Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Eastern Sierra, October 7 and 8, 2023 -- North Lake, Bishop Pass, McGee Pass, and Rock Creek Canyon

With the exception of the rabbit brush shot at the end of the post, all of these were taken on Sunday, October 8. By now, these areas are likely well past peak, but probably still scenic.

Despite many fishing trips in the eastern Sierra when I was younger, from boyhood through until young adulthoold), these are two places I never visited, before. Both had been mentioned prominently in some of the fall folliage websites I had been perusing the past few years, however, so I wanted to visit both. I feared overwhelming crowds at both, however, so I had to choose which to try to hit first.

Because the websites had mention aspen near the start of the McGree Creek trails, and also mentioned a small lot, and so urged you to "come early," started there. Got there a little later than intended, because I initially left Bishop (my home base for this weekend trip) without tossing my camera bag in the car. Had to turn around and drive back, wasting about 40 minutes.

From Bishop, I headed north on U.S. 395 for about 30 miles, before turning left on McGree Creek Road. Having never been here, before, I then needed to slow down to figure out what next. There's a lodge right after you turn, and a rather narrow road to the right of the lodge. That's the road you need to follow, heading straight up after the stop sign.

It's paved but occasionally steep and rough until you get near the campground. Then the pavement ends. Still easily passable by passenger vehicles, but narrow. When I got there, before 9am, there was still plenty of parking. When I left, in mid-afternoon, the parking lot was overflowing, and a lot of people were there for the fall foliage.

Vault toilets at the trailhead. Then you head upstream. The trail splits at several points, where you can either hug the river or go a bit higher. Because the sun hadn't yet reached the vally floor, I stayed high and headed up. John Muir Wilderness sign maybe a 1/2 mile up. Very picturesque near there, and ever more so on my return, when the sun was hitting the entire canyon, but clouds kept the view up from being too glare-y.

I continued up until where the map indicated a fairly large lake, but reality indicated was a large marshy meadow with a brook meadering across. Some color on the cliffs across the way. Took a detour on the return to get a face-on view of a waterfall that came down from the left (when heading down-canyon), as seen in the previous shot, and as seen from when closer to the trailhead at the top of this post.

Returned to my car, ate lunch, then drove to Rock Creek Canyon. Took a scenic route; should have stayed on 395 until Tom's Place, but the way I went (next turn off of 395, south) took me through a picturesque town. Eventually got to actual Rock Creek Road. I think the speed limit is something like 35 or 40mph, but cars wanted to drive much faster. Continued upstream to near the end of the road (not knowing where the colorful aspen would be), wound up parking about 1/2 mile from the end, when the traffic started backing up, walked up to the end of the road, then picked a random short trail to walk. That ended up being a 1/2 mile trail to Eastern Brook Lake.

As I neared the end of my drive, graupel started falling. That's frozen precipitation that's harder than snow but softer than hail. Because of recent warm temperatures, it didn't stick on the road, but did accumulate a bit off the roads. It continued falling on my short hike to a picturesque lake, which I assume must have at one time been planted with eastern brook trout.

However, this lake, like I"m sure the others on the longer trail to a chain of additional lakes, was above the aspen line. Just confiers. Having never been up this way, I didn't know. So I walked back down the trail, then down the road. Aspen and willow lined the creek than ran by the parking area and the road back to the parking area. I took plenty of photos.

Then I drove down to actual Rock Creek Lake. Parked near the start of the road to Rock Creek Lake campground, since I assumed by the sign that only camp parking was allowed down the road. This was not correct, so I ended up walking more than I needed to. Once near the lake, there were more roads and paths to walk adjacent to the lake, some with good aspen color right along the road.

There was more color along the shoreline. However, being late afternoon by now, the sun was above the lake from were I walked, creating a strong clare off the water, which made photography over the lake difficult. Once I got to the southern end, I took some pictures, including some of a few people fishing near the inlet to Rock Creek Lake. There was the impressive snag, pictured here, near that southern end.

Then drove back down to Bishop. Long day, with about a six mile hike out and back from McGee Creek, and several shorter walks in the upper Rock Creek area, both around Rock Creek Lake and to Eastern Brook Lake. Were I to return to Rock Creek Canyon, I'd definitely want to walk more along the upper reaches, though not for aspen. For aspen, further down, well below Rock Creek Lake, were several campgrounds along the creek, with lots of aspen stands. For the fall, I'd spend more time down there.

This last photo was from the Division Creek rest area. Rabbit brush was thick in bloom down in Owens Valley. With more time, I would have wandered down there, to try to get some fall blooms in my collection.

A little rushed for such a long drive, but still, got one pretty full day of fall foliage. I also took a few hours on October 7 to hit North Lake and parts of Bishop Canyon. May try to get that posted soon, too. Also still waiting to be blogged are some summer hikes in the Sierra, among others.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

South Fork Taylor Creek, Kolob Canyons Section, Zion National Park -- Hiked October 29, 2022

Remember how I keep saying I'm way behind in my blogging? Well, this one is almost a year old. That makes it sort of timely, since it's soon to be fall foliage time in southern Utah, again.

I did this hike a few weeks after I drove up above Cedar City, along Kolob Terrace Road. Because of its lower altitude, I assumed (semi-correctly) that the leaves would change later in this section of Zion National Park. The trailhead is just under 30 minutes south of Cedar City.

The NPS list of hikes makes no mention of this as a trailhead, which is odd, considering the size of the parking area. As you head up Kolob Canyon Road, the parking area is just before the big hairpin turn, about 3.4 miles east of I-15.

Despite many previous trips up this road, I only hiked up this canyon twice, both fairly recently. And that's because it wasn't listed on the dayhike list in the orientation material the NPS provided upon entry. So, the first time up this canyon, I had no idea what to actually expect. But it turns out there's a pretty well-defined trail up this canyon. Yes, it's steep in places. But, until you get near the end, it's just still just a walk.

Most of the fall color in this canyon is yellow, which provides a nice contrast against the reddish sandstone walls. There are steep walls as you work your way up canyon, that narrow, the further up you go. Eventually, the way forward requires scrambling. At that point, after it becoming apparent that I was nearing the end of a non-technical walk, I turned around. Very roughly, I'd estimate maybe three miles roundtrip.

Impossible to get lost on this hike, unless you climb out the side of the canyon. I did observe anchor points on several of those canyon walls, so clearly there is (or was) some technical climbing done in this canyon. If people were climbing above me, I'd get nervous hiking below them. But, there were no rock climbers on this or the other time I poked around this canyon, and rather few hikers. That seems odd, considering the size of the parking lot, but I think part of the reason for the size of the parking lot is that it is either overflow or an alternative parking area for folks hiking out of the Lee Pass trailhead, a half-mile further up the road. You'd park here on those times when either snow or rain damage makes the road further up the canyon impassible.

Used to be there was no entry fee to drive up this section of Zion, but that's not been the case for a while. However, paying in the main canyon would cover your entry here, or vice versa. And, of course, if you have a federal public lands pass, it's free, either way.

Despite this location being lower in altitude than the hills above Cedar City, it can still get cold here. You'll notice some snow on the downed trees in this photo, and perhaps some patches in the first shot of this post, as well.

Still, the lower altitude does mean fall foliate change comes later here than in Cedar Breaks, though probably earlier than in Zion Canyon. However, there were also some windy days and nights a bit before this trip, so there was less foliage on the trees than if the weather had been more conducive to leaf peeping.

By the time I got back, it was pretty dark. So I waited for more darkness. Somewehre along the line, I realized I had forgotten the adapter I need to connect my dslr to my ball head tripod. So I resorted to using my cell phone. This is with my Samsung S21, in pro mode. ISO 1600, 30 second exposure, braced against my car antenna to hold the camera still, and using voice activation to trigger the shutter. I also used the free Lightroom for Mobile to process. The Andromeda Galaxy is near the center of the photo. I'm pretty pleased with the result, as I don't usually use my cell phone for night skyscapes.

As always, click on the photos for larger versions of each shot.

Thursday, October 5, 2023

South Rim Trail, Cedar Breaks National Monument, in Daylight, Hiked Sunday, September 15, 2023

Returned to Cedar Breaks the third weekend in September, to volunteer for the Southwest Astronomy Festival. I set up my 11" SCT at Northview Point on Friday and Saturday nights, then down in Springdale on Sunday, September 15.

Didn't have time to hike on Friday or Saturday, but I headed back up to Cedar Breaks on Sunday, late-morning. Most of the times I hike this trail in the evening, often before my astronomy, or to try to catch a nightscape with bristlecone pines. Meanwhile, the extension (and renaming) of this trail (South Rim Trail) was completed last year, with the extension of about 1/2 mile, to the Bartizan. There's a modest double arch at the end. However, when I visited in July 2022, it was monsoon season, and the top of the cliff was dangerous slick. When I came in Jul7 2023, I started too late, and it was basically dark by the time I got to the end. So this is the first time in a while that I walked the entire trail in actual daylight.

The trail is well-defined, and, although there are substantial dropoffs, it's not a dangerous trail, except when the clay near the top of the trail is slick. By contrast, when the clay is dry, it's very grippy, and most dropoffs are not precipitous.

There are several short detours, none of which I took today. First is the remains of an old cabin (on the left, less than 1/2 mile in). Second is Spectra Point, about one mile from the start. Third is Chessmen Ridge, about two miles from the start. The latter two are on the right, overlooking the amphitheater. But since I've hiked the trail many times, and the only part I hadn't seen in daylight yet was the end, I continued straight for the end. However, for first time visitors, definitely take the detours.

A small, semi-perennial creek runs just left parts of the trail, and, despite being probably 1/2 mile from pavement for large parts of your hike, you still get a sense of isolation on the trail. You know, unless stupid people are hooting and hollering as they run through the woods, which, unfortunatley, does happen.

The eroded hoodoos are scattered all along the amphitheater. Some have eroded into arches, while others are tall and thin. They're not as colorful or as many spires as at Bryce Canyon, but, especially if you zoom in with a telephoto or binoculars, you can see some really impressive, intricate structures to admire.

The trees are also eroded, in places. There are, of course, the bristlecone pines that overlook the amphitheater, espcially near Spectra Point. But even the larger conifers can eroded into interesting shapes.

Overall, this was a pretty uneventful trip, except for the last 100 yards, or so. The trail gets a little narrow and crumbly, there. There's no significant dropoff, but you are walking with a slope running right to left.

I slipped a little bit, and skinned my knuckles when I used my right hand to keep from falling. Shortly after that, I ran across an older French couple, and managed to communicate that I would like some water, to rinse my scrape. That made me feel a little better, with the reduced chance of getting tetanus.

[As I look at my knuckles, today (over two weeks later), I see the scab is just about to come off.]

There were some people at the low point of the trail as it crossed over to the Bartizan. They were off to the left, between me and the arch, about ten feet away. A small trickle of water ran through that low point, though I don't think they were drinking that. I think they were just admiring the view and resting up.

I continued past them, on to what I guess you could consider a small butte, which is the Bartizan. From that side, I saw some hard rock protruding, and eroded areas with no vegetation that I figured I could walk without significantly speeding erosion or trampling potential vegetation. That got me a clearer view of the double arch at the end (the first picture in this post).

Walked a bit on the top, just to see if there was another view of the arch achievable from the other side (there was not). Then returned the way I came.

I passed a lot more people on the way back than I had on the way in. That included the young hollering runners. I think everyone along the 2.75 mile trail heard them.

This last picture was taken the night before, after the public observing session at Northview Point. I probably just included it to illustrate what I did the day before. It's a cell phone shot, in "pro" mode, 30 second exposure, iso 1600, Samsung S21. Looks like my phone moved a bit during the exposure. Still, not bad for a cell phone.