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

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

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

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

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

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

Fire Wave + Kaolin Wash + White Domes Trail loop hike

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Our complete trip itinerary 2021 Mar 21-April 22

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

In more detail:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2021 April: rafting Grand Canyon 226 gorgeous miles, Arizona

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

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


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

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

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

Among the 15 Grand Canyon river concessioners, I chose:

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

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

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

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

Photo highlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Camera recommendations for rafting

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

Clothing recommendations for rafting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kelso Dunes Trail, Mojave National Preserve

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

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

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

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

Joshua Tree National Park

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

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

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

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

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

Mecca Hills Wilderness: Ladder Canyon and Painted Canyon Loop Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Southern California route map

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

Round Valley near Bishop

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

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

Our complete trip itinerary 2021 Mar 21-April 22

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

In more detail:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2021 Feb: Oregon coast in winter via RV

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

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

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

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

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

Highlights from the Oregon coast in winter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Index of my Oregon articles:

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


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

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

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

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


A smoky start diverts us from Idaho to Utah

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

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

Family visit in Indianapolis, Indiana

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

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

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


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

Click here to read Tom’s Indiana tips.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deadwood, Black Hills, South Dakota

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

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

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

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

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

Spearfish Canyon Nature Area, Black Hills, South Dakota

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Sawtooth National Recreation Area, Idaho

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

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

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

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

Titus Lake Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for more Idaho tips.

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


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

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

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

A mountain memorial for David Dempsey in Spray Park

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

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

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


More images from Spray Park–Knapsack Pass Loop

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

2020 July: Eastern Sierra hikes & backpack, California

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

Backpack from Green Creek Trailhead to Summit Lake in Hoover Wilderness

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

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

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



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

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



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

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


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

Day hike 1: Leavitt Meadows Loop Trail in Hoover Wilderness

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


Historic Benton Hot Springs, Mono County

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

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

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

Mono Mills ghost camp above Mono Lake

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


Click “i” to read descriptive Captions. Click the dotted square to scroll a set of thumbnail images. Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site. For a wider scope, see Tom’s separate article covering all of his California images.

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

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

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

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

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

Favorite Patagonia photos from 2020


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Money: US$ cash is king in Argentina

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

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

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

Car versus RV or camper

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

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

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

ARGENTINA: Bariloche and Tronador Section of Nahuel Huapi National Park


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

ARGENTINA: Cave of Hands


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

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

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

CHILEAN CUSTOMS WARNING

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

CHILE: Patagonia National Park and Rio Baker


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

CHILE: Cerro Castillo; Carretera Austral


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

CHILE: Queulat National Park; Futaleufu


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

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

Phase 2: Fly from Bariloche to El Calafate

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patagonia flight tips

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

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

Patagonia overview map

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

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

BEST TELEPHOTO ZOOM LENS 300mm+ for wildlife: Sony RX10 IV vs APS-C, 4/3

How well can telephoto zoom lenses magnify distant wildlife given their weight and price? For serious photography of wildlife and general travel subjects, my top pick is Sony RX10 IV:

Sony RX10 IV camera

Tom’s review: versatile Sony RX10 IV camera zooms sharply 25x with a 24-600mm equivalent f/2.4-4 lens.

  • $1700: 37 oz for 24-600mm equivalent f/2.4-4 zoom lens on 1″-Type sensor: Sony RX10 IV / RX10M4 (price at Amazon) (2018, 20 megapixels) is now my ultimate travel camera. This versatile wonder weighs just 37 ounces including battery and card (or 42 oz including the 5 ounces for strap, lens filter, cap & hood). This relatively compact camera includes a dust-sealed, bright f/2.4-4 lens with incredible 25x zoom, sharp across the frame from 24mm wide angle to 600mm wildlife telephoto. Its 1-inch-size sensor with stacked Exmor RS CMOS backside illumination BSI technology plus a big 72mm-diameter lens  capture images that rival a flagship APS-C system, even in dim-light test comparisons. Read my RX10 IV review. [Capturing great depth of field, its lens has a “full-frame-equivalent” brightest aperture of f/6.5 at 24mm wide angle to f/10.8 at 100-600mm equivalent.]

Below, compare Sony RX10M4 and earlier RX10M3 with larger-sensor multiple-lens systems and cheaper fixed-lens megazoom cameras.

Larger-sensor, multiple-lens telephoto systems (APS-C, Micro Four Thirds)

Compared to Sony RX10M4, the following rival camera systems can potentially capture higher-quality images using a larger sensor and larger-diameter glass to collect more light; but they are much heavier, mostly pricier, and require swapping out the bulkier telephoto to reach normal angles of view with yet another lens:

  • $1250-1450: 84+ oz for 225-900mm equivalent lens on a DSLR camera with APS-C sensor:
    Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary Lens for Nikon F
    (2015, 68 ounces, 4.1 x 10.2″) mounted on Nikon D3500 DSLR camera (2018, 13 oz body, 1550 shots battery life CIPA). Upgrading to Nikon D5600 DSLR (2016, 16.4 oz body, 970 shots battery life CIPA) or 15-oz D5500 adds $100-200. This Sigma lens gives the best telephoto quality & reach for the money, if you don’t mind bulky lens-swapping. Or for sharper center but softer edges, try Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD Model G2 (Generation 2, Model A022) for Nikon (2016, 70.2 oz); or save $200 on earlier, not as sharp Tamron Model A011 (2014, 69 oz/1951 g, 4.2 x 10.2″).
  • $1660-1860: 83+ oz for same 225-900mm equiv. lens on MIRRORLESS camera with APS-C sensor:
    Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary lens for Canon EF (2015, 68 ounces, 4.1 x 10.2″, 95mm filter size), mounted on Sigma Mount Converter MC-11 for Canon SGV lenses for Sony E (2016, ~3 oz, $250, for full stabilization and autofocus of Sigma’s Canon-mount lenses onto Sony E-Mount bodies) on Sony A6000 camera (2014, 12 oz body) or A6300
  • $2020: 49+ oz for 200-800mm equivalent zoom lens mounted on Micro Four Thirds sensor:
    Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm f/4-6.3 Power OIS lens (2016, 35 oz, 72mm filter size, 3.3 x 6.8″) mounted on Panasonic DMC-GX9 mirrorless camera (2018, 14.4 oz body, 20mp, 260 shots per battery charge CIPA) both weather-sealed. Or save $200 on earlier GX8 bought used. This Micro 4/3 sensor has twice the light-gathering area compared to 1-inch type (but RX10 III somewhat compensates for its 1″ sensor with superior stacked Exmor RS CMOS backside illumination BSI technology, not found in GX9’s sensor; and their lenses have equal 72mm diameter). This “slower” Panasonic 200-800mm equivalent lens opens as bright as f/4 down to about f/5.6 within the 200-600mm equivalent range which overlaps with Sony RX10M4 or RX10M3. Within that 200-600mm range, the Sony has a faster f/4 constant real aperture, up to a full stop brighter at 600mm, possibly equalizing image quality. [This Panasonic lens has a “full-frame-equivalent” brightest aperture of f/8 at 200mm equivalent and f/12.6 at 800mm, meaning that within 200-400mm equivalent it can achieve shallower depth of field than RX10M4 or RX10M3, but the reverse is true higher than 400mm.]
  • $4000+: 66+ oz for professional 750mm equivalent lens on DSLR camera with APS-C sensor:
    Nikon 500mm AF-S NIKKOR f/5.6E PF ED VR (51 oz, 4.17 x 9.33″, 95 mm filter size) mounted on Nikon D3300 DSLR (2014, 16 oz body). Upgrading to Nikon D5500 DSLR (2015, 15 oz body) adds $100. Add $6600 for f/4E FL ED VR 500mm Nikkor lens; or add $8600 for f/4E FL ED VR 600mm Nikkor lens.
    • Professional lenses like this are a heavy, bulky, and costly commitment for travelers and hikers like me.
    • Legacy DSLR cameras use a bulky mirror box to bounce light from the lens into an optical viewfinder. The latest mirrorless cameras are more compact for travel and use an electronic viewfinder (EVF) to better realize the goal of “what you see is what you get.” The autofocusing speed of mirrorless now rivals DSLR cameras. The few remaining advantages of DSLRs include more legacy lenses, longer battery life and body durability. Further below, read more about wildlife telephoto lenses for legacy DSLR cameras, including acronyms explained (for image stabilization, ultrasonic focusing motors, and APS-C-only optimization) for major brands (Nikon, Canon, Sigma, Tamron, Sony).

Chilean Flamingo, Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle

Sony RX10 III is sharp across the frame throughout its breathtaking 25x zoom range, including at maximum telephoto 220mm (600mm equivalent) shown above. Sections of the Chilean Flamingo are shown at 100% pixel view. Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle, WA.


Cheaper, fixed-lens wildlife telephoto cameras

The following good-value wildlife telephoto cameras are cheaper than Sony RX10 IV or III and likewise don’t interchange lenses:

  1. $850: 50 oz for 24–3000mm equivalent 125x zoom lens f/2.8–8.0 on 1/2.3″ sensor: Nikon COOLPIX P1000 (2018, 16mp) attracts dedicated birders and wildlife specialists. In comparison, no practical DSLR or mirrorless lens can reach 3000mm! The P1000 has 5-stop image stabilization and fully articulated LCD, but only gets 250 shots per charge. As in COOLPIX P950, its tiny 1/2.3″ sensor won’t beat the superior processing power of cellphone cameras unless shooting at telephoto greater than 50mm equivalent, in bright outdoor light. At this tiny sensor size, extra diffraction through the camera’s minuscule aperture degrades image quality. Based upon Nikon P1000 moon photos, compared to my own moon shots on Sony RX10M4, shooting the P1000 at 1500-3000mm equivalent may be sharper than digitally cropping Sony RX10M4’s 600mm-equivalent images to achieve the same angle of view. (Note that Nikon’s “Moon Shot Mode” is JPEG only, no raw.) This assumes bright light, as with the sunlit lunar surface. In dim light, RX10M4 will gain ground in the comparison.
  2. $800: 35 oz for 24–2000mm equivalent 83x zoom lens f/2.8–6.5 on 1/2.3″ sensor: Nikon COOLPIX P950 (2020, 16mp). Fully articulated LCD. 290 shots per charge. P950 adds a flash hot shoe and can record RAW files (whereas older P900 only captured JPEGs). Compare with P1000 above.
  3. $600-800: 29 oz for 25-400mm equivalent 16x zoom lens f/2.8-4 on 1″-Type sensor: Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FZ1000 camera (2014, 20mp) with fast autofocus, fully articulated LCD. For $200 more, FZ1000 II (2019, 28.5 oz) is worth the upgrade premium (for new lower-noise sensor and sharper LCD screen & EVF). The FZ1000 II or I is a great-value travel camera and practically antiquates DSLRs for the needs of travel photographers! These excellent 1″-type sensors let you crop down from 20mp to digitally extend telephoto reach.
  4. $1000: 33 oz for 24-480mm equivalent 20x zoom lens f/2.8–4.5 on 1″-Type sensor: Panasonic FZ2500 (2016, 20mp) with fully articulated LCD with touchscreen, great viewfinder magnification, best video specs (ND filter, Cine/UHD 4K). But FZ2500’s lens collects a half stop less light (slightly lowering image quality), its telephoto doesn’t reach long enough for birders, and its CIPA battery life of 350 shots is shorter than Sony RX10M3’s 420 shots. (FZ2500 is FZ2000 in some markets.)

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More Details

No longer is a DSLR camera with a mirror required for excellent birding and wildlife photography with quick autofocus. The following compact camera with excellent 20-megapixel 1″-Type sensor has a high-quality 25x zoom lens which reaches 600mm equivalent birding territory:

Or for Sony A6300(read Tom’s review) or older A6000, NEX-6, and NEX-7 mirrorless E-mount APS-C-sensor cameras (read Tom’s review), one could mount the following telephoto lens:

History lesson: cropping a newer 24-megapixel camera beat a better lens mounted on older 12mp camera

In 2012, cropping my 24-megapixel Sony NEX-7 with all-in-one 18-200mm lens handily beat the real resolution formerly obtained from 70 to 250mm on Nikon’s good 70-300mm F4.5-5.6G VR lens used on my 12mp D5000 DSLR camera. But upgrading to a 24mp Nikon D3200 camera (2012) or Nikon D3300 camera (2014, 16 oz) would restore the advantage of Nikon VR 70-300mm lens. In 2016 came the excellent Sony FE 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 G OSS lens (30 oz, SEL70300G), great for use on Sony A6300 making 105-450mm equivalent. But I prefer the all-in-one 25x zoom Sony RX10 III, introduced around the same time.

Because the DSLR legacy still runs strongly among many professional photographers, the remainder of this article discusses suitable DSLR telephoto lenses…

Wildlife telephoto lenses for DSLR (mirror) cameras

DSLR wildlife telephoto lenses optimal for on-the-go travelers

An optimally “lightweight” wildlife lens for Nikon DSLRs is Nikkor AF-S VR Zoom 70-300mm F4.5-5.6G ED-IF lens (26 oz, 105-450mm angle of view equivalent), which resolves detail throughout its range 5 to 20% sharper (for bigger prints) than the versatile Nikon AF-S DX 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR II Zoom (20 oz, 3 x 3.8″, 2009) travel lens. Alternatives:

A good DSLR camera is Sony Alpha SLT-A65V camera (buy at Amazon.com) (2012, 22 oz body with SteadyShot INSIDE Stabilization) with good travel lens Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* 16-80mm f/3.5-4.5 ZA DT lens for Sony Alpha (24-120mm equiv, 16 oz). For wildlife and sports, add an excellent Sony 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 SSM G A-mount lens. Sony’s Translucent Mirror Technology speeds past very slow Live View autofocus of rival Nikon and Canon DSLRs (except the fast Canon 70D). The tilt/swivel 3.0-inch LCD aids hand-held macro and candid travel shots at arms length. Nikon or Canon lens-based image stabilization may beat Sony’s sensor-shift SteadyShot by up to a full stop of slower shutter speed.

For sharper handheld shots, get optical image stabilization built into the lens (Nikon VR, Canon IS) or body (Sony SteadyShot INSIDE). Superior lenses having fast f4 or f/2.8 brightest aperture excel for indoor action but are a heavy burden when traveling.

Newer DSLR lenses optimized for digital

Today, many lenses sold for DSLR cameras are still the older, heavier ones designed for full frame (35mm film size) cameras. By upgrading to newer lenses that are “Optimized For Digital APS-C”, you can save bulk and weight and enjoy comparable image quality with less vignetting.

A few newer lenses are “designed for APS-C only” and 250mm or longer, useful for a wide range of subjects including wildlife shots:

  • Nikon AF-S DX 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR lens (29 oz, 3.3 x 4.7″, 2012)
  • Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS (Image Stabilization): 2.8 x 4.3 in (70 x 108mm), 13.8 oz (390g). Canon Rebel APS-C crop factor of 1.6 gives it a field of view equivalent to a 88-400mm lens on 135 film.
  • Tamron 16-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD MACRO lens for Nikon (2014, 19 oz) 18.8x zoom with splash-proof design for cameras with APS-C sensor, for Nikon F-mount, Canon EF-mount, or Sony A-mount.
  • Tamron Di II VC AF 18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 LD Aspherical (IF) MACRO (2008, Model B003)
    • 15x zoom lens for Canon mount and AF motor supporting Nikon.
    • Lightweight 19.4 oz (550g), compact 101mm × 80mm (3.8″ × 3.1″).
    • Di-II is Tamron’s lighter weight design exclusively for APS-C sensors.
    • Minimum focus distance 19.3 inches throughout. Magnification ratio 1:3.5 at 270mm (74 x 49 mm coverage).
    • Tamron claims image sharpness similar to competitors (18-200mm Canon IS, Nikon VR, Sigma OS lenses) at same light weight, while zooming more, 15x versus 11x. Canon 18-200mm IS stabilizes images best of the bunch. Canon’s crop factor 1.6 makes 18-270mm equivalent to 29-432mm. Nikon’s 1.5 crop factor makes a 27-405mm equivalent.
    • I didn’t like the Tamron 18-270mm VC lens (returned) and instead upgraded to Nikon AF-S DX 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR II Zoom Lens. The Nikon 18-200 “VR I” focused more reliably in low indoors light on a tripod and cropping its 200mm images beat Tamron’s 270mm. The Tamron autofocuses slower and lens creeps badly when pointed up or down.
      • Avoid older version which lacks VC: Tamron Di-II AF 18-250mm F/3.5-6.3 LD Aspherical (IF) Macro. 430g (15.2oz).

Brand terminology for image stabilization, APS-C-optimization, and fast ultrasonic focusing motors

Lighten your load by shopping for the new, smaller lens formats DX, EF-S, DC and Di IIdesigned for digital for APS-C size sensor cameras only:

  • Nikon/Nikkor DX format lenses for APS-C only (with “VR, Vibration Reduction” desired)
    • Nikon DX 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR lens (29 oz, 3.3 x 4.7″, 2012) all-in-one travel lens
    • Nikon AF-S DX 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR II Zoom Lens (new in 2006 with VR I) is great for travel because its size and weight are optimized for Nikon cameras with DX sensors (APS-C size, as in Nikon D3300, D3200, D3100, D5100, D60, & D40X cameras). The DX lens design eliminates the extra glass which would have been required to cover a full 35mm size frame. Nikon DX format cameras have a “field of view crop factor” of 1.5, so this lens labeled 18-200mm can be thought of as a 27-300mm in 135 film terms.
  • Canon EF-S lenses for APS-C only (with “IS, Image Stabilization” desired)
  • Sigma DC lenses for APS-C only (with “OS, Optical Stabilization” desired)
  • Tamron Di II lenses for APS-C only (with “VC, Vibration Compensation” desired).
  • Note: Because the above DX, EF-S, DC and Di II lenses are designed for cameras with APS-C size sensor only, they will cause vignetting (darkened corners) at the wide angle end of their zoom if used on “full frame sensor” SLR cameras, such as on the expensive Nikon D3 (FX format), Nikon D700, Canon EOS 5D, or pricier Canon EOS 1D camera.
  • For sharper handheld shooting in significantly dimmer lighting situations without a tripod, insist on lenses designed with image stabilization (VR, IS, OS or VC above). By eliminating much time formerly spent setting up a tripod, I can better keep pace with non-photographers on group treks.
    • Note that the Sony Alpha (A-series) builds the image stabilization into the camera body with sensor-shift technology, which is a fine idea, except that comparable Nikon D60 and Canon Rebel cameras of 2009 gain back Sony’s handheld advantage through lower noise at a higher ISO settings. Then using a Nikon VR or Canon IS lens beats Sony’s handheld low light performance.
  • Also look for the fastest focusing lenses with ultrasonic motors to capture flighty animals, a feature branded as follows:
    • Canon – USM, UltraSonic Motor
    • Nikon – SWM, Silent Wave Motor
    • Sigma – HSM, Hyper Sonic Motor
    • Tamron – PZD, Piezo Drive autofocus system powered by a fast and quiet standing-wave ultrasonic motor
    • Olympus – SWD, Supersonic Wave Drive
    • Panasonic – XSM, Extra Silent Motor
    • Pentax – SDM, Supersonic Drive Motor
    • Sony & Minolta – SSM, SuperSonic Motor
  • The quality of new lenses usually equals or exceeds comparable past models.

Wildlife and birding lenses for APS-C cameras

For serious photography of wildlife or birds using an an APS-C size sensor camera, use telephoto lens labeled at least 300mm (angle of view equivalent to 450mm lens on 135 film or 35mm sensor). If your telephoto lens falls short of this, then you can crop to enlarge, at the cost of fuzzier images due to lowered resolution. A maximum aperture of f/5.6 or f/6.3 saves money and weight, yet can take decent images in good daylight (usually sharpest if stopped down one or two stops from wide open). Professional wildlife and bird photographers can sharpen image quality with heavier, more expensive lenses with brightest aperture f/4 in a 500mm or longer conventional lens (equivalent in terms of 135 film or 35mm sensor), possibly using a full frame 35mm-sensor camera.

CROP FACTOR: Cameras with APS-C size sensors have an “angle of view crop factor” that extends the telephoto by 1.5x for Nikon (or 1.6x for Canon) cameras, when compared to using the same lens on 135 film or 35mm sensor. For example, a favorite travel lens labeled “18-200mm” focal length has the angle of view of a “27-300mm” in terms of 135 film or 35mm sensor, on a Nikon DX format camera such as the Nikon D5100, D5000, D3300, or D60. A Nikon AF-S DX 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR II Zoom Lens makes a great all-around travel lens, with a big 11x zoom that minimizes lens changes so that you don’t miss a shot. However, this 200mm telephoto is too short for serious wildlife photo enlargements, unless you are satisfied with web display or small 4×6 prints of animals. A Nikon DX 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR lens would better reach distant birds.
An iridescent blue, orange and green Danfe (or Danphe) Pheasant, the national bird of Nepal, Namche Bazaar in Sagarmatha National Park.

Photo: In Sagarmatha National Park near Mount Everest, that flash of iridescent blue, orange and green is a Danfe or Danphe Pheasant, the national bird of Nepal. Telephoto tips: 

  1. On APS-C size sensor cameras (such as Nikon DX format), for bigger prints of wildlife or birds, use a lens focal length of at least 300mm (which has an angle of view equivalent to a 450mm lens on 135 film or a 35mm-size sensor, a diagonally field of view of 8 degrees & 15 minutes). 
  2. An editor can act as a digital zoom: In Adobe Lightroom editor, I cropped to 10% of the original image to make an acceptable 4×6-inch bird print (but any larger print would look fuzzy at reading distance). The pheasant, 70 feet away in fog, would have been sharper if I had used a telephoto longer than 200mm on my APS-C sensor camera.
    [
    2007 photo: Nikon D40X DSLR, 10mp 3872 x 2592, cropped to 858 x 1002 pixels; published in “Light Travel: Photography on the Go” book by Tom Dempsey 2009, 2010. ]

Full-frame conventional lenses are bigger and heavier

The expensive “full frame” DSLR cameras (such as Nikon D600 camera, Nikon D700, or Nikon D3 with FX format; Canon EOS 6D, 5D or pricier Canon EOS 1D) require the conventional lens size which focuses sharply to the area of 35mm film, about 36 x 24 mm. Many new lenses are “optimized for digital” to work with both conventional and APS-C size sensors, to reduce vignetting (darkening at corners). For example, Sigma brand lenses labelled DG and Tamron Di lenses are the conventional size, optimized for both full frame and APS-C sensor cameras (though sometimes working better for one particular format).

Using these large, conventional lenses on APS-C size cameras can have some plus and minuses:

  • Advantages of conventional size lenses: The small APS-C size sensor (measuring about 22 x 15 mm) uses just the central area of the conventional 35mm lens, or the “sweet spot”, where images are usually sharpest, with lowest distortion (by not using the outside edges). Also, older lenses may be cheaper, easier to obtain, or already owned in your kit. And if you upgrade from an APS-C camera to a full frame DSLR, the conventional lens may stay compatible.
  • Disadvantages: Conventional size lenses are bigger and heavier (versus the newer Nikon DX, Canon EF-S, Sigma DC, and Tamron Di II lenses “for APS-C size sensor cameras only”), and most people won’t eke an advantage from conventional lenses versus the APS-C-only lenses.

In the lens brand list below, Popular Photography magazine October 2008 rates the following excellent travel lenses as roughly equal in image quality: Nikon 70-300mm 4.5-5.6G VR (which I’ve enjoyed using); Canon 70-300mm DO IS USM; and Sigma 120-400mm 4.5-5.6DG APO OS HSM AF:

Canon full-frame (EF-mount) conventional lenses with IS (Image Stabilization) for wildlife & travel images:

  • Canon EF 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 DO IS USM. 3.2 x 3.9 in., 25.4 oz (82.4 x 99.9 mm, 720g), makes a great extension to the IS kit lens sold with the Canon EOS 450D / Rebel XSi
  • Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens (new December 2014, 55.3 oz) 3.7 x 7.6″, 77mm filter, 4 stops image stabilization, L-series weather resistance, reduced ghosting and flaring, 3.2-foot closest focus, new Rotation-Type Zoom Ring prevents dust sucking.
    • 1998 version: Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM Lens. 48.0 oz (1380g), 3.6 x 7.4″ (92 x 189mm), 77mm filter, 1.5 stops image stabilization, 6.5 feet closest focus, push-pull zoom (sucks dust)
  • plus bigger professional lenses with wider maximum aperture

Nikon/Nikkor full frame (F Mount) conventional lenses with VR (highly desirable Vibration Reduction) for wildlife & travel photography, in order of increasing price:

  • Nikkor AF-S VR Zoom 70-300mm F4.5-5.6G ED-IF lens (equivalent to 105-450mm angle of view in terms of 135 film). 26 ounces; 5.6″ length; 4.9 foot minimum focus. Compatible with full frame Nikon D3 DSLR. Lens size and price point attract sports and wildlife/birder photographers. Nikkor 70-300mm is sharper than Nikkor 18-200mm VR.
  • Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D ED Autofocus VR Zoom Nikkor Lens: (120-600mm equivalent angle of view when used on a Nikon DX mount/APS-C camera) 3.6 x 6.7 inches; 48.0 oz (1360 g). Ken Rockwell says “This lens is a miracle…to shoot still subjects with long exposures without needing a tripod…but for sports you may want the 70-300 AF-S VR.” One reader complained that this lens “does not have AF-S, so I found the focusing too slow for moving birds…and it didn’t bring birds in close enough”.
  • Nikkor AF-S VR Zoom 200-400mm f/4G IF-ED lens: 4.9 x 14.4 inches; 115.5 oz (3275 g). One of my readers was “impressed with the speed of its AF and the quality of the pictures, but the lens is awfully large and heavy”. About $5500.
  • Nikon 500mm f/4G ED AF-S Vibration Reduction (VR II) Nikkor Lens: 5.5 x 15.4 inches; 137 oz/8.54 pounds.
  • plus bigger professional lenses with wider maximum aperture

Sony Alpha DSLR full frame conventional lenses:

  • Sony SteadyShot INSIDE Stabilization (the sensor-shift built into Sony Alpha DSLR camera bodies) is a half or full stop of shutter speed worse than Nikon or Canon lens-based image stabilization, but Sony lenses may cost less for similar quality.
  • Sony A-mount 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 SSM G (SAL-70300G) lens for Alpha DSLR (27 oz/760g), 1.2m minimum focus distance, filter size 62mm. Tip: for sharpest images, set aperture at f/8 to f/11 at zoom settings 70 to 300mm.
  • Sony A-mount 70-400mm F4-5.6 G SSM II lens (53 oz/3.3 lb/1500g, 3.7 x 7.7 inches, SAL-70400G2, 2013) (or SAL-70400G lensboth for Alpha DSLRs) can be adapted onto a NEX camera using Sony LA-EA2 mount adaptor (7 oz, with translucent mirror for fast phase detection autofocus) but lacks OSS, thereby limiting hand-held photography and increasing tripod usage. Minimum focus distance 1.5m, filter size 77mm. This SAL-70400G2 SSM II lens is very sharp wide open at 400mm, has 4x faster autofocus, less flare/ghosting, and higher contrast images than previous version. As with comparable rival lenses, they have poor bokeh >250mm compared to prime lenses.

By the way, I don’t recommend using Sony A-mount lenses (such as 70-300mm or -400mm) on E-mount bodies (such as A6300, A6000 or NEX). Designed for in-body stabilization for Sony Alpha DSLRs, A-mount lenses all lack OSS (thereby requiring more tripod use on E-mount bodies). A-mount lenses also require a hefty A-mount adapter on E-mount bodies:

  • Sony LA-EA2 adaptor (7 oz, with translucent mirror for fast phase detection autofocus)
  • Sony LA-EA1 adapter (with Manual focus only, NO AUTOFOCUS).
  • You’d be better off using E-mount lenses on Sony A6300, A6000 or NEX.

Tamron and Sigma make good value full-frame conventional zoom lenses suitable for shooting birds and wildlife plus a wide range of other subjects, fitting many different brand camera bodies:

  • Tamron 28-300mm F/3.5-6.3 Di VC PZD Zoom Lens (2014, 19 oz) for Canon EF, Nikon F (FX), Sony Alpha mounts: attractive for wildlife/travel photography with ultrasonic PZD motor. Tamron “Di” lens designed for both full frame and APS-C sensor cameras. 42-450mm equivalent lens on Nikon DX format cameras (APS-C with 1.5x field of view multiplier), where the angle of view zooms from 75°23′ to 8°15′. Close focus 19 inches. Internal Focus (IF).
  • Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD (2014, 69 oz/4.30 lb/1951 g, 4.2 x 10.2″) for Canon EF mount, Nikon F mount, and Sony Alpha A-mount: 225-900mm equivalent on APS-C. UltraSonic Drive autofocus motor. Shoot at around f/8 for sharpest results (given sufficient tripod use and/or shutter speed). Excellent dollar value. Comparisons:
    • The 2008 Sigma 150-500mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM is no sharper at 500mm than the Tamron is at 600mm.
    • This Tamron 150-600mm matches image quality at half the price of Nikon AF-S Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR.
    • The Tamron’s modern optics easily beat the 1999 Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM.
  • Tamron AF 70-300mm F/4-5.6 Di LD Macro lens. 3.0 x 4.6 in. 435g (15.3 oz). Not image stabilized.
  • Tamron SP AF200-500mm F/5-6.3 Di LD (IF) lens. 3.7 x 8.9 in. 1237g (43.6 oz). Not image stabilized.

The following full-frame conventional zoom lenses by Sigma are a good price-value, fitting several different brand camera bodies:

  • Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary Lens (2015, 68 ounces, 4.1 x 10.2 in). Note: Sigma’s heavier, professional 150-600mm Sports version (2015, 101 ounces, 11.5-inches long) is splash and dust-resistant, focuses as close as 102-inches, and has 24 elements in 16 groups.
  • Sigma APO 150-500mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM lens (2008, 67.4 oz, 3.7 in. x 9.9 in.) filter diameter 86mm.
  • Sigma APO 120-400mm F4.5-5.6 DG OS HSM lens: (61.7 oz/1750g, 3.6 in. x 8 in)
  • Sigma APO 80-400mm F4.5-5.6 EX DG OS lens: Optical Stabilization helps by about 2 stops or so. Does not have HSM and may be slow to focus. 1750g/61.9 oz, 3.7 x 7.6 in.
  • Sigma APO 50-500mm F4-6.3 EX DG HSM lens: 1,840g/64.9 oz; 3.7 in. x 8.6 in. It has no optical stabilization; but good DSLR cameras can compensate by a few stops using high ISO settings.
  • plus bigger professional lenses with wider maximum aperture.
  • Sigma glossary of terms: DG = Sigma’s conventional full-size lens. In the future, look for newer, smaller 300mm and longer SigmaDC” lenses for APS-C only. OS = Optical Stabilization, very desireable. HSM = Hyper Sonic Motor for quiet and high-speed AF (Auto Focus), very desirable.

Tokina full-frame conventional lens for wildlife:

  • Tokina 80-400mm f4.5-5.6 ATX 840 AF D: Angle of view 29° 50’ to 6°13’ on APS-C camera; Minimum focus distance 2.5m (8.2 ft.); dimensions 3.1 in. (79mm) X 136.5 mm (5.4in.); 1020 g (35.9 oz); introduced June 2006, for Canon EOS and Nikon D. Unfortunately no image stabilization.

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TELEPHOTO TIPS: How to avoid out-of-focus shots on any camera

  • Make sure image stabilization (IS, VR, OS, VC, or OIS) is turned on for all hand held shots (especially when using telephoto), to counteract blurring due to hand shake at slower shutter speeds.
  • Focus will be most difficult towards longest telephoto end of the zoom, due to hand shake and lens limitations, especially in low light. At 400mm using Canon IS or Nikon VR on an APS-C sensor, shoot at about 1/125th second or faster for sharper shots. For APS-C cameras in general, divide the lens mm by two, and the inverse is near the slowest possible sharp shutter speed when image stabilization is turned on. Raising ISO will help achieve faster shutter speeds.
  • Most DSLR lenses are sharpest stopped down by one or two stops from wide open: f/8 is easiest to remember as a good optimum that reduces the chromatic aberrations of wide open and prevents the light diffraction of small openings at high aperture numbers such as f/22.
  • Automatic multi-point focus usually hunts for the closest, brightest object, and is often not what you wanted to focus on, but can react faster than your fingers for capturing wildlife, sports, and action.
  • For shooting non-moving subjects on most cameras, a single AF point in the center (not multi point automatic) is more accurate. Lock focus, recompose, then release the shutter. On many cameras, when using single AF point, it’s easy to accidently press the “AF point selection” off center or forget that it’s off center, focusing on a location different than you thought. Some of the heavier, pricier DSLR models can lock AF point selection to avoid the common problem.

Terminology and metric conversions

  • oz = ounces. Above camera weights in ounces (oz) include battery and memory card.
  • g = grams. Multiple ounces by 28.35 to get grams.
  • sec = second.
  • mm = millimeters. A centimeter (cm) equals 10 millimeters. Multiply centimeters (cm) by 0.3937 to get inches.
  • ILC = Interchangeable Lens Compact = “midsize mirrorless camera” term used above
  • DSLR = Digital Single Lens Reflex = a traditional camera where an optical viewfinder uses a mirror to see through the interchangeable lens.
  • EVF = Electronic Viewfinder.
  • LCD = Liquid Crystal Display.
    • OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode) beats an LCD in dynamic range from darkest to brightest and consumes less power.
  • equivalent lens = To compare lenses on cameras having different sensor sizes, equiv or equivalent lens refers to what would be the lens focal length (measured in mm or millimeters) that would give the same angle of view on a “full frame35mm-size sensor (or 35mm film camera, using 135 film cartridge).
    • Compared lenses are “equivalent” only in terms of angle of view. (To determine sharpness or quality, read lens reviews which analyze at 100% pixel views.)
    • Crop factor” = how many times smaller is the diagonal measurement of a small sensor than a “full frame” 35-mm size sensor. For example, the 1.5x crop factor for Nikon DX format (APS-C size sensor) makes a lens labeled 18-200mm to be equivalent in angle of view to a 27-300mm focal length lens used on a 35mm film camera. The 2x crop factor for Micro Four Thirds sensors makes a lens labeled 14-140mm to be equivalent in angle of view to a 28-280mm lens used on a 35mm film camera.
  • Superzoom lenses
    • In 2013, superzoom often refers to lenses of about 15x zoom range or larger. Steady quality improvements in the resolving power of sensors has made possible superzoom cameras in ever smaller sizes. As superzoom range increases, laws of physics require lenses to focus upon smaller sensors (light detectors) or else to increase lens size. For a given level (most recent year) of technological advancement, a camera with physically larger sensor (bigger light detecting area) should capture better quality for a given zoom lens range.
    • 10x zoom” = zoom lens telephoto divided by wide angle focal length. For example, a 14-140mm focal length zoom has a 10x zoom range (140 divided by 14). An 18-200mm zoom has an 11x zoom range (200 divided by 18).
  • equivalent” F-stop = refers to the F-stop (F-number) on a full-frame-sensor camera which has the same hole diameter as the F-stop of the camera lens being compared. The concept of “equivalent” F-stop lets you compare capabilities for creating shallow depth of field on cameras with different-size sensors. Smaller-sensor cameras use shorter focal lengths for the same field of view, so at a given F-stop they have a smaller physical aperture size, meaning more depth of field (with less blur in front of and behind the focused subject). Formula: F Number (or Relative Aperture) = actual focal length of lens divided by diameter of the entrance pupil.

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I’m enthralled with what Bill Gates calls his new “favorite book of all time”: Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress (2018), by Steven Pinker.

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

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

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


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

Wyoming: Wind River Range


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

Green River Lakes day hikes

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

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

Photographer’s Point day hike

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

New Fork Lakes day hike

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

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

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

Nebraska (NE): Carhenge, near Alliance


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

Illinois: Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site


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

Colorado: Great Sand Dunes National Park


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

Mesa Verde National Park


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

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

Colorado: San Juan Mountains


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

Utah: Moab: Arches National Park

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

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


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Utah: Capitol Reef National Park

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


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Reference

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

2019 June: RV: Alaska-Canadian Highway; Cassiar; Yukon; Denali; Juneau; Glacier Bay

Our new Pleasure-Way Plateau XLTS RV drove like a dream for 6200 miles round trip from Seattle to Alaska from May 27-July 3, 2019. We reached Fairbanks and Denali National Park via the Cassiar Highway in BC and Klondike Loop through Yukon. We returned via the Parks Highway, Glenn Highway, and Alaska-Canadian Highway (ALCAN). A great side trip was by ferry from Haines to Juneau to Skagway. Out of five weeks, my top sights were 1) the day cruise from Juneau to South Sawyer Glacier in spectacular Tracy Arm Fjord, and 2) the fabulous flightseeing over Glacier Bay National Park starting from Skagway. Lastly, we returned for a bike ride and hike in Jasper National Park in Alberta, plus a quick stop to admire Mt Robson.

Favorite photos from Alaska-Canadian Highways trip 2019 May 27-July 3


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2019 Alaska & Canada trip interactive GPS waypoints and Google Maps

Alaska History

In Alaska, men have long outnumbered women; so Alaskan women jokingly say “the odds are good, but the goods are odd”.

From 10,000-30,000 years ago, Asians migrated across the Bering land bridge from Siberia. In 1784, Russians led by Shelikof settled permanently on Kodiak Island. Natives were enslaved and ill-treated for generations. In the mid 1800s, Americans and British undermined the weakening Russian fur monopoly and Tlingits waged guerrilla war. In 1867, Secretary of State William Seward instigated US Congress to buy Alaska from the Russians. In 1880, gold was discovered at Silver Bow Basin and Juneau was founded. In 1896, gold was discovered on a tributary to the Klondike River, easiest accessed by ship via Skagway. World War II ravaged Attu & Kiska Islands in 1942-43. Alaska became a state in 1959, with a size one-fifth that of the lower 48 states combined. After the 1968 oil discovery at Prudhoe Bay, the trans-Alaska pipeline was built 1971-77. The 1971 “Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act” formed Native Corporations.

Alaska’s resident population in 2019 is about 736,000 (similar to the number within Seattle city limits). Private pilots here outnumber truck and taxi drivers combined. Roads reach only 5 of Alaska’s 15 national parks. Alaska visitors each year outnumber residents by a factor of two. About half of all visitors come via cruise ship.

Global warming: Since the mid 1900s, Alaska has warmed 3 degrees Fahrenheit and its winters have warmed nearly 6 degrees. Human-caused climate change induced by emissions of greenhouse gases continues to accelerate the warming of Alaska at an unprecedented rate. Climate change is having disproportionate effects in the Arctic, which is heating up twice as fast as the rest of Earth. Earth’s glaciers are shrinking fast, as described below affecting Kluane Lake, Mendenhall Glacier, and Glacier Bay National Park.

Below are more extensive galleries and stories from each area visited.

CANADA: Barkerville, British Columbia


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Historically the main town of the Cariboo Gold Rush, Barkerville is now the largest living-history museum in Western North America. The town was named after Billy Barker from Cambridgeshire, England, who struck gold here in 1861, and his claim became the richest and the most famous. This National Historic Site nestles in the Cariboo Mountains at elevation 1200m (4000ft), at the end of BC Highway 26, 80 kilometres (50 mi) east of Quesnel. Gold here was first discovered at Hills Bar in 1858, followed by other strikes in 1859 and 1860. Wide publication of these discoveries in 1861 began the Cariboo Gold Rush, which reached full swing by 1865 following strikes along Williams Creek.

CANADA: Cassiar Highway, British Columbia


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The scenic Stewart–Cassiar Highway (Highway 37, aka Dease Lake Highway or Stikine Highway) is the northwesternmost highway in BC.

The nonprofit ‘Ksan Historical Village is a living museum of the Gitxsan Indigenous people, reconstructed in 1970 in the Skeena Country of Northwestern British Columbia. See impressive cultural artworks painted on longhouses and carved in totem poles. ‘Ksan is near Hazelton at the confluence of the Skeena and Bulkley Rivers on Gitxsan territory, a short drive off of the Yellowhead Highway (just east of the southern start of the Cassiar Highway). ‘Ksan was founded in 1866 (before Hazelton) and was populated by the Gitxsan Indigenous people.

In good weather, a side trip is worthwhile through Stewart, BC to Hyder, Alaska and beyond to Salmon Glacier, the world’s largest glacier accessible via road. Salmon Glacier, the fifth largest in Canada, is a 37km (23 mile) drive from Stewart, past Hyder and beyond the Bear viewing platform, along Salmon Glacier Road, built for mining interests.

In tiny Jade City, Cassiar Mountain Jade Store is worth a visit.

CANADA: Yukon: Whitehorse, Dawson, Klondike Highway


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We enjoyed a short hike from Miles Canyon Suspension Bridge, near Whitehorse, capital and largest city of the Yukon. At Miles Canyon and the former Whitehorse Rapids downstream, the Yukon River cuts through 8-million-year-old lava flows, the Miles Canyon Basalts. Salmon pooling above and below the rapids attracted humans who left tools here 2500 years ago, and likely other people arriving 8000-9000 years ago after the retreat of glaciers. These narrow cliffs and rapids also established the upstream terminus for paddlewheelers during the Klondike Gold Rush, eventually helping establish the City of Whitehorse. Whitehorse was incorporated in 1950 at kilometer 1426 (Historic Mile 918) on the Alaska Highway. The town was named for the former Whitehorse Rapids (now drowned by a hydroelectric dam), whose pale-colored glacially silted waters resemble the mane of a white horse. The Yukon River originates in British Columbia and flows into the Bering Sea in Alaska. Although historically and popularly called “Yukon Territory”, the territory is now officially called “Yukon” (after the federal government’s Yukon Act in 2002).

The SS Klondike No. 2 sternwheeler, launched at Whitehorse in 1937, was the largest vessel ever to sail the Canadian portion of the Yukon River. The SS Klondike No 2 moved silver-lead ore, freight, and passengers primarily between Whitehorse and Dawson, until retirement in 1955 ended the era of commercial steamboats in the Yukon. It’s now a National Historic Site in Whitehorse.

Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre, in Whitehorse, has some frighteningly huge skeletons of extinct beasts, such as Jefferson’s Ground Sloth (Megalonyx jeffersoni), which was endemic to North America from 10 million–11,000 years ago. It became extinct in Yukon 75,000 years ago. During the ice ages, Beringia’s climate alternated between warm interglacial and cold glacial periods. During glacial periods, sea levels dropped 120 meters, exposing a land bridge that was up to 1000 kilometers (620 miles) wide. Beringia, like most of Siberia and all of North and Northeast China, was a grassland steppe. Fossils found on both sides of the Bering Land Bridge show that since the time of the dinosaurs, it was a major route for the exchange of plants and animals between Asia and North America. Swedish botanist Eric Hultén coined the term Beringia in 1937. Beringia includes the Chukchi Sea, the Bering Sea, the Bering Strait, the Chukchi and Kamchatka Peninsulas in Russia plus Alaska in the United States.

Just west of Whitehorse on the Alaska Highway, the Klondike Highway departs north as Yukon Highway 2 to Dawson City.

Dawson City was the center of the Klondike Gold Rush (1896–99), after which population rapidly declined, in Yukon, Canada. Dawson City shrank further during World War II after the Alaska Highway bypassed it 300 miles (480 km) to the south using Whitehorse as a hub. In 1953, Whitehorse replaced Dawson City as Yukon Territory’s capital. Dawson City’s population dropped to less than 900 through the 1960s-1970s, but later increased as high gold prices made modern placer mining operations profitable and tourism was promoted.

Dredge No. 4, a National Historic Site of Canada, was the largest wooden-hulled dredge in North America. Operating from 1913 until 1959, it recovered 8 metric tones of gold. After nearly 30 years on the Klondike River, it was re-built near the mouth of Bonanza Creek to run for another 18 years before sinking where seen now, along Bonanza Creek Road 13 kilometres (8.1 mi) south of the Klondike Highway near Dawson City. A hydro-electric dam 60 km away powered the massive water pumps, winches, and 72-bucket line to sluice gold from river gravel, 24-7 from late April or early May until late November each season, and sometimes throughout winter. Vast river beds were upended into tailing piles, including 26 homes, as the ongoing Placer Mining Act gave mining rights precedence over surface rights.

Although Dawson City’s landscape is severely marred by industrial placer mining which continues to the present, my favorite sight was the Paddlewheel graveyard. Explore the ruins of seven historic paddlewheel boats discarded in the woods along the banks of the Yukon River. Directions: On foot or auto, take the free George Black Ferry to West Dawson and the Top of the World Highway. Turn right into Yukon River campground and park at its northern end. Walk through the yellow gate, turn left, and walk downstream a few minutes to the Paddlewheel graveyard. This site is protected under the Yukon Historic Resources Act. As we walked back to the ferry, a red fox (Vulpes vulpes) trotted by nonchalantly.

Jack London’s Cabin replica evokes the American novelist, journalist, and social activist (1876–1916). At age 21, Jack London spent a difficult winter 1897–1898 prospecting for gold from in a rented cabin, just prior to the gold rush of 1898. While he didn’t strike it rich, he later turned his Klondike adventures into fame and fortune with legendary short stories and books. His most famous works include “The Call of the Wild” and “White Fang”, both set during the Klondike Gold Rush. A pioneer in the world of commercial magazine fiction, he was one of the first writers to become a worldwide celebrity and earn a fortune from writing. He was also an innovator in the genre that would later become known as science fiction. London’s cabin, abandoned after the Gold Rush, was re-discovered by trappers in 1936 who noted London’s signature on the back wall. Yukon author Dick North organized a search in 1965 and eventually had the cabin dismantled and shipped out. Two replicas were made from the original logs. One is shown in Dawson City, while the other was re-assembled at Jack London Square in Oakland, California, Jack’s hometown.

A few blocks away, I photographed the Robert Service Cabin, rented by him 1909–1912. Robert William Service (1874–1958) was a British-Canadian poet and writer, often called “the Bard of the Yukon”.

Alaska: Taylor Highway Chicken


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Chicken is one of the few surviving gold rush towns in Alaska, worth a stop to see the metal chicken sculpture and the F.E. Company Dredge No. 4 (Pedro Dredge, part of Chicken Historic District), which ran 1938-1967 near Fairbanks & here at its final resting place in Chicken. Mining and tourism keep Chicken alive in the summer, and about 17 people stay through the winter. Gold miners settling here in the late 1800s wanted to name the town after local ptarmigan birds, but couldn’t agree on the spelling, so instead called it Chicken to avoid embarrassment!

Alaska: Fairbanks & North Pole (combines images from 2019 and 2006)


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I recommend the “Golden Heart Review” musical comedy, held nightly at the Palace Theatre in Gold Rush Town, Pioneer Park (Alaska’s only Historic Theme Park), in Fairbanks. Through songs and stories, the polished, professional cast covers the historical highlights of Fairbanks, also known as “The Golden Heart City”. Pioneer Park, run by the Fairbanks North Star Borough Department of Parks and Recreation, commemorates early Alaskan history with museums and historic displays. Pioneer Park was opened in 1967 as Alaska 67 Centennial Exposition to celebrate the centennial of the Alaska Purchase. After being given first to the state and then to the city, Mayor Red Boucher renamed the site Alaskaland, which was changed to its present name in 2001.

Alaska: Denali (Mount McKinley; combines images from 2019 and 2006)


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Run by concessionaire Doyon/ARAMARK Joint Venture, the non-narrated transit buses are green in Denali National Park and Preserve. From our RV based 3 nights reserved in Teklanika Campground, I rode the bus twice to Eielson Visitor Center, including one trip further to Reflection Lake, above Wonder Lake.

Don’t overlook Denali State Park along the Parks Highway in Matanuska-Susitna Borough adjacent to the east side of Denali National Park and Preserve. Hike the scenic Curry Ridge Trail (6 miles round trip with 1000 feet gain) from the great new K’esugi Ken Campground, in Denali State Park.

Alaska: Independence Mine State Historical Park, Wasilla


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Independence Mine State Historic Park is 14 miles northwest of Palmer, Alaska. The Independence Mines were a gold mining operation in the Talkeetna Mountains. Independence Mine was the second-largest hard-rock gold mining operation in Alaska, after a larger site near Juneau. Mining here dates back to 1897 around Fishook Creek; these claims joined to form Wasilla Mining Company, which worked the mines from 1934-1943 and again 1948-1950. The company ended operations in 1950 expecting to resume, but never did, thereby well-preserving its mining equipment and buildings for eventual donation to the state in 1980, which established Independence Mine State Historic Park.

Alaska: Glenn Highway & Tok Cut-Off


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Nabesna Road offers spectacular scenery in a seldom-seen, wild corner of Alaska, the headwaters of the Copper River. Tt Mile Post 16.6, Kettle Lake picnic site offers a great view of the Wrangell Mountains. A humorous sign here says “TOILET 1 MILE”. The Wrangell Lavas built the Wrangell Mountains over the past 10 million years. Mount Wrangell (14,163 ft) is the largest andesite shield volcano in North America. The cinder cone of Mount Zanetti (13,009 ft) rose prominently 1000 feet above its northwest flank during the past 25,000 years. Wrangell reportedly erupted in 1784 and 1884–85. Occasional steam plumes rise from the park’s only active volcano, and ash sometimes coats the summit snow. Flowing northward from it is the Copper Glacier, source of Copper River which flows northward, then westward along the end of the Wrangell Range, then southward to the Gulf of Alaska near Cordova, cutting through the coastal barrier of the Chugach Mountains, marking most of Park’s western boundary.

Alaska: Haines Highway


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A surprising gem, the Hammer Museum in Haines delighted my wife and I with its quirky and humorous tool displays!

At Port Chilkoot in Haines, we toured Fort William H. Seward National Historic Landmark. Also known as Chilkoot Barracks and Haines Mission, 1902-1945, it was the last of 11 military posts in Alaska during the gold rush era, and Alaska’s only military facility between 1925 and 1940. It policed miners moving into the gold mining areas in the Alaskan interior, and provided military presence during negotiations over the nearby international border with Canada. William H. Seward was the United States Secretary of State who oversaw the Alaska purchase.

Alaska: Juneau & Tracy Arm


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I had wanted to experience the Inside Passage by ferry between Prince Rupert and Juneau, but our dates had fully booked several months in advance. Instead, we ferried our 22.5-foot RV from Haines to Juneau to enjoy 5 nights in Mendenhall Campground. Then we ferried from Juneau to Skagway, all on the Alaska Marine Highway System. The Juneau area really captured our hearts.

Located in the Alaskan panhandle, Juneau is the capital city of Alaska and the second largest city in the USA by area (only Sitka is larger). Isolated by rugged terrain on Alaska’s mainland, Juneau can only be reached by plane or boat. Downtown Juneau sits on Gastineau Channel at sea level under the steep Coast Mountains up to 4000 feet high, topped by Juneau Icefield and 30 glaciers. Juneau has been the capital of Alaska since 1906, when the government of what was the District of Alaska was moved from Sitka. The city is named after a gold prospector from Quebec, Joe Juneau. Kudos go to the Alaska State Museum in Juneau, the best collection in the state.

Nature expert and sculptor R.T. “Skip” Wallen created “Tahku”, a stunning 6.5-ton, 25-foot tall breaching humpback whale statue with fountains and lights, completed in 2018 in Overstreet Park along the Seawalk near Juneau-Douglas Bridge in Juneau. Tahku celebrates 50 years of Alaska statehood 1959-2009.

I was intrigued by the Treadwell Mine Historic Trail, 3 miles south of Douglas Bridge next to Savikko Park. Formerly the largest gold mine in the world, this mini-town peaked in the 1880s, but was abandoned after partially sliding into the sea on April 21, 1917, when a massive cave-in flooded three of four underground mines 2300 feet deep, due to an extreme high tide and failure of unstable underground rock pillars. Now, spooky reminders poke through the forest on well-signposted and interpreted trail: the concrete New Office Building; 1917 slide site; “glory hole”, and the restored shell of Treadwell pumphouse. The 1914 Pump House had three centrifugal pumps which lifted 2700 gallons of saltwater per minute from Gastineau Channel for milling and fire protection during the winter when fresh water from the Treadwell Ditch was frozen in snow pack. Treadwell Mine operated 1882-1922.

For spectacular views over Mendenhall Glacier, hike the West Glacier (Mt. McGinnis) Trail 6-9.5 miles round trip, 1000-3200 feet gain, best late May-September. The Trailhead is a half mile from Mendenhall Campground entrance by road. A good trail skirts the northwest side of Mendenhall Lake then climbs through forest to the bare rock along the glacier’s west side, where some scrambling and route finding skills are required. Mendenhall Glacier flows 12 miles from downtown Juneau, in Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area, a unit of Tongass National Forest. Mendenhall Glacier has retreated 1.75 miles since 1929, when Mendenhall Lake was created, and over 2.5 miles (4.0 km) since 1500.

Don’t miss a day cruise to South Sawyer Glacier in Tracy Arm Fjord, in the Boundary Ranges of the Coast Mountains. We highly recommend the smoothly stabilized day cruise aboard the 56-foot boat Adventure Bound. This journey to the heart of Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness (Tongass National Forest) rivals Norwegian fjords and adds a punchbowl of icebergs from the spectacular South Sawyer Glacier, which calved ice into the tidewater with a rumble and a splash. Whales, bears, sea lions and other wildlife showed up along the way. The fjord twists narrowly 30 miles into the coastal mountains, with peaks jutting up to a mile high, draped with tumbling waterfalls.

Although few would call me religious, I loved the peaceful setting of the National Shrine of St. Therese, 22 miles north of downtown Juneau, in Tongass National Forest. A stone causeway from shore reaches this natural-stone chapel nestled amid a tranquil wooded island. This ministry of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Juneau is dedicated to St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the patron saint of Alaska, missionaries, and the Diocese of Juneau. She wrote that what really mattered in life was not our great deeds, but our great love.

Alaska: Flightseeing over Glacier Bay National Park


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Flightseeing from Skagway or Haines (a cheaper base) is a spectacular way to see Glacier Bay. We were bedazzled by Mountain Flying Service’s 1.3-hour West Arm tour from Skagway. Glacier Bay is honored by UNESCO as part of a huge Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage site shared between Canada and the United States. In 1750-80, Glacier Bay was totally covered by ice, which has since radically melted away. In 1794, Captain George Vancover found Icy Strait on the Gulf of Alaska choked with ice, and all but a 3-mile indentation of Glacier Bay was filled by a huge tongue of the Grand Pacific Glacier, 4000 feet deep and 20 miles wide. By 1879, naturalist John Muir reported that the ice had retreated 48 miles up the bay. In 1890, “Glacier Bay” was named by Captain Beardslee of the U.S. Navy. Over the last 200 years, melting glaciers have exposed 65 miles of ocean. As of 2019, glaciers cover only 27% of the Park area.

Alaska: Skagway


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Skagway was founded in 1897 on the Alaska Panhandle. Skagway’s population of about 1150 people doubles in the summer tourist season to manage more than one million visitors per year. Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park commemorates the late 1890s Gold Rush with three units in Municipality of Skagway Borough: Historic Skagway; the White Pass Trail; and Dyea Townsite and Chilkoot Trail. (A fourth unit is in Pioneer Square National Historic District in Seattle, Washington.)

Alaska-Canadian Highway (1942 ALCAN)


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Open year round, the Alaska Highway is wider and slightly safer than Cassiar Highway. Both are worth driving as a loop, as we did in 2019. Road conditions were generally fast 50-65 mph, except some sections of permafrost heaves requiring 35-50 mph and a few dozen miles of gravel being repaved. The Alaska Highway comprises BC Highway 97 + Yukon Highway 1 + Alaska Route 2. It starts at Mile 0 in Dawson Creek, BC and goes via Whitehorse in Yukon to its officially end in Delta Junction, Alaska. Despite being driven by 100,000+ people per year (2016 estimate), this route feels quite remote, and is a great place to see roadside mega-fauna wildlife.

Originally known as the military acronym ALCAN, it is also called the Alaskan Highway or the Alaska-Canadian Highway. The ALCAN was built as a military road during World War II to link existing airfields to the territory of Alaska. In 1942, 1700 miles (2700 km) were completed, but weren’t opened to the public until 1948. As of 2012 the roadway has been shortened via reconstruction to 1387 miles (2232 km), entirely paved (except where being repaired). Informal historic mileposts denote major stopping points. Delta Junction, at the end of the highway, claims “Historic Milepost 1422” where the Alaska Highway meets the Richardson Highway, which continues 96 mi (155 km) to the city of Fairbanks at Historic Milepost 1520, often (but unofficially) regarded as the northern portion of the Alaska Highway, although Richardson Highway Mileposts are measured from Valdez. The Alaska Highway is popularly (but unofficially) considered part of the Pan-American Highway to Argentina (with a discontinuity in Panama).

Fort Nelson Heritage Museum in British Columbia: this quirky museum is worth a stop to see the Alaska Highway construction display, pioneer artifacts, trapper’s cabin, vintage autos & machinery, a white moose, and more.

Near Liard Hot Springs, keep alert for herds of Wood Bison, a threatened species in Canada, grazing obliviously along the Alaska Highway. We saw 50 by day (but beware their dark bodies are invisible at night).

Watson Lake’s Sign Post Forest is one of the most famous landmarks along the Alaska Highway. Started by a homesick GI in 1942, the number of signs has snowballed. Private Carl Lindley, serving with the 341st Engineers during World War II, was assigned light duty while recovering from an injury and erected the signpost for his hometown: “Danville, Ill. 2835 miles”. Visitors may add their own signs to the over 80,000 already present.

Don’t miss the fascinating George Johnston museum at ALCAN Mile 804 in Teslin, Yukon, two kilometers north of the Nisutlin Bay Bridge. Colorful exhibits, dioramas, and artefacts honor Inland Tlingit people such as George Johnston, one of the Yukon’s renowned photographers. Best of all is watching in their small theater the touching National Film Board film: “Picturing a People” by Tlingit Director Carol Geddes.

As the Alaska Highway crosses the former inlet of Kluane Lake in the St. Elias Mountains, Yukon, notice clouds of dust swept from Slims River Valley, which dried since a recent glacial meltwater diversion. In a startling case of global warming, over 4 days in spring 2016, the Slims River suddenly disappeared, leaving windswept mud flats creating clouds of dust in the formerly clear air. With its main water supply cut off, Kluane Lake will be isolated within a few years, shrinking below its outflow into the Kluane River (which flows into the Donjek River, White River, Yukon River, and eventually the Bering Sea). Kluane Lake chemistry and fish populations are rapidly changing. For the last 300 years, abundant meltwater from the Kaskawulsh Glacier has been channeled by ice dam to drain via the 150-meter wide Slims River, north into Kluane Lake. Between 1956 and 2007, the Kaskawulsh glacier retreated by 600-700 meters, which most scientists attribute to human-caused climate change. Meltwater flooding from accelerating retreat in 2016 carved a new channel through a large ice field, diverting all flows to the Kaskawulsh River, a tributary of the Alsek, which flows into the Gulf of Alaska.

I reveled in hiking Sheep Creek trail (15 km with 1200 m gain or 4000 ft) for spectacular views of the Slims River Valley, surrounding St. Elias Mountains, plus Kluane Lake seen from Soldier’s Summit on Tachal Dahl (Sheep Mountain) Ridge. (Or halfway up also gives worthwhile views.) Three Dall sheep (Ovis dalli, or thinhorn sheep) encountered me on top.

Big Delta State Historical Park: Rika’s Roadhouse served travelers on the historic Valdez-to-Fairbanks Trail from 1913 to 1947, at a historically important crossing of the Tanana River. Find it off mile 274.5 of the Richardson Highway in Big Delta, in the Southeast Fairbanks Area, Alaska. Jovo ‘John’ Hajdukovich, an immigrant from Montenegro, had the north-south section of this log structure built in 1913. Starting in 1917, Swedish immigrant Rika Wallen operated this regional hub serving gold stampeders, local hunters, traders, and freighters; and she bought the roadhouse in 1923. With the construction of the ALCAN Highway and the replacement of the ferry with a bridge downstream, traffic moved away and patronage declined.

Alaska animals, wildlife (combines images from 2019 and 2006)

Our roadside wildlife sightings over 5 weeks in 2019 racked up 50 bison, 21 black bears, 8 grizzlies, 29 caribou, 8 moose, 28 dall sheep, 12 stone sheep, 10 red foxes, 9 bald eagles, 2 otters, 1 porcupine, 90+ Steller sea lions, 90+ harbor seals, various snowshoe hares, sandhill cranes, etc. The long bus ride round trip to Wonder Lake in Denali National Park is especially great for seeing wildlife.


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CANADA, Alberta: Jasper National Park images from 2019


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In Jasper National Park, we bicycled from Snaring River Overflow Campground to Ewan & Madeline Moberly Homestead (1903 log cabin) and Corral Creek (10 miles round trip). Jasper is the largest national park in the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site (which I find to be more spectacular than the Alaska Highway).

With 1 km of rerouting discouraging our bikes on flooded Jacques Lake Trail on 01 July 2019, we instead hiked on foot for 6 miles to scenic Beaver Lake, then nearly to Summit Lake before turned back by rain, in Jasper National Park.

CANADA: Mount Robson Provincial Park, British Columbia

See much more about Mt Robson at this link.

Blue lupine flowers bloom beneath Mount Robson (3954 meters or 12,972 feet), whose summit is the highest point in the Canadian Rockies.

Blue lupine flowers bloom beneath Mount Robson (3954 meters or 12,972 feet), whose summit is the highest point in the Canadian Rockies. Mount Robson Provincial Park (in British Columbia, Canada) is part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site listed by UNESCO in 1984. This image was stitched from 2 photos having near and far focus for great depth of field. Click to Add to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Recommended Alaska guidebooks

Search for latest “Alaska travel books” on Amazon.com (look for updates every 1 to 3 years).

2013: 2012: 2012: 2012:
2012: 2009:

2019 NEW ZEALAND: hike Rees-Dart, Gillespie Pass, Hollyford, Milford & Pororari Tracks; Mt Cook

Beautiful New Zealand attracted my fifth visit to hike the spectacular Rees-Dart, Gillespie Pass, Hollyford, and Milford Tracks plus more in southern South Island’s unique Gondwanan wilderness. Relishing an escape to Southern Hemisphere summer, I organized a 5-person family trip tramping in lush temperate rainforests for five weeks (2018 Dec 27–2019 Jan 31). Colorful fields of nonnative Russell lupins mesmerized us on the way to Mount Cook/Aoraki, where we repeated favorite Sealy Tarns and Hooker Valley hikes. Sadly flooded out of the Milford Track after one night, we regrouped to enjoy lucky weather elsewhere, such as gorgeous Pororari River Track.

Favorite New Zealand photos from 2019


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See below for more extensive galleries and stories from each area visited. Or click here to see ALL photos from NZ 2019 in sequential order in my Portfolio.

See our detailed 2019 trip itinerary at bottom of this article. But for more comprehensive NZ travel planning tips on both North and South Islands, see “NEW ZEALAND trip guide and itinerary“.

WHAT’S NEW in 2019 since our last visit to New Zealand 12 years ago?

At Te Anau Lakefront Backpackers, a man impressed me saying that he was tramping the length of the country! In 2011, New Zealand established the Te Araroa Trail, which goes 3000 kilometers (1900 miles) from Cape Reinga to Bluff (40 percent on conservation land), requiring 3 to 6 months of walking.

As of January 2019, tourism has exploded. Reservations months in advance are recommended at Mt Cook, Te Anau, Milford, and Queenstown. Rates for Great Walk huts on the Milford, Routeburn, and Kepler Tracks doubled for foreigners this year versus last. Mount Cook area sights and services were super busy all the way out to Twizel, whose grocery was packed. Upscaling for higher-spending tourists, Queenstown now caps the total number of pricey legal tent sites and disallows Freedom Camping, so one must book paid sites early. Wanaka’s New World grocery burst with tourists at all hours; and the city has spawned suburban growth out to Albert Town, where we stayed 5 nights at a great AirBnb. On the plus side, you can now get good coffee, such as a “flat white”. Tourist crowds and prices at Greymouth Seaside TOP 10 Holiday Park noticeably decreased when the kids went back to school in the last week of January.

Very practical Jucy Campervans and car rentals with tailgate kitchens are seen everywhere (but we rented a cheaper Toyota Corolla as tramping in huts took us away from roads for 14 days out of 34). “Three-day Certified Self-Contained” RVs using “Freedom Camping Zones” have proliferated on South Island. Some Holiday Park public kitchens now charge $5 for use of pots/pans/utensils/cups/plates (formerly free), which seem to encourage tidier countertops.

Tourists from Hong Kong, China, and India are suddenly in abundance, reflecting rising wealth of the global middle class. Seasonal employees are often low-paid immigrants from China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore, and the British Commonwealth.

Sheep outnumbered people in New Zealand by more than twenty-to-one in the 1980s, but by just seven-to-one now. Near Mt. Cook, we stayed 3 nights at Glentanner Park Centre; their Glentanner Station still runs 9000 Merino sheep which supply American Smartwool brand clothing. The fur of Australian possum, an invasive nonnative pest, is now smartly mixed with wool in NZ gloves & hats. Sheep numbers are declining but beef and dairy increasing. I was surprised to see herds of huge elk on fenced farms, supplementing red deer farms, to raise venison.

Globalization continues to disrupt New Zealand’s ecosystems. Since 2004, the unstoppable spread of didymo algae (“rock snot”, native to New York) has begun to choke native stream life. At Glade Wharf, we stepped off the Te Anau Express ferry into a chlorine pan to control possible didymo on our boots before entering the Milford Track. Since we last visited 12 years ago, the Department of Conservation (DOC) has spent millions of dollars on public land to control the spread of wilding conifers, which are invasive nonnative pine trees in the high country of New Zealand. In Ben Lomond Scenic Reserve reached via Skyline Queenstown gondola, I noticed vast gray wilding forests sprayed dead by DOC, to be replaced by native tussock. Wildings threaten biodiversity, farm productivity, and the landscape values of tussock grasslands.

I was glad to see extensive trap lines for stoats and rats along the Milford Track, Hollyford Track, Routeburn Track, Dart track, and Siberia Valley. These nonnative predators have devastated New Zealand’s unique bird life. Norway rats were on the ships of the first explorers, who arrived in New Zealand in the late 1700s. Stoats, weasels, and ferrets were introduced to New Zealand as early as 1879 to control nonnative rabbits that were destroying sheep pasture. Almost without exception, introduced species have been detrimental to the native flora and fauna. That being said, trekking once again into remote Fiordland and Aspiring National Parks still makes a wonderful escape into uniquely beautiful Gondwanan wilderness.

Mount Cook National Park: Sealy Tarns & Hooker Valley Tracks


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Both Sealy Tarns (4.3 mi round trip/1600 ft gain) and Hooker Valley Tracks (7 mi RT/500 ft gain) were well worth repeating this year. Native Spaniard (speargrass) plants and white mountain daisies peppered the scenic landscape. Also worth seeing is Tasman Glacier, which offers boat tours. Just a few meltwater ponds existed in the early 1970s at the current viewpoint on the glacier’s terminal moraine, but by 1990 they had merged into Tasman Lake. In further melting from 1990-2011, Tasman Glacier retreated a shocking 2 kilometers, and continued to disappear at an accelerating rate through 2019. See my Global warming, climate change gallery.

Near Geraldine (22 km north off SH72), Peel Forest Park Scenic Reserve was worth seeing again, strolling on Big Tree Walk through a magnificent podocarp (conifer) forest. Huge native totara trees, one almost three meters across, are thought to be about 1000 years old. A DOC campground with cabins is available.

Views from Mount John Observatory are well worth visiting by car or on foot from Lake Tekapo village. A riot of nonnative Russell lupin flowers bloomed in patches on Mt John and areas around the shimmering turquoise lake. The widespread diaspora of Russell lupins began with David Douglas bringing the herbaceous lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus) from North America to Britain in the 1820s. In the early 1900s, George Russell, a horticulturist from York, UK, spent two decades breeding the Russell hybrids (Lupinus X russellii hort). First naturalized to New Zealand by local farmers wanting to beautify their landscape in the 1950s, Russell lupins have invaded large areas of roadsides, pastures, and riverbeds. This alien plant most threatens indigenous species in the braided river beds of Canterbury region. Russell lupin is classed as an invasive species in New Zealand, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Argentina, the Czech Republic, Finland, Lithuania, and Ukraine.

Fiordland National Park: Milford Track

During our first night at Clinton Hut just 5 km in, heavy rains flooded the Milford Track and blocked the trampers in all three huts! (DOC nearly provided helicopter lifts for everyone over the floods to the next hut, but no dice.) The incoming hiker cohort was cancelled, and everyone was offered a second night in their respective huts, turning the four-day trip into five. Sadly, in order not to miss catching our Hollyford flight, we chose to exit via ferry back to Te Anau in late afternoon. After exiting the ferry and retrieving our car (left there for a planned family shuttle), we used nearby Fiordland National Park Lodge’s wi-fi to seek last-minute accommodation beyond fully-booked Te Anau. Upon driving 70 minutes, we found that the hotel in Lumsden had fumbled our Booking.com reservation, requiring staff to find us lodging 20 minutes further out. By 10pm, Carol and I went to sleep in the empty, staffless Riversdale Hotel, far from tourist crowds. Luckily, a room was available the next night in Distinction Te Anau Hotel & Villas, albeit pricey. We could then freely day hike Earland Falls, to surprise three of our family group who were exiting from four days spent on the Routeburn Track. Their story was of not only heavy rain but also of their son being sick for two days. Luckily the remaining time in NZ improved markedly, fulfilling our goals.


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Fiordland National Park: Routeburn Track: day hikes to Key Summit and Earland Falls

We relished two wonderful day hikes from The Divide in Fiordland National Park:

  • Key Summit: 4.7 mi round trip, 1389 ft gain
  • Earland Falls: 8.7 miles round trip with 2270 feet gain.
  • Catch good a weather forecast.


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Fiordland National Park: Hollyford Track in 3 days

We staged the Hollyford Track from Milford Sound Lodge, which has a nicely remodeled public kitchen & dining area, but our dorm building (NZ$40 per person) was unappealingly dark, crowded, and located 70 meters from the renovated bathrooms. Overnight options are very limited at Milford Sound: tenting was forbidden, we had no RV, and we couldn’t stomach NZ$345-849 for a private chalet. In retrospect, the dorm situation beat backcountry NZ huts. Milford Sound Airport was within walking distance of our car left at the waterfront public parking.

We enjoyed an easy version of the Hollyford Track (brochure and map) with a 3-day independent walker itinerary via a spectacular 15-minute flight from Milford Sound to Martins Bay, two nights sleeping in DOC huts, and personal car shuttle round trip from Te Anau. Highlights of the Hollyford include: seeing playful pups in the New Zealand fur seal colony near Martins Bay Hut; circumventing the muddy 10- to 12-hour Demon Trail (which has few views) via a fun jetboat ride along Lake McKerrow to Pyke River confluence; and strolling under beautiful tree fern forest under glacier-clad peaks soaring 8000 feet above.


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Queenstown

Bustling, upscaling Queenstown has much to offer if you’re ready for crowds. From the top of the scenic Skyline Gondola, I reveled in the 5-mile scenic loop over the steep ridge trail in Ben Lomond Scenic Reserve.


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Mount Aspiring National Park: Rees-Dart Track and Cascade Saddle

Yearning for the Rees-Dart Track inspired this revisit down under. Starting with a good weather window forecast for Cascade Saddle, the epic 5-day Rees-Dart Track proved much better than we had imagined. We set up our own car shuttle. While we were luckily unslowed by the many stream crossings, both vehicles and trampers would have been seriously hindered in a typical rainstorm. The remote wilderness huts surprised us with flush toilets and public sinks! 7 to 9 hours per day of sweat equity spent scrambling over the steep, sometimes mucky and rooty, sometimes excellent trails rewarded us with classic scenic wonders over the course of 52 miles in five days. Streams crashed from sparkling glaciers above lush green rainforest. The spare alpine vegetation reminded me of Peruvian Highlands. Dropping our packs for the 12.5-mile side trip to spectacular Cascade Saddle was a delight.

If using a Rees-Dart Shuttle Service, ask if a four-wheel-drive shuttle will take you a few kilometers further past Muddy Creek to get a jump on the long first day hiking in scenic Rees Valley to Shelter Rock Hut. At the end of the track, consider efficiently connecting with Glenorchy Wharf via a fun prearranged jetboat, which skips the last 1.5 hours of scenic walking to Chinaman’s Bluff parking lot.


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Mount Aspiring National Park: Rob Roy Track

Rob Roy Valley Track (easy 8 miles, 900 feet gain) is one of our favorite day hikes in the world. Start early in the morning to avoid inevitable crowds. From Wanaka, drive up Matukituki Valley on a gravel (“metal”) road with water crossings to the trailhead. Great hanging glaciers, crashing streams & waterfalls, swing suspension bridge, and kea alpine parrots.


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Mount Aspiring National Park: Gillespie Pass Circuit: Young & Wilkin Tracks to Siberia Hut and Crucible Lake

  • In 2019, we enjoyed tramping 4 days on the rewarding Gillespie Pass (Wilkin-Young) Circuit, to Siberia Hut and marvelous Crucible Lake. Problematic Makarora River crossings at the start and end are best done via jetboat as we did from Makarora via Wilkin River Jets. Drenching rain on the first day at Young Hut yielded to mostly sunny weather for the most important remaining three days.
  • In 2007, we did an easier, also spectacular option to reach Siberia Hut and Crucible Lake: Fly to Siberia Valley from Makarora and jetboat out. Day hike the spectacular but extremely steep and rooty track to Crucible Lake, and overnight at Siberia Hut. [Or the easiest option to sample the area is the one-day “The Siberia Experience“: fly in, hike 2.5 hours, then jetboat back.]


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South Island’s West Coast


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Along the wild coast of Paparoa National Park, we revisited the photogenic Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes Walk, on Dolomite Point. I also loved the strikingly beautiful forest subtly transitioning between subtropical and temperate ecozones on gorgeous Pororari River Track (which is part of a new “Great Walk” to open after October 2019).

Our detailed NEW ZEALAND itinerary for 35 days (2018 Dec 27 to 2019 Jan 31)

Several months in advance, our family group of five booked lodging for our first two weeks in New Zealand, including Mt Cook area, Te Anau, and two nights in Queenstown. The first step was booking the popular Milford Track, which sold out all January slots within seconds after bookings opened 6 months in advance! We could only get slots for two out of five of our group, so those three instead booked the Routeburn Track (reservable the next day), which also filled up very quickly. After fulfilling our prudent bookings up to mid-January, a 3- to 5-day weather forecast then determined when to do the Rees-Dart Track (which requires no reservations, though pads should be carried in case bunks are full). Later, Makarora Travel Centre lodging was easily booked on short notice to stage our Gillespie Pass Circuit. West Coast lodging was tight but bookable several days in advance, with a reprieve as kids went back to school in the last week of January. [Below, RT = round trip; T&C = Tom and Carol; DRK = Dave, Rebecca, and Kylan.]

27.     Thurs Dec 27: T&C: Fly from SFO to Christchurch, 19 hrs 15 min total duration = 12 hr10min flight + 3:20 layover + 4hr5min flight. [Fly SFO on FJ 871 departing Thursday, Dec. 27 at 9:00pm, duration 11:10 hours + 4:05 hours, arriving in Christchurch on FJ 451 at 1:35 pm on Saturday Dec 29. FijiAirways.com US$1266 per person; 1 FREE CHECKED BAG up to 50lb/23kg, 62 li/158 lcm, 1 FREE CARRY-ON BAG 7kg/15lb up to 45 li/115 lcm.]

28.     [Lost day via International Dateline.]

29.     Saturday Dec 29: Arrive in Christchurch IAP 1:35pm. T&C: Apex Rental Car: Toyota Corolla midsize sedan NZ$1489.29 for 33 days, 3 free extra drivers, pay at desk.  DRK: rent a Toyota RAV4 NZ$56.67/day for 65 days. Stay at an AirBnB. Buy SIM cards for both Carol & Tom’s phones: Spark’s “NZ Travel SIM” for foreigners, $49 SIM, good for 2 months, gives 5 gb, 200min talk, 200 texts. Buy backpacking & other food; butane cigarette lighter for stove; Snowpeak Gigapower stove fuel isobutane/propane mix for dinners+breakfasts for 9 days (2 Hollyford+4 Rees-Dart+3 Gillespie). Gas cooking stoves are provided in Milford & Routeburn Huts.

30.     Sunday Dec 30: Drive from Christchurch 4 hours to Glentanner Park, night 1/3. Nice short loop: Big Tree Walk in Peel Forest Park Scenic Reserve. See breathtakingly colorful fields of Russell lupin flowers via Lakes Tekapo & Pukaki.

31.     Mount Cook 2/3: Glentanner Park.  Hooker Valley Track (GMap: White Horse Hill Campsite, 6.8 miles, 450 feet), same trailhead as Sealy Tarns.

1.      January 1: Mount Cook 3/3: Glentanner Park.  Sealy Tarns (Start on Kea Point track from GMap: White Horse Hill Campsite, 5 miles RT, 1717 feet, steep) [or hike further to spectacular Mueller Hut 7.8 mi RT/3400 ft].

2.      January 2: Drive to Te Anau 5 hours. Next 3 nights T&C, next 2 nights DRK: Te Anau Lakefront Backpackers, Booking.com (this link supports my work). DRK: tent sites for four on Jan 2, 3, and 11.

3.      Te Anau: Buy backcountry hut passes. We rested today, but here are local hiking options: Kepler Track dayhike options: Take Brod Bay Water Taxi (Fiordland Outdoors Co. – Kepler Water Taxi, GMap) then walk back to Te Anau 11km. Or Brod Bay to Luxmore Hut 10.2 mi / 2870ft RT (or shorter to views at bushline). Longer: Brod Bay to Mount Luxmore 11.6mi/4000ft gain RT. Water Taxi 8.30am or 9.30am, return 4.30pm. Or Kepler Heli Hike drops you at Mt Luxmore Hut (optional walk 3 hrs RT 1300ft to summit Mt Luxmore) then walk back 4 hrs to Brod Bay Water Taxi.

4.      DRK begin Routeburn day 1/4: hike from the Divide to MacKenzie Campsite.  T&C day hike, joining DRK on Routeburn Track, to Key Summit side trip 3 hrs RT 4.7 mi/ 1389 ft. T&C hike Marion Falls/The Gantry GMap 20min round trip [optionally one can hike onwards to Lake Marion 3 hrs RT 4.4 mi/1565 ft.]

5.      Saturday Jan 5: T&C: Leave car at Te Anau Downs Boat Launch, GMap. Take 10:30am ferry to Glade Wharf to start Milford Track; first day is easy hike 3mi/5km. [Total distance would have been 36-40 miles in 4 days with 4600ft up, 5200ft down]. [DRK 2/4: to Routeburn Falls Hut. Gas cooking stoves are provided in Milford & Routeburn Huts.]

6.      Sunday Jan 6: T&C: Milford Track second day: Due to flooding delaying forward progress by an extra night, we return 5km from Clinton Hut to Glade Wharf; catch the 3:00 pm ferry to Te Anau Downs. Because Te Anau lodging is fully booked, we drive our car 90 minutes to the deserted Riversdale Hotel. [DRK 3/4: MacKenzie Hut.]

7.      T&C hike Earland Falls, meeting DRK [on their Routeburn day 4/4] on their hike back to The Divide. DRK stay in Te Anau Lakefront Backpackers BBH (dorm room 3 people, shared bathroom). T&C: stay in Distinction Te Anau Hotel & Villas booked on short notice 2 days ago.

8.      T&C, DRK drive both cars to end of Hollyford Road End to leave one car, then all 5 go in one car to Milford Sound where it remains parked for 3 nights. Past Homer Tunnel, see The Chasm GMap via 20 minute walk. All  of us overnight in dorm beds at Milford Sound Lodge (laundry available; hot showers; public kitchen; café; GMap).

9.      Hollyford Track, map, day 1/3: Easy day: Bring cooking stove kit with lighter & fuel, backup sleeping pads in case of full hut, changes of clothing & fresh camera & backup batteries. 10:30am airplane short flight for all of us (www.tripsandtramps.com) from Milford Sound to Martins Bay airstrip, walk 3.5 miles to Martins Bay Hut, dormitory lodging with pit toilets, partly on washed-out, muddy trail. Warning: Sandflies bit us voraciously at Martins Bay and in the Hollyford Valley; so put on your DEET repellent before exposure. Walk 2 more miles round trip on good trail to see the wonderfully entertaining New Zealand fur seal colony.

10.     Hollyford Track 2/3: Jetboat charter for 5 from 2.00pm-3:00pm, run by www.hollyfordtrack.com from Martins Bay Hut along length of Lake Mckerrow to Pyke River Confluence, NZ$130/person, www.tripsandtramps.com. Ride the Jetboat. Then hike to Hidden Falls Hut (12 bunks, GMap) 10.5 km, 3–4 hr.

11.     Hollyford Track 3/3: hike from Hidden Falls Hut to Lower Hollyford Road, Hollyford Trailhead, 9 km, 2–3 hr. All of us drive in one car to recover other car at Milford Sound. Drive 2 cars back to Te Anau Lakefront Backpackers.

12.     Drive 2.3 hours from Te Anau to Queenstown Top 10 Holiday Park night 1 of 2. GMap 1/2 T&C Self Contained Cabin. DRK in tents.

13.     Queenstown Top 10 Holiday Park night 2 of 2. I hiked a very scenic loop over the steep ridge of Ben Lomond Scenic Reserve starting from top of Skyline Gondola. One can extend this hike to Ben Lomond Track from 1-6.9 miles with 500-3236 ft gain in 5-6 hrs round trip. [Other good options outside of town: Bob’s Cove; or Glacier Burn: 4.6 mi/2152 ft. RT steep, rooty, GMap] (The DOC office in Makarora is unmanned, so get tomorrow’s Gillespie Circuit hut tickets and track info at Wanaka DOC office before going to Makarora; or get 6-month Hut Passes as we did.)

14.     As of today, nothing was prebooked, allowing a 3-day window for Rees-Dart Track (DOC). The forecast was good, so we hiked Day 1/5: we left one car at Chinaman’s Bluff in Dart Valley and shuttled all five of us in the other car to Muddy Creek parking lot in Rees Valley, via stream crossings possible in good weather in our Toyota Corolla & RAV4 rental cars. If in doubt, hire a car shuttle service, or possible jetboat in Dart Valley. We hike 11.9 miles, 1650 ft. up, 400 ft. down, from Muddy Creek to Shelter Rock Hut. (The first 4 miles are on a road which a 4WD shuttle could shorten, but you wouldn’t want to leave a car beyond Muddy Creek, isolated by possibly flooded stream crossings.)

15.     Rees-Dart Track 2/5: 6.2mi/9km with 1885 feet gain, steep on good trail to Rees Saddle, then a surprisingly punishing 1800 feet down on many scrambling very steep drop-offs, to Dart Hut.

16.     Rees-Dart Track 3/5: side trip: Hike to spectacular, steep Cascade Saddle (12.5 miles round trip with 3200 ft gain), the major goal and highlight of our 2019 trip! (Beware of several possibly uncrossable flooded stream crossings in rainy weather.)

17.     Rees-Dart Track 4/5: 11.25 miles, 1150 ft. up, 2600 ft. down, to Daly’s Flat Hut, on the easiest footpath conditions out of the five days. (Except beware of several possibly uncrossable flooded stream crossings in rainy weather). Sandflies are voracious here; so put on your DEET repellent before exposure.

18.     Rees-Dart Track 5/5: 10 miles, 1250 ft. up, 1440 ft. down to Chinaman’s Bluff parking lot, car shuttle. Walk by an eerie partly-submerged forest killed by the flooded blue-green lake in Dredge Flat, which was dammed by the 2014 Jan 04 landslide, which had required rough rerouting of three sections of the Rees-Dart Track (reopened in late 2017). Watch your step when tired! Other than slow clambering steeply up and down required through the rooty reroutes, the remaining path conditions today resembled speedy Great Walk standards. A section signed for cliff “exposure” turned out to be a safe, wide, well protected path with stairs and railings, with nice views over the new lake. Suspended glacial powder colors the lake a beautiful turquoise. Although this was our most difficult ever hut walk in 30 years, Rees-Dart Track paid off as our best experience in New Zealand! This night we stayed in Wanaka (Albert Town, AirBnb night 1 of 5).

19.     Wanaka (Albert Town, AirBnb 2 of 5): We relaxed. [Nearby popular option: Roy’s Peak: park by 6:30-7am, 8-9.7 mi / 3500-4000 ft gain to good view of Lake Wanaka.]

20.     Wanaka (Albert Town, AirBnb 3 of 5): Get up early to avoid the crowds, drive 80 minutes to hike the memorable Rob Roy Valley Track (easy 7 miles, 1700 feet gain).

21.     Wanaka (Albert Town, AirBnb 4 of 5): We relaxed. [Nearby option: hike Diamond Lake Track 3.9 mi/1529 ft, GMap.]

22.     Wanaka (Albert Town, AirBnb 5 of 5): We relaxed.

23.     From Makarora, start Gillespie Pass circuit 1/4: NZ$25 per person jetboat on Makarora River to Young River confluence, hike 10.6 miles, 2480 ft. up, 810 ft. down, 6.5 hrs to Young Hut. [One can optionally fly (Wilkin Jetboats Siberia Experience NZ$375 or Southern Alps Air NZ$395).]

24.     Gillespie Pass circuit 2/4: Young Hut via very steep Gillespie Pass to Siberia Hut 7mi/3020 ft up/3400ft down, steep, 6-8 hours. DEET repellent is advised to ward off clouds of sandflies at Siberia Hut. [Optional side trip to spectacular Crucible Lake adds 5.3mi/2040 ft 4+hrs RT, making a strenuous 12.3-mile day with 5440 ft gain; or else hike tomorrow from Siberia Hut as we did.]

25.     Gillespie Pass circuit 3/4: spectacular Crucible Lake 9.3 miles/2100ft round trip hike starting from Siberia Hut.

26.     Gillespie Pass circuit 4/4: 4.2mi/300ft gain/1300ft down one way to the exciting jetboat ride NZ$110pp from Kerin Forks to Makarora. Stay in Makarora Travel Centre, where Carol stayed 4 nights to take a break from this rougher track.

27.     Leaving Makarora, we stroll to the attractive Blue Pools in Mount Aspiring National Park. Walk up Haast Pass Lookout to absorb the area’s history. Along the drive over Haast Pass to Fox Glacier, we liked popular Thunder Creek Falls. Haast Visitor Centre (run by DOC) helps organize your West Coast visit. All five of us stay in bunks in a small private room at Fox Glacier Top 10 Holiday Park.

28.     West Coast: Near Fox Glacier, we drove through nice wilderness to foggy Gillespies Beach, in Westland Tai Poutini National Park. Close-ups of the exceptionally loud chorus cicadas were fun to capture on video in the bush. Walk around Lake Matheson, still attractive when the Alps are covered in cloud (but more magical when Mounts Cook and Tasman reflect, as in 2007). We five stay in a larger double room with kitchen in delightful Greymouth Seaside TOP 10 Holiday Park, night 1 of 2.

29.     West Coast: Greymouth Seaside TOP 10 Holiday Park, night 2 of 2. In Paparoa National Park, revisit fascinating Pancake Rocks; and hike gorgeous Pororari River Track.  [More local options: Hokitika Gorge. Or Charming Creek Walkway.]

30.     Jan 30: Drive to Christchurch, via Arthurs Pass NP: Devils Punchbowl, 4 mi RT 745 ft gain to high waterfall. Christchurch in an AirBnb house, which lacked air conditioning. Look for Christchurch lodging with AC in summer, as temperatures reached 92 degrees Fahrenheit today!

31.     Thurs Jan 31: We returned the rental car with full tank of petrol by 2:00pm. After 5 weeks in NZ, we depart CHC at 15:30pm, arriving in SFO 12:45pm (arriving before we started that same Thursday afternoon, due to crossing International Dateline). Flight times going eastwards are quicker due to prevailing winds: 4 hrs plus 3hr40min stopover plus 10hr 30min = 18hr 10min total duration. Rent car one way from SFO to Chico 3.5+ hrs. After several nights in Chico, we drove our own car to Seattle.