Archive for the ‘Hiking’ Category

In January 2017 I planned a road trip up most of the coast of California, including Big Sur. We wanted to enjoy another “top-down” road trip up the coast again for our 5th anniversary. Five years ago we rented a Volvo convertible for a trip up the coast through Big Sur. I loved the plan I came up with, but long needed, but “too much all at once” rains made the plan impossible to follow. Highway 1 through Big Sur will be closed this summer due to a collapsed bridge and landslides. There is no telling when it will open again.

Since we can’t do the original plan, I’ve decided to do more than just adjust the route, I’m going to make changes to the goals. First we will still be visiting some of Big Sur, but only what we can get to by driving back south from the north. Second, we will not be going all the way to Crescent City (northern most point of California). We’ll still enjoy plenty of driving up the coast, but we’ll spend more time in a couple of places and only go just past San Francisco to wine country.

Like the original plan we will drive up to LA the evening before the road trip starts. So day one will be the drive from Los Angeles to the Santa Barbara wine country.

Day 1.

Driving Time:  2.5 Hours
Places to explore:
Beaches from Malibu to Point Magu State Park
Ventura
Santa Barbara
Solvang

Although the original plan had us staying near the southern entrance to Big Sur, I now don’t see a good reason to drive past Solvang. This will make the drive shorter and give us more time to explore the beaches of my wife’s childhood. I’m really looking forward to more stories that being there will bring to her mind. Also it will make going past Solvang unnecessary so we will be able to enjoy the wineries in that area without having to worry about driving on to Moro Bay. We will likely do lunch in Santa Barbara now, but still plan to get to Solvang early enough to check out some of the wineries like in the original plan. Some of the best rated (on Yelp) wineries/tasting rooms in the Solvang area are: Carivintas Winery (they donate profits to animal charity, so part of the rating may be animal lovers), Shoestring Winery, Bella Cavalli Farms & Vineyard, or Cali Love Wine.  There are lots of other choices, but these are the ones that jumped out at me when looking at the reviews for the original plan.

Day 2.

Driving Time:  4 Hours (Most of this drive will be away from the coast as Highway 1 is not open all the way to Big Sur River Inn)
Places to Explore:

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
Hurricane Point View
Bixby Creek Bridge
Rocky Creek Bridge
Point Sur State Historic Park

Changing the Day 2 plan is the biggest disappointment of the revised plan. I was really looking forward to this day of the original plan. Now instead of driving through Big Sur we will be driving up Highway 101, an inland route. We’ll definitely have to make up for this change on other parts of the trip. The day is not a waste though as we will still drive along the coast from Carmel to Big Sur River Inn. It will give us a chance to explore some of the areas that we originally planned for Day 3 on Day 2. We’ll get a second chance to explore these same areas on the drive back to Carmel on Day 3, but will not spend as much time exploring Big Sur as in the original plan.

Day 3 & 4.

Driving Time:1 hr
Places to Explore:

Second chance for the list from Day 2
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Berwick Park
Casanova Restaurant Carmel by the Sea

As part of the changes to the overall distance we are covering on this trip we will now be staying in the Pacific Grove for 2 nights and have one full day to revisit some of the places we enjoyed 5 years ago, and plenty of time to get to know the area even better. One of the options in the original plan was a bike ride along the Monterrey Bay Coastal Trail. That was pretty high on our list, but is now off the list as I injured my arm and will not be able to ride a bike this summer. We’ll have to save that for next time!

Day 5.

Driving Time:  3 Hours
Places to Explore:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Natural Beach State Park
Coast Dairies State Park
Shark Fin Cove
Pescadero State Beach
Half Moon Bay State Beach
San Francisco
Golden Gate Bridge
Sausalito
Muir Woods
Wineries near Santa Rosa and Sebastopol

(Day 5 is unchanged!)Leaving the Monterrey area it would be nice to drive along the coast as far as possible, stopping in Santa Cruz for breakfast, but if we sleep in we’ll probably take the fastest route past San Francisco to Muir Woods just north of San Francisco to explore. This has been on my list for a while, and I would love to be able to hike some (or all – it’s only about 6 miles) of the trails in Muir Woods. We had lunch in Half Moon Bay five years ago and really liked the vibe of the place. But then there are lots of cool places around here. Sausalito was another favorite on that trip and during our later visit to San Francisco when we bike across the Golden Gate Bridge. Either place would work for lunch before hiking in Muir Woods.

Then the second big change in our trip happens. Instead of a quick drive through visit to the Russian River wine country, we will be spending a couple of nights and one full day. The original plan was to stay in Sebastopol, but on the advise of our friend Eleanor, who has visited this are many times, we will be staying in Windsor.

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Day 6.

Driving Time:  0 Hours
Places to Explore:

Russian River Area Wineries (Lynmar Estate, Iron Horse, Gary Farrell Winery, Korbel Winery, and others)

Day 6 will be the last full day of our trip before the drive home. We plan to take a driving tour of several wineries. The details of that are not worked out, but we will not be driving ourselves. Our first choice is a private sedan tour of the area. Then we’ll end the day with a nice dinner near our hotel. After all the wine tasting, a good dark beer at a nearby Irish pub sounds great!

Day 7-8

Driving Time:  5-6 Hours to LA on Day 7, and another 2.5 hours home on Day 8

The next day the top would go up for a long drive on I-5 to Los Angeles. Then the next day we’ll head the rest of the to San Diego.

I did not like deleting the section of the trip above the Russian River area, but we wanted to drive less and enjoy a couple of areas for longer times. We will look to do another trip that takes us the rest of the way up the coast from San Francisco another time. Since there are lots of camping options up there, maybe we’ll take the Wrangler instead. Still a great vehicle for a drive along the coast.

panorama-on-the-garnet-trail-grand-tetons

We knew we would be hiking in Grand Teton National Park, but we had not chosen which trail to hike until the day before our hike. I had a list but was still doing research and we wanted to go with one that fit the way we felt when the time came. I’m not sure what source of info I was looking at, whether it was a National Park Service brochure, or some other guide, but the hike that jumped out at me was described as the easiest hike to an alpine meadow in the Grand Tetons. Easy sounded good and getting up high enough to feel like we were actually “in the Tetons” sounded great too. I do recommend Garnet Canyon Trail, but I would not in any way call it an easy trail. It is 8.4 miles out and back and over 2200 feet of climb. It is a very strenuous climb, and for much of the hike you will have panoramic view out over Grand Teton National Park, but you will have very little to look at “up the mountain”. But when you do finally get views “up the mountain”, they will take what little breath you have left away!

We got up fairly early to have breakfast, but we weren’t in a huge rush to get started. The temperature would be very reasonable even in the middle of the afternoon. We met up with Jenny’s cousin Charles to go with him on the hike. He had stayed nearby so we met at our hotel and then headed into downtown Jackson to get a light breakfast and a large coffee at Jackson Hole Coffee Roasters. The service and the coffee were very good.

The drive to the trail head was not bad from Jackson. We stopped at the visitor’s center briefly, then headed to the Lupine Meadows Trailhead. There is plenty of parking and it was fairly clear how to get to the trailhead from where we parked our car. We wasted no time in hitting the trail. The trail starts with a very misleading long flat stretch.

the-start-of-the-garnet-canyon-trail-is-misleadingly-flat

But eventually the trail turns toward the mountain and begins to climb.

trail-turns-uphill

The trail heads steadily straight up the mountain, gently at first and then getting steeper before starting long sweeping switchbacks. I may have under sold the lower parts of the trail in my intro. The trail climbs through the trees for much of the lower part of the trail.

charles-and-jenny-starting-the-climb

If you look up during the start of the hike you are likely to catch a glimpse of the Grand Teton peak through the trees.

view-of-the-grand-teton-near-the-bottom-of-the-trail

As you head up the trail further you won’t be able to see this peak, but you will be much closer to the Middle Teton and Nez Perce peaks. But before you get to that you’ll have lot’s of views out over the park, including some great views of Taggart and Bradley lakes at the base of this part of the mountain.

views-of-taggart-and-bradley-lakes-from-garnet-canyon-trail

After about a mile and a half Charles went ahead of us quite a ways. We were not in the best “hiking” shape we could be in and we were also struggling a bit with the altitude. We kept a nice steady pace, but it was sort of slow. When we got to the 3 mile mark there is a fork in the trail which is well-marked.

trail-junction-at-at-3-mile-mark-on-garnet-canyon-trail

Charles was waiting for us at the junction. The trail heads further up the mountain to some high mountain lakes. We talked to a couple of groups who were backpacking to this area to camp. We would be heading the other direction, more around the mountain than up it, to Garnet Canyon. Charles made a pitch to head back down instead, and decided he would head back either way. Although I was really feeling my lack of conditioning at that point, I was for continuing on. We decided to continue as we knew there would be some great view ahead of us.

After the junction the trail toward Garnet Canyon levels out quite a bit. The hike is easier, but we were pretty tired by this point. As we rounded the corner and headed onto the trail directly above Garnet Canyon excitement replaced fatigue. The Nez Perce peak came into view first.

nez-perce-peak-through-the-trees-on-the-garnet-canyon-trail

There was no one else around so we took a quick selfie with this peak behind us.

selfie-on-the-garnet-trail-grand-tetons-as-the-nez-perce-peak-comes-into-view

We were tired, but happy we had continued. The bear spray we had bought the previous day while checking out the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone River was hooked up and ready on my chest. Luckily we would not need it during this trip!

From this point the views would only get more spectacular. Just a little further up the trail we got a great view of both Nez Perce and Middle Teton peaks.

view-of-nez-perce-and-middle-teton-from-garnet-canyon-trail

Just a little further up the trail we ran into a group of hikers coming back down the trail. They let us know it was not much further to the end of the trail. They also took this picture of us.

eric-and-jenny-rial-on-garnet-canyon-trail

We decided to have a seat and enjoy some snacks around the next corner. There was a nice boulder to rest on…

snacks-and-a-break-near-the-end-of-the-garnet-canyon-trail

with a very sweet view! At this point the line of lava going up the face of the Middle Teton was very obvious.

nez-perce-and-middle-teton-peaks-from-garnet-canyon-trail

I explored a little further up the trail, but it was quickly turning in to just a jumble of rocks. Although we could have continued a little further it was time for us to head back. I got these final shots of a stream going down Garnet Canyon in the distance…

view-of-a-stream-descending-into-garnet-canyon-grand-tetons

and one last view up the canyon at the point I turned around.

view-of-our-turnaround-point-on-garnet-canyon-trail

The first part of the descent was beautiful all over again. I love when you get to see things from a different angle on the way back down a trail.

jenny-pausing-for-a-break-on-the-way-down-at-garnet-canyon-trail

In this shot, the lighting was perfect to see the pines reflecting on Bradley Lake from our angle on the trail above the lake.

pines-reflection-on-bradley-lake-grand-teton-national-park

As we got closer to the bottom though we started to feel it again. Sometimes going down can take it out of you too. I prefer going down hill, but for Jenny it is harder than going up. Hiking poles help, but a good smooth well maintained trail helps too.

heading-back-to-the-car-on-the-garnet-canyon-trail

We were glad to come to landmarks that let us know we were getting close to the end. We woke Charles up from his nap at the car and headed back to Jackson for a light dinner and a well deserved beer!

having-a-beer-above-the-jackson-town-square

I’m finishing this post up on December 31st 2016. During this trip I started to think of myself as “in the worst shape of my life”. I’ve done nothing in the nearly 5 months since this trip to change that. Over the last year I’ve only been in the gym intermittently, I’ve been unable to run, and I’ve not hiked enough to really make a difference either. It is a bit cliché, but I’m going to resolve to change my routine in the New Year. It may be a slow start as I have foot surgery near the end of January, but once I’m recovered from that I’m hoping to be able to get back to running. Before the surgery I plan to get a good start on getting out of the worst shape of my life! I have way too many things I want to do to be “out of shape” any longer.

Update Feb 13, 2017:  I got a good start on getting out of “the worst shape of my life” before my surgery.  It has been 3 weeks since my surgery and today was my first day in a regular shoe!  The foot is healing fast and already feels better in many ways than it did before the surgery.  So glad to have the irritating hardware out of my foot.  I’m hoping to get in to the gym by the end of this week (about a month post surgery) for some weight training and maybe a light elliptical workout.  I have an all-inclusive resort on white sand beach to prepare for!

We were lucky enough to be invited to the wedding of the son of close friends in Bozeman Montana at the beginning of August 2016.  Unfortunately for us we already had floor tickets to Adele in Los Angeles the day before the wedding.  These were tough tickets to get and even tougher tickets to sell or give away.  For better seats Adele had set a rule to reduce/prevent scalping that the person who ordered the tickets had to present a credit card to get into the venue.  There were no tickets to sell.  We wanted to go to the wedding so we checked for flights from the LA area the morning of the wedding.  There were very reasonably priced flights from John Wayne airport to Bozeman early Saturday morning, so we decided to go to the concert, stay in LA, and drive to the airport early that morning. We also decided to add-on a visit to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National park to the trip. It would be a fast 3 day visit, but we would pack a lot of stuff into those 3 days.

The Adele concert was awesome and our hotel was walking distance from Staples Center, but we still got to bed fairly late and had to get up at 4 am to catch our flight. We got into Bozeman early, but by the time we got our rental car we had just enough time to go to our hotel, check-in, change and head to the wedding. The wedding venue was awesome, but there were dark clouds approaching.

Wedding Venue Bozeman Montana

We had a great time at the wedding, but started to feel the long day way too soon. We hung in there, but eventually had to head back to the room and catch up on our sleep. The next day everyone else was heading out-of-town early, so we got up fairly early, had breakfast at a terrific French coffee shop, then heading toward Yellowstone. Originally we had planned to go in the north entry into Yellowstone as it is closest to Bozeman, but later decided to go in the west entrance and leave out of the north entrance on the final day.

So we headed down Highway 191 through the Big Sky area on our way to West Yellowstone. A friend recommended this route and now that we’ve gone both ways, I would definitely recommend this route. It is has very scenic landscape, and we saw both elk…

elk-grazing-in-big-sky-montana

and buffalo along the road. I believe the buffalo was a commercial herd, but still cool.

buffalo-along-highway-191-outside-yellowstone

We only stopped briefly in West Yellowstone, but it looked kind of interesting for a future visit. Our first destination in the park was Canyon Village. Both Jenny or I have been to Yellowstone before, but neither of us had visited the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. We did end up having one unscheduled stop along our route though, Gibbon Falls.

We planned to just stop for a minute to take a couple of pictures from the closest view-point…

gibbon-falls-from-the-lookout-area

but ended up walking on a path for about a half a mile…

trail-along-the-road-to-the-lower-overlook

to get a better view of the falls. The view actually changes quite a bit as you walk along the path to the lower viewpoint. At first there view opens up so you can see the walls on both sides of the falls.

the-view-of-gibbon-falls-along-the-walk-to-the-lower-overlook

Then it opens up even more and there are trees in the view also.

view-of-gibbon-falls-from-the-lower-overlook

We enjoyed the break from the car and the short walk, but then it was back on the road to the Canyon area of Yellowstone. The one advantage of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone over the Grand Canyon, is the much shorter drive from the North Rim to the South Rim.

map-of-the-grand-canyon-of-yellowstone-area

We were able to see the canyon and falls from most of the view points in just a few hours. We did three short hikes during this time. We started with a drive along North Rim Drive. I would actually recommend going to the South Rim first as the North Rim Drive is a one way that takes you back the way you came for several miles. It just makes more sense to do it last. The first stop on North Rim Drive is a trail to the Brink of the Lower Falls. The weather was threatening rain, but of course we had forgotten to pack ponchos. We decided a little water would not hurt and started down the trail. The trail is less than a half mile, but descends about 600 feet. There are switchbacks, but it is still pretty steep. If you look up on the way down, you get a pretty good view of the Upper Falls less than a mile up the Yellowstone River.

view-of-the-upper-falls-as-we-walked-down-to-the-brink-of-the-lower-falls

The rain was threatening and we could hear thunder in the distance so we knew our visit would be a fairly short one. The falls are impressive. We’ve been to Yosemite several times, and the waterfalls are impressive, but the lower falls at the Yellowstone River’s Grand Canyon are right there with any falls in Yosemite. That is especially true this late in the year. The waterfalls slow to a trickle in the late summer and fall in Yosemite. Our first view was from directly over the top of the falls.

view-of-the-lower-falls-from-the-brink-of-the-lower-falls

The view of the water, and the mist, and the green sides of the canyon set against the golden color of the rest of the canyon was spectacular. I can’t recommend visiting this place in strong enough terms, it is my favorite spot in Yellowstone.

I stretched the camera out a ways and got a slightly different angle/shot.

leaned-out-for-a-better-look-at-the-lower-falls-from-the-brink-of-the-lower-falls

This shows how sudden the drop is and how much water is flowing. Finally we went up one level to get a different perspective. This shows the area we had just left, right on the “brink of the falls”.

view-from-a-higher-vantage-point-of-the-brink-of-the-lower-falls-viewing-area

It started drizzling at that point. We were really wishing we had ponchos, but it was a bit late for that. The walk back up was a bit tougher, but it was cool and the threat of heavier rain kept us motivated. There is also a trail from here to the Brink of the Upper Falls, but with the weather we decided to drive further down the road. The next place we stopped on North Rim Drive was Lookout Point. There’s a full view of the Lower Falls from here.

view-of-the-lower-falls-from-lookout-point-at-the-grand-canyon-of-yellowstone

If you look closely in the picture from lookout point you can see a wooden trail heading down into the canyon below. Although the rain had started to fall, we decided to head down this trail to Red Rock anyway. The trail alternates between a steep and more gentle descent. It not only takes you down into the canyon, it takes you a lot closer to the falls. I enjoyed the trail…

along-the-trail-from-lookout-point-to-red-rock

but the view of the falls from Red Rock were even better than from lookout point.

view-of-the-lower-falls-of-yellowstone-river-from-red-rock-in-the-rain

There is something joyful about hiking unprepared in the rain. Sometime it’s hard to contain that feeling so you just have raise your arms to the sky!

jenny-raising-her-arms-to-the-rain-at-red-rock-with-the-lower-falls-of-yellowstone-river-in-the-distance

Jenny seemed to enjoy it so much… I didn’t want to get left out!

eric-rial-raising-his-arms-to-the-rain-at-red-rock-with-the-lower-falls-of-yellowstone-river-in-the-distance

We stayed to enjoy the view for several minutes. I managed to get a picture of this bird (Clarks Nutcracker I believe), resting for a minute in the top of a tree between us and the falls.

clarks-nutcracker-perched-on-a-treetop-in-front-of-the-lower-fall-of-the-yellowstone-river

We waited just long enough to catch the blue sky starting to peek out at the top of the falls. Love the coloring of this picture!

blue-sky-appearing-behind-the-falls

On the way back up I took this picture of the wooden stairs that form the path for much of the bottom of this trail. You can see the rim of the canyon above us.

view-of-the-stairs-as-we-climb-back-to-the-rim-of-the-canyon

I got a couple more pictures near the top of the trail. One back toward the Lower Falls…

one-last-picture-of-the-lower-falls-from-near-the-top-of-the-trail-from-lookout-point-to-red-rock

and the other away from the falls and into the canyon.

view-of-the-canyon-away-from-the-lower-falls-from-near-the-top-of-the-trail-between-red-rock-and-lookout-point

We were soaked to the bone by the time we got to the top. We did take some pictures (evidence), but the smiles could not hide the cold, wet, and a bit worn-out from the climb look. No need to share that look!

We decided to go the Canyon Lodge area for some supplies (bear spray and some ponchos) and to get a bite to eat. Then we headed to the North Rim. Even though the route we took was not the most efficient route, everything is pretty close together here, so we didn’t lose much time, just enough to dry most of the way out!

Our first stop on the North Rim was at Uncle Tom’s point. There is a trail here that leads to a metal staircase that takes you right beside the Lower Falls. The pictures from here were unbelievable. If you are in reasonable shape, definitely go down this trail! The trail is in good shape, but the fun part of the trip is the stairs and the views of the falls.

The first view you get of the falls are some of the best. You are close enough to see the size of the crowd on the Brink of the Lower Falls.

initial-view-of-the-lower-falls-from-uncle-toms-trail

That is near the top of the stairs. There are lots of stairs – 328 per the sign.

some-of-the-stairs-on-uncle-toms-trail

The stairs are impressive mostly because of the spectacular view from them.

the-lower-stairs-and-canyon-on-uncle-toms-trail

You get great views of the canyon down river…

rainbow-over-the-yellowstone-river

of the walls straight across the canyon…

view-of-the-canyon-from-uncle-toms-trail

and of course of the falls.

jenny-and-eric-at-toms-point-grand-canyon-of-yellowstone

Then you get to climb back out! At the top, we debated whether to go on to Artist Point or to hit the road to Jackson Hole, where we would be spending the night. It’s about a 2 and a half hour drive. I’m glad we decided on a quick visit to Artist Point.

From the parking lot at Artist Point it is a short walk to the end of the trail. The difference in the view you get as you walk is dramatic though. At first you catch glimpses of the falls through the trees.

view-of-the-lower-falls-of-yellowstone-river-from-artist-point-trail

The trail takes advantage of a curve in the river so as you walk down the trail the canyon seems to open up and fill your view. At first the trees still dominate the view.

another-view-of-yellowstone-canyon-from-artist-point

But eventually as you approach the end of the trail you can see the full canyon and a long stretch of the river.

canyon-views-open-up-as-you-approach-the-end-of-the-artist-point-trail

From the farthest point you can walk to, the view of the canyon dominates the landscape.

full-view-of-grand-canyon-of-yellowstone-river-and-lower-falls-from-artist-point

I could spend a whole day at this location just taking pictures with different lighting. It is obvious how this place got its name.

We had seen a lot, but not all of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, but it was time to head south. Our route would take us through a big chunk of Yellowstone, past Yellowstone Lake and through Grand Teton National Park. We were hoping there was enough daylight left to enjoy the drive. About a half hour into the drive we noticed a lot of cars stopped in the road. As we approached the area we could see why. There were several buffalo grazing near the road.

traffic-stopped-for-some-buffalo-near-the-road

The traffic was just crawling past this spot and we were at a complete stop several times. We saw the “classic” behavior that can lead to big issues around such big animals. Too many people, too much activity, and people getting way too close. One young lady got to within 30 feet or so to take a selfie. She turned her back on the buffalo smiled big and took her picture. I was afraid to watch!

We took a picture (not great, but good enough for me) from the car as the traffic crawled along.

yellowstone-buffalo-picture-from-our-car-window

We zipped past Yellowstone Lake. We would be back here in a couple days, and we were anxious to get to Grand Teton Park. We got there in time to get some great views of the Tetons. Although we had zipped by Yellowstone Lake, we could not help stopping for pictures of the Tetons across the lakes we were passing in Grand Teton Park.

clouds-floating-above-the-silhouette-of-the-distant-grand-tetons

A few minute later we stopped again with a slightly better view of the mountains.

grand-tetons-visible-in-the-distance-across-a-lake

At this point we were worried about getting to Jackson in time to get a good dinner. We would be back to spend the whole day in Grand Teton Park the next day, so I told Jenny we should not stop any more. Of course a few minutes later I looked over at the mountains, exclaimed “Whoa Nelly” and pulled over again. The full view of the mountains as the sun was setting was too good to pass up. I took a landscape view picture with my phone…

grand-tetons-just-after-sunset

and then this panoramic shot.

panorama-of-grand-tetons-after-sunset

Our reservations in Jackson were at the Cowboy Village Log Cabin Resort. We checked in quickly and got our stuff into our cabin, then walked a couple blocks to have dinner at Snake River Brewing. The service, food, beers, and atmosphere were a perfectly relaxing end to a full day.

We would be having breakfast with a friend, Charles, in the morning, enjoying Jackson Hole for a bit and then going for a hike in the Tetons. We had chosen what was described as the “easiest alpine meadow hike in the Tetons”. But more on that in the next post.

Distance 8.2 Miles out and back
Elevation Change 1762′ gain/loss
Difficulty Moderately Strenuous
Rating (on the day we went) 4.5+ Stars (out of 5) – Had the day been clearer this could have easily been a 5 star hike.
Trail Conditions and Route From the parking lot on CA 79, walk west on the unpaved fire road, Milk Ranch Road for 1.7 miles. Turn left (south) on the unpaved road Azalea Fire Road and follow it for .2 miles to Conejos Trail on the right. Conejos Trail is a clear trail with varying conditions. About half of the trail is relatively smooth, but the other half is small to large loose rocks. Turn right on the fairly steep paved Lookout Road to finish the climb to the top of Cuyamaca peak.
Comments Although the area surrounding Cuyamaca peak was hit hard by the 2003 Cedar fire, this route is a great way to see nature as it recovers from fire. There are fewer “tree skeletons” than on the route up the paved Lookout Road, and most of the route shows strong signs of recovery.
Latitude/Longitude 32.976615, -116.581393
Directions Take Interstate 8 East to CA 79 North, follow CA 79 North for 13.5 miles to the junction of Milk Ranch Fire Road. You’ll see a parking area on the north side of the road. This area also is the trail head for Middle Peak, and for trails toward Cuyamaca Lake. After parking carefully cross CA 79 and head straight west along Milk Ranch road. There will be a road that branches off to the left for horse trailers, stay right.

Cuyamaca Peak is the second highest peak in San Diego county, but only by less than 30 feet. Also the hike to the summit of the highest peak, Hot Springs Mountain is 500 feet less climb than Cuayama Peak’s 1700 feet plus climb. The one disappointment I had while planning this hike was that the route described in the book Afoot and Afield in San Diego is up a completely paved route. So I decided to look at other options. I decided to try the route that included Conejos Trail. Although the climb is slightly more and the distance about 2.6 miles more, I was glad to not be pounding the pavement up and especially down the hill! In order to get to Conejos Trail we started at the same parking area as for the Middle Peak trail head as described in the book Afoot and Afield in San Diego. For this route we followed Milk Ranch Road, instead of taking Minshall Trail north. We also continue past Middle Peak Fire road at .2 miles our destination was to the south, not the north.

I had been expecting to see a lot of dead trees on this hike as we had on our hike up nearby Stonewall Peak earlier this year. There were dead and burnt trees along the route…

Large burnt tree trunk along Milk Ranch Road with Stonewall Peak in the distance

but there were also areas of mature trees as well as areas that were starting to recover. Milk Ranch Road actually passed through a few areas with the shade of large groves of mature trees.

Milk Ranch Road passing through a grove of mature trees

The healthiest of these trees were the Arizona Ash trees. Here is a closeup of the leaves on this tree. Not sure if these trees just mature quickly or if they were unaffected by the fires.

Closeup on the leaves of a mature Arizona Ash along Milk Ranch Road

Although this area used to be known for old growth sugar pines, I only saw one mature, but very scorched looking sugar pine along Milk Ranch Road.

One lone mature Sugar Pine along Milk Ranch Road

I really wish I had been here before the Cedar Fire.

There were also plenty of blooms along the road, the most spectacular were the clumps of Purple Lupine.

Purple Lupines along Milk Ranch Road

We’ve had a pretty wet spring, but I was surprised to see actual mud puddles in the road by the middle of May. I doubt these will be around much longer.

Mud puddles in mid May along Milk Ranch Road

At 1.7 miles in there is a low wooden rail on the left side of the road with a dual track road, Azalea Fire Road, beyond the rail. This intersection is well-marked with sign posts. Turn south to follow Azalea Fire Road for just .2 miles to the start of Conejos Trail. As the fire road approaches an area of fire devastation….

Fire devastated are ahead on Azalea Fire Road

take note of the trail that branches off to the right. This is the beginning of the Conejos Trail. This trail is also well-marked with a sign post, although the post is off the road quite a ways.

Beginning of Conejos Trail off Azalea Fire Road

This area of “tree skeletons” was what I had been expecting for the entire hike. When you look at Cuyamaca Peak from the road or other peaks in the area, it looks like this stuff covers the whole mountain. I really had thought that this hike would be kind of depressing because of this. However, Conejos Trail skirts around this area and/or, they have cleared a lot of dead trees in the area Conejos Trail goes through. What we expected and what we hiked through were not at all the same. It was a very pleasant surprise. We loved the area Conejos Trail passed through. Although the beginning of the trail is surrounded by dead trees and the faintness of the trail through the grass makes you question how established the trail really is…

Faint trail passing through area of fire devastation at the beginning of Conejos Trail

The trail soon becomes more established and the signs of recovery overwhelm the few dead trees left standing.

Lone tree skeleton in area of recovery along Conejos Trail

However, there are plenty of reminders of the mature forest that used to cover this slope.

Conejos Trail passes through remanants of a large dead tree

There are areas with smooth trail and high bushes…

Large bushes surround the smooth surface of Conejos Trail

and areas that are steeper and rockier…

Rocky part of Conejos Trail begins

and areas with less growth which have better views especially as you get further up the mountain.

The views from Conejos Trail improve as you climb

There is a ton of new growth pine trees along the trail. It is encouraging to see such strong signs of recovery especially after a few years of drought.

Unexpected fern along Conejos Trail to Cuyamaca Peak May 2016

One thing I didn’t expect to see along the trail in mid-May was ferns. One area along the trail had several very healthy looking ferns.

Unexpected fern along Conejos Trail to Cuyamaca Peak May 2016

As you approach the top of the Conejos Trail you can see a fairly large grove of mature pines that are near the summit of Cuyamaca Peak.

View of mature pine trees ahead near the summit of Cuyamaca Peak

By this point we were pretty hungry, so we were glad to be getting to the top. We wanted to eat lunch at the summit to enjoy the views. Our normal day hike lunch is a very easy and convenient sub from Subway. It makes getting out the door so much easier than preparing sandwiches for the hike. It always hits the spot.

Before getting to the mature grove of trees we passed through one more reminder of the devastation of the 2003 Cedar fire.

Crossing an area of fire devastation on Conejos Trail before Cuyamaca Peak

Then a brief stroll through the tall pines to the junction with Lookout Road.

Mature pines ahead

At the intersection we looked down the road a little, the pine forest in that direction looked very healthy. Only hunger kept us from walking back down the road a ways to enjoy this area.

Looking down Lookout Road from junction with Conejos trail

We headed up the road, but a trail about 75 meters up the road caught our attention and spurred enough curiosity to push the hunger back down briefly. We walked out along the slightly descending trail and discovered a bench overlooking an amazing view to the west. Bench with a view below the summit of Cuyamaca Peak

El Cajon Mountain (or El Capitan Open Space Preserve) in the middle of the view seemed much smaller and less significant that it does as you drive by it on the 8 freeway. Having hiked it a couple years ago, I know that it only looked small from here. It is a very challenging day hike and fun, if you like going up, then back down, then up further, then back down, then up even higher. Although it is only around 1900 feet above the trail head to the peak the hike has 4000 feet of gain/loss during the 14 mile out and back hike. We did this hike as one of our last hikes while training for our 2014 Grand Canyon rim to rim hike.

We briefly considered eating lunch here, but wanted to give the summit a look before lunch, so we headed up the rest of Lookout Road.

Heading back down from Cuyamaca Peak

Although there were some surviving mature pines along this stretch of Lookout Road they were out numbered by the dead hulks of large trees. We did come across one more lone surviving Sugar Pine.

Lone Sugar Pine near the top of Cuyamaca Peak

Although we did enjoy the views at the top of Cuyamaca Peak…

View toward the North east from Cuyamaca Peak

and checked out at least one potential lunch spot…

Potential lunch spot on Cuyamaca Peak

the hum from the ventilation system on the nearby buildings…

One of two areas with structures and antenna on Cuyamaca Peak

and an unbelievable number of pesky flying insects (never good at lunch time) made heading back down Lookout Road a half mile through the trees…

Heading back down from Cuyamaca Peak

and past the California Lilac…

California Lilac near the top of Lookout Road on Cuyamaca Peak

to the peaceful bench with a view seem like the best idea for lunch. During lunch I scanned the landscape to west below us to see if I could see any other familiar spots.

View of the vally to the west below Cuyamaca Peak

I thought I might be seeing an area near one of my favorite trails, Three Sisters Falls. I was pretty sure the road down there was Boulder Creek Road that we took to the trail head. However looking at the map and a little scrolling around on Google Earth and I could tell that I was seeing Boulder Creek Road, but that 3 Sisters Falls and the trail head were not visible, they were behind some of the mountains below us.

After lunch we headed back down the way we came. Parts of the trail seemed steeper and rockier than on the way up. If you go this way you may want hiking poles and you’ll want to take your time going down. I let Sean go first and we definitely did not go down slow. I think he may be part mountain goat! I managed to keep up with him, but my right knee paid a bit of a price. I’m hoping it will heal up quickly so we can get back out there soon! I think I’ll be bringing hiking poles next time. Near the bottom of the trail we saw a couple of wild turkeys in the small grassy area just off the road. They were huge! I got my camera out, but they were headed away from us pretty quickly I only managed to get one good picture of a single turkey crouching at the far side of the meadow. We looked around a little and saw a total of 3 turkeys, but they were elusive… moving away as quickly as we walked toward them.

Wild turkey crouching near the edge of a meadow near Milk Ranch Road

Although I have not hiked up the route in the book Afoot and Afield in San Diego, which is the wholly paved route up Lookup Road, I think this route is a good alternative if you dislike hiking on steep paved roads. If we decide to try hiking to Cuyamaca Peak on a clearer day in the future, I might also try some of the other trails that start further south, or we could decide to just head straight up the paved Lookout Road to try it out.

Rain forest blurs by on the Road to HanaOn Day 3 in Maui we got up early to hit the Road to Hana!  This is a tourist must do, so if you’re a tourist… you do it.  It is a road in fairly poor condition.  That is probably because all those tourist keep driving on it and wearing it out!  But it is far from a tourist trap, it is well worth the drive.  It takes you through and to some of the most beautiful parts of Maui… if you’re one of those people who like tropical paradise anyway.

We got up early to head to the other side of the island.  The goal was to get to Paia and the start of the road to Hana before the traffic got too heavy.  We planned to drive fairly straight through to the end so we would have time to hike the Pipiwai Trail.  Then we would stop on the way back if there was anything else we were interested in.  The traffic was not too bad as we headed from Lahaina to Kahului.  There were some low clouds on the mountains, but it was a pretty clear morning otherwise.  We decided we would want to stop at Paia on the way back, it looked like a nice small village with several interesting shops.  We kept driving steadily until we got to the halfway point.  We didn’t stop along the way but we definitely enjoyed the drive!

Nice view from a very wet Road to Hana

There is a sign at the halfway point along the road that is also “conveniently” right beside a roadside stand that sells snacks and different varieties of banana bread.

Near a fruit stand halfway to Hana

 

We got snacks, drinks, and Wendy got some very tasty banana pineapple bread.  We wanted a little longer break from the car so we decided to sit on some picnic tables near the stand.  I got there first and noticed a small beautifully colored bird on a small wall beside the picnic tables.  I managed to get one good picture before he flew away.

Red Crested Cardinal as we took a break halfway to Hana

Then it was back on the road!

Zipping along the Road to Hana

I took a few quick pictures of falls on the way by, like this drive by shot of the three bears falls, but we did not stop again until we were past Hana.

Drive by view of the 3 bears falls on the Road to Hana

The temperature and humidity were big factors in our day again.  It was well over 80 degrees and very humid by the time we started our hike along the Pipiwai Trail.  We took a wrong turn at the beginning… I’ll take credit for that… and ended up on the 7 pools trail.  I realized we were headed toward the water instead of inland after less than a quarter-mile, so we turned around quickly, but it had been all down hill to this point, so it was all uphill on the way back.  By the time we got to the start of the trail we were already very hot and sweaty!

Heading up the start of the Pipiwai trail

The trail continued uphill through the Oheo Gulch.  The first sign I noticed was quite a serious warning.

Warning sign on Pipiwai trail near Falls of Makahiku viewpoint

As I looked up the trail past this sign I saw that my friend Dave had obviously ignored the warning as he was standing right on the muddy edge of the cliff.

Dave looking out at a water fall on Pipiwai Trail Maui

My first thought was, “What could possibly be worth standing there?”.  As I walked up to see what he was looking at I realized it was indeed worth looking at, although I stayed a little further back and still got a great view of the falls of Makahiku.  Although it is hard to put this picture in perspective, the falls are about 180 feet high!

Falls of Makahiku

Next we came to a quite impressive Banyan Tree.  Unfortunately my camera had began to act up.  Between the humidity and sweat it began to have issues focusing and was taking mostly terrible pictures.   I did get one more decent picture that I snapped quickly as we walked by of a double falls below the trail.

Small double falls beside the Pipiwai Trail in Maui

After that picture I ended up taking better pictures the rest of the hike with my Samsung phone.  One of my favorite places of all time came next, it was a huge bamboo forest.  The trail cut through it up the hill, but you could see very little beyond a few feet off the trail.  I really didn’t get as many good pictures as I wish I had, but I’ll share a few.  This one was near the start of the trail.

Jenny and Wendy near the start of the Bamboo Forest on the Pipiwai Trail

I took a ton of pictures on this part of the trail.  The lighting was amazing, but I never quite got the picture I was shooting for, this was one of the trail…

Photo stop in the Bamboo Forest on the Pipiwai trail

and this one looking up, where the best I could get.

Bamboo Forest Pipiwai Trail Road to Hana Maui

This last one was actually on the way back later but I like it because we are all in it and it also shows the wooden pallets that were on parts of the trail.  There were also a couple of bridges.  You can tell we were on the way back because Jenny and I were soaked to the bone.  We were sweating, but not that much… we had decided to take our chances and go under the water fall at the end of the trail.

All of us in the Bamboo

 

After the bamboo forest, the trail continues though a very lush jungle.  It was actually a few degrees cooler in the bamboo than on the rest of the trail.  We missed the coolness as we finished up this last part of the hike up to Waimoku Falls.  We stopped just before the falls to have lunch on some rocks in a small stream.

Having lunch on the rocks in the stream near Waimoku Falls

There was an easy trail to a place to view the falls, but while Dave cooled off in a pool below the rocks, and Jenny and Wendy got the lunch together I decided to explore downstream.  The stream came to a merge point with another stream coming from the direction of the falls, so I decided to head that way.  After a little boulder jumping I got to a place where I could see the falls through the trees.

Sneak peak of Waimoku falls

I was ready for lunch, but my curiosity got the better of me so decided to continue on to get a better view from this angle.  It was a very nice view and worth the effort.  I headed back the same way I had come after admiring the 430+ foot falls for a bit.  It was time to have a sandwich and relax a bit.

Waimoku Falls

After lunch we all headed to the regular trail to the falls.  The trail stopped well back from the falls with a lot of warning signs to stay out of the area below the fall.  I imagine when there is heavy rains this area could fill with water very quickly.  We decided to go “a little” closer.  The path to the falls crosses the stream early then you walk along a very rocky path.  From this angle the view of the fall is not bad either!

Waimoku Falls as we approach on the trail beyond the warning signs

 

I tried using my phone’s panorama mode to get a picture of Dave and Wendy near the base of the falls.  It turned out OK… they were a bit blurry, the falls are a bit distorted, and the whole picture is a bit over exposed, but I still love this picture.  Waimoku Falls is very impressive from this angle.

Dave and Wendy under Waimoku Falls

Jenny and I decided to take a little more of a risk and go in the pool below the falls.  Rocks and branches can come over the falls easily with the water, so I don’t recommend this to anyone.  We definitely cooled off though. Initially we both went under the falls.

Taking a shower under Waimoku Falls

I could not tell if Dave got the picture so I came out to ask. There was definitely no way to hear under the falls.

I came back out to ask if Dave had gotten the picture

Just to be sure I went back under one more time.

Enjoying a shower under Waimoku Falls at the end of the Pipwai trail

We enjoyed the hike back out nearly as much as the hike in, but everyone was glad to get back to the air-conditioned car by the time we finished.  Although we had planned to do more stops on the way back, very few places were open, and we were ready to get back to civilization.  I did get a couple of nice pictures on the way back though.  We all decided if we moved to Hawaii we wanted this to be our front yard!

Beautiful trees and yard along the Road to Hana

 

I also liked this view of this small village just off the Road to Hana.

View of a village by the sea on the Road to Hana

 

We decided to stop in Paia for dinner.  We had heard great things about Mama’s Fish House, but we were definitely not dressed for it.  We decided to go much more casual and eat at the Flatbread Company.  It was a bit warm in the restaurant, but heck it was warm everywhere, but the pizza and cold beer were great.

When we got back to Lahina, we were ready to just shower, hang at the condo, relax, and visit.  We decided to get back to the beach the next day.  Our third day in Maui had been terrific, but it was also quite a workout.  We were ready to do a little more relaxing and there’s no better place to do that than in Hawaii!  I’ll continue in another post soon.  Hopefully I’ll finish this before we go back!  (Dave and Wendy were actually back in Kauai just a couple of weeks ago on a trip Dave won at work… very jealous.)

To see all our Tropical Vacation Posts go to our Tropical Vacation Posts page.

We went into 2015 with the intent to have fewer planned vacations.  I started a new job with fewer vacation days to start.  I would have no vacation days early in the year, so we decided to plan a trip to Hawaii later in the year so I could save up a few days.  We decided to go the week of Columbus day to save even more of my vacation time (I only needed 3 days of vacation time).  Our last trip to Hawaii was to Kauai in 2011 and we had a great time.  For that trip we stayed in two different locations and both of them were right on the water.  We wanted to do things a little differently this time.  We decided to look for a condo near Front Street in Lahaina so we could walk to the shops and restaurants in that area.  We would drive to the beaches but be able to relax and enjoy ourselves in Lahaina without worrying about having to drive home.  We found a condo 2 blocks from Front Street.  The condo was in the Aina Nalu a condo property partially managed by Outrigger and partially privately owned condos. It has lots of amenities but the true appeal is the location. We ended up getting one of the privately owned condos in this property that was listed on Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO).  It was a 2 bedroom, 2 bath condo which was perfect for us and the other couple Dave and Wendy who would be going with us.  We’ve had several terrific vacations with them over the past several years.  Although they live in Boise Idaho and we live in San Diego we actually got together 4 times in 2015; once for this trip, once for my daughters wedding in California, once for his daughters wedding in Idaho, and again for New Years eve and a trip to the Rose Bowl on New Years day.

We had a great time in Maui, but there was one unexpected thing that made Hawaii a little less of a paradise on this trip.  Due to the El Niño in the Pacific the temperatures and humidity were much higher than usual.  Most days were in the 80s with humidity in the 90 percent range.  This is not normal, and not what we expected for October in Hawaii.  Even though we only had a 2 block walk to Front Street in Lahaina, by the time we got there we would be dripping sweat.  I’m pretty sure this is the last time I’ll go to Hawaii during an El Niño year.  Our first day/night in Maui we just took it easy.  On the way from the airport we got some groceries to stock up the frig.  After we checked in to the condo, we walked down to Front Street to get lunch.  We decided on a burger place right on the water called… Cheeseburger in Paradise.  The food was delicious, the service good, and the view from our table was amazing.  We checked out some of the shops along front street which are mostly souvenir shops and art galleries and we spent quite a bit of time under the Banyan Tree at a regular art festival. Got a picture of Dave and Wendy under one of the trunks of the tree.

Dave and Wendy under the Banyan Tree Lahaina

After the long flight and the unusual heat we decided to head back to the condo to clean up, catch-up and take it easy. Jenny and I took a nap for a few hours, then we decided to take another walk downtown after dark.  We walked under the Lahaina Court House banyan tree again.  It is an amazing tree, really hard to believe it is only one tree.

Lahaina Banyan Court night view

Then we walked out toward the pier and I got this image of Front Street lit up from the park behind the Lahaina Public Library.

View of Lahaina Front Street at night

As we walked back toward Front Street I noticed a place that was advertising an old favorite snack – Dole Whip (frozen pineapple juice).  I convinced everyone it was worth the calories!  After wondering around Front Street again for a bit, we gave in to the jet lag, and headed back to the condo to get a good night’s sleep.

Dave and Wendy had arrived a couple days earlier than us to do some exploring.  They found a beach they really loved, Kapalua Beach, so on day 2 we decided to check it out.  We stopped at a snorkeling/boogie board rental place on our way out of Lahaina.  The person working there was a wealth of knowledge and gave us some great tips for how to best do things we planned later in the week, like the road to Hana and a bike ride down from Haleakala after seeing the sunrise over the crater.  Her advice really helped us enjoy the rest of the week, and we got good prices on the equipment rentals and the bike ride reservations.

There were areas of rain just about every day we were in Maui, but luckily there also were areas on the island where it was not raining.  On the way to Kapalua Beach we saw some rain clouds, which were a bit concerning, but it was not raining near the beach.  There is a small public parking lot near Kapalua Beach which provides great access to the beach, but you have to get there pretty early to get a spot.  There were no spots available when we got there, but there was still plenty of parking along  Lower Honoapiilani Road.  Even that fills in fairly quickly so the earlier you get there the closer you will be to the beach.  We were only about a quarter mile down the road, so not too bad.

There are public bathrooms on the way down to the beach, and then you go through a short tunnel and on to the beach.  There were quite a few people there already, but still plenty of room to set up our chairs and beach towels (provided by the condo rental) in a nice shady area.  The beach is in a beautiful cove but it is just a short walk to nearby resorts and restaurants.

View of Merrimans Maui from Kapalua Beach

View of resort near Kapalua Beach Maui

Even in the shade it wasn’t long before we were hot and ready to get in the water. My friend Dave was happy to lead the way by putting his mask and fins on in his chair and then walking down to the water. There are few things in life that are funnier than someone walking on the beach in fins. We all had a great laugh. Luckily I caught the whole thing on a video! I decided to share a screen capture of the video rather than the video. Definitely evokes memories of Charlie Chaplain’s walk as the Tramp!

Dave walking into the water at Kapalua Beach with his fins on

Although we enjoyed the beach and swimming, we wanted to try a different snorkeling spot. We were hoping to see more coral, fish, and maybe some turtles. We had heard that Black Rock was a good place to snorkel so decided to head there. Not really knowing the area or the best way to approach the snorkeling area we decided to park at what we thought was a good public parking/access area at Kahekili Beach Park. That would mean hauling our stuff about .7 miles from the parking lot to an area near the Black Rock area. We had stopped at the Honolua Store on the way back to the highway from Kapalua Beach to get some sandwiches and drinks for lunch, so we were set until dinner. The walk on the path and beach took a little more effort than we expected and it was definitely starting to warm up.

Walking from Kahekili Beach Park toward Black Rock

We set up our stuff under a large tree to enjoy the shade again. After swimming for a bit, Dave and I decided to walk over to black rock area to see what snorkeling in that area was like. We headed out along the large black rocks. There was no coral and not really anything of interest. We decided to go out past the end of the rock and go around the corner to see what was out there. We passed an opening in the rocks and continued on for about another 50 yards. The water was getting deeper and deeper to our right and there was really nothing to see. I started to hear the Jaws theme music in my head, and kept looking into the murky deep water to our right expecting to see a shark coming our way at any point. After a brief discussion we decided there was nothing to see this way and decided to head back. On the way out we had not noticed we were being pushed along by a current. We definitely felt the current as we fought it back to the corner as we headed back. Progress was slow, but steady. As we approached the opening in the rocks, Dave decided to climb up on the rock and take a break. We were both a bit tired after fighting the current. As he was getting out he smacked his knee on the rock and after we both rested for a bit he decided to walk back to the beach over the rocks rather than get back into the water. Now it was time for me to look a bit silly. I have very tender feet. It’s actually a bit embarrassing. I was walking so funny it concerned Jenny and Wendy so they came over to see if we had gotten hurt. We were fine, but my pride was a bit bruised. Luckily no one got a video of my walk of shame!

We hung under the shade tree for a little while longer. It looked like a rubber tree or a magnolia based on the leaves, but as I sat there I noticed a bird fly in and land on a branch. The branch had what looked like nuts on it. Just as I mentioned this to Jenny a nut fell off the tree and landed on her. To avoid getting pelleted by more nuts, we decided to pack it up and to head further northwest toward Nakalele Point and the blowhole. We stopped first at an overlook just past the Honolua Bay, a great snorkeling area that we planned to check out later in the week. We drove out on a dirt road to a parking area not far from the main road. This area not only has great views of Honolua Bay…

Honolua Bay

there is also terrific views of a surfing area near Lipoa Point.

Surfers near Lipoa Point Maui

It was a beautiful place. We decided to come back later in the week to snorkel at Honolua Bay then come up to this overlook afterward to have some wine and cheese and enjoy the view.

The Nakalele Point blowhole was next. As we walked down the path we came upon this very welcoming sign.

Warning sign at Nakalele Point blowhole

It may seem a little over dramatic, but there have been people who have died at this place. Jenny and Wendy were in flip flops and decided to not go all the way down. They could see the blowhole, but Dave and I decided to go a little closer. This area is basically an outcropping of old lava. It is surreal rough terrain, but I think it was well worth the climb down.

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But the best view was not of the blowhole it was back toward the coastline from Nakalele Point.

View back toward the coast from Nakalele Point

Jenny and I braved facing into the sun for one more picture before we headed back toward Lahaina.

Eric and Jenny near Nakalele Point Maui

When we got back to Lahaina, it was very close to sunset. We wanted to see it while we ate, so rather than going back to condo to clean up change we just looked for parking on Front Street. The parking gods must have been on our side because we came on a parking spot only a couple blocks from the restaurant we had decided to eat at – Bubba Gumps.

We definitely had a great view from our table of the sun setting behind the island of Lanai.

Another view from our table at Bubba Gumps Lahaina Maui

View from our table at Bubba Gumps Lahaina Maui

As we ate dinner we decided to do the Road to Hana the next morning.  We planned to hike the Pipiwai Trail to Waimoku Falls at the end of the Road to Hana.  The very helpful lady at the equipment rental business had recommended that if we wanted to do this hike we should leave early and drive all the way to the end of the Road to Hana without stopping, then do any stops we wanted to do on the way back.  So that was our plan at the end of our first full day in Maui.  We were tired, satisfied that we had “stuffed” enough fun into this day, so after dinner we headed home to get some sleep so we could get up early for the Road to Hana!

To see all our Tropical Vacation Posts go to our Tropical Vacation Posts page.

Hairpin curve in slot canyon off Canyon Sin Nombre

Distance 5+ Miles out and back
Elevation Change 550+’ gain/loss
Difficulty Moderately Strenuous
Rating (on the day we went) 5+ Stars (out of 5)
Trail Conditions Smooth sandy road in excellent condition, slot canyons require some scrambling
Comments I did some research on this trail before our hike but didn’t find any reliable details on how to find the slot canyons.  We ended up doing a lot of exploring in the wrong areas and were almost satisfied when we found the first (smaller) slot canyon, but I’m glad we decided to go around one more bend in the road.
Latitude/Longitude 32.833277, -116.156338
Directions Take Interstate 8 East to County Route S2.  Take S2 north for 13.1 miles to a dirt road on the right.  It is past mile marker 53 and the Carizzo Badlands Overlook.  This is Sin Nombre Canyon Road.  You can park in a dirt lot just off S2 at this turn off, or if you have a higher clearance vehicle you can drive about a mile down the dirt road to the east to the beginning of Canyon Sin Nombre Canyon.

 

I’m slowly working my way through all the hikes in the book Afoot and Afield in San Diego. I’m not creating posts for all my hikes as the book has everything you need for most of the hikes. I’ve started a page (see Afoot and Afield Hikes on the menu at the top of the page) to track my progress, rate the trails, and post a picture for each hike I do. However, if a hike has changed or if I think there is something I can add or make more clear I am creating a post. For Canyon Sin Nombre, I think the description of the slot canyon is not completely clear in the book.  The biggest thing missing is that there are actually two very nice slot canyons not one.  In looking at other posts about this hike I believe some people have only found the smaller of the two slot canyons, and I don’t see any posts that describe both.

As you turn off County Road S2 onto the unmarked Sin Nombre Canyon Road you will see a sign stating that the road is only for street legal vehicles.   Based on the number of vehicle tracks along the road this is a fairly popular route for off road vehicles.  We drove about a mile down the dirt road to just before the beginning of the canyon.  There was plenty of room to park off the road at this point.  You’ll see the rocky beginning of the canyon as you approach this pull out area.

Rocky entrance to Canyon Sin Nombre

We started the hike in the late morning around 11 am.  It was a cool breezy winter day with a clear blue sky.  At the beginning of the hike we were wishing we had brought jackets, but we were fine after we started walking.  Because I was unsure exactly where the slot canyons were we ended up taking a couple of exploratory trips off the main road that did not find the slot canyons, but they were interesting side trips.  Both were up erosion gullies on the east side of the canyon.  Not sure why I thought to look on this side as the slot canyons we ended up finding were both on the west side of the main canyon.  But the side trips took us through some interesting areas and gave us some great views.

Exploring off Canyon Sin Nombre

We finally gave up on the side trips and decided to walk down the main road.  At about a mile down the road (32.843725, -116.154400) we came on a trail on the left that had 3 posts in front of it and even more encouraging there were lots of footprints headed down it!  Our footprints had been pretty lonely on the other exploratory trails we had followed.  Near the start of the trail it splits into two different trails.

Trail to the smaller slot canyon off Canyon Sin Nombre

The only accessible slot canyon we found was to the right.  There was also an inaccessible slot that looked interesting but there were very large rocks blocking the entrance and we didn’t attempt to climb through.  The accessible slot canyon was on the right side of the right path.  This was the smaller of the two slot canyons we found off Canyon Sin Nombre and the harder one to find.   There is a rocky path up to the opening of the slot, but it is hard to see.

Entrance to the smaller slot canyon off Canyon Sin Nombre

Although it was the smaller of the two slot canyons, it was still about 150 yards long with lots of interesting twists and turns.

 

We found another very short slot in this area but it was only 20 or 3o yards deep.  But I did get one good shot of the wider canyon on the way out.

View of Canyon Sin Nombre from a short slot in the canyon wall

There was another area that was posted off just south of where we had found the entrance to the trail to the slot canyon.  We decided to explore there next.  There was another wash similar to the ones we had explored on the east side of the canyon.  It went higher up on the canyon walls than the others did though.  I particularly like this picture back toward the main canyon with three Ocotillo Cactus along the path.  These have red blooms in the spring… but still interesting looking plants in winter.

Octillo Cactus along a path up the side of Canyon Sin Nombre

We climbed nearly to the top of this path/wash, and got a pretty good view of the area from where we turned around.

View of Anza Berrego from the near the top of a trail off Canyon Sin Nombre

It was a long way up and a long scramble back down.

Scrambling back down the toward the road in Canyon Sin Nombre

By the time we got back down to the road we were pretty tired.  Although this hike is listed as 550′ of loss/gain in elevation, my GPS route showed a total of almost 1000′ by the time we finished all of our side explorations.  On the way back down I told Sean we would head back when we got down, but by the time we got to the road I decided we should explore around one more bend in the road.  I just didn’t think we had seen everything yet.

As we rounded the bend a high solid looking wall came into view.  I didn’t initially see any openings but we kept going and eventually came to a break in the wall that looked very encouraging.

The entrance to this larger/longer slot canyon (32.847642, -116.154712) at the back of this opening is not immediately obvious, but all you have to do is keep walking toward the left side of the back and you’ll see the path. There are a couple of wider areas near the start of the slot canyon.

And then you’ll come to an area of partial collapse. This was the first spot where we questioned if we would be able to continue, or even wanted to walk through what looked like an unstable area.

Sean in front of an area of collapse rock in slot canyon off Canyon Sin Nombre

We decided to go for it the slot canyon continued but not far after the first area of collapse was a second one.

Second area of collapse in the longer slot canyon in Canyon Sin Nombre

We talked about turning back again more seriously this time, but I decided to scramble over the rocks to see what was past the collapse. The slot canyon definitely continued, so I called to Sean to climb on through. As I look at the picture we took before going forward it is hard to see the scale of the rocks. I also took this picture of Sean on top of the pile on the way out that shows the scale.

Sean climbing back over collapsed rocks on the way out of the slot canyon.

We were really glad we climbed through the second area of collapsed rock. At that point we were only about a third of the way through the slot canyon. The trail continued to climb and the walls closed in but were not quite as high.

My favorite part of the slot canyon was in this section. It was a hairpin curve, you could stand with your back against the wall and see down the canyon both directions. I attempted to show how this looked with the picture at the top of the post. I glued several images together but was careful to put them together into one image that showed the perspective you would see with your back against the wall. I really wished I would have just pulled my phone out of my pocket and taken a panoramic shot to show it in one image. Next time I guess!

For whatever reason after the hairpin curve I didn’t take anymore pictures. Not sure why I didn’t. The slot canyon continued for a while, then came to an open area, but the slot canyon continued on the other side of that area to the top of the canyon wall. There was only one branch in the slot and it came after that open area. To the left is supposedly an opening into the canyon (be careful if you go that way). We went right and the slot continued up to another large open area at the top of the canyon wall. It looked like a great place to explore and we might have found entrances to other slot canyons up there, but we decided to head back down and head back to the Jeep.  We did seem to get some better lit pictures on the way back out.

 

I looked back one last time as we left the slot canyon and caught the halo of the sun around one of the peaks of the canyon walls near the entrance to the slot canyon. I also noted the fire ring.  Camping is allowed, free, and no reservations are required in Anza Borrego!

Sun setting behind the canyon wall as we leave the slot canyon off Canyon Sin Nombre

 

I don’t consider myself a desert person, but this was one of my favorite hikes in San Diego County so far. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to see a good example of a slot canyon or who just loves to explore.

After the very slow lazy day floating down the Merced through Yosemite Valley, we were ready for a little more exertion on day 3 of our car camping trip to Yosemite. Our original plan was for some of the group to hike to the top of vernal while the more ambitious folks hiked to Half Dome from the valley floor. I hike to the top of Half Dome in 2011 from Little Yosemite Valley, but wanted to do it the more traditional and more difficult route all the way from the valley floor. In 2011 we had back country permits and backpacked from Glacier Point to Little Yosemite Valley the day before hiking to Half Dome. The good thing about getting back country permits is that you automatically can request permits for Half Dome. If you want to go from the valley floor you have to enter the seasonal and/or daily lottery for permits. We had done both, but unfortunately we did not get selected in either lottery. Hiking the Mist Trail and having lunch above Vernal Falls is not a bad consolation prize.

Our group got separated at the beginning of the trail, into 2 or 3 smaller groups. We had driven separately and some of us took the shuttle and others walked from the parking lot at Curry Village to the trailhead. We had agreed to meetup a short distance up the trail. Our group was pretty diverse when it came to conditioning and even desire to do a tough hike. I was just glad we all made it at least to the rally point. It was a fairly hot day, and the first part of the trail, even though it is paved, is pretty steep. We were hoping to get everyone to at least the bridge below Vernal Falls, but a couple of people decided today was not the day to do that. A few people took off quick, a few went at a moderate pace (me included) but the biggest group hung together at a slow but steady pace. The trail is fairly level until you get to the High Sierra Loop Trail sign not too far from the road. I like to get pictures of this so I don’t have to look up the distance that I hiked!

Sean by the High Sierra Loop Trail sign

The planned hike to the top of Vernal Falls on the Mist Trail and back down on the John Muir Trail would be about 4.5 miles, however, a few of us would go back down the Mist Trail and a few would end up doing several extra miles. Once you get past the sign and start up the fairly steep pave trail, you start to see why this is one of the most popular trails in Yosemite. There are trees and boulders along most of the trail.

Jenny heads up the paved part of the trail to Vernal Falls

And the Merced can be heard and sometime seen tumbling toward the Valley as you climb the trail.

The Merced tumbling toward the Valley beside the Mist Trail

Although the trail is steep, it is really not far to the bridge below Vernal Falls.

The bridge below Vernal Falls just ahead

The views here are terrific and there is fresh water to fill your water containers. If you have friends who aren’t sure they want to sign up for a big hike, get them to sign up to at least hike to this bridge it is only .8 miles from the start of the trail. The best part of this point in the hike is you can see just enough of the falls to entice them to go further!

View of Vernal Falls with Sentinal Dome behind from the bridge

Just get them this far, take a snack break, then point out that the views closer to the falls are spectacular and it really isn’t that much farther to get up close.

Note: I noticed after I got home that all 500+ pictures I took with my Nikon camera had a smudge on the left hand side of the photo. For many of the pictures in the posts for this trip I was able to crop out the blur/smudge. I couldn’t bring myself to crop out Sentinel Dome in the above picture. Unfortunately several pictures that could have been awesome were completely ruined. Lesson learned: clean the camera lens daily!  Note2: The camera lens was actually damaged not smudged but I would not realize it until after our trip to Maui 4 months later.

We took a break to refill our water bladders, use the restroom, and have a snack. As usual, anywhere with food, there will be squirrels waiting for a chance to nab some of your food!

Squirrel near the bridge below Vernal falls nabs some accidentally dropped snack

The trail as you leave the bridge area on the way toward Vernal Falls is not overly steep, runs right beside the Merced, and is shaded at first.

Mist Trail Yosemite just above the bridge toward Vernal Falls

While you’re still in the shade you will pass a sign that marks the point that the John Muir Trail splits off. We planned to come back on this trail from the top of Vernal Falls for a couple of reasons. First that trail is more gentle (although longer) and easier on the knees on the way down. Second, there are some terrific views of the falls from the trail that connects the Mist Trail to the John Muir Trail a short distance above Vernal Falls.

Eventually the shade goes away and the trail turns into granite stairs that lead you up and past Vernal Falls.

Granite stairs below Vernal Falls on the Mist Trail Yosemite

This is my favorite part of the trail and the reason this trail is called the “Mist” Trail. When the falls are going strong there is a constant mist everywhere along this part of the trail. I’ve been on this trail a couple of times before, both times it was later in the summer, but this year the falls had the least amount of water I’d seen. Still not too bad, just less mist.

Vernal Falls Yosemite

I frequently forget to look back when I’m hiking uphill, especially when there is something as spectacular as Vernal Falls in front of you. We weren’t planning to come back down this trail, so I looked back several times on this stretch of the trail. I’m glad I did. You can see the river far below and across the valley Glacier Point and the start of the Panorama Trail.

View back down the Mist Trail on the stairs as you approach Vernal Falls

As you approach Vernal Falls, the views of the falls get even more spectacular. There is a spot before you turn to go up even more steps that is perfect for getting pictures. I took this picture of Sean while we waited for the rest of the group at that point.

Sean Rial hiking to the top of Vernal Falls 2015

Sean took this picture of me and Jenny at the same spot.

Jenny and Eric Rial Vernal Falls 2015

Because it had been such a dry winter and spring, the falls were the lowest I had ever seen them. I know they go even lower than this, but I wanted to feel more of the mist. We noticed at one point that a lot of people were taking a side trail to get closer to the falls. I probably would not have done it if the falls were heavier, but with less water/mist, we decided to check it out.

Trail leading to rocks just below Vernal Falls

This turned out to be my favorite part of the hike. It was a very cool experience!

Going off trail at Vernal Falls Yosemite

When we headed back to the main trail, there was a Ranger there discouraging people from leaving the main trail. I’m glad we got there before she did and experienced the falls up close.

Of course the big payoff with getting this close is to get in the shot. That is a little easier said than done. The lighting is not great, the angle to get the falls and people in is tough, and the lens of your camera will get wet. It was easier to do this with the camera on my phone, than my other camera, so we did get one good shot.

Jenny, Sean, and Eric Rial on the rocks above the pool at Vernal Falls Yosemite

After cooling off in the mist of Vernal Falls we were ready to finish the climb to the top of the falls. One of the last good shots I got of Vernal is through the trees, so you can’t see the top of the falls, but it is a good view of the pool below the falls.

Vernal Falls through the trees near the top

I don’t have any good pictures of the last part of the trail to the top of Vernal Falls, so I’ll just describe it. The trail curves to the left toward the falls and as it nears the top it narrows. The last 30-40 yards of the climb to the top are on a very narrow trail carved into the side of the granite wall. Luckily there is a pipe handrail to hold on to. Even with that if you have a fear of heights this is unlikely to be enjoyable. Once you get to the top, you will come to a large open granite slab that leads down to a point right above Vernal Falls.

Granite slab above Vernal Falls

This area is a good place for a group picture, but you may have to get in the queue. If you go to the point closest to the falls, you can get a great shot of the falls from the top by holding your camera out past the railing.

View of Vernal Falls from above

Some of our group was way ahead of the rest, had already finished their lunch and decided to head straight back down the Mist Trail. The rest of us headed upriver a ways to find a shady spot for lunch. We decided on a spot next to a part of the river that slides down a granite shoot into a pool. It’s not generally safe to get in the river above the falls, but if I had swim trunks with me I might have tried this slide out.

Slide and pool a ways above Vernal Falls

We ate our lunch on a rocky spot in the shade with a good view of this slide.

We had lunch in the shade above Vernal Falls

We were planning to cut across above Vernal Falls to the John Muir trail after lunch. This adds quite a bit more climb and about another 1.5 miles to the hike, but it is a much gentler descent and there are some terrific views of Vernal Falls from above. I ended up not going this way, but most of our group did. Here’s a shot of Vernal Falls that I took in 2011 from that trail.

View of Vernal Falls from the trail connecting John Muir Trail to the Mist Trail

This time I was feeling just a little more ambitious. We had been planning to hike to Half Dome, so I was feeling like I want more than to go just to the top of Vernal Falls. While we were eating lunch in the shade I decided to ask my son if he felt like hiking further up. He was in, and so was my wife’s cousin Charles. So after lunch the three of us headed the rest of the way up the Mist Trail to the top of Nevada Falls.

Since we would be going a couple of miles further than the rest of the group we decided to take off as soon as we were done eating. The Mist Trail and the trail toward the John Muir Trail split on a sloped granite slab. Both of them are a little hard to follow at that point. The Mist Trail heads down slope toward a bridge that crosses the Merced. I got this shot of the river as we crossed the bridge.

Bridge crossing the Merced above Vernal Falls

I took this picture from the other side of the bridge looking back on the trail we had just walked on.

View of the Merced tumbling down toward Vernal Falls from the bridge crossing the river above Vernal Falls

There are a lot fewer people who continue up the Mist Trail from this point, although we definitely weren’t alone. The trail starts out fairly gentle with some shade.

Sean hiking up the Mist Trail just past the bridge above Vernal Falls

Although we wanted to go up the trail quickly, it is fairly steep and the top part of the trail is mostly in the sun, so we took a couple breaks on the way up. On one of these breaks I decided to go off trail for a little bit to get this shot of Nevada Falls head on.

Went off trail to get this blurry shot of Nevada Falls

Unfortunately, the top of the picture turned out to be in the smudged part of the lens. it was the best picture I got of Nevada Falls from this angle so I decided to include it anyway.

We enjoyed the shade as long as we could, and this part of the trail was actually shadier than I remembered.

Last section of full shade on the way to the top of Nevada Falls on the Mist Trail

Although the views of Nevada Falls from the trail were “from the side”, it was still pretty inspiring.

Nevada Falls from the side through the trees from the Mist Trail

I have to admit that Vernal Falls is my favorite though! Toward the top of the trail the shade ends.

Last good view of Nevada Falls near the top of the Mist Trail

The trail at this point is just an organized pile of rocks.

The Mist trail is an organized pile of rocks near the top of the Mist Trail

Then you turn a corner and you are at the top. We took a break at the top to fill our water bladders and enjoy the view. Here are a few shots I took while we hung out.

View of the Merced River from the bridge above Nevada Falls

View of the Merced River from the bridge above Nevada Falls

View toward the top of Nevada Falls from the bridge above the falls

View toward the top of Nevada Falls from the bridge above the falls

Sean taking a break beside the Merced above Nevada Falls

Sean taking a break beside the Merced above Nevada Falls

View of the Merced approaching the bridge above Nevada Falls

View of the Merced approaching the bridge above Nevada Falls

Sean and Eric Rial above Nevada Falls

Sean and me above Nevada Falls

We didn’t hang out long though as we didn’t want the rest of the group to have to wait for us at the bottom. To take the John Muir Trail down to the valley you have to head toward Glacier Point for just a bit. The first part of the trail is a gentle climb…

Hike up John Muir and Panorama Trail from Nevada Falls

then it levels off…

Sean hike along the John Muir and Panorama Trail

before the John Muir trail branches off hugs the side of the wall for a ways. This is one of my favorite parts of this trail. There is a granite block wall on the outside of the trail and some great views of Nevada Falls and Sentinel Dome.

Stone wall along the John Muir trail with a view of Nevada Falls

The trail beyond that point heads downward, but has switchbacks that take you back toward Nevada Falls and more great views as you descend.

Nevada Falls and Sentinal Dome from a switchback on the John Muir Trail

The last good view of Nevada Falls is can be seen if you look along the trail that heads back toward Vernal Falls from the John Muir Trail. If you don’t look back you’ll miss it.

View of Nevada Falls and Sentinal Dome from John Muir trail at the branch with the trail back to Vernal Falls

We caught up the group a little further down the John Muir trail in a shady set of switchbacks.

Shady section of the John Muir trail descending toward Yosemite Valley

Just a little further down the trail we came to the merge with the Mist Trail.

John Muir trail approaching the juntion with the Mist Trail

After a glance at the Yosemite Trail sign at the junction of the two trails…

Yosemite Trail sign at the Junction of the Mist and John Muir trails below Vernal Falls

and a quick thought about future trips and adventures deeper into Yosemite, we turned to head back down the way we had come up from that point.

I enjoyed the entire trip to Yosemite, every minute of it, but this day was my favorite! I love hiking this trail. I guess I’m a sucker for waterfalls, and this hike as two spectacular falls just a couple of miles apart.

Back at camp it was Charles turn to provide dinner. He brought carnitas. A couple of carnitas fajitas plus a cold beer was the perfect end to a perfect day!

Having a couple fajitas for dinner at our campsite in Hodgdon Meadow Yosemite

The next day would be our last full day in Yosemite. We decided to do something completely different… but I’ll put that in another post!

Check out this page listing all of my Yosemite National Park posts: Yosemite National Park Posts

Last year, 2014, was not quite “to plan”. It was a very busy year, we had a lot of fun, made some progress on goals, but at the end… it also brought a lot of heartache and sadness. I covered most of the fun parts of the year in my recent End of Summer 2014 post. Before the summer started there was also a work trip to Canada, a getaway to Las Vegas with Jenny’s kids, and a lot of local hiking.

To keep myself honest I should probably review the 2014 top 10 countdown from my post Happy New Year – 2014!

10. Weekend project – install surround sound speakers! (Done)

9. Develop an Android App and publish it to Google Play. (Nope – I’m slacking…)

8. Weekend Project – Improve the storage in our garage so we can park 2 cars in the garage at once (novel idea)! (I say no, but my wife gives me partial credit for some of the things I did to make it a little better, but the big improvements will have to come in 2015.)

7. Our 4th consecutive season of Green Flash Concerts at the Birch Aquarium. (YES – we had lots of fun!)

6. Bucket List (progress) – Complete at least 35 new (never been on hikes) in San Diego County. (Sort of a yes – cumulative, but I think I really missed the spirit of this one. we did not hike at the end of 2014. It was very dry until near the end of the year and then we were booked.)

5. Bucket List – Walk across the Grand Canyon not once but twice on a rim to rim to rim hike! (Not quite… we hiked from the North to the South rim, but the a rim to rim to rim will have to wait until next time.)

4. Check at least one item off my Bucket List in the travel section. Need to coordinate this with a few people so I’m not picking one now… (Not from the travel section “per say”, it ended up being from the California section – see the first post for this trip – A Few Days in San Francisco (Day 1 – 26 July 2014 – Cable Car Museum and Dinner on Nob Hill).)

3. Visit family and friends in Iowa, Nebraska, Idaho, and even here in California! (Yes!)

2. One of my daughters will get engaged! (OK cheating on the prediction side of things as it happened on January 2nd.) (Yep! Not one but two engagements in 2014!)

1. Bucket List – rock a grandchild to sleep in my arms! (Over and over again!)

However, 2014 was not all “fun and games”. Throughout the year there was an underlying theme of significant illness, and uncertainty. Some of this turned out well and some did not. There were also some terrible surprises at the end of the year. In November and December we lost several members of our immediate and extended family. Regardless of all the fun we had throughout the year I will always remember the end of 2014 as a time spent reflecting on past joys, feeling lucky to have known these people, and feeling the full brunt of their loss. One of my key philosophies on life is that joy and happiness would not be as sweet if grief and sadness did not exist. I will carry that as hope into the new year along with the wonderful memories I have of those we lost.

Now to continue the tradition I started last year… here is my Top 10 Countdown for 2015.

10. See at least one singer/act that I’ve never seen before from my Bucket List.

9. Do at least one item from the Adventure, Travel, or California sections of my Bucket List.

8. Eliminate my electric bill! (This one is already planned – so it’s an easy “done” for next year’s review.)

7. Leave room in our schedule for opportunistic travel and adventure and take advantage of at least one of these opportunities.

6. Complete at least one of the following home projects:
– Expand the storage area of my garage by at least 50% to give us more room for fun and games – ping-pong and darts anyone!
– Finish painting the remaining “contractor white” walls and woodwork in our home.

5. Plan and complete a family camping trip to Yosemite. This may be challenging with all our kid’s busy schedules this year.

4. Complete at least 20 new hikes in San Diego County to check off a few more trails on my page tracking the progress on my bucket list goal to hike all the trails in the book Afoot and Afield in San Diego County.

3. Focus on healthy living. I will lose the weight I’ve gained over the past couple years by eating better and exercising more.

2. Spend lots of time with friends and family.

1. Walk my oldest daughter down the aisle!

I hope your 2014 was everything you hoped for and then some, and that your 2015 exceeds all reasonable expectations! Happy New Year!

View to the west as we hiked along the Colorado on the Bright Angel Trail

We woke early (before 4:30 am) on Day 5 of our Grand Canyon rim to rim hike trip. I woke before the alarm sounded and pulled my equipment off the hooks on the wall next to my bunk so I could arrange it on my bunk. The bunk house was dark. I had expected more activity, even this early. I turned off my alarm and quietly prepared for the day. Sean and Mike were on top bunks also on the other side of the narrow walkway between the bunk-beds. I noticed Mike checking the time on his phone. He must have turned off his alarm to because it didn’t sound either. I climbed down off my bunk and noticed that the bunk below me was now empty. That guy got up early and must have been very quiet! I moved my stuff onto the empty bunk which made getting organized much easier. After my stuff was ready, I woke Sean up and had him hand me his things so I could pack for him while he put on his hiking boots.

We were out of the dorm in about 15 minutes, with all our gear. Only a few whispers had been exchanged. We walked toward the dining hall in the darkness to meet with Jenny. After dropping my gear with the others by one of the picnic tables I went to the back of the dining hall to pick up the bag lunches we we eat for lunch. I cooked up some instant oatmeal and coffee for a quick breakfast. After we redistributed some things and had the lunches stowed away in our small packs, we headed south toward the Colorado River crossing. We were on our way about 5:10 am, just a little before sunrise.

Leaving Phantom Ranch toward the Colorado River

We were to the Colorado and ready to cross a little after sunrise, although we would not see or feel the sun for several more hours thanks to the canyon walls.

The Silver Bridge crossing the Colorado River

Mike took a picture with a unique perspective of me crossing the bridge. I like the perspective, but I look a little like I’m waddling not walking. I don’t remember being sore at this point, so it must just be the angle…

Crossing the Colorado River on the Silver Bridge

The Bright Angel trail follows the Colorado for quite a ways after you cross the bridge.

Jenny and Eric Rial on the Bright Angel Trail above the Colorado river

Although we weren’t in the sun, it was lighting up parts of the canyon ahead of us as we hiked beside the river.

The Colorado winding through the Grand Canyon beside the Bright Angel Trail

It was much further than I remembered before we turned uphill, but eventually we did turn up hill. Jenny was happy to be going uphill after the long downhill hike the day before. She prefers the uphills to going down hill. I have no problems with downhill hikes, but was not looking forward to the steady climb ahead of us. The switchbacks make it easier, but eventually, after enough of them, you still feel it!

Switchbacks as you move away from the Colorado and climb on the Bright Angel Trail

Based on my memories of this hike last time, the I knew that as we got higher up the views would be pretty much the same as you looked out on the canyon, but before Indian Garden there would be some interesting and different views along the trail.

The group as we head up Bright Angel Trail June 3rd 2014

Another of my favorite parts of the hike is a little less than a mile before Indian Garden. There is a creek beside the trail and the trail curves along a canyon wall with the creek well below the trail. There is a small waterfalls and trees. It’s a cool place.

Small water falls along Bright Angel Trail a little ways below Indian Garden

Speaking of cool things, if there is a favorite part of this hike you want to share with someone, or you want to relive the whole trail yourself in the comfort of your home, check out the Google Street views of the Bright Angel trail. They also have street views for the South Kaibab trail and the area around Phantom Ranch. Here is the Google street view for the same location where the last picture was taken (click and hold the mouse button then move the mouse to “look around”).  I guess I can leave my camera in my pocket next time!

We had lunch at Indian Gardens on these benches.

Benches at Indian Gardens Campground

We had some shade, and the squirrels were entertaining when they weren’t annoying. They obviously live on human food obtained from inattentive hikers. They didn’t get any of ours but we saw one squirrel nab a bag of drink mix from some ladies over by the corral. He carried it in to a thick bush across the trail from us. That’s when it got interesting. A crow, obviously very interested in nabbing some human food too, hopped… cawing all the way over to the bush. Unbelievably the crow actually squirmed its way into the bush. There was lot’s of cawing, and rustling in the bush, but we never learned the outcome of the struggle! In such tight quarters, my money was on the squirrel.

After lunch we were back on the trail. It was a little after 10 am and we were about half way, but most of the climbing and heat was ahead of us.

A mule train passed us just as we were leaving Indian Gardens. Not sure I would enjoy a long ride on one of these, but on long backpack trips I’ve definitely considered getting a pet mule (to carry my pack)!

Mule Train near Indian Gardens June 3rd 2014

There was little to no shade once we left Indian Gardens, and no stream to cool off in so we took our time, rested in the shade, and used some of our water to keep our hats and shirts wet. This helped keep us cool, and making steady progress. There is an open canyon south of Indian Gardens as you climb the Bright Angel Trail.

View into the canyon south of Indian Gardens

At this part of the day it is dry, hot, and there is little shade to be found until you get to the end of this canyon. And then at the end of the canyon you get to climb seemingly endless switchbacks!

Switchbacks on the Bright Angel Trail above Indian Gardens

Not too far after this first set of switchbacks is the 3 mile rest house. The reason Bright Angel trail is “the way to hike out of the Grand Canyon” to the south is the regular water stops. After Indian Gardens there is a water stop every 1.5 miles. The South Kaibab trail has no water stops! I hope to hike into the canyon on that trail one day, but I’m sure I won’t be hiking out that way.

We took full advantage of the rest houses on the way out of the canyon. We had no stew dinner reservation driving us, and at a certain point, usually around 4, it starts to cool off and the sun sinks far enough in the west to put parts of the trail back into the shade.

Although it feels like you are making good progress, all you have to do is look up, and you realize there is still a lot more switchbacks in your future!

Jenny and Sean taking a break on the Bright Angel Trail

But we kept climbing!

Jenny and Sean ahead of me on the Bright Angel trail

By the time we reached the 1.5 mile rest house we were pretty hot and tired. It was around 2:30. My cousin Mike had hiked ahead of us after Indian Garden, and we had no “time goal” for finishing. We decided to hang out in the rest house for at least an hour to let the sun move a bit further to the west. We actually rested there for a little over any hour, and it was time well spent. Less than 15 more minutes up the trail we were back in the shade!

Entering the late afternoon shade on the Bright Angel Trail

At this point we could see the last big set of switchbacks ahead of us. This is also one of my favorite parts of the trail. The trail seems to dead-end into the shear white limestone walls.

Entering the late afternoon shade on the Bright Angel Trail

The same limestone walls frame the terrific view near the top of the switchbacks.

Near the top of the last set of switchbacks close to the top of the Bright Angel Trail

You know you are getting close to the top of the trail by the number of fresh looking/smelling people you see.

Nearing the top of the Bright Angel Trail

Even though I knew we were close to the top, when I saw the outcropping with the square tunnel in it in the distance I was extremely happy! We had made it!

Sqare Tunnel in limestone outcropping very near the top of Bright Angel Trail

All that was left to do was smile for the group picture at the tunnel…

Group picture at the tunnel near the top of Bright Angel trail

and at the Bright Angel trailhead sign.

Tired - Happy - Successful Rim to Rim hikers

I had given the keys to the Jeep to Mike before he went ahead of us, so we had to reconnect with him before checking in to the hotel. Mike had finish about 3 hours ahead of us. He got his picture at the tunnel…

Mike at the tunnel near the end of the Bright Angel Trail

and at the trailhead sign (a slightly different one).

Mike at the Bright Angel trailhead sign

Then he had headed to the pub! We got him on the phone and arranged meeting at the car (about a half mile from the trailhead). We drove back and parked right beside the Thunderbird (score on the good parking spot), then went to the Bright Angel lodge desk to check in. We were happy to be staying at the Thunderbird because the rooms were all air-conditioned. We had a non-air conditioned room at Maswik Lodge the first night at the Grand Canyon, and it had been uncomfortably hot all night long. Even though it got into the 40’s outside the room, and we left the window open, it had stayed in the 90 degree range all night in the room. After checking in, we grabbed our “fresh clothes” bags from the car and headed to the room.

As soon as I walked in to our room at the Thunderbird I got concerned. It was unbearably hot in the room. I checked the A/C controls, then I called the front desk! The A/C was broken, and would not be fixed! I was sounding terrible on the phone. My laryngitis was in full swing so my voice was a barely audible gravely whisper. I asked if there were any rooms available with A/C. They said there were, but only a couple of suites in the El Tovar Hotel. One suite had only one bed – a king bed but no room for 2 rollout beds. The other was the Presidential Suite! The woman on the phone was very sympathetic and said she would contact the manager and let us know if they could give us a break on the price. She called back just before I was ready to call and just pay full price. She said they would give us a really good price break for the one night. So we moved into the El Tovar Presidental Suite!

Our feet were a bit sore so as we checked in we asked if we could get reservations at the El Tovar dining room. Apparently this is easier to do last-minute when you are staying in the Presidential Suite. We had an hour to get ready. The room was amazing, the A/C felt great, and the very delayed shower felt even better! There was room for a very large party on the room’s balcony. I had taken a picture of the balcony, but it was hard to tell the size with no one there. So… Jenny looks very refreshed from her shower standing on the balcony!

Jenny on the balcony of our room at the El Tovar

Our dinner reservations were for 9 pm, and even though the showers had been refreshing and invigorating, we were pretty tired as we headed for dinner. We order salads with our dinner and had a fun conversation with our waiter. He had worked here for over 30 years and had lots of good stories. My favorite was the time, the first summer he worked here, that he and a couple of friends decided to make a lunch and “walk down to the river”. It was all fun and games going down and at the river. They thought they were giving themselves plenty of time to go back up, but realized very soon that hiking up was much tougher than hiking down. It was dark and very cold by they time they got out. They didn’t have coats or flashlights. Lesson learned!

Jenny and I had beer with our meals. We devoured the salads, but by the time the main course came all of us were done! No one managed to eat even half of their meal. It was enjoyable though and we had only a short walk back to the room and our nice comfortable beds in our nice cool room! What a great night’s sleep!

In the morning I woke about 45 minute before everyone else. I made a coffee with the Keurig coffee maker in the main room and went out to sit on the balcony. What a great place to relax and enjoy the morning. The balcony had a tremendous view of the canyon. I tried out the Panoramic Mode on my cell phone to get this picture.

Panoramic picture from the balcony of the Presidential Suite at the El Tovar

I had been sold on the A/C so this was just frosting! Very relaxed morning. Jenny was next up and she joined me for coffee.

Jenny having coffee on the balcony of our room

We all enjoyed the room and the views that morning, but eventually it was time to hit the road back to San Diego. We took one last group picture of the hiking Amigos y Amiga before checking out of the room.

One more group picture on our balcony at the El Tovar

I don’t know when I’ll be back to the Grand Canyon again. I do know that if you haven’t been you should go. If you have been there you should go again. Originally this was going to be my first rim to rim to rim hike. A cold that just would not go away (some antibiotics finally did it in a couple of weeks later) got in the way of that goal. So one of these days I’ll go back and I’ll get to hike down the South Kaibab Trail, up the North Kaibab Trail, then I’ll get to turn around and go back. Until then I have lots of great memories of this hike and the last one.