2022 PHOTO CLASSES: camera workshops with Tom Dempsey, Seattle

“Nature Travel Photography” at Lifetime Learning Center (LLC)

Tom Dempsey will teach this class in 8 sessions at LLC, twice weekly
Stay tuned: Tentatively will be held in Spring 2022.

In this class, learn how to plan and photograph your next nature travel adventure in the style of PhotoSeek.com. Bring your charged smartphone, pocketsize, or midsize camera to class, all welcome (preferably optical zoom magnification of 8x up to 25x, plus good electronic viewfinder). We’ll address how to better pre-visualize, expose, focus, compose, make panoramas, edit color tones, share images, and tell your story visually, via feedback from assignments.

Photographic travel dreams can be realized and remembered most vividly through thoughtful planning, active participation, and devoted editing.

Sign up at:

Lifetime Learning Center
(206) 949-8882 or email staff@lifetimelearningcenter.org 
All students, instructors and staff entering the LLC building are required to be fully vaccinated and will be asked to attest to their vaccine status.
Anyone entering the building will be required to wear a mask.

Location:
Lake City Presbyterian Church, Room B2
3841 NE 123rd Street
Seattle, WA 98125

Past workshops

Tom Dempsey (standing left) teaches photography students at Lifetime Learning Center, Seattle.


Tom taught the following classes at Lifetime Learning Center in Seattle:

  • (Note: the pandemic caused a 2-year break from 2020-21.)
  • “Smartphone Photography” 2019 Apr 1-May 24 for 8 days Mondays+Wednesdays: The latest smartphones make photography easier than ever. Bring your fully-charged phone to class, and we’ll learn how to better previsualize, expose, focus, compose, make panoramas, edit color tones, and share to impress your friends. Upgrading your phone will really help your photography. The best now have dual cameras on the back (such as Samsung Galaxy Note9 and iPhone 7 Plus or later). Their 2x telephoto lens greatly improves portraits and brings distant subjects closer. The latest “HDR Auto” smartly captures better shadows while preserving highlights. Other good cameras include Galaxy S7 and Google Pixel.
  • “Editing Digital Photography” 2018 Apr 30-May 16 for 6 sessions Mondays+Wednesdays: Learn how to edit digital images with emotional impact, true to the subject. Because cameras don’t record like our eyes see, we must compensate with smart tonal adjustments in Apple Photos, in my favorite Adobe Lightroom, or in your preferred editor. We’ll cover cropping, tonal editing (exposure, contrast, & Adjustment Brush), histograms, and color theory. We’ll review before and after edits of students’ emailed photo homework.
  • “Smartphone Photography” 2018 Jan 8–Jan 31 for 8 sessions Mondays+Wednesdays
  • “Digital Photography on the Go” 2017 Oct 31–Nov 16 for 6 sessions
  • “Editing Digital Photography” 2017 April 4, 6, 11, 13, 18, 20
  • “Digital Photography on the Go” 2016 November 1–17
  • “Digital Photography on the Go” 2016 March 28–April 18


I am an Artist in Residence for Alpenwild.com offering photography workshops in the Alps.

In Summer 2011, Tom Dempsey taught a 5-day Alps Photo Workshop visiting Venice and the Dolomites Mountains, guided by Gary Scott of Right Path Adventures, DolomitesWalkingTours.com

Testimonials

  • “Tom, I really appreciate your patience in explaining the color wheel, techniques of editing, and how to access various settings on our digital cameras.” – Nora MacDonald
  • “Thank you for all your help in making me more comfortable with my camera. A great class!” – Rochelle Goldberg
  • “I’ve really been enjoying this, Tom, and I think what I’ve been learning here is improving my eye for painting as well as photography. Thank you!” – Kay.
  • “After taking two classes with Tom Dempsey, my skill at composing photographs has improved greatly. Tom is a skilled photographer, and a knowledgable and patient teacher. He does his homework, presents well, listens respectfully to the comments and questions of his students and follows up. Tom gets back to us with emails to answer additional questions as well. He presents information at the correct level for his audience, whether individually or in the group. I really appreciate Tom as an instructor and plan to sign up for his photo editing class.” – Deb West, who has attended three class series plus private tutorials

Images from my book,“Light Travel: Photography on the Go”


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A Mammoth summer 2021: hiking Olympics, Sierras, Rockies; Nebraska

Our summer 2021 went from Mammoth Lakes to woolly mammoths!

Hiking mostly new trails for training in Washington kept us motivated and fit, climaxing with superb backpacking for 9 days in California’s High Sierra. That breathtaking acclimatization helped tackle Chasm Lake Trail, an impressive alpine cirque on Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness, Colorado.

Continuing by RV to Indiana, we visited family then returned to Seattle via hypnotic Midwest cornfields. Along the way, Nebraska revealed some hidden gems: the SAC & Aerospace Museum, International Quilt Museum, Chimney Rock NHS, Agate Fossil Beds NM, and Fort Robinson SP. Sightseeing finished on a high note in South Dakota’s Black Hills region at “The Mammoth Site of Hot Springs” — an active paleontological site containing the world’s largest collection of in-situ mammoth remains!

Granite Park at sunrise in John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, Eastern Sierra, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Granite Park at sunrise in John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, Eastern Sierra.

This blog page describes summer highlights in 2021, where clicking any image loads Tom’s Portfolio site (where you can view a more extensive gallery, “2021 Aug 1-Sep 12: CA Sierras, CO, NE, SD“).

Related pages: Washington; California; Colorado; The Midwest (including Nebraska & South Dakota).

California: hiking in the Eastern Sierra Nevada

Backpack 4 days from Pine Creek to Granite Park, near Bishop

From August 16-19 in 2021, we backpacked to Honeymoon Lake, Granite Park, and Pine Creek Pass in John Muir Wilderness, in Inyo National Forest. Six months in advance, I was lucky to reserve the “Pine Creek JM11” entry near Bishop for a group of three.

  • Day 1: Backpack from Pine Creek Pass Trailhead to Honeymoon Lake (6.2 miles with 2900 feet gain). We ascended a spectacular gorge overlooking the former Pine Creek Mine (1918-1990). Opened in 1918, Union Carbide’s Pine Creek Mine was once the largest tungsten producer in the United States, also yielding much molybdenum and silver. During World War II, the mine supplied tanks with tungsten armor plating and armor-piercing projectiles. Proceeding upwards, monumental scenery drew us ever upwards, with sparkling drinking water (sterilized with Steripen) regularly available from tributary streams, Pine Creek, Pine Lake, Upper Pine Lake, and camping at Honeymoon Lake.
  • Day 2: Backpack 3.1 miles with 1300 ft gain to Granite Park, a rocky alpine route which felt tiring due to the high altitude and effort yesterday. A GPS map was helpful to find the cairns and boot track.
  • Day 3: The golden sunrise on granite spires took our breath away, truly awesome. Then we descended 1300 feet with backpacks for 2.7 miles to Honeymoon Lake to set up tents; then day hiked 4.4 miles round trip with 900 ft gain to Pine Creek Pass, overlooking the broad head of French Canyon capped by Mount Humphreys.
  • Day 4: Backpack 6.2 miles with 2900 ft descent to the trailhead.

Backstory: Captured in Granite Park in summer 1983, “Flourishing photographers” became my first published photo, appearing in February 1987 Modern Photography magazine. 38 years have passed since our group of seven family and friends backpacked to Royce Lakes, Royce Peak, Granite Park, and Italy Pass. Revisiting in 2021 enhanced the significance of both trips.

Sunrise illuminates peaks reflected in Honeymoon Lake in John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, California, USA.  (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Sunrise illuminates peaks reflected in Honeymoon Lake in John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, California.

Day hike Devils Postpile to Rainbow Falls as a loop, near Mammoth Lakes

Hexagonal tops of basaltic columns in Devils Postpile National Monument, near the town of Mammoth Lakes, California. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Devils Postpile National Monument, in Ansel Adams Wilderness. These basaltic columns formed underground about 90,000 years ago when hot lava dammed behind a moraine. As the lava lake cooled and shrank, cracks extending from the top and bottom merged to form vertical columns which were hidden underground. Then 20,000 years ago, grinding glaciers scalped and polished the hexagonal tops.

A loop day hike to Devils Postpile and Rainbow Falls (6 miles with 780 feet gain) helped demystify Mammoth’s complicated parking and Shuttle system. From a reserved campsite in Mammoth Lakes, we drove past Minaret Summit Entrance Station (before the 7am-7pm daily cutoff for private cars) to reach Devils Postpile’s limited parking. Five days later, this would be our second backpacking trip’s exit point via Reds Meadow Shuttle. By the way, Devils Postpile and Rainbow Falls can be hiked with less effort from their separate parking lots connected by the Shuttle bus.

Rainbow Falls, on the Middle Fork San Joaquin River, in Devils Postpile National Monument, Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, near Mammoth Lakes, California, USA. The water plunges from a lip of hard volcanic andesite down 101 feet to hit the lower layer of more-easily eroded volcanic rhyodacite, which has undercut, forcing the falls to move 500 feet upstream from its original location. A loop day hike to Devils Postpile and Rainbow Falls (6 miles with 780 feet gain) helped demystify Mammoth's complicated parking and Shuttle system. From a reserved campsite in Mammoth Lakes, we drove past Minaret Summit Entrance Station (before the 7am-7pm daily cutoff for private cars) to reach Devils Postpile's limited parking. Five days later, this would be our second backpacking trip's exit point via Reds Meadow Shuttle. By the way, Devils Postpile and Rainbow Falls can be seen quicker from their separate parking lots connected by Reds Meadow Shuttle bus. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Rainbow Falls, on the Middle Fork San Joaquin River, in Devils Postpile National Monument. The water plunges from a lip of hard volcanic andesite down 101 feet to hit the lower layer of more-easily eroded volcanic rhyodacite, which has undercut and moved the falls 500 feet upstream from its original location.

5-day traverse: High Trail to Thousand Island, Garnet, Ediza, Iceberg, Cecile, & Minaret Lakes

For many years I’ve wanted to return to Thousand Island Lake, where as a child in 1967 and 1968, I horse packed with family, friends, and a folding double kayak. This year, six months in advance, I luckily reserved the “High Trail / PCT AA09” entry point for our backpacking group of three in Ansel Adams Wilderness. In this popular area, Inyo National Forest requires securing food in an approved bear canister (2.5 pounds). More spectacular than we had imagined, the trip gave us majestic mountains and perfect golden sunrises every day. (Direct sunset light tended to be blocked by high mountains to the west.) Trip log for August 22-26, 2021:

  • Day 1: Starting with the earliest reserved ride on Reds Meadow Shuttle bus from Mammoth Adventure Center to Agnew Meadows Trailhead, we backpacked the High Trail for 9 long miles with 2000 feet gain to Thousand Island Lake, on probably the dustiest trail I’ve ever hiked, albeit scenic. Hikers should use the Shuttle, otherwise trailhead parking is quite limited and most vehicle entries are blocked from 7am to 7pm. Multi-night parking is allowed in the Shuttle lot at Mammoth Adventure Center.
  • Day 2: Backpack from Thousand Island Lake to Garnet Lake (3.1 miles, 650 ft down, 500 ft up).
  • Day 3: Backpack from Garnet Lake to Ediza Lake (7 miles / 1400 ft down / 1000 ft up).
  • Day 4: Tom and Rebecca backpacked an exciting use-trail via Iceberg and Cecile Lakes to Minaret Lake (3.1 miles, 1130 ft up, 630 feet down) on steep scree and boulder rock-hopping, where a GPS trail map helped find the safest path to avoid cliffs. Older paper maps don’t mark this use-trail (a beaten boot track). (Earlier in the season, steep snow and ice can make the route unsafe for the unprepared; but our intentional pick of late August was snow-free.) To regain RV comforts, as planned, Carol returned on the attractive and familiar Shadow Creek (day hiked last year) to Agnew Meadows shuttle bus (8 miles, 400 ft up, 2700 ft down), back to Mammoth Lakes.
  • Day 5: Exit with backpacks from Minaret Lake to Devils Postpile Ranger Station (7.1 miles, 135 ft up, 2240 ft down), where we caught the frequent Shuttle (backpackers can return using Day 1’s round trip ticket).

Below: departing from Agnew Meadows, a packer on horseback leads mules on the dusty High Trail portion of the Pacific Crest Trail in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest.
Above Agnew Meadows, a packer on horseback leads mules  on the dusty High Trail portion of the Pacific Crest Trail in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, near Mammoth Lakes, California, USA. We backpacked for 5 days from Agnew Meadows to Thousand Island Lake, Garnet Lake, Ediza Lake, & Minaret Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Banner Peak and the Moon reflect in Thousand Island Lake at dawn in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, California, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Banner Peak and the Moon reflect in Thousand Island Lake at dawn in Ansel Adams Wilderness.

Below: At sunrise, Mt. Ritter, Banner Peak, and the Moon reflect in a pond at Garnet Lake.
At sunrise, Mt. Ritter, Banner Peak, and the Moon reflect in a pond at Garnet Lake in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, California, USA. We backpacked for 5 days from Agnew Meadows to Thousand Island Lake, Garnet Lake, Ediza Lake, Minaret Lake, and Devils Postpile Ranger Station, reaching trailheads using the Reds Meadow Shuttle from the town of Mammoth Lakes. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Rays of sunrise illuminate our ledge campsite on the southwest side of Ediza Lake, under the Ritter Range, in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, California, USA. We backpacked for 5 days from Agnew Meadows to Thousand Island Lake, Garnet Lake, Ediza Lake, Minaret Lake, and Devils Postpile Ranger Station, reaching trailheads using the Reds Meadow Shuttle from the town of Mammoth Lakes. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Rays of sunrise illuminate our ledge campsite on the southwest side of Ediza Lake, under the Ritter Range, in Ansel Adams Wilderness.

Below: Under the Minarets, Mount Ritter, and Banner Peak, we cross one of Ediza Lake’s inlet streams on Day 4.
Under the Ritter Range, hikers cross an inlet stream at Ediza Lake, in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, California, USA. We backpacked for 5 days from Agnew Meadows to Thousand Island Lake, Garnet Lake, Ediza Lake, Minaret Lake, and Devils Postpile Ranger Station, reaching trailheads using the Reds Meadow Shuttle from the town of Mammoth Lakes. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

The Minarets (part of the Ritter Range) rise over Cecile Lake in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, in backcountry near the town of Mammoth Lakes, California, USA. Clyde Minaret is at center. We backpacked for 5 days from Agnew Meadows to Thousand Island Lake, Garnet Lake, Ediza Lake, & Minaret Lake. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: The Minarets (part of the Ritter Range) rise over Cecile Lake in Ansel Adams Wilderness.

Below: Clyde Minaret (12,281 feet elevation) cuts a sharp shadow in late afternoon over Minaret Lake in the Ritter Range.
Clyde Minaret (12,281 feet elevation) cuts a sharp shadow in late afternoon over Minaret Lake in the Ritter Range in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, in backcountry near the town of Mammoth Lakes, California, USA. We backpacked for 5 days from Agnew Meadows to Thousand Island Lake, Garnet Lake, Ediza Lake, & Minaret Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

At sunrise, the Minarets reflect in Minaret Lake in the Ritter Range, Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, in backcountry near the town of Mammoth Lakes, California, USA. At 12,281 feet elevation, Clyde Minaret is the highest, sharpest peak of the Minarets. We backpacked for 5 days from Agnew Meadows to Thousand Island Lake, Garnet Lake, Ediza Lake, & Minaret Lake. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above and below: At sunrise, the Minarets reflect in Minaret Lake.

At sunrise, the Minarets reflect in Minaret Lake in the Ritter Range, Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, in backcountry near the town of Mammoth Lakes, California, USA. At 12,281 feet elevation, Clyde Minaret is the highest, sharpest peak of the Minarets. We backpacked for 5 days from Agnew Meadows to Thousand Island Lake, Garnet Lake, Ediza Lake, Minaret Lake, and Devils Postpile Ranger Station, reaching trailheads using the Reds Meadow Shuttle from the town of Mammoth Lakes. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Comfortable yet lightweight overnight backpacking gear
  • 1.8-pound TarpTent Stratospire Li double-wall tent for two: saves weight by using two hiking poles for support.
  • 2.5-pound Enlightened Equipment “Accomplice” Quilt covers two people, rated 10 degrees F, includes pad straps.
  • Big Agnes Insulated QCore SLX sleeping pads 20×66″, 3.5″ thick, comfy, 18 oz each
  • Food: freeze-dried dinners. Calorie-dense lunches and breakfasts. For the Pine Creek Trail, tying bear bags onto tree trunks away from camp at night protected our food (and protected bears from the falling risks of pursuing a higher-hung cache). We encountered no bears this summer, as most hikers seem now better-trained to protect food. In Mammoth Lakes area, we stored food in mandatory hard canisters.
  • Luxury items: one Helinox 1.1-pound chair, carried by “chairpa” Tom; Kindle E-reader; Samsung Note9 Smartphone for GPS maps; battery bank charger 10,000 mAh
  • Carrying the pocket-sized Sony RX100M6 camera saved several pounds compared to my RX10M4 system.
Sierra acclimatization day hikes done August 7-19, 2021

Off of Highway 50, popular Wrights Lake Campground was full, so we found free dispersed camping nearby in Eldorado National Forest. Sadly, heavy smoke crept in that night, aborting the next day’s hike on Grouse Lake Trail into Desolation Wilderness. Acclimatizing our lungs would have to start higher than at the locally moderate elevation of 7000 feet. Darn. We had to drive 4 hours southwards to find healthier smoke conditions. Turning west of Highway 395 at Toms Place reached the wonderful retreat of Little Lakes Valley.

On August 7, from Rock Creek Lake (at a gasping 9700 feet elevation) we puffed upwards to reach Dorothy Lake at 10,560 feet elevation (6 miles round trip with 960 feet total cumulative gain and loss). Despite our destination lake being a little smoky and 80% shriveled by drought, the quiet trail and surrounding scenery refreshed us. Whew, not bad. Little did we know — the following day’s popular hike to Gem Lakes featured stunning pyramidal peaks reflected in multiple lakes and streams, with beauty around every corner (7.9 miles round trip with 1040 ft gain). Having been here once 6 years ago, we knew to avoid the extra grunt to humdrum Morgan Pass.

For the next three nights, we car camped at Willows Campground, out of Bishop. From Bishop Pass Trailhead at South Lake, we day hiked 7.2 miles round trip with 2040 feet gain to a third lake above the first two Treasure Lakes. Wow, it’s another impressive hike surrounded by pyramidal granite peaks reflected in pristine alpine lakes.

On August 10, we walked Tyee Lakes Trail, next to Willows Campground (6.4 miles, 2000 feet gain). Rebecca continued upwards from Tyee Lakes on a traverse over to Sabrina Lake (8.6 miles with 2530 ft gain), where we drove to pick her up, then return to Willows Campground.

Yellow monkeyflowers (Mimulus genus) thrive along splashy South Fork Bishop Creek above the first two Treasure Lakes, in Inyo National Forest, Bishop, California, USA. From Bishop Pass Trailhead at South Lake, we dayhiked 7.2 miles round trip with 2040 feet gain to a third lake above the first two Treasure Lakes. In the evening, we car-camped at Willows Campground. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Yellow monkeyflowers (Mimulus genus) thrive along splashy South Fork Bishop Creek above the first two Treasure Lakes, in Inyo National Forest, near Bishop, California.

On August 15 we tackled a harder hike, from Big Pine Creek South Fork to Brainerd Lake (aka Brainard Lake), 9.2 miles round trip with 2800 feet gain from the day hikers parking lot (which would have been 10.7 miles round trip from the overnight hikers lot).

Gnarly pine trees along Brainerd Lake Trail. Big Pine Creek South Fork, John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Gnarly pine trees along Brainerd Lake Trail. Big Pine Creek South Fork, John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, California.

The Brainerd Lake Trail affords striking views of the Palisades, along Big Pine Creek South Fork, in John Muir Wilderness within Inyo National Forest, west of Big Pine, in California, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Brainerd Lake Trail gives striking views of the Palisades around Mile 3.6, in John Muir Wilderness. From left to right are Middle Palisade Peak and Glacier, Norman Clyde Peak, Firebird Peak (aka “Peak 3862,” rising most prominently in the center foreground), Palisade Crest, and Mount Sill (14,153 ft). The Palisades group runs for 6 miles along the Sierra Crest, dividing the Owens Valley watershed (here) from the Central Valley, on the boundary between John Muir Wilderness and Kings Canyon National Park on the other side.

For final acclimatization before the two backpacking trips (described at top), we drove high into the White Mountains to find free dispersed camping in Inyo National Forest east of Bishop. Since last visiting six years ago, the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest was well worth repeating, for the Methuselah Walk (4.1-mile loop with 705 feet gain) amongst the world’s oldest living trees, more than 4000 years old. Nice Visitor Center!

Colorado: Chasm Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness

We hiked 8.5 miles round trip with 2500 feet gain to Chasm Lake, nestled under a majestic cirque of Longs Peak, in the northern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, near Estes Park, Colorado.

Longs Peak (14,259 feet) rises above Roaring Fork Creek, which is Chasm Lake's outlet, in Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness, near Estes Park, Colorado, USA. Hike 8.5 miles round trip with 2500 feet gain to Chasm Lake. Longs Peak is in the northern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Longs Peak (14,259 feet) rises above Roaring Fork Creek, which is Chasm Lake’s outlet.

Rock pattern on Longs Peak seen from Chasm Lake Trail, in Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness, Estes Park, Colorado, USA. Hike 8.5 miles round trip with 2500 feet gain to Chasm Lake. Longs Peak is in the northern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Rock pattern on Longs Peak seen from Chasm Lake Trail, in Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness.

Nebraska

After a family visit in Indiana, we pointed our RV back to Seattle. Bonus sights in Nebraska included the following:

Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum in Ashland, NE

Well worth a visit, the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum’s ominous aircraft and missiles are a sobering reminder of the Cold War, when the SAC served from 1965–1992 as nuclear air defense. In 1992, SAC was disbanded and reorganized into other units.

Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird (USAF s/n 61-7964) inside the entrance of the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum in Ashland, Nebraska, USA. The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird is a long-range, high-altitude, Mach 3+ strategic reconnaissance aircraft that was operated by both the United States Air Force (USAF) and NASA (from 1966-99). During aerial reconnaissance missions, the SR-71 could outrace threats using high speeds and altitudes (85,000 feet). As of 2021 the SR-71 continues to hold the official world record it set in 1976 for the fastest air-breathing manned aircraft: 2,190 mph or Mach 3.3. This museum focuses on aircraft and nuclear missiles of the United States Air Force during the Cold War. The US Air Force's Strategic Air Command (SAC) served 1965-1992 as nuclear air defense during the Cold War. (In 1992, SAC was ended, by reorganization into other units.) The museum's imposing aircraft and various war exhibits are a sobering reminder of the ongoing nuclear era, of which the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis was the scariest event. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird is a long-range, high-altitude strategic reconnaissance aircraft that was operated by both the United States Air Force (USAF) and NASA (from 1966-99). During aerial reconnaissance missions, the SR-71 could outrace threats using high speeds and altitudes (85,000 feet). As of 2021, the SR-71 continues to hold the official world record it set in 1976 for the fastest air-breathing manned aircraft: 2,190 miles per hour or Mach 3.3.

Below: A Vajen-Bader smoke helmet for firefighters. Its round eyes have mica for fireproof viewing and even wipers to clear condensation! Made in Indiana in the 1890s, the helmet let firemen carry their own oxygen supply in an attached compression tank and protected them from smoke and falling debris. The technology would later be applied to high-altitude flight.

Vajen-Bader smoke helmet for firefighters displayed at the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum in Ashland, Nebraska, USA. The round eyes have mica for fireproof viewing and even condensation wipers! Made in Indiana in the 1890s, the helmet let firemen carry their own oxygen supply (in an attached compression tank) and protected them from smoke and falling debris. The technology would later be applied to high-altitude flight. This museum focuses on aircraft and nuclear missiles of the United States Air Force during the Cold War. The US Air Force's Strategic Air Command (SAC) served 1965-1992 as nuclear air defense during the Cold War. (In 1992, SAC was ended, by reorganization into other units.) The museum's imposing aircraft and various war exhibits are a sobering reminder of the ongoing nuclear era, of which the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis was the scariest event. Also included are space exhibits. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

International Quilt Museum, Lincoln, NE

Although the International Quilt Museum has the world’s largest publicly held quilt collection, our timing was off, arriving between shifting exhibits. In a later year we’ll return to this attractive building, operated by the University of Nebraska.

Chimney Rock National Historic Site, NE

Acclaimed in the mid-1800s diaries of pioneer emigrants, Chimney Rock is worth a stop. Its Museum concisely reveals the travails of westward prairie emigrants who passed this 325-foot-high natural rock landmark along the Oregon Trail, California Trail, and Mormon Trail. Modern travelers can see it along U.S. Route 26 and Nebraska Highway 92. At 4228 feet above sea level, the distinctive formation towers 480 feet above the adjacent North Platte River Valley. Its layers of volcanic ash and brule clay date to the Oligocene Age (34 million to 23 million years ago).

Below: Prairie emigrants used covered farm wagons like this (instead of heavy boat-shaped Conestoga wagons), displayed at Chimney Rock National Historic Site.

Prairie emigrants used covered farm wagons like this (but not heavy boat-shaped Conestoga wagons), on display at Chimney Rock National Historic Site, Bayard, Nebraska,  USA. At Chimney Rock, a slender rock spire rises 325 feet from a conical base, serving as an impressive natural landmark along the Oregon Trail, the California Trail, and the Mormon Trail during the mid-1800s. Modern travelers can see it along U.S. Route 26 and Nebraska Highway 92. At 4228 feet above sea level, the distinctive formation towers 480 feet above the adjacent North Platte River Valley. Its layers of volcanic ash and brule clay date to the Oligocene Age (34 million to 23 million years ago). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, NE

Agate Fossil Beds boasts the most well-preserved Miocene fossils in the world. Exhibits also elucidated local native American history and culture.

Below, a skeleton diorama of the Agate waterhole of 20 million years ago (Miocene epoch) shows two entelodont mammals and a small beardog scavenging a chalicothere carcass (related to horse and rhino). The entelodont (Dinohyus hollandi) was a hoofed mammal 6-8 feet tall at the shoulder, with powerful jaws and teeth for eating both carrion and plants. The smaller skeleton in the foreground is a beardog (Daphoenodon superbus, the most common carnivore at the Agate waterhole site), which preyed upon juvenile rhinos, camels, and oreodonts. Notice that someone with a sense of humor put a blue mask on the beardog during the pandemic! The chalicothere (Moropus elatus) was related to the horse and rhino, standing 6 feet tall at the shoulder and having 3-toed, claw-like hooves.

A full-sized skeleton diorama of the Agate waterhole 20 million years ago shows two entelodont mammals and a small beardog scavenging a chalicothere carcass (related to horse and rhino), at Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, Harrison, Nebraska, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Fort Robinson State Park, NE

Continuing north towards Crawford on the edge of the High Plains, Fort Robinson State Park provides large campgrounds with attractive bluff scenery in the Pine Ridge region of northwest Nebraska (resembling the Black Hills 50 miles to the north). Fort Robinson was a US Army base (1874-1947) which played a major role in the Sioux Wars from 1876 to 1890.

The Mammoth Site, Hot Springs, South Dakota

Here is the largest collection of in-situ mammoth remains in the world. Although the Black Hills of South Dakota offer many other great sights, don’t miss this fascinating museum and active paleontological site. Sheltered under the Mammoth Site’s roof is an ongoing excavation of a prehistoric sinkhole filled with the remains of animals and plants preserved by entrapment and burial around 140,000 years ago, in the Late Pleistocene. Since mammoth bones were found here accidentally in 1974, the remains of 61 mammoths have been recovered (including 58 North American Columbian and 3 woolly mammoths as of 2021). The Pleistocene, often referred to as the Ice Age, is the geological epoch that lasted from about 2,580,000 to 11,700 years ago, spanning the earth’s most recent period of repeated glaciations. The most recent glaciation period reached peak conditions some 18,000 years ago before yielding to the interglacial Holocene epoch 11,700 years ago.

The Mammoth Site is a fascinating museum and active paleontological site in the town of Hot Springs, in the Black Hills, South Dakota, USA. It is the largest collection of in-situ mammoth remains in the world.  (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: “The Mammoth Site of Hot Springs” in the Black Hills.

Sinbad is a life-sized replica skeleton of a Columbian mammoth at the Mammoth Site, a fascinating museum and active paleontological site in the town of Hot Springs, in the Black Hills, South Dakota, USA. The Mammoth Site is the largest collection of in-situ mammoth remains in the world. Sheltered within the building is an ongoing excavation of a prehistoric sinkhole filled with the remains of Pleistocene animals and plants preserved by entrapment and burial. Since mammoth bones were found here accidentally in 1974, the remains of 61 mammoths have been recovered (including 58 North American Columbian and 3 woolly mammoths as of 2021). Due to geological conditions after the animals were trapped around 140,000 years ago, the excavated "fossil" bones are not petrified or turned to stone, so are very brittle, requiring professional handling. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Sinbad is a life-sized replica skeleton of a Columbian mammoth, featured at The Mammoth Site.

The giant short-faced bear (Arctodus sumus) was the largest land carnivore in North America during the Ice Age. See this full-scale skeleton in the the Mammoth Site, a fascinating museum and active paleontological site in the town of Hot Springs, in the Black Hills, South Dakota, USA. Sheltered within the building is an ongoing excavation of a prehistoric sinkhole filled with the remains of Pleistocene animals and plants preserved by entrapment and burial. The Pleistocene, often referred to as the Ice Age, is the geological epoch that lasted from about 2,580,000 to 11,700 years ago, spanning the earth's most recent period of repeated glaciations. The most recent glaciation period reached peak conditions some 18,000 years ago before yielding to the interglacial Holocene epoch 11,700 years ago. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Skeleton of an extinct giant short-faced bear (Arctodus sumus), the largest land carnivore in North America during the Ice Age.

A replica of Dima, a mummified baby woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) who died 41,000 years ago and was discovered in 1977 in Eastern Siberia. The skin color and hair presence on this replica was modified to match the original's appearance at the time of discovery. See the Dima replica at the Mammoth Site, a fascinating museum and active paleontological site in the town of Hot Springs, in the Black Hills, South Dakota, USA. The Pleistocene, often referred to as the Ice Age, is the geological epoch that lasted from about 2,580,000 to 11,700 years ago, spanning the earth's most recent period of repeated glaciations. The most recent glaciation period reached peak conditions some 18,000 years ago before yielding to the interglacial Holocene epoch 11,700 years ago. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: A replica of Dima, a mummified baby woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) who died 41,000 years ago and was discovered in 1977 in Eastern Siberia. The skin color and hair presence on this replica was modified to match the original’s appearance at the time of discovery.

Above are highlights. For a more extensive gallery of The Mammoth Site, see Tom’s Portfolio site.

Washington hikes in summer 2021

Before going to California’s Sierra Nevada, we trained on the following trails that were mostly new to us and easily drivable as day trips from Seattle:

  1. June 16: Soaring Eagle Regional Park (Sammamish): pleasing loops
  2. June 18 & 29: Oyster Dome Trail, and North Butte Loop, in Blanchard State Forest: impressive forest and views
  3. Redmond Watershed Preserve: several nice loops on non-muddy trail
  4. July 1: Chuckanut Mountain: good exercise through forest, if you’re passing through the area
  5. Issaquah Alps: Margaret’s Way in Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park; and Wilderness Peak on Squak Mountain
  6. July 12-13: Mount Rainier National Park: Sunrise: Skyscraper Pass on the Wonderland Trail; and the Palisades Trail to Hidden Lake
  7. Little Si including Boulder Loop (North Bend): a rewarding loop, familiar
  8. Lord Hill Regional Park (Snohomish): walk a multi-use loop through disturbed land (slowly rewilding)
  9. July 19: Ira Spring Trail to Mason Lake (I-90): steep and rewarding, hiked regularly in past years; avoid doing on weekends due to crowds
  10. July 21: Pratt Lake Trail (I-90): nicely graded and forested, crossing pretty streams
  11. and the following adventurous loop hike to Grand Valley on July 27…
Olympic National Park: loop hike from Obstruction Point to Grand and Badger Valleys

Reached by turning left just before the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, Obstruction Point Road provides Olympic National Park’s best views of shy Mount Olympus from a vehicle (open from about July 4 through October 15 depending on weather and snow on the steep, narrow gravel surface).

July 27, 2021 hiking report: Starting from Obstruction Point Trailhead, we day hiked a vigorous loop over Lillian Ridge to Grand Lake, with short side trip to Moose Lake, then returned the longer way along Grand Creek via Badger Valley Trail (9 miles with 2740 feet gain). Despite numerous backpackers and fellow day hikers along this popular National Park entry point, the wilderness feels refreshingly remote. For relaxation, allow two or more days round trip from Seattle to explore the Olympic Peninsula.

Mount Olympus (7963 ft elevation) seen from Lillian Ridge, near Obstruction Point, in Olympic National Park, Washington, USA. From Obstruction Point Trailhead, hike 9 miles with 2740 feet gain in a loop across Lillian Ridge to Grand Lake, plus side trip to Moose Lake, then return along Grand Creek via Badger Valley Trail. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: See majestic Mount Olympus (7963 ft elevation) from Lillian Ridge, near Obstruction Point, in Olympic National Park. I fondly recall climbing to the False Summit on May 30, 1982, just 80 feet short of the highest peak of Mount Olympus (45 miles round trip over 3 days with 7400 ft total gain and loss).

A Tiger Lily (Lilium columbianum) flower blooms in Grand Valley, Olympic National Park, Washington, USA. From Obstruction Point Trailhead, we hiked 9 miles with 2740 feet gain in a loop across Lillian Ridge to Grand Lake, plus side trip to Moose Lake, then return along Grand Creek via Badger Valley Trail in Olympic National Park. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: A Tiger Lily (Lilium columbianum) flower blooms in Grand Valley.

Hiking Chain Lakes loop, Mount Baker Wilderness in autumn

Our summer’s mammoth momentum continued through fall. On October 19, we enjoyed one of our favorite hikes in Washington:

  • Galena Chain Lakes loop, for 7.3 miles with 1800 feet gain and loss, starting from Bagley Lakes Trailhead (Ski Area parking lot). Start early in the morning and hike counterclockwise for better photographic lighting on the peaks.
  • When the road to Artist Point is open (from July until the first snowfall, by early October), the circuit can be shortened to 6 miles starting from Heather Meadows Visitor Center, in Mount Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest.

Dew drops on leaves (2021 October 19) in Heather Meadows, Mount Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Dew drops on leaves in Heather Meadows.

Mt Shuksan and red fall colors seen from the ascent to Herman Saddle on the Galena Chain Lakes loop trail, in Mount Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington, USA. On October 19, we hiked Galena Chain Lakes loop 7.3 miles with 1800 feet gain and loss, starting from Bagley Lakes Trailhead (Ski Area parking lot). (When the road to Artist Point is open, the circuit can be shortened to 6 miles starting from Heather Meadows Visitor Center.) (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Mt Shuksan and red fall colors seen from the ascent to Herman Saddle on the Galena Chain Lakes loop trail, in Mount Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest.

Mount Baker & Iceberg Lake seen from Herman Saddle in Mount Baker Wilderness, on the Galena Chain Lakes loop trail, Washington, USA. On October 19, we hiked Galena Chain Lakes loop 7.3 miles with 1800 feet gain and loss, starting from Bagley Lakes Trailhead (Ski Area parking lot). (When the road to Artist Point is open, the circuit can be shortened to 6 miles starting from Heather Meadows Visitor Center.) (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: See Mount Baker and Iceberg Lake on the descent from Herman Saddle into Mount Baker Wilderness, on the Galena Chain Lakes loop trail.

Mount Baker rises above Iceberg Lake in Mount Baker Wilderness, a part of Mount Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest, in Washington, USA. On October 19, we hiked Galena Chain Lakes loop 7.3 miles with 1800 feet gain and loss, starting from Bagley Lakes Trailhead (Ski Area parking lot). (When the road to Artist Point is open, the circuit can be shortened to 6 miles starting from Heather Meadows Visitor Center.) (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Mount Baker rises above Iceberg Lake in Mount Baker Wilderness.

Below: Mount Shuksan, seen from Kulshan Ridge in Heather Meadows.
Mount Shuksan seen from Kulshan Ridge, along the Galena Chain Lakes loop trail, in Heather Meadows, Mount Baker – Snoqualmie NF, Washington, USA. On October 19, we hiked Galena Chain Lakes loop 7.3 miles with 1800 feet gain and loss, starting from Bagley Lakes Trailhead (Ski Area parking lot). (When the road to Artist Point is open, the circuit can be shortened to 6 miles starting from Heather Meadows Visitor Center.) (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Above are the day’s highlights, where clicking any image loads Tom’s Portfolio site, showing a more extensive gallery, “2021 Oct 19: Chain Lakes loop, Mt Baker Wilderness”.

Related pages: Washington; California; Colorado; The Midwest (including Nebraska & South Dakota).

2021 April: Nevada: Valley of Fire & Cathedral Gorge State Parks

In Nevada, revisiting Valley of Fire State Park stunned us with rainbow rock patterns. Driving 3 hours north reaches Cathedral Gorge State Park, whose subtle mauve-colored formations shone best at golden sunset.

Below is Kaolin Wash. Starting 150+ million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the colorful sandstone formations in Valley of Fire State Park.
Sandstone rock patterns in Kaolin Wash, Valley of Fire State Park, near Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Clicking single images on this page launches them into Tom’s Portfolio site, where you can add to your shopping Cart.

2021 April 19-20: Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

The park adjoins Lake Mead National Recreation Area at the Virgin River confluence, at an elevation of 2000 to 2600 feet, 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas. Park entry from Interstate 15 passes through the Moapa Indian Reservation.

Valley of Fire State Park, Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: View from Rainbow Vista, in Valley of Fire State Park.

Fire Wave + Kaolin Wash + White Domes Trail loop hike

A delightful 3.5-mile spectacle-shaped loop (with 450 feet of gain and loss) starts at Park Turnout #3, goes to the Fire Wave, proceeds along the Seven Wonders Trail through Kaolin Wash, completes the White Domes Trail Loop back to the movie set remains, repeats a quarter mile of Kaolin Wash, turns north on Seven Wonders Trail past Thunderstorm Arch, and returns to Park Turnout #3.

Below, we explore the Fire Wave in Valley of Fire State Park:
Hikers explore the Fire Wave in Valley of Fire State Park, Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Sandstone rock patterns in Kaolin Wash, Valley of Fire State Park, near Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above and next seven images below: Kaolin Wash

Sandstone rock patterns in Kaolin Wash, Valley of Fire State Park, near Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Sandstone rock patterns in Kaolin Wash, Valley of Fire State Park, near Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Sandstone rock patterns in Kaolin Wash, Valley of Fire State Park, near Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Sandstone rock patterns in Kaolin Wash, Valley of Fire State Park, near Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Sandstone rock patterns in Kaolin Wash, Valley of Fire State Park, near Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Rock patterns in Kaolin Wash, Valley of Fire State Park, near Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Sandstone rock patterns in Kaolin Wash, Valley of Fire State Park, near Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Below: Hikers on the White Domes Loop Trail.
Rock patterns along the White Domes Loop Trail in Valley of Fire State Park, near the town of Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. A great 3.5-mile "spectacle loop" (with 450 feet of gain and loss) starts at Park Turnout #3, goes to the Fire Wave, proceeds along the Seven Wonders Trail through Kaolin Wash, completes the White Domes Trail Loop back to the movie set remains, repeats a quarter mile of Kaolin Wash, turns north on Seven Wonders Trail past Thunderstorm Arch, and returns to Park Turnout #3. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Rock patterns along the White Domes Loop Trail in Valley of Fire State Park, near the town of Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. A great 3.5-mile "spectacle loop" (with 450 feet of gain and loss) starts at Park Turnout #3, goes to the Fire Wave, proceeds along the Seven Wonders Trail through Kaolin Wash, completes the White Domes Trail Loop back to the movie set remains, repeats a quarter mile of Kaolin Wash, turns north on Seven Wonders Trail past Thunderstorm Arch, and returns to Park Turnout #3. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Orange pattern on white sandstone on the White Domes Loop Trail

Thunderstorm Arch in Valley of Fire State Park, near the town of Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. A great 3.5-mile "spectacle loop" (with 450 feet of gain and loss) starts at Park Turnout #3, goes to the Fire Wave, takes the Seven Wonders Trail through Kaolin Wash westwards, completes the White Domes Trail Loop back to the movie set remains, repeats a quarter mile of Kaolin Wash eastwards, turns north on Seven Wonders Trail past Thunderstorm Arch, and returns to Park Turnout #3. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Thunderstorm Arch is a short side trip from Seven Wonders Trail.

Gallery show: “Nevada: Valley of Fire State Park” all images from 2021, 2011, 1999, 1995


Click “i” to read descriptive Captions in the above gallery show. Click the dotted square to scroll a set of thumbnail images. Add any of the above images to your shopping Cart at this link: “Nevada: Valley of Fire State Park” in Tom’s Portfolio.

2021 April 20-21: Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Million-year-old lake sediments have eroded into fantastic mud castles at Cathedral Gorge State Park, near Panaca, Nevada.

Million-year-old lake sediments have eroded into fantastic mud castles at Cathedral Gorge State Park, Panaca, Nevada, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: A mud castle traps a tumbleweed in Cathedral Gorge State Park.

Inside a slot canyon at the Moon Caves in Cathedral Gorge State Park, Panaca, Nevada, USA. Million-year-old lake sediments have eroded into fantastic mud castles at Cathedral Gorge State Park. This image was HDR-stitched from two photos to increase the dynamic range from light to dark with low noise. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Inside a slot canyon at the Moon Caves in Cathedral Gorge State Park. This image was HDR-stitched from two photos to increase the dynamic range from light to dark with low noise.

1930s CCC stone water tower at Cathedral Gorge State Park, Panaca, Nevada, USA. The stone water tower was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s but is no longer in use. Million-year-old lake sediments have eroded into fantastic mud castles at Cathedral Gorge State Park. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
The stone water tower was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s but is no longer in use, in Cathedral Gorge State Park.

Sunset colors clouds above mud towers in Cathedral Gorge State Park, Panaca, Nevada, USA. Million-year-old lake sediments have eroded into fantastic mud castles at Cathedral Gorge State Park. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Sunset colors clouds above mud towers in Cathedral Gorge State Park.

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Gallery show: “Nevada: Cathedral Gorge State Park; Hickison Petroglyphs” all images from 2021, 2019, 1999


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Check out Tom’s Southwest USA articles: UtahArizona, ColoradoNew Mexico, and Nevada.

Our complete trip itinerary 2021 Mar 21-April 22

In brief: Seattle > Chico family visit > Lake Tahoe > snowy Mono Lake > Bishop > Mojave NSP > Joshua Tree NP > Mecca Wilderness > Palm Springs > Hualapai Mountain Park > Grand Canyon rafting for 16 days > Valley of Fire SP > Cathedral Gorge SP > Seattle

In more detail:

  • Mar 21 Sun: depart Seattle.
  • Mar 22 Mon: visit family in Chico.
  • Mar 23 Tues: On Highway 32, we tour the Big Chico Creek Environmental Reserve (BCCER) to adopt acres for the Dempsey Endowment in Memory of David P. Dempsey. Our group includes family members, CSUC president Gayle Hutchinson, and BCCER staff.
  • Mar 24 Wed: Finally, my first visit to Dad & Mom’s senior living apartment since 15 months ago, isolated by the pandemic!
  • Mar 25 Thurs: drive from California’s Central Valley via Tahoe and snowy Mono Lake to a friend’s house at Round Valley, near Bishop.

[Read Tom’s article covering “2021 March: California desert: Kelso Dunes, Joshua Tree NP, Mecca Wilderness, Indian Canyons.”]

  • Mar 26 Fri: spectacular snowy Sierra peaks and warm Death Valley on drive to Kelso Dunes Trailhead Campground in Mojave National Preserve, to meet with nephew Griff & friend Marianna.
  • Mar 27 Sat: Kelso Dunes was a fun hike in Mojave National Preserve. Drive to Joshua Tree NP. Check in spontaneously at Joshua Tree Lake RV & Campground (which had many available sites despite the big weekend traffic), a refreshing oasis with delightful duck pond. We drove the Park Boulevard loop counterclockwise, which was crowded on this spring weekend. We weren’t expecting the long lines of cars backing up the Park’s entrance and every available parking lot, until we remembered that this was the weekend of Palm Sunday and accessible as a day trip from the populous Los Angeles area. We admired a huge Parry’s nolina, Mojave mound cacti with red buds, and other natural botanical wonders. We walked to the dry Barker Dam on a warm afternoon (2.6 mi round trip lollipop-shaped loop, 110 ft gain.
  • Mar 28 Sun: 49 Palms Canyon Trail. The dense Cholla Garden is vibrant yellow. Drive south to camp overnight in BLM Dispersed Campsite along Painted Canyon Road with nice sunset view of badlands, albeit somewhat scarred by ORVs and litter.
  • Mar 29 Mon: Mecca Wilderness Area: Ladder Canyon and Painted Canyon Loop Trail. Drive to Lake Cahuilla Veterans Regional Park Campground for night 1 of 2.
  • Mar 30 Tues: Hike the Palm Canyon Trail to Indian Potrero Trail to Stone Pools, and loop back via Victor Trail. We do laundry in La Quinta. Stay at Lake Cahuilla Veterans Regional Park Campground for night 2 of 2.
  • Mar 31: drive 4 hrs to the nice Hualapai Mountain Park Campground, on a paved road 14 miles south of Kingman. The 42 degrees F low overnight was warmer than expected at this 6300-foot altitude.
  • April 1: In Hualapai Mountain Park, we hiked East Potato Patch Loop Trail for 2.6 miles with 700 feet gain to pleasant views of surrounding desert, but ice on a cliff ledge turned us back. In Flagstaff, we stayed at Woody Mountain Campground for 2 nights.

[Read Tom’s article covering “2021 April: rafting Grand Canyon 226 gorgeous miles, Arizona.”]

  • April 2: Due to April temperatures in Flagstaff expected to be in the 20s degrees F overnight, we winterize our RV. We attend the Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA) meeting at 7pm in preparation for boating 16 days.
  • April 3-18: With Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA), we boated for 16 days covering 226 miles by raft and dory down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park!

[You are currently reading the article that covers “2021 April: Nevada: Valley of Fire & Cathedral Gorge State Parks.”]

  • April 19: Drive to Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada, where we claim the last campsite in Arch Rock Campground around 4:00pm (first come, first served).
  • April 20: Starting just after sunrise at Valley of Fire State Park Turnout #3, we walked a great 3.5-mile spectacle-shaped loop (with 450 feet of gain and loss): first to the Fire Wave, then along the Seven Wonders Trail through Kaolin Wash, then around the complete White Domes Trail Loop back to the movie set remains, then repeat a quarter mile of Kaolin Wash, then turn north on Seven Wonders Trail past Thunderstorm Arch, and then return to the parking lot at Park Turnout #3. Drive to Cathedral Gorge State Park Campground. Sunset walk 2.5 mi to Moon Caves, etc.
  • April 21: Cathedral Gorge State Park: 2.75 mile loop walk in morning, mauve formations. Stay at Farewell Bend SP Campground, Oregon.
  • April 22: Drive to Seattle.

2021 April: rafting Grand Canyon 226 gorgeous miles, Arizona

In April 2021, we boated 226 gorgeous miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, from Lees Ferry to Diamond Creek over 16 eventful days. My peak experience was hiking 8 miles up sparkling Tapeats Creek to impressive Thunder River, across the remote desert of Surprise Valley, then down to delightful Deer Creek Slot Canyon and Falls. Carol’s favorite was swimming beautiful bright-turquoise water down travertine terraces of the Little Colorado River. See camera and clothing tips at bottom.

All images from rafting the Grand Canyon April 3-18, 2021


Click “i” to read descriptive Captions in the above gallery show. Click the dotted square to scroll a set of thumbnail images. Add any of the above images to your shopping Cart at this link: “2021 Apr 3-18: rafting Grand Canyon, AZ.” Highlights from this show are conveniently laid out further below.

The following video by fellow rafter Amanda Byrd and friends encapsulates the fun and joy of our trip. Please turn on Captions (CC/Subtitles) to read the words by Rebecca Douglass, sung by clients to their guides, to the tune of “The Sound of Silence” written by Paul Simon.

Above: YouTube video Hello Water My Old Friend – Grand Canyon April, 2021

Among the 15 Grand Canyon river concessioners, I chose:

Our skillful guides formed a truly exceptional team, as they enthusiastically served tasty food and spun river lore. This 16-day hikers’ special (offered only in April and late September) provides more onshore time than other trips to explore the wonderful side canyons, and lets you experience three kinds of craft (1 paddle raft, 1 dory boat, and 4 oar rafts). Plunging through whitewater and unplugging into sandy wildland camping for more than two weeks stretched our minds in new ways, away from clamorous news and social media. Grand Canyon’s colorful rock layers took us to awesome depths revealing 40% of Earth’s geologic history.

Having already paddled through the Grand Canyon in 1990 May 1-14 on a paddle boat run by Canyon Explorations, in 2021, I relaxed on AZRA’s dory and oar boats, each rowed by a guide, which left my hands free to take pictures—except when clinging to the boat during rapids! The many exciting rapids consumed only 10% of float time, leaving 90% placid time for contemplating canyon splendor, in the company of 24 nature-loving passengers and 7 guides. Minor discomforts included chilly wetness alternating with withering heat and living over two weeks in a sandy tent without hot showers. When wind subsided, many enjoyed sleeping without a tent under the brilliant starry night in the clear desert air with no rain.

Selfie view from Nankoweap Granaries Trail in Marble Canyon at Colorado River Mile 53.4. This image is from Day 3 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. . (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Selfie view from Nankoweap Granaries Trail at Colorado River Mile 53.4.

I recommend this great book: While a dangerous Colorado River deluge threatened Glen Canyon Dam in 1983, three legendary river runners set an incredible speed record, rowing through the entire Grand Canyon (277 miles) in just a day-and-a-half using a dory boat. Their thrilling adventure is poetically interwoven with natural and historical context, including struggles between conservationists and dam engineers, in the following classic:
The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon [at Amazon]” by Kevin Fedarko (2013)

Photo highlights

The following photo highlights are gleaned from the animated gallery show at top. Colorado River Mile 0 starts at Lees Ferry embarkation…

Initially masked per pandemic rafting regulations, our Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA) group embarks from Lees Ferry to boat the Colorado River for 226 miles through Grand Canyon National Park, in Arizona, USA. Masks were required during the initial meeting in Flagstaff, for bus rides, for embarkation at Lees Ferry, while being served for all meals, and for final disembarkation at Diamond Creek. Otherwise, this relatively safe outdoor activity was unencumbered by facial coverings, April 3-18, 2021. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. . (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Initially masked per pandemic rafting regulations, our Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA) group embarks from Lees Ferry (Mile 0) to boat down the Colorado River for 226 miles through Grand Canyon National Park. For pandemic safety, masks were required during the initial AZRA meeting in Flagstaff, for bus rides, for embarkation at Lees Ferry, while being served for all meals, and for final disembarkation at Diamond Creek. Otherwise, this relatively safe outdoor activity was unencumbered by facial coverings.

Highway 89A crosses the Colorado River here at River Mile 4.5 in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. The original Navajo Bridge was built in 1929. The new bridge was completed in 1995. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Highway 89A crosses the Colorado River here at River Mile 4.5. The original Navajo Bridge was built in 1929. The adjacent new bridge was completed in 1995.

A rare California condor takes flight from Historic 1929 Navajo Bridge, US Highway 89A, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. The original Navajo Bridge was built in 1929. The adjacent new bridge was completed in 1995. Highway 89A crosses the Colorado River here at River Mile 4.5 in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: One of the world’s rarest birds, a California condor (tagged for research) takes flight from the Historic 1929 Navajo Bridge. As of 2021, the world total of California condors is around 500, more than half of which are in the wild. Although still endangered and facing ongoing challenges such as lead poisoning, they’ve come a long way since numbering just 22 in 1982.

Our first lunch was staged at Six Mile Wash (River Mile 5.9) on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Masks were required during the initial meeting in Flagstaff, for bus rides, for initial embarkation at Lees Ferry, when being served for all meals, and for final disembarkation at Diamond Creek. Otherwise, this relatively safe outdoor activity was unencumbered by facial coverings, April 3-18, 2021. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Our first lunch was staged at Six Mile Wash (at River Mile 5.9).

Day 1 of 16 rafting the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. . (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Rowing through a rapid on Day 1 of 16 days boating through the Grand Canyon.

Sunrise light spotlights a wall in Marble Canyon on day 2 of 16, where we breakfasted at Twentymile Camp at Colorado River Mile 20.2 in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Marble Canyon runs from Lees Ferry at River Mile 0 to the confluence with the Little Colorado River at Mile 62, which marks the beginning of the Grand Canyon. Although John Wesley Powell knew that no marble was found here when he named Marble Canyon, he thought the polished limestone looked like marble. In his words, "The limestone of the canyon is often polished, and makes a beautiful marble. Sometimes the rocks are of many colors – white, gray, pink, and purple, with saffron tints." Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. . (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above and below: Sunrise light spotlights a wall in Marble Canyon on Day 2, where we breakfasted at Twentymile Camp at Colorado River Mile 20.2. Marble Canyon runs from Lees Ferry at River Mile 0 to the confluence with the Little Colorado River at Mile 62, which marks the beginning of the Grand Canyon. Although John Wesley Powell knew that no marble was found here when he named Marble Canyon, he thought the polished limestone looked like marble. In his words, “The limestone of the canyon is often polished, and makes a beautiful marble. Sometimes the rocks are of many colors – white, gray, pink, and purple, with saffron tints.”

Sunrise light spotlights a wall in Marble Canyon on day 2 of 16, where we breakfasted at Twentymile Camp at Colorado River Mile 20.2 in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Marble Canyon runs from Lees Ferry at River Mile 0 to the confluence with the Little Colorado River at Mile 62, which marks the beginning of the Grand Canyon. Although John Wesley Powell knew that no marble was found here when he named Marble Canyon, he thought the polished limestone looked like marble. In his words, "The limestone of the canyon is often polished, and makes a beautiful marble. Sometimes the rocks are of many colors – white, gray, pink, and purple, with saffron tints." (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Desert spiny lizard. We had lunch at South Canyon at River Mile 31.8, while rafting through Marble Canyon on day 2 of 16 days boating 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Marble Canyon runs from Lees Ferry at River Mile 0 to the confluence with the Little Colorado River at Mile 62, which marks the beginning of the Grand Canyon. Although John Wesley Powell knew that no marble was found here when he named Marble Canyon, he thought the polished limestone looked like marble. In his words, "The limestone of the canyon is often polished, and makes a beautiful marble. Sometimes the rocks are of many colors – white, gray, pink, and purple, with saffron tints." (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Desert spiny lizard, seen at South Canyon lunch spot at River Mile 31.8, while rafting through Marble Canyon on Day 2.

Rafting through Marble Canyon on day 2 of 16 days boating 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Marble Canyon runs from Lees Ferry at River Mile 0 to the confluence with the Little Colorado River at Mile 62, which marks the beginning of the Grand Canyon. Although John Wesley Powell knew that no marble was found here when he named Marble Canyon, he thought the polished limestone looked like marble. In his words, "The limestone of the canyon is often polished, and makes a beautiful marble. Sometimes the rocks are of many colors – white, gray, pink, and purple, with saffron tints." For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Jed spins a river tale in Marble Canyon on Day 2.

Redwall Cavern at River Mile 33.3, seen while rafting through Marble Canyon on day 2 of 16 days boating 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Marble Canyon runs from Lees Ferry at River Mile 0 to the confluence with the Little Colorado River at Mile 62, which marks the beginning of the Grand Canyon. Although John Wesley Powell knew that no marble was found here when he named Marble Canyon, he thought the polished limestone looked like marble. In his words, "The limestone of the canyon is often polished, and makes a beautiful marble. Sometimes the rocks are of many colors – white, gray, pink, and purple, with saffron tints." Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Redwall Cavern at River Mile 33.3, seen while rafting through Marble Canyon on Day 2.

Crinoid fossil at Redwall Cavern in Marble Canyon at River Mile 33.3, seen on day 2 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Marble Canyon runs from Lees Ferry at River Mile 0 to the confluence with the Little Colorado River at Mile 62, which marks the beginning of the Grand Canyon. Although John Wesley Powell knew that no marble was found here when he named Marble Canyon, he thought the polished limestone looked like marble. In his words, "The limestone of the canyon is often polished, and makes a beautiful marble. Sometimes the rocks are of many colors – white, gray, pink, and purple, with saffron tints." (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Crinoid fossil at Redwall Cavern in Marble Canyon at River Mile 33.3, seen on Day 2.

Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA) dory boat at Tatahatso Wash Camp (Mile 37.9) on the Colorado River in Marble Canyon in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Marble Canyon runs from Lees Ferry at River Mile 0 to the confluence with the Little Colorado River at Mile 62, which marks the beginning of the Grand Canyon. Although John Wesley Powell knew that no marble was found here when he named Marble Canyon, he thought the polished limestone looked like marble. In his words, "The limestone of the canyon is often polished, and makes a beautiful marble. Sometimes the rocks are of many colors – white, gray, pink, and purple, with saffron tints." For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. . (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA) dory boat at Tatahatso Wash Camp (River Mile 37.9) in the late afternoon of Day 2.

View down Marble Canyon from Nankoweap Granaries Trail at Colorado River Mile 53.4. This image is from Day 3 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above and below: View down Marble Canyon from Nankoweap Granaries Trail at Colorado River Mile 53.4 on Day 3.

We hiked to the prehistoric Nankoweap Granaries (1 mile round trip with 700-foot gain) from Main Nankoweap Camp at Colorado River Mile 53.4 for this view of Marble Canyon. In 1960, archaeologist Douglas W. Schwartz found corncobs, a pumpkin shell, and pumpkin seeds inside the granaries, evidently harvested from Nankoweap Creek Delta by Ancestral Puebloans between AD 1050 and 1150. This image is from Day 3 of 16 days boating 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA) trip leader Lorna Corson hugs a cactus next to assistant guide Bekah Martin. Hike to the prehistoric Nankoweap Granaries (1 mile round trip with 700-foot gain) from Main Nankoweap Camp at Colorado River Mile 53.4 in Marble Canyon. This image is from Day 3 of 16 days boating 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. . (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA) trip leader Lorna Corson hugs a cactus next to assistant guide Bekah Martin on the Nankoweap Granaries Trail.

Rafting through Marble Canyon, on Day 4 of 16 days boating 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Rafting through Marble Canyon, on Day 4.

Downstream of Blue Spring, the Little Colorado River glows brilliant turquoise due to suspension of minerals including calcium carbonate, seen on Day 4 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Marble Canyon runs from Lees Ferry at River Mile 0 to the confluence with the Little Colorado River at Mile 62, which marks the beginning of the Grand Canyon. Although John Wesley Powell knew that no marble was found here when he named Marble Canyon, he thought the polished limestone looked like marble. In his words, "The limestone of the canyon is often polished, and makes a beautiful marble. Sometimes the rocks are of many colors – white, gray, pink, and purple, with saffron tints." (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above and below: Downstream of Blue Spring, the Little Colorado River glows brilliant turquoise due to suspension of minerals including calcium carbonate, seen on Day 4 of 16 days.

A swimmer in Little Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Downstream of Blue Spring, the Little Colorado River glows brilliant turquoise due to suspension of minerals including calcium carbonate, seen on Day 4 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park. Marble Canyon runs from Lees Ferry at River Mile 0 to the confluence with the Little Colorado River at Mile 62, which marks the beginning of the Grand Canyon. Although John Wesley Powell knew that no marble was found here when he named Marble Canyon, he thought the polished limestone looked like marble. In his words, "The limestone of the canyon is often polished, and makes a beautiful marble. Sometimes the rocks are of many colors – white, gray, pink, and purple, with saffron tints." Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Sunset happy hour at Lava Canyon Camp at Colorado River Mile 66. Day 4 of 16 days boating 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. . (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Sunset happy hour at Lava Canyon Camp at Colorado River Mile 66 on Day 4.

Furnace Flats seen from the Tabernacle Trail. Hike 4.6 miles round trip with 2250 ft gain from Colorado River Mile 74.6 to the Tabernacle butte (4830 ft elevation). The trail starts from Upper Rattlesnake Camp by ascending a steep hogsback spine of Dox Sandstone. Atop the Tabernacle, admire views of the eastern Grand Canyon, including Furnace Flats and the Palisades of the Desert. Day 5 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Furnace Flats seen from the Tabernacle Trail. Hike 4.6 miles round trip with 2250 feet gain from Colorado River Mile 74.6 to the Tabernacle butte (4830 ft elevation). The trail starts from Upper Rattlesnake Camp by ascending a steep hogsback spine of Dox Sandstone. Atop the Tabernacle, admire views of the eastern Grand Canyon, including Furnace Flats and the Palisades of the Desert. Day 5.

AZRA Trip leader Lorna Corson rows a rapid on Day 6 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: AZRA Trip leader Lorna Corson rows a rapid on Day 6.

Lunch at Below Clear Creek Camp (River Mile 84.8) in the Inner Gorge. Day 6 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. "The rocks of the Vishnu Formation, predominantly mica schists, are the oldest in the Grand Canyon. Approximately 2 billion years ago, 25,000 feet of sediments were deposited and volcanics extruded onto the ancient sea floor. During an orogeny, a mountain-building episode, 1.7 billion years ago, those rocks were folded, faulted, and uplifted (metamorphosed), and intruded by the Zoroaster Formation, predominantly granite (also subsequently metamorphosed to form granite gneiss). The resulting mountain range is believed to have been 5-6 miles high. Over the next 500 million years, the mountains were eroded until only their roots remained, and today, the roots of those mountains form the steep walls of the inner gorge." - geologistwriter.com (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Lunch at Below Clear Creek Camp (River Mile 84.8) in the Inner Gorge. Day 6.

“The rocks of the Vishnu Formation, predominantly mica schists, are the oldest in the Grand Canyon. Approximately 2 billion years ago, 25,000 feet of sediments were deposited and volcanics extruded onto the ancient sea floor. During an orogeny, a mountain-building episode, 1.7 billion years ago, those rocks were folded, faulted, and uplifted (metamorphosed), and intruded by the Zoroaster Formation, predominantly granite (also subsequently metamorphosed to form granite gneiss). The resulting mountain range is believed to have been 5-6 miles high. Over the next 500 million years, the mountains were eroded until only their roots remained, and today, the roots of those mountains form the steep walls of the inner gorge.” —GeologistWriter.com

Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA) trip leader Lorna Corson rows under Bright Angel Bridge (aka Silver Bridge). Built in the late 1960s, the Silver Bridge supports hikers and the transcanyon water pipeline across the Colorado River, connecting the Bright Angel Trail from the South Rim to Phantom Ranch and the North Rim. Hikers only (no mules) may cross this narrow suspension bridge. Five-hundred-thousand gallons of water a day are piped from Roaring Springs near the North Rim down Bright Angel Canyon through Phantom Ranch, across the Colorado River, and then pumped up to provide almost all of the water to the South Rim tourist area. Day 6 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. . (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA) trip leader Lorna Corson rows under Bright Angel Bridge (aka Silver Bridge). Built in the late 1960s, the Silver Bridge supports hikers and the transcanyon water pipeline across the Colorado River, connecting the Bright Angel Trail from the South Rim to Phantom Ranch and the North Rim. Hikers only (no mules) may cross this narrow suspension bridge. Five-hundred-thousand gallons of water a day are piped from Roaring Springs near the North Rim down Bright Angel Canyon through Phantom Ranch, across the Colorado River, and then pumped up to provide almost all of the water to the South Rim tourist area. Day 6.

Schist Camp at Colorado River Mile 96.5 (measured downstream from Lees Ferry). Day 6 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. "The rocks of the Vishnu Formation, predominantly mica schists, are the oldest in the Grand Canyon. Approximately 2 billion years ago, 25,000 feet of sediments were deposited and volcanics extruded onto the ancient sea floor. During an orogeny, a mountain-building episode, 1.7 billion years ago, those rocks were folded, faulted, and uplifted (metamorphosed), and intruded by the Zoroaster Formation, predominantly granite (also subsequently metamorphosed to form granite gneiss). The resulting mountain range is believed to have been 5-6 miles high. Over the next 500 million years, the mountains were eroded until only their roots remained, and today, the roots of those mountains form the steep walls of the inner gorge." - geologistwriter.com (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Schist Camp at Colorado River Mile 96.5. Day 6.

Tents glow at night under the stars in Schist Camp in the Inner Gorge of Grand Canyon at Colorado River Mile 96.5 (measured downstream from Lees Ferry). Day 6 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Tents glow at night under the stars in Schist Camp in the Inner Gorge of Grand Canyon at Colorado River Mile 96.5 on Day 6.

Glenn gets splashed fafting the Inner Gorge between Colorado River Miles 97-108. Day 7 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Glenn gets splashed rafting the Inner Gorge between Colorado River Miles 97-108. Day 7.

Rafting the Inner Gorge of Grand Canyon between River Miles 97-108. Day 7 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Rafting the Inner Gorge of Grand Canyon between River Miles 97-108. Day 7.

Hike to Garnet Canyon from a beach at Colorado River Mile 115.5 (measured downstream from Lees Ferry). Day 8 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Hike to Garnet Canyon from a beach at Colorado River Mile 115.5 on Day 8.

Basement rocks of Vishnu Schist and Zoroaster Granite in Garnet Canyon. Hike to Garnet Canyon from a beach at Colorado River Mile 115.5 (measured downstream from Lees Ferry). The Vishnu Basement Rocks average about 1,700 to 2,000 million years old and consists of mica schist. These were originally sediments of sandstone, limestone and shale that were metamorphosed and combined with metamorphosed lava flows to form the schist. This layer along with the Zoroaster Granite were once the roots of an ancient mountain range that could have been as high as todays Rocky Mountains. The mountains were eroded away over a long period then topped by new sediments deposited by advancing and retreating seas. The crystalline Vishnu Basement Rocks underlie the Bass Limestone of the Unkar Group of the Grand Canyon Supergroup and the Tapeats Sandstone of the Tonto Group. These basement rocks consist of metamorphic rocks collectively known as the Granite Gorge Metamorphic Suite, sections of which contain granitic pegmatite, aplite, and granodiorite that have intruded into fractures as dikes. Day 8 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Basement rocks of Vishnu Schist and Zoroaster Granite in Garnet Canyon; trailhead is near Colorado River Mile 115.5. Day 8.

The Vishnu Basement Rocks average about 1,700 to 2,000 million years old and consist of mica schist. These were originally sediments of sandstone, limestone and shale that were metamorphosed and combined with metamorphosed lava flows to form the schist. This layer along with the Zoroaster Granite were once the roots of an ancient mountain range that could have been as high as todays Rocky Mountains. The mountains were eroded away over a long period then topped by new sediments deposited by advancing and retreating seas. The crystalline Vishnu Basement Rocks underlie the Bass Limestone of the Unkar Group of the Grand Canyon Supergroup and the Tapeats Sandstone of the Tonto Group. These basement rocks consist of metamorphic rocks collectively known as the Granite Gorge Metamorphic Suite, sections of which contain granitic pegmatite, aplite, and granodiorite that have intruded into fractures as dikes.

Walk to the waterfall at Elves Chasm at Colorado River Mile 117.2 (measured downstream from Lees Ferry). Day 8 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Walk to the waterfall at Elves Chasm at Colorado River Mile 117.2 on Day 8.

Tent & laundry line at Hundred and Twenty Mile Camp at Colorado River Mile 120.3 (also named Michael Jacobs Camp for an old guide who died here). Day 8 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Tent & laundry line at Hundred and Twenty Mile Camp (also named Michael Jacobs Camp for an old guide who died here) at Colorado River Mile 120.3 on Day 8.

Sunrise on rafts moored at 120-Mile Camp, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Day 9 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Sunrise on rafts moored at 120-Mile Camp on Day 9.

Tom showers in Stone Creek waterfall at Colorado River Mile 132.5 (measured downstream from Lees Ferry). Day 9 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Tom showers in Stone Creek waterfall at Colorado River Mile 132.5 on Day 9.

Below: Starting at River Mile 134.5, a portion of our party disembarked rafts for a hike one way up beautiful Tapeats Creek Trail to the wondrous Thunder Spring and River, across remote Surprise Valley Trail, then down Deer Creek Trail to meet others of our group at The Patio and Deer Creek Falls at River Mile 136.9. This scenic one-way traverse was 8 miles with 2300 feet gain (measured by my smartphone GPS app).
Hike up Tapeats Creek from River Mile 134.5 in Grand Canyon NP, Arizona, USA. Starting at River Mile 134.5, a portion of our party disembarked our rafts for a hike one way up beautiful Tapeats Creek Trail to the wondrous Thunder Spring and River, across remote Surprise Valley Trail, then down Deer Creek Trail to meet others of our group at The Patio and Deer Creek Falls at River Mile 136.9. This scenic one-way traverse was 8 miles with 2300 feet gain (measured by my smartphone GPS app). Day 10 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Desert primrose (aka dune evening primrose, Oenothera deltoides) blooms with white flowers along Tapeats Creek, in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Starting at River Mile 134.5, a portion of our party disembarked our rafts for a hike one way up beautiful Tapeats Creek Trail to the wondrous Thunder Spring and River, across remote Surprise Valley Trail, then down Deer Creek Trail to meet others of our group at The Patio and Deer Creek Falls at River Mile 136.9. This scenic one-way traverse was 8 miles with 2300 feet gain (measured by my smartphone GPS app). Day 10 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Desert primrose (aka dune evening primrose, Oenothera deltoides) blooms with white flowers along Tapeats Creek. Day 10.

Echinocereus triglochidiatus is a species of hedgehog cactus commonly known as claret cup cactus, Mojave mound cactus, or kingcup cactus. (It is the official state cactus of Colorado.) Starting at River Mile 134.5, a portion of our party disembarked our rafts for a hike one way up beautiful Tapeats Creek Trail to the wondrous Thunder Spring and River, across remote Surprise Valley Trail, then down Deer Creek Trail to meet others of our group at The Patio and Deer Creek Falls at River Mile 136.9. This scenic one-way traverse was 8 miles with 2300 feet gain (measured by my smartphone GPS app). Day 10 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: along the trail up Thunder River, Echinocereus triglochidiatus is a species of hedgehog cactus commonly known as claret cup cactus, Mojave mound cactus, or kingcup cactus (the official state cactus of Colorado).

The astounding volume of water in Thunder River emerges year-round from a deep cave system of Muav Limestone. The half-mile-long Thunder River drops 1200 feet over a series of waterfalls, making it the steepest river in the USA, and one of the shortest. It's a rare instance where a river is a tributary of a creek. While Tapeats Creek was named by the second Powell Expedition in the winter of 1871–1872, the expedition did not discover its main tributary, Thunder River (which wasn't found by European-Americans until 1904). Starting at River Mile 134.5, a portion of our party disembarked our rafts for a hike one way up beautiful Tapeats Creek Trail to the wondrous Thunder Spring and River, across remote Surprise Valley Trail, then down Deer Creek Trail to meet others of our group at The Patio and Deer Creek Falls at River Mile 136.9. This scenic one-way traverse was 8 miles with 2300 feet gain (measured by my smartphone GPS app). Day 10 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: The astounding volume of water in Thunder River emerges year-round from a deep cave system of Muav Limestone. The half-mile-long Thunder River drops 1200 feet over a series of waterfalls, making it the steepest river in the USA, and one of the shortest. It’s a rare instance where a river is a tributary of a creek. While Tapeats Creek was named by the second Powell Expedition in the winter of 1871–1872, the expedition did not discover its main tributary, Thunder River (which wasn’t found by European-Americans until 1904). Day 10.

Deer Creek slot canyon in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Starting at River Mile 134.5, a portion of our party disembarked our rafts for a hike one way up beautiful Tapeats Creek Trail to the wondrous Thunder Spring and River, across remote Surprise Valley Trail, then down Deer Creek Trail to meet others of our group at The Patio and Deer Creek Falls at River Mile 136.9. This scenic one-way traverse was 8 miles with 2300 feet gain (measured by my smartphone GPS app). Day 10 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park. (© Carol Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Deer Creek slot canyon on Day 10. (Photo © Carol Dempsey)

Deer Creek slot canyon in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Starting at River Mile 134.5, a portion of our party disembarked our rafts for a hike one way up beautiful Tapeats Creek Trail to the wondrous Thunder Spring and River, across remote Surprise Valley Trail, then down Deer Creek Trail to meet others of our group at The Patio and Deer Creek Falls at River Mile 136.9. This scenic one-way traverse was 8 miles with 2300 feet gain (measured by my smartphone GPS app). Day 10 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Deer Creek slot canyon at River Mile 136.9.

Mist forms a rainbow under Deer Creek Falls in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Starting at River Mile 134.5, a portion of our party disembarked our rafts for a hike one way up beautiful Tapeats Creek Trail to the wondrous Thunder Spring and River, across remote Surprise Valley Trail, then down Deer Creek Trail to meet others of our group at The Patio and Deer Creek Falls at River Mile 136.9. This scenic one-way traverse was 8 miles with 2300 feet gain (measured by my smartphone GPS app). Day 10 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Mist forms a rainbow under Deer Creek Falls in the Grand Canyon at River Mile 134.5 on Day 10.

Scalloped rock pattern. Day 11 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Scalloped rock pattern on Day 11.

A healthy male desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) seen on Day 12 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. 31 years after I last rafted the Grand Canyon in 1990, I noticed lots more (dozens of) native bighorn sheep in 2021, a healthy sign for this fascinating ecosystem, which is gradually recovering since nonnative wild burros were removed in the 1960s. Since Glen Canyon Dam was completed in 1966, floods no longer scour the vegetation or deposit as much sand on the diminishing beaches (which affects rafters). Aggressive nonnative species such as tamarisk trees continue to threaten native riparian biodiversity. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: A healthy male desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni). Day 12.

31 years after I last rafted the Grand Canyon in 1990, I noticed lots more (dozens of) native bighorn sheep in 2021, a healthy sign for this fascinating ecosystem, which is gradually recovering since nonnative wild burros were removed in the 1960s. Since Glen Canyon Dam was completed in 1966, floods no longer scour the vegetation or deposit as much sand on the diminishing beaches (which affects rafters). Aggressive nonnative species such as tamarisk trees continue to threaten native riparian biodiversity.

Hikers reflect in a plunge pool in Fern Glen slot canyon at Colorado River Mile 168.6. Day 12 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Hikers reflect in a plunge pool in Fern Glen slot canyon at Colorado River Mile 168.6 on Day 12.

Canyon walls reflect in the Colorado River on Day 13 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Canyon walls reflect in the Colorado River on Day 13.

Canyon walls tower over our boats on Day 13 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Canyon walls tower over AZRA boats on Day 13.

A green pool in Mohawk Canyon hiked from Colorado River Mile 171.9. Day 13 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: A green pool in Mohawk Canyon hiked from Colorado River Mile 171.9 on Day 13.

A motorized raft runs Lava Falls Rapid at Colorado River Mile 179.7. Day 13 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: A motorized raft runs notorious Lava Falls Rapid at Colorado River Mile 179.7 on Day 13.

Rafting through Lava Falls Rapid at Colorado River Mile 179.7. Day 13 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: We raft through the anxiously-awaited Lava Falls Rapid at Colorado River Mile 179.7 on Day 13.

Starting from River Mile 187.9 in Grand Canyon National Park, Whitmore Trail goes 3 miles round trip with 920 feet gain, heading south into Grand Canyon–Parashant National Monument, on Day 14 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Starting from River Mile 187.9 in Grand Canyon National Park, Whitmore Trail heads north into Grand Canyon–Parashant National Monument (covering 3 miles round trip with 920 feet gain). Day 14 of 16 days rafting.

Hexagonal basalt columns. Hike Whitmore Trail (about 3 miles round trip with 920 feet gain) from Colorado River Mile 187.9. Day 14 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Hexagonal cross-sections of basalt columns on Whitmore Trail at Mile 187.9 on Day 14.

A desert rock nettle (Eucnide urens or desert stingbush) shrub blooms with creamy yellow flowers in Two Hundred and Twenty Mile Canyon at Colorado River Mile 220.1. Day 15 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: A desert rock nettle (Eucnide urens or desert stingbush) shrub blooms with creamy yellow flowers in Two Hundred and Twenty Mile Canyon at Colorado River Mile 220.1 on Day 15.

At Two Hundred and Twenty Mile Canyon, we stayed at the Middle Camp at Colorado River Mile 220.1. This photo is on the morning of Day 16 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: At Two Hundred and Twenty Mile Canyon, we stayed at the Middle Camp at Colorado River Mile 220.1. Photographed on our last morning, on Day 16.

On the last of 16 days boating together for 226 miles, our group lay down on the job of raft deflation, at Diamond Creek on the Hualapai Indian Reservation, Arizona, USA. During this pandemic trip (April 3-18, 2021), masks were required during the initial meeting in Flagstaff, for bus rides, for initial embarkation at Lees Ferry, for serving lines at all meals, and for final disembarkation at Diamond Creek. Otherwise, our healthy outdoor raft trip was unencumbered by facial coverings. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: On the last of 16 days boating together for 226 miles, our group lay down on the job of raft deflation, at Diamond Creek on the Hualapai Indian Reservation.

Camera recommendations for rafting

  • Smartphones cameras: should be waterproof and well protected, such as in a Temdan smartphone case which gives easy access to all buttons, including the power button. Your smartphone case or holder should have a lanyard attachable to your life vest with a small locking carabiner. Our waterproof Samsung Note 9 smartphones were useful as my wife’s main camera and my backup. (Our Willbox Professional case was too bulky and wasted precious phone power by not allowing power button access.)
  • Recommended: waterproof, shockproof, dust-resistant Olympus Tough TG-6 waterproof camera (2019, 9 oz, 25-100mm, f/2.0-4.9 lens), which can potentially beat contemporary smartphone image quality if you shoot and edit raw file format, as I did using the earlier TG-4.
  • For photography on dry land, I recommend the best POCKETABLE CAMERA , the 8x zoom Sony RX100 VII (price at Amazon) or RX100 VI with 1-inch Type sensor. Read my Sony RX100M6 review. This pocket camera, backup batteries, and soft carrying case fit well inside the Pelican 1060 Micro Case. When your guide on a motor rig, oar boat, or dory says that you have enough placid time before the next rapid, it’s possible to risk the camera out of the hard case for quick shots (which isn’t practical if you are an active paddler on a paddle boat).
  • Portable charger battery pack: is essential for recharging smartphones and cameras for the extended time away from electrical outlets.
  • Beware that bringing a larger or pricier camera risks damage from sand, water, and impacts.
  • A hard waterproof case (such as Pelican case) is required to protect your camera or anything fragile. (On the boat, your gear is stored in flexible dry bags which are tossed about, compressed by straps, and may be stepped upon as people clamber around.)

Clothing recommendations for rafting

Brrrr, my inadequate raincoat failed to defray the frequent splashes from the bone-chilling 50- to 55-degree-Fahrenheit water, released from the frigid bottom of Lake Powell! As rapids doused us randomly and intense sun alternated with canyon shade, we frequently vacillated between being too cold or too hot! Dressing in layers was helpful to a point, but when soaked, any extra layers added for warm tend to retain frigid water and delay drying out. That’s why you see the guides counter-intuitively wearing few layers (helped by frequent rowing to raise body temperature). Keep dry clothes, a warm knit hat, and hiking shoes available in your waterproof day bag.

  • Waterproof paddling jacket: Invest in a long paddling jacket with a fitted waterproof neck (I say with hindsight).
  • In early April 2021, record-warm air temperatures helped us warm up and dry out in the sun, but then overheating became a risk. When afternoon hiking became uncomfortably hot (85 to 90+ degrees), presoaking our shirts felt great. For handling intense sun while boating on a hot day, we liked shading ourselves with a multi-use cotton sarong wetted in river water. When you wear shorts on a hot afternoon then get cold as evening falls, a warm dry sarong stylishly wraps legs, for both women and men.
  • Footwear: While boating, on some days I wore lightweight waterproof breathable socks with Crocs sandals with heal straps and enclosed toe box; but cleaning and drying the socks took more time and effort than using wetsuit booties. Beware, those who wore bare feet in sandals were exposed to intense sunburn through the open slats. My wetsuit booties worked well in the rafts, but had painfully-thin soles for the frequent walks on rocks. Instead, I recommend wetsuit boots that have a stiff waffle tread, to accommodate shorter hikes of up to a mile or so. For longer hikes, change into dry trail-running shoes (like Altra’s “Olympus” or Hoka) with good hiking socks. To prevent skin cracking in the dry desert air, frequently moisturize your hands and feet (especially the heal), because repeated river splashes suck away your natural oils.
  • Sun gloves: “Coolibar UPF 50+ Gannett UV Gloves – Sun Protective” are worn by me throughout the day in dry climates and on any hike. If you paddle a lot, instead pick a good paddle glove. To prevent skin cancer, get gloves that fully cover your finger tips.
  • Hats: For rafting and desert hiking: Sunday Afternoons Sun Guide Cap. For any hiking: Sunday Afternoons Ultra Adventure Hat. I brought both.
  • Dry bags: For protection from water and sand, bring extra lightweight dry bags and waterproof resealable plastic bags for clothing and gear. Expect that the company-provided dry bags may leak, so everything should be double or triple bagged. Bring carabiners to lock your day bag and water bottles to the boat.

Itinerary: our rafting, hiking, and camping locations April 3-18, 2021

Due to April temperatures in Flagstaff expected to be in the 20s degrees F overnight, we winterized our RV before leaving it for 16 days at the departure hotel. On the evening of April 2, trip participants masked up and met Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA) at Little America Flagstaff to prepare for the float trip.

  • Day 1: April 3: Ride AZRA bus from Flagstaff to Lees Ferry (Colorado River Mile 0) to meet the guides and board the meticulously prepared boats—4 rafts, 1 dory, and 1 paddle boat. Lunch at Six Mile Wash (5.9) (Georgie White’s favorite camp). Camp at Twentymile Camp (20.2). Marble Canyon runs from Lees Ferry at River Mile 0 to the confluence with the Little Colorado River at Mile 62, which marks the beginning of the Grand Canyon.
  • Day 2: April 4: Lunch at South Canyon (Mile 31.8). Stop at Redwall Cavern (Mile 33.3). Camp at Tatahatso Wash (Mile 37.9)
  • Day 3: April 5: See Anasazi Foot Bridge (Ancestral Puebloan Foot Bridge) at 43.5. Lunch, then hike to the Nankoweap Granaries. Some hike further to Little Nankoweap to spot the snow-capped North Rim. Two boats doing fish research swing by and gave us a talk about their project. Camp at Main Nankoweap Camp (53.4).
  • Day 4: April 6: Stopped for a float on Little Colorado River (61.7), beautiful turquoise blue. Lunch. Boat to Lava Canyon Camp (65.9). Hike a short distance in Lava Canyon.
  • Day 5: April 7: Boat to Upper Rattlesnake Camp (74.6). Hike 4.6 miles round trip with 2250 ft gain to the Tabernacle (4830 ft elevation). See burrow trace fossils.
  • Day 6: April 8: Float the Inner Gorge, a big rapid day. Stop to scout then run Hance Rapid. Lunch at Below Clear Creek Camp (84.8). Schist Camp (96.5).
  • Day 7: April 9: Early arrival at Parkins Inscription Camp at Mile 108.6. Little-known “Geo. W. Parkins” neatly carved his name and “Washington D.C. 1903” into this hard Vishnu Schist rock. Lunch. From Parkins Inscription Camp, we hiked North Bass Trail to Shinumo Creek, to Bass’s old camp (featuring old rusting kitchenware). A dip in the rushing waters of Shinumo Creek refreshed us on an unusually hot April day.
  • Day 8: April 10: Stop downstream of Garnet Canyon at (115.5). Clamber up steep rocks with the help of guides, then hike upstream to Garnet Canyon for lunch. Boat to Elves Chasm (117.2). Boat to Hundred and Twenty Mile Camp (120.3) (also named Michael Jacobs Camp for an old guide who died here.)
  • Day 9: April 11: Stop at Stone Creek Camp (132.5) for short hike to first waterfall of Stone Creek. Boat to Talking Heads Camp (133.7) for lunch and relaxing afternoon.
  • Day 10: April 12: Quick float just 0.7 miles down to Below Tapeats Camp (134.5), where Tom traverse hikes (8 miles with 2600 feet gain) with Rebecca and several others up Tapeats Creek Trail to Thunder River and Spring, across Surprise Valley Trail, then down Deer Creek Trail (wilted by 90+ degrees Fahrenheit conditions until reaching the cool creek) to The Patio, Deer Creek Slot Canyon, and Deer Creek Falls, where the boats are moored at River Mile 136.9. Others rafted down to Deer Creek, where some stayed at Deer Creek Waterfall while a larger group hiked up to The Patio area or beyond. Guides John and Bekah ran a reverse hike to pick up remaining rafts at Tapeats Creek and ferry down to Deer Creek. We then briefly float across the river to OC’s Camp (137.1).
  • Day 11: April 13: Lunch at Upper Ledges (151.9). Boat to 158.7 Mile Camp (Bloody Ledges Camp).
  • Day 12: April 14: Early arrival at Fern Glen Camp (168.6). Lunch then hike up Fern Glen Canyon.
  • Day 13: April 15: Stop at Mohawk Canyon (171.9) for hike. Boat to 172.6 Camp for lunch. Stop to scout, then run the anxiously awaited Lava Falls Rapid (179.7) and Son of Lava Falls Rapid! No problems. Boat to Below Lower Lava Camp (aka Tequila Beach, at 180.1)
  • Day 14: April 16: Hike Whitmore Trail up to Whitmore Overlook (3 miles round trip with 920 feet gain) from Colorado River Mile 187.9, followed by lunch on a sand bar island surrounded by a river eddy. Boat to Below Parashant Camp (198.9).
  • Day 15: April 17: Lunch at Two Hundred and Fourteen Mile Camp (214.5). Mike and Jen chose to swim Three Springs Rapid (216). Boat to Two Hundred and Twenty Mile Canyon, Middle Camp (220.1).
  • Day 16: April 18. Boat to the take-out at Diamond Creek (Colorado River Mile 225.9) on the Hualapai Indian Reservation. Ride the AZRA bus back to Flagstaff.

The rafting trip was part of the following longer trip March 21-April 22, 2021:
Seattle > Chico family visit > Lake Tahoe > snowy Mono Lake > Bishop > Mojave NSP > Joshua Tree NP > Mecca Wilderness > Palm Springs > Hualapai Mountain Park > Grand Canyon rafting for 16 days > Valley of Fire SP > Cathedral Gorge SP > Seattle

2021 March: California desert: Kelso Dunes, Joshua Tree NP, Mecca Wilderness, Indian Canyons

As the pandemic gradually waned, we enjoyed hiking four desert areas in Southern California: Mojave National Preserve; Joshua Tree National Park; Mecca Hills Wilderness; and the Indian Canyons, a great “tour de fronds” at Palm Springs.

Kelso Dunes Trail, Mojave National Preserve

Starting the Kelso Dunes Trail before sunrise allows positioning for better photography and cooler walking as the sun rises (650 feet gain in 3 miles round trip). It’s two steps forward and one step back on the steep sand, making hiking to the top harder than would be a trail on solid ground.

Providence Mountains, seen from Kelso Dunes Trail, in Mojave National Preserve, near the town of Baker, in San Bernardino County, California, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Sunrise over Kelso Dunes in Mojave National Preserve, near the town of Baker, in San Bernardino County.

Kelso Dunes, Mojave National Preserve, near the town of Baker, in San Bernardino County, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above and below: Kelso Dunes, Mojave National Preserve, near the town of Baker.

Kelso Dunes, Mojave National Preserve, near the town of Baker, in San Bernardino County, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Joshua Tree National Park

On the delightful 49 Palms Oasis Trail in Joshua Tree National Park, a walk through hot desert leads to natural ponds embraced by California fan palms with full skirts soaring above the cool retreat, with a soundtrack of hidden frogs croaking musically (3.1 miles round trip, 450 feet gain). On the return walk, a large rare desert tortoise grazed along the side of the trail! Be sure to start early, as the wonderful natural ambiance is easily interrupted by the noise of fellow visitors. The California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera, in the palm family Arecaceae) is native to the far southwestern United States and Baja California. Today’s oasis environment was protected from a drying climate, restricting this cold-tolerant palm to widely separated relict groves.

49 Palms Oasis, palm panorama in Joshua Tree National Park, near the City of Twentynine Palms, California, USA. The California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera, in the palm family Arecaceae) is native to the far southwestern United States and Baja California. Today's oasis environment was protected from a drying climate, restricting this cold-tolerant palm to widely separated relict groves. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: 49 Palms Oasis, palm panorama in Joshua Tree National Park, near the City of Twentynine Palms. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama.

Desert tortoise. 49 Palms Oasis Trail. Joshua Tree National Park, near the City of Twentynine Palms, California, USA. The park straddles the cactus-dotted Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert, which is higher and cooler. (© Carol Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: A desert tortoise seen along the 49 Palms Oasis Trail in Joshua Tree National Park. (Image by Carol Dempsey)

Parry's nolina ((Nolina parryi). Joshua Tree National Park, near Twentynine Palms, California, USA. The park straddles the cactus-dotted Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert, which is higher and cooler. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Flowers of Parry’s nolina ((Nolina parryi) bloom on huge stalks in Joshua Tree National Park. The park straddles the cactus-dotted Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert, which is higher and cooler.

Further south, the Park’s Cholla Cactus Garden looked impressively healthy:
Cholla Cactus Garden, Joshua Tree National Park, near Twentynine Palms, California. The park straddles the cactus-dotted Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert, which is higher and cooler. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Mecca Hills Wilderness: Ladder Canyon and Painted Canyon Loop Trail

The Ladder Canyon and Painted Canyon Loop Trail (5 miles round trip with 1050 feet gain) lives up to its reputation as “California’s best slot canyon.” Using a good GPS map is recommended to choose amongst the network of trails. The circuit cuts through the Mecca Hills, a deeply-eroded sedimentary badlands north of the Salton Sea, bounded on the west by the San Andreas Fault. Several parallel faults split this geologically fascinating region. The original sediments were primarily lake and Colorado River deposits, later covered with alluvium as the uplifting hills eroded. Mecca Hills Wilderness is managed by BLM’s Palm Springs-South Coast Field Office.

Sunset illuminates eroded land in Mecca Hills Wilderness, seen from a BLM dispersed campsite off Painted Canyon Road, Mecca, California, USA. The Mecca Hills are deeply-eroded sedimentary badlands north of the Salton Sea, bounded on the west by the San Andreas Fault. Several parallel faults split the region. The original sediments were primarily lake and Colorado River deposits, later covered with alluvium as the uplifting hills eroded. Mecca Hills Wilderness is managed by BLM's Palm Springs-South Coast Field Office. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Sunset illuminates an eroded landscape in Mecca Hills Wilderness, near Mecca, California. We camped at this BLM Dispersed Campsite along Painted Canyon Road with nice sunset view of badlands, although litter and ORV tracks somewhat scarred the area.

A hummingbird sucks nectar from a red ocotillo blossom. Ladder Canyon and Painted Canyon Loop Trail, Mecca Hills Wilderness, managed by BLM's Palm Springs-South Coast Field Office, near Mecca, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: A hummingbird sucks nectar from a red ocotillo blossom in Mecca Hills Wilderness on a ridge along the Painted Canyon Loop Trail.

Hikers descend into a slot along the Ladder Canyon and Painted Canyon Loop Trail, Mecca Hills Wilderness, managed by BLM's Palm Springs-South Coast Field Office, near Mecca, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Hikers explore a slot on the Ladder Canyon and Painted Canyon Loop Trail, in Mecca Hills Wilderness. Below: Carol Dempsey photographed Tom scrambling up Ladder Canyon.

Ladder Canyon and Painted Canyon Loop Trail, Mecca Hills Wilderness, managed by BLM's Palm Springs-South Coast Field Office, near Mecca, California, USA. The Mecca Hills are deeply-eroded sedimentary badlands north of the Salton Sea, bounded on the west by the San Andreas Fault. Several parallel faults split the region. The original sediments were primarily lake and Colorado River deposits, later covered with alluvium as the uplifting hills eroded. (© Carol Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Below, erosion exposes conglomerate rock in a slot along the Ladder Canyon and Painted Canyon Loop Trail:
Erosion exposes conglomerate rock in a slot along the Ladder Canyon and Painted Canyon Loop Trail, in Mecca Hills Wilderness, near Mecca, California, USA.  (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Palm Springs: Palm Canyon, Indian Canyons, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians

The beautiful Palm Canyon Trail takes you through the world’s largest California fan palm oasis, a great “tour de fronds.” We enjoyed hiking the Palm Canyon Trail to Indian Potrero Trail to Stone Pools, and looped back via Victor Trail (6.8 miles round trip with 1200 feet gain and loss). Be sure to carry extra drinking water. As in the adjacent Joshua Tree National Park, this lush oasis environment was protected from a drying climate, restricting this cold-tolerant palm to widely separated relict groves. This was our first time visiting the Indian Canyons, which are the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. Arriving 5 minutes before 8:00am opening time at the admission gate put us towards the front of the line of cars to enjoy a cooler start time for hiking.

The beautiful Palm Canyon Trail visits the world's largest California Fan Palm oasis, a great "tour de fronds." We hiked the Palm Canyon Trail to Indian Potrero Trail to Stone Pools, and looping back via Victor Trail, in the Indian Canyons, Palm Springs, California, USA. The Indian Canyons are the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. California fan palms (Washingtonia filifera in the palm family Arecaceae) are native to the far southwestern United States and Baja California. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Hiking the Palm Canyon Trail.

West Fork Falls of West Fork Palm Canyon Creek, at Palm Canyon, in the Indian Canyons, on the Reservation of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Palm Springs, California, USA. The beautiful Palm Canyon Trail takes you through the world's largest California Fan Palm oasis. The Indian Canyons are the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: West Fork Falls of West Fork Palm Canyon Creek, at Palm Canyon, in the Indian Canyons, on the Reservation of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Palm Springs.

Scenes from hiking the Palm Canyon Trail to Indian Potrero Trail to Stone Pools, and looping back via Victor Trail, in the Indian Canyons, Palm Springs, California, USA. The beautiful Palm Canyon Trail visits the world's largest California Fan Palm oasis. The Indian Canyons are the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. California fan palms (Washingtonia filifera in the palm family Arecaceae) are native to the far southwestern United States and Baja California. Today's oasis environment was protected from a drying climate, restricting this cold-tolerant palm to widely separated relict groves. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Hiking the Palm Canyon Trail, on the Reservation of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, immediately south of Palm Springs.

Engelmann's Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus engelmannii) with bright magenta flowers. We hiked the Palm Canyon Trail to Indian Potrero Trail to Stone Pools, and looped back via Victor Trail, in the Indian Canyons, Palm Springs, California, USA. The beautiful Palm Canyon Trail takes you through the world's largest California Fan Palm oasis. The Indian Canyons are the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Engelmann’s Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus engelmannii) with bright magenta flowers on the Palm Canyon Trail.

Yucca plant with yellow flowers. We hiked the Palm Canyon Trail to Indian Potrero Trail to Stone Pools, and looped back via Victor Trail, in the Indian Canyons, Palm Springs, California, USA. The beautiful Palm Canyon Trail takes you through the world's largest California Fan Palm oasis. The Indian Canyons are the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: A yucca plant blooms with prodigious yellow flowers on the Palm Canyon Trail.

Stone Pools with palms along Indian Potrero Trail. Indian Canyons, Palm Springs, California, USA. We hiked the Palm Canyon Trail to Indian Potrero Trail to Stone Pools, and looped back via Victor Trail, in the Indian Canyons, just west of the city of Palm Springs. The Indian Canyons are the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. California fan palms (Washingtonia filifera in the palm family Arecaceae) are native to the far southwestern United States and Baja California. Today's oasis environment was protected from a drying climate, restricting this cold-tolerant palm to widely separated relict groves. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: The Stone Pools are a quiet retreat with palms along Indian Potrero Trail. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama.

Barrel cactus with yellow flowers on the Victor Trail. We hiked the Palm Canyon Trail to Indian Potrero Trail to Stone Pools, and looped back via Victor Trail, in the Indian Canyons, Palm Springs, California, USA. The beautiful Palm Canyon Trail takes you through the world's largest California Fan Palm oasis. The Indian Canyons are the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Barrel cactus with yellow flowers on the Victor Trail above Palm Canyon seen in the background.

San Jacinto Mountains reflect in Lake Cahuilla Veterans Regional Park Campground, La Quinta, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: The San Jacinto Mountains reflect in Lake Cahuilla Veterans Regional Park Campground, in La Quinta, California. This spacious campground was a relaxing escape in the Palm Springs suburban area.

Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus). La Quinta, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: A greater roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus) at a strip mall in La Quinta, California.

Gallery show: all images from “2021 Mar 26-30: CA desert: Joshua Tree, Mecca, Indian Canyons”


Click “i” to read descriptive Captions in the above animated gallery show. Click the dotted square to scroll a set of thumbnail images. Add any of the above images to your shopping Cart at this link: “2021 Mar 26-30: CA desert: Joshua Tree, Mecca, Indian Canyons” in my Portfolio

Southern California route map

In Southern California, from March 26-31, we drove the following scenic route shown starting at Bishop then proceeding through Death Valley southwards:

Round Valley near Bishop

Old cottonwood trees line a rural road under the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains in early spring 2021, in Round Valley near Bishop, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Old cottonwood trees line a rural road under the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains in early spring 2021, in Round Valley.

Cattle graze under snowy Sierra Nevada mountains, early spring 2021. Round Valley, near Bishop, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Cattle graze under the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains in early spring 2021, in Round Valley near Bishop, California.

Our complete trip itinerary 2021 Mar 21-April 22

In brief: Seattle > Chico family visit > Lake Tahoe > snowy Mono Lake > Bishop > Mojave NSP > Joshua Tree NP > Mecca Wilderness > Palm Springs > Hualapai Mountain Park > Grand Canyon rafting for 16 days > Valley of Fire SP > Cathedral Gorge SP > Seattle

In more detail:

  • Mar 21 Sun: depart Seattle.
  • Mar 22 Mon: visit family in Chico.
  • Mar 23 Tues: On Highway 32, we tour the Big Chico Creek Environmental Reserve (BCCER) to adopt acres for the Dempsey Family Endowment in Memory of David P. Dempsey. Our group includes family members, CSUC president Gayle Hutchinson, and BCCER staff.
  • Mar 24 Wed: Finally, my first visit to Dad & Mom’s senior living apartment since 15 months ago, isolated by the pandemic!
  • Mar 25 Thurs: drive from California’s Central Valley via Tahoe and snowy Mono Lake to a friend’s house at Round Valley, near Bishop.

[You are currently reading the article that covers “2021 March: California desert: Kelso Dunes, Joshua Tree NP, Mecca Wilderness, Indian Canyons.”]

  • Mar 26 Fri: spectacular snowy Sierra peaks and warm Death Valley on drive to Kelso Dunes Trailhead Campground in Mojave National Preserve, to meet with nephew Griff & friend Marianna.
  • Mar 27 Sat: Kelso Dunes was a fun hike in Mojave National Preserve. Drive to Joshua Tree NP. Check in spontaneously at Joshua Tree Lake RV & Campground (which had many available sites despite the big weekend traffic), a refreshing oasis with delightful duck pond. We drove the Park Boulevard loop counterclockwise, which was crowded on this spring weekend. We weren’t expecting the long lines of cars backing up the Park’s entrance and every available parking lot, until we remembered that this was the weekend of Palm Sunday and accessible as a day trip from the populous Los Angeles area. We admired a huge Parry’s nolina, Mojave mound cacti with red buds, and other natural botanical wonders. We walked to the dry Barker Dam on a warm afternoon (2.6 mi round trip lollipop-shaped loop, 110 ft gain.
  • Mar 28 Sun: 49 Palms Canyon Trail. The dense Cholla Garden is vibrant yellow. Drive south to camp overnight in BLM Dispersed Campsite along Painted Canyon Road with nice sunset view of badlands, albeit somewhat scarred by ORVs and litter.
  • Mar 29 Mon: Mecca Wilderness Area: Ladder Canyon and Painted Canyon Loop Trail. Drive to Lake Cahuilla Veterans Regional Park Campground for night 1 of 2.
  • Mar 30 Tues: Hike the Palm Canyon Trail to Indian Potrero Trail to Stone Pools, and loop back via Victor Trail. We do laundry in La Quinta. Stay at Lake Cahuilla Veterans Regional Park Campground for night 2 of 2.
  • Mar 31: drive 4 hrs to the nice Hualapai Mountain Park Campground, on a paved road 14 miles south of Kingman. The 42 degrees F low overnight was warmer than expected at this 6300-foot altitude.
  • April 1: In Hualapai Mountain Park, we hiked East Potato Patch Loop Trail for 2.6 miles with 700 feet gain to pleasant views of surrounding desert, but ice on a cliff ledge turned us back. In Flagstaff, we stayed at Woody Mountain Campground for 2 nights.

[Read Tom’s article covering “2021 April: rafting Grand Canyon 226 gorgeous miles, Arizona.”]

  • April 2: Due to April temperatures in Flagstaff expected to be in the 20s degrees F overnight, we winterize our RV. We attend the Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA) meeting at 7pm in preparation for boating 16 days.
  • April 3-18: With Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA), we boated for 16 days covering 226 miles by raft and dory down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park!

[Read Tom’s article covering “2021 April: Nevada: Valley of Fire & Cathedral Gorge State Parks.”]

  • April 19: Drive to Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada, where we claim the last campsite in Arch Rock Campground around 4:00pm (first come, first served).
  • April 20: Starting just after sunrise at Valley of Fire State Park Turnout #3, we walked a great 3.5-mile spectacle-shaped loop (with 450 feet of gain and loss): first to the Fire Wave, then along the Seven Wonders Trail through Kaolin Wash, then around the complete White Domes Trail Loop back to the movie set remains, then repeat a quarter mile of Kaolin Wash, then turn north on Seven Wonders Trail past Thunderstorm Arch, and then return to the parking lot at Park Turnout #3. Drive to Cathedral Gorge State Park Campground. Sunset walk 2.5 mi to Moon Caves, etc.
  • April 21: Cathedral Gorge State Park: 2.75 mile loop walk in morning, mauve formations. Stay at Farewell Bend SP Campground, Oregon.
  • April 22: Drive to Seattle.

2021 Feb: Oregon coast in winter via RV

Driving the scenic Oregon coast cured our Seattle winter blues, February 7-11, 2021. Designed for summer throngs, Highway 101’s many spacious campgrounds were thankfully uncrowded, despite some being closed for winter. We could relax, with no reservations! A downside of the wet season was deep mud on the longer trails, restricting hikes to well-established viewpoint paths. But to our delight as we parked in Ecola State Park, a herd of Roosevelt elk ambled by, grazing against a backdrop of Cannon Beach’s iconic sea stacks!

Roosevelt elk (Cervus canadensis roosevelti) graze in winter at Ecola State Park, on the Oregon coast, USA. Behind the elk, various sea stacks rise from the Pacific Ocean, including nearby Bird Rocks and Haystack Rock offshore from Cannon Beach. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Roosevelt elk (Cervus canadensis roosevelti) graze in winter at Ecola State Park, on the Oregon coast. Behind the elk, various sea stacks rise from the Pacific Ocean, including nearby Bird Rocks and Haystack Rock offshore from Cannon Beach.

This Google Map of western Oregon shows our route from north to south:

The above map’s waypoints include the following sights covered in this article:

  1. the striking Peter Iredale shipwreck at Fort Stevens State Park (featuring Battery Russell and a sprawling campground)
  2. Ecola State Park (starring Roosevelt elk, Indian Beach, Tillamook Lighthouse, and adjacent Cannon Beach village, Haystack Rock, and Chapman Beach)
  3. Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint, at Oceanside (with nice lighthouse & Octopus Tree). Note that northern access to the Cape Meares Loop road was closed during this winter 2021 but is open from the south.
  4. Newport’s Oregon Coast Aquarium
  5. Otter Rock’s Devils Punchbowl State Natural Area
  6. Seal Rock State Recreation Site (adjacent RV Park offers good views & beach access)
  7. Cape Perpetua Scenic Area
  8. historic Heceta Head Lighthouse

Highlights from the Oregon coast in winter

Harmonious with social distancing, our self-contained RV again proved perfect for pandemic travel.

We especially enjoyed walking trails and beaches around Fort Stevens State Park, which has a huge campground, with more yurts than I’ve ever seen! The campground was nearly deserted on a Sunday evening in February.

Peter Iredale sailing ship ran aground in 1906 on Clatsop Spit. Fort Stevens State Park, Oregon, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

In 1906, the crew of the sailing ship Peter Iredale took refuge at Fort Stevens, after she ran aground on Clatsop Spit. The wreck is visible today, within Fort Stevens State Park, along the Oregon Coast, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

<A flock of seabirds flies behind a shipwreck skeleton. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Shipwreck skeleton at sunset. In 1906, the crew of the sailing ship Peter Iredale took refuge at Fort Stevens, after she ran aground on Clatsop Spit. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

The image below is from inside Battery Russell Lower Ammunition Bunker and Quarters at Fort Stevens State Park:
Battery Russell Lower Ammunition Bunker and Quarters at Fort Stevens State Park, Oregon Coast, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Fort Stevens operated from 1863–1947 as part of a 3-fort system defending the Columbia River Mouth. Built near the end of the American Civil War, this American military installation was named for a slain Civil War general and former Washington Territory governor, Isaac I. Stevens. In June 1942 during World War II, a Japanese submarine fired 17 rounds upon Fort Stevens (luckily causing causing no real damage), making it the only military base on the Continental United States to be fired upon by an enemy since the War of 1812.

Driving further south to Cannon Beach village, views are most impressive from Ecola State Park’s trails (see the first photo in this article). The Indian Beach trail was very scenic as far as the outlook to Sea Lion Rock, but thereafter 6-inch deep mud turned us back. Hiking onwards on the Coast Trail would be best left for a drier week or season.

Roosevelt elk (Cervus canadensis roosevelti), Ecola State Park, Oregon coast, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Roosevelt elk (Cervus canadensis roosevelti), Ecola State Park. Please don’t feed or approach the wild elk. Instead, let them graze in peace. A tourist leashed to a barking dog blithely approached too close to a female elk, which then protected itself with a false charge. The man and dog wisely retreated in fear! As a young woman tried to pet another elk, I warned her not to approach the large, unpredictable beast.

At the nearby empty Sea Ranch RV Park, we checked into the prettiest site along tidal Ecola Creek within popular Cannon Beach village. Very quiet during off-season, the resort town is a delight to explore on foot, including its beach and Haystack Rock. (Tolovana Beach State Recreation Site offers parking Haystack Rock and its beach.)

Below: Pounding surf eroded bluffs away, leaving Haystack Rock, a 235-foot high sea stack rising from the Pacific Ocean at Cannon Beach, Tolovana Beach State Recreation Site:
Haystack Rock, sea stacks, Tolovana Beach State Recreation Site, Cannon Beach, Oregon coast, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Below: Tillamook Lighthouse clings to a sea stack amid crashing waves, seen from Chapman Beach. Cannon Beach city, Oregon coast.
Tillamook Lighthouse clings to a sea stack amid crashing waves, seen from Chapman Beach. Cannon Beach city, Oregon coast, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Below: Bird Rocks and sea stacks seen from Chapman Beach, just north of Ecola Creek, the biggest stream running through the town of Cannon Beach.
See Bird Rocks and other sea stacks from scenic Chapman Beach, which is just north of Ecola Creek, the biggest stream running through the town of Cannon Beach, on the Oregon coast, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

A series of pretty parks greets travelers south of Cannon Beach:

  • At Oswald West State Park, the Cape Falcon Trail (4.5 miles round trip) is recommended in summer but is likely muddy and eroded in winter, so we skipped it.
  • Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint, lighthouse, and Octopus Tree are worth the side trip. In winter 2021, a portion of the loop road is closed due to washout, so one must access from the south.
  • Cascade Head Preserve trail (on land owned by The Nature Conservancy), would have had a great view on our sunny day, but was closed “due to Oregon state guidelines for COVID-19.”
  • Cape Lookout State Park Campground: is a nice campground on a beach near trails; but as the day was still young, we drove onwards.
  • Boiler Bay State Scenic Viewpoint, Depoe Bay: is worth a stop to see crashing waves.
  • Otter Crest State Scenic Viewpoint: has impressive views high above the Pacific Ocean.

Below: At Otter Rock village, Devils Punchbowl State Natural Area features an orange headland perforated with two natural arches.
Devils Punchbowl was naturally carved by Pacific Ocean waves crashing into a rock headland, creating two caves which collapsed to leave two natural arches. Devils Punchbowl State Natural Area, Otter Rock, Oregon coast, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Below: A couple admires sunset at Beverly Beach State Park Campground, where we stayed the night before visiting Newport’s excellent Oregon Coast Aquarium.
Sunset at Beverly Beach State Park Campground, Newport, Oregon coast, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Below: The top reason we returned to Newport’s Oregon Coast Aquarium (previously visited in 2008) was to reexperience the tank of beautiful yellow-orange Pacific sea nettles swimming hypnotically against a blue background.
Pacific sea nettles (Chrysaora fuscescens) undulate hypnotically in a blue tank at Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport, Oregon, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Below: A Tufted Puffin at Oregon Coast Aquarium, in Newport.
A Tufted Puffin flaps its wings in a pen at Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport, Oregon, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Below: Sea anemones and other sealife at Oregon Coast Aquarium.
Sea anemones and other sealife at Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport, Oregon, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Below: A Green Moray Eel (Gymnothorax funebris) emerges from a pipe at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, in Newport, Oregon, USA. While it may look neon green, the skin of the otherwise brown eel actually secretes a yellow-tinted layer of protective, toxic mucus. Moray eels are the only fish (and the only vertebrates) with mobile pharyngeal jaws, an extraordinary hunting innovation where outer jaws firmly grasp the prey, then separate inner jaws within the throat shoot forward to bite the target and pull it in!
 Green Moray Eel (Gymnothorax funebris). Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport, Oregon, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Two images below: Ocean wave erosion exposes colorful rock patterns along the beach near Seal Rock State Recreation Site.
Colorful seaside rock patterns near Seal Rock State Recreation Site, on the Oregon coast, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Colorful seaside rock patterns near Seal Rock State Recreation Site, on the Oregon coast, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Colorful seaside rock patterns in Hill Creek near Seal Rock State Recreation Site, on the Oregon coast, USA. We stayed at the adjacent Seal Rocks RV Cove. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Images above and below: Sunset over Hill Creek, a stone’s throw south of Seal Rock State Recreation Site.

Sunset behind sea stacks reflects in Hill Creek near Seal Rock State Recreation Site, on the Oregon coast, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Sunset behind sea stacks reflects in Hill Creek near Seal Rock State Recreation Site, on the Oregon coast.

We stayed at the adjacent Seal Rocks RV Cove on our last night on the coast, then boogied back to Seattle the next day, before a foot of snow fell and isolated our street!

Earlier that day, we had visited the following destinations further south:

Near Yachats city, Cape Perpetua Scenic Area offers an attractive network of trails and viewpoints, managed by Siuslaw National Forest:

  • Highway 101 curves spectacularly across the face of Cape Perpetua’s rock cliffs.
  • The turbulent crack of Devils Churn offers a steep walk down to a rocky shore strewn with driftwood, making a great break from driving.
  • At 800 feet above the Pacific Ocean, Cape Perpetua Headland is the highest car-accessible viewpoint on the Oregon coast. From the parking area at the top, a short loop trail provides inspiring views south and north. (Or for more exercise, one could get here via trails from the campground or visitor center below.) Early explorer Captain James Cook first observed this headland in 1778 and named it after Saint Perpetua. In 1933 President Franklin D. Roosevelt formed the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Cape Perpetua became a base camp for young men to learn skills. Many of the area’s campgrounds, trails, and plantings are the work of the CCC.
  • Cook’s Chasm and Thor’s Well Trail offers another permutation on waves perpetually crashing against rock (optionally connecting with trails to Devils Churn and the Visitor Center).

1893 Lightstation at Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint, Oregon coast, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Built in 1893, Heceta Head Lightstation is a short walk from the parking lot on a beautiful remote bay. Don’t miss the side trail that switchbacks to views like this just above the Lighthouse tower. Walking further upwards leads to an impressive view of Hobbit Beach, which is reachable by continuing further to the northeast on the same trail.

  • In this area, the Siuslaw Indians traditionally hunted sea lions and gathered sea bird eggs from offshore rocks. Heceta Head is named after Spanish explorer Bruno de Heceta, who explored the Pacific Northwest during the late 1700s.
  • The light at top of 56-foot tower was first illuminated in 1894. Perched 205 feet above the ocean, its Fresnel lens beams the brightest light on the Oregon coast, visible up to 21 miles out to sea.
  • Location: Halfway between Cape Perpetua and Florence, a turnoff just south of Carl Washburne State Park (which has a great campground) takes you to the parking lot on a beach, where you can walk a half mile to the lighthouse. (Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint was created in the 1990s by combining Heceta Head State Park with the former Devils Elbow State Park at the scenic cove at the mouth of Cape Creek.)

A weather warning caused us to retreat back to Seattle before a foot of snow would fall to block our street, cutting the trip from 6 days to 5. On that missed day, we would have sought the following Oregon coast highlights further south (which I photographed in February 2012):

Index of my Oregon articles:

All images from this trip, “2021 Feb 7-11: RV Oregon coast”


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2020 Oct: RV to Utah slots, SD Badlands, Wyoming, Idaho’s Sawtooths

Self-contained RV travel provides a healthy antidote to pandemic isolation. Our 32-day RV getaway in fall 2020 visited intriguing corners of Utah, Indiana, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Idaho. Tom’s favorite image of the trip was Zebra Slot:

Zebra Slot Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Zebra Slot Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this vertical panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


A smoky start diverts us from Idaho to Utah

Upon our departure from Seattle on September 14, smoky fires irritated Washington, Oregon, northern California, and much of the West. As we drove through Yakima, Washington, dangerously thick outdoor smoke from a nearby fire caused Carol to suddenly gasp for breath and pull over the RV onto the shoulder of a steep curve of the freeway. After donning N95 masks and changing drivers, we regained normal breathing, although a little scared. We wisely decided to redirect our planned hikes away from smoky Idaho’s Sawtooths, and instead head south towards clear skies in Utah. The unplanned extra day of driving paid off with clearer air and rewarding revisits to three favorite hikes in Southern Utah.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

Driving two hours of jarringly rough washboard took us halfway down the Hole-in-the-Rock Road in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah.

Dry Fork Coyote Gulch in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Dry Fork Coyote Gulch in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Above, Carol spans the narrow slot of Dry Fork Coyote Gulch. We hiked from the Lower Trailhead of Dry Fork Coyote Gulch to the slot canyons of Peekaboo Gulch and Spooky Gulch, looping back via Dry Fork (5.7 miles round trip) up to a bench trail. (Instead, I recommend starting at the Upper Trailhead, to cover similar mileage, to further transit the coolness of Dry Fork, and to save 10 minutes of side road driving time.)

We last hiked Spooky Gulch in April 1997 (pre-marriage), along with Wes, Phyl, Jim, Dave, Rebecca, Deirdre, and Stan. On that trip, this group shared scenic backpacking overnight from Silver Falls Wash to Harris Wash. Finding chunks of petrified wood in the wash was memorable.

Below: Large Datura flowers bloomed in Dry Fork Coyote Gulch at the entrance to Peekaboo Gulch.

A Datura flower blooms in Dry Fork Coyote Gulch at the entrance to Peekaboo Gulch in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah, USA. The Datura genus is in the Potato (Solanaceae) Family, also known as the Deadly Nightshade Family. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

A Datura flower blooms in Dry Fork Coyote Gulch at the entrance to Peekaboo Gulch in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


Please reexamine my Zebra Slot panorama at the top of this article. From Hole-in-the-Rock Road in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, we hiked east on a well-trodden but unmarked path to Zebra Slot Canyon through beautiful open-desert washes (5 miles round trip with 450 feet total gain). Upon entry to this short slot canyon, a pool of water turned back Carol. Wearing shoes with socks removed, I bravely splashed through the green liquid, which became knee-deep. Then a claustrophobically-narrow passage nearly blocked my sideways squeeze, as my trail-runner shoes were pinched tightly in a V-shaped vise. Separately visiting 1 week later, my sister-in-law Rebecca had to chimney over that section. Zebra Slot had been cut much deeper and narrower since Carol and I last visited in 2013. In an unexpected double whammy for Rebecca, rains had raised the pool up to neck-deep! Zebra Slot then rewards your efforts with a spectacularly-striped sandstone cathedral.

An excellent environmental surprise: Thanks to the greatest legislative victory in the history of SUWA (Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, of which we are members), in 2019, Congress passed the Emery County Public Land Management Act, which declared 663,000 acres of wilderness, including Little Wild Horse Canyon Wilderness, within the San Rafael Swell Recreation Area. These wonderful hiker playgrounds, which were for decades designated by BLM as Wilderness Study Areas, are now incrementally better-protected from threats such as off-road vehicles and Uranium mining.

Little Wild Horse Canyon, San Rafael Swell Recreation Area, Utah

Pleasure-Way RV at sunrise near Little Wild Horse Canyon in San Rafael Swell Recreation Area, Utah, USA.  (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Pleasure-Way RV at sunrise. near Little Wild Horse Canyon in San Rafael Swell Recreation Area, Utah, USA. Hike a classic loop from Little Wild Horse Canyon to Bell Canyon (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


Above: Sunrise at our free campsite near Little Wild Horse Canyon in San Rafael Swell Recreation Area, Utah.

Last done 14 years ago, we re-hiked a fun loop from Little Wild Horse Canyon to Bell Canyon, through fascinating narrow slot canyons and open mesas. This great walk (an 8.6-mile circuit with 900 feet gain and descent) is a short drive on a paved road from Goblin Valley State Park. This year (on Sept 20, 2020) the loop only required a small amount of scrambling over rocks and to our relief, was otherwise easy walking. The several water holes which were up to our knees deep in April 2006 were luckily dry and filled with gravel for us.

In 2006, a tight slot with water encouraged me to span across with the intent to stay dry. But widening walls caused me to drop embarrassingly into the pool! Carol had wisely sloshed directly through. With my spirit dampened, and a few scrapes and bruises the wiser, shivering, I poured the water out of my boots and walked the mile remaining back to the trailhead.

Colorful sandstone patterns are revealed in the slot of Little Wild Horse Canyon. San Rafael Swell Recreation Area, Utah, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Colorful sandstone patterns are revealed in the slot of Little Wild Horse Canyon. San Rafael Swell Recreation Area, Utah, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


Click here for more of Tom’s Utah travel tips.

Family visit in Indianapolis, Indiana

As with every visit to Indianapolis to see Carol’s mother, I enjoyed trimming the hedges and admiring the plantings we have done in the past.

NCAA Hall of Champions, on the Indiana Central Canal, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

NCAA Hall of Champions, on the Indiana Central Canal, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


Above: NCAA Hall of Champions, on the Indiana Central Canal, Indianapolis, Indiana. Indiana Central Canal was dug in the early 1800s to facilitate interstate commerce, but the project was cut short due to financial problems. Today, the refurbished Canal Walk (stretching north through White River State Park to 11th Street) serves downtown as a beautiful waterside promenade for walkers, runners, bikers, and sightseers. We’ve now twice enjoyed walking it.

Click here to read Tom’s Indiana tips.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

On our drive back to Seattle, Badlands National Park was worth revisiting in South Dakota.

Sunset illuminates the Badlands Wall above cracked mud near Ben Reifel Visitor Center in Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA. The intricately carved cliff of the Badlands Wall constantly retreats as it erodes and washes into the White River Valley below. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Sunset illuminates the Badlands Wall above cracked mud near Ben Reifel Visitor Center in Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA. The intricately carved cliff of the Badlands Wall constantly retreats as it erodes and washes into the White River Valley below. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

An orange sunrise lights rock formations near Ben Reifel Visitor Center in Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA.  (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

An orange sunrise lights rock formations near Ben Reifel Visitor Center in Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Until this trip, I hadn’t realized that the town of Wall in South Dakota was named after the natural rock formation of the Badlands Wall. This year, for our first time, we visited the infamously kitschy Wall Drugs, which is advertised for hundreds of miles around with annoying billboards (like the 1925-1960s Burma-Shave).

History: The signs for Wall Drugs “began in 1936, when Ted Hustead was a struggling young pharmacist desperate for business. He took the advice of his wife, Dorothy, and put up a sign on old U.S. Hwy 16 offering free ice water to anyone who stopped by. It worked. A few customers began pulling off the highway. Then Hustead went sign-crazy and began posting them up and down the highway. By the 1960s, there were about 3,000 Wall Drugs signs in 50 states… Wall Drugs is now down to about 250 signs in South Dakota, 30 in Minnesota and 20 in Wyoming. The only thing keeping many of those up is that it would cost millions to remove all the nation`s noncompliant roadsign signs, and a deficit-minded Congress has never fully appropriated the money to do the job.”

Deadwood, Black Hills, South Dakota

A modern vehicle pulls a covered wagon in Deadwood, Lawrence County, South Dakota.  (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

A modern vehicle pulls a covered wagon in Deadwood, Lawrence County, South Dakota, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Above: In South Dakota, the casino tourist town of Deadwood was worth seeing for a few hours, including the Adams Museum.

After the discovery of large placer gold deposits in Deadwood Gulch in 1875, thousands of gold-seekers flocked to the new town of Deadwood from 1876 to 1879, leading to the (illegal) Black Hills Gold Rush, despite the land being owned by the Sioux. At its height, the city had a population of 25,000 and attracted larger-than-life Old West figures including Wyatt Earp, Calamity Jane, and Wild Bill Hickok (who was killed there). The entire city is now designated as a National Historic Landmark District, for its well-preserved Gold Rush-era architecture.

To best appreciate historic Deadwood in fascinating detail, we recommend watching the dramatic HBO television series “Deadwood” (Seasons 1, 2, 3 dated 2004-06). Wikipedia says the Deadwood TV series “received critical acclaim, particularly for Milch’s writing and McShane’s performance, and is regarded as one of the greatest television shows of all time. It also won eight Emmy Awards (in 28 nominations) and one Golden Globe.” We checked out the DVD free from Seattle Public Library (or one can see it on HBO or Amazon Prime for a price). The more recent 2019 movie “Deadwood” is a coda that isn’t as good as the 2004-06 TV series.

Spearfish Canyon Nature Area, Black Hills, South Dakota

Below: Walk the trail to Spearfish Falls for 1.5 miles round trip within Spearfish Canyon Nature Area, managed by South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks in the Black Hills.

Little Spearfish Creek plunges over Spearfish Falls to meet the main Spearfish Creek. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Little Spearfish Creek plunges over Spearfish Falls to meet the main Spearfish Creek. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Click here for more tips about South Dakota and the Midwest.

Yellowstone Falls, South Rim Trail, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River

From the Black Hills of South Dakota, we enjoyed a scenic route across northern Wyoming, new to us, to reach the East Entrance of Yellowstone National Park. We drove via Powder River Pass in the Bighorn Mountains, to Cody, to overnight on the reservoir at Buffalo Bill State Park, to the beautiful canyon of the North Fork Shoshone River, up to Yellowstone Lake, to the Mud Geyser, then to Canyon Village. Much of the route resembled southern Utah, including isolated mountain ranges, canyons with various eroded pinnacles, colored rocks, and idyllically remote, well-kept ranches.

Lower Yellowstone Falls seen from Artist Point on South Rim Trail. The Yellowstone River flows through the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone in Yellowstone National Park, in Wyoming, USA.  (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Lower Yellowstone Falls seen from Artist Point on South Rim Trail. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


Above: We enjoyed walking the South Rim Trail from Upper to Lower Yellowstone Falls to Artist Point. The Yellowstone River flows through the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and becomes a major tributary of the Missouri River. Yellowstone was established as the world’s first national park in 1872.

Click here for more tips about “WYOMING: Devils Tower; Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks

Sawtooth National Recreation Area, Idaho

Sawtooth Wilderness, managed by the US Forest Service, has some of the best air quality in the lower 48 states (says the US EPA), except when compromised by forest fires, as it was in fall 2020. Significant wildfires burning nearby stung our eyes during the first hike.

Stanley Lake Trail to Lady Face and Bridal Veil Falls
Sawtooth Wilderness reflects in Stanley Lake at the boat dock. Sawtooth National Recreation Area, Idaho, USA.  (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Sawtooth Wilderness reflects in Stanley Lake at the boat dock. Sawtooth National Recreation Area, Idaho, USA. The Sawtooth Range (part of the Rocky Mountains) are made of pink granite of the 50 million year old Sawtooth batholith. This image was stitched from multiple overlapping photos. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Inaccurate blogs led us to hike Stanley Lake Trail to Lady Face Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. Reaching both falls turned out to be harder than expected (9.1 miles round trip with 1000 feet gain, measured with GPS and altimeter). The main trail is wide and easy through pleasant scenery, even bikeable. But the side trips necessary to actually view each falls requires scrambling with steep exposure on slippery, loose rocks (not recommended for children). By consulting my BackCountry Navigator GPS map, I was able to find and follow the poorly-marked side trail straight up 400 vertical feet to Bridal Veil Falls; but Carol turned back as the trail severely steepened, and a later group lost the trail and also turned back. In the end, the best part of the hike was at the idyllic beginning: beautiful mountain reflections in Stanley Lake.

Titus Lake Trail

From Galena Summit is a worthwhile hike to Titus Lake (3.75 miles round trip with 750 feet gain) in Sawtooth National Recreation Area. At its higher elevation, Titus Lake was clearer of smoke than Stanley village.

Alice-Toxaway backpacking loop to Idaho’s impressive El Capitan
The peak of El Capitan (9901 feet) reflects in backcountry Alice Lake at sunset in Sawtooth Wilderness, Idaho. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

The peak of El Capitan (9901 feet) reflects in backcountry Alice Lake at sunset in Sawtooth Wilderness, Idaho. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

On October 6-7, 2020, starting from Tin Cup Trailhead, I backpacked the Alice-Toxaway Loop clockwise for 20 miles in two days. The first day to idyllic Twin Lakes was a moderate 7.4 miles with 2090 feet gain. Carol joined me for the first 4 miles then returned to sleep in the comfort of the RV. Tenting in the backcountry wilderness at Twin Lakes, I was rewarded by a sunset view from a bluff over Alice Lake nearby.

My new solo tent, tested that night, is the 18-ounce TarpTent ProTrail Li (the same model as Rebecca began using this year on her various journeys). The tent’s super lightweight is possible by using hiking poles and four staked lines as support. This roomy tent worked great, helping make the weight backpacking (about 19 pounds base weight plus food and water) resemble that of day hiking. (I have yet to test it in conditions where condensation inside might collect, designed to drain out the downward-sloped interior side netting.)

My second day returned via Toxaway Lake and Farley Lake for an athletic 12.5 miles with 1260 feet up and 2940 feet down, joyfully met by Carol in the last 2 miles.

On our August 2007 backpacking trip here, Carol and I enjoyed staying 2 nights at Alice Lake, and day-hiking to Toxaway Lake round trip over 9390-foot Snowyside Pass. This revisit in 2020 dramatically climaxed our fall trip.

Luckily, the Sawtooth National Recreation Area offers enough new hikes to bring us back for a third visit, such as day hiking to 1) Sawtooth Lake; 2) Marshall Ridgeline; 3) Washington Lake Trail, in the White Cloud Mountains, with optional backpack to Chamberlain Basin; etc.

Click here for more Idaho tips.

Tom’s more-extensive photo gallery for this trip, “2020 Sep 14-Oct 8: RV to UT, IN, SD, WY, ID”


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2020 Aug: Spray Park–Knapsack Pass Loop trail, Mt Rainier NP

After a dozen hikes to Spray Park splendor since 1982, in summer 2020, I discovered an adventurous loop return to Mowich Lake via Knapsack Pass Trail (see Washington Trails Association), in Mount Rainier National Park. However, slippery exposure on steep scree and snow scared my wife Carol, who vowed never to hike Knapsack Pass again! (6.7-mile circuit with 2600 feet gain.) Fortunately, steps postholed in soft snow allowed crossing safely on that warm day (August 17th). I delighted in this flower-filled loop under the snow cone of 14,411-foot Mount Rainier.

Beware, the unmaintained and unmarked Knapsack Pass Trail exposes hikers to steep scree and year-round snow fields which could become dangerously icy. The trail is best navigated by experienced hikers only, in late summer using a good map, GPS device, and trekking poles (or ice axe if icy). The worn trail, marked with cairns and boot tracks, may become difficult to follow in the half mile of scree and snow fields southeast of Knapsack Pass.

A mountain memorial for David Dempsey in Spray Park

While bicycling on May 8, my older brother Dave sadly lost his life to a negligent motorist along Highway 32 in Chico, California. In the field of flowers pictured below in Spray Park, Carol and I spread some of Dave’s ashes:

In memorium: lupin and aster flowers bloom prolifically in Spray Park in mid August 2020, in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, USA.  (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

In memorium: lupin and aster flowers bloom prolifically in Spray Park in mid August 2020, in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


More images from Spray Park–Knapsack Pass Loop

From familiar Spray Park, our counterclockwise circuit entered territory unknown to us, in the headwaters of Cataract Creek above Mist Park (pictured below). If conditions became too rough, we were okay with turning back.

This panorama shows the headwaters of Cataract Creek in Mist Park, along the Spray Park–Knapsack Pass Loop Trail, in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, USA.  (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

This panorama shows the headwaters of Cataract Creek in Mist Park, along the Spray Park–Knapsack Pass Loop Trail, in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, USA. In mid August, mosquitoes and blue lupin flowers predominated, plus paintbrush and a few late-blooming avalanche lilies. 4 images were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


Crossing several steep snow fields made us nervous, perched above sharp rocks:

Mount Rainier seen from the headwaters of Cataract Creek in Mist Park, along the Spray Park–Knapsack Pass Loop trail, in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Mount Rainier seen from the headwaters of Cataract Creek in Mist Park, along the Spray Park–Knapsack Pass Loop trail, in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


Then we steeply ascended sharp scree and switchbacks to Knapsack Pass, a small notch in Mother Mountain:

Mount Rainier NP: Headwaters of Mist Park, along Spray Park–Knapsack Pass Loop, Washington, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Ascend steep switchbacks up Knapsack Pass, a notch in Mother Mountain at the headwaters of Mist Park, in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


Mount Rainier loomed impressively above flower fields along Knapsack Pass Loop Trail.

In mid August, a late-season avalanche lily (Erythronium montanum in the Liliaceae family) blooms white with yellow center in Spray Park, in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

In mid August, a late-season avalanche lily (Erythronium montanum in the Liliaceae family) blooms white with yellow center in Spray Park, in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


Pink flowers bloom on the rim of Mist Park, along the Spray Park–Knapsack Pass Loop, in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Pink flowers bloom on the rim of Mist Park, along the Spray Park–Knapsack Pass Loop, in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


Mowich Lake seen from Knapsack Pass trail, which is a steep "social trail" in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, USA. Caution: the unmaintained and unmarked Knapsack Pass trail exposes hikers to slippery scree and steep snow (possibly icy), best hiked in late summer using a good GPS device, map, and trekking poles. The Spray Park–Knapsack Pass Loop is very rewarding but only recommended for experienced, well-equipped hikers. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Mowich Lake seen from Knapsack Pass trail, which is a steep "social trail" in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, USA. Caution: the unmaintained and unmarked Knapsack Pass trail exposes hikers to slippery scree and steep snow (possibly icy), best hiked in late summer using a good GPS device, map, and trekking poles. The Spray Park–Knapsack Pass Loop is very rewarding but only recommended for experienced, well-equipped hikers. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


Click here to read more of Tom’s hiking tips in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

2020 July: Eastern Sierra hikes & backpack, California

Walking outdoors is a great remedy for pandemic confinement. On the east side of California’s impressive Sierra Nevada range from 18 July to Aug 3, our family group undertook four day hikes plus an easy 4-day backpacking trip. To help prevent spread of COVID-19, we and the overwhelming majority of fellow hikers considerately wore masks or bandanas or kept 6+ feet of distance as we passed.

Backpack from Green Creek Trailhead to Summit Lake in Hoover Wilderness

In Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, our scenic backpacking trip from Green Creek Trailhead to Summit Lake was 7.6 miles one way with 2360 feet gain and 310 feet descent over three leisurely days, reversed on the fourth day. A day hike from our Green Lake campsite to West Lake was 3.9 mi with 1830 feet gain to 8896 feet elevation. Our favorite campsite was nestled above quiet Nutter Lake. From our Summit Lake campsite, two of us hiked east to Burro Pass for a pleasing view to Virginia Lakes (2180 ft gain over 4 miles round trip). Unique and colorful rock patterns delighted my photographer’s eye! The next day, half of our party hiked over Burro Pass to Virginia Lakes Trailhead, to be picked up by us driving around from Green Creek Trailhead. (This makes a great one-way hike via car shuttle for those with two vehicles, as we did in 2000. In 1972 at age 15, I hiked from Green Creek to Summit Lake with my 3 brothers, parents, and friends.)

Sunrise at Green Lake in Hoover Wilderness of Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Eastern Sierra Nevada, Mono County, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Sunrise at Green Lake in Hoover Wilderness of Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Eastern Sierra Nevada, Mono County, California, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)



Glacier-scoured exfoliating rock pattern in Hoover Wilderness of Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Eastern Sierra Nevada, Mono County, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Glacier-scoured exfoliating rock pattern at Nutter Lake in Hoover Wilderness of Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Eastern Sierra Nevada, Mono County, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)



View Virginia Lakes from Burro Pass in Hoover Wilderness of Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Eastern Sierra Nevada, Mono County, California, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

View Virginia Lakes from Burro Pass in Hoover Wilderness of Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Eastern Sierra Nevada, Mono County, California, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


We trained for the backpacking trip with the following four day hikes.

Day hike 1: Leavitt Meadows Loop Trail in Hoover Wilderness

Staying below 8000 feet elevation, the Leavitt Meadows Loop Trail helped us acclimatize before attempting the higher trails on this page. We hiked Leavitt Meadows Loop clockwise (8.9 miles with 1570 feet gain including a ridge extension above Lane Lake) in Hoover Wilderness, Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. The best ambiance is at Secret Lake. Roosevelt and Lane Lakes also provide pleasant views. The Trailhead is at Leavitt Meadows Campground (GPS 38.33401 N, 119.55177 W).

A crayfish pinches a finger at Secret Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

A crayfish pinches a finger at Secret Lake in Hoover Wilderness, Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


Day hike 2 of 4: Hike Crystal Lake & Mammoth Crest Trail, at Mammoth Lakes

Pandemic closures of many indoor activities has sent hikers onto trails in record numbers. Advance reservations resolved the stiff competition for campsites in Mammoth Lakes village and for overnight backpacking permits.

Starting early to find parking and avoid crowds, we walked from Lake George Trailhead to beautiful Crystal Lake (side trip) then to volcanic Mammoth Crest for 7 miles round trip with 2000 feet gain. Both the scenery and high altitude (exceeding 10,000 feet elevation) were breathtaking. Mammoth Crest trail ascends the rim of the Mammoth Lakes Basin, an impressive glacial cirque, to attain far-reaching views of the Ritter Range and Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River Canyon.

If you have extra energy, consider hiking a rewarding loop including Deer Lakes and Duck Pass (13.2 miles with 2765 ft gain, using a car shuttle. Or break this into a separate hike from Duck Lake Pass Trailhead to Duck Pass (7.2-8 miles round trip with 1680+ feet gain). If backpacking, reserve it many months ahead, or check for “walkup” reservations on shorter notice.

See Lakes George & Mary below Mammoth Crest Trail. Inyo National Forest, Mammoth Lakes village, California, USA. Mammoth Lakes lies on the edge of the Long Valley Caldera, geologically active with hot springs and rhyolite domes that are less than 1000 years old.(© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

See Lakes George & Mary below Mammoth Crest Trail. Inyo National Forest, Mammoth Lakes village, California, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


Day hike 3 of 4: Shadow Lake Trail, Ansel Adams Wilderness

Shadow Lake made an excellent day hike for 7.5 miles with 1200 ft gain in Ansel Adams Wilderness. An early start from Mammoth Lakes village allowed us to squeeze two cars into the small parking lots at Agnew Meadows Trailhead. Normally required for day hikers, the “Reds Meadow/Devils Postpile Shuttle” was cancelled during the pandemic summer of 2020, and a limited number of vehicles were allowed to drive in and park.

Hike to Shadow Lake in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest. Mammoth Lakes, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Mount Ritter and Banner Peak reflect in Shadow Lake in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest. Mammoth Lakes, California, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Yellow green and purple rock pattern along the trail to Shadow Lake in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, Sierra Nevada, Mammoth Lakes village, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Yellow green and purple rock pattern along the trail to Shadow Lake in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, Sierra Nevada, Mammoth Lakes village, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


Historic Benton Hot Springs, Mono County

Historic Benton Hot Springs is worth an hour to view the rusting old cars and farm equipment. Benton Hot Springs (elevation 5630 feet) saw its heyday from 1862 to 1889 as a supply center for nearby mines. At the end of the 1800s, the town declined and the name Benton was transferred to nearby Benton Station.

Cracked windshield on rusting car in Benton Hot Springs, Mono County, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Cracked windshield on rusting car in Benton Hot Springs, Mono County, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Mono Mills ghost camp above Mono Lake

With views of Mono Lake and Mono-Inyo Craters, the gravel side roads around the site of the historic Mono Mills offer free primitive campsites partially shaded by handsome pine trees, cooled at 7356 feet elevation in Inyo National Forest. (From Lee Vining, drive south on U.S. Route 395 and turn east on California State Route 120, for 9.1 miles to Mono Mills.) Luckily, in addition to developed campgrounds, our National Forests designate many free “dispersed camping” areas along the more-remote gravel roads.

Sunset at Mono Lake seen from Mono Mills, a nearly-vanished ghost town 9.5 miles southeast of Lee Vining in Mono County, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Sunset at Mono Lake seen from Mono Mills, a nearly-vanished ghost town 9.5 miles southeast of Lee Vining in Mono County, California, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


Day hike 4 of 4: Piute Pass Trail in John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest

The following giant boulder tumbled from cliffs above and nicked the corner of this restroom at Sabrina Campground!

This giant boulder tumbled from cliffs above and nicked the corner of this restroom at Sabrina Campground, in Inyo National Forest, Mono County, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Ill-fated restroom at Sabrina Campground, in Inyo National Forest, Mono County, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


Situated along Middle Fork Bishop Creek, Sabrina Campground is a great base for reaching several good hikes within a short drive. We enjoyed hiking Piute Pass Trail via attractive ponds, lakes, and wildflowers (9.7 miles, 2200 ft gain) in John Muir Wilderness.

Hike to Piute Pass Trail via ponds and lakes in John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, Mono County, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Hike to Piute Pass Trail via ponds and lakes in John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, Mono County, California, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

The tiger lily or Columbia lily (Lilium columbianum) is native to western North America. Piute Pass Trail, John Muir Wilderness, Sierra Nevada Mountains, Inyo National Forest, Mono County, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

The tiger lily or Columbia lily (Lilium columbianum) is native to western North America. Piute Pass Trail, John Muir Wilderness, Sierra Nevada Mountains, Inyo National Forest, Mono County, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Tom’s extended photo gallery show from “2020 Jul 18-Aug 3: CA High Sierra”


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2020 Patagonia. ARGENTINA: Bariloche & Los Glaciares. CHILE: Torres del Paine.

The beautiful parks of Patagonia attracted me for a second visit (January 28–March 7, 2020), escaping from dark Seattle winter to sunny South American summer. Meticulous planning created an active outdoor self-guided trip for 40 days with my brother Dave and sister-in-law Rebecca.

Phase 1 began in Argentina with a flight from Buenos Aires to the resort town of Bariloche. For 11 flexible days in a rental car, we looped south on Argentina’s Ruta 40 then returned north via Chile’s Carretera Austral. The trip started strongly with a fun overnight trek to Meiling Refuge, perched high on a flank of glacier-capped Tronador volcano. Seven tall waterfalls plunged from a hanging glacier. Further south we explored Butch Cassidy’s Ranch, Los Alerces National Park, and colorfully prehistoric Cave of Hands. Crossing into Chile towards Andes icecaps encountered twistier gravel roads along Lake General Carrera, to reach dusty Carretera Austral, Ruta CH-7. A 2-hour boat tour revealed the marvels of Marble Chapel Nature Sanctuary. On foot we admired the High Lakes loop in Chile’s new Patagonia National Park; Laguna Cerro Castillo; and Queulat National Park‘s spectacular Hanging Glacier.

In Phase 2, we flew south to El Calafate to rent another car for 14 days. Moreno Glacier’s calving and crashing ice fascinated us for hours from intimate boardwalks. An extra day in town allowed time for cruising remote parts of beautiful turquoise Lake Argentino to see impressive Spegazzini Glacier and more. Further north in Los Glaciares National Park, I re-experienced my favorite piece of Patagonia, based for 10 days in the hikers’ paradise of El Chalten under magnificent Mount Fitz Roy.

In Phase 3, we bused round trip from Argentina’s El Calafate into Chile to trek for 9 days on the wonderful W Route in Torres del Paine National Park, which is honored by UNESCO as a World Biosphere Reserve. (Dave & Rebecca went on to cruise Antarctica, which unexpectedly added 7 days extra cruising from Ushuaia to Montevideo, Uruguay due to COVID-19 border closures!)

Favorite Patagonia photos from 2020


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WHAT’S NEW in 2020 since my last visits to Patagonia in 2005 and 1993?

Fulfilled by our 2005 trip to Patagonia and Antarctica, my wife Carol stayed in the USA to do an Asilomar quilt workshop in February 2020.

Still my favorite Patagonian destination, Argentina’s El Chalten resort has expanded since 15 years ago, yet retains the vibrant vibe of young pioneers. Founded in 1985 as a stake in a boundary dispute with Chile, El Chalten is the youngest town in Argentina. Its easy-going residents are now here for the love of these majestic mountains. On a flexible schedule optimized with the weather forecast, we hiked many wonderful trails from comfortable lodging. Both traditional Argentine asado (ritual barbecue) and excellent yuppie restaurants have sprouted from the desert steppe. I highly recommend Resto El Muro which serves delicious perfectly-barbecued trout, lamb, beef, and vegetables. Paving the highway RP23 to El Chalten by 2009 has reduced travel time from El Calafate, from 4.5 hours down to 2.5 hours by car (3 hours by bus).

From El Calafate, a short drive into Los Glaciares National Park revisited magnificent Moreno Glacier, which calved and crashed icebergs into Lago Argentino, captured in the following video:

During my 1993 visit with four family members in a new South Korean rental van, we drove and ferried for 25 days round trip from Santiago to Chiloé Island via Chile’s scenic Lake District. On the remote gravel Carretera Austral, reaching 25 km south of Chaiten allowed us to admire yet another Andean volcano, Michinmahuida. South of us lay 730 kilometers of little-known highway reaching as far as Cochrane. We pondered, “what wonders might lie on that rough, remote road?” Some answers came 27 years later on our 2020 trip. In 2017, Michinmahuida became part of Pumalín Douglas Tompkins National Park, which bisects Chile and is South America’s largest national park. After successfully co-founding The North Face and Esprit with his first wife Susie Tompkins Buell, Douglas Tompkins and his second wife Kris Tompkins made the largest ever private gifts of land to a country, leading to the creation of Patagonia National Park (see my photos below), Pumalín, Corcovado, and other parks.

In 2000, Chile’s extension of the Carretera Austral to Villa O’Higgins unleashed a new multi-day bicycling and pedestrian adventure route into Argentina, via a series of ferries and buses to reach Lago del Desierto and El Chalten mountain resort. Potholed gravel surface and choking dust haven’t discouraged the many bicycling, busing, and hitchhiking tourists who we saw emerging from this remote route in 2020!

Today, the Carretera Austral (“Southern Way”, Ruta CH-7) has been completed for 1,240 kilometers (770 miles) from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins, opening previously-isolated rural Patagonia. Only about 100,000 people live along this lifeline, with the largest city being Coyhaique (population 57,000), a thriving hub that bustled with activity during our visit, as we looped back to Bariloche.

In the remoter parts of Patagonian, finding lodging in high season can be a gamble. Tents, pads, and sleeping bags reassured us as backup and let us stay in Patagonia National Park without paying expensive lodge rates. In cities with cell or Wi-Fi signal, Booking.com (sponsored) served us well to compare and find the next night’s lodging, setting clear expectations at a good discount. Pre-booking with AirBnb.com also proved valuable.

Back in 2005, right as we tried to enter Torres del Paine National Park, a careless camper in an unauthorized area caused a fire which closed the park for 3 days, shortening our planned W Route from 8 days to 5. Sadly in early summer of 2012, another careless camper caused a huge fire which burnt 10% of the Park, creating damage which is still prominently visible from most park roads and along the W Route from Refugio Grey to Skottsberg lake. Majestic forests that I remember from 2005 were decimated, leaving vast areas of eerie twisted tree snags rising from shrubby regrowth. With the help of careful replanting, the slow-growing lenga beech trees will take 200 years to recover. Crowding now impacts some areas such as the Mirador Base Las Torres Trail at midday. At the trail junction entrance to spectacular French Valley, the overused Campamento Italiano reeked of human waste; so “O Route” hikers should instead pay the price premium for Camping Francés or more-scenic Camping Los Cuernos. Thankfully, to prevent the Park from being loved to death, the total overnight capacity is now tightly controlled for both camping and lodging. As a consequence, overnight visitors to this world-famous park must book 6 months in advance. Despite fire damage, under-staffing, and some overcrowded hot spots, the park remains a magnificent treasure to behold.

In my following video from Torres del Paine National Park, calving icefalls crash in avalanches from Cerro Paine Grande; powerful wind throws Dave off balance on a swing bridge, whips the surface of Skottsberg lake, and whirls mist on Lake Nordenskjöld; and the world’s southernmost parrot species flirts and chirps (the austral parakeet):

Money: US$ cash is king in Argentina

As of February 2020, all Argentine ATMs charge exorbitant fees (8% minimum) and by law restrict the amount withdrawn. I could get at most AR$8000 per transaction with a fixed fee of AR$630 per withdrawal yielding a dismal 56 pesos per US dollar (at Banelco ATM, whereas other ATMs were costlier). To avoid exorbitant ATM fees in Argentina, bring from home enough United States dollars cash as crisp NEW paper $20 and $10 bills. Or if uncomfortable carrying cash on the airplane, then wire US dollars from your home bank to a Western Union office in Argentina (only available in Buenos Aires and a few other major cities) to convert into pesos.

Credit cards are conveniently accepted at almost all groceries and gas stations in Patagonia, but many other businesses may not accept them. Credit cards followed the daily official bank rate (~61 pesos per US dollar), which in Argentina can be 10-25% less than you get for US$ cash at street rates. Make sure your card charges zero international fees, like Costco Visa. Many accommodations accept a credit card to hold the booking but usually give a better rate if paid in cash, especially US$ currency.

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Phase 1: Bariloche 11 days car rental: loop Argentina’s Ruta 40 to Chile’s Carretera Austral

Car versus RV or camper

To best explore Patagonia by RV, fly to Puerto Montt or Punta Arenas in Chile. Check out Wicked Campers in Puerto Varas or Punta Arenas. Or try Rolling Patagonia in Coyhaique, in central Patagonia. See “Patagonia flight tips” at bottom for planning logistics.

In Argentina, Bariloche doesn’t yet rent RVs or campers. So several months in advance, we pre-booked a compact car. We found lodging for 9 nights of 12 in Phase 1. The remaining 3 nights used tents, pads, and sleeping bags brought from home (plus sleeping bags were later used once in Phase 2).

Sadly, miscommunication with a third-party booking site (ArgusCarHire) disallowed our initial Argentine rental car to enter Chile, which had been our main goal, starting from Bariloche. If you plan to enter Chile from Argentina, contact your rental car supplier directly (such as Modena in Bariloche) a week in advance to double-check their progress in obtaining a Chile-approved car and required paperwork (about US$60 extra). Luckily, we negotiated a replacement car to come three days later (giving us a superior clutch in a newer vehicle that didn’t require jump-starting).

ARGENTINA: Bariloche and Tronador Section of Nahuel Huapi National Park


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Throughout our flexible 11 days with a car rented from Bariloche, we were able to find lodging or tent-camping either spontaneously or booked a day in advance. Although we had booked both the first and last nights’ accommodations in Bariloche, I regretted that the last night was nonrefundable, because on night 3 we found lakeside Villa Huapi outside of town to be superior in value to our booking at the aging Apart Costa Azul.

An open schedule plus a good weather window realized a spontaneous Friday plan with pinpoint timing: driving from Bariloche to Los Rapidos cutoff point on the road to Pampa Linda Trailhead, before the daily 2:00 pm one-way-road reversal. A sunny mid-afternoon start allowed time to hike 12 kilometers with 1046 meters gain (7.5 miles, 3400 ft up) through a lovely forest with soaring trees, to popular Refugio Otto Meiling, arriving at sunset in time for second dinner! Gardeners like me recognize the bright red drooping flowers of native hardy fuchsia (Fuchsia magellanica) growing in the understory.

Conveniently, Refugio Otto Meiling (external link) welcomes all, doesn’t take reservations, and serves good, hearty meals. I loved the crepe dessert with fresh raspberry jam! The down side was a dormitory floor tightly-packed with dozens of snoring bodies. Reaching the downstairs bathroom for midnight pee required balancing a tightrope between faces and feet on bouncy mats! The excellent trail to the refuge gives spectacular views of 7+ waterfalls plunging from Castaño Overo Glacier, best seen from the easy side trip to Mirador Castaño Overo (great for day hikers), visited during our descent the next day.

With an altitude of 3470 m, the extinct stratovolcano of Tronador stands more than 1000 meters above nearby mountains in the Andean massif, making it a popular climb. The sound of falling seracs helped name the volcano Tronador, Spanish for “Thunderer.” Located inside two National Parks, Nahuel Huapi in Argentina and Vicente Pérez Rosales in Chile, Tronador hosts eight glaciers, which are retreating due to warming of the upper troposphere.

ARGENTINA: Los Alerces National Park; Butch Cassidy’s Ranch


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We drove south on Ruta 40 through popular hippie town El Bolsón and turned southwest on RP71.

Near the end of their career, Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, and Etta Place tried settling down to make an honest living from 1901–05 near the quiet farming community of Cholila, outside the northeast entrance of what is now Parque Nacional Los Alerces. Visiting their restored ranch enlivens history, off the radar.

Paving turned to dirt as we entered Los Alerces National Park (honored on UNESCO’s World Heritage List). An hour paid for parking allowed time to stroll across Pasarela Rio Arrayanes pedestrian bridge to a pleasant overlook on Lago Verde. We learned that seeing the ancient Alerces trees (Fitzroya cupressoides, the largest tree species in South America) would have required a boat tour consuming most of a day, for which we sadly lacked the time. Near sunset, we ate the dust of a dozen other cars exiting the park’s windy roads, to eventually reach our nice two-bedroom cabin with kitchen booked in Esquel (Cabañas Lorien, US$63).

ARGENTINA: Cave of Hands


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We departed Esquel to rejoin Ruta 40, driving 6 hours south to an apartment Sol y Luna booked in the sleepy town of Perito Moreno, in Santa Cruz Province. The next day we drove south to Cave of Hands on remote paved and steep gravel roads, 169 km (105 miles) south of town. Along the roadside flocked exotic creatures including Darwin’s rhea or ñandu, and countless wild guanacos (parent species of the domesticated llama).

Located in a scenic canyon of the Pinturas River, the Cave of Hands (Cueva de las Manos) displays some of the earliest known human art in the Americas, protected for millennia under the rim of a dry canyon. This striking artwork is honored on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Dating to around 5000 BCE, the silhouette paintings of mostly left hands were sprayed using a bone pipe held in the right hand. The age of the paintings was calculated from pigments found in layers of charcoal from human fires and bone remains of the spraying pipes. The hunting scenes (mostly guanaco) and representations of animals and human life all date older than the stenciled hands, to around 7300 BCE. Visiting these exquisite artworks requires a low-cost tour led by one of the park caretakers/interpreters who live on site. The Visitor Center provides exhibits and restrooms.

After being inspired by this vibrant prehistoric art, we returned to Perito Moreno and turned west. Following Lake Buenos Aires, we crossed into Chile at Chile Chico, where the water’s name changes to Lago General Carrera.

CHILEAN CUSTOMS WARNING

Fresh or dried food cannot be brought into Chile (via car, bicycle, or airplane) such as: fresh meat, fish, groceries, milk, fresh fruits, dried fruits, fresh vegetables, even food bars (such as containing honey). Declare all food, so that disallowed food will be simply confiscated instead of incurring fines. Due to this inspection, be prepared for border delays.

CHILE: Patagonia National Park and Rio Baker


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The pavement from Argentina ends in gravel immediately west of Chile Chico, where Saturday’s delivery of vegetables and fresh foods, sourced from distant Chilean suppliers, were now empty shelves on Tuesday. Prolonged Patagonian border disputes between Chile and Argentina have historically chilled relations and discouraged trade, isolating this remote town. Cabañas Cueva del Indio provided a comfortable new 2-bedroom apartment with kitchen for US$71.

The next day, we drove towards the ice-capped Andes on panoramic Ruta 265 along glacially-carved General Carrera Lake, which surprisingly drains westwards to the Pacific Ocean, via Bertrand Lake and the voluminous Baker River. The coast of the lake was first inhabited by criollos and European immigrants 1900–1925. In 1971 and 1991, eruptions of Hudson Volcano severely affected the local economy, especially sheep farming.

We turned south on Carretera Austral (CH-7) for 30 km to reach Salto Rio Baker, an impressive cascade which boils just above the colorful confluence of rivers Baker and Neff, just north of Cochrane in Capitán Prat Province. As Chile’s largest river by volume, Rio Baker dazzles your eyes with bright turquoise-blue color, caused by glacial sediments. Rio Baker was the proposed site of a controversial major hydro-electric project called HidroAysén, involving five dams, to be the biggest in the history of Chile. After the project was opposed by Chilean and international environmental activist groups, Chile’s Committee of Ministers denied its permit in 2014. Due to growing human demands, few rivers this large in the world remain undammed and free flowing.

Just north of Cochrane, camping in Chile’s new Patagonia National Park for two nights in Los West Winds Campground (external link) (CLP$8000 Chilean pesos or US$11 per person per night) avoided high Lodge rates ($600 triple, $500 double). From our tent doorsteps, we enjoyed hiking the Lagunas Altas Loop Trail (21 km round trip with 1100 m cumulative gain). Intensive ranching on this former estancia caused overgrazing, but through restoration and rewilding, native grasslands have recovered, wildlife has returned, and more people are employed now than when it was a ranch. Top-notch park infrastructure includes a classy Museum and Visitor Center, Lodge, Restaurant, campgrounds, and trails. The park’s inspirational story is a shining bellwether for the recovery of abused land in Patagonia and elsewhere.

Patagonia National Park (external link) consists of the Tompkins Conservation donation in addition to the former national reserves of Jeinimeni and Tamango, plus fiscal land. Parque Patagonia was created by Conservacion Patagonica, a nonprofit incorporated in California and founded in 2000 by Kris Tompkins, former CEO of Patagonia, Inc. In January 2018, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and Kris Tompkins signed a decree creating 5 national parks, including Parque Patagonia, which now attract ever more Chileans and others to appreciate this remote corner of the world.

CHILE: Marble Chapel Nature Sanctuary (Capillas de Mármol), on General Carrera Lake


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A surprising number of motorboats plied the beautiful “Marble Caves”, officially called the Marble Chapel Nature Sanctuary (Capillas de Mármol), starting from Bahía Manso on General Carrera Lake. Services in the little town of Puerto Rio Tranquilo were clearly overwhelmed by the summer onslaught of bus package tours, bike packers, rental cars, and desperate hitchhikers. You can join a Marble Caves tour in Puerto Río Tranquilo; or save money and time like we did, by driving directly 8 km south to Bahía Manso, where we spontaneously joined a 2-hour tour boat on short notice. The best time is a sunny summer morning in calmer waters. The precipitous side road down to Bahía Manso was nervously passable with our 2-wheel-drive compact Volkswagen Suran (Highline), but if the road is wet, 4WD might be required to untrap your car.

CHILE: Cerro Castillo; Carretera Austral


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Continuing north, our long days rattling over dusty gravel roads were suddenly relieved by smooth new concrete paving on Carretera Austral just south of Villa Cerro Castillo, a growing pioneer town in Coyhaique Province. Urbanization is marching southwards. As more-famous Patagonian treks become overcrowded, international adventurers increasingly seek alternatives, such as multi-night backpacking routes in Cerro Castillo National Reserve. Along with more than a hundred like-minded travelers, we day-hiked the Reserve’s main gem at Mirador Laguna Cerro Castillo, 14 km round trip with 1082 m gain (8.5 miles with 3550 feet). Steep basalt walls of the mountain Cerro Castillo resemble a castle (or Castillo in Spanish). Hostel & Camping Sendero Patagonia supplied a cheap tent site with great view, but the shared kitchen and shower house were aging and messy, plus Wi-Fi was broken. After the hike, driving north 75 km to Coyhaique, cellphone service allowed finding a beautiful apartment at Cabañas Río Claro, on short notice.

CHILE: Queulat National Park; Futaleufu


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Waterfalls plunge spectacularly from Queulat Hanging Glacier, in Queulat National Park, in Aysen Province. The Glacier extends from the Queulat ice cap, which borders Ventisquero Sound (actually a fjord, carved by glaciers) in northern Puyuhuapi Channel.

Sendero Ventisquero Colgante, the best of the park’s few trails, reaches Mirador Ventisquero Colgante (Viewpoint of Queulat Hanging Glacier). Ventisquero (or “snowdrift”) is an archaic word for “glacier” used by early South American explorers. In summer, go early in the morning to avoid crowds. Entering the park’s rutted dirt road around noon required a 45-minute wait to park, pay entrance fees, then park again. We joined the friendly international hordes walking through dense forest (4 miles or 6.6 km round trip with 1150 ft or 350 m cumulative gain). The trail is wildly popular despite some steep steps, slippery rocks, roots, and mud. Waiting in line to cross the suspension bridge, limited to 4 people at once, took 30 minutes in late afternoon to return to the car. In contrast to drier areas east of the Andes crest (such as Lake Carrera, Chacabuco Valley, and Coyhaique), windward-side Queulat National Park is one of the rainiest places (3500 – 4000 mm) in Chilean Patagonia.

Phase 2: Fly from Bariloche to El Calafate

Argentina & Chile Patagonia trip map: three Dempseys travelled from 11 February - 05 March 2020: El Calafate, Los Glaciares National Park, El Chalten, Monte Fitz Roy, Lago del Desierto, & Torres del Paine NP. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Argentina & Chile Patagonia trip map: three Dempseys travelled from 11 February – 05 March 2020: El Calafate, Los Glaciares National Park, El Chalten, Monte Fitz Roy, Lago del Desierto, & Torres del Paine NP. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

ARGENTINA: El Calafate: Perito Moreno Glacier & Spegazzini Glacier on Lake Argentino, Los Glaciares National Park

Perito Moreno Glacier‘s loud cracks, groans, and calvings captivated us for hours from intimate viewing platforms on Lake Argentino (see video near top), on a bright sunny morning in Santa Cruz Province. The magnificent Moreno Glacier is one of 48 glaciers fed by the Southern Patagonian Ice Field (the world’s third largest reserve of fresh water). Surrounded by Los Glaciares National Park, Lago Argentino is the biggest freshwater lake in Argentina and reaches as deep as 500 meters (1640 feet). Its outlet, the Santa Cruz River, flows into the Atlantic Ocean. Using 2009 data, scientists report that nearly 90 percent of the glaciers in Antarctica and Patagonia are melting quickly, as are most glaciers worldwide due to global warming. Curiously, Moreno Glacier has been a relatively stable exception for the past hundred years. Located 78 kilometers (48 mi) from El Calafate, the glacier was named after explorer Francisco Moreno, a pioneer who studied the region in the 1800s and defended the territory of Argentina in the conflict surrounding the international border dispute with Chile. Los Glaciares National Park and Reserve are honored on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.


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Three nights in El Calafate allowed time to explore remoter reaches of Los Glaciares National Park. On Lake Argentino, we boarded the ‘Maria Turquesa’ Cruiser for their enjoyable Glaciers Gourmet Full Day Sightseeing Cruise (booked two days in advance for US$120 per person, plus add their shuttle service if you don’t have a rental car). Save money by driving yourself to their La Soledad private port. The highlight for us was sailing to the striking Spegazzini Glacier. The Old Settlers’ Las Vacas Station on Spegazzini Canal Bay intrigued us with stories of historic ranchland now transitioning to National Park management, grappling with feral cows and restoration of native forest. Back on board, the provided lamb sandwich lunchbox tasted great, as we swapped stories with fellow international travelers at our table. Cloud buildup dulled photography and quieted the glaciers’ calving, so cruising to revisit Moreno Glacier paled in comparison to yesterday’s loud excitement experienced from boardwalks.

ARGENTINA: El Chalten and Mount Fitz Roy, Los Glaciares National Park

The awesome knife of Mount Fitz Roy looms ever higher as you approach El Chalten mountain resort, in Los Glaciares National Park. Don’t miss the astounding sunrise view from Mirador al Chaltén, a pullout on Ruta 23 just 2 km southeast of town.


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Prebooking a nice flat in Patagonia Hikes Aparts served as a comfy home base in El Chalten. In this hikers’ paradise we dedicated 10 days to explore the following:

  • Chorrillo del Salto waterfall is 7 km round trip from El Chalten by vehicle or on foot. Walkers can start at the end of Avenida San Martín, on the same trailhead as Laguna De los Tres, but soon taking the path to the right which parallels the road to Lago del Desierto.
  • For a homespun taste of Patagonian history, don’t miss Andreas Madsen House Museum, seen exclusively via private tour led by Walk Patagonia, starting from their office at Avenida Antonio Rojo 62 in El Chalten. Danish pioneer Andreas Madsen arrived in 1905 and built the first house in El Chaltén, on his farm named Estancia Cerro Fitz Roy. Walk an easy 6 km round trip to visit his family home along Rio de las Vueltas, within Los Glaciares National Park, with a commanding view of Cerro Fitz Roy.
  • Laguna Torre: starting at sunrise to avoid crowds, we hiked 21 km (13 miles) round trip with 730 m (2400 ft) cumulative gain to Laguna Torre (634 m or 2080 ft) and Mirador Maestri, with stunning views of Cerro Torre (3,128 m or 10,262 ft elevation). On the way out, we encountered hundreds of hikers going both directions.
  • From Mirador Loma del Pliegue Tumbado (“hill of the collapsed fold”), see Cerro Fitz Roy rising high above Laguna Torre (634 m or 2080 ft). Sadly, clouds hid Cerro Torre that day. The trailhead starts from the Los Glaciares National Park Visitor Center, going for 19 km (11.9 mi) with 1170 meters (3860 ft) cumulative gain (which I’ve hiked 3 times).
  • Laguna de Los Tres is one of the park’s most crowded, most scenic trails. Start early (ideally before sunrise) and follow Sendero Fitz Roy for 20 km round trip with 1100 meters gain. To reach the best view, slightly descend left of Laguna de Los Tres then ascend 50 m to a bare knoll overlooking both it and Lago Sucia under mighty Mount Fitz Roy.
  • Huemul Lake and Glacier: A short, steep, sweet hike 4 km round trip with 215 m gain on private land. Pay the trail entrance fee at the campground at Estancia Lago Del Desierto. Note the knife-like north face of Fitz Roy rising to the south. Directions: drive or shuttle north from El Chalten for 35 km on gravel road RP23, leaving the national park, to reach Punta Sur of Lago del Desierto, just before reaching the ferry.
  • Paso Quadrado: Rio Electrico Valley staged my favorite experience in Patagonia. North of El Chalten, we parked where the gravel road RP23 crosses Rio Electrico bridge. An easy 7.3 km hike leads to Refugio and Campground Piedra del Fraile (“Stone of the Friar”). From the refuge, a scenic half-day route visits turquoise Lago Electrico under the glacier-clad Marconi Range, then leads to rocky Lago Pollone which reflects Mount Fitz Roy (8.5 km round trip with 320 m gain). For us, hiking to Lago Pollone completed a 16 km day including the trail from the highway. The relaxed, uncrowded Refuge’s dining building served good hearty food, including delicious pizza and cakes! We slept comfortably in our sleeping bags on provided mats in a quiet 4-person dorm room. After a breakfast of cold pizza saved from last night, we ascended very steeply to the breathtaking Paso Quadrado (gaining 1340 m vertically in 8.4 km round trip). Views improved steadily during the ascent. From Piedra Negra climbers camp, you can see an icy Chilean peak rising from the South Patagonian Ice Cap, 27 km northwest. What to me resembled a ptarmigan was actually a rufous-bellied seedsnipe (Attagis gayi), a common wading bird resident in the Andes. To our delight, a pair of rare huemul (south Andean deer, Hippocamelus bisulcus) wandered across Piedra Negra. A rocky, sometimes-exposed cairned route crosses between muddy green Lago Quadrado and an unnamed pure blue lake partially covered in ice. The last kilometer climbs steep snow which could require crampons and ice axe if icy, but was passable in soft snow using our trailrunning shoes. Scrambling the last 30 meters of rock to reach Paso Quadrado requires comfort with exposure (not for those with fear of heights).
Cerro Fitz Roy (3405 meters or 11,171 feet elevation)

is also known as Cerro Chaltén, Monte Fitz Roy, or Mount Fitz Roy. The first Europeans recorded as seeing the peak were the Spanish explorer Antonio de Viedma and his companions, who in 1783 reached the shores of Viedma Lake. In 1877, Argentine explorer Francisco Moreno saw the mountain and named it Fitz Roy in honor of Robert FitzRoy who, as captain of HMS Beagle (accompanied by Charles Darwin), had traveled up the Santa Cruz River in 1834 and charted large parts of the Patagonian coast. Cerro Fitz Roy was first climbed in 1952. Cerro is a Spanish word meaning hill, while Chaltén comes from a Tehuelche word meaning “smoking mountain”, due to its frequent orographic clouds.

Phase 3: CHILE: Trek the W Route in Torres del Paine National Park


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Round trip by bus from Argentina’s El Calafate, our self-organized nine-day itinerary to trek the W Route in Chile generously allowed a two-day weather window to explore each of the three major valleys, as follows:

  1. Picked up from our lodging in El Calafate (Argentina) at 6:20am, we bused (BookingCalafate.com, US$67 per person) from El Calafate 6.5 hrs to Laguna Amarga Entrance Station then to Refugio Pudeto in CHILE’s Torres del Paine National Park. Before crossing into Chile, be sure to eat your sandwiches or any fresh food, otherwise Chilean Customs will capriciously confiscate it at the border! (Going the other way, bringing Chilean food into Argentina is fine.) Walking an hour on the dusty park road reached Hosteria PehoeHosteria Pehoe, which provided wonderful views of Los Cuernos but mediocre meals, on our first of eight nights in the park. Take your hot showers early as we did, because others later suffered cold showers.
  2. Hosteria Pehoe’s concierge booked us a pricey US$150 ride for 28 km to reach the nicer Hotel Lago Grey, the best starting point for the W Route (if you can book it at least 5+ months in advance). Their shuttle boat ferried us to the sandspit where we boarded their Lago Grey Ferry’s special third sailing (at 14:00, US$92, reservations recommended), which cruises dramatically close to Glacier Grey before dropping we trekkers (and pick up others) at Vertice Refugio & Camping Grey for two nights. (The first two sailings drop & pick up trekkers BEFORE sightseeing the glacier.) Our W Route trek began auspiciously with onboard gratis pisco sours and astounding glacier views! Don’t miss the inspiring Mirador Glacier Grey just 1 km north of Vertice Refugio Grey. Their elaborate new mountain hotel lavished us with elegant bedding in comfortable 4-person shared dorm rooms.
    • W Route trekkers have a cheaper alternative ferry which takes no reservations, departing from Refugio Pudeto (our backup plan). Catamaran Hielos Patagonia ferries hikers to Paine Grande (US$35 for foreigners; 35-minute crossing at 09:00, 11:00, 16:15, 18:00). Walking from Refugio Paine Grande to Vertice Grey Refuge is 6.8 miles with 1200 feet gain, each way. You can walk to the nearby Salto Grande waterfall while waiting for the catamaran.
  3. Staying a second night at the remarkably comfortable Vertice Refugio Grey allowed weather flexibility to hike 4.5 miles round trip to the best viewpoint over Grey Glacier, located just after the Second Swing Bridge. If extra energy allows, continue up to twice as far, as we did to Campamento Paso Ranger Station viewpoint, relatively lightly traveled by day hikers (for 14 km round trip with 924 m gain & loss; or 8.9 miles, 3030 ft up & down). The thrilling trail crosses three swing bridges high over deep gorges cut into the steep mountainside, through ancient twisted Nothofagus forest, breaking periodically into panoramic views of vast Glaciar Grey and surrounding peaks. Dozens of weary but exuberant “O Route” backpackers exited one-way from Paso John Gardner towards Vertice’s hot showers.
  4. We walked from Vertice Grey Refuge to Refugio Paine Grande 6.8 miles with 1200 feet gain, with the gusty prevailing 25-mph winds at our backs. Our 6-bunk room encouraged hours-long conversations with two French economists (who we met again at Chileno Refuge).
  5. From comfortable Refugio Paine Grande, we hiked via panoramic Mirador Britanico in the French Valley to Camping & Domes Francés (12.9 mi gaining 4610 feet up, dropping 4050 ft down). Hiking to Mirador Britanico reveals an impressive cirque of tall cliffs, including Cerro Cota 2000, Cerro Catedral, the granite arête of Aleta de Tiburón (Shark’s Fin), Los Cuernos, and more. Mysterious thunderous crashes heard throughout the day turned out to be calving icefalls (see video near top) periodically plunging from the imposing Cerro Paine Grande (9462 ft or 2884 m elevation measured by GPS in 2011). Staying in Fully-Equipped Tents at Camping Francés required walking a steep 1-km road for dinner and breakfast, except for lucky people staying in the attractive geodesic Domes dormitories (which were harder to book). Good healthy dinners were served with fresh green salads, imported by boat via Lake Nordenskjöld, seen broadly below.
  6. A rest day scheduled at Camping & Domes Francés allowed weather flexibility for seeing French Valley (done yesterday). But the ambiance would have been better if scheduled 2 hours further east at scenic Refugio Torres.
  7. Walking from Refugio & Camping Francés to Refugio Chileno (10 miles with 2680 ft gain, 1860 ft down) was my hardest day, due to fighting a head cold in hot, humid weather. We followed along Lake Nordenskjöld then crossed drier estancia land, then steeply up Ascencio Valley. Refugio Chileno served the best food of the W Route, a delicious salmon dinner and layered dessert.
  8. We ascended from Refugio Chileno to Mirador Base Las Torres on Lago Torres, then descended all the way out to Fantástico Sur’s Refugio Torre Central on the park road (9.6 miles gaining 2450 ft and descending 3270 ft). The popular hike from the refuge to Lago Torres alone was 5.85 miles round trip with 1980 ft gain and loss. Rising at 4:00am allowed dozens of others from the hut to hike to Lago Torres to see magenta sunrise light strike the namesake Towers in a magical setting. But instead, I slept off my head cold and first ate breakfast with Dave and Rebecca before ascending the route. On the descent, we encountered hundreds of others going each direction, many doing a much longer day round trip from Refugio Central and other lodges located on the park road terminus (13.5 miles round trip with 3270 ft gain). For weather flexibility, we had tried to book a second night at well-worn Chileno Refuge, but it was fully booked several months in advance. Instead, Dave & Rebecca stayed in a Fully-Quipped Tent in Camping Central, and I stayed in a 6-person dorm room with 2 others in the spacious, nicely furnished Refugio Central, where all shared tasty hot meals. Chirping exuberantly in the trees were several of the world’s southernmost parrot species, the austral parakeet (Enicognathus ferrugineus or austral conure), posing for my photos.
  9. A Fantástico Sur shuttle bus (US$5 with several daily departures, ticket bought a few hours in advance) took us from the Central Welcome Center to Laguna Amarga Entrance Station, where we caught our afternoon bus back to El Calafate in Argentina (BookingCalafate.com, US$55).
Planning tips for Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

Backpacking in the park carrying your own tent and/or camping gear may pay off for stronger, younger, more-frugal adventurers such as on the longer, less-crowded “O Route” (see stingynomads.com) circumnavigating the Paine massif, counterclockwise only.

However, the most stunning landscape of the “O Route” can be seen by day hiking north from Refugio Grey across two exciting swing bridges, to the entrancing viewpoint over Grey Glacier just north of Second Swing Bridge (4.5 miles round trip). Also worthwhile for us was continuing on to Campamento Paso (8.9 miles total round trip, 3030 ft up & down). Above that, Paso John Gardner offers higher, perhaps grander, but incredibly windier views.

The Park’s grandest mountain scenery is on the W Route. My 60s-year old body prefers the comfortable huts and Full Equipo Tents, with all meals optionally provided (yes). Simply carry lightweight day-hiking gear plus change of cloths and camera. No need to carry any food, fuel, or camping equipment. Hot showers are available for all. Don’t hike the W Route from east to west, due to prevailing winds blasting you in the face. Go west to east as we did.

All lodging AND camping are strictly limited within Torres del Paine National Park, and must be booked at least 6 MONTHS IN ADVANCE, as we tried to do. Booking any later will severely limit your options. Booking everything ourselves for our 5-week trip cut costs nearly in half compared to a packaged tour, but took weeks of work and some headaches. The refugios (refuges) in the park are comfortable mountain hotels operated by two different companies, inconveniently requiring separate bookings:

  • Refugios operated by FantasticoSur.com: Camping & Domes Francés; Refugio Los Cuernos; Refugio Chileno; and on the park road terminus are grouped Refugio Torre Central, Camping Central, and Refugio Torre Norte.
  • Refugios operated by VerticePatagonia.com: Refugio & Camping Paine Grande; Refugio & Camping Grey; and Dickson Shelter & Camping (on the “O Route”).
  • Campgrounds operated by CONAF (nice park overview map): Paso Camping & Ranger Station (above Grey Glacier); and smelly Campamento Italiano.

Offloading your booking tasks to a professional organizer or tour operator can be worth the price premium. My research for self-guided tours on a budget revealed the following promising USA-based company: Pygmy Elephant’s 5-day W-Trek (external link).

Weather forecast for trekkers near Paine Grande at 500m/1600 ft elevation:
www.mountain-forecast.com/peaks/Paine-Grande/forecasts/500

Patagonia flight tips

All flights between Chile and Argentina must go through their capital cities. Over a dozen small airports serve Patagonia, but none of their flights cross the international border. (In our 2005 trip, one flight went from Ushuaua to Punta Arenas but wasn’t unavailable in 2020.) Efficiently touring within Patagonia can require patching together a series of one-way flight legs within either Argentina or Chile, but not flying crossing the border. Search by specifying “one-way” or “multi-city” in flight websites. To reach Torres del Paine by air from Chile, you must fly from Santiago to Punta Arenas Airport, then continue by bus or rented vehicle to Puerto Natales, and from there to the Park. Access from Argentina’s El Calafate by bus was more efficient for us. Our Argentine travel goals in El Chalten and Bariloche based our flights in Argentina instead of Chile. To explore Patagonia by RV, fly to Puerto Montt, Coyhaique, or Punta Arenas in Chile (see Bariloche: “Car versus RV or camper”).

“If anything can save the world, I’d put my money on beauty.”Douglas Tompkins (see video)

Patagonia overview map

Patagonia map: Argentina & Chile.  — January 28–30, 2020: Fly from Seattle > Los Angeles > Lima > Buenos Aires > Bariloche.  — January 31–February 10: Phase 1: road trip loop from Bariloche by three Dempseys driving 1600 miles in 11 days, first south on Argentina’s Ruta 40 then returning north via Chile’s Carretera Austral.  — February 11–24: Phase 2: El Calafate & El Chalten.  — February 25–March 4: Phase 3: Torres del Paine National Park, Chile.  — March 5–7: Fly home El Calafate > Buenos Aires > Santiago > Los Angeles > Seattle. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Patagonia 2020 map, Argentina & Chile. Itinerary:

  1. January 28–30, 2020: Tom Flies from Seattle > Los Angeles > Lima > Buenos Aires > Bariloche.
  2. January 31–February 10: Phase 1: road trip loop from Bariloche by three Dempseys driving 1600 miles in 11 days, first south on Argentina’s Ruta 40 then returning north via Chile’s Carretera Austral
  3. February 11–24: Phase 2: El Calafate & El Chalten.
  4. February 25–March 4: Phase 3: Torres del Paine National Park, Chile.
  5. March 5–7: Tom flies home from El Calafate > Buenos Aires > Santiago > Los Angeles > Seattle. Dave & Rebecca flew to Ushuaia to cruise Antarctica round trip. Their healthy ship unexpectedly added 7 days extra cruising to Montevideo, Uruguay due to Argentina’s COVID-19 border closures.

Recommended Patagonia, Argentina, Chile, and Antarctica books and maps

Search for latest Patagonia travel books at Amazon.com.

Search for latest Argentina travel books at Amazon.com:


Search for latest Chile travel books at Amazon.com:

Search for latest Antarctica travel books at Amazon.com:

2019 Sept: RV to Wyoming, Carhenge, Cahokia, Colorado, Utah

A diverse RV camping trip took us across the USA from Seattle to: Wyoming’s Wind River Range; Nebraska’s kooky Carhenge; Indiana family; Illinois’ prehistoric Cahokia Mounds; Colorado’s southwest corner; Utah’s Arches and Capitol Reef National Parks; and California family (September 4–October 20, 2019).

2019 Sep 4-Oct 20 favorites: RV to WY, NE, IL, CO, UT


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Below, see all images from the trip in galleries by location:

Wyoming: Wind River Range


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The Wind River Range lies in the Rocky Mountains southwest of Grand Teton National Park. Mostly made of granite batholiths formed deep within the earth over 1 billion years ago, the Wind River Range is one of the oldest mountain ranges in North America. These granite monoliths were tectonically uplifted, exposed by erosion, then carved by glaciers 500,000 years ago to form cirques and U-shaped valleys. We enjoyed several hikes and a backpacking trip in Bridger-Teton National Forest on the west side of the Continental Divide (which follows the crest of the “Winds”):

Green River Lakes day hikes

Glaciers scoured the terminal moraine which naturally dams the Green River Lakes, which are the headwaters of the Green River (chief tributary to the Colorado River). Upper Lake offers the best reflection of Squaretop Mountain (11,695 feet elevation), an iconic granite monolith. To acclimatize, we hiked a loop of 7.2 miles with 700 feet cumulative gain entirely around Lower Green River Lake, including the short side trip to Upper Lake.

A tougher hike took us from Green River Lakes Trailhead, along just the west side of Lower Lake, to Slide Lake (13 miles round trip minimum, with 2100 feet gain). Those with more energy can add the Natural Bridge in Clear Creek Valley and loop back via the east side of Lower Lake.

Photographer’s Point day hike

Above Pinedale, along the enjoyable day hike to Photographer’s Point (9.6 miles round trip with 1150 feet gain), view Wind River peaks rising above the popular Titcomb Basin backpacking area.

New Fork Lakes day hike

From Narrows Campground, we hiked a pleasant trail along New Fork Lakes just past the end of the lake (4.4 miles round trip with 400 ft gain). (The kokanee salmon were not yet spawning on September 12, 2019.)

3-day backpack to Big Sandy Lake: Cirque of the Towers; Clear Lake, Deep Lake, Temple Lake

Our spectacular two-night backpacking trip established a tenting home base at Big Sandy Lake Campground (11 miles round trip with 1000 feet gain going in, and 400 ft gain going out). On Day 2, we hiked with lightweight day packs from Big Sandy Lake to Clear Lake and Deep Lake below East Temple Peak, then looped back via the the Continental Divide Trail to Temple Lake, Miller Lake, and Rapid Lake (7.5 miles, 1060 ft gain). Every step of this day hike offers inspiring views, such as the sharp spire of East Temple Peak above Deep Lake, Cirque of the Towers in the distance, and more. On Day 3, two hours before sunrise, I departed from Big Sandy Lake to reach Jackass Pass viewpoint for Cirque of the Towers and Lonesome Lake (6.5 miles round trip, 1860 ft gain) on the Continental Divide Trail. Then I joined Carol hiking out to Big Sandy Trailhead (5.4 miles with 400 ft gain).

Nebraska (NE): Carhenge, near Alliance


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Carhenge replicates England’s Stonehenge using vintage American automobiles, near Alliance, in the High Plains of Nebraska. After studying Stonehenge in England, Jim Reinders recreated the physical size and placement of Stonehenge’s standing stones in summer 1987, helped by 35 family members. “It took a lot of blood, sweat, and beers,” said Reinders, who built Carhenge as a memorial to his father. 39 automobiles were arranged in the same proportions as Stonehenge with the circle measuring a slightly smaller 96 feet (29m) in diameter. All autos are covered with gray spray paint, and the “heel stone” is a 1962 Cadillac. The site was gifted to the Citizens of Alliance in 2013. In the surrounding Car Art Reserve, Reinders’ “Ford Seasons” consists of four Fords, inspired by Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Jeske’s Over the Hill Campground conveniently welcomes campers adjacent to Carhenge.

Illinois: Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site


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Who knew that the largest prehistoric earthwork in the Americas is right across the Mississippi River from St Louis: Monks Mound, near Collinsville, Illinois. Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site preserves the largest prehistoric Native American city north of Mexico. Cahokia existed around 1050–1350 CE. The present park contains about 80 man-made earthen mounds, but at its apex around 1100 CE, Cahokia included about about 120 mounds and covered 6 square miles (16 km2) with a population briefly greater than contemporaneous London. Cahokia was the largest and most influential urban settlement of the Mississippian culture, which developed advanced societies across much of what is now the central and southeastern United States, beginning 1000+ years before European contact. Cahokia Mounds is one of 24 UNESCO World Heritage Sites within the United States.

Colorado: Great Sand Dunes National Park


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Dunes rise up to 750 feet tall in Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, on the eastern edge of San Luis Valley, Sangre de Cristo Range, south-central Colorado.

Mesa Verde National Park


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Now honored by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, Mesa Verde National Park was established by Congress and President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 in the Four Corners region near the town of Cortez. Starting around 7500 BCE, Mesa Verde was seasonally inhabited by nomadic Paleo-Indians. Later, Archaic people established semi-permanent rockshelters in and around the mesa. By 1000 BCE, the Basketmaker culture emerged from the local Archaic population, and by 750 CE the Ancestral Puebloans had developed from the Basketmaker culture. The Mesa Verdeans survived using a combination of hunting, gathering, and subsistence farming of crops such as corn, beans, and squash. They built the mesa’s first pueblos sometime after 650, and by the end of the 1100s began building massive cliff dwellings.

Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in North America, was built 1190-1260 CE by Ancestral Puebloans. By 1285, following a period of social and environmental instability driven by a series of severe and prolonged droughts, they abandoned the area and moved south into what is today Arizona and New Mexico. Cliff Palace was rediscovered in 1888 by Richard Wetherill and Charlie Mason while looking for stray cattle.

Colorado: San Juan Mountains


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In 2019, we admired peak fall colors in late September and the first week in October in the San Juan Mountains. Silverton, Ridgway, and Telluride made great bases for hiking and touring in this spectacular southwest corner of Colorado.

Utah: Moab: Arches National Park

My brother Dave and I re-hiked a favorite trail: Devils Garden loop via Landscape Arch, Partition Arch, Navajo Arch, Double O Arch, Dark Angel, Pine Tree Arch (8 miles with 800 feet gain, with slight scrambling and exposure in places on the Primitive Trail portion, not for those with fear of heights).

Luckily for our group, the Devils Garden Campground host had left a paper note allowing us to grab sites left on October 10 by campers escaping cold 22-degree-F overnight temperatures, freeing sites which had been fully-booked 6 months in advance. Photographing sunset and sunrise around Skyline Arch was a joy! Below are photos of this and other-years activities in Arches National Park:


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Utah: Capitol Reef National Park

Dave and I hiked impressive sandstone gorges from Chimney Rock Trailhead over to Spring Canyon, under the looming shadow of Capitol Dome, then down to a car shuttle at Highway 24 (10 miles one way with 1100 ft descent and 370 ft gain). Wading across the Fremont River completed this spectacular, quiet escape from crowds elsewhere in the park. Below are photos of this and past-years activities in Capitol Reef National Park:


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Reference

Tom’s Southwest USA blog articles include Arizona, ColoradoNevada, New MexicoUtah, plus Texas. See also Midwest USA.

2019 Calgary skyscraper glows with Tom’s jagged rock pattern

My favorite jagged rock image from Glacier National Park is now enlarged twice onto a Calgary skyscraper! The image glows on two lightboxes wrapping 64 feet and 54 feet around the base of a tower completed by Axiom Builders in June 2019:

  • SODO & Residence Inn by Marriott, 610 10th Ave SW, in Calgary, Alberta, CANADA (Corner of 5th St and 10 Ave SW; Google Maps).
Tom Dempsey's rock photo on SODO & Residence Inn by Marriott, 610 10 Ave SW, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Two glass lightboxes display a jagged rock image by Tom Dempsey on the SODO & Residence Inn by Marriott, 610 10 Ave SW, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, completed in June 2019. Tom photographed the rock in 2002. Made of 30 glass tiles, the lightbox at left wraps the southwest corner 16.3 by 3.5 meters (53.6 feet wide by 11.6 ft high). The larger lightbox at right wraps the southeast corner 19.6 by 8.4 meters (64 feet wide x 27.5 feet high).

See more of Tom’s published work at this link.

Tom Dempsey's rock photo on SODO & Residence Inn by Marriott, 610 10 Ave SW, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Tom Dempsey's rock photo is installed on two large lightboxes at the base of the SODO & Residence Inn by Marriott, 610 10 Ave SW, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Billion-year-old rock breaks into a jagged pattern in Glacier National Park, Montana.

Billion-year-old rock breaks into a jagged pattern in Glacier National Park, Montana. Tom’s image is permanently displayed on the glass of two large lightboxes of a skyscraper completed by Axiom Builders in June 2019: SODO & Residence Inn by Marriott, 610 10th Ave SW, in Calgary, Alberta, CANADA.

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