Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Hovenweep National Monument, Utah - Hiking

I returned to Utah on Wednesday after a week of visiting family in Massachusetts for the Christmas holiday.  With a dry, mild forecast through New Year, Roger suggested that we head south to Moab for some hiking in the quiet off-seaon.  We left Salt Lake on Thursday morning and arrived in Moab during the early afternoon, with a few hours of daylight remaining to do some exploring.  We decided to check out Arches National Park, since it involved the least amount of driving from downtown Moab.  A storm moved through southern Utah just after Christmas, leaving a blanket of white on the famous redrock.  A few days of sunshine melted the snow in warmer spots, leaving a patchwork of red and white throughout Arches National Park.  We arrived at the Delicate Arch trail head for a quick hike to one of Utah's most famous landmarks.  For a midwinter day, there were a lot of people on the trail!

Hiking to Delicate Arch
Patches of snow along the trail to Delicate Arch
Hiking to Delicate Arch
Delicate Arch
Enjoying the views around Delicate Arch
It was late in the afternoon as we finished our hike to Delicate Arch.  We decided to make our way over to Skyline Arch to watch the last few minutes of daylight illuminate the redrock.  Sunset is always an amazing time to be in Arches National Park!

Sunset lighting in Arches National Park
Skyline Arch

We spent Friday exploring the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park.  Easily the most accessible district from Moab, Island in the Sky offers stunning views of the canyons surrounding the Green and Colorado Rivers.  Because Island in the Sky is on top of a mesa, most of the hiking trails to various overlooks are either short and flat, or very lengthy, with significant elevation change as they descend down to the White Rim.  We opted for several of the shorter trails on the top of the mesa, none of which I had ever done before.

Sleepy Moab in the winter
The Monitor and the Merrimac on the way to Canyonlands
Green River Overlook
Green River Overlook
Green River Overlook

Our first hike of the day was a 1.6 mile out and back trail to a couple of overlooks above Upheaval Dome.  Either an ancient meteorite impact crater or an uplifted salt dome, Upheaval Crater is one of the more interesting geological features in Canyonlands.  Views of the surrounding canyons, and  several pockets of water-filled potholes along the trail, made for a scenic hike.

Trail to Upheaval Dome Overlooks
Water-filled potholes
Upheaval Dome Crater
Views above Upheaval Dome

Next, we hiked the short trail to the top of Whale Rock for expansive views of the surrounding canyons and mesa.  After a snack and beer break, we hiked to a couple of granaries tucked below a ridge, and then to the top of Aztec Butte.

Hiking refreshments
Hiking up Aztec Butte
At the top of Aztec Butte
Our next hike was the slightly longer 3.4 mile out and back trail to Murphy Point, which passed through an expansive grassy meadow on the way to a scenic overlook above the Green River.

Murphy Point
View from Murphy Point

We had just enough time before sunset to hike the White Rim Overlook trail, a short walk leading to one of the best views in Island in the Sky.  The late afternoon sun lit up the La Sal Mountains in the distance, as the canyons below us glowed brilliant orange.  It was a spectacular way to end the day.

White Rim Overlook
Canyons of the Colorado from the White Rim Overlook
La Sal Mountains from White Rim Overlook
White Rim Overlook

On Saturday, we made a day trip over to Hovenweep National Monument in far southeastern Utah, the site of several Ancestral Puebloan villages famous for their unique tower structures.  Before arriving in Hovenweep, we stopped in the quiet town of Bluff to visit the Bluff Fort Historic Site, a restored settlement commemorating the difficult journey Mormon pioneers made to establish the town via the treacherous Hole-in-the-Rock trail.

Bluff Fort Historic Site
Roger celebrating his pioneer roots

Although Hovenweep National Monument contains the ruins of several Ancestral Puebloan villages, the most famous and accessible site is located along the canyon rim at the visitor center.  Known as the Square Tower Group, the village was home to about 500 people, and includes the famous Square Tower Ruin.  Despite being well off the beaten path, Hovenweep was well worth the visit!

Tower Point Ruin
Hovenweep Castle

Square Tower
Hovenweep Castle
Twin Towers ruin
Roger at Hovenweep Castle

Moab was quiet on Sunday as people on vacation  headed home from their Christmas break.  The weather was cooler and cloudier, but we still wanted to hike.  We decided to explore Grandstaff Canyon (formerly known as Negro Bill Canyon) just outside of Moab.  It turned out to be a great hike through a gorgeous canyon.  Along the way to Morning Glory Bridge, we passed through cold, sheltered regions of the canyon where snow and ice crystals decorated rocks and tree branches. We were were happy that we had our microspikes because most of the trail was packed snow and ice.

Hiking in Grandstaff Canyon

Grandstaff Canyon

Ice crystals in Grandstaff Canyon

Morning Glory Bridge

We took a quiet drive down Potash Road as the sun began set on 2017.  Everything seemed so much quieter than it was on Thursday when we first arrived.  The dim, pink light of sunset filtered through some breaks in the clouds, while the nearly full moon rose over the canyon.  The Colorado River flowed swiftly and silently below the road.  Moab was settling back into winter silence.  Later that night, from a balcony above Main Street, we welcomed the new year as a few scattered fireworks lit up the sky.

Potash Road on New Year's Eve
Petroglyphs along Potash Road
Silence returns to Moab on New Year's Eve

We awoke early on New Year's Day and headed to Dead Horse Point State Park to watch the sun rise.  The sky was filled with clouds, but the eastern horizon was clear.  Soon after we arrived, the first sunrise of the new year greeted us, lighting up the entire mesa with a beautiful orange glow.  It was a spectacular way to welcome 2018!

First sunrise of 2018
Sunrise at Dead Horse Point
Sunrise at Dead Horse Point State Park
Welcome 2018!

Monday, November 27, 2017

Chiricahua National Monument, Fort Bowie National Historic Site, and Coronado National Memorial, Arizona - Hiking and Sightseeing

The varied landscapes of Arizona continue to amaze me, and this trip was an exceptional example of what the state has to offer.  During the week of Thanksgiving, Roger and I decided to explore Cochise County in far southeast Arizona. The idea began as a suggestion to visit the town of Bisbee, but quickly expanded as I found numerous places to explore beyond the town.  After spending the weekend in Phoenix, Roger and I headed south through Tucson and Willcox before arriving at our first destination, Chiricahua National Monument.  Under sunny skies and mild November temperatures, we set up camp in the Bonita Canyon campground.  The lush, forested canyon was a sharp contrast to the rocky cliffs that surrounded our tidy, comfortable camp.

Roger cooking at camp in Bonita Canyon

Our plan for Monday was to spend the entire day hiking within the monument, famous for its unusual rhyolite rock formations and diverse plant life.  There were numerous trail options, but we decided to hike "The Big Loop" to see the best of what the monument had to offer.  The loop combined several shorter trails for a total of 10 miles, beginning and ending at the Echo Canyon trailhead.  After descending from the nearly empty parking lot, we entered the "Wonderland of Rocks".

Echo Canyon views in Chiricahua National Monument
Chiricahua National Monument rock formations
Upper Rhyolite Canyon in Chiricahua National Monument
Great diversity of plant life in Chiricahua National Monument

The highlight of our hike was passing Big Balanced Rock and exploring the Heart of the Rocks, which had some of the most unusual rock formations within the monument.  Beyond these trails, Inspiration Point offered stunning views of the entire canyon and the expansive Sulfur Springs Valley surrounding Chiricahua National Monument.

Big Balanced Rock
Heart of the Rocks
Heart of the Rocks
View from Inspiration Point in Chiricahua National Monument

We exited the canyon late in the day via the Ed Riggs trail, named after the man who was instrumental in establishing Chiricahua National Monument in 1924.  As the sun was setting, we made our way back to camp to relax for the evening.

Ed Riggs Trail in Chiricahua National Monument

On Tuesday morning, we drove from Chiricahua National Monument to nearby Fort Bowie National Historic Site for a guided tour with a very knowledgeable ranger.  Prior to this trip, I was completely unfamiliar with the history of southeast Arizona and the Apache Wars which took place between 1849 and 1924.  Fort Bowie was constructed in 1862 to secure the region and protect a vital water source. It was abandoned in 1894 following the banishment of the Chiricahua Apaches to Florida and Alabama.

Roger is ready to learn some history
Fort Bowie National Historic Site visitor center
Fort Bowie National Historic Site
Fort Bowie National Historic Site
Fort Bowie National Historic Site
Apache Spring

We still had a couple of hours of daylight left after returning to Chiricahua National Monument, so we drove to the Sugarloaf Mountain trailhead to hike the 1 mile trail to the 7,310 foot summit.  The views of the surrounding monument were excellent from the old fire lookout tower, and despite the cool evening breeze, we decided to wait for the sun to set before hiking down.  It was a wise choice, because the sunset was spectacular and filled the entire sky with neon pink light.

CCC fire watch tower on Sugarloaf Mountain
Chiricahua National Monument from Sugarloaf Mountain
Roger waiting for sunset on Sugarloaf Mountain
Views from Sugarloaf Mountain
Sunset on Sugarloaf Mountain
Sunset in Chiricahua National Monument
Sunset in Chiricahua National Monument

We packed up camp on Wednesday morning and explored the Faraway Ranch Historic District before leaving Chiricahua National Monument.  The historic district was established to preserve homes built by the first settlers in Bonita Canyon during the late 1800s.  These settlers and their descendants promoted visitation to the region, eventually leading to the establishment of Chiricahua National Monument.

Faraway Ranch House
Stafford Cabin

We made our way from Chiricahua National Monument to the mountain town of Bisbee on Wednesday afternoon.  Bisbee has experienced a renaissance, transitioning itself from an old copper mining town to an art community and tourist destination.  After checking in to the Canyon Rose Suites hotel, we explored some of the nearby art galleries and enjoyed several beverages at the Old Bisbee Brewing Company.

Delicious beer at Old Bisbee Brewing Company
Lavender Pit copper mine outside of Bisbee
Bisbee at night

Thanksgiving was a very quiet day in Bisbee and most business were closed for the holiday.  We decided to explore nearby Coronado National Memorial to take advantage of the beautiful weather and do some short hikes.  The memorial was established to commemorate the first expedition into the American Southwest by conquistador Francisco Vásquez de Coronado.  It preserves a "sky island" that is typical of the region, with a variety of plant and animal life taking advantage of the cooler, wetter climate at higher elevations above the surrounding desert.  We explored Coronado Cave, took a drive up to Montezuma Pass, and had a picnic near the visitor center.  Later, we made a quick stop at Our Lady of the Sierras Shrine and the U.S.-Mexican border before returning to Bisbee for Thanksgiving dinner at the Copper Queen Hotel.

Entrance to Coronado National Memorial
Coronado Cave in Coronado National Memorial

Coronado Cave in Coronado National Memorial
Coronado Cave in Coronado National Memorial
Coronado Cave in Coronado National Memorial

Montezuma Pass in Coronado National Memorial
Our Lady of the Sierras Shrine
United States - Mexico border

Before returning to Phoenix on Friday, we took a guided tour of the Copper Queen mine near Bisbee.  While certainly touristy, it was also very informative and fun.  We wrapped up a great week of adventure in Arizona by attending the beautiful Noches de las Luminarias at the Desert Botanical Garden, and hiking to the summit of Piestewa Peak.

Happy miner at the Copper Queen Mine tour
Noches de las Luminarias at the Desert Botanical Garden
Noches de las Luminarias at the Desert Botanical Garden
Noches de las Luminarias at the Desert Botanical Garden
Piestewa Peak
Piestewa Peak
Thanks for an awesome week, Roger!