If you drive out Eastern Oregon to the middle of nowhere and then go a little bit farther you’ll find yourself along the banks of the John Day River. Our group of nine partook in a three day, thirty five mile float across scenic badlands into high desert canyons by way of the meandering river. Undammed along its entire length, it’s the third longest free-flowing river in the United States. The water is warm and loaded with small mouth bass. We each caught our share, but Mark to the prize for biggest fish hauling in a 12 incher. Rolling slowly by the John Day Fossil Beds we took in vistas from all directions. Palatial Regalia as far as the eye can see. Along the way we found good rocks to climb. At the top of one monolith we discovered an osprey nest and a few unhatched eggs. At the peak we bonded and talked about feelings then topped it all off with a river dip. This is beautiful and barren country, a real dream scene. About every five miles we found a nice secluded beach and took time for a chug break, we polished off 452 beers by trips end. Suddenly the rolling painted hills gave way to massive rock walls as we entered the canyon lands. Swallows make their homes in the overhangs above the water line. We came across a natural whirlpool with enough hydraulic force to suck a full size man 10 feet below the surface. With so many epic views in every direction we felt compelled to point them out. There was a lot of pointing going on. “Check out these sedimentary dikes, so nice.” “Look at these rocks how they do that and look that way, sweet.” That’s the John Day River, river of champion’s, panoramas of gold.
-Bruneau Dunes State Park, ID
We are now in southwestern Idaho to explore Bruneau Dunes State Park. Home of the largest single structure sand dune in North American. It’s got that going for it, which is nice. Since there are no motorized vehicles allowed on the dunes the surroundings are in mint condition and there’s no “Mad Max” feel like most dune-buggy friendly sand fields. This hike began with a short stroll around the lakes at the base of the great dune. It was a level 7 birdfest in the bushes and trees. I don’t think I have ever seen such a high concentration and variety of fowl. When you go for a walk in the wild it’s always good idea to slow down and take look around otherwise you might miss something. At first glance what we thought to be a bush of grass blowing in the wind turned out to be a gosh dang porcupie! The renegade Bruneau dune stands alone at an impressive 470 feet and it wouldn’t be proper hike if we didn’t climb to the top. If you want to up the stakes of the game on a mild rip find a baby and strap it to your back. Not only is it a great workout, the child gets the kid of views she would have to wait years to get on her own. She may not enjoy it too much now but she’ll thank you for it later. This place definitely has a remote and wild feel there’s not another soul for miles in any direction and in the distance we hear coyotes calling out to their bros. Walking long distances in deep sand can be difficult but it becomes a real challenge when climbing such a steep grade. The last 50 feet was the were at a 45 degree angle, I was really huffing and puffing. Finally we made it to the top and views did not disappoint. Back beyond this dune is the Bruneau river canyon home to a rarely used section of world class whitewater and fly fishing. We made to the top and I was pretty impressed but unfortunately the wife wasn’t too pleased with how extreme the baby was getting so it was time to call it day.
-Lost Dutchman State Park, AZ
We’re now heading to the “valley of the sun” in Arizona to explore the trails of the Superstition Mountain Range just east of Phoenix. This rip began at Lost Dutchman State Park with a casual desert stroll on the discovery trail. I came across those iconic Arizona cacti and all the flora and fauna that come standard in the desert. It was a pleasant start of what was soon to become a long and strenuous hike. From the peaceful and desolate valley I felt the call of the mountain. When a man stares up at a mountain range of this caliber he can’t help but feel the need to stand at its peak. This became my mission, six miles across 2,600 vertical feet to the top of the Superstitions’ marque plateau, Flat Iron. I took a 90 degree turn onto the Siphon Draw Trail, a gradual but steady accent from the valley floor up the main drainage shoot for the mountain. At 1.3 miles the trail crosses wilderness boundary and the path begins to become considerable steeper.
Around the 2 mile mark the Siphon Draw Trail ends at this smooth red stone Basin which appears to be the main wash out during times of rain. It’s a beautiful shady oasis in the shadows of the mountains. This is the turn-around point for most on the trail and there’s no shame in that. 2 miles over 1,300 is a respectable jaunt. It’s at this point where you hear couples fighting in the distance. If I weren’t rolling solo on this mission I would have probably turned around as well. Those who continue either have something to prove or no common sense like me. It’s a brutal 1,700 foot accent over just a mile to the top of the flat iron. That means it’s steep, really steep, basically straight up for one horrible mile. There is no official trail at this point just a rocky scramble that must be the right way because all the masochists out here are doing it. It’s easy to get off course since there seems to be no course at all. You just keep climbing and climbing and climbing. Just when you get to the top of a rise your thinking this is it I made it, this has to be it, but it’s not. More rocks and climbing then you catch a glimpse of the goal, Flat Iron. You’re so close you can almost taste it but first more rocks and climbing.
From the top you can advance into the back county in hopes of unlocking the mystery of the Superstitions. I hear there are a few lakes up here, caves and Native American hieroglyphs. The Ancient Apache Indian’s believed that a hole leading down to hell is located somewhere in these mountains. It has been said that winds blowing from the hell hole are the cause of severe dust storms in the metropolitan region. At this point you’re just a few steps away from the crest of Flat Iron. As to be expected the view from up here is lovely. On a clear day you can see California to the west and Mexico to the south. You share an unspoken bound with the select few who made it all the way up. Take a few snapshots for your myspace and then proceed the slow painful decent back down again.
-Paso Robles, CA
Back in the day, before the children we took a little rip to Central California to visit some friends and check out the world famous wine country of Paso Robles to see what all the fuss was about. Paso is home to over 200 wineries producing a wide variety of grape from its heritage varietal Zinfandel to Cabernet’s, Viongnier and everything in between. Backyard producers vinify next to large upscale wineries giving the region a nice variety of time tested techniques and unique experimental blends and we tasted a lot of them. We really just kept on tasting them to see just how they tasted. These varietals permeate a fruit forward infusion amidst hints of toasted oak and pepper. Earthy overtones offer nodes of pine infused laments intertwined with the essence of rich cherry, blueberry and corn. The reds had legs, the whites where crisp and clean, some were better than others but we tasted them just the same.
-Zion National Park, UT
In the spring we took the old RV out to one of my favorite places to visit, The Beehive State, Utah. Vast, Sparse and packed full of Mormons, Utah has some of the coolest terrain on the planet. This rip we’re heading to the SW corner to check out Zion National Park. The park is centered around the Virgin River a small but persistent flow which carved out the deep canyon and built this oasis in the heart of the high desert.
Our first hike was up to the top of Temple of Aeolus, also known as Angles Landing. It’s a 2.4 mile climb from the shores of the Virgin River to the second highest peak in the park, 5,800 feet. On this stroll you get a real appreciation for the geographical diversity of the park catching glimpses of mountains, canyons, buttes, mesas, monoliths, rivers, slot canyons, and natural arches. Scout Lookout is the turn-around point for most on the hike. If you continue on the last half mile is a treacherous scramble to the peak of angles landing. From here on out instant death is just a step away as the trail is littered with sharp drop offs and narrow paths. At least once a year someone dies on this section plummeting 1,500 feet to their doom. At some points a simple chain is the only thing between you and the reapers grasp. But from the top we get a great view to the entrance of our next hike, the Zion Narrows.
The narrows is a river hike up gorge carved out by the Virgin River. It starts out as a lovely river side stroll through the riparian zone, then the canyon closes in. Bring your river shoes cause you’re about to get dipped and even in the heart of the summer the water is as cold as a Christmas Ice Beast. The gorge narrows to as little as 15 feet wide and the canyon walls max out at around 2,000 feet tall. Flash floods are a concern and in turn, the hike is constantly being closed off by park rangers at the first signs of rain. Like most popular hikes it starts out pretty crowded but as you continue on you soon have a few sections to yourself. River hiking is fun but it can at sometimes be a pain, your constantly rolling an ankle or slipping on the rocks but the unique perspective you get makes it well worth it. Don’t expect much wildlife down here this is not a hospitable place for the living. What you will find are beautiful rocks, crystal clear waters and a humbling sense awe inspired in the shadows of the massive canyon.
We did a little Midwest urban hiking around Minneapolis in the heart of the Summer. It is indeed the land of ten thousands lakes and in turn the air of twenty trillion mosquitoes, they are intense. We strolled Downtown and checked out the old Mill District along the banks of the great Mississippi River. The buildings in this area are quite interesting. Modern looking construction is retrofitted into the 19th century structures giving this some high contrast appeal. After we explored the city we headed to it’s largest and most well known park, Minnehaha, to check out the 53 foot waterfall and breath in some more mosquitoes.
-Yellowstone National Park, WY
We took a rip over to the world first National Park, Yellowstone. The place is a geographical wonder, the park is sitting atop the world’s largest super volcano that if ever erupted would kill pretty much all life on earth. And the volcano is very much alive, geysers, hot springs, steam vents and mud pots as far as the eye can see. If your into geology this place is a mind blower but if your looking for bears you may want to head north to Glacier National Park where a sighting is all but guaranteed. I’ve stayed in the park twice now and don’t get me wrong it’s lovely but I really wanted to spot a dang bear to no avail. It became a mild obsession touring every corner of the park always searching, any brown stump or rock from a distance was a bear mirage. We did spot a fox, a ton of birds, lots of bison and we did hear a pack of wolves howling in the distance at night.
Just south of Yellowstone is Grand Teton National Park which in my opinion is much more picturesque. The snow capped Teton’s are an aggressive set of peaks shooting straight up into the sky. Here we saw a moose, elk and of course more buffalo.