Category Archives: The Great Outdoors

Bryce Canyon in the Snow

Ever since we moved to Utah, Bryce Canyon has been high on our list to visit.  It has special significance with me as it is probably my family’s favorite national park.  In fact, my brother Ben’s middle name is Bryce, after the canyon!  Thus, I convinced Tara of its awesomeness, and she immediately agreed that we needed to go there. 

It took longer than it should have, but we finally managed to make a trip over Presidents’ Day weekend.  We did NOT camp, it was a “wimpout” as we used to call it in the Boy Scouts.  We stayed in a hotel literally less than a mile from the park.  Situated at 8000 feet, Bryce Canyon is a popular cross-country ski and snowshoe location during the winter.  In fact, the weekend we were there was their annual “Winterfest” complete with photography clinics, guided snowshoe and ski tours, and a cross-country ski race.

We got in around 10 on Friday night, slightly concerned at the lack of snow on the ground.  We had been looking forward to exploring snow-covered red rock, not mud covered.  We need not have been concerned.  18” fell that night and we awoke the next morning to near whiteout conditions.  Driving anywhere in our small Dodge Stratus was out of the question.  Fortunately, there were trailheads right across the highway from the hotel, so we stuck to those for the morning.  We needed the snowshoes just to get to the trailhead!  Snowshoeing through the fluffy powder amidst the evergreens while the snow quietly fell was simply amazing.  There were a number of people out cross-country skiing, most of whom were clearly inexperienced and renting their equipment from the hotel.  One guy was basically just walking in his skis.  He’d have been better off in snowshoes.

 

Those mittens are Dakine, and I highly recommend them.  Your hands will never be cold again.

Tara with Queen Victoria’s Castle in the background

That afternoon, the snow lightened up enough that we drove into the park and snowshoed down into the canyon.  With the snow continuing to fall, the visibility a quarter mile at best.  It was surreal.  Distant rock formations almost seemed imaginary while the closer ones allowed much more attention to detail with the rest of the view blocked out.  Down into the canyon we went, undulating through the hoodoos towering above us, their tops disappearing into the snow and fog.  The trail ended at a formation called Queen Victoria’s Castle.  We stopped to take it all in, and I found a boulder to jump off of. 

 

So much fun.Getting Air! 

We arose early Sunday morning, initially hoping to go skiing at Brianhead, but discovered that the highways to the resort were still pretty sketchy, so we opted to snowshoe instead.  This proved to be an outstanding decision.  The sun emerged for most of the morning and the conditions were absolutely perfect.  We made slow going—every several hundred feet I saw something that I had to take a picture of.  I was rocking my new polarizing filter.  I love what it does for shots in midday sun that would be completely washed out otherwise.  I have noticed however, that when using the filter at my lens’s widest setting (17mm), vignetting occurs.  If anybody knows why that is, and how to avoid it, please fill me in.

 

You can kind of see the vignetting in this one.Hoodoos from the lookout 

We did a ton of exploring that day, even venturing off trail a few times.  Snowshoeing through fresh powder is really hard work, but the feeling is incredible.  Something about the way new, untouched snow blankets the landscape is so inviting. 

We found a perfect place along the trail to stop for lunch under a rock overhang.  There was a nice dry log to sit on—an uncommon find in the snow.  So we sat down and pulled out our sandwiches, but no sooner had we done so that a jay came from nowhere and perched itself on a branch 20 ft. away.  Tara and I have had plenty of experience with jays, and we know that, when food is involved, they can be the most obnoxious of creatures.  Prepared to ignore the bird, we started on our lunch, but within minutes, the pest flew in and landed on the log within feet of Tara.  She was having none of that.  In an effort to protect my bride, I clapped and yelled, managing to send the creature retreating back to its initial perch in the tree.  He was clearly not happy, however, and persisted in glaring down at us making angry cries.

 

If only I had my blowgun... The Poltergeist

In all our encounters with jays, we had never seen one actually act mad when it was not given food.  We began to suspect that we had inadvertently  sat down dangerously close to the bird’s nest in the rocks and he was behaving this way to defend his home, not take our food.  We were thus inclined to pack up our partially consumed lunches and find a new place to eat.  A quarter mile up the trail, and the pest nowhere in sight, we found a new log to sit on, albeit not nearly as nice as the first.  We again sat down and pulled out our sandwiches, and again, unbelievably, the second the food was out, we could see the jay flying up the canyon towards us.  He again perched obnoxiously close to us, but this time I kept him at bay with snow balls.  It only took a couple warnings to keep him out of our hair and we were able to finish our meal in peace.

That afternoon, we were pretty tanked from all the snowshoeing, but wanted to make full use of our time there, so we rented skis from the hotel and set out on the groomed ski trails.  This too was a good time, and the snow covered trees with the bright blue sky above was simply stunning.  We capped off our epic day with a trip to the hot tub.  There was a bit more teenage angst in there than we’d have liked, but it was still wonderful.

 

Use this for your background! On the cross-country ski trail

Monday we checked out of the hotel and headed it to Brianhead.  This was a new resort to check of our list, and it was a good day to be out.  There was still plenty of powder to be had.  It was an awesome day of skiing/boarding and a great way to finish off the trip.

 

Quite possibly one of the coolest pictures I've ever taken. Taken right outside the hotel at sunset

 

Utah National Parks we have now been to:

  • Arches
  • Capitol Reef
  • Kolob Canyon (lesser known portion of Zion)
  • Bryce Canyon

 

Utah Ski Resorts we have been to:

  • Snowbird
  • Brighton
  • Solitude
  • Park City
  • Canyons
  • Brianhead
  • Sundance

Our Favorite Snowshoeing Places

Tara and I love snowshoeing probably as much as we love hiking.  Since it is basically the winter version of hiking, this statement seems quite obvious.  Being in the midst of a snow-covered forest is so peaceful, and the smell of wet pine is unbeatable.  This is our list of favorites.  All of these trails can be googled for more information.

1.  Salt Lake Overlook Trail, Millcreek Canyon:
This one is a popular summer hike, but is just as good in the winter.  Go on a clear day.

P1140141 Salt Lake Overlook on a clear sunny day

2.  White Pine Lake, Little Cottonwood Canyon:
A lot of people use this trail for backcountry skiing access, but it works great for snowshoeing as well.  There’s lots of cool places to branch off the trail and explore (jump off boulders).

P3060002 Tara going big on White Pine Trail

3.  Frary Peak, Antelope Island:
You probably won’t actually need snowshoes for this one, but expect to be hiking in snow.  This one is particularly good on an inversion day because you’ll be able to climb up out of it, and it is absolutely amazing.

PC190041 The Inversion from Frary Peak

4.  Top part of Millcreek Canyon:
They close to road to cars after a certain point in the winter, and groom it for Nordic skiing.  You can snowshoe up it too, and it’s an excellent place for beginners—Just don’t walk on the ski tracks, or you may get some nasty looks.  After a half mile or so, there are a few trails that branch off the road.  These are top notch.  The only down side is having to walk so far on the road to access them.

DSC01327 Millcreek Canyon from Mount Aire Trail

Pretty much any summer trail becomes a snowshoeing trail come winter.  Just check the avalanche danger.  We also recommend Hiking the Wasatch, one of the best trail/terrain maps we’ve been able to find.  It is $15 well spent.

Photo of the Whatever

So this just in: October is nearly over.  This means fall is giving way to winter.  I swear Summer goes way faster when one is no longer in school.  This doesn’t really make sense to me.  To be honest, I don’t mind that the warm weather is dwindling.  I’d say Tara and I made good use of it.  I could have have done with at least one more backpacking trip, but two is good.  Besides, we could just get winter sleeping bags and then we could go in the winter too.  Then we wouldn’t even need a tent!  We’d just dig a snow cave!  Not to mention, my snowboard is waiting down there in the basement, and I’m starting to itch to have it out again.  And we’re only a month away!  Insane!

Anyway, I figured I should post a fall picture or two before it’s too late.  These are from a Sunday afternoon hike up in Millcreek Canyon Tara and I did a few weeks ago.  I love the red “berries” that come out in fall.  I’m not sure what they are though.

Can't think of anything quirky to say here.

60mm  F5.6  1/125 sec  ISO-100

 

The mysterious berries

70mm  F5.6  1/20 sec  ISO-100

Backpacking Capitol Reef

Last weekend Tara and I got out on our first backpacking trip of the season.  We headed south down to Capitol Reef National Park for a one-nighter.  We chose to do Lower Spring Canyon, a 9 mile long dry canyon.  The plan going in was to hike like halfway, camp then get up the next morning and hike back the way we came to the car.  Thus, we set out, laden with extra water as there wouldn’t be any in the canyon.

Tara re-applies sunscreen

Being in a dry canyon such as that one is interesting.  The sheer cliffs on either side are breathtaking.  However, at the same time, one feels claustrophobic, longing to see what lies beyond those walls, fantasizing in the hot desert sun about flying up out of the canyon.  Maybe that comes from too much time spent on Google Earth.  Aside from the wonder of what lies outside the canyon, the knowledge that the only water within miles is on one’s back can be particularly nerve-racking and exciting at the same time.

A few miles into the canyon, we both had the sudden desire to “conquer” the canyon—hike it all the way through, emerging victorious at the cool refreshing waters of the Fremont River and the welcoming scar of civilization, Highway 24, at the other side.  Therefore, we decided that rather than retrace our steps back to the car the next day, we’d hike the rest of the canyon, fill up on water at the river, and then hitch hike, walk, or crawl the 7 miles back to the car on the highway.

We did about 7.5 miles that day.  Admittedly, we did not realize how the hot desert sun would suck the water out of us, and when we stopped for the day around 4:30 and set up camp, we were both suffering mild heat exhaustion.  Not to fear!  We sucked down extra water, and rested in the tent in the shade of the cliffs, and were soon feeling much better.

Tara, post heat exhaustion 

Night time in the canyon was incredible.  Bats came out from their dwellings in the cliffs, and we could hear them “chirping” as they navigated the perfectly dark night.  I think we had both forgotten what true solitude is like, and it is exhilarating.

Yes, I did put the camera on BULB mode and attempt to "paint" a heart with the moon

 

Did not turn out quite like I wanted, but kind of cool anyway 

The next day we made breakfast (had to skip coffee to preserve water), broke camp, and hiked the last 1.5 miles out of the canyon.  I can’t describe how excited we were to get to that river.  Half mile from it, new plants appeared, and the canyon became more verdant.  We knew we were close, and walked faster.  Then, almost out of no where, there it was.  I threw down my pack and jumped in.  It was so cold it took my breath away, but it was absolutely amazing.  Never have I been more excited to see water.

Breakfast dishes

 

No, I did not jump in with my pack still on 

We forded the river, and walked up to the second joyous sight: the highway.  We sat down by the road, ate cliff bars, and then shouldered our packs and started down the road attempting to hitch hike for the first time ever.  Alas, the road was pretty untraveled, and we weren’t having much luck.  After about 2 miles, I was suddenly struck with an awesome realization:  we didn’t have to carry the packs!  We could just hide them off the road and come back for them in the car. 

Back on the road, lunch in our bellies, with only our day packs, our spirits were lifted.  Now the road was winding through historic fruit orchards planted by early pioneers.  Another mile down, and we were just accepting the fact that we’d probably be walking all the way back to the car when a couple from New Jersey picked us up.  They were hikers as well, and understood the concept of a “one way” trail, and thus felt for us.  Also, the woman said we looked pretty safe.  I have to say the same of them.  I wasn’t the slightest bit nervous.

Within 5 minutes, we were back at the car (yet this saved us a good hour).  We jumped in, drove back to retrieve the packs, and then did one more hike to Hickman Arch (it was a short one).  We concluded the day bay stopping at the historic Gifford Farm and purchasing a homemade strawberry pie which we ate on the spot.  It was heaven.

Hickman Arch: washed out in the midday sun, but whatever

My Favorite Outdoor Places—Eastern Nebraska Edition

Those of you that subscribe to my RSS feed may have gotten a rare sneak peak at this post.  I was working on this Sunday evening, and it ended up taking far longer than I had intended it to.  Thus, it was getting late (by late, I mean 10:30), and I was getting cranky.  I got everything formatted in Live Writer, but when I published it to the blog, all hell broke loose.  It was like MS Word ‘03.  Fed up, I deleted the post, intending to fix it later (now).  If you did see the original messed up version, congratulations.  It is worth a lot of money, kind of like the Beatles’ Yesterday and Today Album.

 

At the request of Rachel, I’ve decided to devote a post to some of my favorite outdoor destinations in, not Utah, but Nebraska.  What?  I admit, I had to rack my brain for a bit, but they did start coming to me.  Maybe not in the blast of a fire hose like Utah, but there are a few gems.  I must apologize beforehand, however, that there are no Nebraska hot springs (that I know of).

Fontenelle Forest, Bellevue, NE 
Nestled in the rolling hills along the Missouri River, this gem offers lush forest, river views, and wetlands all just minutes from Omaha.  All of the trails are worth checking out, but my favorite is a little bit off the beaten path.  Instead of going to the main visitor center and starting from there, head towards Gifford Farm and find the trailhead on the left just before the farm.  This trail was actually featured on Backpacker.com, so you know it’s a good one.  It affords views of numerous lakes and marshy areas. 

A lot of rain lately?  Avoid the mud by taking a stroll on the extensive boardwalks that start at the main visitor center.

There’s a small fee to use the trails, but is well worth it.  You can also buy an annual pass, which my family is done numerous times, especially when we were training for Mt. Newcomb.  In my opinion, Spring is the best time to go thanks to all the fresh growth and flowers blooming.  Not to mention, more pleasant temperatures.

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 Here’s my family out on an early April, rainy hike at Fontenelle.

Louis and Clarke Overlook, Council Bluffs, IA
Hop over the river for this quality biking location.  I went there for mountain biking, but there’s some decent road biking as well.  I suggest parking at Lakeview Park on the northwest side of Council Bluffs.  Then pedal the moderately easy climb up the bluffs to the overlook on tree-lined Monument Rd that takes you by cute little houses.  For some reason, the area reminded me of Maui.  The mountain biking trails branch off the road, so if you’re there for that, just keep your eyes out.  These trails can be used for hiking too.

The overlook itself offers spectacular views of the Omaha skyline.  I’ve always thought it would be a good makeout spot, but have never tried it.  Also, they might close the gates after dark.  I believe there’s another overlook in the area that is used almost explicitly for that purpose, but I digress.

 

Branched Oak Lake, Lincoln, NE
Albeit just another dammed up creek in an effort to provide a means of recreation, this muddy lake is, in my opinion, one of the better ones.  It is nestled amongst the beautiful rolling hills that the state is known for and  has a slightly more rustic feel than many of the others.  A dip in these crystal clear (if you close your eyes) waters is a perfect pairing with wine tasting at nearby James Arthur Vineyards.  The park does offer camping, and I believe some trails, although I have never explored them.  Note: is a state recreation area, so you either need a sticker or pay the per vehicle entrance fee.

P7040057

Grilling out on the 4th of July at Branched Oak.  Yeah, we forgot a spatula.

Indian Cave SP, Brownville, NE
Indian Cave State Park offers the best/only backpacking within a 3 hour drive of Omaha.  The trails are picturesque, but their routes are interesting.  They undulate so much that you might hike 2 miles and still be only half a mile from the car.  That being said, the park really does offer some quality hiking, and pretty spectacular views.  One hollow even has a few moss covered boulders—an extremely rare sight in Nebraska. 

There are numerous shelters atop the bluffs available for camping in, or you can just set up your tent wherever you see fit.  No reservation required, just pay your park entrance fee and start hiking (double check that—I’m pretty sure you don’t need a backcountry permit, but I can’t remember for sure).  Also, the ticks are really bad here—I would suggest roughing it a little bit and come in the early spring/late fall to avoid them, or plan on bringing lots of bug spray.  I know, it’s kind of a bummer, but hey, tick checks before bed can be kind of sexy…

P3200008 
One of the more spectacular views at Indian Cave SP.

Platte River State Park, Louisville, NE
This park will always be one of my favorite places in the world because there are so many memories attached to it.  In high school, this area became my stomping grounds as soon as I got my driver’s license.  I still remember how it started.  One night we were bored, so like all high schoolers, we decided to drive around.  Thus, we piled in to my minivan, and ended up in Louisville (pronounced Louis Ville, not Looey Ville). 

Platte River State Park is just down road, and happens to be the Mountain Biking Mecca of the state.  And so it began.  We’d throw our bikes into the back of Mike’s old F-150 and journey to independence (and awesome mountain biking).

The park is so appealing in part due to it’s seclusion and beauty, but also because it is like a well kept secret.  Most people pass it up and go to Mahoney instead.  If you are there for biking, plan on heading out after 3, as the trails you’ll be riding are partially shared with equestrians, and bikes are not allowed from 8 to 3 (or something like that). 

For hiking or biking, I recommend the following route:  When you enter the park, turn left, go down a hill, and at the bottom, on the left, you’ll see a parking lot for a trailhead.  Disembark your vehicle and head into the woods.  Something like 3/8 mile in, you’ll come across a rare beauty for Nebraska: a waterfall.  We used to dare each other to drop off it on bike, but none of us ever did (it’d probably be a hairy landing).  Continue on the trail to enjoy views of the Platte river and lush forest.  A short distance after passing the lookout tower, you’ll see the signs for no bikes between the hours of 8 and 3.  Congratulations.  You’re about to enter my favorite area in the park.  Proceed down the hill on bike or on foot, cross the bridge at the bottom,and then climb the hill on the other side.  At the top of that hill, you’ll find yourself in a secluded meadow with views of rolling hills, prairie,and  woods in all directions.  You might even see a few horses, and possibly a couple cow pies.  This is where I dragged my guitar with a mostly unsuspecting Tara and proposed.  Hmm, I wonder if I could get the park to name that spot “Andrew’s Meadow”.  That would be friggin’ awesome.

PA110015

 “Andrew’s Meadow” right after the proposal

Anyway, where was I?  Take a break here.  Enjoy a picnic lunch.  Now, if you’re on bike, you have your pick of a variety of absolutely superb trails down.  I suggest the Roller Coaster.  If you’re on foot, you’ll have an equally enjoyable return trip albeit less adrenaline charged.

Just a few more notes on Platte River SP.  They have modern and rustic cabins to stay in.  I highly recommend coming in the colder months to stay in one of the heated (and very affordable) modern cabins.  You’ll literally have the park to yourself.  In the summer come with a group and get a rustic cabin.  There’s no AC, but they do have refrigerators!  Be sure to add to your itinerary a stop in Springfield.  The Runza that we used to frequent in high school to get something called the “Sex Shake” is long since closed, but both the old fashioned Soda Fountain on Main St. and wine tasting at Soaring Wings Vineyard are must do’s.  Also, get a designated driver one of the nights of your stay at the park, and head into Louisville to their one bar—it’s well worth the trip.

Louisville State Park, Louisville, NE
Also in my stomping grounds, of course I had to include this one.  It’s a decent place to camp despite the trains that go by throughout the night.  What makes this place awesome is its excellent access to the Platte River.  Take a little night hike out onto a sandbar.  Did I ever mention that I’d love to have sex on a sandbar?  This would be the perfect place to get away with it.  Nope, never have.  Yet…

Pic CD 212

A young Kyle during a camping trip at Louisville, circa ‘03

Moab

This past weekend, Tara and I ventured down to Moab with friends.  We left Saturday morning and arrived at Arches National Park around 12:30 and spent the day seeing, you guessed it, arches.  First on the agenda was the Delicate Arch, a must see, especially if you live in Utah.  After all, it’s on the friggin’ license plate.

So we took the moderately easy, but more challenging than I’d expected for a “National Park Hike”, 3 mile round trip hike to see the famous geographic feature.  And it was indeed spectacular.  Far larger than I’d expected from the pictures.  It was sooo crowded though.  We had to wait in line to take pictures under it.

Here’s the group on the way there:

_DSC1730

 

My attempted artistic angle:

_DSC1754 

 

Here’s what Google Earth says it looks like:

Delicate Arch

 

The rest of the group headed back to Salt Lake that evening, but Tara and I stayed at  KOA  that night and returned to the park to do more hiking on Sunday.  We did the Devil’s Garden hike, and I highly recommend it.  It is a 7.6 mile loop that takes you to 8 arches or so while undulating through a maze of the sandstone fins that arches are made from.  Best of all, it’s away from the crowds.

 

Awesomeness (waiting for the pod racers to go by):

_DSC1842

 

We stopped for a snack of Cliff/Luna bars just on the other side of this arch.  Couldn’t have found a better place, despite the fact that my lens cap almost rolled off the edge.  Another hiker was prepared to lay out for it though, had it not come to rest in a small shrub first.  What a dude.  Look at that framing!

_DSC1861

 

A shot of the “fins” I mentioned earlier:

_DSC1911

 

Struggling to hold on for dear life…kidding, there’s no cliff there.  Don’t diss my hat, Rachel—it works wonders on a sunny desert hike.

_DSC1857

Goodbye Snowboard, Hello Mountain Bike!

 

Although I had a slight twinge of sadness as I unstrapped and walked off the resort after the last run of the season a few weeks ago, such emotions did not last long as I packed the board in the back of the closet and pulled out the mountain bike.  After a quick tune-up, I was itching to ride, and the asphalt around town just wasn’t cutting it.  As luck would have it, several of my colleagues had the same cravings, and we’ve since gotten our wives’ stamp of approval and made mountain biking after work once a week part of our schedules.

This past Tuesday was our second time out, and we ventured out to Squaw Peak, which is not far from work.  It was supposed to be an all downhill, shuttle ride, but the stupid road was closed due to non-existent snow, so we ended up having to climb 1300 feet before enjoying the blissful descent.  It just made it all the more awesome though, even if the trail was a bit rocky…

Here we are at the top:

squaw pk 2

 

 

The Procerus Technologies MTB Team:  Brad, Steve, Me

squaw pk 1

 

 

And here’s the epic air that I got off a jump (or perhaps not):

A Hike to the Hot Pots

This past Saturday, Tara and I ventured down to Spanish Fork Canyon to take advantage of the perfect weather with a hike to the 5th Water Hot Springs known as the “Hot Pots” by the locals.  It took us longer than we’d have liked to get to the trailhead.  This was partially do to me not getting the directions before we departed and only having a general idea of where we were going (I’m used to Tara doing this step by now), but man instincts kicked in, and I got us there (even if we did have to double back a few miles).

Swimsuits under our clothes, (“It’s lucky my boobs are small enough that I can get away with this,” Tara said.), we set out on the 2.5 mile hike up the canyon to the hot pots.  The terrain is particularly striking, with red rock on the more sunny side and lush evergreens on the shadier side.  The warm water of the stream (from the hot springs) allows for an abundance of growth along its banks.  Thick green moss blankets boulders that protrude from the stream while hairs of algae sway two and fro in the current as though they’re at a Journey concert sans the lighters. 

That’s enough National Geographic talk—I just wanted to see if I could do it.  So we made good time and made it to the Hot Pots in under an hour.  We had heard that nude bathers frequent the pools, so we were slightly apprehensive about what we might find.  In the first pool, we observed a couple that we can only hope had been dry humping, and were eternally grateful that the other pools were upstream.

Despite the shaky first impression, the rest of the people we saw enjoying the hot pots that day were not exhibiting disgusting amounts of affection and were all fully covered (as much as a bathing suit covers, that is).

We decided to venture a little further up the trail beyond the hot pots before getting in, and were almost immediately glad we had, because not even a quarter mile further up the trail was a spectacular waterfall.

 

P4170007

 

I had not felt like lugging the SLR that day, and only had my little point-and-shoot, and as a result, could not get a sweet, silky waterfall shot.  Blast!  Oh well, it was too sunny anyway…

I did get a timer shot of the two of us, which turned out OK, even if we did completely dwarf the magnitude of the falls…

 

P4170006  

See that ledge between the upper and lower falls?  We climbed down to that!  It was completely Tara’s idea!  What?  You don’t believe me?  Fine.  Anyway, it’s not as bad as it may look, but it did involve some all-fours scrambling, and was totally worth it.

We then returned to the Hot Pots, and found a vacant one to dry hump in.  Kidding! It was pretty awesome.  The water was a perfect temperature, and although it smelled strongly of sulfur, neither of us minded because it meant we could both fart freely with out the other noticing.

 

P4170010

 

I had a girl take this picture of us.  I think our smiles look pretty genuine despite the fact that her ill-behaved sopping wet dogs were clamoring all over our clothes.

 

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