Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Warner Lake Campground in the Manti LaSal Mountains of Southeastern Utah

Do you like the idea of spending a "girl's" weekend here?
If so, read on.  If not, well, please read on anyway!

         Mention the words "girl's getaway" and these images may come to mind:  luxuriating with spa treatments and yoga at an Aspen ski lodge; sipping coffee and/or cocktails on the deck of a Key West villa; shopping and dining, then attending a play in New York City's theater district.

         Now compare the above scenarios with sleeping in a tent on the ground, cooking on a gas stove, eating at a picnic table, and using an outhouse.  That's how the girls—okay, middle-aged women—in my outdoor adventure group spent our end-of-June girl's getaway weekend.

         Warner Lake Campground is situated in an aspen grove in the Manti LaSal National Forest, southeast of Moab, Utah.  The 9,200 ft. elevation makes the campground cool in the evenings and comfortable during the days.  The group campsite—at the outer edge of the campground loop with views of the lake and surrounding mountains—is one of the prettiest mountain campsites I've been in.

        While the setting for this getaway was spectacular and the nine women on the campout shared an easy camaraderie, it was the perfect weather which made this vacation a resounding success.  Each morning we relaxed with coffee, then ate breakfast, hiked a mountain trail, took afternoon naps in the tents (for those who needed them), had wine and hors d' oeuvres in the late afternoon, cooked tasty dinners and, finally, relaxed around crackling campfires at night.

         I have nothing against Aspen, Key West, or New York City and I'm sure I would enjoy myself in any of those locales.  But this primitive alpine getaway to Warner Lake Campground proved as invigorating as a spa treatment, as relaxing as a day at the beach, and as enlightening as an evening in the Big Apple.  The perfect "girl's getaway".

Women of the Castle Country Canyoneers prepare for a morning hike.

View from the top of the appropriately named "Mountain View Trail".
"Dog-tired" after a morning hike.  Two girl dogs—Lucinda on the left and
Teva on the right—accompanied the women on this getaway.

Here's where we cooked and ate.
Can any NYC restaurant compare with this?

Evening campfire in the group campsite.

This is the view that greeted me from my tent each morning.
What a way to start the day.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Great Basin National Park's Untrampled Trails

         Readers of this blog may remember my series of posts beginning last June, titled "Nevada Beyond the Neon".  I began that series with a trip to Great Basin National Park and mentioned a few of the park's must-see highlights, including several trails.

         Last month I returned to Great Basin N.P. and, after spending four days there, I was reminded once again of why it's one of my favorite places.  Not only is it a beautiful park but the trails are well-maintained and signed, the campgrounds are pristine, and the location can't be beat.  Also, no crowds!

         I've read that on a bad day the Delicate Arch Trail in Arches National Park may see 3000 pair of feet.  On this most recent trip to Great Basin my friend Shirley and I hiked three trails—Pole Canyon, Serviceberry and Alpine Lakes Loop—and we encountered a grand total of 24 other trekkers.

         Want to know what it's like to visit an "undiscovered" national park?  Find out by traveling to Great Basin in Nevada and chose almost any trail.  You'll be rewarded with scenery, silence, and solitude.

Pole Canyon Trail:

This large Aspen tree frames a view from the
Pole Canyon Trail.

Wildflowers along the Pole Canyon Trail.

Serviceberry Trail:

Serviceberry Trailhead.

Shirley along the Serviceberry Trail.  We didn't see anyone else on
this trail, or on the 13 mile drive to the trailhead.

Alpine Lakes Loop Trail:

Shirley and Rita along the Alpine Lakes Loop Trail.

Stella Lake.  This would make a good base camp for an ascent of
13,064' Wheeler Peak—top, left-center.

Snowfields along the Alpine Lakes Loop trail.

Teresa Lake, South end.  A scene such as this called out for John Muir.
So Shirley and I sat on this log and
read from a John Muir book of quotations.

Teresa Lake, north end, with a view of Wheeler Peak.

To read last year's post on Great Basin National Park, click here.

Please note that wildfires and mudslides along Lexington Creek Road have rendered the road to Lexington Arch trailhead all but impassable for the last several miles. The road is mostly on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land and the BLM has no plans to improve it.  This has made the hike to Lexington Arch—previously a 3 mile round trip—into a more difficult (no shade) 7-10 mile round trip.   Contact a Great Basin National Park ranger for more details.

Friday, June 2, 2017

The Fork in the Road: Our Stay in Whiskey Grove Campground on the Green River, Wyoming

"When you come to a fork in the road, take it..."
                                                                                                                      ... Yogi Berra

Yogi Berra's witty and sage advice led us to discover Green River Lake,
the headwaters of the 730 mile-long Green River.
Squaretop Mountain, in the center, is one of Wyoming's iconic images.
          Road Closed 70 Miles Ahead.  Uh oh.  Our planned stop for the night, Warren Bridge Campground, is along that stretch of road.   I consulted my Wyoming map and camping guides and what do you know?  A fork in the road, just before the closure, led to an alternative campground—Whiskey Grove, north of Pinedale along the west side of the Wind River Mountains.  I think we'll take that fork.

Road Closed.  A massive forest fire in the Bridger-Teton National Forest
closed a 50 mile stretch of Highway 191 in Wyoming and generated this
pink smoke cloud visible from  40 miles away.

          Just to be sure we'd made the right decision, Tim and I stopped at the Pinedale Visitor Center where I chatted with the pleasant older couple behind the information desk.
         “We had planned to camp at Warren Bridge tonight,” I said.  “But now we’re thinking about Whiskey Grove instead.”
         “Whiskey Grove?,” they said.  "Why that’s our favorite campground in the area.  Much nicer than Warren Bridge.”
         “What’s the story with the road closure?,” I asked.
         “A lightening strike yesterday ignited a fire in the national forest, spanning both sides of the highway.  They say the road will be closed for several days.”
         “Will the campground be crowded then?” 
         “Shouldn’t be,” they replied.  “Most folks traveling through here are headed for Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.  This afternoon we’ve had to send them on a 2-3 hour detour to get there.  You shouldn’t have a problem securing a campsite in Whiskey Grove.”

         Our change of plans affirmed, Tim and I drove the lonely road to Whiskey Grove.  To the west the sky filled with billowing purple-pink smoke.  Thirty minutes later we pulled into Whiskey Grove and found it mostly deserted.  And delightful.  
         The campground is located in a bend in the Green River and nestled in an isolated pocket of pine trees.  Rolling hills and evergreens surrounded our spacious campsite along the river.
         After setting up camp Tim spent an hour fishing the Green.  He wasn’t disappointed, catching a couple good-sized rainbow trout.

Our spacious campsite in Whiskey Grove Campground.

Tim and Annie fish the Green River, just down the hill from our campsite.

         We spent a mostly idyllic four days at Whiskey Grove.  Why mostly idyllic?  Well, we discovered two negatives to the area.  
         Our first night in the tent we woke at 1:00 a.m. to a deafening roar; heart-stopping, unnerving, menacing.  The noise was so loud and frightening I was sure a jumbo jet had crashed into a nearby hillside.  Later we learned this valley is a night training ground for fighter pilots and their jets.  
         The other issue? "Killer" insects patrol this area—mosquitoes and biting flies.  On the first evening I counted 35 bug bites.  That night in the tent I clawed relentlessly at the itching, stinging welts on my legs and ankles.

         I can imagine readers thinking to themselves:  Wow, that sounds like fun. Not!

         But here’s the thing.  In spite of the fighter jets and the bugs I would stay at Whiskey Grove again.  In a heartbeat.  Far from the madding crowds, in the near pristine setting of the headwaters of the Green, our three night home-away-from-home proved a destination worthy of our unplanned detour.  My advice?  Heed Yogi Berra, the late, great MLB All-star catcher and manager of The New York Yankees:  The next time you're traveling and you come to that fork in the road, take it! Wherever it may lead.

Looks like a wonderful evening around the campfire, doesn't it?
In reality I was eaten alive by bugs at this very spot.

In a scene that could be straight from a movie, range-riders trot across the sage-covered hills
while Tim fishes the meandering Upper Green River.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Windwhistle Campground in the Canyon Rims Recreation Area of Southeastern Utah

         The name was enough to lure me to this desert campground.  That, and its remote red rock location.

         Although visitation is increasing, this campground—about 35 miles south of over-crowded Moab—is still worth a visit.  The Bureau of Land Management administers this land, which includes a picnic area at the overlook into the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, and another primitive campground and overlook at the end of an unimproved dirt road.

Our tent is nestled in the Junipers at Windwhistle Campground.

Evening shadows in our campsite.

         On our fall trip Tim and I took advantage of cool morning and evening temperatures.  Our first evening in camp we walked a half mile nature trail in the shadows of towering rock alcoves.

Towering sandstone cliffs.

Along the nature trail in Windwhistle campground.

         The following morning we rode our tandem bicycle from the campground to the Needles Overlook, a 32 mile round-trip ride on a paved road.

Needles Overlook at the end of the road.

Standing at the edge.  It's a 1000 foot drop-off into the canyon
on the other side of this fence.

         That evening our treats included s'mores around the campfire and a creamy white milky way spilling from horizon to horizon.   After crawling into the tent a Great-Horned Owl serenaded us to sleep with his soothing deep-toned hoots.

Ready for s'mores as darkness falls.

         Did we hear the wind whistling through the Juniper trees surrounding our site during this visit?  No.  Our calm clear days and nights prevented us from experiencing the reason for this campground's alluring name.
         That discovery will have to wait for the next visit.  

The campground is located on Needles Outpost road, about half-way down this map.
The first blue arrow shows the approximate location of Windwhistle CG.

The only thing missing from this open campsite in Windwhistle campground is you!


Monday, April 3, 2017

Enduring Architecture of the Ancients

         Imagine your home, still standing 900 years from now and being visited by fascinated tourists from 30th Century America.  Can't picture it?  Neither can I.

Montezuma's Castle, part of a cliffside village containing a 5-story
apartment-like building which was once home to several thousand people.

         The architectural wonders of Montezuma's Castle and Tuzigoot National Monuments however, have endured since the 12th century in the Verde River Valley south of Flagstaff, Arizona.  These Puebloan multistoried adobe structures adorn hillsides and cliff alcoves and were home to the Southern Sinagua people.

         Don't feel dismayed if you haven't heard of the Southern Sinagua.  I hadn't heard of them either until a few weeks ago when I toured Tuzigoot and Montezuma's Castle and learned that contemporary Hopi tribes trace their ancestry to immigrants from the Sinagua culture.

         The Sinagua lived and farmed in the Verde River Valley for over 300 years—longer than the United States has been a country—and then disappeared.  Why did they leave?  It's a mystery, but archeologists speculate any number of reasons ranging from overpopulation and resource depletion to disease or conflict within groups.

Tuzigoot National Monument.  This hillside pueblo once contained
100 rooms.  Many artifacts were discovered here.

         When the Sinagua left their villages they didn't take much with them.   The structures themselves are impressive, but even more incredible was the array of artifacts found within.
         While unearthing the rooms of Tuzigoot, archeologists discovered a treasure-trove of everyday household items—carved tools and needles, decorated pottery, storage containers, ornaments of shell and turquoise for personal wear.
         But what really brought these homes to life for me was the discovery of tiny carved animals and bowls, believed to be children's toys.
         How on earth did the Sinagua persuade their children to leave their toys behind?

Antique's Roadshow, eat your heart out!
These carved stone toys are all miniatures, no
larger than a few inches.
No way could anyone have pried these tiny
stone animals from my five-year-old hands!

         I highly recommend a visit to these two ancient archeological sites.  You'll walk away in awe of the Sinagua people and their resilience and ingenuity.   And you may wonder what of any significance will endure from our culture.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Discoveries During a March Day in Tennessee

         Several years ago while touring Tennessee I experienced a series of serendipitous discoveries that kept me smiling all day long.

        My day began at the Highland Place Bed & Breakfast in Jackson where my less-than-enthusiastic hosts didn’t exude the graciousness I had come to expect in Tennessee. 
        Does southern hospitality end in Jackson? 

        A few minutes after leaving the B&B I made the first of my four “Best Ever” discoveries for the day.  Here’s the list:

1)  If you’re a Catfish Lover (and who isn’t?) I found the Best-Ever Restaurant.
2)  If you’re a Chocolate Lover (and who isn’t?) I found the Best-Ever Candy Store.
3)  If you’re a Horse Lover (and who isn’t?) I found the Best-Ever Campground.
4)  If you’re a Fast Food Lover (and I found the Best-Ever McDonald’s.

It's Back to the Future at this busy McDonald's in Jackson.

         First, the McDonald’s on Highland Drive in Jackson.  I never stop at McDonald’s but this one was different.  The gleaming white building, shining golden arches and parking lot full of cars—they called to me.  I pulled in.
        This McDonald’s was abuzz with business.  Cars pulled into and out of the parking lot; customers filed into and out of the doors.  A friendly patron held the door open for me and greeted me with a hello.
        Inside I noticed a cross-section of Jacksonites—black and white, young and old, fat and thin—all there and all smiling.  
        I stepped up to the counter.  The employee greeted me with an ear-to-ear grin and said:
       “Welcome to McDonald’s!  How can I help you?”  She literally beamed as I ordered my coffee to go.
        Wow, maybe southern hospitality doesn’t end in Jackson.  
         I grabbed my coffee, joined the line of people parading out of the establishment and was on my way, smiling.  

        This could have been a scene from 1955 when McDonald’s was brand new, when fast food was a novelty and not a disgrace—decades before Fast Food Nation soured me on the McDonald’s experience.  
        As I left I noticed the drive-through lanes, also filled with lines of cars. 
        Across the street sat a sad old Wendy’s with one car in the parking lot.  I felt almost sorry for it. 


         I traveled east on Interstate 40, my hot cup of McDonald’s coffee nestled in the cup holder.  Twenty minutes later I saw an exit for Natchez Trace State Park.  This led to my second best-ever find of the day—Wrangler’s Campground.

       Wrangler’s is a campground designed exclusively for equestrians.  Every site was filled with horses and their people.  People currying, saddling and riding their steeds, tying bags of hay from tree branches, shoveling manure.  Horse trailers parked alongside tents and recreational vehicles.  I’d never seen anything like it.   
        Imagine a campground with horses whinnying and nickering instead of ATV engines revving (as is the case in many Utah state park campgrounds).  I left the carefree campground and passed a sign proclaiming:  “Happy Trails!”  

Contented horses at The Wrangler's Campground.


        I returned to I-40 and exited at the town of Paris for my third best-ever find of the day—Sally Lane’s Candy Farm.
        I entered the old building with its peeling pink paint, unsure of what I’d find. But oh, the confections within!  Every sort of chocolate bar and candy you could imagine, including Sally’s original pink and green mints.  
       Sally Lane’s was started in 1958 and has had several owners since then.  New owner Rob Freeman and his sister Pam greeted me, ready to hand out samples and answer my candy questions.
       Rob makes all the bar candy, his Mom handles the hard-to-make confections like frogs and bunnies and filled-chocolates, and his niece creates specialty items like chocolate-dipped Twinkies.  I bought one of those tantalizing Twinkies.
       A specialty item like a chocolate-dipped Twinkie deserves a special setting and I found it at Boswell Landing Campground in the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area.  I chose an unoccupied campsite and watched whitecaps form on blue-green Kentucky Lake while enjoying the delectable Twinkie.

"I need some candy over here—STAT!"

       From the Land Between the Lakes I continued on to my destination of Clarksville which led to my fourth and final best-ever find of the day—dinner at The Catfish House.
       The Catfish House however, with its heart attack inducing menu, should come with this warning:  “If you suspect your arteries of being even a teensy bit blocked, DO NOT EAT HERE!”  
       My dinner began with fried okra, instead of traditional rolls.  And it was good.  Then I ordered the fried catfish platter which came with fried hush puppies and two sides.  I chose white beans (not fried), and fried corn-on-the-cob.  Yes, you heard me.  Fried. Corn. On. The. Cob.  Here’s how it’s made:  An ear of corn is cooked, then rolled in egg and flour and deep-fried.  And guess what?  It was good.  Oh, and how was the fried catfish?  Tender, flaky, outstanding.
       After that, time for dessert.  I chose the homemade chocolate chiffon pie.  My slice of pie came to the table with a foot of meringue on top.  I kid you not.  And it was great. 
       I rolled out of The Catfish House, vowing not to eat anything for a week.  I broke that vow the very next day.    
       But as for this day?  It was the Best Ever!  

Warning:  Dining here could damage your arteries, and your waistline,
and your blood sugar levels, and...
(But the food?  Um, um good.)

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Roadside Pullout Ahead: Winter Wildlife Viewing in Yellowstone

          Yellowstone National Park has five entrances and 251 miles of roadways, but only one stretch of highway is plowed and open to vehicles from November until May—the 52 miles between the Montana towns of Gardiner and Cooke City.
          While traveling this road you may notice several vehicles parked in the plowed pull-out areas.  If you also see people outside in temperatures barely topping zero degrees, gazing through spotting scopes and long-lens cameras—pull over!  You're guaranteed to catch sight of amazing wildlife nearby.

Wildlife alert!  What did these people see?
Two wolves and a mountain lion on the far hillside.
We saw them too, through our spotting scope.
          Roadside pullouts are the places for photographing wildlife during the winter months in Yellowstone.  On a frigid January day Tim and I pulled into one of these parking spots near the Lamar River where we observed and photographed the following species.
          Click on any photo to enlarge.

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep.  Notice how well
he blends in with the rock and snow.

This coyote was on her way to feast on a dead animal carcass,
uphill to the left.

Cow Moose browsing willows on the river bank.

This pair of Barrow's Goldeneye ducks is enjoying
their swim in the Lamar River.

As we drove away from the pullout we noticed
a badger following in bison tracks near the road.

         And the reward for getting up early and braving the cold by dressing in layers of long underwear, fleece tops and pants, neck warmers, wool gloves and wind-stopper parkas?
         A stop at 'The Bistro' in Cooke City for steaming mugs of hot chocolate.

The Bistro, on left, serves bone-warming hot chocolate.

         View more photos of Yellowstone's winter wildlife by visiting this previous post: