Blog Sneak Peak: The Wyoming You Never Knew

Hiking in the Wind Rivers. Smoke from fires in Idaho made the peaks a bit hazy.

Hiking in the Wind Rivers. Smoke from fires in Idaho made the peaks a bit hazy.

I just got back from a couple glorious weeks in the state of Wyoming, hiking, seeing new sights, and generally discovering a side of the US I’d never experienced before.  When most of us think of Wyoming, we think of an endless, empty sagebrush, or, if we’re familiar with the national parks, the geysers of Yellowstone and perhaps the classic view of the Tetons.

 

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Yet on this trip, I found a part of Wyoming that goes beyond …Read More

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6 Best Hikes on the Mt. Baker Highway

Hiking Skyline Divide along the Mt. Baker Highway, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington

Hiking Skyline Divide along the Mt. Baker Highway

The hikes that begin from the Mt. Baker Highway in northwest Washington State have got to be some of the most spectacular in the Continental US.  There’s something about Mt. Baker’s cone, Mt. Shuksan’s rugged profile, and all the other nearby snowcapped peaks are simply awe-inspiring.  Oh, and did I mention the wildflowers in season?

 

Wildflowers along the Canyon Ridge Trail, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington

Wildflowers along the Canyon Ridge Trail

I finally got to explore the highway a bit last summer, so here are my personal favorites – aka, the 6 Best Hikes on the Mt. Baker Highway!

 

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Note that the Mt. Baker Highway is late to thaw out – it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to drive to Artist Point until late July at the very earliest; most years the point isn’t open until August, and even then snowfields will cover trails, year round or at least into the fall months.

 

The 6 Best Hikes on the Mt. Baker Highway

Mt. Baker from the Table Mountain Trail, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest,  Washington

Mt. Baker from the Table Mountain Trail

  1. Table Mountain. A short hike with an awesome view, the Table Mountain Trail switchbacks steeply upward, then rolls along the flat top of the mountain to awe-inspiring views of Mt. Baker, Mt. Shuksan, and lakes far below. 3.0 miles RT.
The Twin Lakes from Winchester Mountain, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington

The Twin Lakes from Winchester Mountain

  1. Winchester Mountain. Besides the excellent views over the Twin Lakes, Winchester Mountain boasts an old fire lookout, open on a first-come, first-serve basis. Combined with views over the Canadian Cascades (and the northerly Washington Cascades), the moderately difficult trail is one to remember.  3.5 miles RT.
Mount Shuksan from near Huntoon Point, Artist Ridge Trail, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington

Mount Shuksan from near Huntoon Point

  1. Artist Ridge to Huntoon Point. Now, if you’re looking to get a real bang for your hiking buck, Artist Ridge delivers it. Only a mile or so RT, and with social trails galore to go further, views of Mt. Shuksan (best in the afternoon) open up from the first and continue to get better as the trail meanders along the ridgeline.  The trail comes highly recommended!  Less than 1.5 miles RT, even with some social trail exploring.
Glaciers and Wildflowers from Heliotrope Divide, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington

Glaciers and Wildflowers from Heliotrope Divide

  1. Heliotrope Divide. Gaping crevasses, idyllic waterfalls, and Mt. Baker’s cone, seemingly directly above you, make this hike unlike any other along the Mt. Baker Highway. Although you likely will never get a glimpse of a glacier quite like the spectacular view at the end of this trail (at least in Washington), the four stream crossings can be a deterrent to those who don’t like getting their feet wet.  6.5 miles RT.
Glacier Lilies and Mt. Baker from Skyline Divide, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington

Glacier Lilies and Mt. Baker from Skyline Divide

  1. Skyline Divide. A true favorite on my last visit, this trail promised a lot and delivered so much more. Walking for miles along the ridgeline with Mt. Baker ever present, and Mt. Shuksan close by – not to mention the lovely wildflowers and peaceful valleys not so far away – this is a one-in-a-million hike.  4.2 to 10+ miles RT.
This picture in no way resembles the true splendor of Ptarmigan Ridge, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington

This picture in no way resembles the true splendor of Ptarmigan Ridge

  1. Ptarmigan Ridge. And then there’s Ptarmigan Ridge. Snowfields give way to rocky scree, which in turn give way to Mt. Baker’s cone, only a valley away.  Meanwhile, Mt. Shuksan rears up across another several valleys, making this a hike a front-row view to all the Mt. Baker Highway has to offer.  Some snowfields cover the trail permanently, but often it is hikable without an ice ax by the middle of August.  About 10 miles RT.

 

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Do you have a favorite hike in the Mt. Baker area?

 

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Waterfalls gush from the glaciers on the side of Mt. Baker.  This picture was taken from the Ptarmigan Ridge Trail, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington

Waterfalls gush from the glaciers on the side of Mt. Baker. This picture was taken from the Ptarmigan Ridge Trail.

Getting to the Mt. Baker Highway

From Bellingham, WA, take WA-542 (Mt. Baker Highway) about 35 miles east to the tiny town of Glacier.  The one major feature here is a ranger station, with visitor information, fee station ($5/day fee charged throughout the highway; all Interagency/America the Beautiful and Northwest Forest Passes accepted if displayed in vehicle windshield), weather information, trail conditions, etc.

Mt. Shuksan from the top of Table Mountain, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington

Mt. Shuksan from the top of Table Mountain

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Up the Cleft in the Rock: Table Rock

Views of Grafton Notch from atop Table Rock, Grafton Notch State Park, Maine

Views of Grafton Notch from atop Table Rock

I don’t go to New England much.  I’m not exactly sure why; maybe I’m spoiled by the mountains west of the Mississippi, or maybe it’s just so hard to find free (or even cheap) places to camp that trips to New England become a nightmare.  But at times, whether to relive an event or to see something new, New England becomes a destination.

 

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We found a trillium near the parking area - they were quite prevalent here, although they're a rarity where I come from!  Table Rock Trail, Grafton Notch State Park, Maine

We found a trillium near the parking area – they were quite prevalent here, although they’re a rarity where I come from!

The second-to-last time I was in New Hampshire, there was a significant part of the group who wanted to revisit Grafton Notch, specifically to hike to the top of Table Rock (which is in Maine).  I didn’t recall the hike, which we’d taken nearly 15 years earlier, but I’m up for a hike almost any time…especially when it means scrambling up rocks to a view, and then hiking the AT back to the parking area!  And it was only about 2 miles RT!

 

Through the trees on the lower part of the Table Rock Trail, Grafton Notch State Park, Maine

Through the trees on the lower part of the trail

The trail begins across the road from the parking area, and enters a slightly marshy area.  Turn right on the Table Rock Trail; this is a shorter, but steeper approach – we went this way, then looped back on the AT (the longer, less demanding route).  It begins to climb in earnest up the side of the valley, er, mountain by Northeast standards.  The trail winds upward through the trees, occasionally with peek-a-boo views and plenty of large boulders along the way.  At times the boulders must be scrambled, but it’s not a difficult hike compared to some of the scree slopes I’ve done out west!

 

Views from part way up the Table Rock Trail, Grafton Notch State Park, Maine

Views from part way up

After passing the WP caves – which really make you feel like you’re ascending through a cleft in the rock – the trail loops around, away from the cliffs and boulder fields but into the slickrock (does the Northeast have slickrock?  Or is that a Utah thing?)  At any rate, the trail winds around, then, about 0.8 miles from the trailhead, a likely unmarked side-trail leads through the pines, up a small ravine to the top of Table Rock – and views of Old Speck and Rt. 26, some 900 ft. below!

 

Note that there are no guard rails here – its you, the rock, and thin air.

 

Views atop Table Rock, Grafton Notch State Park, Maine

Views from the top

After admiring the view (and the people during the summer; this is a quite popular hike), return to the main trail, turn left, and continue as the trails slopes downward.  Along the way, enjoy the ladders that take you down over boulders – sooo much fun!

 

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About 0.5 miles beyond Table Rock, connect with the AT (white blazes).  Turn left to descend to the parking area.  Not long after this junction, a series of small waterfalls are a pleasant diversion.  A long diversion, that was, for someone just dying to use the manual shutter speeds on her camera!

 

Waterfall along the Appalachian Trail, Grafton Notch State Park, Maine

Waterfall along the AT

Descend about 0.6 miles, then turn right to cross the road again back to the parking area.

 

It’s a pity our day wasn’t nicer, but, hey, we enjoyed ourselves and I suppose you don’t need sunshine to have fun scrambling up, over, and around boulders in the forest!

 

Using bars placed in the rock to get down from Table Rock to the Appalachian Trail, Grafton Notch State Park, Maine

Using bars placed in the rock to get down from Table Rock to the AT

Round Trip Length: About 2.0 miles

Net elevation gain / loss: About 900 ft.

Facilities: A couple picnic tables and a primitive restroom at the parking area

Fees: $3/per person per day for adult non-residents; $2 for adult residents, and $1 for children and non-resident seniors (resident seniors are admitted free).  Be prepared to pay cash at the self-service fee station in the parking area.

 

Trail ★★★☆☆

Road ★★★★★

Signs ★★★★☆

Scenery ★★★★☆

Would I go 100 miles out of my way for this? ★★★☆☆

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

Grafton Notch Valley from above on Table Rock, Grafton Notch State Park, Maine

Grafton Notch Valley from above

Getting to Grafton Notch and the Table Rock Parking Area

From Newry, ME, turn off of US-2 / ME-5 onto ME-26N.  Drive 12.1 miles to the parking area, on left.

 

Alternatively, from Errol, NH, take NH-26E (then ME-26S) 18.4 miles to the parking area, on right.

More waterfalls along the Appalachian Trail, Grafton Notch State Park, Maine

More waterfalls along the AT

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9 Reasons I Wear Hiking Boots instead of Sneakers

Resting my hiking boots at the top of Electric Pass, White River National Forest, Colorado

Resting my hiking boots at the top of Electric Pass in Colorado

So real hikers wear hiking boots; everyone knows that.  But with the really good sneakers that have come out in the past ten or twenty years, hiking boots don’t have to be the only choice for hikers (especially dayhikers) that they once were.  A good number of the hikers I see on the trail every year are wearing sneakers and seem very happy that way.  Even my own group wears sneakers 99% of the time while hiking.  Most of them don’t even own a pair of hiking boots.

 

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Why?  Well, I have a few theories.  First, hiking boots are kind of good for only one thing: hiking.  Sneakers can be worn around the house and yard, to the store, or wherever you need to go.  So sneakers are a bit more diverse in their uses than hiking boots.  Second, many people (at least within my own group) find that sneakers are more comfortable than hiking boots.  Most cite that they don’t like the high ankle support, and when I’ve pointed out that there are lower-cut boots on the market, they smile and tell me that their sneakers are still more comfortable.

 

Most of my hiking companions prefer wearing sneakers. Atop Bean Peak, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Washington

Most of my hiking companions prefer wearing sneakers. Atop Bean Peak, Washington

Third, hiking boots are expensive.  It’s a fact of life.  So are sneakers, but at least you can feel like you’re getting your money’s worth since you can wear them for more than just hiking.  Fourth, hiking boots can be heavy.  Personally, I find the advantages outweigh the weight, but I can understand not wanting to carry any more weight than you have to!  Fifth, face it, hiking boots typically aren’t very “stylish”.  Really, they’re part of a style all their own, but that style hasn’t crept into popular culture very much…after all, who would want a brown boot when they could wear a snazzy pink-and-yellow hiking sneaker?  (Me, for one…I guess I’ve never been fond of the pink-and-yellow combination!)

 

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At any rate, as good as sneakers are, I really like my hiking boots.  For years, I wore sneakers and never thought twice about them.  But after picking up some barely-used boots at a garage sale a few summers ago, I’ve fallen in love with them for hiking.  I still have a pair of high-top sneakers as a backup pair of shoes, but for longer, more rugged hikes, I like the boots.  Below, I’ve outlined some of the reasons I wear hiking boots instead of sneakers.  (Note that my one con of wearing hiking boots is that they seem to tear up the trail worse than sneakers – so I have to be doubly careful on fragile ground, like tundra, to not make a mess!)

My hiking boots on their trial run: Black Mesa State Park, the highest point in Oklahoma

My hiking boots on their trial run: Black Mesa, the highest point in Oklahoma

  1. Ankle support. Hiking boots – especially the higher-cut ones – offer ankle support unlike any pair of sneakers I’ve ever owned. This has saved my ankles a number of times, as well as just making hiking more comfortable in general.
  2. Comfort. I know some people don’t find hiking boots comfortable, but mine, at least, aren’t so bad.
  3. All-weather versatility. Unlike low-cut sneakers, I can wear them in the mud, snow, dust, slickrock, and everything in between. That means I can wear them just about year round for hiking nearby trails as well as on longer treks.  The one thing they don’t do well with (without gaiters) is when the snow gets to be several inches deep…but I suppose that’s what snow boots are for.  Supposedly, they’re waterproof, too, but I haven’t put that to the test :-)

    Hiking boots are great for hiking on slickrock, like this route above Coyote Gulch in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

    Hiking boots are great for hiking on slickrock, like this route above Coyote Gulch in Utah

  4. Durability. Most hiking boots are made for the long-haul, so although they might cost more than a pair of sneakers, they’ll also last a whole lot longer. I like that.  It’s a real annoyance to me to have to get new sneakers every few years and break them in, yet again…
  5. Adaption to whatever surface I’m on. Hiking boots grip better than sneakers; it’s just the way it goes. Whether it’s slickrock, sand, snow, or a blacktop road, boots are made to grip and not let go.  (BTW, if you’re a sneaker fan and want to hike on slickrock, one of my companions found that his basketball shoes gripped really well there…if nowhere else!)
  6. Protection when going cross-country. I don’t walk cross-country a lot, but when I do, I try to always wear my hiking boots. They protect my feet against thorny plants, puddles hidden in the grass, stubbing my toes on stones, ankle-cutting-happy talus, and anything else I might encounter.

    Are those hiking boots or sneakers?  Some manufacturers are blurring the line between the two, if only in style.  Atop Hidden Lake Lookout Peak, North Cascades National Park, Washington

    Are those hiking boots or sneakers? Some manufacturers are blurring the line between the two, if only in style. Atop Hidden Lake Lookout Peak, Washington

  7. Thick soles. Most sneakers aren’t made to keep your feet happy while walking across sharp rocks or talus. Hiking boots, while maybe not made for it either, at least have a thick enough sole to protect my feet.
  8. Protection against sand and gravel. When we’re walking through sand or small gravel, most of the group is stopping every half hour (or more often) to dump the debris out of their sneakers. In general, my hiking boots don’t let the sand come in in the first place, so I can look at the map, take a drink, relax, etc., while they try to get the annoying sand and stones out of their shoes.
    They are a statement, be it good or bad. When I walk into a place with my boots, people take note, whether they think I’m a “real” hiker or think I’m putting on some kind of act (which I’m not; it’s just how I hike). So, boots can get you some respect in certain communities.

    Of course, there are always destinations where shoes of any variety may not be the best option...like White Sands National Monument in New Mexico

    Of course, there are always destinations where shoes of any variety may not be the best option…like White Sands National Monument in New Mexico

  9. I like them. When it comes to the end of the day, you’ve got to like the shoes you wear hiking, be they sneakers or hiking boots. Personally, I like the boots.  So I’ll keep wearing them!

 

Do you wear hiking boots or sneakers?  Why do you prefer one over the other?

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The 12 Most Popular Pictures on Anne’s Travels

The rain forest near Third Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington

The rain forest near Third Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington

I’ve been browsing through my Flickr accounts recently.  It makes me marvel sometimes just how many people have viewed some pictures, and how others (including some of my own favorites) have hardly been touched.  That’s ok.  But I thought it might be fun to do a post with the most viewed / most liked (and therefore best?) pictures I’ve posted on Flickr expressly for sharing on this blog.  Enjoy!

 

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Actually, my absolutely most visited, most liked picture isn’t a picture at all.  It’s a map I reposted…a map of Bisti Wilderness Area, with GPS coordinates, and totally written in German:

 

Bisti Badlands Topo Map

 

And the second most visited are of my camera:

 

Canon PowerShot SX150 IS Camera Zoom

 

And of course, there’s always pictures of van screens:

 

Two screens

 

But I won’t bore you with those pictures.  So, without further ado, here are the more scenic favorites.

 

Best Pictures on Anne’s Travels

Child's Bedroom in the Hamilton House

A child’s bedroom at Genesee Country Village in Mumford, New York

 

Waterfalls and Glaciers

A waterfall cascades out of a glacier on the side of Mount Baker, Washington.  This picture was taken from “Camp Keiser” (aka, a rocky hillside meadow) at the end of the Ptarmigan Ridge Trail.

 

The Big Balanced Rock, Framed

The Big Balanced Rock in Chiricahua National Monument, Arizona

 

Painted Wall

Well, I wouldn’t have said this was my favorite, but I guess someone likes it!  Taken from the Chasm Rim Trail on the north rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado, the picture features the famed “Pained Wall”.

 

Mediterranean Garden

An urn turned fountain at the Willowood Arboretum in Morris County, New Jersey

 

Table Mountain Teton View

Ah!  The West Side of the Tetons!  They’re such a spectacular range, from both the Eastern, more popular side, as well as the Western side only visited by the locals.  This picture was taken from the Table Mountain Trail.

 

Mariscal_Mine

Located along the rugged River Road in Big Bend National Park, Texas, the Mariscal Mine processed mercury ore mined from nearby hills for more compact transport.

 

Cottage Garden

A garden gate in Willowood Arboretum, Morris County, New Jersey

 

Coyote Gulch

One of my favorite adventuresome hikes in the past few years, the route overland to Coyote Gulch, and then wading down a stream in a peaceful canyon is an unforgettable experience.  Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

 

wmIMG_1730

So this picture is just funny: we’d pull the sand away from the side of the sand dune, and these wacky shapes would appear, almost like Bryce Canyon made of white sand!  The problem was that people would see the picture and be sure we’d discovered the greatest new sight of the west…but really, this “canyon” is little more than six inches high.  White Sand Dunes National Monument, New Mexico.

 

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Weaving Loom in the Humphy House

A loom at the Genesee Country Village, Mumford, New York

 

Buttermilk Falls, Mendham NJ

Buttermilk Falls in Mendham, New Jersey.  This falls is quite close to the old Seeing Eye breeding facilities.

 

Do you have a favorite picture from Anne’s Travels?

 

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Cooper Spur: Snow, Ice, and Rocks

Mt. Hood and the Elliot Glacier from the Cooper Spur Trail, Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon

Mt. Hood and the Elliot Glacier from the Cooper Spur Trail

Sometimes we just have to do a hike twice. It’s just that epic; that worth redoing that we’ll drive 100 miles out of our way just to do a single hike again. Such is Cooper Spur, high on the side of Mt. Hood, spectacularly showcasing the Elliot Glacier, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Jefferson, and the lowlands surrounding the Columbia River. The trail itself has views most of the way up, leading to one of the highest dayhiker-accessible points on Mt. Hood. And at not quite 8 miles round trip, well, wouldn’t you want to hike it?

 

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Mt. Rainier (L) and Mt. Adams (R) across the Columbia in Washington, Cooper Spur Trail, Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon

Mt. Rainier (L) and Mt. Adams (R) across the Columbia in Washington

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Link Roundup: My Favorite Hiking Websites

Hiking Spray Park in Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington

Hiking Spray Park in Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington

I’m sure we all have our favorite websites for planning hikes; the ones we love browsing or are our first “go-to” when we decide we want to hike in a certain area.  Below are some of my favorites; please feel free to post your favorites in the comments below!

 

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“All Over the US” Hiking Websites

Without SummitPost, remote and nearly-unknown destinations like Bonneville Pass in the Absaroka Range of Wyoming would never have entered our “must hike” list

Without SummitPost, remote and nearly-unknown destinations like Bonneville Pass in the Absaroka Range of Wyoming would never have entered our “must hike” list

SummitPost.org – great for hiking mountains just about everywhere …Read More

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Fort Stanwix: The Hands-on Fort

Inside Fort Stanwix, Fort Stanwix National Monument, New York

Inside Fort Stanwix

For some reason, few people know about Fort Stanwix.  I live within a few hours, yet I’d never heard of it until one day when I was looking for national public lands areas near my home.  Then it went on the “someday soon” list.

 

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First view of Fort Stanwix from James Street, Fort Stanwix National Monument, New York

First view of Fort Stanwix from James Street

“Someday” became “Today” last weekend when we visited the fort.  It wasn’t exactly …Read More

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A Day Canoe Trip in Voyageurs National Park

Kabetogama Lake in Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

Kabetogama Lake in Voyageurs National Park

Voyageurs National Park has been one of those places I’ve always thought about going, but could never figure out a good reason to.  For one thing, you really need a boat to see it (at least during the summer months), and for another, it isn’t exactly on the way to most other places I could go.  So it always was on the back of my mind, thinking someday, maybe, perhaps, we’d go.

 

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And we did.

 

Canoeing on Kabetogama Lake, Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

Canoeing on Kabetogama Lake

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10 Best Things to Do in Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls from the Rainbow Bridge, Niagara Falls State Park, New York and Niagara Falls, Canada

Niagara Falls from the Rainbow Bridge

Sometimes I forget about the nice stuff near home.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate it.  I just don’t think about it because I’ve seen it enough times that my thoughts are on faraway places like the Tetons and the Grand Canyon.  So in today’s post, I’d like to honor an international destination that I always visit as a daytrip: Niagara Falls.  It really is a nice place, especially the Canadian side with its beautiful gardens and great views of the falls.  So, I thought I’d give my idea of …Read More

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