Will Return In 6 Months…

 

That wasn’t the original plan, but I have returned nonetheless!  And with a brief video!  Enjoy!

 

And here’s another, from out of the past!

 

p.s. I will return shortly

Upcoming: Orange County Hikes

Coming shortly to YNWA: a bit of Orange County local flavor…

Red Rock Canyon/Whiting Ranch

Blue skies, red rocks, and great local scenery on the way…

Santiago Oaks Regional Park

Or should I say the Shire…

Perhaps a bit of tightrope walking as well…

In addition to the two above, Black Star Canyon, Crystal Cove, and Holy Jim Trail to Saddleback Peak (!) will be reviewed and documented.  Trail Descriptions and additional pictures arriving in the near future.  Prepare to be given no excuse to have an open Saturday.

Top Hikes in Zion Part II: The Left Fork (The Subway)

The Left Fork (Subway) – Zion National Park

Welcome to some of the strangest and most beautiful terrain on the planet.  Make sure you have a permit.

I won’t lie to you: this is a rough hike.  When I say rough, I don’t just mean long; I mean long, unmarked, potentially susceptible to flash flood, and physically demanding.  The trail is basically a riverbed, making for ankle-breaking, branch-snapping fun trying to pick the best route.  At times, there is no choice but to try your best at basically ice skating uphill over the moss-covered rocks where the river flows.  Oh, and when you’re tired at the end, just be prepared to scale a 750 foot wall to get out of the riverbed.  Now that we have lost all of the quitters out there, I can give you the good news.

There are two ways of hiking the trail: either through-hiking down from the north from the Wildcat Canyon Trailhead or hiking round-trip from the Left Fork Trailhead.  Either way, the trail ends up being slightly over 8 miles, though coming from the north involves swimming across two extremely cold pools and a bit of canyoneering as well.  Since I have not come down from the north, I will speak more extensively about the out-and-back route.  My experience with this hike took place in the fall when the river was fairly tame and I would recommend hiking the trail at this time of year.

First, remember that you need a permit.  Show up early to the Zion National Park Visitor center early the day before for the best chance to get one; they only give 75 a day.  Most people refer to this hike as “The Subway” and you will see why further down.  Most of the hike is ultimately unlikely to warrant the amount of beating taken.  The scenery is relatively unexciting and the scrambling up the riverbed can be difficult (though I consider it pretty fun).  However, I can assure you it is worth it in the end.

At the beginning of the trail, there is a short hike along a plateau leading to a switchback down into the riverbed (make sure to turn left at the bottom).  From this point, the trail is a riverbed that you can navigate in whatever fashion seems best to you.  There are countless opportunities to roll your ankle or take a spill on slippery rocks, but ultimately wearing a good pair of trail running shoes makes life easier.  There are some spots where you will have to scramble over rocks and bushwhack, though this doesn’t exactly mean that a machete is necessary.  Also, it is important to note that from the moment you set foot in the riverbed, you are in the path of a possible flash flood.  If there is major rain happening around the park, even if it isn’t happening around you, it is probably best to avoid this hike or at least consult with a park ranger before embarking.

After four miles of difficult terrain, weary hikers arrive at the first beautiful scene of the trail: a multi-step waterfall about 200 yards before reaching the main Subway area (pictured below).

As you continue to make your way up the trail, there is some more strange scenery on the right and a difficult, slippery path as you make your way up to the main attraction: the Subway.  Again, it is extremely slippery all around this area, so make sure you are wearing shoes that have good grip and clothes that you don’t mind getting a bit wet.  Beyond that, have fun.

As you slowly make your way up the Subway, you come to an area where there are pools (seen below).  If you are feeling adventurous, wade through these pools (they are extremely cold) and arrive at a dead end in what is known as Keyhole Falls (or the waterfall room).  Think of a cold shower, then think of a colder one.  It is quite nice on a hot day though.

Once finished taking beautiful pictures and enjoying the greater Subway area, it is time to embark on another difficult hike back down the same riverbed.  Try your best to dry your shoes and keep them as dry as possible while you hike down in order to avoid unnecessary slips along the way.  There is good and bad news for the return hike.  First the good news: the hike is now heading in a slight downward slope which saves your legs a bit of work over the long haul.  However, the bad news slightly outweighs the good news: just when it seems that the hike is coming to an end, that 750 foot switchback appears yet again to try to destroy what is left of your legs.

Though it may seem like a lot of work to get to and from the Subway, this place is unlike anywhere else in the world and is worth the trial and effort it takes to get there.  I look forward to the day I can return and listen to the river move through the echoing canyon while taking in an otherworldly formation of rock.  Lord knows I can certainly use the exercise as well.

Project Yosemite

This is Yosemite (and you’d better watch it in HD):

Yosemite HD from Project Yosemite on Vimeo.

Thanks to Sheldon Neill and Colin Delehanty for taking the time to create this masterpiece.

Old Timey Day at the Grand Canyon

The Oil Baron and the Old Prospector visit the mighty Ol’ Grand Canyon. Tom-foolery at it’s finest.

And of course…

We were the most well-dressed people in the park without a doubt.  Admirers abounded.

A Spring day in Joshua Tree

On Easter, I was blessed to be able to take my wife (fiancee at the time), Talitha, to Joshua Tree for the day.  This was our first time in a National Park together and I put together a pretty full day.  She is quite the gamer, following (and sometimes leading) me through rock piles in Hidden Valley, over rock piles in White Tank, and she didn’t flinch a bit when faced with the deadly Desert Hare that was terrible to behold:

I had never been out of the Southern entrance of the park and it was eerily empty when we left, but we saw some lovely Ocotillo and Cholla Cactus Gardens down there, so it was worth the odd feeling of desolation.  I had never attempted to see the entire park in one day, but we saw everything we wanted to with time to spare and here are some views that we took in:

Hidden Valley

Keys View

Split Rock

White Tank

Colorado Desert

Top Hikes in Zion Part I: Angels Landing

Zion National Park is located in southwestern Utah and is home to some of my favorite scenery in the world.  From Kolob Canyons in the North to the eerie landscape of East Zion, the views in this park range from the majestic to the truly bizarre.  Most visitors to Zion generally spend their time in the Southeast corner of park in the Zion Canyon where the North Fork of the Virgin River runs through an other-worldly valley.

Map of Zion

Often times, the most famous hike in a National Park can be a place of frustration for avid hikers.  When I think of the trail to Half Dome in Yosemite on 4th of July weekend or Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon in late spring, I think of staying home. Angels Landing is Zion National Park’s most famous hike, but is certainly an exception to this rule.

Angels Landing

Angels Landing from Observation Point

Angels Landing is Zion’s most traveled hike and I would argue its most famous (though some would argue the Virgin River Narrows isn’t far off, though quite less travelled), but it has some quirks that keep numbers from getting out of control. First off, although the hike is relatively short, it is fairly strenuous.  In 2.2 miles, hikers climb 1200 feet to the top, with 800 feet of that coming in less than a half-mile.  Even the fittest of hikers must then deal with the infamous Walter’s Wiggles, featuring switchback after switchback (21 in all).

The Lung-bursting Walter’s Wiggles

Second, a section of the hike is very likely to scare off anyone afraid of heights.  This knife-edge section has a 1200 foot drop on either side, with some parts only wide enough for two.  Every few years, someone dies on this hike from straying to close to the edge.  The pictures will tell you why.

Angels Landing from Scout Lookout

There are no guard-rails, only chain links that at times can be more of nuisance than an aid.  I do not write this in any way to attempt to scare off anyone who is afraid of heights, but the fact is that you may be “looking down” quite a bit.  However, if you need confirmation that it can be done by someone who fears the edge of a cliff, just ask my friend and wonderful nature photographer, John Woods, who is now thrice a veteran of Angels Landing.

So following all of this, you may ask the question, “why should I bust my gut while taking a chance of falling off a cliff?”  Good question, and here is the answer: the views.  Need proof?  Here you go:

The views along the Angels Landing Trail

So there you go.  You should all get up right now, drive to Zion, and hike Angels Landing.  Just do it.

Been a while…

Too long in fact.  I apologize for my hiatus.  I have been to the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Joshua Tree in the past month and I have written nothing to the faithful readers of my blog.  When I have time, I will get some real meat on here instead of all of this eye candy.  For the time being, enjoy the candy shop.

Grand Canyon

The Mona Lisa

Zion

LW

Charlie Brown

Bryce Canyon

Just wait for my good friend John Woods to get his pictures up from this trip…

On tap for You’ll Never Walk Alone:

Angel’s Landing

Old Timey Day

Springtime for Talitha in Joshua Tree

Snow Attack

So right now, my friends John, Ryan, and I are at the Grand Canyon having our plans spoiled by the weather. This is us taking advantage of misfortune:

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Top 10 National Park Albums: The Final Countdown 1-5

Sorry, it has been a while. Let’s jump right back in.

5. Sigur Rós- Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust

Simply put, Sigur Rós makes some of the most beautiful music that I have ever heard.  This comes as no surprise given the band’s attachment to Iceland, one of the most beautiful countries that I have ever seen filmed or photographed.  This album holds special significance for me because of one particular moment while driving back from a long day of hiking the Lakes Trail (of earlier YNWA blog fame): listening to Ara Batur, a song that builds and builds to a beautiful, succinct crescendo, we came over a hill through the beautiful Sequoia forests and the light of the late afternoon sun came shining through the trees at the exact moment of the climax in beauty of both the auditory and visual senses when the song reached it’s glorious peak. Needless to say, we all looked at each other as though something otherworldly had occurred. My Track: Festival

Visualize this:

 

4. Woody Guthrie- My Dusty Road

This land is your land, this land is my land. It makes me sad to know that Woody Guthrie is not very well known by our generation. This man is a legend, one of the pioneers of what we now know as “folk” music that has become such a constant in American music. Without Woody Guthrie, we may have had no Bob Dylan. His recordings are often songs mixed with rants about dust bowl blues, depression-era stories, and riding the rails. When listening to him in a National Park, you get a sense that the land around you echoes those who have come before you: for better or worse. My Track: This Land Is Your Land

Visualize this:

 

3. Marco Beltrami- 3:10 to Yuma

I love the American Southwest. There, I said it. As many of my closest friends can attest to, I used to hate driving through Southern Utah on the way to Denver. It has now become one of my favorite places in the entire world. Vast wastelands and beautifully crafted arches let my mind wander to a lonely, yet enticing place where there is still some sense of quietness in our busy, shrieking world. What does all of this have to do with the soundtrack to the film 3:10 To Yuma? Quite a bit; I have yet to find a better soundtrack to this part of our planet. What Marco Beltrami has created in his Oscar-nominated work is a perfect Western scene which mixes more characteristic Western themes with a subtle acoustic guitar. I’ve yet to find anything better for a cloud-filled Southwestern day. My track: Bible Studay.

Visualize this:

 

2. Django Reinhardt- The Indispensable Django Reinhardt

There is a strange connection in my mind between Django Reinhardt and Woody Guthrie. They are not particularly similar in most ways, but somehow both of their brand of music takes me to the same place; a relaxed, peaceful place where I can focus less on the music and more on who and what is around me. The only reason that Django Reinhardt’s gypsy jazz is higher on the list than Woody Guthrie’s folk is that it makes for a better social piece. It hearkens back to a time when Americans were still learning what these parks were and what they would become. This is classic background music and just what is needed after a long day of hiking. My track: Beyond the Sea (La Mer)

Visualize this:

 

1. Sigur Rós- Takk

As I said earlier, Sigur Rós makes incredibly beautiful music. Their 2005 album Takk is, in my mind, not only their best (at least at this point as they are still making music), but also their closest to nature. The album rises like a mountain and falls as though in a valley, at times reaching high points of near ecstasy and at others dropping down into the deepest and most solemn places of sound.  At one point while in Sequoia National Park, I was sitting on the giant monolith known as Moro Rock that overlooks a massive valley and looks up towards snow-capped peaks and decided to lay on the rock and turn on Takk. What followed is still a memory that seems more like a dream. The beauty around me was transformed by the incredible soundtrack playing in my ears. Birds were diving down and between the rocks before rising back up to great heights. Lizards were at play upon the rock face itself. The mountains became more massive and the valleys far deeper. It was beyond beautiful; it felt perfect. If I had one album to take with me anywhere, this would be it. My track: Glósóli

Visualize this:

 

Honorable Mentions:

Band Of Horses- Everything All The Time: A great album if for nothing more than “The Funeral”.

Beck- Sea Change: Listen to this album in the afternoon. You will enjoy it.

Bruce Springsteen- The Ghost of Tom Joad: The Boss tells stories about America. Give it a listen.

 

Up next: Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks: Round II