Cedar Breaks National Monument = Bryce Canyon – (.5 * Bryce Size) – (.95 * Bryce Crowds)

Basically Bryce Canyon, but not as big and definitely not as crowded. Similar hoodoos though. I was there on June 22nd, driving from SLC to San Diego.

Later that night I slept at a rest stop on the California side of the CA-NV line. I-15. The idling semi trucks were like white noise. The person whose car alarm went off once every two hours will one day pay for his (her) insolence.

Long before that, though:

Cedar Breaks National Monument


A marmot.

A marmot.

The road out.

The road out.

It’s a national monument that warrants about four photos and I *do* now realize that I should have taken more (a non-zero number of) pictures of the rest area. Although you’ve probably been there yourself — metaphorically if nothing else.


Mills Lake Hike and Rocky Mountain National Park

This happened a long time ago. Before I did my dissertation defense. Before my niece even got married. A long time ago.

Rocky Mountain National Park is a National Park located in Denver. There are a ton of people since in Denver (fine, “in Denver”, where “in” means less than 90 minutes away). The Mills Lake Hike was one I found out about online. It was pretty good. Get to the trailhead early to ensure parking and that the way up the trailer won’t be in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

I stayed at some campground just outside the park. It cost $26 because it’s in Denver.

Here’s the payoff from the hike:

Mills Lake at Rocky Mountain National Park

Nice, right? I think it’s probably the highlight of the whole park.

On this photo, I think the horse’s head should be crossed out:

No Horses Sign

And somewhere along the way you see this:

Alberta Falls at RMNP

I think it’s called Alberta Falls. There’s no better angle without a helicopter and wires. Sorry. They should have angled the waterfall differently, I agree.

I actually remember thinking it was a great hike three of four weeks ago or whenever it was I actually did itt. I’m just a little jaded right now since I’ve been outside for the last week and seen a lot of mountains and lakes. Tomorrow I will see more mountains and lakes. We’ll see how disappointing they are. Here’s another photo of Mills Lake sort of with some mountains behind:


There was an ice field you had to walk across close to the lake. I got to the parking lot by like 8:30 or so. No problem finding parking and not too crowded on the way up. On the way down, all of Denver was on its way up. And most of Denver is part of one of a variety of youth groups. Then some dude commented on my hat so he could get to his punchline about how dumb it is for Under Armour to make pink camouflage underwear for girls.

After the hike, I drove through the rest of the park. Given that it’s located in a major metropolitan area, the drive over the crest of the park (parks have crests now) was conducted in heavy midday traffic and looked like this:

The top of RMNP

Vorwärts. Immer vorwärts nur.



Climbing Pikes Peak (in a Car)

Pikes Peak is super-close to Colorado Springs. It’s a 14,000+ peak to which you can drive. It is the highest elevation to which I have ever driven. It’s sort of like a toll road operated by the NFS.

Whichever of those peaks is the highest, that's Pikes.

Whichever of those peaks is the highest, that’s Pikes.

At the edge of civilization before you start climbing up to the pass toward where the entry booth is located, there’s a gas station+barbecue place. I used their restroom and bought a rice krispie treat there. The bathroom was the better of the two experiences.

  •  19 miles from the toll booth to the top (IIRC).
  • Somehow takes about an hour-plus to get up there.
  • Most people driving up it are totally reasonable, but it only takes one Minnesotan without the self-awareness to use turnouts to ruin everything.
  • Which is how it takes an hour-plus to get up there.
  • I get a little dizzy and light-headed at 14,000 feet.
  • Also my fingers get a little numb and tingly.
  • There are a lot of hairpin turns.
  • They tell you to only ever use first gear on the way down.
  • Halfway down there’s a checkpoint where an NFS employee tests the temperature of your brakes and if you’re over 300, they make you stop. Mine were 293.0 degrees (Fahrenheit I hope).
  • Here are some other photos:
Backhoes on the road also slow the procession.

Backhoes on the road also slow the procession.





Probably enough.


Black Mesa State Park: Highest Point in Oklahoma, Good Clouds

Driving from Norman to Salt Lake via Rocky Mountain National Park while avoiding Kansas results (or did in this case) in traversing the entire Oklahoma panhandle. At least Oklahoma is actually pan-shaped. Florida and Texas would be hard to cook anything in. Also not sure the Texas handle would provide enough grip for the entire state.

At the far western end of the panhandle, basically in New Mexico, is Oklahoma’s highest point, Black Mesa. They have a campground nearby, although the campground offers no views of the mesa, which doesn’t actually come off as being all that tall in reality. It does, though, have views of some swampy creek thing with a lake.

Black Mesa State Park

Viewpoint - Lake Carl Etling

They also have landscapes without swamp lakes.


Camped there for a night. Super windy. Loud wind that inhibits sleep. Hard.

Next day, I drove out to the mesa. It was okay. There are actually a bunch of mesas clustered sort of together a few miles from the campground. Eventually one of them is Black Mesa. It might have been this one:

Black Mesa

There’s a trail you can take to the top of the mesa. I took it for about a half a mile instead and found scrubby trees.

Black Mesa Trail

And then I headed back toward the highway. Here is evidence of that portion of the overall journey:

DSC_3752.NEFLooks like something you’d expect to see in the far-western plains. I liked the clouds.



Map for My Post-Dissertation Road Trip

Although it’s also sort of a during-dissertation road trip.

2014 Road Trip

Not pictured is the flying from San Diego to Pittsburgh and back. Long may it remain unpictured!

Presumed worst parts (in chronological order):

  • Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois
  • OK to the Rockies
  • I-80 across Wyo (time permitting, maybe I’ll drive the Colorado route instead)
  • North Texas


Packing List for the Next Road Trip

It’s not so much a road trip as it is living out of my truck for two months. Partly on roads.

This is my old list from the 48 state days, but with cross-outs to make me feel like I learned something.

  • Tent & Footprint
  • Flannel Sleeping Bag
  • Nylon Sleeping Bag
  • Inflatobed/Cot (or both)
  • Stove (+ Backpacking Stove?)
  • Fry Pan
  • Sauce Pan
  • Lantern
  • Water Jug
  • Cooler
  • Utensils
  • Flashlight
  • Hatchet
  • Mallet
  • Day Pack
  • Overnighter Pack
  • Rope
  • Headlamp
  • Knife
  • Camera (Point & Shoot)
  • DSLR
  • Power Inverter
  • Laptop
  • Kindle
  • iPod
  • Headphones
  • Earplugs
  • Trekking Poles
  • Legal Pad
  • 2x Pen
  • Pencil
  • Hike Boots
  • Hike Shoes
  • Water Shoes
  • Flip Flops
  • Dress Shoes
  • 2x Quick-Dry Shorts
  • 2x Normal Shorts
  • 1x 2x QD Pants
  • 1x Rain Pants
  • 1x Camp Pants
  • 1x Jeans
  • 1x Business Suit
  • 2x Ties
  • 2x Belts (one nice, one indestructible)
  • Nice Watch
  • Parka
  • Rain Coat
  • Tritium Watch
  • 7x Hiking Socks
  • 7x QD Socks
  • 3x Dress Socks
  • Long Underwear Top
  • Long Underwear Bottom
  • 10x 4x QD Underwear
  • 4x 10x Normal Underwear
  • 4x 1x QD T-Shirts
  • 3x Normal T-Shirts
  • 4x Long-Sleeve Warm Shirts
  • 2x Short-Sleeve QD Shirts
  • 2x Short-Sleeve Shirts
  • 2x Long-Sleeve Dress Shirts
  • 1x Golf Shirt
  • Stocking Cap
  • Boonie Cap
  • Baseball Cap
  • Thin Gloves
  • Thick Gloves
  • Beach Towel
  • Normal Towel
  • Camp Towel
  • Blanket
  • First Aid Kit
  • Hiking First Aid Kit
  • Kayak (Inflatable)
  • Paddle
  • PFD
  • Bike
  • Helmet
  • Bike Shoes
  • Bike Shorts
  • Water Bottles (Bike)
  • Bike Gloves
  • Fishing Rod
  • Reel
  • Fishing Tackle & Box
  • Road Atlas
  • Gas Generator
  • Blackout Window Coverings
  • XBox & Screen (?)

Basically. Something like that. In that vicinity. I’ll probably take more normal-person clothes than this. If I’m going to backpack the Sierras, I’ll also need my sleeping pad. Probably also take my iPad, so with the legal pad I should be pretty well covered on pads.

Mostly I’m just looking forward to being able to say that I live in my truck again.


My Winter with the Mountain Collective

If you’re unaware, the Mountain Collective is essentially a season-long ski pass that:

  • Gets you two free days at each of six (high end, mostly huge) ski resorts, namely: Alta-Snowbird, Aspen (all four areas), Jackson Hole, Mammoth, Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows, and Whistler-Blackcomb
  • Plus half price for any additional days.

Of course, with a set-up like this, one feels naturally challenged to go to all six resorts. I therefore did that this winter (because, as this is my last as a grad student, I’m unlikely to have time/flexibility for it in future winters).

Mountain Collective Passes

I didn’t get in on the early-season sale at the $349 price point, so I ended up paying $379 for it. Considering that most (all? probably all if you insist on Alta-Snowbird being considered one ticket) of those resorts have walk-up ticket prices north of $100 a day, you can see the inherent value.

Two days each at six world-class resorts across western North America.

So how was it?

It was stupid.

Whistler/Blackcomb, January 9-10

Logistically speaking, this one came together all right.

I’d received a grant to attend a conference in Milan just before Christmas and I bought the return ticket to Seattle rather than Pittsburgh. My parents live in Tacoma, so it was good to spend the holidays with them, got to ski at Crystal and Baker while there, plus I was able to borrow my dad’s (brand new!) Jeep for the drive up to Canada. At the border, the crossing guard asked where I was from and, when I told him Pittsburgh, we started talking about hockey. I was nervous he would eventually figure out I didn’t know anything about the sport, but I faked it long enough to secure entry into that great northern fortress. Continue reading

Colorado National Monument: Canyonlands for People Who Don’t Want to Get Out of the Car

Real Canyonlands is better, or course, but it also requires getting out and hiking some.

Colorado National Monument is located near Grand Junction, Colorado. The drive is the interesting part; it looks like southern Utah, so long as you look toward the mountains. If you look toward the valley it looks like Grand Junction. And if you reach the top of the drive, it looks like a bunch of boring, scrubby trees. The in-between, though!

As testimony of the thing that Colorado National Monument does well, then, here are photos I took while driving.

IMG_0425 IMG_0413 IMG_0407 Colorado National Monument IMG_0369 Tunnel Entrance, Colorado National Monument Colorado National Monument

  • I think the photos are shown in reverse order of when they were taken. I don’t know how WordPress decides.
  • For variety, one of those photos was taken through the passenger window rather than the windshield.
  • It seemed like they could have used more guard rails in places.
  • The road and trails and stuff were apparently a CCC project. Of course.
  • I hadn’t taken a bunch of pictures of red rocks since last time I was in southern Utah.
  • It was definitely worth the, oh, 90 minutes including bathroom time?
  • I did also take a walk to some view point. It was mostly for walking’s sake.
  • I was driving a rented Nissan Versa hatchback. It looked like this:
It looks better than it drives.

It looks better than it drives.

I’m still planning on one day putting together a photo essay entitled “Through the Windshield”. Maybe after the dissertation. Or maybe FOR the dissertation…! Probably not though.

That’s plenty.


Mono Lake: Totally Worth a 45-Minute Visit

If I’d stayed longer, maybe I would have spotted a brine shrimp! Although 45 minutes was plenty to spot one coyote (not pictured below). He wasn’t as friendly as my coyote spirit guide I met in La Mesa though.

I took pictures, then.

The trail runs clockwise.

The trail runs clockwise.

Mono Lake.

Mono Lake.

A trail leading away from the lake.

A trail leading away from the lake.

Some tufas. They're made of sodium carbonate.

Some tufas. They’re made of sodium carbonate.

Kind of part of the same trail, only this one leads *toward* the lake.

Kind of part of the same trail, only this one leads *toward* the lake.

  • It cost $3 to park there.
  • There were two other parties there at the same time as me.
  • Only two of the 12 porta-johns were unlocked. The unlocked ones have a sign that says “this one open”, while the locked ones communicate nothing, except through their obstinance.
  • Not far from Mammoth.
  • The water is very still.
  • Considers itself similar to the Great Salt Lake, just the opposite side of the basin.

That’s about all I got, I guess. Tufas. Mono Lake. Salt. Near Mammoth. 45 minutes, 50 for brine shrimp or slow-walkers.


Alpine, Mammoth & Squaw: The Year of Skiing Marginally Continues

Switzerland: Fog and ice patches.
PNW: Depending on the day, but fog and ice patches also.

Tahoe: Drought!

Was at Alpine for the first time ever on Wednesday. It looked like this:

The terrain looks awesome; shame not to be able to ski it — it’s amazing that they’ve kept the place skiable at all I guess. The groomers were nice and satiny until 9:45 or so. Unfortunately there was really only one skiable run from the top (Alpine Bowl). By 11, Werners (the second photo) had gone from too-firm to pleasantly chalky, which was nice. And by 12:30 most of the snow was way too soft.

Visibility was absolutely fantastic, though, so that was a plus.

Then this was Mammoth:

 It started snowing on the 395 on the way back up to Reno — at least a trace fell on the road (!). Those playful tricksters at the CHiP decided to put out their Chains Required sign about 20 miles (I think?) north of Lee Vining. I actually saw someone turning around and going back. Haha, punk’d!, etc.

Finally, then, to close out my Tahoe-area skiing for the year, here are three photos from Squaw from 1/25:

  • Beautiful light today. Should have brought my DSLR.
  • Trees smelled great. Reminded me of that one part of Soarin’ Over California at Disney’s California Adventure (the part with the trees).
  • I’ve ridden the Red Dog lift twice in my life now and both times it’s stopped with me dangling over the deepest part of the ravine. I don’t much care for that lift.

And now my Marginal Conditions Tour goes on hiatus until March when I’ll bring some combination of drought and fog with me to Utah and Jackson Hole. Maybe get some locust swarms and fiery rain too.