the Dakotas before we make our way over to Billings, Montana, from which we will fly back up to Alaska to visit the final two [of the eight up in Alaska] national parks we missed during our trip up there last year.  But I’m getting ahead of myself — Nebraska and South Dakota first.

NPS Passport Cancellation StampI’ve decided to do something a little different with this post.  Instead of uploading photos from this Nebraska/Dakotas leg of our trip, I’ve decided to share drawings from my sketchbook.  For those of you who don’t know, the National Park Service Visitor Centers sell passport books and then each NP Visitor Center has passport stamps for inking into your passport book.  Instead of the traditional NPS passport book, I have created my own; I’m actually on my third book of sketches and stamps now — I figure I’ve drawn over 200 pages for all of the national park units that we’ve visited.

Here are my renditions of what we have seen in Nebraska and South Dakota:

My sketch of Scotts Bluff NMScotts Bluff National Monument – Gering, NE — The Oregon Trail represented promises of a new life out west.  The California Trail promised gold.  The Mormon Trail lead many seeking religious freedom to the Promised Land out in Salt Lake City.  All three trails brought early pioneers through Nebraska where, after weeks of travel across prairie grasslands, they met up with 800′ bluffs.  Thousands of wagon trains passed by the daunting bluff known as Scotts Bluff which was accompanied by a tricky climb through Mitchell Pass.  Also passing by here, in the short-lived era of the Pony Express [1860-1861], riders changed horses at the Scottsbluff station.

My sketch of Chimney Rock NHSChimney Rock National Historic Site – Bayard, NE — Before they got to Scotts Bluff, settlers saw this iconic rock monolith.  Visible for miles around in the flat Nebraska landscape, this eroded remnant of a butte reaches 325′ into the sky and was certainly a prominent landmark for the westward-bound settlers.

During our two-day stay in this area I couldn’t help but imagine what it must have been like to travel across the country in a bumpy wagon train — the dust from the dry tracks of the wagon trains that came before… the foul smells of the oxen… the unpredictable weather that no doubt included rain, sleet and snow… terrible terrible sickness and frequent death that beset travelers not up for such a strenuous trip… the list of unpleasantries goes on.  And yet in the name of “Manifest Destiny,” travel across the country these pioneers did, in search of a better life.  I guess I shouldn’t complain about my small closets in Charley, now should I…?

 

My sketch of Agate Fossil Beds NMAgate Bluffs Fossil Beds National Monument – Harrison, NE — Rich deposits of fossils have been found in this area by paleontologists suggesting that ancient but now distinct creatures once roamed in this area.  Given the volume of fossils here, it is believed that during a period of drought animals concentrated around the scarce watering holes that were available.  Over time they ate up all the vegetation around these few water spots, and then in the heat and drought grew too weak to walk farther out for food, thus they died by the watering holes, became covered in mud, and were then preserved as fossils.  Among the skeletons found here are strange looking creatures including a small rhinoceros, a carnivorous bear-dog, a land-dwelling beaver, a bad-ass hog, a tiny gazelle-camel, and other Miocene-epoch animals.  For over 100 years now paleontologists have been studying these fossils which has helped answer questions about the past.

A second part of this national monument is an incredibly impressive collection of American Indian artifacts given to one James H. Cook, a frontiersman in this area, by people of the Lakota (Sioux) tribe.  In 1874 Cook met Chief Red Cloud and the two developed a steadfast friendship over decades, during which time Cook received many gifts from the Indians.  Today the family’s collection belongs to the park and many priceless items are on display that tell of the Native ways of life.

 

20160717_185203Jewel Cave National Monument – Custer, SD — There are several cave systems in this area, including the nearby Wind Cave National Park — another Jolly Out There destination, of course — and each is known for something specific.  Jewel Cave is named for its gem-like calcite crystals that sparkle when illuminated.  These are just one of the many speleothems, or cave formations, that can be seen when touring the caves.  While Frostwork is the signature formation, others include Draperies, Dogtooth spar, Gypsum flowers, and even Popcorn and Bacon.

The only way to see the caves is through ranger-guided tours.  Jewel Cave offers a couple of touring options, but visitors only see a small portion of the 180 miles of mapped passageways; the rest of the cave has been set aside for research and is not open to the public.  Jewel Cave is the third longest cave in the world but it is still being explored and new passageways discovered by volunteer cave explorers.

 

My sketch of Mount Rushmore NMMount Rushmore National Memorial – Keystone, SD — What started as a preposterous idea to draw sightseers to the state of South Dakota became a work of art for the ages.  This is Mount Rushmore, the magnificent American symbol that honors our past presidents who were dedicated to the birth, growth, development, and preservation of our nation.  

Initially conceived to be a parade of Indian leaders and American explorers who shaped the frontier, the idea for a huge granite sculpture as a gateway to the West was met with skepticism and even hostility.  Undaunted by public opinion, champions of the idea called upon master sculptor Gutzon Borglum, a Danish (yay!) immigrant who was just beginning to achieve fame for his “big” work.  Borglum changed the location and even the subject of the initial idea, and in doing so elevated the memorial to a national cause.  

Calvin Coolidge dedicated the memorial in 1927 and work commenced.  It took 14 years to complete the four heads carved high into the granite outcroppings where the Black Hills rise from the plains [and incidentally, the original name of the rock Borglum chose was Mount Rushmore so the name stuck], but only six of those years involved actual carving on the rock face.  Borglum died in March of 1941 but his son supervised the final work which stopped in October 1941 on the eve of the U.S. entry into World War II.  Mount Rushmore overwhelmed its critics and continues to dazzle the world with over two million visitors each year.

My sketch of Minuteman Missile NHSMinuteman Missile National Historic Site – the grassy plains of SD — “At the end of World War II — the first and only wartime use of atomic bombs — the United States possessed only six nuclear weapons.  After the Soviet Union tested its first atomic bomb four years later, the arms race took off.  Within four decades, the global arsenal had multiplied to a peak of around 65,000 weapons.”  The display inside the Visitor Center at the Minuteman Missile NHS charts the world’s nuclear stockpile and illustrates how the United States , its allies, and its enemies went to the brink and back during the Cold War.

Fortunately for mankind most of the missile silos have been deactivated and destroyed, but a couple of these 1960s missile sites were preserved and turned into a museum where visitors can explore the significance of the arms race, learn about Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), and understand their role as a nuclear deterrent that maintained peace and prevented war.  Delta-01 is the launch control facility and a couple of miles away, Delta-09 is the old launch facility, both preserved in time.

Fred’s Death Valley National Park

This was a good time to visit Death Valley National Park. Instead of having to deal with the 100 degree plus days and warm nights during the summer, we were moving comfortably around the park in sunshine and temps in the 70’s and 80’s. This was not by accident as we had researched when the weather is most accommodating and planned our visit accordingly. We also planned our trip to coincide with the spring flower bloom, and were not disappointed. As a matter of fact, we happened to visit the park in a year and at a time that a once every decade event occurred: a super bloom. This is what occurs when the valley experiences above-average rainfall coupled with warm temperatures. While this term is somewhat relative as it applies to a spring bloom in a place like Death Valley (it wasn’t quite as robust as one might see at say, Mount Rainier NP), it was still pretty spectacular to see entire areas exhibiting a yellow tint from Desert Gold wildflowers. But the beautiful wildflowers were not the only color on display in the park. In my view, the spectacular multi-colored mountains and rock formations that make up the park were the real stars of the show.

Images from our visit to Death Valley NP are below.    

If you click on a photo, you can see a larger version of it.  You can also use the arrows at the bottom (click on the photo if they disappear on you) to scroll through all the photos in a photo set.  The sets are arranged to be viewed from the upper left corner across. To close a photo set, click on the ‘X’ in the top right corner.


A PANORAMIC VIEW





IN THE VALLEY


 

NATURE IN ABSTRACT


Death Valley National Park

Death Valley NPWe spent nearly a month here this past week!  That’s an old joke, I know, but it is rather fitting in this circumstance.  Actually Death Valley National Park isn’t such a bad place to spend a week, but I’ll confess Fred was a lot more into it than I was.  The name gives it a bad rap, to be sure, but it is the largest national park outside of Alaska, and in spite of the forbidding name there are many parts of this big place to enjoy.

Badwater Basin - 282 feet below sea level
Badwater Basin — the lowest spot in North America, it’s 282 feet below sea level

One intriguing aspect of this park is the extremes.  Death Valley is officially the hottest place on earth, holding the world record for the hottest air temperature of 134°F.   It is the driest place on earth, with average rain amounts of just two inches.  It is also the lowest place in North America.  Badwater Basin, in the heart of the park, lies 282 feet below sea level!

The rugged mountains in Death Valley
Panoramic view from Zabriskie Point, one of the most popular venues within Death Valley

As we drove into one of the southern entrances to the park we came upon Zabriskie Point.  It’s one of the most popular spots to pull off, park, and walk up a little pathway to get incredible views of the erosional Amargosa Range, The Valley, and Panamint Range in the background.  This area was once ancient lake beds deposited five to ten million years ago that have been tilted and pushed upward by earth forces and eroded by wind and water.

Zabriskie Point Trailhead
Walking up to Zabriskie Point
View from Zabriskie Point in Death Valley
Twenty Mule Team Canyon as seen from Zabriskie Point
Manly Beacon – the lighter rock point on the left – as seen from Zabriskie Point

Another very popular place in the park is Badwater Basin.  It takes its name from the spring-fed pool of “bad water” next to the road.  Salt accumulates in the surrounding basin making the water undrinkable.  Visitors to this area can walk out into a section of the nearly 200 square miles of dried salt flats.  As mentioned above, this is the lowest point in North America — we’re pictured next to the sign showing 282 feet below sea level.  Interestingly enough, Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous U.S. is just 84.6 miles away.  Yet another ‘extreme’ in the park.

Another iconic place in the park is Artist’s Palette.  It’s an area on the face of the Black Mountains known for a variety of rock colors.  Pastel purple, pink, yellow and green all show up thanks to the oxidation of different metals in the rocks.  

Artist's Palette
Artist’s Palette — rock colors are a result of oxidation of various metals in the rocks

While I was pleased with what we saw, we did miss two areas of the park that would have been cool to see.  One area, Racetrack Playa, is a seasonally dry lake located in the northern part of the Panamint Mountains.  It is famous for rocks that mysteriously move across the ground, making notable grooves and patterns in the ‘racetrack.’  While I’m sorry we didn’t get to see this iconic site, getting to the remote playa requires 25+ miles of travel on a rough road that warns of needing heavy-duty tires.  We had flashbacks of our flat tire in Toad 25 miles away from nowhere, New Mexico, and Death Valley didn’t seem like a good place to experience another so we skipped The Racetrack.  The other famous feature in the park that we were planning to see is Scotty’s Castle, an improbably ornate Spanish Mission villa built in a nearly-impossible location.  Unfortunately heavy rains back in October completely washed out the road leading here and caused flood damage to the property as well, so this area was out, as well.

But all was far from lost with our visit.  As fortuitous timing would have it, we were here during the happens-once-every-decade “super-bloom” of wildflowers.  The punch of yellow gave the park some nice life; I can’t imagine what it would be like without that color!

Fred went into the park several times without me which was fine — he’s training for his big Rim-to-Rim hike at the Grand Canyon coming up in two months, so he enjoyed a couple of strenuous hikes on his own.  Me, I spent my month, I mean week, reading a couple of books as our campground had no Verizon signal and no TV signal.  Did I mention it was a long week?!?  Seriously, Death Valley National Park is a great park and I have a feeling we’ll come visit again to see more of this unique beauty.

Two More National Parks in Washington

Well here we are again… in an NPS campground with no Internet connectivity and no Verizon signal.  I’ve grown accustomed to this situation now as we’ve encountered it before, but it sure is frustrating, especially when I am trying to catch up on the posts from our travels!  In order to get this posted, I will be driving seven miles down the road to what is known locally as “the phone booth” – it’s the place nearest to us where we can pick up a Verizon signal and use our hotspot to get online.  Ah, the “joys” of traveling in remote places…!

In an effort to get us caught up, I’m going to commit a mortal sin and include two national parks in one post.  Both of these parks are in Washington state, and they’re both known for fire and ice — volcanic mountains and glaciers — so that’s my justification for lumping them together.  Besides, Fred has photos from both places that he’s sharing so you’ll surely get the gist of both parks from his photos.

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount RainierMount Rainier NPThe showpiece of this park is obviously Mount Rainier.  Towering at 14,410 feet, this mountain is a monster easily visible from western Washington.  Mount Rainier is an active volcano overlaid by snowfields and glaciers, as nearly every photo of the park depicts.  Our favorite conservationist / naturalist, John Muir, said of this place in 1906, “Of all the fire-mountains, which, like beacons, once blazed along the Pacific Coast, Mount Rainier is the noblest in form.”

Jule, Bob, Fred & me -- getting better with the selfie stick
Julie & Bob B. joined Fred and I for a picnic lunch at our campground before heading into the park for an afternoon hike together

We stayed six days/nights in a campground just outside the park, and during our stay we had day-visitors, Bob & Julie B., with whom Fred worked back in the 1990s while at Arthur Andersen in Chicago.  Now living in Seattle, they drove down to the park, met Charley, had a picnic lunch with us, and we all enjoyed a nice afternoon hike together.  I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to say it, meeting up with friends like this is one of the greatest joys of our life on the road!

We enjoyed some more hiking in the park, including making an early morning drive some two hours over to the far northeast side of the park to get to an area in the park called Sunrise.  We hiked nearly eight miles as we made our way out to a very cool fire lookout tower, around some trails next to nearly-dried-out lakes; up and down and up and down and back around to the visitor center, all the while having Mount Rainier and some of her 20-some beautiful glaciers as our backdrop.  We were excited to learn that we were supposed to be here during peak wildflower season, but due to the drought and other out-of-whack seasonal forces this year, they bloomed much earlier and we weren’t left with much color.  Oh well… it’s clear why the nearby population chooses to visit Mount Rainier National Park frequently, and we would be frequent visitors, too, if we lived out here in the beautiful Pacific Northwest! 


North Cascades National Park 

North Cascades NP
This park deserves more attention than I’m going to give it, but unfortunately, due to the fires raging out of control in this area of the country, we didn’t get to see as much of it as we would have liked.  We were actually en route to North Cascades following our visit to Mount Rainier when we got a call from the National Park Service regretting to inform us that they were cancelling our reservation in the NPS campground due to fires burning within the park.  We chose to drive on up to the park anyway and found a campground with room just outside the park.

Road closed due to fires
Just a couple of miles into the park we were met with smoke and this road closure

There are actually three units to this park:  North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area.  Just one road traverses the park and it was, unfortunately, this road that was closed.  With that, so, too, was the North Cascades Visitor Center and the little village of Newhalem where we were to have stayed.  Fortunately, in the little town of Marblemount just west of the park [where we found an available spot to camp] there was an NPS Wilderness Information Center.  Normally these are much smaller than full-blown visitor centers; people usually use these lesser-crowded centers to get their backcountry permits and register their hiking routes, but fortunately this one had a passport stamp so we could officially record our visit to North Cascades NP in our passport books.

Map of park road and trail closures
Map of active fires and road closures in NCNP

Since we couldn’t cross through the park to get to the east side, we had to dramatically change our approach to visiting North Cascades.  We did find a section of the park that was south of the active fires and we were able to hike in this area of the park.  We also dipped our toes in the water — literally in the Skagit River — so we were officially in the Ross Lake NRA, as well.

While not the experience we had expected in North Cascades National Park, we did visit for three days and especially enjoyed our hike up to Cascade Pass.  It was here that we met a Pacific Coast Trail (PCT) thru-hiker, Chris, with whom we hiked back down to the trailhead, then gave a ride to the nearby town.  Fire-related trail closures kept him from hiking through a 15-mile section of the trail so he was having to re-route his journey, as well, and was going to hitchhike from where we dropped him off to a town a little further south where he would continue his hike.

While the closures kept us from getting through to the east side, down through the little towns Twisp and Winthrop, and down into the Lake Chelan area, this minor inconvenience during our visit to North Cascades was nowhere near the tragedy that was happening in real time around us.  It was outside the town of Twisp that these wicked fires overtook and tragically killed three National Forest Service firemen the night before we arrived.  The locals knew these men and the sense of loss was all around.  This sadness shrouds our memories from our visit here, but also reminds us all to be thankful for all those who put themselves in harms way while doing their jobs to keep us safe.

On a happier note, and as it’s “Throwback Thursday,” I’m going to share a couple of photos from a long time ago — 1978, I’m pretty sure — when my family visited this national park with a few families and some of the youth group from our church.  Among many fond memories I have of this trip, I also remember a long (nearly 2,000 miles!) bus ride that took us straight through from Neenah, Wisconsin, to Lake Chelan where we all enjoyed a week of cabin camping and hiking in the Washington wilderness.  Ah… family vacations and the oft-awkward photos that went along with them!

 

Olympic National Park

Olympic NPOlympic National Park is one of the last unspoiled and untamed places in the United States.  Its landscape of rugged peaks, steep cliffs, dense forests, and wild rivers made it difficult to navigate and settle back when the European Americans were first on the scene here in the late 1800s, although Native American hunter-gatherer tribes had lived off this land and its rich resources for thousands of years.  Visitors to the park today find it largely a wilderness area, and only a few roads penetrate into the park for short distances.  This is just the kind of park the Jollys like, and happy were we to stay in a couple different places so we could visit all areas of the park and enjoy it over a leisurely eight days.

Fred & Laura at Olympic NP - Mt. Olympus in the background

There are three main ecosystems in Olympic NP.  The first features high mountains with subalpine forests and alpine meadows.  Visiting the Hurricane Ridge area and hiking 11 miles of trails in this section of the park, we were treated to high-point views of the Olympic Mountains and the 7,980-foot glacier-topped Mount Olympus.  Below are some photos of our most spectacular hiking in this area:

If you click on a photo, you can see a larger version of it.  You can also use the arrows at the bottom (click on the photo if they disappear on you) to scroll through all the photos in this album.  To close the album, click on the ‘X’ in the top right corner.


While staying north of the park at Elwha [outside of Port Angeles where the main Visitor Center is located], we also took a day to visit the Crescent Lake and Sol Duc hot springs areas which are on the north side of Olympic.  We chose a good 8-mile round-trip hike out to Deer Lake which started out easy enough with a fairly level 0.8-mile trek through some really nice old growth trees to the lovely but sadly anemic [due to the severe drought throughout the Pacific Northwest] Sol Duc Falls.  But then the party was over and up we had to go on a steep and rocky path for another 3+ miles up to Deer Lake.  We ate our lunch beside this beautiful, serene lake nestled in a grassy bowl in the mountains [at 3,550′] with forest all around – talk about a dreamy day!  Along the hike back down, we met and talked with fellow avid hikers, Patti and Joe, and lucky them, this is practically their back yard!  They gave us lots of good suggestions for enjoying our remaining time in this area; always a welcomed and appreciated gesture, especially from people who really know the area and seemingly like to enjoy it the way we do.

 

Ruby Beach in Olympic NP
Ruby Beach in Olympic NP

A second area of the park / ecosystem is the coastline that is in some parts sandy, in some parts rocky, but in all parts quietly rugged and beautiful.  This non-connected strip of Olympic NP runs nearly 75 miles along the Pacific Ocean, next to and around several remaining Indian Reservations.

Kalaloch NP CG
Kalaloch NP Campground – we spent four nights here along the coastline

After four nights up north, we came over to the ocean and dry camped (no water or power hook-ups) for four more nights in Kalaloch Campground, one of the National Park Service’s several campgrounds in the park.  We used this site to visit the western parts of the park.


As mentioned in a previous post, we hiked 3.1 miles along a coastal trail out to Cape Alava, the westernmost point in the Contiguous U.S. [see Westernmost Point post], and also found ourselves enjoying the quiet beauty of the stacks, driftwood, and rocks at Ruby Beach.

The third section of the park is on the western side of the mountains and is primarily a rain forest.  Lush ferns cover the ground where the shrubs and tall trees haven’t already taken space.  Mosses hang off the huge trees, and it’s truly spectacular to walk through this forest primeval.


This section of Olympic NP, the area around the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center, was Fred’s favorite part, and he’s posted some cool photos of this section already — see Fred’s Olympic NP post just below this one.

Wild goats - a mama, year-old kid, and couple-of-weeks old kid
A wild mama mountain goat leads her year-old kid and a baby kid just a couple of weeks old

I could go on and on with photos and stories and cool things we saw and did in Olympic National Park, but I’ll close this post with the mountain goats.  We ran into a few wild ones along the beautiful Klahhane Ridge Trail, and while they were very neat to see, they are unwanted creatures in the park.  Not native to this part of the state, they were introduced here in the 1920s and have been causing problems ever since, including one of them going rogue and impaling a hiker with his horn a couple of years ago.  The National Park Service is currently evaluating options for addressing the goat situation, for they now number over 1,000 in the park, they’re becoming more aggressive with humans, and they continue to damage the indigenous plant life.

Redwood National and State Parks

Redwoods - the tallest trees in the worldRedwood National and State Parks - a joint ventureJune 8-11 — The last of our national park visits in California for awhile, we spent four days enjoying Redwood National and State Parks along the Pacific Ocean in northern California.  It was clear from the welcome sign that this park was a bit different than the others we have visited thus far.  In our requisite stop at the main Visitor Center and, in our opinion, mandatory viewing of the park’s overview movie, we learned the history of how these parks came to be and how they are all now jointly administered for better coordination of conservation and management activities.  

In the early 1900s, as more people were moving westward and settling into growing western cities and towns, the country’s insatiable appetite for lumber was being met by felling big tall redwood trees growing all along the Pacific coast.  Conservationists became alarmed by the relentless logging that was rapidly destroying redwood forests, and in 1918, a group was formed to protect these magnificent giants.  The Save-The-Redwoods League was able to purchase some of these old redwood groves.  The state of California also protected groves by creating some state parks.  And in 1968, the Redwood National Park was established to preserve even more of these ancient trees.  However, the damage had already been done.  Between the uncontrolled logging in the late 1800s and the more-regulated-but-still-damaging logging activities of the 1900s, 96 percent of the old-growth forests that once stood here as one of the most splendid and awesome ecosystems on the planet had been destroyed.

Beautiful Redwood NPThis once-sad story is turning the page here in Redwood National and State Parks.  Additional land has been added to the parks, and today great efforts are being made to replant the denuded sections of land, reclaim old logging roads, and erase the scars of the raw, clear-cut logging activities that once took place here.  It will take hundreds of years for new trees to grow to a modest size; but as this area makes up about half the world’s old growth redwood forest, these conservation efforts are required and appreciated by all those who visit these Redwood parks.

Trail through the giant treesHistory lesson now learned, we were here to see tall, stately trees, and that we did!  These gentle giants reach heights of more than 300 feet, and the tallest tree in the park system measures a whopping 379 feet tall!  Compare that to the Statue of Liberty at 240 feet – she’s got nothing on these boys!  Another impressive feature about these redwoods is their age – some are more than 2,000 years old!  Going back some sixty-five million years ago when dinosaurs roamed the earth, much of the northern hemisphere was covered with redwoods and their cousins, Sequioas.  The Ice Age and subsequent changes in climate and topography eliminated a great sweep of these trees, but today we can stroll through stands of these living artifacts and marvel at their massive size.

The scientific name for these redwoods is Sequoia Semperviers — Sequoia comes from the Cherokee Indian chief, Sequoyah, and Sempervirens is Latin for “always green” / “living forever.”   For being so ginormous, these trees have a surprisingly shallow root system — just 10-12 feet deep — but they reach out hundreds of feet wide, and these intermingled roots help keep one another strong.  Fog, we learned, plays a very important role in redwood growth, for it provides nearly half the moisture these tall trees receive.  However, these immense trees cannot grow too close to the coast for they are vulnerable to salt spray.  It seems this limited range of coastline is perfect for their continued growth. 

Ferns adorning the Big Trees Trail pathWe enjoyed some really wonderful hiking in these parks.  Fred hoofed it nearly 30 miles through what often looked and felt like a tropical rainforest.  I took a couple of days off but joined him for some of the hiking ventures.  Very cool snails and banana slugs and frogs made their homes along some of our trails.  Fern Canyon, in particular, features really lush vegetation and was the site for filming a couple of big movies.  Perhaps you’ve heard of Jurassic Park or Star Wars?  This is a very cool place…!

Very cool snail in the forestSpring irisBeautiful NatureFernsBanana SlugWestern TrilliumLeopard LillyFerns in Fern CanyonFerns in Fern CanyonRed-Flowering Currant

FoxgloveWild iris

Roosevelt Elk - some of the few herds we saw in Redwood NPLarge herd of Roosevelt ElkA final feature of the park is the large herds of Roosevelt elk roaming freely in these parts.  We saw them in several meadows as we drove through the park along Hwy 101, but our best sighting came as we were hiking along a coastal trail and came upon eight of them about 10′ from our trail.  They noticed us and looked up.  We stopped.  We all stared at one another for a bit.  Then I let them know in a very sweet voice we weren’t going to bother them and slowly proceeded up the trail hoping they didn’t see us as a threat.  They didn’t and we were safe!

Here is some more of the beautiful scenery we enjoyed in Redwood National and State Parks:

~ Beautiful Coastal Trail in Redwood National Park ~

Coastal Trail wrapping up our 7.5 mile hike

~ The other-worldly Fern Canyon ~

Prairie Creek in Fern Canyon

~ Lush ferns along the Fern Canyon Trail ~

Trail through the ferns

~ We are grateful that groves like this still stand today thanks to the generosity of donors like this ~

Memorial Groves, thanks to the Save-the-Redwoods League, we have these trees and protected forests now

~ Non Nobis Solum / Not For Us Alone  …  Indeed………. ~

Lovely bench for resting... inscribed NON NOBIS SOLUM - Not For Us Alone - how true!

~ Giants in the Mist ~

Ocean mist in the Redwood trees