National Parks: America's Best Idea Trivia Contest

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

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I just got an email from the National Park Foundation stating that they are holding a Trivia Contest after each episode of the Ken Burns film, The National Parks: America's Best Idea.

Each night after watching a new episode you'll have a chance to answer a trivia question. If you answer correctly, your name will be entered into a daily prize drawing. You can enter after each night for multiple chances to win.

Click here for the link to the contest.

Jeff Detailed information on trails in the Smoky Mountains; includes trail descriptions, key features, pictures, video, maps, elevation profiles, news, and more.

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Citizen Scientist: Help Conduct Field Research in the Smokies

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Friends of the Smokies has a news release posted on their Facebook page announcing that there will be another Citizen Scientist opportunity in the Great Smoky Mountains this weekend.

Here's the announcement:

Researchers at Great Smoky Mountains National Park are inviting people to volunteer as Citizen Scientists on Saturday, October 3, and join Park biologists and educators in developing scientific data in the national park.

The scheduled field activity will involve mapping locations of ash trees on the Tennessee side of the Park’s backcountry from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Volunteers will learn how to identify ash and other common trees found in the Smoky Mountains, read a topographic map, and use a GPS (Global Positioning System) unit. The ash trees are at risk from the invasive, non-native Emerald Ash Borer, a beetle that can travel undetected in firewood and nursery stock from quarantined areas of the country into new locations in the Park. The data that is collected will help Park staff map the locations of ash trees parkwide to monitor the health of the forest and detect future infestations.

The volunteers should be prepared to hike up to 5 miles on Park trails and in rough terrain off the main paths. It is recommended that participants wear long pants and comfortable closed-toe shoes or boots for hiking and bring a lunch, water, sunscreen, and rain gear.

Reservations are necessary and participation is limited to 16 people (children 12 and under must bring an adult).

Contact Ranger Susan Simpson at 865/436-1200, ext. 762 for the meeting location and directions.

Companion book for the Ken Burns' film; The National Parks: America's Best Idea

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General Grant National Park

Monday, September 28, 2009

So I'm watching the Ken Burns film last night on the national parks, and the narrator makes mention of General Grant National Park being added to the national park system in 1890 as the 4th national park. This piqued my interest because I had never heard of it before.

Purely out of curiosity, I did a quick Google search which showed that the park was incorporated into the larger Kings Canyon National Park, which was established in 1940.

The area that was once known as General Grant National Park is now known as Grant Grove. It's a sequoia grove that includes the General Grant tree, the second largest tree in the world:

Another story that caught my attention last night was that of Truman Everts, a member of the Washburn-Langford-Doane expedition of 1870 that set out to confirm or expose the fantastic stories of the Yellowstone region. Everts became lost for 37 days before re-emerging on the north end of what today is the park boundary, weighing only 50 pounds! You can read about Everts' incredible ordeal from his first-hand account that was published in the November, 1871 edition of Scribner's Monthly by clicking here.

Jeff Detailed information on trails in the Smoky Mountains; includes trail descriptions, key features, pictures, video, maps, elevation profiles, news, hiking gear store, and more.

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The Reel Rock Tour Returns

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The Reel Rock Film Tour will be making its return to the area when it pays a visit to the Asheville Pizza and Brewing Co. on October 1. The 4th annual film tour presented by Windstopper and The North Face, is the largest international climbing celebration.

Reel Rock features the latest releases from the award-winning filmmakers at Sender Films and Big UP Productions and the winning short films from this year’s REEL ROCK Filmmaking Competition. There will be gear giveaways, appearances by top climbers, and fundraising for non-profit organizations.

Tickets are $10 and are available at Black Dome Mountain Sports on Tunnel Road, or at Asheville Pizza on Merrimon Avenue.

The tour will also be in Nashville at the Belcourt Theatre on that same day.

Here’s a short two minute film trailer:

For more information, please visit


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Top 10 Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Sunday, September 27, 2009

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A couple people have emailed me recently, asking for suggestions on some great day hikes, or asked me what my favorite trails are in Rocky Mountain National Park. Based on many hikes over the years, I’ve compiled a list of my top 10 hikes in the Rockies. They are as follows:

1) Hallett Peak
2) Sky Pond
3) Old Ute Trail
4) Emerald Lake
5) Chasm Lake
6) Bluebird Lake
7) Key Hole on Longs Peak
8) Black Lake
9) Twin Sisters Peak
10) Odessa Lake

You should also consider the hike up to Mount Ida Trail. Other hikes completed, for comparison purposes, include: Ypsilon Lake, Deer Mountain, Big Meadows, Lake Haiyaha, Fern Lake, Tundra Trail, Cub Lake and Poudre River Trail, among others.

For more information on all the trails in Rocky Mountain National Park, please visit our new sister website at Rocky Mountain Hiking Trails.

Jeff Detailed information on trails in the Smoky Mountains; includes trail descriptions, key features, pictures, video, maps, elevation profiles, news, and more.
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Flora and Fauna from Rocky Mountain Nat'l Park

Saturday, September 26, 2009

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Marmot hamming-it-up on trail to Longs Peak:

Keeping an eye on the harem in Moraine Park:

Indian paintbrush and sunflowers near Sky Pond:

Clouds building near Granite Pass:

Arctic Gentian on Granite Pass:

Getting ready for the rut:

Petrified prehistoric alligator??

Sunflowers near Sky Pond:


Lone bull elk in Horseshoe Park:

Rocky Mountain Nat'l Park 2010 Calendar

Jeff Detailed information on trails in the Smoky Mountains; includes trail descriptions, key features, pictures, video, maps, elevation profiles, news, hiking gear store, and more.


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RMNP Day 6: Ypsilon Lake

Friday, September 25, 2009

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With temperatures hovering around freezing, this was by far the coldest morning yet. Our windshield had frost on it, while the upper elevations received some light snow the day and night before.

After passing a red fox walking along the road we reached the Lawn Lake trailhead. Hikers to Ypsilon Lake share the same path to Lawn Lake for the first 1.4 miles.

At just over a mile you’ll reach the Roaring River where you’ll witness the destruction from the Lawn Lake Flood. On July 15, 1982, a 26 foot high earthen dam failed, releasing 220 million gallons of water down the Roaring River valley which some witnesses said created a wall of water 25 to 30 feet high.

The dam was built in 1903 to enhance the natural lake from 16.4 acres to 48 surface acres so that it could be used to irrigate crops in the Loveland area.

After killing three campers, the water rushed down Elkhorn Avenue in Estes Park before stopping at Lake Estes. In all, damages to the area totaled roughly $31 million.

Sections of the Roaring River’s high gully walls are still unstable and prone to sudden collapse.

Here’s a view from the road below (known as the Alluvial Fan):

From the beginning, this hike is a steady climb for most of the way as it takes you through deep pine forest. During the first two miles or so you’ll catch sporadic views of Longs Peak and the mountains surrounding the Horseshoe Park area.

At just over 3.5 miles, the trail finally flattens out, peaking at roughly 10,760 feet. After descending a short distance you’ll reach a very beautiful pond known as Chipmunk Lake, which I found to be far more scenic than Ypsilon Lake. From the pond’s shore you’ll have outstanding views of Ypsilon Mountain, including the snow-filled Y-looking couloirs, from which the mountain derives its name.

After passing the pond, the trail begins to drop again, including a fairly steep decline just before reaching the lake. At 4.5 miles you’ll reach the western shore of Ypsilon Lake. To get the best views of the surrounding mountains, take the social trail to the opposite side of the lake.

The lake sits at the base of Ypsilon and Chiquita Mountains in the heart of the Mummy Range, and is fed by a waterfall close to where the trail intersects with the lake. It’s a nice waterfall; however, the park service is trying to rest the area and apparently doesn’t want you to visit it at this point in time. Unfortunately I didn’t notice the sign until after we left. A couple had stopped to chat with us as we were arriving, which is probably why I missed it.

Trail: Ypsilon Lake
RT Distance: 9 miles
Elevation Gain: 2375
Max Elevation: 10,760

National Geographic Trail Map for RMNP:

Jeff Detailed information on trails in the Smoky Mountains; includes trail descriptions, key features, pictures, video, maps, elevation profiles, news, hiking gear store, and more.

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National Parks Second Century Commission Releases Final Report

Thursday, September 24, 2009

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As reported earlier in the year, the National Parks Second Century Commission held it's final meeting in the Great Smoky Mountains this past June. That meeting concluded a year-long series of meetings to examine the role of national parks and to develop a vision for their future.

The Commission consists of nearly 30 national leaders and experts, including scientists, historians, conservationists, academics, business leaders, policy experts and retired National Park Service executives, and is being led by former Senators J. Bennett Johnston Jr. of Louisiana and Howard H. Baker Jr. of Tennessee.

Earlier this afternoon, the Commission released it final report to the president and Congress that included a list of recommendations.

From a high level overview, those recommendations include:

> First, the Commission recommends expansion of the National Park Idea by enhancing educational opportunities within the park system and community conservation and local partnerships to preserve our national heritage. Specifically, the Commission called for an expansion of the National Park Service’s mission, making education an explicit part of the mission for the first time. The report also recommends expanding the park system itself to protect segments of all of America’s ecological and cultural treasures and to represent the diversity of our changing nation.

> The Commission also called for a sweeping revitalization of the National Park Service, including strengthening the management, research, and community assistance capacity of the agency, along with significant steps for the Park Service to become a more innovative, diverse, and responsive organization prepared for the expanded vision of the system.

> The Commission recommended actions to preserve America’s natural and cultural resources by strengthening the Park Service’s capacity to preserve park resources through expansion of its ability to prevent other federal agency actions that would adversely impact parks. The report also identifies enhancements to Park Service authorities, budgets, and programs that provide the leverage to work cooperatively with local communities and stakeholders to preserve parks and surrounding landscapes.

> And, recognizing the importance of funding for the system, the Commission’s final report includes recommendations for Congress and the Administration to fully fund park needs through existing federal programs that benefit the Park Service, and offered proposals for enhanced permanent and sustainable funding from public and private sources. A key recommendation is the creation of a Presidentially-appointed commission to promote the importance of the parks and raise substantial private funds by the 2016 centennial of the Park Service.

You can read the full report with details on all of the Commission's recommendation's by clicking here (PDF file).

Jeff Detailed information on trails in the Smoky Mountains; includes trail descriptions, key features, pictures, video, maps, elevation profiles, news, hiking gear store, and more.
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RMNP Day 5: Wild Basin - Bluebird Lake

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The trail to Bluebird Lake begins out of the fairly remote Wild Basin area in the southeastern corner of Rocky Mountain National Park. This would be our first trip to this area of the park. The trail offers several attractions along the way, including Copeland Falls, Calypso Cascades, Ouzel Falls and Ouzel Lake.

Copeland Falls, the first destination along the way, arrives early at just 0.3 miles from the trailhead.

At 1.7 miles you’ll pass another waterfall, which isn't named on the map and shouldn't be confused with Calypso Cascades, which is still another 0.2 miles ahead. The 200-foot high Calypso Cascades wasn’t real impressive the day we saw it, but could be during the spring run-off.

Above Calypso you’ll begin catching sporadic views of the surrounding mountains, including Longs Peak and Mt. Meeker.

At 2.8 miles and an elevation of 9460 feet, you’ll reach Ouzel Falls, which is a pretty impressive waterfall. Although you can see it from the log bridge, make sure to take the short unmarked side trail to get a much better view.

At roughly 3.5 miles you’ll begin to see the scars and awesome devastation from the Ouzel Fire in 1978. The lightning-induced fire burned more than a thousand acres, making it the largest fire in Rocky Mountain National Park history.

At 4.6 miles you’ll reach a spur trail to Ouzel Lake. Up to this point the trail has been a very pleasant hike through mostly pine forest. Above this point the trail becomes fairly rugged and steeper, with the last quarter of a mile becoming very steep (although nothing technical). At least you’ll have a lot of wildflowers to look at as you struggle up the climb.
At just over 6.5 miles and an elevation of 11,020 feet, you’ll reach Bluebird Lake. This is yet another incredibly beautiful alpine lake:

Trail: Bluebird Lake
RT Distance: 13.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 2510 ft
Max Elevation: 11,020

If you want to see some absolutely stunning photography of the mountains of Colorado, check out Colorado II by world renowned photographer, David Muench:

For more information on this trail and all the trails in Rocky Mountain National Park, visit our new sister website at Rocky Mountain Hiking Trails.

Jeff Detailed information on trails in the Smoky Mountains; includes trail descriptions, key features, pictures, video, maps, elevation profiles, news, hiking gear store, and more.
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RMNP Day 4: Key Hole on Longs Peak

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

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Today our destination was supposed to be the summit of 13,281-foot Mt. Lady Washington, the mountain just northeast of Longs Peak.

Longs Peak is on the left, Mt. Lady Washington is on the right:

We woke up at 4:30 and arrived at the trailhead at 6:00 a.m., just as the sky was beginning to lighten on the eastern horizon. Since we remained on EST throughout our trip, that early wake-up call wasn’t a complete shock.

In addition to avoiding the usual afternoon thunderstorms, we had to arrive early to ensure a parking spot. Despite this, we still got one of the last spots in a lot that holds about 40 cars.

The hike begins from the Longs Peak Ranger Station at an elevation of 9400 feet. We would be following the famous Longs Peak Keyhole route for most of the way.

Roughly two hours later, and 3.4 miles from the trailhead, we made it to the Chasm Lake trail junction. This destination by itself is one of the best hikes in the park.

After reaching Granite Pass, and a fairly long section of switchbacks, we began looking for the unofficial “social” trail to the summit of Mt. Lady Washington. We were told by a park ranger that the trail was located somewhere above the switchbacks, but before the Boulder Field.

Unfortunately, we never found it (on the way up or on the way down). So, we switched to the unplanned “plan B”, which was to continue up the infamous Boulder Field to the Keyhole.

Camping Rocky Mountain style: campers and/or park service built rocks rings around tent sites to help keep wind and snow at bay:

“Are we out of this godforsaken Boulder Field yet?!”

The Boulder Field is an extremely rugged section of “trail”, roughly 2/3 of a mile in length and climbs about 800 feet. It requires scrambling, use of hand-holds, rock hopping over boulders, and a great deal of route finding.

Just below the Keyhole is the Agnes Vaille Shelter, built as a memorial after Ms. Vaille died there on January 25, 1925, shortly after becoming the first person to climb the Keyhole Route during the winter:

The Keyhole is the famous notch on the northwestern flank of Longs Peak. Hikers summiting the mountain pass through the Keyhole to reach the west side of the ridge and the final approach to the summit.

Beyond the Keyhole the trail becomes a bit more technical with moderate (frightening from my standpoint) exposure. You can see pictures of the path beyond the Keyhole by clicking here.

At an elevation of 13,250 feet, the Keyhole provides outstanding views of Powell Peak, McHenry Peak, Glacier Gorge and Black Lake, which can be reached from the Glacier Gorge Junction Trailhead.

It took us about an hour and 45 minutes to do the 1.3 mile roundtrip up and down the Boulder Field (including about 5 minutes of picture taking). It was roughly half-way down that Kathy blurted-out her completely apropos comment. We were both pretty tired of negotiating the rocks at this point.

This is an extremely difficult hike – maybe the most difficult hike we’ve ever done. In addition to the length and the amount of elevation gain, the rocky terrain makes for a long and tiring day.

Trail: Key Hole on Longs Peak
RT Distance: 13.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 3850
Max Elevation: 13,250

Paul Nesbit's classic - a history and climbing guide for Longs Peak:

Jeff Detailed information on trails in the Smoky Mountains; includes trail descriptions, key features, pictures, video, maps, elevation profiles, news, hiking gear store, and more.
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Blog hits milestone

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Last week this blog quietly celebrated a milestone by reaching 100,000 visits. When I launched this blog back in April of last year, I thought I would never reach 1000, let alone 100,000. Out of curiosity, I thought I’d take this time to take a look back and list the top 10 postings in terms of total visitor traffic:

1) Video: Tyler Bradt's record 186-foot Kayak Drop
2) Don’t miss the Flame Azaleas on Gregory Bald
3) Abrams Falls Trail is now reopen
4) Eagle Scout Fined $25,238 for Rescue
5) Appalachian Trail thru-hiker numbers up 25%
6) Bear warnings/closings on the rise in the Smokies
7) GPS system 'close to breakdown'
8) Happy Birthday Great Smoky Mountains N.P.
9) Keeping your cool while summer hiking
10) Is bear spray illegal in national parks?

Thanks to all my readers, especially those of you that visit on a regular basis!

Jeff Detailed information on trails in the Smoky Mountains; includes trail descriptions, key features, pictures, video, maps, elevation profiles, news, hiking gear store, and more.
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RMNP Day 3: Old Ute Trail

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

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Never doubt the warning that weather in the Colorado Rockies can change quickly….

Figuring out where the Old Ute Trail is located can be a little confusing. One section runs from the Alpine Visitor Center at Fall River Pass to Milner Pass. The section we decided to hike, apparently unconnected to the other, begins about 2 miles above Rainbow Curve on Trail Ridge Road. This is an excellent trail that allows you to enjoy high alpine and tundra scenery without having to do a lot of climbing. That is, if you turn around at the 2 mile point. Beyond that, the trail descends rapidly all the way down to Beaver Meadows in Moraine Park.

The trail begins from a very small parking area with enough room for only four vehicles (with another small lot about a 0.25 mile above). With the exception of a historical information kiosk, the trailhead isn’t marked. The kiosk explains that the trail was used by Arapaho and Ute Indians on their way to winter and summer hunting grounds.

Big view rewards are immediate:

This is a relatively flat trail, with two short climbs that take you across Tombstone Ridge; the first at the very beginning of the hike, with the second beginning roughly at the one mile mark.

We passed a herd of elk near the beginning of the hike, and then another at about the half way point. Both herds, numbering maybe 20 in size, were a good quarter of a mile off the trail.

After climbing the second hill, the trail tops out at 11,675 feet. From this point forward you’ll have commanding views of Longs Peak towards the south, the highest mountain in the park.

Once reaching the top, the trail begins drifting downhill. Eventually you’ll see a large rock just off to the side of the trail. This is your destination. From here you’ll have outstanding views of Longs Peak all the way down to Moraine Park and Estes Park.

You should expect lots of wind and sun on this trail. Being above the tree line you’ll have panoramic views along the entire length of your trek.

We began our hike under beautiful blue skies. As the day progressed, clouds began to build. At the turn around point, the clouds began to darken a little, and by the time we were half-way back to the trailhead, the clouds were looking downright threatening.

I thought for sure we were going to make it back before the rain would start. Our luck didn’t quite hold out. It started to drizzle, then sleet, and then we started getting pelted by small pea-sized hail. When the wind started whipping up, faces and exposed legs were stinging.

This was a much needed short and easy hike for us so that we would have fresh legs for our 13-mile hike up to the summit of Mt. Lady Washington the next day.

Trail: Old Ute Trail
RT Distance: 4 miles
Elevation Gain: 325
Max Elevation: 11,675

National Geographic Trail Map for RMNP:

Jeff Detailed information on trails in the Smoky Mountains; includes trail descriptions, key features, pictures, video, maps, elevation profiles, news, hiking gear store, and more.
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RMNP Day 2: The Loch & Sky Pond

Monday, September 21, 2009

The trail to Sky Pond begins from Glacier Gorge Junction, and is another trail with multiple attractions, including, Alberta Falls, The Loch, and the Lake of Glass, before reaching the spectacular alpine lake at the base of Taylor and Powell Peaks.

Although the forecast called for good weather in the morning, the skies were already looking a little threatening. We even had a few sprinkles before pulling into the Glacier Gorge parking area.

On the way to the trailhead we saw our first black bear in Rocky Mountain National Park as it scurried across the road that morning.

Your first major destination on this hike is Alberta Falls. Because it’s only 0.85 miles from the trailhead, this is an extremely popular destination. If you want to avoid crowds it’s best to start this hike as early as possible.

You’ll pass another waterfall a fairly short distance above Alberta Falls.

At 2.9 miles you’ll reach Loch Vale, better known as The Loch. This is a beautiful sub-alpine lake situated at 10,215 feet. A lot hikers make this their final destination, but there’s still much to see on this trail.
Our next destination was the Lake of Glass. Just below a section of trail that makes the final climb to the Lake of Glass we were taking a break when we heard what sounded like a whistle in the distance. Not hearing anything else we proceeded on. As we got to within the half-way point of the climb, we rounded a corner and came face to face with a large male elk. We literally came within 30 feet of each other. I’m not sure who was startled more, but the elk moved off the trail – before I had a chance to snap a picture.

That whistling noise we heard was the elk bugling.

After a fairly steep climb, you’ll reach Timberline Falls, which you can see from The Loch. Your next objective is to get above and beyond the waterfall. This is actually a pretty challenging section for the average day hiker.

The trail ascends along the right side of the main waterfall. This section, roughly 50 feet or so, requires a scramble up a chute, including portions that require hand holds and use of all four limbs. I wouldn’t describe this as being dangerous, but certainly will be a little unnerving for some people. This picture may make the climb look a little worse than it really is:
Once you get to the top, you’re just a short distance from the Lake of Glass, roughly 4.2 miles from the trailhead.

Looking back at the Lake of Glass from Sky Pond:

From Lake of Glass, your just another 0.4 mile from Sky Pond. This section of trail can be a little sketchy. Be sure to look for cairns in some places to keep you on the trail.

Sky Pond, at an elevation 10,905 feet, sits at the bottom of an amphitheatre of sheer cliff walls that box in the lake on three sides. This an incredibly beautiful setting. One person we met said that the Cathedral Spires that ring the western shore of the lake reminded them of Switzerland.
This hike became an instant classic for me, and is definitely one of the best in the park.

Trail: Sky Pond
RT Distance: 9.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 1675
Max Elevation: 10,905

Lisa Foster's hiking guide is considered by many to be the bible for the Rocky Mountains:

For more information on this trail and all the trails in Rocky Mountain National Park, visit our new sister website at Rocky Mountain Hiking Trails.

Jeff Detailed information on trails in the Smoky Mountains; includes trail descriptions, key features, pictures, video, maps, elevation profiles, news, hiking gear store, and more.
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