Capitol Reef National Park: Scenic Drive

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

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After our hike to Hickman Bridge, we drove back to the Visitor Center where we perused the displays about the park’s geological history. The rock formations in the park are sedimentary…loose matter that has settled in layers and has compressed into rock. Each layer is from a different period of the Earth’s history.

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Next we continued on the service road past the Visitor Center to the Gifford Homestead. The Giffords were the last residents of Fruita and sold their property to the NPS in 1969.

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The NPS and the Capitol Reef Natural History Association maintain a working farm on the homestead site with a store that sells baked goods.

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We admired the horses and then got back on the road to begin the Scenic Drive. Just past the Gifford barn is the entrance to the drive with a lock box for the fee charged to drive the road. This is the only section of the park where there is an entrance fee and it is on the honor system.

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The drive itself is five miles out and back and is indeed quite scenic. We were there towards the end of the day and there weren’t any other cars on the road with us.

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We stopped at a few points to take photos. There are trail heads all along the road worthy of exploration, but we will have to save that for a future visit.

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Capitol Reef posts:

  • Cathedral Valley
  • Goblin Valley State Park
  • Hickman Bridge
  • Scenic Drive
  • Panorama Point

Location: Wayne, Utah

Designation: National Park

Date designation declared: 12/18/1971

Date of my visit: 4/13/2017

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Capitol Reef National Park: Hickman Bridge

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

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Having spent the morning exploring Cathedral Valley, we needed a short hike in the main section of Capitol Reef National Park after lunch. Two miles east of the visitor center, we parked in the lot for the Hickman Bridge trail head. From this lot, you can access the 2-mile round-trip hike to Hickman Bridge, as well as the 4.5-mile hike to Rim Overlook.

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The Hickman Bridge Trail is a pretty popular one because it’s fairly short and moderate. Most of the elevation gain of 400 feet is in the beginning of the trail with stairs carved into the rock and switchbacks. There is no shade, and even in April, it was a thirsty climb.

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The canyon views once you get to the midway point are great, with many unique rock formations in sight, like the Capitol Dome.

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As the trail started dipping down, we came to a small double natural bridge named after a 19th century Fruita homesteader,  Nels Johnson.

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After the Nels Johnson Bridges, the trail climbed again, winding around the 133 foot span of the Hickman Natural Bridge.

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The arch is the largest in the park and is named for Joe Hickman. Hickman, together with his brother in law, Ephraim Pectol, paved the way for Capitol Reef to become a National Park. The two men campaigned for the ‘Wayne Wonderland’ to be given protected status.

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In 1924, Hickman, as a state legislator, succeeded in having the area set aside as a state park. After the dedication ceremony, Hickman petitioned the federal government to designate the Wayne Wonderland National Monument, but he was killed in a boating accident shortly afterwards.

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Pectol took over and spent more than a decade working with the federal government, helping to survey the area. FDR created Capitol Reef National Monument in 1937. The monument was elevated to National Park status by Congress in 1971.

Capitol Reef posts:

  • Cathedral Valley
  • Goblin Valley State Park (Coming Soon)
  • Hickman Bridge
  • Scenic Drive (Coming Soon)
  • Panorama Point (Coming Soon)

Location: Wayne, Utah

Designation: National Park

Date designated or established: 12/18/1971

Date of my visit: 4/13/2017

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Glacier National Park: Trail of the Cedars & Avalanche Lake

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

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We spent Day 4 of our Montana trip with Glacier Guides and Montana Raft Company. In the morning, we met at the company’s West Glacier office and our guides Josh and Brianna made their introductions. We piled into two vans and headed into Glacier National Park through the Western entrance.

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We parked in the Avalanche parking lot and began our hike on Trail of the Cedars. Trail of the Cedars is a short, flat, accessible loop where you can stroll through huge old-growth cedar trees. The NPS, which normally has a ‘let it burn’ policy when it comes to wildfires has said that this is one of the few areas it would fight to save in the event of a fire due to the unique 400-600 year old trees found here.

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The boardwalk side of the loop had been damaged by Spring storms, so we took the wide dirt path on the other side.  Midway through the loop, we reached Avalanche Gorge, a pretty waterfall rushing through moss-covered rocks.

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From there, we picked up the trail to Avalanche Lake. Though this hike is about 5 miles roundtrip with 740 feet in elevation gain, it wasn’t too difficult for the group to keep up a good pace. The ascent isn’t steep. it is more of gradual climb over rolling hills through the forest.

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Once we got to the top, the trail opened out onto a beach with log benches where we rested a bit and took in the awesome sight of Avalanche Lake in its amphitheater.

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Sperry Glacier sits on a shelf above the lake and several waterfalls run down the side of the mountains from the glacier to the lake.

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Our guides then led us to a more secluded rocky beach where our group enjoyed a delicious picnic lunch before heading back down the trail.

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We were back at the Glacier Guides headquarters in plenty of time for our afternoon rafting adventure.

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Location: Going-to-the-Sun Road, East Glacier Park, MT 59434, USA

Designation: National Park

Date designated or established: 5/11/1910

Date of my visit: 6/25/2018

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Glacier National Park: Saint Mary Falls

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

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We traveled to the Baring Falls dock on St. Mary Lake via the Glacier Park Boat Company and their vintage wooden boats. Once we disembarked, we had the option to visit nearby Baring Falls and then re-board to return to the Rising Sun dock. Instead, we chose to take the guided hike to St. Mary Falls with Ranger Melissa and return on a later boat.

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The trail to St. Mary Falls is about 1.6 miles from the dock with an elevation gain of 140 feet. Most of the climb is in the beginning as you make your way to a point above the water. At that point, we paused to discuss bear safety (Melissa had a bear run right through an earlier tour of hers, so sheer numbers don’t keep them away…you have to clap and speak loudly continuously as you hike.)

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The path then wound through a woodland area recovering from the Reynolds Creek Fire of 2015. Though that fire had man-made causes, wildfire is a regular occurrence in Glacier National Park and is nature’s way of restoring equilibrium. Melissa said this area was starting to look sick prior to the fire, with the trees choking out the growth on the forest floor.

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Melissa pointed out the prolific Beargrass, a grassy plant native to Montana with white flower clusters atop stalks. While there are some blooms every year, the park has reported mass bloomings only once every 5-10 years. They reminded me of something from the pages of Dr. Seuss.

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The falls were rushing…lots of glacial turquoise water rushing to the Saint Mary River and on into the lake. Scroll to the end for a video clip.

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We hiked back ahead of the group, wanting to see Baring Falls before boarding the boat. This is a less impressive fall, or maybe we were just becoming jaded from having seen so many spectacular waterfalls in the first day of our trip.

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To see all of my Going to the Sun Posts, please click the following links:

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Location: Going-to-the-Sun Road, East Glacier Park, MT 59434, USA

Designation: National Park

Date designation declared: 5/11/1910

Date of my visit: 6/24/2018

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Glacier National Park: Saint Mary Lake

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

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St. Mary Lake is on the Eastern side of Glacier National Park. Going to the Sun road runs along its North shore. At 10 miles long and 300 feet deep it is the second largest lake in the park.

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We boarded a ranger guided lake tour at the Rising Sun Dock, around the midpoint of the lake. I’d reserved it in advance with the Glacier Park Boat Company. The tour traveled from Rising Sun to the Baring Falls dock at the head of the lake in about 30 minutes, with Ranger Melissa narrating the whole way down.

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As we traveled towards the Baring Falls dock at the head of the lake, we passed by Wild Goose Island, which we’d previously seen from a different perspective up on Going to the Sun Road.

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As we approached the snow-covered peaks at the head of the lake, Melissa pointed out Sexton Glacier, visible on Mount Matahpi, just beyond Going to the Sun Mountain. Like most of the glaciers in the park, it is shrinking and has lost over 30% of its mass in the last 50 years.

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We learned that the glaciers are the reason for St. Mary’s unique turquoise color. The slow movement of the ice grinds up the rock into a fine dust called glacial flour. The runoff carries the glacier flour into the lake where the particles remain suspended in the water, reflecting back the light.

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Two Medicine and McDonald lakes are beautiful, but not the same vibrant hue as the East side lakes because there are no glaciers feeding into them. The NPS estimates that all the park’s glaciers will be gone by 2030 and then the Eastern lakes will lose their color.

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At the dock, we disembarked and took a guided hike with Ranger Melissa. On the way back we passed another small island called Rainbow Island.

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To see all of my Going to the Sun Posts, please click the following links:

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Location: Going-to-the-Sun Road, East Glacier Park, MT 59434, USA

Designation: National Park

Date designation declared: 5/11/1910

Date of my visit: 6/24/2018

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St Mary Lake on a 3D model of the park at the St. Mary Visitor Center

Glacier National Park: Going to the Sun Road

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

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The 50 mile Going to the Sun Road first opened to traffic in Glacier National Park in 1933 and remains a key attraction in the park today. On our first trip down Going to the Sun Road, we began at the East entrance in St. Mary (scroll down to the end for the video clip) and took a Red Bus tour of the Eastern side. We toured the road in our rental car a few more times that week and saw something different each time.

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Going to the Sun Road is partially closed during the colder months and very difficult to plow due to the twists & turns, sheer cliffs and the fact that they get snow drifts of up to 80 feet in the higher elevations. The plow crews started work at the end of April this year and when we got on a plane bound for Kalispell at the end of June, the road still was not completely open. Late on the night of our arrival, the Park Service tweeted out the happy news that Going to the Sun was open for the summer season!

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When the road opened in the 1930s, it was an engineering marvel and was a three-year project that actually took 11 years to build. The design of the road changed over the course of the construction from multiple switchbacks carving up the mountain to Logan Pass to only one long switchback called The Loop, reducing the visual impact, but increasing the cost and time needed for the project.

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The road is named for the mountain it cuts through on the East side of the pass. Legend has it that a Native American god came down from the sun to teach the Blackfeet how to hunt and left his image in the mountain upon his return to the Sun. The source of that legend is in dispute…is it a Blackfeet legend, or did a European settler make the whole thing up?

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On our trips up and down Going to the Sun, we saw tunnels, glaciers, beautiful mountains and valleys and countless waterfalls crossing the road. We were thrilled to have four bighorn sheep cross the road in front of our car one evening, pose for photos and then clamber up the cliff next to us.

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Another time, when all I had handy to take photos was my phone, we saw two black bears (one blonde, one brunette) frolicking by the side of the road. We’d heard a ranger talking about this duo on a hike earlier that day. Apparently the couple had come together to mate and there were multiple visitor sightings of the same bears in the St. Mary area.

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To see all of my Going to the Sun Posts, please click the following links:

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Location: Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier Park, MT 59434, USA

Designation: National Park, NHL

Date designated or established: 5/11/1910, Road added to NHL in 1997

Date of my visit: 6/24/2018

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Bighorn traffic jam at the East Tunnel…can you see him peeking over the hood of the car in front?

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Roaring Fork Motor Trail & Grotto Falls

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Welcome back to National Parks with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park has a few scenic drives from which you can explore the park. The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is  approximately 6 miles of narrow, winding road. It is one-way, just outside Gatlinburg.

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The trail-head for the popular Rainbow Falls hike is at the beginning of this road. We stopped there, but saw that the hike was over five miles. It was a hot, humid afternoon and we weren’t really up to that challenge.

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A little further along the loop, we parked at the Trillium Gap trail-head to take the shorter hike to Grotto Falls. It is 1.5 miles from the trail-head to the falls. It is steep and rocky in places.

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At the top of the Grotto Falls hike, the falls cascade over a rock shelf.  This creates a ledge behind the waterfall. We walked behind the falls and cooled off in the spray.

To see my other Great Smoky Mountain National Posts, click the following links:

Location: Gatlinburg, TN

Designation: National Park

Date designated or established: 9/02/1940

Date of my visit: August 2013

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