Sunday, August 6, 2017

Hiking, Hoodoos, and Hair Color: A National Park Odyssey Days 32-33

By getting an early start on The Narrows trail we were able to get many pictures without other people in them!

If you’d like to listen to our podcast about Zion, click here!  If you'd like to listen to our podcast about Tuacahn, Cedar Breaks, and Bryce Canyon, click here!

I gazed at the shelves, feeling suddenly anxious and ill-prepared.   Row upon row of hi-top water shoes were arranged neatly by size, waiting for would-be hikers to plunk down their $24 to take them along on a day hike up The Narrows.  I mentally listed all the ways that my years-old water shoes weren’t good enough, strong enough, safe enough, warm enough.  Or wait.  Maybe I shouldn’t be quite so hasty.  Maybe I could just buy a pair of those nifty neoprene water socks to wear with my shoes rather than the plain old socks I’d brought along to prevent blisters.  I turned to look for a display of socks for sale rather than for rent.

That was the key.  Turning away.  The farther I walked from the hypnotically organized shelves, the less I felt the need for the specialized gear.  Within moments, it had lost its hold on me, draining away gradually, like water down a slow gutter.  My shoes would be fine.  I didn’t need to spend any money at all to do this hike.  It was just a hike, right?  Albeit a hike in water which I’d never done before, but it would be fine.  And just like that, I saved myself $24.

The next morning, we missed Josh’s goal of being on the first shuttle bus of the day at 6:15, but we managed to get ourselves out the door and on the second one.  We were shocked to see standing room only when it arrived at the lodge to pick us up, but we were thrilled when most of the hikers got off at the stop for the Angel’s Landing hike.  We rode on to the stop at the Temple of Sinawava, a rock formation where Zion Canyon Drive ends.  We made a quick restroom stop and then started on the paved trail along the Virgin River.  We had checked with a ranger the day before to ask about the likelihood of a flash flood before noon, and he said that we should be OK as long as we were done before 3:00.  He also told us to be sure to check the weather frequently before beginning since conditions can change quickly and flash floods are deadly on this hike.  Josh checked repeatedly before we left the hotel, and a flood appeared to be unlikely.  So off we went!  There were a few people ahead of us, and the morning was cool and calm. 
 
The Pulpit at the Temple of Sinawava
The mile-long Riverside Trail was an easy walk before the wet part of the trail.  Notice that none of us are wearing special footwear!

The high walls of the narrow canyon prevent the sun’s rays from reaching the rushing water below, and I was worried that the shaded canyon would mean freezing cold water temperatures.  I fretted about this silently as we walked the mile-long trail and then made our way down the makeshift steps to where The Narrows begins.  The initial step into the cool, clear river wasn’t so bad since the water was rather shallow at this point.  Beyond that point, we were more concerned about our footing than the water’s temperature, so my fears were completely unfounded.
 
Into the water we go!

We waded upstream a mile and a half, stepping carefully on the slippery rocks, occasionally treading on sandy beaches, and taking pictures of the multi-colored cliffs that lined the water as we went.  At one point the water was chest deep and Kinley plunged in for a swim, but most of the time it was no more than knee deep.
Josh kept our camera in the same dry bag around his neck that Kinley had used on the Grand Canyon mule ride.

We spent a lot of time looking down as we tried to pick our way through the swiftly-flowing river.

This was – by far – my favorite hike of our trip.  And starting early was key.  We found ourselves stepping around bends in the river, completely alone, multiple times that morning.  Well, on the way up.  Once we turned around at the famed Wall Street area and headed back, it was a completely different story.  Hordes of people clogged the waterway, stirring up sediment in the water and making it impossible to see where to place your feet for the most stable route downriver.  The beaches, which were sandy and pleasant on the hike up, were now muddy and slippery.  Crowds of wet hikers had dripped their way across the banks making what used to be dry land difficult to traverse.  In fact, the one time Knox fell on the trip wasn’t on the slick rocks in the river, it was on the now slippery banks as we hiked back down.
 
One we hit the Wall Street area, we decided to turn back.  Again, we got plenty of pictures without other people in them.
The view looking up shows just how close together the walls of the canyon are.

But that hike up.  Holy cow.  Those two hours with the sun-streaked canyon walls; the glistening river stones smoothed by untold eons of rushing water; the sunbeams glancing off the river’s surface; the gasp-worthy scenes around each bend; the gurgle of the ever-moving, life-giving liquid in the middle of a Utah desert. Those two hours of hiking were sublime.  In fact, had Kinley not been shivering from her swim, I would have wanted to carry on just a bit further.  To see what was just around the next bend.  But I know what would have happened then.  Beyond that bend would have been another, and another.  Calling me.  Beckoning me onward through the river, over the rocks, into the next sunbeam.  Turning back would have been harder without a wet teenager.
Look at the difference on the way back!  People were EVERYWHERE!  We were so glad we had taken our pictures on the way up!

But back we went.  We were finished before noon, but swarms of people were just beginning as we finished.  Trust me.  Do this one early.

After showering back at our cabin, we had lunch at a lackluster Thai place in Springdale just outside the park.  After our LA experience, Thai Sapa was a massive disappointment and expensive to boot.  (What kind of Thai place can’t make Thai iced tea because “the owner isn’t here today”???)  Also in Springdale, we found a laundromat and popped a couple of loads in, wandering around the nearby shops while waiting for our dirty (and wet) clothes to wash and dry.  On our way back to the lodge, we stopped off at the Human History Museum inside the park to help the kids find some of the answers to questions in their Junior Ranger books.  A ranger there swore them in once they finished, and the kids added another badge to their growing collections.
 
The kids get sworn in at Zion.
That evening, we had another disappointing meal, this time at the park lodge.  I think that of the parks with full-service lodges, Zion had the most disappointing food options.  The Castle Dome CafĂ© snack bar closed early and had little more than burgers, fries, and hot dogs.  The Red Rock Grill required reservations, and they got off to a bad start when we had to wait half an hour past our reservation time to be seated.  Even then, though, I had high hopes after looking at the menu.  But when I went to the salad bar and had to pick through the lettuce, the spinach, and the spring mix to find enough that wasn’t too slimy for my salad, they lost me.  And lest you think it was just me being picky, there was a lady behind me who was getting annoyed with me for taking so long until she tried to pick out greens for her own salad.  I’m pretty sure I had taken everything edible, and yet the containers were still full.  We exchanged glances and each muttered something about how disgusting it was.  The entrees were fine but certainly not delicious.  In short, I was underwhelmed and wouldn’t recommend it. 

We did tell the manager of the restaurant that he might want to take a look at the greens, and we overheard another family tell the manager of the hotel how disappointing the restaurant was.  There were also flies, and one roach skittered across the hardwood floor two tables away from us.  And we weren’t dining al fresco.  And, of course, it wasn’t cheap either.  But our sweet server did the best she could, and these issues had far more to do with the management than with the employees.

After dinner, I tried to use the lobby wifi to upload a blog post while Josh and the kids played a game of Settlers of Catan.  We have a little travel version that we bought years ago for $5 at a second hand store in Chicago, and it has served us well in our travels.  Later, as we walked back to the cabin, several mule deer were grazing on the green lawn in front of the lodge.  By this point in our trip, mule deer were only slightly more interesting to us than grass, so we didn’t join the groups of guests watching them eat. 
 
Josh and the kids play Settlers of Catan.
The next morning, we took another early-ish shuttle to the trail to Weeping Rock.  This is a sandstone cliff that seeps water and provides a habitat for lush vegetation.  Again, because of our early start, we had it pretty much all to ourselves.  It’s only a half-mile paved hike, and I’d recommend it over either the middle or upper Emerald Pool.  While waiting for the shuttle, we wandered down to the Virgin River for one last look before we packed up and headed out of the park.
 
It was early, and poor Knox had a hard time staying awake on the shuttle.
The picture doesn't show the water leaking from the Weeping Rock above, but it was really pretty!
The Virgin River runs through Zion National Park.

As we left, we drove through the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel.  Upon its completion in 1930, the 1.1-mile tunnel was the longest in the United States.  In 1989, the park service began controlling traffic so that only a few vehicles go through at a time.  Much like when a flagger allows only one direction of traffic to flow at a time during road construction, vehicles traveling one direction go through and then vehicles traveling the other direction are allowed through.  It takes a while and there are strict restrictions on larger vehicles.  If your vehicle is too big, you have to pay $15 for an escort through!

Just on the other side of the tunnel was Checkerboard Mesa, and beyond that we pulled over to see some bighorn sheep.  (If you listen to our podcast, this was when the guy screamed the F bomb out the window at us as he passed us and scarred Knox for life.)  Once we recovered our wits, we drove on to Cedar Breaks National Monument.
 
Josh and the kids stand with Checkerboard Mesa in the background.
Check out these bighorn sheep!  The guy in the car behind us was not impressed.

This stop wasn’t on our original itinerary, but we found ourselves with some time to kill.  Just after I posted my first blog post about this trip which listed all of our stops in order and their dates, a former student contacted me to say that he would be performing in a show near Zion while we were there.  He arranged for us to get free tickets to see Mama Mia!  The show didn’t begin until 8:45, so we decided to add another Junior Ranger badge and National Parks Passport stamp.
Since this one wasn't a national park, I didn't get a picture of myself with the numbered sign here.

I’m pretty sure I gasped when I first looked over the rim and into the canyon.  I’d never before seen the types of rock formations that Cedar Breaks has – hoodoos, fins, and windows.  And the colors were spectacular as well.  The Visitors’ Center had a large window across the back that afforded a breathtaking view of the canyon.  Along the rim, wildflowers were in bloom, and the emerald greens of the surrounding spruces, pines, and firs stood in stark contrast to the ochres, umbers, and sorrels of the rock formations below. 
 
The kids and I got our first look at the hoodoos of Cedar Breaks at this overlook.  Note the silvery color in the part of my hair in this picture.
The kids got started on their booklets as it began to rain, and we piled back in the car to return to Cedar City for some lunch.  Earlier in the day, I had done some Googling and made some phone calls to arrange to get my embarrassingly grey roots done, so the rest of the family dropped me off at a salon while they explored the little town together.  (By the way, this type of thing happens every single summer.  I get my hair colored right before we leave for whatever trip we’re doing that summer, and four weeks later, I have to find a stranger in a strange place to color it for me again.  It’s a pain, but it is what it is.  I refuse to be completely grey at 45.)
Even in the rain, the Junior Ranger badge activities must be done!

As soon as I once again took on the appearance of the Me I’m comfortable showing to the world, we grabbed another round of ice cream at Palette before driving back up to Cedar Breaks.  The kids found a ranger to swear them in, and then we took a little walk around the rim area of the canyon before starting our hour and a half drive to the amphitheater for the show.  On the way down the mountain, we observed a pastoral scene complete with shepherds on horseback.  I didn’t even know that was still a thing. Southern Utah is full of surprises.
Yes, I know this is the same picture from my other blog post.  But this is really the one from this trip to Palette.
 
Back at Cedar Breaks after our trip to Cedar City, my hair is straight and no greys are showing!
Cedar Breaks has better examples of fin formations like this one than Bryce Canyon, in my opinion.

Isn't this beautiful?!
Shepherds on horseback let their sheep graze near the Cedar Breaks National Monument.  Who knew this was still a thing?

Tuacahn offers pre-show meals as an add-on, but you have to call for reservations more than 24 hours in advance.  I didn’t call early enough, so we had Panda Express in the car, which for Knox was actually a welcome change to our eat-local routine.  Tuacahn is located in Ivins, Utah, which appeared to be a rather shi-shi little town with gorgeous scenery, luxurious spas, and plenty of gated communities – the kind where the gates themselves cost more than my house.  The roundabout at the town’s entrance features a group of sculptures by a world-renowned sculptor.  It’s that kind of place.

Even Tuacahn itself was impressive.  We have an amphitheater in our town, and let me tell you, it is pathetic in comparison to this place.  As you round a huge red rock mesa, the entrance comes into view, complete with fountains and dramatic lighting.  The parking lot is immense, and the walkway leading to the ticket windows has an extensive cascading waterfall.  It seemed more like a venue you’d see in Las Vegas than one you’d find in a relatively-unknown corner of Utah.
 
The theater is surrounded by stunning red rocks and mesas.
The venue was huge and packed!
The heat was oppressive, but the show was a lot of fun.  Josh and I had seen it before, but the kids hadn’t.  Mamma Mia is a musical that’s really just a vehicle for ABBA hits from the 70s, meaning that the plot is a stretch at best.  But every time my former student, Brayden, came on stage to dance, I was transfixed.  He was marvelous!  My favorite number was one where the dancers wore wetsuits and flippers, and Brayden executed every step beautifully!
Check out Brayden's bio and fierce expression!

Seeing Brayden was a highlight of my summer!

You can see his name to the right of the reflection of the flash.  I'm so proud!

After the show, we met him in the plaza area (since it’s outdoors, there’s not really a lobby), and I got to thank him for the tickets and tell him how proud I was of him.  He told us about his grueling rehearsal schedule and about some of the perils of having to learn three shows at the same time.  (Tuacahn was presenting Mamma Mia, Newsies, and Shrek in repertory this summer using the same actors in all three shows.)  We didn’t get to talk very long because we still had a two and a half hour drive ahead of us, and it was already past midnight.  We said goodbye and made our way to our car in the now-empty parking lot. 


Of course, we hummed ABBA hits all the way.

Monday, July 31, 2017

A Snowball Fight in July at Lassen Volcanic National Park: A National Park Odyssey Day 26

LassenVolcanic National Park

Want to listen to our podcast about this park?  Click here!
National Park #13

We woke to the scent of freshly-brewed coffee and sizzling bacon.  Uncle Larry was in the kitchen making eggs to order and serving up fresh California fruit, some from his own trees and some grown by his younger daughter, Sarah.  His older daughter, Beth, and I went to pick up some fabulous cinnamon rolls from a local bakery which completed the morning’s spread.  We wolfed it all down hungrily before setting out for Lassen Volcanic National Park located an hour and forty-five minutes away.  Josh’s parents, Steve and Lanita, were joining for this park visit, and we all piled into the Volvo to get to Lassen by 10:30 in time for the ranger program.
L to R - Lola, Sarah, Kinley, Beth, Uncle Larry,  and Josh enjoy breakfast.

Aunt Nancy and Steve

Could these kiddos be any cuter?  Roman and Addie eat their breakfast, too.

I give Uncle Larry a hard time because I like him!

Josh and Lanita serve up the cinnamon rolls.

Josh had called ahead and learned that this park had the most complicated and time-consuming requirements of any Junior Ranger program we’d done to date.  The ranger on the phone was actually sheepish about it, especially since there were only two ranger programs a day and every Junior Ranger is required to attend one.  The ranger also told Josh that our favorite trail, Bumpass Hell, was closed due to snow.  Evidently, crews had been working on snow removal ten hours per day, seven days a week since April, but progress was slow.
I got to use the heat gun to test the temperature of the bubbling mud pot.

We arrived just in time, and the young ranger taught us about the geology of the area including mud pots and fumaroles that are common in the park.  He even let us use his heat gun to test the temperature of the soil surrounding the mud pots!  After his talk, we drove up to the Bumpass Hell trailhead to get some pictures of the remaining snow, and we certainly weren’t disappointed.  Huge walls of snow lined the parking lot, and the kids and I climbed the drifts, throwing snowballs at each other and posing for pictures of the spectacle.
This wasn't a pile of snow that had been plowed into place.  It was an actual snowdrift.  In July.

Kinley aims for Knox.

We returned to the Visitors’ Center to pick up some lunch at the snack bar (which was fine but nothing to write a blog about), and Knox spent some time checking out the exhibits.  The quality of exhibits in national parks’ visitors’ centers varies widely, so he was excited by the interactive ones at Lassen.  The unfortunate side effect of this was that his sister got really annoyed with him for not working on his Junior Ranger book.  At every stop, Kinley is very focused about getting the booklet done as quickly as possible, but Knox has to be reminded repeatedly to get to work.  And seeing as how this was park #13, Kinley was super tired of her brother slowing down the whole process over and over because even if she finishes early, we like to let the kids go through their swearing-in ceremonies at the same time.  I’m pretty sure that on this day she got so sick of waiting for him that she just told him the answers to get the whole thing over with.
Knox makes a new friend while learning about the geology of the park.

The coolest thing about this particular swearing-in was that the ranger got each child a real ranger hat to wear!  Kinley’s was a little small, but it was still a really cute experience we’d never had before.  Badges in hand, we loaded back into the car to meet the rest of the family for a tour of the Sierra Nevada Brewery.  Tour guests must be at least twelve years old, so we dropped Knox at Aunt Nancy and Uncle Larry’s to swim while the rest of us met up with Josh’s cousins at the brewery.
The kids got to wear real ranger hats while being sworn in!

Let me say this.  I don’t like beer.  I just don’t.  Neither does Josh.  But we really wanted to have time with the cousins, and this tour was what they wanted to do so off to the tour Josh, Kinley, Steve, and I went.  Lanita stayed behind to spend time with her brothers and help out at the house.  The tour was unlike anything I’d ever done before, and our tour guide was incredibly enthusiastic.  The most interesting parts to me were seeing the cold storage room full of hops and learning about the founder’s tinkering at age 14 that led eventually to crafting his own beer.  He was clearly a gifted child, and I found myself wondering what would have happened to him in school if he hadn’t had a mentor who encouraged his mechanical gifts and inquisitive mind.  (You can take the teacher out of the classroom for the summer, but you can’t keep her from thinking about gifted kids!)
Sierra Nevada samples

Our tour ended up being a little bit of a Willy Wonka reboot.  Steve got overheated on the tour and left to go home, but the Sierra Nevada staff somehow didn’t get the memo.  They were freaking out, and it felt a little like when the Augustus Gloop character in Roald Dahl’s book disappears up the chocolate pipe.  Only instead of Oompa Loompas singing we had security asking us if we’d heard from him every five minutes.  We eventually got in touch with him, and he was safe back at Aunt Nancy and Uncle Larry’s house.
Just before Steve started feeling overheated, he sampled the  non-alcoholic wort, part of the beer-making process.
Word got around that our tour guide, Matt, had lost a guest.  His colleagues gave him a seriously hard time about it.

After the tour, we had dinner together at the brewery, and then we returned to the ranch.  Josh, Beth, Uncle Larry, and his brother, John, took some time to practice their barbershop quartet numbers which would debut the following evening at the anniversary party while the rest of us talked and visited.  Part of the family was staying at an Airbnb property, and several of us eventually ended up there, talking, laughing, and even making s’mores until we couldn’t hold our eyes open any longer. 

L to R - Uncle John, Uncle Larry, Josh, and Beth squeeze in a barbershop quartet practice session.

Being together made me wish for more occasions like this one, occasions where we all converge on one place and spend time remembering why we like each other.  And intentionally forgetting the reasons we might get annoyed with each other.  Because families are fun and annoying all at once.  But mostly fun.

Great Basin National Park’s Cave, Glacier, and Bristlecone Pines: National Park Odyssey Day 30


Want to listen to a podcast about this park instead?  Click here. 
What a surprisingly great park this one was!
We had scheduled our hot breakfast at Hidden Canyon Ranch for 7:30 and scarfed down scrambled eggs, sausage, hashbrowns, and toast before packing a lunch and heading for the Lehman Caves Visitors’ Center which was 30 minutes away.  A couple of weeks earlier, we had bought tickets online for the 9:00 tour, so we checked in and picked up Junior Ranger booklets for the kids. 

Just like at Carlsbad, we were asked if we had visited any other cave in the last nine years.  When we said that we had, the ranger asked if we were wearing or carrying any of the items we wore or carried into our last cave.  We were all wearing the hiking boots we had worn in Carlsbad, and, of course, our camera was the same.  We wiped the camera down with a Clorox wipe, but they had us take off our boots and soak the soles in some sort of cleaning solution for five minutes to avoid spreading white nose syndrome to the cave’s bats.  I guess they think their bats are more fragile than Carlsbad’s bats or something.
 
The Cypress Room at Lehman Cave
During our 90-minute tour we saw cave formations including stalactites, stalagmites, columns, soda straws, cave popcorn, cave bacon, draperies, and shields.  This cave began as many others in the national park system did, as a privately owned tourist attraction.  From the 1890s to the 1920s, visitors were told, “If you can break it, you can take it,” and from the looks of the many damaged and broken formations, the guests took the challenge seriously. 
 
Evidence of broken soda straw formations and other broken stalactites
During prohibition, the cave was used as a speakeasy.  Later it was used for meetings of the local chapter of the Elks club, and even later the Boy Scouts had campouts inside.  The low ceiling of The Inscription Room is covered with turn-of-the-century graffiti – names and initials inscribed using smoke and charcoal.  The guide told us that the NPS requires parks to protect anything in the parks that is at least 50 years old, so the graffiti stays.  Never mind that some rangers tried to scrub huge swaths of it off the ceiling at some point, leaving strange illegible black smudges as permanent scars on the rock.
These formations are called parachute shields.  The shield part is the flat disk at the top, and the parachute part is the draping extending off of the shield.

After our cave tour, we drive up to Mather Point to have a picnic lunch, and then we drove to Wheeler Peak Campground to hike the Bristlecone and Glacier Trails.  This would lead to a grove of bristlecone pine trees and then up to the southernmost glacier in the US.  (The idea that there is a glacier in Nevada seems ridiculous, but it’s there nonetheless.)  We ended up adding on the Alpine Lakes Trail as well on our way back down, but that meant that we ended up at the wrong trailhead 0.7 miles from our car at the end.  Josh hiked back on the road to our car and came and picked us up at the end.  He’s a good egg.
 
Our lunch at Mather Point may not have included a picnic table, but the view made up for that.
The Glacier Trail is an extension of the Bristlecone Trail, and together the elevation gain is 1,100 feet.  I don’t love hiking uphill, but I still really liked this trail.  Being able to see 3200 year old trees, a glacier, alpine lakes, and a grove of Aspens all in one hike (even if we did end up at the wrong place) is extraordinarily interesting and diverse, in my opinion.
 
Here we are at the beginning of the trail, ready for a hike!
The signs along the Bristlecone Trail loop were very helpful since those trees look very similar to limberpine trees.  Learning the difference helped us not only at Great Basin but at Bryce Canyon as well.  Bristlecones have the ability to “turn off” parts of themselves to conserve resources, so one way to notice the difference is to look for dead plant material.  And it’s not just that these trees live a long time; they also take a long time to decay.  We saw one still-standing tree that had been dead for 600 years! 
Can you see the bristle-like little tips on the end of the cones?
This tree is still standing even though its' been dead for 600 years.
 
The signage at this park was excellent.
You may be wondering how experts can know when a tree died if there weren’t any tree experts around making notes about dead trees 600 years ago.  Well, as we learned on the interpretive signs, they look at the growth rings of a living tree and compare them to the rings of a dead tree.  All off the trees in an area will have similar growth rings for a given year.  For example, the ring for 1972 looks the same on all the trees in an area.  They just look for rings that are the same to figure out when the tree died!  Science is so cool.  (NOTE:  I am not even close to a botanist, so if I interpreted this all wrong, just tell me below in comments so that future readers can be set straight by someone who knows what they’re talking about.)
 
The tree over Knox's left shoulder, which appears to be mostly dead, has actually been living for the last 3200 years.  You can see some remaining green above my head.
The placard at the base of the tree
You can learn so much just from reading the signs!

After we had spent adequate time in the awe-inspiring presence of these amazing trees, we proceeded to climb up to the glacier.  Soon, it began to drizzle.  We passed a few people on their way down who said that a storm was coming in.  We heard thunder and came to a sign warning of the dangers of lightning on the exposed mountain.  Neither bristlecones, timberpines, nor any of the other tree species in this area were tall varieties of trees, so Josh was the tallest thing in the area.  I was not crazy about the idea of my husband getting struck by lightning, so I began to get increasingly nervous and to hike as fast as I could stand up the steep slope.
The trail was rocky and gained 1100 feet in elevation.
 
Up we went!
Another pair of hikers advised us to just hike to the view of the glacier.  They thought that we could beat the storm (and still count the trail as pretty much done) if we stopped at the glacier sign and didn’t do the last ¾ mile to the actual glacier itself.  I was in favor of this, but I didn’t want to make Josh quit early on one of his top-priority hikes for this whole trip. 
 
Yay!  We made it to the sign!
But then the rain started.  We arrived at the sign (which was very well done and pointed to both the ice part of the glacier and the rock covered part of the glacier), took some pictures, heard more threatening thunder, and skedaddled back down the trail.  Josh was perfectly ok with it all, and we still think we get to say that we hiked to the glacier.  I mean, we could see it.  That counts, right?
 
The gray part in hte middle of the snowy area is the rock-covered glacier.  Under all that rocky scree, there is an ice core.
Once we were past the bristlecones on the way back down, the rain and thunder stopped.  Since we no longer felt in danger, we decided to take a left and check out the alpine lakes.  What a great choice that was.  They were strikingly beautiful, and the rain had kept most people away.  We first came to Teresa Lake where we sat for a few minutes enjoying the scenery.  We could hear the sound of a little creek emptying into the alpine lake, so we decided to walk around to the right to look for it.  Again, a great choice.
Oh yeah.  This was a seriously high area.  That made the increase in elevation as we hiked even harder.

Teresa Lake was lovely!

This little creek was one of the most scenic spots of our entire trip.  The sound of the tinkling water, the sight of the vibrant pink wildflowers growing along the bank as if they’d been plants by horticulturists at DisneyWorld, the smells of the evergreens and the rich creekside soil – all of these paired with the fact that we didn’t have any preconceived expectations for this part of the trail made the experience magical!
 
Doesn't this look like something at a botanical garden?!

These pink flowers lined the little creek.

We followed the trail on to Stella Lake and then on through the grove of Aspen trees whose leaves swished in the breeze as though they were trying to whisper a secret just for us.  Their white bark was a stark contrast to the green juniper underneath, and wildflowers dotted the trail’s edge meaning frequent stops for pictures.  What a marvelous setting for our day!
 
Beautiful Stella Lake

Wildflowers on the forest floor
Knox hikes through the Aspens in a funk.  You can see Kinley ahead of him.  We didn't try to catch them.

I’m sure there are other equally-diverse parks, but I’ve got to say that I can’t think of any where you can get caves, 3200 year old trees, a glacier, Alpine lakes, and Apsen groves, all in a relatively small land area.  I’d tell you to get yourself to this park, but then you might.  And the deserted nature of the park is one of its charms. 

In fact, it's so deserted that when both of our kids became irritated with each other and with us and took off ahead of us up the trail to hike separately on their own, we didn't even care.  We let them hike far ahead of us and just enjoyed the much-needed peace and quiet.  By the time we all caught up with each other a half hour later, nature had done the thing she's so good at.  She brought us all back to a sense of equilibrium, just by experiencing her in peace.

So don’t go.  Stay home.  Go somewhere else. 


And leave all this awesomeness just for us.