Blue's Boots

Andrea's adventures on the trail…

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May/June 2020

I feel so fortunate that DH and I were able to visit and hike at Grand Canyon South Rim, Death Valley (wow!), and Joshua Tree National Parks in early February before what I’m calling “The Great Pause.”  The memories of that trip have sustained my spirits for the past few months.

What’s that saying… “The best laid plans…”

I had planned a 6-state road trip for hiking this summer that I just cancelled with mixed feelings. Instead I’m going to lean in to the Big Pause the world is in right now and stay closer to home this summer, hiking, camping, and backpacking locally instead. Even though I can’t do my trip as planned, I’m grateful that I and the people I love are safe and healthy, and that I have beautiful areas close by that nourish my heart and soul.

I will hopefully be keeping my plans to backpack the Timberline Trail around Mt. Hood in Oregon this summer with DH and friends. I’d love to get back to the Eagle Cap Wilderness in eastern Oregon too, but I’ll decide on that later this summer.

~~ Andrea ~~

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Joshua Tree National Park, CA

Joshua Tree National Park rests in the mountains above Palm Springs. Some of the most interesting rock formations I’ve ever seen are here, along with Joshua trees, cholla, ocotillo, and many other desert plants and animals that have adapted to this harsh environment. Since I love scrambling on rocks, Joshua Tree NP is a perfect playground for that.

We played on the rocks around Arch Rock, but unfortunately it was very crowded and many people were intent on climbing the arch, not allowing photos for the rest of us.

We next headed to Split Rock Trail, and had a wonderful time watching rock climbers, exploring the area, and getting off the main trail for a quiet lunch spot in the rocks.

We drove to Keys View, only to find that it was so crowded we had to wait 20 minutes to park, with no way to turn around. The view down into the Palm Springs valley is impressive, but also many times covered in a haze that is a combination of marine air and L.A. smog.

We ended our first day by wandering in the cholla cactus garden and the ocotillo area. Very surreal, and also incredibly easy to impale your shoes with cholla barbs!!

On our second day we decided to try to get away from crowds, so we chose to explore the Wonderland of Rocks area, and it was a great decision! We started on the Boy Scout Trail, veering to the right on the Willow Hole Trail. We saw very few people, and spent the day exploring the area. The trail was very easy, and we spent a long time scrambling on rocks and taking in the views.

Like Death Valley, Joshua Tree can be brutally hot in summertime. February was a perfect time to visit, sunny skies, mild temperatures, and a surreal and beautiful landscape.

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Death Valley National Park, CA

Death Valley National Park stole my heart! I never imagined that more than 3,000,000 desolate acres could be so beautiful and amazing. Our timing was perfect in February, with cold mornings but wonderful afternoon temperatures and a lot of sunshine. In summer the heat is brutal, so late winter/early spring is a perfect time to visit.

We love scrambling through canyons, so our 2 choices for this trip were Mosaic Canyon and Desolation Canyon. We also walked miles in Badwater Basin, drove the scenic Artist’s Palette Drive, and visited the Devil’s Golf Course. So much to see and do here, and this is a park I will definitely get back to some day!

Mosaic Canyon was our first hike, with 2 roadblocks of a boulder jam and a dry falls that we knew ahead of time how to get past thanks to information from the Death Valley NPS website. In this canyon the rock is incredibly slick, the walls have been scoured smooth by millennia of flash floods. If you take the time to stop and look around, you’ll see many different rock colors that are beautiful!

Zabriskie Point is definitely worth a 10-minute drive to get to a viewpoint above the valley floor.

Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. The ground looks like snow, but it’s a huge salt flat that goes for miles and miles, and is wonderful to walk around on. Walking a few miles out into the basin helps to give perspective on how huge this valley really is. There is a sign on the cliff above the parking area that is sea level, helps put things into perspective.

Artist’s Palette Scenic Drive showcases beautiful colored soils and rocks. Mother Nature truly is an artist, and she shows it off here. This is a one-way drive, take your time and take it all in.

Desolation Canyon is aptly named, and a beautiful hike that involves scrambling up two 6-8 foot walls that are easy enough to maneuver, especially with help from a hiking partner. Once you get to the ridge up top, there are expansive views of the valley below, and you realize that you are literally standing right above the Artist’s Palette Scenic Drive. For being so desolate, this was a phenomenal canyon hike and one we would definitely recommend.

Natural Bridge is a great easy hike if heading far into rocky canyons is not your idea of fun. It’s easy and short, we saw many people with children on this hike and would suggest it for anyone. The most impressive dry fall we saw was just after the Natural Bridge – it goes to show the incredible power of water in the desert.

Devil’s Golf Course is named very well … these spikes of heaved soil and salt deposits are 1 to 2 feet high and as sharp as razors. A fall here would not be fun. It was surreal walking among these formations.

Lastly, I can’t finish without mentioning the local wild burros that greeted us early one morning as we were driving to the park 🙂

Overall, Death Valley was a huge YES for us, a place we will definitely spend more time exploring sometime in the future.

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Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area, Nevada

Just outside of Las Vegas is a wonderful gem, the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. The bulk of the area is a one-way drive with many stops along the way, wonderful rock formations like the Calico Hills, sweeping views, and canyons to explore. We spent quite a bit of time scrambling around the rocks at Calico Hills, then hiked into Icebox Canyon, very appropriately named since we found puddles of frozen water in there. It’s a beautiful area, and well worth exploring it if the lights and noise and frenzy of Las Vegas don’t suit you (like me!)

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Valley of Fire State Park, NV

I’m not much of a fan of Las Vegas, but there are some beautiful areas to explore outside of the city. Valley of Fire State Park is a must-see if you ever go to Vegas. One of my dreams has been to hike The Wave, but honestly I’ll probably never get a permit or get there. The Fiery Wave at Valley of Fire S.P. is a pretty good alternative and easy to get to.

We were fortunate to see a herd of bighorn sheep on our return from the Fiery Wave, I’ve seen them before from further away, and was able to get some better photos this time.

There are also many other places to hike, including Mouse’s Tank which is a canyon with hundreds of petroglyphs carved into the walls. We didn’t get to spend much time here, and would definitely like to spend more time exploring on another trip.

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Grand Canyon South Rim

Well…. I’m ashamed to say I’d never seen the Grand Canyon until 2 weeks ago. In my yearly need to chase the sun by February (think permanently dark, gray skies 95% of the time in the PNW all winter long), I decided it was high time to finally visit.

Wow… just WOW! That’s a huge hole in the ground! We tried hiking down the Bright Angel Trail but much of it was just an ice slide, so we were content looking down into the canyon from the rim. The light was perfect, and the angle was different at every point we stopped or hiked at. We hiked part way down the Hermit’s Rest trail (no ice) and were able to have a solitary long lunch with amazing views, soak up the sunshine, and just relax. We walked the rim, had fun in the Geology Museum, went out to the Desertview Watchtower, soaked in the scenery at Pima Point, and just gave ourselves time to soak it all in.

Visiting in February can be very cold, we had on multiple layers of clothes, down jackets, gloves, and wool hats, but it was so beautiful and there were very few people there, which was just right for us.

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Mazama Ridge, Mt. Rainier

Sometimes Mother Nature calls, and I just have to listen!!! I struggle with S.A.D. (seasonal affective disorder) in our PNW winters with short daylight hours, and even then usually it’s gray and dull even in daylight. When I get a chance to head to Mt. Rainier and get some sunshine, make some vitamin D, and fill up on beauty and peace and solitude and that INCREDIBLE BLUE SKY – I just have to go for it.

I started my morning early with 40 minutes of stretching on my yoga mat, then drove to Paradise and had hours to myself taking in the beauty around me. Ohhhhh… so good.

What do you do to restore your soul and make your heart happy? If you have SAD, what do you do to take care of yourself in the winter months?

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Brilliant words…

I just finished reading a book by Katy Bowman called Move Your DNA about movement, and how the human body is designed to be out in nature moving naturally, not confined to a chair all day long. I loved her brilliant words at the end of the book, and I think this pertains to spiritually as well as physically. Get out there and be a part of it…

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Digging for fossils in Fossil, Oregon

There’s a tiny town in Central Oregon named Fossil because… you guessed it, there are a lot of plant fossils in the area! Behind the high school field anyone is welcome to wander up a small hill and dig for fossils. There is a little shed with tools for use, so with shovel and pick and plastic bag in hand, I headed up. Even by 8 am it was hot out, but I dug for about 45 minutes 🙂 I still have a bag full of rocks to clean and look through, but one I know for sure is the tip of a Dawn Redwood from millions of years ago. I think this is so fitting, considering the northern California redwood forests are one of my favorite places on earth!

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John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Clarno Unit – Oregon

Maybe my favorite of the John Day Fossil Bed Units – this is where plant fossils are up close and personal on the trails and you can see many of them. All 3 units of John Day are impressive in their own way. I hiked all 3 short trails here, the Geologic Time Trail, The Trail of Fossils, and the Arch Trail. Again, very HOT, but worth it. Sunscreen, big hat, a lot of ice water.

The Geologic Time trail runs parallel to the road and has many interpretive signs showing what life was like in this area up to 40+ million years ago. From this trail there are excellent views of the Palisades, wonderful rock formations that change in the light and depending on what angle you’re looking from.

The Trail of Fossils has many signs that point you toward leaf fossils in big boulders, with specific instructions on where to look, since they’re hard to find. I had so much fun fossil hunting along this trail. It’s amazing to think that some of these plants are preserved from tens of millions of years ago!

Last but not least I hiked uphill on the Arch Trail, to the base of the Clarno Arch in the Palisades. There are 2 large petrified logs in a T-shape on the cliff walls as you hike up. Again, signs point out where to look and what to look for. Wonderful!

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John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Painted Hills Unit – Oregon

After the Sheep Rock Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds, I drove to the Painted Hills Unit. It was late afternoon and the heat had taken a lot of energy out of me, so I didn’t hike much here. Fortunately, not much hiking is needed to see some beautiful scenery. I stopped at the Painted Hills Overlook and hiked the Painted Cove Trail. This area is fairly small, and the roads are gravel. It’s a quick but beautiful stop.

The Painted Hills Overlook is mesmerizing. It almost looks fake, like someone spray-painted the hill in stripes. Different minerals in the soil make up the different colors. They also show different climates and weather patterns through history. Again, Mother Nature is simply amazing.

After stopping at the Overlook, I drove a bit further to the Painted Cove Trail (1/4 mile stroll). It’s a small section of other-worldly-looking hills in several different colors, again from different minerals in the soils creating the color palette.

Beautiful. Just beautiful…

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