Last Summer: Driving, Hiking, Fishing, Camping the Beartooths

The Beartooth Highway is probably the prettiest drive I’ve ever been on and it’s not for lack of trying. This is the best photo I have, but it’s not that communicative of the vast excellence of the drive.

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So there was that. The Beartooth Mountains are in southwestern Montana, south of Bozeman a ways, a little northeast of Yellowstone. Sort of also in northwestern Wyoming.

I ended up going on a couple of overnighters, one solo and one with my brother. The solo one came first and I wanted to do something in sort of the south part of the Beartooths since the previous time out there I’d spent in the area around Red Lodge, hiking to Keyser Brown Lake for a few nights, and then a day trip with a different brother up to Glacier Lake.

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What I Did on My Summer Vacation (Last Year): In Washington

Oregon gives way to Washington. BTW, this, all this last summer stuff, was part of a homelessness-inspired road trip I took in 2014. My house in Pittsburgh sold way faster than I meant for it to sell and — well anyway. Starting June 8th or something I was on the road. Went from Pittsburgh to Norman to look for a place to live, then drove up to Utah (by way of the Colorado posts I’ve posted) for my niece’s wedding, then down to San Diego. From SD, I had to fly back to Pgh to defend my thesis, then I flew back to San Diego and started driving north. Ergo: Eastern Sierras, State of Jefferson, then Oregon, then this post.

Also, driving from Bend up to Hood River is a really nice drive.

After crossing the Columbia on a bridge, I camped somewhere and then went to look at some cave where people in the nearby town used to visit to get ice. Because there’s year-round ice in this cave. It’s a real thing.

Trout Lake Ice Cave

There were also some natural bridges around there, but they were odd and green and maybe not quite as dramatic as the ones in Utah. Here:

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Last Summer: Bend, Bachelor, and Broken Top

I had never been to Bend before since I skipped out on the family reunion that had been there. There’s less threat of golf when visiting solo I think.

I went to a really good Thai place there and had the Kao Soi:

Apparently the restaurant was called Wild Rose Northern Thai Eats. There weren't many eats on the menu though.

Apparently the restaurant was called Wild Rose Northern Thai Eats. There weren’t many eats on the menu though.

The very next day, I drove up to Mt. Bachelor to see what there was to see and go on another famous day hike. It’s not a bad drive.

Taken from the road that goes to Mt. Bachelor.

Taken from the road that goes to Mt. Bachelor.

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Last Summer: Lava Beds National Monument

Getting out of Lake Tahoe’s ugly Bay Area traffic and into the beautiful State of Jefferson was a nice transition.

State of Jefferson -- Farmland

State of Jefferson - Forest

Was trying to work my way up to Bend, Oregon. On the way was Lava Beds National Monument, of which I had not prior to this trip heard. Maybe. I can’t remember. It’s been a while and saying I’d never heard of it before sets up the story to be “more impressive” by creating a wider gap between expectation and reality.

At any rate, Lava Beds is mostly, as the name would imply, A BUNCH OF CAVES. Not like Carlsbad Caverns caves, but a bunch of human-scale caves that you can head off into and run around in (depending on how good your flashlight is). Fun, self-guided, very dark caves with stairways down into them and enough jagged rocks to bang into such that you feel like you’re really doing something. Continue reading

California, Holiday Weekends, and Tahoe Traffic

Picture > many words.

Instagram made it better.

Instagram made it better.


There was no accident, there were just this many people. At which point — how is this a vacation for them? It was a good reminder of California. For reals, though, it took 3 hours to get from South Lake Tahoe to Tahoe City, which — man. I really should have looked at Google Maps in Menden to see the traffic report.

Yet somehow, once you were anywhere north of the 80, all the people disappeared.

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I Know What I Did Last Summer: Eastern Sierras

I had planned to do this Thousand Islands Lake hike and had permits for it and had borrowed my brother’s bear canister. I didn’t go, though — I think I got sick instead or something. Probably from that stupid too-fancy sandwich place in Bishop, the one with the world’s worst parking lot.

Somewhere north of Bishop.

Somewhere north of Bishop.

But anyway, camped for a couple nights, went on a couple day hikes. Extremely hot, extremely crowded. Note to self: never Sierras between June and September. There: done.

These hikes meant so much to me, I don’t remember what they were called. I don’t *actually* know what I did last summer. The Thai food in Bend was excellent, though. Eventually. After spending six hours stuck in traffic in South Lake Tahoe. A few days after. Etc. Never South Lake Tahoe on 4th of July weekend.

Here are photos taken on hikes in the Eastern Sierras about which I recall no further details: Continue reading

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

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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Probably enough.

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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.

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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.

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