2015 July hikes, history: Eastern Sierras + Castle Crags SP, California

On a hiking trip via our VW Eurovan camper July 5-23, 2015, we rediscovered the beauty of the Eastern Sierras, and for the first time hiked spectacular Castle Crags State Park in Northern California. Below, I share our itinerary and my favorite images in day-by-day trip order.

Photo gallery: “2015 Jul  5-23: favorites: Sierra Nevada + Castle Crags, California”



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For a wider scope, see Tom’s separate article covering all his images from California (which integrates all photos seen above and below).

More details

Below is a more extensive 239-image gallery of our July 2015 Sierra hikes and museum visits, ending with Castle Crags State Park in Northern California, in day-by-day order:

Photo gallery: “2015 Jul  5-23: all: Sierra Nevada + Castle Crags, California”



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Our July 5-23, 2015 California itinerary notes, in order of visit:

  1. Off Highway 88 near Carson Pass (near South Lake Tahoe), hike a varied loop through lush wildflower fields from Woods Lake Campground to Winnnemucca Lake then Round Top Lake, in Mokelumne Wilderness, Eldorado National Forest. The excellent loop trail is 5.3 miles with 1250 feet gain (or 6.4 miles with 2170 feet gain if adding the scramble up Round Top).
  2. McGee Creek Canyon makes an excellent moderate day hike through fields of summer wildflowers in John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, Sierra Nevada, near Mammoth Lakes. Swirling patterns of fractured red and gray metamorphic rocks rise impressively above this hike of 6 miles round trip with 1200 feet gain to the beaver pond on McGee Creek.
  3. View Indian baskets and history, plus outdoor machinery used in the construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct 1908-1913, at the Eastern California Museum, 155 N. Grant Street, Independence, California, 93526. The Museum was founded in 1928 and has been operated by the County of Inyo since 1968. Its mission is to collect, preserve, and interpret objects, photos and information related to the cultural and natural history of Inyo County and the Eastern Sierra, from Death Valley to Mono Lake.
  4. See Mobius Arch and other curious rock formations in BLM Alabama Hills Recreation Area, in the Owens Valley, west of Lone Pine in Inyo County. The Sierras tower 10,000+ feet above you to the west, and Inyo Mountains rise to the east. At a certain angle, Mobius Arch frames Mount Whitney (14,505 feet or 4421 m elevation), the highest summit in the contiguous United States and the Sierra Nevada. The Alabama Hills are a popular filming location for television and movie productions (such as Gunga Din, Gladiator, Iron Man, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen), especially Westerns (Tom Mix films, Hopalong Cassidy films, The Gene Autry Show, The Lone Ranger, Bonanza, How the West Was Won, and Joe Kidd). Two main types of rock are exposed at Alabama Hills: 1) orange, drab weathered metamorphosed volcanic rock 150-200 million years old; and 2) 82- to 85-million-year-old biotite monzogranite which weathers to potato-shaped large boulders.
  5. We were enthralled at the Museum of Western Film History, at 701 S. Main Street, Lone Pine. Fans of movies and television shouldn’t miss this trove of memories, including their good video presentation. Scenes of actor Russell Crow riding through “Spain” in Gladiator (2000) were filmed in nearby Alabama Hills Recreation Area with looming Sierra Nevada peaks as backdrop. See the actual car from the film High Sierra (1941) – in the climactic movie sequence, “Mad Dog” Earle, played by Humphrey Bogart, flees from police by accelerating this 1937 Plymouth Coupe automobile up the old Whitney Portal Road. See the exploding head graboid puppet from the film Tremors (1990), starring Kevin Bacon.
  6. Along the Cabin Trail, see an historic mining cabin built of old-growth bristlecone and limber pine logs, in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, Schulman Grove, Inyo National Forest, in the White Mountains, near Big Pine. In terms of its ancient logs, you can think of this as one of the world’s oldest cabins. The Mexican Mine for extracting lead and zinc ore was first established in 1863 as the Reed Mine, but it suffered various weather and supply problems at 10,000 feet elevation and was abandoned in the early 1950s. The world’s oldest known living non-clonal organism was found near here in 2013 — a Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) 5064 years old, germinated in 3051 BC. It beat the previous record set by the famous nearby 4847-year-old Methuselah Tree sampled around 1957. Starting from the visitor center at 9846 feet, we hiked the Cabin Trail loop, returning along Methuselah Grove Trail (highly recommended, to visit the world’s oldest living trees), with views eastward over Nevada’s basin-and-range region. An important dendrochronology, based on these trees and dead bristlecone pine samples, extends back to about 9000 BC (with a single gap of about 500 years).
  7. My favorite hike in the Bishop Creek watershed goes from South Lake to Long Lake and Saddlerock Lake, looping back via a steeper, poorly marked route to Ruwau Lake, Chocolate Lakes, and Bull Lake, in John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest. The rewarding semi-loop is 9 miles with 2220 feet cumulative gain. (An easier walk is 7.2 miles round trip with 1500 feet gain to Saddlerock Lake, out and back via beautiful Long Lake.) One of my favorite shots of the trip is cirrus clouds streaking over Mount Goode (13,085 feet) and Hurd Peak (12,237 ft, center) in a panorama stitched from 12 overlapping photos.
  8. Also in the Bishop Creek watershed, enjoy a scenic hike from Lake Sabrina to beautiful Blue Lake, Emerald Lakes, and Dingleberry Lake. The good trail is 8.5 miles round trip with 1850 feet cumulative gain. (Beyond Dingleberry Lake, the trail splits to Midnight Lake and Hungry Packer Lake.) A memorable image is Mt Thompson (13,494 feet) and Thompson Ridge rising above beautiful Blue Lake in John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest.
  9. Also in the Bishop Creek watershed, enjoy a scenic hike from North Lake to Lamarck Lakes. The moderate trail to Upper Lamarck Lake is 5.5 miles round trip with 1550 feet cumulative gain, which we day hiked along with other family members who were backpacking onwards.
  10. Enjoy an easy, very rewarding hike from Mosquito Flat through Little Lakes Valley to Chickenfoot Lake and Gem Lakes. An impressive array of pyramidal peaks reflect in the creeks and lakes in spectacular Little Lakes Valley. To reach the trailhead, turn off Highway 395 at Toms Place (15 miles south of Mammoth Junction) onto paved Rock Creek Road, and drive 10.5 miles to the end. We hiked the moderate trail to Morgan Pass, 7.5 miles round trip with 1250 feet cumulative gain; but you should skip the left turn to redundant Morgan Pass and instead turn right to visit the pretty Gem Lakes.
  11. At Mono Lake, intriguing towers of calcium-carbonate decorate the South Tufa Area and reflect photogenically in the lake, in Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve. Don’t miss the Visitor Center in Lee Vining along Highway 395. The Reserve protects wetlands that support millions of birds, and preserves Mono Lake’s distinctive tufa towers — calcium-carbonate spires and knobs formed by interaction of freshwater springs and alkaline lake water. Mono Lake has no outlet and is one of the oldest lakes in North America. Over the past million years, salts and minerals have washed into the lake from Eastern Sierra streams and evaporation has made the water 2.5 times saltier than the ocean. This desert lake has an unusually productive ecosystem based on brine shrimp, and provides critical nesting habitat for two million annual migratory birds that feed on the shrimp and blackflies. Since 1941, diversion of lake water tributary streams by the city of Los Angeles lowered the lake level, which imperiled the migratory birds. In response, the Mono Lake Committee won a legal battle that forced Los Angeles to partially restore the lake level.
  12. Bodie is California’s official state gold rush ghost town – Bodie State Historic Park lies in the Bodie Hills east of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Mono County, near Bridgeport. Bodie fascinated me for 4 hours photographing reflections in glass, dilapidated historic buildings, mining equipment, doors, interiors, and more. Afternoon thunderstorm clouds loomed over my panoramas of historic Bodie and the Standard Stamp Mill. After W. S. Bodey’s original gold discovery in 1859, profitable gold ore discoveries in 1876 and 1878 transformed “Bodie” from an isolated mining camp to a Wild West boomtown. By 1879, Bodie had a population of 5000-7000 people with 2000 buildings. At its peak, 65 saloons lined Main Street, which was a mile long. Bodie declined rapidly 1912-1917 and the last mine closed in 1942. Bodie became a National Historic Landmark in 1961 and Bodie State Historic Park in 1962. .
  13. Peaks of Desolation Wilderness rise above a popular lake in Wrights Lake Recreation Area, in Eldorado National Forest, near South Lake Tahoe. In summer, reservations are required to get one of the crowded campsites. Arrive early before 9am or mid week to get a parking spot for great hikes; or park as we did in the day use area for a nice walk around the lake (which connects to excellent Twin Lakes Trail and Grouse Lake Trail). Directions to Wrights Lake Campground: 23 miles east of Placerville on Highway 50, 11 miles north on Ice House Road (Forest Road 3), 9 miles east on Forest Road 32 (Wrights Lake Tie Road), and 2 miles north on Forest Road 4 (Wrights Lake Rd).
  14. On our way back to Seattle, in Castle Crags State Park in Northern California, granite pinnacles soared majestically above krumholtz-formation trees atop Castle Dome Trail, just west of Interstate 5, between the towns of Castella and Dunsmuir. One of my favorite hikes in the state is to Castle Dome, an excellent trail 5.8 miles round trip with 2100 feet gain. Geology: although the mountains of Northern California consist largely of volcanic and sedimentary rocks, granite plutons intruded in many areas during the Jurassic period. Heavy Pleistocene glaciation eroded much of the softer surrounding rock leaving soaring crags and spires exposed. Exfoliation of huge, convex slabs of granite made some impressive, rounded towers (California’s look-alike for Huangshan, the Yellow Mountains, in China).

See the above photo gallery for the following Sierra flower photos:

  • Giant blazingstar or smoothstem blazingstar (Mentzelia laevicaulis)
  • Opuntia fragilis (brittle pricklypear)
  • white Datura flower flower blossoms
  • Coville’s columbine or Sierra columbine (Aquilegia pubescens)
  • Alpine Penstemon (Penstemon davidsonii)
  • Iris missouriensis (or Iris montana)
  • tiger lily or Columbia lily (Lilium columbianum)
  • prickly poppy (Argemone Genus)
  • Castilleja (Indian Paintbrush or Prairie-fire).

Previous California trips:

In 2015, we were overdue to return to the Eastern Sierras, having last visited 15 years ago, when we saw Mono Lake & Bodie and backpacked the scenic Virginia Lakes – Summit Lake – Green Lake loop. More recently in 2011, we enjoyed camping in Yosemite Valley (see gallery) in November, a time highly recommended to avoid the overwhelming crowds of summer. A separate article covers all my images from California (and integrates all photos seen above).

USA: Colorado

Colorado favorite images


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The Rockies of Central Colorado

In galleries below, click “i” to display informative captions.

Colorado: Hanging Lake, Glenwood Canyon


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In scenic Glenwood Canyon along I-70, one of America’s most scenic Interstate highways, beautiful Hanging Lake deserves its popularity for hikers (4 miles round trip with 1200 feet gain). 

Colorado: Rifle Falls State Park


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28 miles west of Glenwood Springs, Rifle Falls State Park offers a distinctive triple waterfall.

Colorado: Aspen: Maroon Lake, Ashcroft, Independence


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Yellow fall colors brightened the resort of Aspen, where nearby 1880s Ashcroft and Independence ghost towns evoked the state’s mining history. Because no campground options were available around 8000-foot Aspen in late September, I booked at AirBNB.com a good-value condo with kitchen for 4 nights of necessary acclimatization, to prepare for hiking to high altitude. Snagging a parking spot midweek before sunrise at crowded Maroon Lake allowed us to capture the iconic Maroon Bells lit by magical morning light. From there, we grunted breathlessly upwards through fall colors via Crater Lake to desolate alpine Buckskin Pass (11 miles round trip with 3000 feet gain to 12,462 feet elevation) in Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness of White River National Forest. 

Colorado: Leadville


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We enjoyed strolling in historic Leadville, the highest incorporated city in the United States (elevation of 10,152 feet).

Colorado: Vail


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A relaxing condo stay near Vail allowed a pleasant walk through aspen fall colors to Booth Creek Falls (4.3 miles / 1400 ft gain) on Booth Lake Trail #1885.

Colorado: Rocky Mountain National Park


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At Kawuneeche Visitor Center near Grand Lake, we learned that Trail Ridge Road was sadly closed ahead due to ice, which would have required driving around several extra hours to reach Estes Park. Luckily, driving upwards anyway allowed time for the problem to melt along the 12,183-foot-high crossing of Rocky Mountain National Park eastwards to our base at Estes Park KOA. We enjoyed hiking a wonderful loop from Bear Lake Trailhead with spur trails to an impressive series of lakes, waterfalls and peaks (13 miles gaining 2600 feet via Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, Emerald Lake, Lake Haiyaha, The Loch, Lake of Glass, Sky Pond, Alberta Falls then back). Arrive early for parking or take the shuttle.

Colorado: Roxborough State Park


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Roxborough State Park features strikingly tilted red sandstone formations, appreciated via hiking up the pleasant Carpenter Peak Trail and back via Elk Valley loop and Fountain Overlook, 8.5 miles with 1600 feet gain. A shorter walk is to the Peak then directly back (6.2 miles and 1400 ft).

Colorado: Garden of the Gods


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Driving and strolling is a joy in Garden of the Gods National Natural Landmark, run by the City of Colorado Springs.

Colorado: Paint Mines Interpretive Park


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Little-known Paint Mines Interpretive Park will delight any admirer of rock hoodoos and colorful abstract patterns.

Canyon Country of the Colorado Plateau:

The Colorado Plateau (centered upon the Four Corners region of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado) has the highest concentration of parklands in North America. You could spend a lifetime exploring the astounding natural wonders of this remarkable desert region. On April 5-7, 2015, we extended our southwest USA spring trip to Colorado National Monument and Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park shown below:

Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park

Gunnison River has cut a gorge 2300 feet deep at Painted Wall View, in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, near Montrose, Colorado, USA. Pressurized molten rock was forced into the 1.7 billion year old metamorphic rock of The Painted Wall, forming pink pegmatite stripes on Colorado’s highest cliff. The canyon exposes you to some of the steepest cliffs, oldest rock, and craggiest spires in North America. With two million years to work, the Gunnison River, along with the forces of weathering, has sculpted this vertical wilderness of rock, water, and sky.


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On the way from Monticello in Utah to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado, check out the pretty pass of Dallas Divide in the San Juan Mountains (which will look fantastic with fall foliage colors on a future trip).

Colorado National Monument


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Recommended activities:

  • Monument Canyon Trail to Independence Monument: start from Rim Drive and walk 6 miles round trip with 1650-foot gain.
  • Devils Kitchen Trail: 1.5 miles round trip with 200-foot gain to an intimate cluster of pinnacles.
  • Rim Drive offers great canyon vistas using car or bicycle in a loop via Fruita, Colorado.
  • The park is most enjoyable mid week; but weekends can be crowded with visitors from nearby Grand Junction. An advantage of the nearby city is a pilgrimage to REI (Recreational Equipment Incorporated, 644 North Ave, Grand Junction, CO 81501) if you need any outdoor clothing, shoes, or gear.

Related articles for Southwest USA (Arizona, ColoradoNew MexicoNevada, Utah) and Texas.

Recommended Colorado guidebooks

Search for latest “Colorado travel books” at Amazon.com.

2015 spring hikes in Utah & Colorado

In Spring 2015, we returned to southwest USA to experience lesser-known, yet remarkable hikes and sights shown in the following day-by-day gallery:


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The Colorado Plateau (centered upon the Four Corners region of Utah, ColoradoArizona, and New Mexico) has the highest concentration of parklands in North America. You could spend a lifetime exploring the astounding natural wonders of this remarkable desert region.

Spring/fall desert canyon hiking itinerary, round trip from Salt Lake City

The above photos are from the following itinerary, which makes a good round trip in 2 weeks from Salt Lake City:

Key to ratings: *** Must do. ** Do. * Maybe if time allows.

  1. Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
    • * Capitol Gorge (Golden Throne Trail, The Tanks, Pioneer Register)
    • ** Hickman Natural Bridge and ** Rim Overlook Trail
    • * Grand Wash
  2. Goblin Valley State Park
  3. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
    • ** Leprechaun Canyon (on BLM land 8 miles north of GCNRA on Highway 95)
  4. ** Natural Bridges National Monument
  5. Needles District of Canyonlands  NP
    • ** Lost Canyon and Peekaboo Arch
    • * Slickrock Trail
    • * Cave Spring & Historic Cowboy Camp
    • * Needles Outpost Campground has nice *** hot showers to wash off the desert dust. (The scenic ** Canyonlands National Park’s Squaw Flat Campground was full on Thursday and Friday during Easter week 2015.)
    • ** Shay Canyon’s petroglyph gallery (on BLM land outside of Canyonlands National Park, a few miles up the highway from Newspaper Rock)
  6. We skipped ** Moab this year because its campgrounds were overbooked due to the crowded Easter Jeep Safari (Saturday, March 28 – Sunday, April 5, 2015), and instead headed into less-crowded spring destinations in Colorado:
  7. * Dallas Divide, Colorado (a pretty pass in the San Juan Mountains which will look fantastic with *** fall foliage colors on some future trip)
  8. *** Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park, Colorado
    • *** The Painted Wall viewpoints around sunrise and sunset
    • * Campground
  9. ** Colorado National Monument, Colorado
    • ** Monument Canyon Trail to Independence Monument
    • ** Devils Kitchen
    • ** Rim Drive views
  10. ** Dinosaur National Monument, near Jensen, Utah

See related articles: 

– Tom and Carol Dempsey
Seattle, Washington
March 25-April 10, 2015

What is PhotoSeek’s favorite country to visit?

New Zealand (read Tom’s complete guide) is my favorite international destination (visited in 2007, 1998, 1992 and 1981). Runner-up favorites are discussed further below.

New Zealand

Scenery in the South Pacific paradise of New Zealand varies dramatically in short distances, perfect for touring by car, bicycle, feet, and even jetboat. New Zealand is bigger than the UK, smaller than Japan, and about the size of Colorado − a perfect escape for 2 to 8 weeks. Fully 30% of New Zealand is preserved in parkland, very attractive for wilderness lovers. Exotic, yes! Three-fourths of the country’s plant species are endemic (found nowhere else). Experience exceptional diversity within short travel hops:

  • On New Zealand’s North Island:A Maori woman blows a conch horn to signal villagers at Tamaki Maori Village, an evocative cultural re-creation near Rotorua, North Island, New Zealand. Published in Mountain Travel Sobek 2010 trip catalog. Published in "Light Travel: Photography on the Go" by Tom Dempsey 2009, 2010. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
    • Experience active Maori culture (Tamaki Maori Village) amid a colorful landscape of hot springs and geothermal features (Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland) around Rotorua.
    • Explore spectacular volcanoes (such as Tongariro, Taranaki, and White Island). We loved the Tongariro Crossing, a spectacular and very popular volcanic traverse.
    • The more-populous North Island is big enough for wilderness escapes: a day hike along Panekiri Bluff samples the best of the 4-day Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk.
    • Appreciate unique birds, animals, and wildlife on these ecological islands: Otorohanga Kiwi House & Native Bird Park lets you see nocturnal kiwis during the day. A fun boat tour of Waitomo Glowworm Caves reveals a fascinating insect which shines like a star.
    • See the world’s second largest tree species (Kauri) in Northland Forest Park, Waipoua.
  • On New Zealand’s South Island, our favorite wilderness escape abroad:
    • Hike well-maintained trails through lush native beech rain forest to an abrupt, surprisingly-low-elevation timberline around 1250 meters in the Southern Alps, with permanent snowline above 2000 meters, capped with scenic glaciers. The delightful alpine zone is patrolled by the clownish kea, the world’s only alpine parrot. Admire hanging glaciers and waterfalls in a day hike along the amazing Rob Roy Valley Track.
    • Preventable sandfly bites are the only negative about tramping on the wet side of the Southern Alps.
    • Admire glacier-covered Mount Cook which rises abruptly like a knife to 3724 meters or 12,218 feet (updated in 2013). Although it poses a daunting challenge for climbers, you can easily see Mount Cook from roads and good hiking trails (Sealy Tarns, Hooker Valley Track, and Lake Matheson boardwalk). Mount Cook is the world’s 39th most prominent peak relative to its surrounding topography.
    • Walk to Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers, which extend tongues of ice uniquely into lush temperate rainforest, down to 300 meters (980 feet) above sea level.
    • Admire the wild and scenic seacoast (Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, Nydia Track, Queen Charlotte Track, and Nugget Point) and spectacular fiords / fjords (drive to Milford Sound then cruise or sea kayak).
  • Throughout the country, hike (tramp) along excellent trails (Tracks) and Walkways, optionally staying overnight in convenient refuges (Huts).South Island, NEW ZEALAND: A day hiker crosses Matukituki River swing bridge beneath rocky peaks of the Southern Alps. Published in Sierra Magazine, Sierra Club Outings November/December 2002. In 1990, UNESCO honored Te Wahipounamu – South West New Zealand as a World Heritage Area. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
    • Our favorite multi-day wilderness tracks with overnight huts include: Routeburn Track, Tuatapere Hump Ridge Track, Siberia Hut to Crucible Lake (The Siberia Experience), Kepler Track, Milford Track, and Pouakai Track (Mount Egmont/Taranaki).
    • Planes, buses, tour boats, jet boats, and water taxis efficiently assist one-way hikes or round-trip tours.
    • Relax or hike on a variety wonderful beaches on South Island (such as Abel Tasman National Park and Moeraki Boulders) and North Island (Coromandel Peninsula, Ninety Mile Beach, and many more).
  • Urban highlights include:
  • Rent a campervan or car and stay in comfortable motor camps with cabins as we do. Economical motor camps offer great variety & value, with kitchens & bathrooms available as private or shared.
  • With seasons reversed Down Under, we visitors from the Northern Hemisphere can escape winter blahs to enjoy summer funJet lag is only 3 hours from western America (Pacific Standard Time, PST) to New Zealand Daylight Time (NZDT).
Sunrise brightens Mount Sefton (left) and Aoraki / Mount Cook (right) in Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, South Island, New Zealand. In 1990, UNESCO honored Te Wahipounamu - South West New Zealand as a World Heritage Area. Panorama stitched from 3 overlapping photos. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Sunrise brightens Mount Sefton (left) and Aoraki / Mount Cook (right) in Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, South Island, New Zealand. In 1990, UNESCO honored Te Wahipounamu – South West New Zealand as a World Heritage Area. Panorama stitched from 3 overlapping photos.

A world of  natural wonders
Sharp spires of the Geisler/Odle Group soar above a hiker on green Alpe di Seceda, above St. Christina and Ortisei, in South Tyrol, the Dolomites, Italy, Europe. The beautiful ski resort of Selva di Val Gardena (German: Wolkenstein in Gröden; Ladin: Sëlva Gherdëine) makes a great hiking base in the Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol (South Tyrol) region of Italy. For our favorite hike in the Dolomiti, start from Selva with the first morning bus to Ortisei, take the Seceda lift, admire great views up at the cross on the edge of Val di Funes (Villnöss), then walk 12 miles (2000 feet up, 5000 feet down) via the steep pass Furcela Forces De Sieles (Forcella Forces de Sielles) to beautiful Vallunga (trail #2 to 16), finishing where you started in Selva. The hike traverses the Geisler/Odle and Puez Groups from verdant pastures to alpine wonders, all preserved in a vast Nature Park: Parco Naturale Puez-Odle (German: Naturpark Puez-Geisler; Ladin: Parch Natural Pöz-Odles). UNESCO honored the Dolomites as a natural World Heritage Site in 2009. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

My wife Carol and I enjoy escaping urban areas to athletically explore natural wonders. We especially love the mystery and beauty mountains. Below are some highlights from each continent we’ve visited:

Europe:

  • Trains and lifts make the majestic Alps the world’s easiest mountains to visit with public transportation.
    • Visit spectacular Switzerland for an ideal mountain vacation in one of the world’s safest and most democratic countries. Admirably, the Swiss love nature, preserve diverse cultural traditions in four official languages, and exemplify progressive values.
    • The stunning Dolomites of Italy make a perfect hiking trip combined with romantic Venice, via its convenient airport. The Dolomiti range may be the world’s most impressive concentration of knife-shaped peaks served with ski resort lifts convenient for summer hikers. You can easily day hike (staying in comfortable three-star hotels reached by rental car or bus), or trek long distances from hut to hut (sleeping in rifugio dormitories), or climb exciting via ferrata routes.
  • The beautiful fjords, mountains, and people of Norway touched my heart when hiking in 2011 and 1981. Experience natural wonders, charm, culture, and history within the world’s most democratic country.
  • While Greece is well worth visiting (especially romantic Santorini Island and the rugged northern mountains of Zagori), the exotic Republic of Turkey offers more variety, the friendliest people, and spans 9000 years of history.

Asia:

  • The magnificent Himalaya in Nepal impresses you with diverse human cultures living on the flanks of soaring summits. Due to the country’s relatively poor health conditions, wash hands frequently and be careful what you eat.

North America:A hiker chimneys up the narrow walls of Zebra Slot Canyon, in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Utah, USA. Directions to unmarked trailhead for Zebra and Tunnel Slot Canyons: From Escalante town, drive 6 miles east on Highway 12, turn right on Hole-in-the-Rock Road, drive 7.8 miles to the third cattle guard and park on west side of road. Hike east on well-trodden but unmarked path, 5 miles round trip to Zebra Slot, plus an optional 3 miles round trip to Tunnel Slot (750 feet gain over 8 miles), using map from GSENM Visitor Center or canyoneeringusa.com. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

  • Canada:
    • The Canadian Rockies rival any mountains in the world for breathtaking natural beauty, easily reached on paved highways, great for bicycling.
  • United States of America:
    • Big and brawny, the USA has an abundance of world-class natural wonders. The West is best:
    • Utah has the world’s best concentration of slot canyons, natural arches, and colorful desert canyon country favored with mostly sunny weather, great in Spring and Fall. As of 2015, Utah has attracted me to visit 16 times, more than any other area in the world! Extend your visit to nearby wonders in Arizona (such as Grand Canyon of the Colorado River) in Southwest USA.
    • Washington (my home base) is one of the most ecologically and scenically diverse states in the USA.
    • Yellowstone (Wyoming) has the world’s best concentration of geysers and geothermal features.
    • Montana‘s Glacier National Park is a hiking paradise on the wildly spectacular Rocky spine of North America.
    • Hawaii offers some of the best hiking in the world, with striking natural beauty attracting me six times (as of 2017).
    • Alaska hosts the rugged margins of American culture in a superlative, wild landscape.

South America:Golden sunrise light hits lenticular (lens-shaped, UFO-like) clouds capping Nevado Yerupaja Grande (6635 m or 21,770 ft), Peru's second highest peak. Seen from Incahuain / Jahuacocha campground on Day 9 of 9 days trekking around the Cordillera Huayhuash in the Andes Mountains, one day's walk from LLamac village, Peru, South America. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

  • The Andes (PeruEcuador, Chile, Argentina) rival the size of the Himalaya, and their slopes thrive with colorful traditional cultures such as the Quechua people, the direct descendants of the Inca.
  • Ecuador offers incredible variety, from the Andes Highlands to the Galapagos Islands, a wondrous adventure for children and adults. Families and wildlife lovers should put the wonderful Galapagos Islands at the top of their dream travel list. This fabulous eco-adventure attracted me thrice as a warm escape from Seattle’s wet winter and early spring (April 8-27, 2009; February 21-March 3, 1994; and January 12-26, 1986).
  • Argentina and Chile are beautiful and varied, making a great reverse-season escape to summer (January-March) away from the Northern Hemisphere’s winter. Buenos Aires, “the Paris of the South,” attracts we lovers of Tango music and dancing. The wild beauty of Patagonia will likely draw us to hike Torres del Paine and Cerro Fitz Roy a second time. Argentina is much bigger than New Zealand, requiring more travel time between sights, such as Mendoza wine region and Iguassu Falls (both not yet seen) and Patagonia.

Antarctica:

  • Pristine Antarctica is remote, very cold, yet alluring − best seen in combination with a trip to Patagonia (southern Chile or Argentina), where you catch the boat from the port of Ushuaia, on the Island of Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. 10 days is the shortest cruise to the scenic Antarctic Peninsula; we cruised for 12 days. Find a ship with the fewest passengers (90-130) to increase your land excursion time. Don’t forget a prescription medicine patch to prevent motion sickness across the rough Drake Passage (5 days round trip on treacherous seas). If affordable, extend your voyage (22 days) to spectacular South Georgia Island to see vast colonies of Emperor Penguins.

Australia/New Zealand:A Common Wombat (Vombatus ursinus) is shown at Bonorong Wildlife Park, Briggs Road, Brighton, Tasmania, Australia. Wombats are burrowing grass eaters, and can be thought of as the marsupial ecological equivalent of a bear. Wombats are found in forested, mountainous, and heathland areas of southeast Australia including Tasmania, plus an isolated group in Epping Forest National Park in central Queensland. The three living species of wombats are marsupial mammals in the Vombatidae family. They dig extensive burrow systems with rodent-like front teeth and powerful claws. Their unusual backwards-facing pouch avoids gathering dirt onto its young. Although mainly crepuscular and nocturnal, wombats also venture out to feed on cool or overcast days. Wombats are herbivores, mostly eating grasses, sedges, herbs, bark and roots. Published on Australian geocaching coin 2010, displayed in support of Wilder Foundation 2009, 2010, and exhibited at Oceanario de Lisboa, Portugal 2007. Published in "Light Travel: Photography on the Go" book by Tom Dempsey 2009, 2010. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

  • Big countries such as Australia require many extra transit days via ground transportation to reach the highlights. Save time by coordinating multiple internal flights with rental cars and practical campervan rentals. Carol and I escaped Seattle’s winter for 7.5 weeks exploring some great forest parks in southern Australian summer, January 26-March 18, 2004. We most enjoyed Australia’s exotic animals and plants. Best weather for a separate trip to northern and interior Australia (the “Red Centre”) would be September or October.
  • In a nutshell, New Zealand is our favorite foreign country to visit, as described at the top of this article.

We hope to visit Africa at some point.

The above favorite links are a subset of my complete SITE MAP: INDEX of PhotoSeek contents.

International travel opens our outlook on a diverse world of wonders and human commonalities. Most people worldwide enjoy hosting guests and employing the Golden Rule − the ethic of reciprocity − to treat others how you want to be treated.

Tom Dempsey, creator of PhotoSeek.com
Seattle, Washington, USA
February 28, 2016

More New Zealand images

South Pacific Ocean waves released the spherical Moeraki Boulders onto Koekohe Beach, between Moeraki and Hampden on the Otago coast, South Island, New Zealand. These ancient concretions grew 2 meters (6 feet) in diameter over 4 to 5.5 million years from marine mud (Moeraki Formation mudstone) near the surface of the Paleocene sea floor. After the concretions formed, large cracks (septaria) formed and filled with brown calcite, yellow calcite, and small amounts of dolomite and quartz when a drop in sea level allowed fresh groundwater to flow through the enclosing mudstone. (© Carol Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

South Pacific Ocean waves released the spherical Moeraki Boulders onto Koekohe Beach, between Moeraki and Hampden on the Otago coast, South Island, New Zealand. These ancient concretions grew 2 meters (6 feet) in diameter over 4 to 5.5 million years from marine mud (Moeraki Formation mudstone) near the surface of the Paleocene sea floor. After the concretions formed, large cracks (septaria) formed and filled with brown calcite, yellow calcite, and small amounts of dolomite and quartz when a drop in sea level allowed fresh groundwater to flow through the enclosing mudstone. (© Carol Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Trees frame Lake Waikaremoana along the Panekiri Bluff trail in Te Urewera National Park, North Island, New Zealand. Published in "Light Travel: Photography on the Go" by Tom Dempsey 2009, 2010. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Trees frame Lake Waikaremoana along the Panekiri Bluff trail in Te Urewera National Park, North Island, New Zealand. Published in “Light Travel: Photography on the Go” by Tom Dempsey 2009, 2010.

Trampers hike the Tongariro Crossing beneath Mount Ngauruhoe (2291 metres or 7516 feet elevation), which last erupted in 1975 in Tongariro National Park, North Island, New Zealand. In 1990 and 1993, UNESCO honored Tongariro National Park as a World Heritage Area and Cultural Landscape. Tongariro National Park served as a location for fictional Mordor and Mount Doom in the "Lord of the rings" Motion Pictures. Published in "Light Travel: Photography on the Go" by Tom Dempsey 2009, 2010. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Trampers hike the Tongariro Crossing beneath Mount Ngauruhoe (2291 metres or 7516 feet elevation), which last erupted in 1975 in Tongariro National Park, North Island, New Zealand. In 1990 and 1993, UNESCO honored Tongariro National Park as a World Heritage Area and Cultural Landscape. Tongariro National Park served as a location for fictional Mordor and Mount Doom in the “Lord of the Rings” Motion Pictures. Published in “Light Travel: Photography on the Go” by Tom Dempsey 2009, 2010.

A tramper hikes on sandy Mutton Cove Beach, along the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, Abel Tasman National Park, South Island, New Zealand. Book huts using the Great Walk reservation system. (© Tom Dempsey / Photoseek.com)

Tramper Carol hikes on sandy Mutton Cove Beach, along the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, Abel Tasman National Park, South Island, New Zealand. Book huts using the Great Walk reservation system. (© Tom Dempsey / Photoseek.com)

Sunrise illuminates the curious tors and tarns (crags and ponds) on Hump Ridge, a track (trail) for trampers (hikers and trekkers) in Fiordland National Park, South Island, New Zealand. In 1990, UNESCO honored Te Wahipounamu - South West New Zealand as a World Heritage Area. Published in "Light Travel: Photography on the Go" book by Tom Dempsey 2009, 2010. Panorama stitched from 5 overlapping images. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Sunrise illuminates the curious tors and tarns (crags and ponds) on Hump Ridge, a track (trail) for trampers (hikers and trekkers) in Fiordland National Park, South Island, New Zealand. In 1990, UNESCO honored Te Wahipounamu – South West New Zealand as a World Heritage Area. Published in “Light Travel: Photography on the Go” book by Tom Dempsey 2009, 2010. Panorama stitched from 5 overlapping images.

USA Northeast: peak fall colors camping tour: NY, VT, NH, ME, PA, ON, NB

View Tom’s photos from a trip seeking peak fall colors across Northeast USA (New York, New England, Pennsylvania) to the dynamic Bay of Fundy (New Brunswick, Canada), for three weeks in October 2014. At bottom is my recommended camping itinerary for chasing a month of bright autumn leaf colors through scenic Northeast parks.

Northeast USA to Bay of Fundy: 41 favorite images + map from October 2014 trip

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All 272 images + map from October 2014 fall color trip, Northeast USA to Bay of Fundy

Our camping itinerary let us chase and hit the peak of fall colors at each destination from September 29 to October 20. Below is a bigger gallery of my day-by-day images chasing peak fall colors across Northeast USA to scenic Bay of Fundy:

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This photo gallery includes: New York (Niagara Falls/Ontario, Adirondacks, Watkins Glen and Letchworth SP Gorges, and Corning Museum of Glass); Vermont (Mt. Philo SP, Smugglers Notch and Shelburne Museum); New Hampshire (White Mountains, Mount Washington); Maine (Acadia National Park, Pemaquid Lighthouse, DeLorme’s Eartha globe); Pennsylvania (Ohiopyle SP); New Brunswick, CANADA (Bay of Fundy, Hopewell Rocks sunrise, St Martins and Fundy Trail Parkway); and Indiana (Indianapolis Zoo).

Driving MAP for October peak fall colors: Northeast USA – Bay of Fundy –  Indianapolis

USA Northeast fall color 22-day trip plan: Starting from Indianapolis on Sept 29, hit peak fall colors via: Adirondacks, White Mountains, Bay of Fundy, Acadia NP, Watkins Glen, Letchworth SP, Ohiopyle SP, returning Oct 20, 2014. www.photoseek.com (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

USA Northeast fall color 22-day trip plan: Starting from Indianapolis on Sept 29, hit peak fall colors via: Adirondacks, White Mountains, Bay of Fundy, Acadia NP, Watkins Glen, Letchworth SP, Ohiopyle SP, returning Oct 20, 2014. www.photoseek.com (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Progression of peak fall color dates for Northeast USA & Bay of Fundy

In Northeast USA, fall colors generally peak first at high interior continental locations, and peak last at low elevation areas near the Atlantic Ocean, suggesting a trip from late September through October as follows (varying year to year):

  1. New York: Adirondack Mountains: September 26-Oct 1 peak colors
    • Colors reach peak first in the Lake Placid / High Peaks area in late September. Most of Adirondack Park is blazing with color by the first week of October.
    • The Lake Placid region has good mountain scenery with alpine lakes and brooks making perfect fall color reflection photos. Drive up ** Whiteface Mountain for easiest high viewpoint (or hike a fire lookout).
    • The latest Adirondacks color peaks along Lake Champlain & Lake George in mid to late October.
  2. Vermont’s central mountains: Mt Mansfield, Smugglers Notch, Green Mountains: October 1-7 peak colors
  3. New Hampshire: White Mountain National Forest and Mt Washington: October 1-8 peak colors (with various color stages from mid-Sept to mid-Oct)
  4. New Brunswick, CANADA: Bay of Fundy: October 5-13 peak colors
  5. Maine: coastal/Acadia National Park: October 8-14 peak colors
  6. Vermont: Lake Winnipesaukee & Squam Lake: October 10-21 peak colors
  7. New York: Watkins Glen and Letchworth State Parks: Oct 12-25 peak colors
    • Fall colors brighten the forests of New York’s Finger Lakes region in the last three weeks of October.
    • In Letchworth State Park, renowned as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” the Genesee River roars northeast through a gorge over three major waterfalls between cliffs as high as 550 feet, surrounded by diverse forests. See rainbows, mist, and picturesque waterfalls up to 107 feet high. Off Interstate 390, 45 minutes south of Rochester.
  8. Pennsylvania: Ohiopyle SP and Fallingwater: Oct. 13-28 peak colors

Recommended fall color itinerary with camping & hiking options

In a 25-foot RV rented from CruiseAmerica (in Noblesville; near my wife’s family in Indianapolis, Indiana), we drove  3847 miles in 22 days (Sept 29-Oct 20) visiting:

Niagara Falls (Ontario) > New York’s Adirondacks > New Hampshire’s White Mountains > New Brunswick’s Bay of Fundy > Maine’s Acadia NP > New York’s Watkins Glen and Letchworth SP gorges > Pennsylvania’s Ohiopyle SP and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater house > then back to Indianapolis

TRAVEL TIPS:
In autumn, always call private campgrounds ahead to check for early season closure. Some Walmarts allow overnight RV parking if you call first. Beware that due to their size, RVs cannot drive through Acadia NP’s four low-clearance bridges, New England’s covered bridges, or Mt Washington’s self-drive Road Tour in the White Mountains – all which pose no problem in a car. To save money on a compact 19-foot RV (not available in Eastern USA but available in the West), rent from CruiseCanada.com in Montreal or Toronto. In price per day, a rental car + gas + motel can be cheaper than CruiseAmerica.com’s 25-foot RV + gas + campgrounds; but we enjoyed the RV’s handy kitchen, bathroom, shower, and comfort for sleeping close to nature in campgrounds. Check websites, look for relocation deals, and enter discount code in reservation form. In October 2014, we noticed various motels with vacancies in the popular White Mountains even on weekends, encouraging us next time to try touring by car. As mountain weather often differs from nearby cities, get a better forecast at: www.mountain-forecast.com

ITINERARY KEY:  ***Impressive/Must see.  **High priority.  *Do it if time allows.
Abbreviations:  CANADA: ON=Ontario; NB=New Brunswick. RT=round trip. SP=State Park.
USANY=New York; VT=Vermont; NH=New Hampshire; ME=Maine; PA=Pennsylvania.

  • DAY 1 of 22:  Sept 29:
    • Rent an RV or car. CruiseAmerica.com has afternoon pick-up 1-4pm in Noblesville, Indiana or various other locations in Northeast USA. Gas expenses for a 25-foot RV add up quickly to around $50/day on this 3847-mile itinerary in 2014.
    • OHIO: Toledo: * Maumee Bay SP Campground (5 hrs from Noblesville RV). Many sites available.
  • Sept 30: 
    • ONTARIO: ** Niagara Falls views are better from the CANADA side. (4.8 hrs from Toledo/Maumee Bay SP via Detroit to Niagara Falls, ONTARIO)
    • ONTARIO: ** KOA Campground, Niagara Falls, Ontario.
      • or NY: * Golden Hill SP Campground (60 min); or * NY: Lakeside Beach SP Campground (75 min)
  • Oct 1:  
    • NY: * Chimney Bluffs State Park, Syracuse. (1.6 hrs from Lakeside SP; 2.3 hrs Niagara Falls)
    • NY: ADK: *** Fish Creek Pond Campground, near Saranac Lake.
    • NY: Adirondacks: hike *** Mount Jo Trail (ADK Loj) 2.6 mi RT, 710 feet gain (55 min from Fish Creek Pond)
  • Oct 2: VT: Burlington: ** Mt Philo SP Campground (reserve ahead). ($20 Essex ferry, short ride; or drive around 90 mi in 2.3 hrs from Mt Jo via Crown Pt/Lake Champlain Bridge)
    • VT: Burlington / Lake Champlain: ** Shelburne Museum. (20 min from Philo SP; 1.8 hrs from Mt Jo.)
  • Oct 3 camp: VT: Stowe: ** Smugglers Notch SP Campground (1 hr from Shelburne).
    • VT: ** Stowe Pinnacle Trail, Green Mountains (hike 2.8 miles, allow 3 hrs).
  • Oct 4: NH: White Mountains: H302 ** Beechhill Campground & Cabins, east of Littleton. (No reservation needed Oct 2014.)
    • NH: Lincoln: H112 / *** Kancamagus Hwy. White MountainsVisitor Center.
    • NH: H112: *** Sabbaday Falls, Kancamagus Hwy.
    • NH: H112: ** hike UNH Loop Trail (4.8 miles circuit, 1600 feet gain) on Hedgehog Mountain, Sandwich Range Wilderness, White Mountain National Forest.
    • * Scenic driving route: NH H302 to H112: Bear Notch /Albany Rd midway to Bartlett.
  • Oct 5-6: NH: White Mountains: H112 ** Covered Bridge Campground USFS. (Note: RVs must drive around Albany Covered Bridge’s height restriction via Conway and Passaconaway Road.)
    • NH: White Mountains: walk to ** Diana’s Baths with hiking extension to ** Moat Mountain hike, North Conway (hike 1-10 mi/2800 ft).
    • NH: White Mountains: * Pinkham Notch Visitors Center, H16
    • NH: White Mountains: * Mt Washington Road Tour, H16 (RESERVE AHEAD).
  • Oct 7: ME: Newport: * Christies Campground or Walmart. (3.7 hrs from Covered Bridge Campground via H16/Pinkham Notch)
    • or NH: White Mountains: Timberland Campground on US2 NW.
  • Oct 8: NB: * Fundy Trail Parkway is a pleasant side trip adding 1.4 hours. See * Fuller Falls.
    • NB: Fundy NP * Headquarters Camp + * Dickson Falls. (4.8 hrs from Christies Camp, ME; or 6.2 hours if adding Fundy Trail Parkway)
    • NB: * Cape Enrage Lighthouse & Barn Marsh Island Beach: see on the way to Hopewell. (30 min from Fundy NP Headquarters; 46 min to Hopewell)
    • NB: *** Hopewell Rocks Park, Bay of Fundy. (5.7 hrs from Acadia NP; 8 hrs from North Conway)
  • Oct 9 camp option: NB: ST Martins: Sea Side Tent & Trailer Park (CALL AHEAD: CLOSED early in fall 2014), adjacent to Fundy Trail Parkway.
  • Oct 9-10-11: ME: Acadia NP: *** Blackwoods Campground (MUST RESERVE AHEAD)
    • ME: Acadia NP: ** Cadillac Summit (but several low bridges restrict RV access)
    • ME: Acadia NP: *** Acadia Mountain Trail with loop option via Mt. Sauveur (2.5-4.5 mi RT/700-1300 ft gain)
    • ME: *** Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound serves delicious lobsters boiled in fresh seawater over a wood fire, plus other seafood. 1237 Bar Harbor Rd.
    • ME: *** Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Park. (8 hrs south of Acadia NP; 7 hrs from Hopewell Rocks)
    • ME: Brunswick: ** Hermit Island Campground option. (50 minutes side trip)
  • Oct 12: 
    • ME: Freeport: ** Recompence Shore Campground (at Wolfe’s Neck Farm nonprofit oceanfront)
      • or Bradbury Mountain SP Campground.
    • ME: Freeport: ** LL Bean Outlet Store, Freeport Village Station. (2 hrs from Pemaquid)
    • ME: Freeport (Yarmouth): * DeLorme map store: see Eartha, world’s largest globe. (10 min from LL Bean)
    • NH: Center Harbor: * Keepsake Quilting (for fabric lovers), Lake Winnipesaukee. (Drive 2 hours from Freeport)
    • NH: Holderness: *** West Rattlesnake Mountain Trail to overlook Squam Lake (hike 2-5 miles RT)
      • or ** Mt Major SP hike, Lake Winnipesaukee, Alton Bay (hike 3.4 mi RT, 1159 feet gain). (Drive 36 min from Center Harbor; 1.8 hrs from Freeport.)
    • MA: Lowell: * New England Quilt Museum
  • Oct 13: VT: Bennington: * Greenwood Lodge Campsites
    • VT: Bennington: Silk Road Covered Bridge + Paper Mill CB + Burt Henry Covered Bridge.
    • NY: Ithaca: Buttermilk Falls * Upper hike (Camp option).
  • Oct 14-15:
    • NY: *** Watkins Glen State Park: walk the spellbinding Gorge Trail 2-4 miles RT. (Drive 36 min from Buttermilk SP; 4.4 hours from Greenwood Lodge; 7.2 hrs from Alton Bay)
    • NY: * KOA Campground Watkins Glen/Corning
    • NY: *** Corning Museum of Glass.
  • Oct 16NY: ** Letchworth State Park Campground: wander the ***Gorge Trail #1 including Inspiration Point, Middle and Upper Genesee Falls (1-4 miles or drive and park). The huge campground has lots of space in October.
  • Oct 17-18 camp: PA: * Ohiopyle SP, Kentuck Camp. Reserve ahead on weekends. (Drive 5.8 hrs from Letchworth SP via Erie or Punxsutawney or State College)
  • Oct 18 or 19 tour: PA: *** Fallingwater house tour, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright – MUST RESERVE AHEAD, especially weekends. (5.5 hrs from Letchworth SP via Erie or Punxsutawney or State College)
  • Oct 19: OHIO: east of Columbus: KOA-Buckeye Lake Campground (on I-70, 3.5 hours from Ohiopyle).
  • DAY 22 of 22: Oct 20: Indianapolis, Indiana: return RV before 11:00am to Noblesville’s CruiseAmerica RV.

New England and Northeast USA guidebooks

Search for the latest New England guidebooks on Amazon.com (buying at this link supports my site).

Historical tip: As a Westerner traveling “back East” I learned that New York is NOT part of New England. New York and its Harbor were originally settled by the Dutch, who named it New Amsterdam in the colony of New Netherland. The British renamed the New Netherland colony to New York in 1664 (in honor of the then Duke of York, later James II of England) after English forces seized control of the Dutch colony.

USA: Eastern Oregon

View Tom Dempsey’s photos of Eastern Oregon, including:

  1. John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
  2. Enterprise & Imnaha: Hells Canyon Recreation Area, Wallowa Mountains
  3. Wallowa Mountains: Eagle Cap Wilderness backpacking
  4. Troy: Wenaha River Trail, Blue Mountains, Umatilla NF
  5. Pendleton: Ninemile Ridge Trail, Blue Mountains, Umatilla NF

1. John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

From a visit on March 15-16, 2014, we show photos of Oregon’s John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, including Painted Hills Unit and Sheep Rock Unit (Blue Basin Overlook Trail):


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2. Enterprise & Imnaha: Hells Canyon Recreation Area, Wallowa Mountains


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Much of this area is within the extensive Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.

3. Wallowa Mountains: Eagle Cap Wilderness backpacking


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For more details, read my separate article about backpacking Eagle Cap Wilderness.

4. Troy: Wenaha River Trail, Blue Mountains, Umatilla NF


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Wenaha River Trail starts from the Wenaha River’s confluence with the Grande Ronde River in the Blue Mountains of northeast Oregon.

5. Pendleton: Ninemile Ridge Trail, Blue Mountains, Umatilla NF


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Oregon favorite statewide images (consolidated from many trips)


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Index of my Oregon articles:

Recommended Oregon guidebooks from Amazon.com

Search for latest “Oregon travel” books at Amazon.com.

2014 spring training hikes in Washington & Eastern Oregon

Where can Seattle hikers go in the spring when high Cascades trails are covered in snow? Motivated to train for summer trekking in Peru, we enjoyed the following series of early season hikes in Washington and Oregon, traveling 1-4 days at a time out of Seattle between April 14-Jun 13, 2014:

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As driving trips out of Seattle, these spring hikes (photos above and links below) gave lots of variety, including wonderful wildflowers and snow-free footing with altitude acclimatization as high as 7140 feet in Washington’s Kettle Range:

  • Oregon (camping in RV parks in our VW Eurovan Camper)
    • John Day Fossil Beds National Monument (click to article or see photo show below): March 15-16 was an excellent time for us to visit, with pleasant temperatures; snow-free most of the year.
    • Troy: Blue Mountains, Umatilla NF, Grande Ronde River:
      • Wenaha River Trail (8.2 miles/600 ft gain): on May 19, this pleasant trail was dry and snow-free.
      • We enjoyed being the sole campers next to the Grande Ronde River in quiet Shilo Troy RV Resort (hot showers; electric hookup).
    • Enterprise: Wallowa Mountains
      • Imnaha River Trail (9.3 miles/800 ft gain), Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, Wallowa-Whitman National Forest: May 20 was perhaps a week too late to avoid an overgrowth of poison ivy and blackberry thorns across the trail – next time, early to mid-May should be best. Bring a machete. For sure, avoid midsummer heat on this trail which is hikeable from late March through November.
      • In Enterprise, Log House RV Park had friendly staff and good views of the Wallowa Mountains and Eagle Cap Wilderness.
    • Pendleton:
      • Ninemile Ridge Trail (5.3 miles/1250 ft gain, plus more if you want): May 21 had excellent Lupinus luteolus (Pale Yellow or Butter Lupine) flowers; usually best from mid- to late-May.
  • Washington
    • Blewett Pass (camping for 2 nights):
      • Iron Creek to Teanaway Ridge Trail (7.2 miles/1850 ft): May 28 had excellent footing, with some easily crossed snow patches at the top. Camp in nice quiet Forest Service pullouts along the gravel access road.
      • Ingalls Creek Trail (11.2 miles): Excellent on May 29; best mid-May to early-June for wildflowers and rushing high-volume water; hikeable May to October. Camp conveniently in Blu-Shastin RV Park near Leavenworth.
      • Table Mountain Trail #1209, near Blewett Pass, Wenatchee National Forest (5 miles/800 ft): on May 30, one snow blockage in the access road forced us to walk a mile to the trailhead, discovering beautiful rafts of Glacier Lilies, Grasswidow, and Columbian lewisia flowers under the burnt forest!
    • Mt Si Trail, North Bend (9 miles/3170 ft): snow-free most of the year, except summit Haystack area.
    • West Tiger Mountain, Issaquah: snow-free most of the year.
    • Cougar Mountain, Issaquah: snow-free most of the year.
    • Wallace Lake, Gold Bar (loop 8.5 miles/1500 ft): snow-free most of the year.
    • Kettle Range, Colville National Forest, near Republic, for the highest snow-free, early-season hikes in Washington, above 7000 feet elevation:
      • Copper Butte Trail (9.2 mi/2150 ft, reaching 7140 feet elevation): snow-free footing on June 12.
      • Wapaloosie Mountain Trail (6.2 mi/1850 ft, reaching 7018 feet elevation): snow-free footing on June 13.

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

From a late-Winter visit on March 15-16, 2014, we show photos of Oregon’s John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, including Painted Hills Unit and Sheep Rock Unit (Blue Basin Overlook Trail):

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Index of my Oregon articles:

– Tom and Carol Dempsey
Seattle, Washington
Apr 14-Jun 13, 2014

CANADA: Vancouver, BC

The City of Vancouver in British Columbia makes a pleasant winter getaway from Seattle (or vice versa). Allow extra traffic time for the slow border crossing between Canada and USA. [Read more about expedited entry / US Immigration.] A trip to Vancouver can be efficiently combined with a visit to Whistler Village for summer hiking or winter skiing. Below I share Vancouver photos from February 13-17, 2014:

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Downtown Vancouver, Coal Harbour

Staying in a downtown condo or hotel makes for convenient walking exploration of Vancouver Convention Centre, Vancouver Harbour, Stanley Park, and Vancouver Aquarium. We liked using the web site AirBnB.com to locate private condo lodging along Coal Harbor.

Stanley Park and Vancouver Aquarium

Stanley Park is a great place for walking, skating, or bicycling. Vancouver Aquarium is excellent, including live shows of Pacific white-sided dolphins and beluga whales.

Bloedel Conservatory, Queen Elizabeth Park, Vancouver

Bloedel Conservatory (4600 Cambie St.) is a domed lush paradise where you can experience the colors and scents of the tropics year-round, within Queen Elizabeth Park, atop the City of Vancouver’s highest point. From Little Mountain (501 feet), see panoramic views over the city crowned by the mountains of the North Shore. A former rock quarry has been converted into beautiful Queen Elizabeth Park with flower gardens, public art, grassy knolls. In Bloedel Conservatory, more than 200 free-flying exotic birds, 500 exotic plants and flowers thrive within a temperature-controlled environment. A donation from Prentice Bloedel built the domed structure, which was dedicated in 1969 “to a better appreciation and understanding of the world of plants,” and is jointly operated by Vancouver Park Board and VanDusen Botanical Garden Association.

The H.R. MacMillan Space Centre is a good astronomy museum worth visiting in Vanier Park, at 1100 Chestnut St, Vancouver. It was founded 1968 and named for a British Columbia industrialist and philanthropist. See science exhibits and shows in the GroundStation Canada Theatre, Cosmic Courtyard, and cool Planetarium Star Theatre. The building was designed in the 1960s by architect Gerald Hamilton to house what was then called The Centennial Museum. The Space Centre shares the building with the Museum of Vancouver. Outside, the Crab fountain sculpture was made in 1968 by George Norris. In First Nation legend, the crab is the guardian of the harbour and it was also the zodiac sign at the time of the Canadian Centennial in 1967.

Lynn Canyon, North Vancouver

Admire waterfalls in Lynn Canyon from the Suspension Bridge continue on a pleasant walking loop of several kilometers through wild rainforest. Lynn Canyon is a municipal park established in 1912 at 3663 Park Road, in North Vancouver, British Columbia, V7J 3G3, Canada. Phone 604-990-3755.

PERU 2014: Around Alpamayo & Cordillera Huayhuash Circuits

During my third visit to Peru (June 19-July 18, 2014), our family group of eight Dempseys trekked vigorously 10 days Around Alpamayo in the Cordillera Blanca and 9 days on the spectacular Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit, in the Huaraz area, Andes, South America. We prepared for the breathtaking altitudes with three day hikes of acclimatization out of Huaraz: 1) Callan Punta (in the Cordillera Negra), 2) Lake Churup, and 3) Lake 69. The tough itinerary was rewarded by memorable images shown below.

Favorite Peru photos from 2014, 2003, 2000

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Peruvian trekking season, climate, guide service

The Andes climate is generally wonderful for trekking in the mountain dry season from May through September. Days are about 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit, nights about 38 degrees, with frequent morning frost if the night was clear. Encounter fewer fellow travelers in May or September, when weather is also good. Coastal Peru, including the megalopolis of Lima, has a climate opposite to that of the mountains: a short summer of sunny, sticky days from January to March, followed by 9 months of gray mist called the garua. Coastal Peru is one of the driest deserts on earth, watered only by rivers descending from the Andes. As mountain weather often differs from nearby cities, get a better forecast at: www.mountain-forecast.com

We booked our treks of 2014, 2003, and 2000 directly via e-mail and wire payment using the excellent Peru-based trekking company Aventura Quechua. (See my earlier article PERU 2000, 2003.) Our group enjoyed their good food and confident leadership on tenting treks with guide, cook, and arrieros (donkey wranglers). Experienced, flexible trip leader Dante successfully guided our 22 days of hiking in 2014.

Peru is one of the best exotic travel bargains from the USA (much closer than Nepal). Visitors from the Americas will have little jet lag to Lima because Peru Time (PET) equals Eastern Standard Time (EST) without a Daylight Savings shift.

Around Alpamayo in 10 days, Cordillera Blanca 2014

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We walked for 10 days Around Alpamayo in Huascaran National Park, as high as 15,950 feet or 4830 meters elevation at Caracara Pass. (A side trip to Punta Union Pass reached 15,600 feet in better weather than the rainy day of our Santa Cruz Valley Trek in year 2000.)

Alpamayo mountain weather forecast: www.mountain-forecast.com/peaks/Alpamayo

Cordillera Blanca is the highest tropical mountain range in the world, reaching 22,205 feet at the top of snowy twin-peaked Huascaran. In 1985, UNESCO listed beautiful Huascaran National Park as a World Heritage Area, a label for special places worth seeking worldwide.

Cordillera Huayhuash Valley Circuit in 9 days, 2014

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Trekking around the stunning Cordillera Huayhuash requires altitude acclimatization and good physical fitness. We averaged walking about 9 miles and 2000 feet up/down each day in good weather. Donkeys carried gear and arrieros (donkey drivers) set up camp ahead each day, leaving us to carry light day packs. We crossed many passes over 15,000 feet in elevation above sea level reaching as high as 16,500 feet. The scenery and thin air took my breath away!

Portachuelo de Huayhuash and Punta Cuyoc passes on the Huayhuash Circuit gave us sweeping views of Cordillera Raura. The source of the Amazon River lies on the east side of the Cordillera Raura, as determined by the Royal Geographical Society in 1950: the tiny glacial lake Laguna Niñococha feeds Rio Lauricocha, then Rio Marañon, then the Amazon. [From May 21-28, 2003, I trekked with 10 other men for 55 miles in eight days halfway around the Cordillera Huayhuash on a route is known as the Backwards C, which exits in the Cordillera Raura. In 2014, I repeated those first 5 days then added the southern portion to finish the amazing Huayhuash Circuit route.]

Cordillera Huayhuash is currently a Reserved Zone, which recognizes the rights and traditional land use by the eight communities of the area. Please respect the area by informing yourself before going. The following book helps plan a trek, identify routes, and name peaks during the trip (and includes several of my photos):

Climbs and Treks in the Cordillera Huayhuash of Peru” by Jeremy Frimer 2005  ISBN #0-9733035-5-7

Touching the Void

The Cordillera Huayhuash challenged mountaineers in the gripping 2003 British docudrama “Touching the Void.” In 1985, climbers Joe Simpson and Simon Yates scaled the treacherous West Face of Siula Grande (20,800 feet / 6344 meters), one of the last unconquered faces in the Andes, but after Joe broke his leg, their descent became one of the most amazing survival stories in mountaineering history. The movie is based upon the harrowing book, “Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man’s Miraculous Survival” by Joe Simpson (published 2004, 1993, 1989).

Huayhuash weather forecast

Weather forecast for Siula Grande (and other selectable peaks in the Peruvian Andes or worldwide): www.mountain-forecast.com/peaks/Siula-Grande

Huaraz; Lake Churup hike; Callan Punta hike (Cordillera Negra)

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Peruvian History

While Lake Titicaca (on the border with Bolivia) is an earlier and more important cradle of Andean civilizations, Cuzco Valley gave birth to the powerful Inca Empire. Peru’s greatest native legacy to the world is the potato plant, which is now a staple crop spread world wide.
An ancient mummy seems to cringe in sorrow or intense feeling at the Museo Nacional de Antropologia y Arqueologia (National Anthropology and Archeology Museum), Lima, Peru, South America.)

The Inca Empire and Spanish Conquest

Archeology suggests that in a 700-800 AD military expansion, the Wari people may have settled the Cuzco Valley and become the Inca’s ancestors. Quechua oral history says that the first Inca, Manco Capac, the son of the sun god (inti), founded the city of Cuzco in the 1100’s AD. After 1430 AD, the Incas burst out of Cuzco and quickly imposed their culture from southern Colombia to central Chile.

The Incas used their absolute rule and organizational genius to build vast terraces for growing food on the steep Andes mountains in a moderate climate, away from the dry desert coast and above the mosquito-filled Amazon Basin. The Incas developed textiles, pottery, metals, architecture, amazingly fitted rock walls, empire-wide roads, bridges, and irrigation, but never discovered the wheel, arch, or writing. Despite their amazing accomplishments, the Inca Empire lasted barely a century.

Over in Europe, Catholic Pope Alexander divided Africa and Brazil to Portugal, and gave the Americas to Spain. With Church approval, Spanish fortune hunters accompanied by priests sought riches in the Americas. With lucky timing, conquistador Francisco Pizarro arrived in 1532 at a moment that found the Incas vulnerable from a just-ended civil war. With just a few dozen conquistadors bringing superior weaponry, horses, and guile, Pizarro captured the Inca Emperor Atahualpa at Cajamarca. Despite receiving a fabulous a gold-filled room as ransom fulfillment, Pizarro soon killed Atahualpa. After realizing that the Spanish were here to stay, the successor Inca Emperor, Manco, met with fellow Inca chiefs at Lares in spring 1536 to plan a rebellion, raising an army of 100,000 to 200,000 to surround Cuzco against just 190 Spaniards (including 80 on horses). Despite vastly superior numbers, their clubs, spears, slingshots, and arrows were no match against armored and mounted Spanish Conquistadors brandishing steel swords. Manco Inca’s rebellion was ultimately unsuccessful, and he was forced to retreat to Vilcabamba in the Amazon jungle, where he was killed in 1544. In 1572, the Inca Tupac Amaru organized another rebellion, but was also defeated and executed by the Spaniards. The Spanish Conquest lasted 40 years, from the ambush of Inca Atahualpa at Cajamarca, to Tupac Amaru’s beheading.

Sadly, the near-socialistic support system of the Inca was now destroyed by the cruelty of feudal Europe. The “Indians” (now known as Andeans or campesinos) were now triply-exploited by 1) their native chief (curaca), 2) their Spanish governor (encomendero), and 3) their Spanish priest, who all exacted undue tribute payments. The Incas’ mita system of forced labor for the common good was misused by the Spanish for mining gold and silver for the Crown. Eventually the Spanish forced 80% of the former Inca Empire to work for tribute, mines, or textile mills, stopping just short of slavery. After the Spanish Conquest, Peru’s population declined from 7 million to 1.8 million due to disease, war, famine, culture shock, and demoralization.  Read The Conquest of the Incas (2003), first published in 1970 by John Hemming.

Today, despite turbulent politics, Peru makes a wonderful vacation. Allow one or two extra flex days in your schedule to handle delays in transportation due to frequent strikes.

Recommended books for Peru

Search for latest “Peru travel books” at Amazon.com.

May 2013: 2013: 2014:
2011: 2011: 2004: 2004:
2008: 2003/1970:

2014 spring road trip to Oregon, Utah, New Mexico, Texas, California

From March 15 to April 9, 2014, my wife Carol and I drove our VW Eurovan Camper from Seattle to Texas (6000-mile loop), gathering images in great parks in Oregon, Utah, New Mexico, Texas and California. The trip photos are shown below in day-by-day order.

Favorites (from March 15 to April 9, 2014 road trip)

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All photos (from March 15 to April 9, 2014 road trip)

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See also my related articles which consolidate our multiple trips by state:

My photo galleries consolidate multiple trips into labeled geographic areas.

USA: Oregon: John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

From a trip on March 15-16, 2014, we show photos of Oregon’s John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, including Painted Hills Unit and Sheep Rock Unit (Blue Basin Overlook Trail):


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Photo favorites of 2014 spring trip from Seattle to Texas via Oregon

The above John Day Fossil Beds images are from our 6000-mile trip from March 15 to April 9, 2014, where my wife Carol and I drove our VW Eurovan Camper from Seattle to Texas and back, visiting some great parks in Oregon, Utah, New Mexico, Texas and California. That trip produced these favorite photos:


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Oregon favorite images (consolidated from many trips)


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Recommended Oregon guidebooks from Amazon.com

Search for latest “Oregon travel” books at Amazon.com.

USA: Texas

In spring 2014, Carol and I visited a variety of sights in Texas, USA, and captured the following photo galleries:

  1. USA: Texas favorites
  2. Guadalupe Mountains National Park
  3. Caverns of Sonora
  4. Enchanted Rock State Natural Area
  5. Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site
  6. San Antonio: the Alamo
  7. more photos

These Texas photos date from March 27-31 and April 2-3, 2014.

See also:

1. USA: Texas favorites


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2. Guadalupe Mountains National Park


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3. Caverns of Sonora


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4. Enchanted Rock State Natural Area


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5. Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site


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6. San Antonio: the Alamo


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7. more photos of Texas


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Recommended Texas guidebooks from Amazon.com:

Search at this link for latest Texas travel books at Amazon.com (look for updates every 1-3 years).