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).

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.

2017 Sept USA road trip: hiking central Colorado, St Louis, South Dakota, Wyoming

Driving from the Northwest to Midwest USA round trip in fall 2017, Carol and I enjoyed 11 days of hiking and photographing the Rockies of central Colorado. St. Louis impressed us with glorious Gateway Arch, the tallest monument in the Western Hemisphere. I took a break from photography while visiting Carol’s family in Indiana. South Dakota surprised us with starkly beautiful Badlands National Park, magnificent Mt. Rushmore, poignant Crazy Horse Memorial, and exceptional Custer State Park. Plentiful wildlife cooperated with our cameras: bison (aka buffalo), bighorn sheep, a mountain goat, a bluebird, a black-billed magpie, and prairie dogs. Capping off a wonderful month, we revisited Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks in Wyoming.

See this trip’s sequential images in my Portfolio: 2017 Sep 21-Oct 17: CO, MO, SD, WY USA. We drove for 27 days across the USA from Seattle to Indianapolis round trip from Sept 21 – Oct 17, 2017.

New galleries from this trip are as follows:

The Rockies of Central Colorado

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Colorado: Hanging Lake, Glenwood Canyon

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


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Colorado: Rifle Falls State Park

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


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Colorado: Aspen: Maroon Lake, Ashcroft, Independence

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 [your signup supports my work] 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. 


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Colorado: Leadville

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


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Colorado: Vail

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.


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Colorado: Rocky Mountain National Park

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).


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Colorado: Roxborough State Park

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).


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Colorado: Garden of the Gods

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


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Colorado: Paint Mines Interpretive Park

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


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St. Louis, Missouri

Clad in stainless steel and built in the form of a weighted catenary arch, Gateway Arch is the world’s tallest arch (630 feet high), the tallest man-made monument in the Western Hemisphere and Missouri’s tallest accessible building. Built as a monument to the westward expansion of the United States, and officially dedicated to the American people, it is the centerpiece of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. The Arch was designed by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen in 1947. It was built 1963-1965 at the site of St. Louis’ founding on the west bank of the Mississippi River and opened to the public in 1967. (Although built to last for ages, it is eventually susceptible to a tornado impact which could rip off the upper two-thirds.)


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South Dakota

SD: Badlands National Park

In this peacefully remote park, bighorn sheep grazed fearlessly along the roadside and dramatic sunset/sunrise colors lit the colorful cliffs sculpted from ancient sediments.


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SD: Black Hills: Custer State Park and wildlife reserve

South Dakota’s largest and first state park was named after Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer. Completed in 1922, the Needles Highway includes sharp turns, low tunnels and impressive granite spires along the northern 14 miles of South Dakota Highway 87 (SD 87). The road lies within Custer State Park, 30 miles south of Rapid City, in South Dakota. Needles Highway is part of the figure-eight route of Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway. A magical sunrise warmed the freezing air over idyllic Sylvan Lake. Cathedral Spires Area is most impressive. A famous herd of 1500 bison freely roam Custer State Park, as seen along Wildlife Loop Road.


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SD: Black Hills: Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Sculptor Gutzon Borglum designed and oversaw the Mount Rushmore project 1927–1941, with help from his son, Lincoln Borglum. Mount Rushmore features 60-foot sculptures of the heads of four United States presidents: George Washington (1732–1799), Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), and Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865).


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South Dakota historian Doane Robinson conceived the idea of carving the likenesses of famous people into the Black Hills in order to promote tourism. Robinson’s initial idea of sculpting the Needles was rejected by Gutzon Borglum due to poor granite quality and strong opposition from Native American groups. They settled on Mount Rushmore, and Borglum decided on the four presidents. Each president was originally to be depicted from head to waist, but lack of funding ended construction in late October 1941. Mount Rushmore is a batholith (massive intrusive igneous rock) rising to 5725 feet elevation in the Black Hills.

SD: Black Hills: Crazy Horse Memorial

The Crazy Horse Memorial is being carved into Thunderhead Mountain on private land in the Black Hills, between Custer and Hill City, 17 miles from Mount Rushmore, in Custer County, South Dakota. In progress since 1948, the sculpture is far from completion. It depicts the Oglala Lakota warrior, Crazy Horse, riding a horse and pointing into the distance. The memorial was commissioned by Henry Standing Bear, a Lakota elder, to be sculpted by Korczak Ziolkowski. It is operated by the nonprofit Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation. The sculpture is planned to be of record-setting size: 641 feet wide and 563 feet high. The head of Crazy Horse will be 87 feet high (whereas the heads of the four U.S. Presidents at Mount Rushmore are each 60 feet high).


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Crazy Horse (1840–1877) was a Native American war leader of the Oglala Lakota. He took up arms against the United States federal government to fight against encroachment by white American settlers on Indian territory. He earned great respect from both his enemies and his own people in several battles of the American Indian Wars on the northern Great Plains, including: the Fetterman massacre in 1866, in which he acted as a decoy, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876, in which he led a war party to victory. Four months after surrendering in 1877, Crazy Horse was fatally wounded by a bayonet-wielding military guard, while allegedly resisting imprisonment at Camp Robinson in present-day Nebraska. In 1982 he was honored by the U.S. Postal Service with a 13¢ Great Americans series postage stamp.

Wyoming

Wyoming: Black Hills: Devils Tower National Monument

Devils Tower (aka Bear Lodge Butte) rises dramatically 1267 feet above the Belle Fourche River, standing 867 feet from base to summit, at 5112 feet above sea level. Devils Tower was the first United States National Monument, established on September 24, 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt. This charismatic butte is made of intrusive igneous rock exposed by erosion in the Bear Lodge Mountains, part of the Black Hills, near Hulett and Sundance in Crook County, Wyoming. The 1893 wood stake ladder for the first ascent of Devils Tower (by Willard Ripley) was restored 1972. The last known use of the ladder was in 1927 by daredevil Babe “The Fly” White. In 1972, the Park Service removed what was left of the bottom section, and restored the top 140 feet of the ladder (see photo). In mid October, bright yellow cottonwood tree leaves framed Devils Tower in quiet Belle Fourche River Campground.


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Grand Teton NP images are now split off from Yellowstone into their own gallery; and new 2017 photos are added to both parks:

Wyoming: Yellowstone National Park


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Wyoming: Grand Teton National Park


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See the following master articles which consolidate galleries geographically for multiple trips:

USA: Colorado

Colorado images below are from trips in 2021, 2019, 2017, and 2015.

Colorado favorite images


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The Rockies of Colorado

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 [your signup supports my work] 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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On a trip in 2017, 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: Chasm Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness

Passing through in summer 2021, 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.

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.

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.

Colorado: San Juan Mountains


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

Colorado: 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. In 2019, our first fall-season trip to the Southwest added Mesa Verde National Park. Our southwest USA spring trip of April 5-7, 2015 added galleries for Colorado National Monument and Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park.

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.

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, look for fall colors on the pretty pass of Dallas Divide in the San Juan Mountains around the first week of October.

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 guidebooks

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

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2019:

2018: 2019: 2021:

2015 spring hikes in Utah & Colorado

In Spring 2015, we returned to southwest USA to experience some remarkable yet uncrowded sights:


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

The above photos dated March 27 to April 8, 2015 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

Tom and Carol Dempsey drove this round trip from Seattle March 25-April 10, 2015.

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