Monday, January 4, 2021

A Snowshoe Outing in Southeast Utah's Ashley National Forest

         One advantage to living in Price, Utah is the ability to find snow—somewhere—all winter long.  No snow in town?  Hop in the car and drive to the top of the nearest mountain. 

         Last week Tim, Annie and I snowshoed Gray Head Peak Trail at Indian Canyon Summit in the Ashley National Forest, half an hour from our house.  To reach the summit—at 9100 feet elevation—a long, winding, and sometimes treacherous drive is required.  But it’s all worth it to arrive at this winter wonderland destination.

     Annie is a happy dog who loves all sorts of adventures.  
But I think she’s at her happiest when dashing through the snow.

Gray Head Summit (center) is straight ahead.  
From this point it’s another 3.5 miles to the summit.  
I’ve never made it that far but this trail is a rewarding one—no matter how far you go.

         Trail magic is the name for those unexpected delights you discover while walking in the wilds.  In the Ashley National Forest on Indian Canyon Summit trail magic is supplied by a couple of old-time "Mountain Men" named Steve Fischer and John McCurdy.  

         Steve and John have been hiking and cross-country skiing the mountain top for decades and long ago they decided the trails could use rest stops along the way—sheltered places to set up camp, or simply to build an afternoon campfire, rest on a large log, and revel in quiet and solitude.

       While hiking Gray Head Peak trail last summer I discovered one of these hiker's havens set off the trail in a small group of trees.  

       "Who built this?"  I asked my hiking companions.

       "That would be McCurdy," they replied.  "He's old-school, a real mountain man, skis on wooden skis, carries a bota bag of wine, builds campfires in the woods."

        Last week, as Tim and I prepared to snowshoe Gray Head trail a beat-up pickup truck pulled in to the trailhead and a lean, white-haired gentleman emerged.  He retrieved a pair of old wooden skis from the bed of his truck. 

       Seeing the wooden skis (but no leather bag of wine) I had to ask: "Are you John McCurdy?  I heard you built the fire pit up on the mountain."

       "No, I'm Steve Fischer,"  was the reply.  "John and I are friends and he's the more flamboyant of us, the one people remember.  But yeah, I'm the one who mostly built that fire pit, and several others in the mountains around here.  John and I have skied almost every square foot of these mountains and we never tire of the fresh air and the views."

      "So then you're the original mountain man," I said.

      "Well, I don't know about that, but I sure would have loved to have been alive in 1850 and explored this area back then."

       "Did you cut the logs for benches?"  I said.

       "Yep, and every year—after the hunters have gone—I haul a load of firewood up here for the pits."

       "Thanks for taking care of these mountains."

        "Oh, sure," said Steve.  "Hey, you should come up here sometime to snowshoe or ski when the moon is full.  It's magical.  Well, have a good time out there today."

We did have a good time out there.  And maybe we'll take Steve's advice and return on a full-moon night, to snowshoe this mountain top by magical moonlight.  

Friday, November 20, 2020

Medicine Lodge Archeological Site State Historic Park, near Hyattville, Wyoming

         First impressions can be fickle.  Like a novel which begins with an enchanting opening line, only to deliver an uninspiring, boring tale.  Or the log-cabin cafe in the mountains that at first glance appears appealing, and then dishes a dreadful, tasteless meal.

         First impressions, however, can also be the other way ‘round...

        “We drove all the way here for this?”  My frustration is evident as we pull into our reserved campsite at Medicine Lodge Campground.  An outhouse sits directly across the lane from our site.  Beyond that three house-sized travel trailers host a large family gathering.  Kids splash in Medicine Lodge Creek and race their bikes on the dirt road, creating dust and noise.  Adults hoot and holler as they listen to Grandpa’s stories. 

         The campground is located miles from anywhere in a high desert prairie.  Medicine Lodge Creek, which flows through the campground, has its origins in the Big Horn Mountains to the northeast and its cold waters support a healthy population of trout.  A designated wildlife habitat area, dinosaur tracks, archeological dig sites, and a wilderness study area surround our oasis in the desert.  

       The boisterous city park atmosphere however, is antithetical to the wilderness setting I had expected.

This creekside boardwalk trail is well away from the group campsite.

         After setting up camp it’s time to stop complaining and begin exploring our “home” for the next couple of days.  We walk the creekside trail, immersing ourselves in the riparian habitat.  Then we visit the campground’s main attraction—a 750 foot-long rock wall filled with pictographs and petroglyphs.  The 2000 year-old rock art includes etchings and paintings of shield-bearing warriors, grizzly bears, bison and elk, and also abstract symbols.

The imposing rock wall doubles as an artist's canvas.

Shield-bearing warriors etched into the wall.

          The more we explore, the less annoyed I am by our noisy neighbors.  Tim fishes Medicine Lodge Creek in a remote desert basin north of the campground and proclaims it the best fishing of the summer.  And just like that, the frolicking kids downstream are forgotten.

Tim caught brown and cutthroat trout in Medicine Lodge Creek.

         Our neighbors pull out on day two, hauling their homes behind them.  All is quiet.  The following morning I listen to a variety of bird song in the cottonwoods, accompanied by the melodic, bubbling stream.

Evening campfire in our cozy campsite.

         First impressions can be wrong indeed!   Our conversation around the campfire on our final night is filled with reflection and contrition.   

        Medicine Lodge Archeological Site is one of Wyoming’s special places.  Unlike a boring novel or a dreadful cafe, my experience here has left me eager for the next chapter and hungry for more.   I will return.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Scarecrows on Main, Price, Utah

             The first annual 'Scarecrows On Main' contest is taking place this October in Price, Utah.  Street lamps, doorways and storefronts on Main Street have been decorated by various businesses and organizations.  

             Below is a sampling of this season's contest entrants, photographed on a brilliant October afternoon.

             I've chosen my picks for first, second and third place awards.  Have a look at these scarecrow creations and judge for yourself.

This is the first time I've seen a beach/snorkeling scarecrow.
Could it be this business owner would rather be in Hawaii?

I like the dia de los Muertos theme of this brightly attired scarecrow.

How about a real "Crow scarecrow"?  Makes sense to me.
And so I chose this avian scarecrow as my #3 pick.

Okay,  this one is truly creepy.

Star Wars scarecrows in front of the library.

After reading 'Crow Scaring for Dummies' this one should have an advantage over the others.
This is my #2 pick.  I love an educated scarecrow.  Love the boots too.

The curse of Chucky?

Here's a guy representing Bookcliff Workwear, dressed for the job.

This foxy scarecrow in bird slippers stands outside the "Corner Coffee and Tea" shop. 

This Dino Scarecrow is stationed  in front of the USU Eastern Prehistoric Museum.
It's my #1 pick.  

The museum is a national treasure and features collections and exhibits focusing on specimens  indigenous to the Price area.  If you're ever in Price, check it out:

Would you like to see more scarecrows?  If so, check out these photos from the annual Scarecrow Bash in Del Norte, Colorado.  

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

A Taste of The Colorado and Continental Divide Trails near Lake City, Colorado


         The Colorado Trail (CT) meanders through The Colorado foothills and mountains for 486 miles from Denver to Durango.  Over its length it shares the same path as the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) for 234 of those miles.

         I've hiked in Colorado for decades but had never spent any time on either The CT or The CDT.   During a recent vacation to Lake City, CO my husband Tim and I made up for lost time by sampling both trails simultaneously. 

         Seventeen miles southeast of Lake City The CT/CDT crosses Colorado Highway 149 at Spring Creek Pass.  A large parking lot, picnic area and restroom make this an appealing spot to begin a hike in either direction on the trail.   


Segment 21 of the CT—San Luis Pass to Spring Creek Pass.

         Tim and I hiked a few miles of this trail in the "opposite" direction (Spring Creek Pass to San Luis Pass) to an area just above treeline.    This 14.8 mile segment is one of the most remote on the entire Colorado Trail.  

A rest stop above treeline on The CT/CDT.

Annie rests on an uphill section of Segment 21 of The Colorado Trail.
We always dress Annie in her day-glo orange vest during hunting season.


The section of trail above shows beetle-killed spruce trees. Unfortunately much of the high-altitude forest has been destroyed by climate-change enabled beetle-kill. 


Segment 22 of the CT—Spring Creek Pass to Carson Saddle.

          This 17.2 mile segment of trail spends most of its time above treeline with sweeping mountain views, and reaches the high point of The Colorado Trail (13,271') at mile 15.6.  Tim and I hiked a few miles one-way to an alpine meadow which provided a glorious setting for a lunch stop.

This meadow is a perfect place to plant your poles
and sit down for lunch.

Our public lands are mostly multiple-use.  We passed this shepherd and his flock while hiking on Segment 22 of The Colorado Trail.

The view across the valley—returning to Spring Creek Pass from our alpine meadow 
lunch stop.


          If you have an appetite for adventure, satiate it by adding all, or part, of these high-elevation trails to your menu.

Silver Street, Lake City, CO on a late September morning.

         The town of Lake City has been designated an Official CDT Gateway Town and offers free shuttle service to and from Spring Creek Pass.  In the quaint mountain town you'll find lodging, showers, two grocery stores, a brew pub, and various eateries.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Outlaw Cave Campground, Wyoming: Livin' in the Wild, Wild, West


         Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch used Outlaw Cave as a hideout to stash stolen money and cattle during their fugitive days in the late 1800s.
         One hundred and thirty years later Outlaw Cave Campground retains that Wild West spirit.
         After setting up camp Tim and I walked the premises, searching for the trail into the canyon leading to the Middle Fork of the Powder River.  We passed a neighboring campsite and spied a young man reading in the shade of his pickup truck.
         "Where's the trail to the river?", Tim asked.  "And how's the fishing?"
         "Right across the way", he said.  "The fishing here is great.  It's my favorite place on earth."
          As the young man stood to face us we noticed a hand gun strapped prominently to his chest.

          We returned to our campsite where we met another camper, a gentleman from North Dakota.
         "Will you two be hiking into the canyon?", he asked.  "My knees are too bad to make the trek, but when my wife hiked down to the river yesterday I sent "The Judge" along with her."
          "The Judge" by the way, is a short-barrel revolver, capable of firing both shotgun and pistol ammo.
           Are these folks expecting The Hole in the Wall Gang to reappear?  Do they have their own stolen goods to protect?  No.
          "There's bear and mountain lion around here", said Mr. North Dakota.  (By way of explanation for all this open-carrying, I presume.)
           Our plan for tomorrow is to hike into the canyon to the river; we'll take our chances with the lions and the bears.  Humans are more of a threat in the backcountry than wildlife and, in any case, we wouldn't consider taking firearms into the wilderness.

Could these caves by the river be the ones used by Butch Cassidy to stash
his stolen goods?
           The following morning, under crystalline blue skies, we hiked the trail to the river—no bears, lions, or outlaws in sight.  Tim fished for several hours while I hiked back to our campsite to relax on the plateau overlooking the gorge.
           Tim returned in the mid-afternoon and reported fantastic fishing in the pristine, remote waters of the Middle Fork of the Powder.  A little later our neighbor from North Dakota walked by camp.
           "How was your day in the canyon?", he asked.  "Did you have your guns?"

            It's been a long time since outlaws inhabited the isolated high plains and steep-walled canyons of north-central Wyoming.
            But, if Butch Cassidy and his gang ever return to this region of the Wild West, the gun-totin' campers in Outlaw Cave Campground will be ready for them.

You can see our campsite tucked into the shade of the trees.
(Green tent, white vehicle.)

Overview of Outlaw Cave Campground from the rocky outcrop above our site.
Outlaw Cave Trailhead is near the car parked at the center of the photo.
The campground is remote; the nearest town, Kaycee, is 26 miles away
and boasts a population of 274 people.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

One Day in America's Top 10 Social Distancing Destinations

All alone in the universe.  Hiking with a friend near Horsethief Canyon Trail
in Utah's San Rafael Swell.

         Summer travel season is here, and so is the coronavirus.  We Americans have grown weary of COVID-19, but the virus hasn’t tired of us.  Uncertainty and unpredictability face travelers this year and the summer of 2020 may be unlike any other in our lifetimes.

         Jet-setting across the globe is now difficult at best and dangerous at worst.  As a result people all over this country are warming to the idea of domestic discovery.

         For nine years this blog, One Day in America, has promoted travel in the United States. In this post, I’ve chosen to re-visit 10 stories from favorite places where social distancing is not the exception, but the rule.
         Here then, are my top picks for fun and adventure in lightly-visited locales.

          1.  Swan Lake Cabin in Alaska's Kenai Peninsula.
               This may be the most socially distant place I've ever been.  And one of the most enchanting.  One caveat to visiting the Kenai Peninsula—a flight is most likely required to get to Alaska.  Also a float plane is the best way to access this cabin.  However, for the hardy, this cabin may be reached by backpacking the Resurrection Pass Trail in the Kenai Peninsula.

          2.  Crystal Lake Trail, Lake City, Colorado.
          3.  Powderhorn Lakes Trail, north of Lake City, Colorado.
               Crystal Lake Trail is located in a county with 900 year-round residents.  The trail is easily accessed from the town of Lake City, the only incorporated town in the county.
               Powderhorn Lakes Trail is 20 miles north of Lake City in the Powderhorn Wilderness.
               Both Powderhorn Lakes and Crystal Lake offer fishing and backcountry camping; the likelihood of seeing others is practically nil.

Update on the above trails:  Last week (June 2020) I hiked both Crystal Lake and Powderhorn Lakes Trails.  The once lush spruce/fir forests above 11,000 feet in elevation now consist of mostly dead trees, all beetle-killed as a result of increasingly warm winters and longer summers.
The lakes themselves are still gems, however be apprised of entire hillsides of dead trees on the Powderhorn Lakes Trail and of deadfall across the trail in some spots.
The Crystal Lake trail makes its way uphill through a still-healthy aspen and ponderosa pine forest—and views from the trail are spectacular—however the lakeshore at 11,700 feet is surrounded by mostly dead spruce/fir trees.
Scenic backcountry campsites are still available at both lakes, in open meadows away from the dead trees.

          4.  Sand Wash Herd Management Area, Moffit County, Colorado.

               You have to be a fan of wild horses for this one.  And you have to be prepared for travel in a 4,751 square mile county (four times the size of Rhode Island) containing 13,287 people.  Definitely a place to get away from it all.

          5.  The St. Joe River Wilderness in Idaho.

               It's been over a decade since Tim and I have been to the St. Joe River Wilderness so I can't speak for 2020, but we camped there for three days in July one year, and didn't see another person the entire time.

          6.  Price Canyon Recreation Area, Price, Utah.

               I have hiked Price Canyon Rec many times and friends have camped there.  The campground is beautiful but lonely and, in 17 years of hiking the Bristlecone Pine Trail, I've encountered maybe five other people on the trail (other than the people I'm hiking with, of course.)

         7.  Horse Thief Canyon Trail, in The San Rafael Swell, Utah.

              I admit it.  Finding this trailhead is a little tricky.  A few miles north of the junction of US 6 and Interstate 70 is a dirt road turn-off to the west.  The first right turn on this dirt road takes you several miles to the trailhead.  It's unlikely you'll see others on this trail.

          8.  Avintaquin Campground in the Ashley National Forest, Utah.

               If you're looking for a campground that is never full, even during the 4th of July holiday, this is your place.  The high alpine setting makes this the perfect place to cool off during the summer heat.

          9.  The Bread and Puppet Museum in Glover, Vermont.

               This fantastical museum is so worth visiting that I would recommend it even if other (masked) people were there—which they weren't when I toured it in July of 2014.  As a matter of fact after leaving Burlington and Lake Champlain behind, most of northern Vermont was devoid of people.

         10.  Famous Iowans Birthplaces.

                Yes, even Iowa made it into the top ten.  While I can't vouch for the "safety" of motels near these Iowa towns, and I'm not sure about the locations or plenitude of Iowa campgrounds, what I can vouch for are the little-traveled backroads and the absence of crowds at these birthplaces and museums.  You might even discover that you rather like touring in rural Iowa.

          Honorable Mention:

          Great Basin National Park.

          Due to COVID-19 I might not be visiting any National Parks this year, but if I were to travel to a National Park it would be Great Basin.  Campgrounds may fill on holiday weekends but otherwise you should have your pick of campsites, and your pick of untravelled trails in this magnificent park.

          Southeastern Colorado.
          The link above will take you to Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site—a locale with one of the saddest histories of any site in the entire National Park Service.
          There is much to see and do in Southeastern Colorado and not many people seeing and doing it, at least not in September of 2015 when I toured the area.  The Comanche National Grasslands offers birding, Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site is a re-created 1840s trading post, and on a ranger-led tour of Picketwire Canyon near La Junta you can walk where Sauropods trod, in the longest set of dinosaur tracks in the United States.

            Humans are a social species, and being asked to stay away from others is difficult for us.
            All the locations above are places where you and your loved ones can experience solitude—and perhaps discover a bit of inner peace as well—in these trying times.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Searching for Rainbows During Viral Times

          Last Friday, April 3rd, was "National Find a Rainbow Day".  These past few days I've searched my digital photos for rainbow pictures I've taken over the years.

          Rainbows are considered an international symbol of hope and so, if it's raining where you are today—either literally or figuratively—don't stop searching for rainbows.

         Take care and stay safe, everyone.

Green River, Utah.

Price, Utah.

Goblin Valley State Park, Utah.

Price, Utah.

Whiskey Grove Campground, Pinedale, Wyoming.

Baker, Nevada.