Completed a 16.1 mile day hike during a rainy and cold Saturday. The temperatures were in the low 40s. Fortunately, the rain mostly stopped after the first hour. If I do more of these hikes, I definitely need to upgrade my rain gear. The wet eventually soaked through my jacket after about an hour.
The highlight of this hike was seeing an Eastern Newt on the trail. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of these guys – probably because I never hike in the rain.
Made a little more progress on the AT today. The hike was mostly uneventful. Rather than rattlesnakes, the animal of the day was spiders. I don’t know if the spiders are more active or whether I was hiking a less populated area of the trail but I was walking through spider webs all day, often with spiders hitching a ride on me. The major culprit was the Spined Micrathena. I found several of these spiders on me after passing through their webs.
I also saw this gnarly looking spider on the trail. I believe this is a Fierce Orbweaver. Despite its fierce appearance, apparently it is harmless.
It feels like I’m maybe a week before the peak color in the area. You can start to see some color though.
This 14.5 mi hike from Eckville, PA to Port Clinton, PA took me about 5 hours and 20 minutes. This is a pretty popular part of the trail with The Pinnacle and The Pulpit Rock overlooks on the trail. Even on a Friday morning, I passed several dozen people on the trail. For reference, previous hikes to the west I would occasionally see maybe 5-10 people.
I completed my longest hike of 2020 – 22.6 mi near Pine Grove, PA. I definitely struggled towards the end of this 8.5 hour hike. Although it was a large distance, the trail has really become rocky in this section, which slowed me down considerably as I was consciously trying to find a good rock for each and every step. The jagged rocks really wore out my feet too – I ended up with two big blisters on the side of my heels, which I think are likely caused by these rocks rather than the distance. Here’s a picture of some of the more rocky areas of the trail.
There were a few overlooks but the most scenic area was a small watering hole off the side of the trail. Seemed like a nice area to camp with some rope swings over the watering hole. Unfortunately, it was relatively close to a highway so I would expect a lot of people camp there.
By the end of this hike, I think I had started to get dehydrated although I still had a large bottle of water remaining. I was getting quite nauseous so when I finally got back to the car, I stopped at a McDonalds and got one unsweet iced tea and two bottled waters and slowly forced myself to drink all three on my drive back home, even though I didn’t feel particularly thirsty. It was a good hike although I will need to avoid hiking this long again on rocky trails such as this one.
This weekend’s adventure was a 16.8 mile hike along the AT north of Fort Indiantown Gap. I started the hike at Clark’s Valley Rd around 9:30am and finished around 3:30pm. I left Max at home for this hike. The highlight of the hike was running into another Timber Rattlesnake (I saw three of these rattlesnakes last weekend). This snake was coiled up just to the left of the trail. Fortunately, a fellow hiker gave me some warning otherwise I probably would have hiked right past and never noticed it. Like last week, the snake was very still and didn’t seem agitated (no rattle). I just gave him a wide berth and continued on.
I also got a few pictures of some interesting insects along the hike. The following is a Milkweed Tiger Moth (late instar stage).
Max and I completed a 20 mile section between Duncannon, PA and the crossing of Clark’s Valley Rd. The best moment of the hike was running into these three timber rattlesnakes. With all my hiking on the east coast, I’ve never seen a single rattlesnake. This weekend I was treated to three rattlesnakes! I was a safe distance away and they didn’t seem threatened (no rattling) so it was definitely a fun and enjoyable moment.
There were a couple of good overlooks on this portion of the trails. Here’s one of my favorite views from the hike.
I also crossed the Susquehanna River on today’s hike. This was around 3pm in the blazing August sun so I wasn’t feeling to great when I took this photo but it was a nice view.
On Tuesday, we started the day at Twenty Mule Team Canyon. This is a short drive on a dirt road, which was in really good condition. We drove this with our Hyundai Sonata rental car. Here’s a photo showing the dirt path as it winds its way through the canyon.
After driving through the canyon, our next stop was Dante’s Peak, which overlooks Badwater Basin and Death Valley. The following photo was captured from the overlook. The white area in the valley is Badwater Basin. The white color is actually salt that has been washed from the nearby mountains into the valley. Once the water evaporates, only the salt deposits remain resulting in this white color.
After Dante’s peak, we started the drive to Joshua Tree National Park. We took the scenic route and drove through the Mojave National Preserve. In between Death Valley and the Mojave National Preserve, we made a brief stop at the Dumont Dunes, which seems to be a recreation area for dune buggies. It was pretty cool although the area did seemed pretty trashy with a lot of litter. Maybe the dune buggy community is not as environmentally conscious as the national park community. Here’s a picture of the dunes.
After a brief stop at the dunes, we continued our way towards Joshua Tree, stopping for lunch in Baker, CA. We ate at Los Dos Toritos – a small Mexican restaurant that had a lot of good reviews. Afterwards, we went up the street to a store called Alien Fresh Jerky. It was a tourist trap but it was really entertaining. They are building this alien-themed empire. Just behind the jerky store, they are building a hotel like an alien spaceship. The following pictures shows one of the vehicles parked in front of the jerky store.
Continuing on, we arrived at our hotel (Holiday Inn Express in Twentynine Palms, CA) around 4pm. We unpacked our stuff and then headed into the park around 5pm. We hiked the Arch Rock Trail and captured a few photos of the arch at around sunset.
After a long first day in Death Valley, we slept in on Day 2. After getting breakfast, we drove up the road and rented a white 4 door Jeep Rubicon for approximately $315/day. We drove up to Titus Canyon, which is a pretty well maintained gravel road through a narrow canyon. I think we could have made it with our rental car but it was nice to have the peace-of-mind that the Jeep was going to make it through without any tire punctures. Here’s a picture of the Jeep with Shea and Joe in the front seat.
About half way through Titus Canyon, we parked the Jeep and completed a short but steep hike to Thimble Peak. There were some great overlooks although the photo doesn’t seem to capture it.
The GPS track of the hike is shown below. It was approximately 2.5 miles out and back with about 930 ft of elevation gain.
After completing the Thimble Peak hike, we continued driving down the Titus Canyon Road. Eventually, the road entered the narrow portions of Titus Canyon, as can be seen in the picture below.
After driving through the canyon, we drove north to see the Ubehebe Crater. I had initially assumed this crater was formed by a meteorite, but it was actually caused by geothermal processes. My understanding is that magma near the surface basically caused a steam buildup that eventually led to a massive explosion. The Ubehebe Crater is basically the remnants of that massive explosion.
Our next stop was the Badwater Basin. We stopped on the side of the road and hiked onto the flat, salty basin. We were hoping to see very white sand but I think we happened to hike on an area that still had a lot of moisture – it had actually rained the day before we had arrived in Death Valley. Consequently, the salt was brownish so it didn’t make for a great photo, as can seen below.
Badwater Basin is the lowest point in the United States. I like to keep track of these personal records, so here’s a screenshot of my phone GPS when we were in the basin. This represents a new low point in my life.
After visiting the Badwater Basin, we headed back to the hotel to grab some dinner. Shea and I then went to Harmony Borax Works to take some night time photographs. I spend some time doing some light painting, as can be seen in the photos below.
We headed back to the hotel around 1opm. For all the photos I captured during my time in Death Valley, please visit my flickr album.
After returning from Anacapa Island, we drove the 5 hours to Death Valley. We stayed at The Ranch at Death Valley in Furnace Creek. The hotel is in a prime location although you definitely pay for it.
We woke up before dawn on Sunday morning and drove 15 minutes to a popular overlook named Zabriskie Point. There were a ton of photographers lined up with their fancy tripods waiting for the sunrise. I found a little spot and sat there with my flimsy tripod and and 8 year old camera and took a bunch of photos as the sun slowly rose over the eastern mountains.
Around 9am, we headed back to the hotel to get our free breakfast. With the room costing approximately $350/night and dinners costing around $30 each, we were determined to take advantage of the free breakfast. After completing breakfast, we headed out to hike the Golden Canyon.
The entire hike was 4.8 miles and had an elevation gain of 919 feet. The Gower Gulch trail was hiked to make a loop. The hiking GPS track is shown in the map below.
After finishing the Golden Canyon hike around 12:30pm, we drove to the Devil’s Golf Course. This area has huge, jagged deposits of salt and mud. It’s frustrating just to walk over. Here’s a picture although I don’t think it really gives a sense of the weird salt structures.
Our next stop was the Room Canyon Hike. This one was a little off the beaten path. We learned about it from a hiking guide book in the general store at the hotel. It was an interesting hike but I didn’t really get many good photos. In fact, the only photo I like from the hike were of these small flowers.
The following map shows our GPS track of the Room Canyon hike.
We then drove to Artist’s Palette right around sunset. Artist’s Palette is a section of the mountains that has different shades of pink, purple, and green. Each color is associated with a given mineral. Red, pink, and yellow indicate iron, purple indicates manganese, and green indicates decomposition of tuff-derived mica.
After sunset, we drove back to the hotel and ate a buffet-style dinner. Afterwards, we drove back to where we started the day, Zabriskie Point, for some night photography.
For our second day in Channel Islands National Park, we headed to Anacapa Island – the second smallest island of the national park. Anacapa Island consists of three main islets named East, Middle, and West Anacapa. We were specifically visiting the East Anacapa islet.
We departed Oxnard Harbor on the Voyager for the 1 hour boat ride to the island. We saw a few common dolphins and sea lions on the ride over. Once we arrived at Anacapa, the captain backed the boat up to a dock within a little cove. It was impressive the captain kept the boat in contact with the dock as the swells pushed the boat around while within the cove.
Once disembarking, we were greeted with a climb up the cliff of the island (see below). However, once we completed those 157 steps, the top of the island was relatively flat.
My first impression of the island was “Oh God, I’m in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.” There were thousands of Western Gulls. Here’s a picture just showing a few of those gulls. It was quite a miracle that we didn’t get pooped on during the 5 hours we were on the island.
Since the island is so small and we had 5 hours to explore, we decided to take it slow and joined a guided tour. The volunteer tour guide provided some interesting insights into Anacapa island. Many of his points focused on the western gull, since they were everywhere.
Here are a few of the key points that the tour guide mentioned regarding the Western Gull:
Anacapa Island is the largest nesting ground of the western gull.
The western gulls will bring food from mainland California. They particularly like fried chicken so you see a lot of chicken bones throughout the island.
Mature western gulls have a red circle on their beak. This is pecked at by the chicks to get food from their parents.
Western gulls will form lifelong partners.
Western gulls on Anacapa generally produce 2 eggs per nesting season although particularly healthy birds will have 3 eggs.
The guide also gave us some history of Anacapa island. It was originally inhabited by Native Americans known as the Chumash. Archeological sites suggest the island was populated from 8000 to 11000 years ago.
During our hike, the guide pointed out an area on the trail that was covered with a bunch of broken shells. It turns out we were standing on a midden, or a old Native American trash heap. The Chumash were known to use purple shells as currency. They would find these purple shells and drill holes to wear them on a necklace. These shells could then be traded as currency. This practice eventually ended when the Portuguese introduced glass spheres as a currency.
The guide also described how the Chumash would use shark skin to sand wooden boats and use pitch from a natural oil seep on the islands to waterproof their boats. Unfortunately, as with most Native American tribes, the Chumash were decimated by the diseases of Spanish missionaries. The Chumash tribe still exists with 5000 members although they no longer live on the Channel Islands.
The primary structure on the island is the Anacapa lighthouse. The building was completed in 1932 and the Coast Guard started managing the lighthouse in 1939. In the 1960s, the Coast Guard automated the lighthouse eliminating the need to have a full time person to run and maintain everything. Unfortunately, there is a loud fog horn at the lighthouse so we could not get too close without blowing out our eardrums.
One of the difficulties of stationing people on Anacapa Island is that there is no fresh water source. The Coast Guard had the bright idea to build a large concrete pad to catch rain water and store it in barrels. After building the concrete pad, they quickly realized that the water was undrinkable due to all the bird poop.
The Coast Guard also had the good intention of introducing ice plant on the island to help prevent erosion. However, since that time, the ice plant has been recognized as an invasive species and tends to crowd out other native plants. There are active conservation efforts to replace the ice plant with native plants. The island also has a greenhouse to assist in raising native plant species to replace the ice plant. As you can see in the following photo, the red and purple flowering ice plant is still dominant on the island.
One of the more dominant native plants was the coreopsis, which was also flowering during our visit. One of my favorite photos from the trip is shown below where I took an image of some coreopsis blooms from below looking up towards the sky.
The final stop on the guided tour was Inspiration Point. The California Brown Pelican population, which nests on Western Anacapa Island, was decimated by DDT in the 50s and 60s. After DDT was banned, the population has rebounded. The number of nesting sites increases by approximately 10-fold, from 500 sites in the 1950s to approximately 5000 today. Here’s a view from Inspiration Point – it’s a beautiful overlook.
After Inspiration Point, we hiked the few remaining trails on our own. One of the highlights from this time was seeing a colony of sea lions sunning themselves at the water’s edge. Unfortunately, I wasn’t carrying a telephoto lens so I didn’t capture the best image but you can get a sense of the number of sea lions laying out.
We departed East Anacapa around 3:30pm after hiking approximately 4.4 miles. A map of our hike is shown below.