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.

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

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

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


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

Wyoming: Wind River Range


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

Green River Lakes day hikes

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

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

Photographer’s Point day hike

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

New Fork Lakes day hike

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

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

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

Nebraska (NE): Carhenge, near Alliance


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

Illinois: Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site


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

Colorado: Great Sand Dunes National Park


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

Mesa Verde National Park


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

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

Colorado: San Juan Mountains


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

Utah: Moab: Arches National Park

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

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


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Utah: Capitol Reef National Park

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


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Reference

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

2019 Calgary skyscraper glows with Tom’s jagged rock pattern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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).

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2018 July: Canadian Rockies, Columbia Mtns, Bugaboo & Kananaskis hikes

Radium Hot Springs made a great base for our day hikes in less-crowded areas of the Columbia Mountains and Canadian Rockies, in a two-week vacation from Seattle.

Photo gallery from this trip


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Trip details with selected photo highlights

Having just sold our VW Eurovan Camper to be upgraded with an RV next spring, we instead drove our Prius V car. We rented accommodations with kitchen in Brisco and Radium Hot Springs (which are cheaper than in Banff and Canmore). Two weeks from July 13-27 gave us eleven good day hikes in Yoho, Kootenay, and Banff National Parks plus Bugaboo and Peter Lougheed Provincial Parks.

In Revelstoke National Park, the Skunk Cabbage Trail allowed us stretch our legs and eat lunch in a natural setting with giant leaves.

Paget Peak Lookout and Cathedral Mountain. Yoho National Park, British Columbia, Canada. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Paget Peak Lookout and Cathedral Mountain. Yoho National Park, British Columbia, Canada. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


On a hot day in Yoho National Park (85F), we hiked turquoise Sherbrooke Lake combined with scenic Paget Peak Lookout (7 miles round trip with 1920 feet gain). Cathedral Mountain and Mount Victoria North Peak rose dramatically above us near Kicking Horse Pass.

On Stanley Glacier Trail, a waterfall plunges from the sheer walls of Stanley Peak, in Kootenay National Park, British Columbia, Canada. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

On Stanley Glacier Trail, a waterfall plunges from the sheer walls of Stanley Peak, in Kootenay National Park, British Columbia, Canada. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

The Canadian Rocky Mountains reflect in the Kootenay River, in Kootenay National Park, British Columbia, Canada. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

The Canadian Rocky Mountains reflect in the Kootenay River, in Kootenay National Park, British Columbia, Canada. Stitched from multiple overlapping photos. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Multiple trips through Kootenay National Park rewarded us with rows of Canadian Rocky Mountains reflected in the Kootenay River. A herd of scruffy mountain goats attracted a line of parked cars, but we drove onwards. On the spectacular Stanley Glacier Trail (6 miles round trip with 1200 feet gain), a waterfall plunged dramatically from the sheer walls of Stanley Peak.

Just down the road, a worthwhile short walk is Marble Canyon, which cradles turquoise Tokumm Creek just above its confluence with the Vermilion River. For over 500 million years before tectonic forces thrust up the Rocky Mountains, a shallow tropical sea deposited carbonate sediments that became the limestone and dolomite rock seen here (not marble).

A little further west are the orange-yellow Paint Pots. Historically, humans have mined these natural ochre beds, which formed by the accumulation of iron oxide around the outlets of three cold mineral springs. The Ktunaxa (formerly Kootenay), Stoney, and Blackfoot tribes collected ochre here for important ceremonies and trade. The yellow ochre was cleaned, kneaded with water into walnut sized balls, then flattened into cakes and baked. The red powder was mixed with fish oil or animal grease to paint their bodies, tipis (teepees), clothing or pictures on the rocks. In the early 1900s, Europeans hand-dug and sacked the ochre for hauling 24 kilometers via horse-drawn wagons to the Canadian Pacific Railway line at present-day Castle Mountain, where it was shipped by train to Calgary and became a pigment base for paint.

Marble Canyon embraces Tokumm Creek just above its confluence with the Vermilion River, at the north end of Kootenay National Park in the Canadian Rockies of British Columbia, Canada.

Marble Canyon embraces Tokumm Creek just above its confluence with the Vermilion River, at the north end of Kootenay National Park in the Canadian Rockies of British Columbia, Canada. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Bighorn Sheep / Ovis canadensis at Radium Hot Springs village, British Columbia, Canada. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Bighorn Sheep / Ovis canadensis at Radium Hot Springs village, British Columbia, Canada. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


Every time I visit, wild Bighorn Sheep wander the outskirts of Radium Hot Springs village. Sinclair Falls is worth seeing from Juniper Trailhead, between Kootenay National Park entrance station and the hot springs.

The Hound's Tooth (2819 meters) rises above Bugaboo Glacier in Bugaboo Provincial Park, in the Purcell Range of the Columbia Mountains, British Columbia, Canada.  (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

The Hound's Tooth (2819 meters) rises above Bugaboo Glacier in Bugaboo Provincial Park, in the Purcell Range of the Columbia Mountains, British Columbia, Canada. The Spires Trail to Conrad Kain Hut is 6 miles round trip with 2400 ft gain. This image was stitched from multiple overlapping photos. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


I booked our AirBnB (your signup supports my work) lodging in Brisco for 5 nights near my beloved Bugaboo Provincial Park, which is accessible via 75-minutes of dirt road in the Purcell Range of the Columbia Mountains. Although short and scenic throughout, the Spires Trail to Conrad Kain Hut is very steep (6 miles round trip with 2400 ft gain), forged by climbers drawn to this park’s soaring rock pinnacles. The sun-drenched slope (85 to 91 degrees F in the sun) overheated Carol, who turned back just above the ladder. Starting closer to sunrise would have kept us cooler. I persevered to be rewarded by one of my favorite views in the world: the Hound’s Tooth nunatak rising above Bugaboo Glacier, plus Snowpatch Spire and other pinnacles soaring overhead.

The Lieutenants Range rises above Lake of the Hanging Glacier in the Purcell Range of the Columbia Mountains, British Columbia, Canada. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

The Lieutenants Range rises above Lake of the Hanging Glacier in the Purcell Range of the Columbia Mountains, British Columbia, Canada. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


While it still remains a wild adventure, consider hiking to the Lake of the Hanging Glacier, which features floating icebergs calved from Jumbo Glacier. The lake’s scenic reward was worth the effort of hiking over and under 60 fallen trees each way. Drive 1.5 hours west of Radium Hot Springs on the dirt Horsethief Creek Forest Service Road, preferably in a high clearance vehicle. On 2018 July 19, our low-clearance Toyota Prius V succeeded in crossing a planked wetland and two streams to reach the parking pullouts at 1 km from the trailhead, where a deep road dip finally blocked the car. From there we hiked 11.7 miles round trip with 3100 feet cumulative gain to the impressive lake. Fascinating lichen and rock patterns lie on stepping stones across the lake outlet. The spectacular Jumbo Glacier perches precariously above Lake of the Hanging Glacier. This wilderness wonder is threatened not only by global warming, but also from the huge Jumbo Glacier Resort planned/debated immediately south of Lieutenants ridge.

Swirling orange & blue rock pattern. Lake of the Hanging Glacier Trail, Purcell Range, Columbia Mountains, British Columbia, Canada. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Swirling orange & blue rock pattern. Lake of the Hanging Glacier Trail, Purcell Range, Columbia Mountains, British Columbia, Canada. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

For hikers, I recommend a newly-updated book covering this corner of BC: Mountain Footsteps: Hikes in the East Kootenay of Southeastern British Columbia (2018 Fourth Edition). (I call it “Strong Mountain Footsteps” for short.) This area has much to bring us back, such as hiking Jumbo Pass, Hourglass Lake, and Tanglefoot Lake.

Lichen polygons. Boom Lake Trail, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Lichen polygons. Boom Lake Trail, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


In Banff National Park, the scenic Boom Lake trail featured the mother lode of lichen polygon patterns, a holy grail for this nature travel photographer.

Boom Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Boom Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Lawson Lake reflects the limestone fangs of Mounts Maude, French (3244 m), and Jellico. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Lawson Lake reflects the limestone fangs of Mounts Maude, French (3244 m), and Jellico in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


Carol and I backpacked from North Interlakes Trailhead to Forks Backcountry Campground (10 miles round trip, 800 ft cumulative gain) in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta. From Forks Campground we day hiked to North Kananaskis Pass (13 miles round trip/2700 ft). The pass revealed fields of seed heads of Western pasqueflower (Anemone occidentalis, aka Pulsatilla occidentalis, in family Ranunculaceae), and acres of yellow Indian paintbrush (Castilleja). The next day we hiked to Three Isle Lake (5 miles round trip/1800 ft), then back to the car. In Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, roadside wildlife included a coyote casually crossing the road, plus a black bear.

The huge Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site was declared by UNESCO in 1984.

Seed heads of Western pasqueflower (Anemone occidentalis, aka Pulsatilla occidentalis, in family Ranunculaceae). On the right is Mount Beatty Glacier. Photographed along the trail from Forks Campground to North Kananaskis Pass (13 miles round trip/2700 ft) in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Seed heads of Western pasqueflower (Anemone occidentalis, aka Pulsatilla occidentalis, in family Ranunculaceae). The common name Pasque refers to the Easter or Passover blooming time of other species, and to the purity of the white sepals. On the right is Mount Beatty Glacier. Photographed near North Kananaskis Pass in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

For travel tips, see: BC & AB: Canadian Rockies & Columbia Mts

2018 April: SW USA. UT: Druid & Delicate Arches. AZ: Monument Valley; Hermit Trail. CA: Death Valley.

On a campervan trip to southwest USA from 7-26 April 2018, we enjoyed photographing some great sights shown in galleries below. Carol was delighted by her first visit to Death Valley National Park (further below), including sunrise at colorful Zabriskie Point, Golden Canyon, and Mesquite Flat Dunes.

Photo highlights from this trip


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Trip summary

Our 17-hour drive from Seattle to the desert playground of Moab in Utah was split with an overnight rest in pleasant Three Island Crossing State Park on the Snake River in Idaho.

Important tip: By scheduling the trip to avoid the full week before and after Easter Sunday (both hectic school vacation weeks), our stay in tourist hotspots like Moab was markedly quieter and more enjoyable! Avoid crowded Jeep Safari week. We prudently booked our campgrounds several weeks in advance. Furnace Creek Campground in Death Valley was first-come first served after mid April, with no problem getting a site, though shade is in short supply. Despite checking 4 months in advance, we couldn’t get into scenic Devils Garden Campground in Arches NP, which allows reservations up to 6 months in advance.

Our favorite Canyonlands RV Resort & Campground hosted our pop-top VW Eurovan Camper for four nights conveniently in downtown Moab. On nearby BLM land, red rock Hunter Canyon was a delightful hike of 4.5 miles round trip, blooming with fragrant yellow barberry flowers along a gentle potholed stream. A massive cottonwood tree nicely framed photos of Hunter Arch. Check out the roadside petroglyphs on Moonflower Panel and walk its half-mile canyon. In fantastic Arches National Park, we hiked from Klondike Bluffs parking lot to impressive Tower Arch via the Marching Men rock formations (2.8 miles with 1280 feet gain). The freshly snow-dusted La Sal Mountains provided a dramatic backdrop, such as seen southwest of Balanced Rock. Just before clouds rolled in, golden late afternoon sun illuminated iconic Delicate Arch (3.8 miles with 900 feet gain). Its parking lot was thankfully only half full during mid week. Don’t miss seeing the Ute Rock Art (1650-1850) on Wolfe Ranch side trail. A pullout southeast of Garden of Eden allowed off-trail access to Cove of Caves area on the back side of Double Arch. Walk on rocks and don’t disturb the black biologic soil crust. Also in the Windows Section, we visited Turret Arch and looped a mile around North and South Windows.

In the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park, Whale Rock and Upheaval Dome (beware of limited parking) made short but rewarding walks of 1.0 and 0.8 miles. We moved camp to spend 2 nights at dusty Needles Outpost Campground, picked for its hot shower (though Canyonlands’ nearby Squaw Flat Campground is more aesthetically attractive, at trailheads). Best of all was a long-anticipated 12-mile lollipop loop with 1980 feet gain from Elephant Hill Trailhead via Chesler Park to charismatic Druid Arch in the Needles District.

Driving south, I liked exploring little-known Recapture Pocket near Bluff. Fascinating Goosenecks State Park overlooks deep, curly meanders of the San Juan River near Mexican Hat. A side trip on Mexican Hat spur road gives a closer look at the red wavy patterns of Raplee Anticline (Lime Ridge) along San Juan River.

Just across the state line, don’t miss the spectacular sunset or sunrise at Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park in Arizona. At sunset, I reshot a favorite balanced rock in the foreground with West and East Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte on the horizon beyond. Sunrise was easy to photograph, as The View Campground looks directly east to the iconic West and East Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte.

We booked three nights in Mather Campground in Grand Canyon National Park, served by a handy free shuttle along on the South Rim. On the way into the park from the east, don’t miss the impressive Hopi artwork inside Desert View Watchtower, which was built by architect Mary Colter in 1932, integrating work by other southwest artists. Starting west of Yavapai Geology Museum, we enjoyed walking the 1.3-mile Trail of Time interpretive exhibit, backward in time from today toward the oldest rock in Grand Canyon, Elves Chasm gneiss, 1.840 billion years old. Our main hike was the scenic Hermit Trail from Hermits Rest to Lookout Point (7.6 miles with 2200 feet gain, plus walking between shuttle stop and campsite).

Death Valley National Park


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Late fall, winter, through early spring are good times to visit Death Valley National Park, which is otherwise beastly hot. During our visit 19-21 April 2018, some refreshing sprinkles formed a rainbow over the colorful geology. Parting clouds revealed fresh snow whitening Telescope Peak (11,043 ft), impressively high above Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America (282 feet below sea level). Cresting the Panamint Range, Telescope Peak has one of the greatest vertical rises above local terrain of any mountain in the contiguous United States. At our feet, evaporation from Badwater Basin concentrated crystalline mounds of sodium chloride (table salt), plus calcite, gypsum, and borax (famously mined 1883-1889 with Twenty Mule Teams). Artist’s Drive was worth the short side trip to explore the colorful geologic formation of Artists Palette. More than 5 million years ago, multiple volcanic eruptions deposited ash and minerals which chemically altered into a colorful paint pot of elements (iron, aluminum, magnesium and titanium).

We were delighted to photograph sunrise illuminating a tapestry of golden yellow striated landscape patterns at Zabriskie Point. Next, driving around to Golden Canyon Trailhead begins a great hiking loop uphill to Red Cathedral then back downhill via Gower Gulch (6 miles with 800 ft gain), our favorite walk in the park. Around lunchtime, I enjoyed photographing pioneer-era mining and transportation machines outdoors at the Borax Museum at Furnace Creek Ranch. In rising 90+ degree temperatures, we retreated into the nearby national park Visitor Center to absorb the excellent orientation film.

To escape increasing heat, we drove up Emigrant Canyon Road to 4100-foot Wildrose Campground, where faucets provided tasty drinking water. Helpful tip: dry air cools by 5 degrees Fahrenheit for about every 1000 feet ascended (or 3 degrees for wet air). Along the winding road, we luckily spotted some Desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) with two lambs. Campground quiet was suddenly shattered with the loud hee-haw braying of an alpha donkey keeping his herd in line. Invasive burros (Equua asinus, often called donkeys) can be found throughout the backcountry in Death Valley. Originally descended from the African wild ass, burros were introduced to North America. These invasive, nonnative burro populations can grow quickly, damaging native vegetation and spring ecosystems, thereby hurting native wildlife such as bighorn sheep and desert tortoise.

Along the hike to Fall Canyon’s dry waterfall (6.7 miles with 1250 feet gain) were some feisty juvenile chuckwallas (Sauromalus ater) with striped tails, some creamy yellow flowers of the desert rock nettle (Eucnide urens or desert stingbush) clinging to shaded canyon walls, plus some intriguing rock patterns. But this experience paled in comparison to our previous day in glorious Golden Canyon; so for dramatic build-up one should hike Fall Canyon or other hikes first.

Near Stovepipe Wells, the first light of sunrise high-lit Mesquite Flat Dunes so dramatically as to impress my wife Carol, who previously hadn’t been attracted by dunes. Optionally take your shoes off and enjoy this inland wilderness beach. I love being the first in the morning to form footprints across a tall virgin dune. Most nights, the slate of footprints is wiped clean and wavy. Discover why Lawrence of Arabia was personally attracted to the desert, saying: “It’s clean.”

Just outside Death Valley (on the way to or from Tecopah and Las Vegas), you can camp overnight at Shoshone RV Park and swim in a developed hot springs pool. Thought extinct in the 1960s, Shoshone pupfish (Cyprinodon nevadensis shoshone) were rediscovered in 1986 and protected by the land owner in nearby restored ponds. Found nowhere else on earth, Shoshone pupfish are unique to Shoshone Springs.

See also articles on each state: Southwest USA (Arizona, ColoradoNew MexicoNevada, Utah), California, and Texas.