Unexpected Mountaintop Experience

We don’t always have a precise plan for our outings. Sometimes I just look at a map and pick out a forest service road we haven’t been down yet and we head out and see what there is to see. Usually we drive down the road until it gets too rough or we find a place we want to get out and start hiking.

On this outing we decided to start hiking down the road when it got too rutted and rocky to comfortably continue by car. When we set out we did not know we would eventually end up standing on top of the mountain seen in the picture below. It started out as an easy uphill walk and when we reached a fork in the road we thought we chose the path that would lead us through a meadow. We were wrong- 1.5 miles and 900 feet of elevation gain later we were standing on top of a mountain.

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As I said before, the first part of the hike was pretty easy, but the second leg of the hike up the mountain became quite strenuous. The picture below doesn’t really show it, but the path became very steep. It was so steep that it was hard to even balance myself while standing still. My feet and calves became fatigued from the sharp incline and the loose gravel made my steps unsteady, but the summit was in our sights, urging us upward.

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We had our sights set on a rocky outcrop that we thought was the top, but when we reached it we realized the mountain kept on going. By this time we were so close so we continued to trudge on, one slow, steep, rocky step at a time. When we finally reached the summit, we were rewarded with a fantastic view of Steptoe Valley and the surrounding mountains.

The reddish area in the middle and the adjacent pond are part of the Robinson Mine. It is a major open- pit copper mine that employs many people in the town that we live.

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On the right side of the picture below you can just barely make out the town of Ely. From this vantage point, it really looked like such an isolated little community, surrounded by endless miles of rugged mountains and desert. It is accurate that our town is remote- our nearest real city is a 4 hour drive away.

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After we soaked in the views and had a snack, we started the slow descent. Going down was even harder than going up because the steep grade of the trail and the loose gravel made it hard to keep traction underfoot.

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Taking our time going down the mountain gave us an opportunity to savor the views.

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After some time we made it down the steep, open and grassy mountainside and continued on the more leisurely walk through the juniper and pinyon pines.

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In one section of the trail there were clusters of these pretty purple flowers that attracted swarms of butterflies.

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As we headed back to our car we chatted about how we had no plans of hiking up a mountain that day, but we ended up on the top of one that offered us some amazing scenery. Sometimes it is fun to just head out without much of a plan and see where the road takes you.

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“All journeys have a secret in which the traveler is unaware.”

~Martin Buber

My Hometown National Park

I have lived in various towns in seven different states, but I have not lived within two hours of a national park since my childhood in Miami, FL (Everglades NP). National parks have always been travel destinations for us while state parks and national forests sufficed for day trips throughout the year. We enjoy those areas (especially because they are usually less crowded), but there is always something special about visiting a national park.

The entrance to Great Basin National Park is only a little over an hour from our house and we have been eagerly waiting to visit it since we first moved to Nevada in March. However, the mountains here received a healthy snowfall last winter and Great Basin NP does not plow the park road so we had to delay our first visit until mid- June (and it turned out even that was a bit too early).

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The Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive is only 12 miles long, but it swiftly rises over 3,000 feet in elevation. We crossed numerous ecological zones as we wound our way up the mountain. By the end of the road we had reached an ecosystem similar to that found in northern Canada, even though we had only driven a few miles. At each turn in the road, our view of Mt. Wheeler (the second highest mountain in Nevada) became more grand and impressive.

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The road ended at an elevation of 10, 000 feet and that is where we began our hike to see the bristlecone pines. The trail started off relatively easy in a pretty pine forest with only a patch of snow here and there. However, as we continued to hike uphill, the snow patches on the trail became larger and harder to navigate. In some places we only had a sliver of rocky trail to walk on between the snowy areas and other places there was no option but to walk over the slippery, melting snow.

We felt that we had the trail to ourselves at the beginning, but the groups of hikers seemed to bottleneck near the top as the hiking conditions grew trickier and everybody was going at different paces. We definitely enjoyed hiking in the cooler weather up on the mountain, but the price we had to pay for it was navigating a snow- covered trail.

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After hiking 1.5 miles and gaining 600 feet in elevation we reached the bristlecone pine grove.  These twisted, gnarly- looking trees can live for thousands of years in severely harsh conditions. Interestingly enough, the harsher the conditions, the longer they can live. These trees are one of the few living things that truly thrive on adversity.

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After spending some time admiring those ancient and resilient trees, we headed back down the trail. The hike took a little longer than we had expected and it was approaching evening by this time, but the amazing views of the Snake Range and Valley kept us from rushing back to our car.

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We enjoyed our first experience in Great Basin and look forward to becoming frequent visitors, although next year we will probably wait until July before attempting to walk amongst the bristlecones.

 

“I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do.”

~Willa Cather

Success Summit

Just east of the town of Ely lies the Schell Creek Range, which is mostly encompassed by the Humboldt- Toiyabe National Forest. We spent an afternoon driving Success Loop, a dirt road that winds its way up through the mountains until reaching Success Summit and then descends into Duck Creek Valley on the other side. This road provided easy access to amazing mountain views, as well as much- appreciated cooler weather.

On the way up toward the summit, we passed large fields of bright yellow flowers, which really brightened the otherwise dark green and gray landscape.

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After leaving the valley, we gained elevation quickly through several sharp switchbacks up the mountain until we finally arrived at Success Summit (elevation 9,000 feet). The gorgeous views urged us to park the car and get out and explore. There was a network of dirt ATV trails covering the summit area that were perfect for meandering on foot.

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My pictures really don’t do the area justice. The rugged mountains in the distance surrounding the more rounded and green mountains near Success Summit created a stunning landscape. It was not possible to look upon this special place and not have my thoughts directed toward the One who created it. Not only did God give us the breath of life, but he also created such a beautiful world for us to live in.

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Psalm 8: 3- 9

When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?

You have made them a little lower than the angels
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
    you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
    and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
    and the fish in the sea,
    all that swim the paths of the seas.

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

 

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Our drive home was a little more eventful than we would have liked. As we descended the mountain we drove through a pretty aspen forest before entering back into the sagebrush desert. We had seen no other people the entire afternoon until out of nowhere a car recklessly zoomed by us. The car was going too fast and lost control on the gravel road. It got fairly close to whacking into our own car before sliding off the road into the sagebrush (and almost flipping over in the process).  The car was stuck and pretty banged up, but thankfully nobody got hurt. There was no cell service so we drove until we came across a forest ranger who used his radio to call for help.

This was a good reminder that caution and common sense are essential while recreating outdoors. The fun ends pretty quickly when you are stranded or injured. Let’s all try to be safe out there this summer, if not for your own sake, then for the sake of the other people out there with you.

Green Pastures and Still Waters

Schoolcraft State Park is a secluded, quiet place and it actually became the inspiration for this blog. The scenery was not particularly spectacular, but the peace I felt there is unmatched. We hiked an easy two miles through 300- year- old pine trees and along the Mississippi River, without ever meeting another person on the trail.

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On this outing, we were unusually lucky with wildlife sightings. We typically do not see much in the way of wildlife when we go out hiking. We don’t start our hikes until the afternoon, which is not when animals are most active and, with our three- year- old son, we are definitely not in sleuth- mode. However, on this day we managed a glimpse of a porcupine high up in a tree. Porcupines are adept tree- climbers and actually use their stiff quills to help them climb. Before moving to Minnesota, I had never seen a wild porcupine, but I have already seen three in the five months I have lived here. Now whenever I am walking around in the woods I am constantly scanning the tree branches for a moving ball of spikes. I think their natural defenses must make them less skittish than some other animals. Once you spot one, they don’t run away immediately, giving you a chance to enjoy watching them a bit.

Roland found this baby snapping turtle all by himself. I did not realize Minnesota even had snapping turtles and this one seemed especially out of place on the forest floor.

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Roland took this opportunity to practice his letters on the hiking sign.

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On the banks of the Mississippi River we spotted numerous frogs hopping around. That is one of the great things about nature- you never know what you will find. Some days all you get are trees and fresh air and other days you come face to face with some of the critters God created to share this world with us. sep-7-schoolcraft-sp-12

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The serenity of this park was like a breath of fresh air for my soul and brought to mind Psalm 23:

1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

A Serene Evening Stroll

After our camping trip, life fell back into it’s normal routine, but that does not mean there is no time to appreciate nature. Even when we are not taking a weekend hiking trip, we can still set aside some time to enjoy being together outside. That is actually one of the best things about being outside- the togetherness. There is no television or computer screen to distract us and pull our attentions in separate directions.

After Roland’s gymnastics class we took an evening stroll by Lake Bemidji. We watched the geese waddling by the lake and the changing colors of the sky as sunset came and went. It was a perfectly serene evening. It is always so soothing to just be outside and take in the world at a slower pace.

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The legend of Paul Bunyan and his Blue Oxe was born in the Bemidji area. These statues were built in 1937 and are now considered the 2nd most photographed roadside attraction in the nation. When we first moved here in the spring, Roland would not get anywhere near these massive statues without crying. On this evening, he walked right up to them by himself and asked me to take a picture. My brave little boy.

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Over the summer Bemidji built a new Northwoods- themed playground. We never got around to checking it out, so on the way back from our walk we made a short visit. It is now officially Roland- approved.

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First Camping Trip, Part 2

Even though Tettegouche State Park was beautifully rugged, I enjoyed the views on the second day of our trip even more. Our destinations were more easily accessible, so it made the whole pace of the day more leisurely. Even though we visited two different parks, our walks were shorter and easier, giving us more time and energy to just soak up all the beauty of the area.

Our first stop was Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. The lighthouse was built in 1909 and protected sailors from the rocky shoreline for 59 years. It is now one of the most photographed lighthouses in the country.

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The lighthouse sits on the edge of the rocky bluff in the picture above. It cost an extra $10/ adult to get anywhere near the lighthouse so we contented ourselves with the distant views. Besides, we were a bit distracted by Lake Superior’s almost vacant and absolutely gorgeous rocky beaches.

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Roland put his crazy three- year- old energy to use and spent his time running away from the waves (although, his timing was not perfect and he ended up pretty wet by the time he was done). I on the other hand, seated myself down on the rocks, basked in the warm sunshine and lost myself in the sounds of the lake. I decided that there are few things in this world that will take your cares away more than the rhythmic sounds of waves crashing on the shore and then receding back over the rocks.

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A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.

~Henry David Thoreau

Our second stop for the day was Gooseberry Falls State Park. This park was not only very pretty, but it was also much more fun to explore than I was expecting. A network of stairs takes you by Upper, Middle, and Lower Falls. At the bottom of each waterfall there are large areas of flat rocks and shallow streams of water that were perfect for playing. The landscape was so interesting; the water had carved out little arches and caves in the rocks so you never knew what unique feature you were going to come across next. Gooseberry Falls is the closest state park on Lake Superior to Duluth so there was a large number of visitors there, but there were enough nooks and crannies for everybody to find their own little spot to explore.

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The photo below gives a good overview of the area’s landscape. You can see people playing on the rocks and shallow water between the waterfalls. The blue in the background is Lake Superior.

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We were able to finish our day’s activities early enough to get back to our campsite and have a campfire. A little bit after the mandatory s’mores eating was done, I looked up into the clear night sky and saw that the northern lights were hovering right above us. We watched the dancing white streaks in the sky until our necks were sore. They weren’t as amazing as the ones we have witnessed while living in Alaska, but it was special all the same. Maybe even more special since seeing the aurora borealis outside of Alaska is more rare and this was the first time Matt, Roland and I have watched one together. It felt like a special little blessing from God, just for our family. It was a perfect end to our first camping trip together.

First Camping Trip, Part 1

I grew up camping. Every break from school my parents would hook up the pop- up camper and we would hit the road. We lived in Miami, but I ended up seeing and appreciating many places throughout the country that my classmates knew very little about. Camping and travelling with my family are my happiest childhood memories. Ever since I became an adult and got married, I longed to share those experiences with my children. It has been a long wait (many years of infertility issues and then a 3.5 year long adoption), but my husband and I finally took our son, Roland, on his first camping trip.

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We took our maiden trip as a family of three to Minnesota’s North Shore of Lake Superior. Most of Minnesota is city, farmland, or forest (and lakes) and the scenery does not change very quickly. It was nice to leave the flat, boggy forests of the Bemidji area for a couple days and enjoy views of some vast open water.

We camped at Jay Cooke State Park, which is just south of Duluth, and worked our way up the first 60 miles of the North Shore. It is 150 miles from Duluth to Canada and 1,300 miles if you want to drive the whole perimeter of Lake Superior, which happens to be the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area. We did cram a lot into our two day trip, including four different state parks, but we saw only a small section of this impressively large lake.

Jay Cooke State Park turned out to be not only a convenient, but also a scenic base camp for us. The St. Louis River, Lake Superior’s largest U.S. tributary, runs through the park. As we walked over the suspension bridge, we enjoyed views of rugged rocks and rapids.

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On our first day we drove to Tettegouche State Park and “oohed and aahed” over the views of Lake Superior along the way. We only had one day to enjoy this large and diverse park so we focused on the highlights: views of the lake and Minnesota’s highest waterfall. First, we trudged up the many stairs to Shovel Point and we were rewarded with a view of Lake Superior’s intricately jagged shoreline.

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On the way back down the stairs, we decided to go down even more stairs to reach the lake shore. We found a pretty little cove and enjoyed it all to ourselves.

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By this point we were already getting a little tired of stairs so we were less than thrilled that our next hike also consisted of mostly stairs. The lure of High Falls kept us motivated, though. There was no way we were going to miss the highest falls in the state. The lovely High Falls drops 60 feet before flowing into the Baptism River, which eventually makes its way to Lake Superior.

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We ended up walking around 4.5 miles, most of which was going up and down stairs. We got plenty of exercise, fresh air, and beautiful views (and our 3- year- old son did very little whining on the longest hiking day of his life!). Challenging your body to see something new and wonderful is always satisfying. We thoroughly enjoyed Tettegouche and we were thoroughly worn out by the end of the day, but we were excited about what adventures lay ahead on our last day on Lake Superior.

We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.

-Anonymous