Hiking the Grand Canyon – Part One

Earlier this summer, TripAdvisor ranked the Grand Canyon as the #1 National Park. I couldn’t agree more with their top pick. I have meaning to write about the Grand Canyon ever since I first saw TripAdvisor’s list (the complete ranking is here, BTW), but it has taken me until the hottest week of summer to get my thoughts on paper. It was similarly hot when I hiked from the rim (top) of the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River and back…twice! No wonder my ex-girlfriend called me crazy! 😉

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My first visit to the Grand Canyon was in October, 2000. It was little more than a two-hour stopover on my way from Chicago to Los Angeles, my first cross-country move. My friend Chuck came along for the ride. We took photos from various South Rim vantage points, hiked perhaps one-quarter mile down the Bright Angel Trail, ate at one of the Grand Canyon Village restaurants, and continued on our way. Still…the few pictures I took, including the photo above, taken from Hopi Point with my $60 manual camera, lent quite the inspiration, and I promised myself that I would one day return and hike all the way down to the canyon floor.

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Photo Locale of the Month – May 2016

It is late May and it finally feels like summer in East Tennessee. The weather has been unseasonably cool and rainy, until just a few days ago, when – almost overnight – temperatures shot up into the mid-80’s. Now that’s more like it!

Out West, May is an ideal month for exploring the National Parks of Utah and Arizona. I took several road trips while residing in Los Angeles to the Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, Lake Powell, and elsewhere. It was four years ago when my car seemingly drove itself during one of the hottest weeks of the year to one of the hottest places in the country: beautiful Monument Valley.

Goulding's Trading Post and Museum 1 - view of Sentinel Mesa

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Photo Locale of the Month – February 2016

News footage this past week has been rife with images of destruction following the 6.4-magnitude earthquake that struck the Taiwanese port city of Tainan. At time of writing, 59 people have perished. Over 500 people have been injured, and another 76 are still reported missing.

Such natural disasters, tragic though they may be, are all too commonplace in “Ring of Fire” countries such as Taiwan. I visited the small island nation with a friend in 2010, and was floored by the spectacular topography. We spent several days in earthquake-carved Taroko National Park, and I am sharing of my park pictures with you today.

Taroko NP 45

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Gorillas (Not Quite) in the Mist – Part Three

Speechless. Astonished. Flabbergasted. Those are just three superlatives that I can use to describe my elation at having spent an hour with mountain gorillas in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. Uganda, neighboring Rwanda, and the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) are the only places in the world where these great apes still roam free. And I saw them.

Bwindi gorillas 112

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Gorillas (Not Quite) in the Mist – Part Two

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park was just 50 yards from our lodge, Lake Kitandara Bwindi Camp. Our driver, Matthieu, escorted us to the park gate, where we signed in and met the park staff and other trekkers. We showed our permits – a whopping $500 apiece – and were led through orientation. The head guide was a female, something of a surprise in this male-dominated part of the world.

Bwindi gorillas 3

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Gorillas (Not Quite) in the Mist – Part One

Bwindi town 4

I can hardly believe that five years have passed since my three-country safari and hiking trip to East Africa in August, 2010. I wrote about the trip’s climax – a successful summit of Mount Kilimanjaro – last fall, and thought you might like to hear about the Uganda portion of trip, in which my friends and I had one thing on our minds: gorillas!

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Photo Locale of the Month – July 2015

Last month’s entry took us to a green space in the middle of a large U.S. city. For this month’s feature, we remain in the U.S. but get closer to nature.

Yellowstone National Park is the country’s oldest national park. It is also one of the biggest, occupying the northwest corner of Wyoming as well as several thousand acres in both Idaho and Montana.

Yellowstone NP 1

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Hiking the Milford Track

Last fall, I vowed to write more hiking-related entries. My travels have given me the opportunity to check several multi-day hikes off the ever-lengthening “bucket list.” The third long hike in this series (you can also read about Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and the Backbone Trail of Southern California) was completed in February of 2009 – six years ago!

One Month in Middle Earth

My first trip “Down Under” – to use common geographical slang marketed to the U.S. by the likes of Paul Hogan, Qantas, and Fosters – was to Australia in 2003. I loved Australia and had long yearned to return to that region of the world. “Across the ditch” from Australia lies New Zealand, a bastion for backpackers and nature lovers. The success of the “Lord of the Rings” films, shot there, effectively priced me (and many other backpackers) out of the market, and it wasn’t until the end of that decade that things went down in cost…and even then only marginally.

The Fiordland region of New Zealand’s South Island is blessed with pristine natural beauty, verdant greenery, Norwegian-style fiords, and more than the island’s fair share of waterfalls. The country’s hiking trails are renowned as being some of the greatest in the world, and many of them are appropriately marketed as such, under the name “Great Walks.” On the North Island you can hike around – and to the top of – what moviegoers know simply as “Mount Doom,” via the Tongariro Crossing.  (Mount Doom’s real name: Mount Ngauruhoe.) Three multi-day Great Walks are in Fiordland. Arguably the best of these – and certainly the hardest for which to obtain permits – is the Milford Track.

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The Backbone Trail of Southern California

For this hiking-related entry, I decided to write about an epic, multi-day hike across the spine – or “backbone” – of the mountain range in which I have spent the most time. During the twelve years I lived in Los Angeles, I spent many a weekend day exploring LA and Ventura Counties’ literally hundreds of hiking trails. Three transverse mountain ranges pass through LA, and my favorite trails to hike are in the Santa Monica Mountains. These mountains follow the coast (more east-west than north-south in SoCal), cross the 405 Freeway to comprise the Hollywood Hills, and end at Griffith Park, one of the world’s largest urban green spaces.

SMMNRA sign

The Backbone Trail is a 65-mile hike that takes you from the highlands of star-studded Pacific Palisades, into the hills above Malibu and the canyons beyond, ending at Point Mugu State Park in Ventura County. Along the way, the trail ascends and descends over 11,000 vertical feet, passing through five Mediterranean ecosystems and past geological and cultural treasures. The trail passes two Inspiration Points, at least two split rocks, and is a short scramble from the highest point in the range. Best of all? The highest point is just 3,111 feet above sea level, so cold weather is seldom much of a factor. This is one trail that is actually better when hiking during the fall-winter-spring off-season than during the scorching summer months. Are you ready to give it a try?

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Kilimanjaro – A Dream Fulfilled

September is here, and it is my favorite month for hiking. (Runner-up month: April.) Sure, it is still a bit hot for long hikes across the Santa Monica Mountains – my old SoCal stomping ground and home to the 65-mile Backbone Trail – but many higher-elevation peaks are at their most-accessible in this “shoulder season” month. I completed the four-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in September of 2005. I scaled Lembert Dome and Mount Hoffman – two prominent peaks in Yosemite National Park – in September of 2003. Just one year prior, I bagged the highest peak in the contiguous United States, 14,497-foot Mount Whitney. I have also climbed (hiked) Mount Baldy, the 10,064-foot SoCal landmark, three times, and two of those were in September (2004 and 2011).

But it is my successful climb to the summit marker atop Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro in September, 2010 that I am most proud of. Hiking is one of my great passions, you see, and if I haven’t been able to do as much of it over these past few years as I would have liked, I at least know that I have many years of great hiking memories to choose from. Kilimanjaro is my fondest, and the one I want to tell you more about in the paragraphs below.

Three Countries in Three Weeks

I took my second trip to sub-Saharan African in 2010. The trip was the brainchild of my friend Miles, just one year after our Great Southern African Adventure of 2009. This time we were joined by my friend Mark. Miles and Mark have expensive tastes, and make more money in a week than I make in a year, so they yearned for a pre-planned trip with guide/driver and first rate accommodations. They immediately declined when I suggested a Kilimanjaro add-on, but we compromised on four days in Zanzibar before they returned to the U.S. and I moved on to Moshi, Tanzania.

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