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Showing posts from 2013

Congaree National Park

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Location: east of Columbia, South Carolina
Date: December 31, 2013


Congaree National Park protects the largest section of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the United States and is also a designated Ramsar wetland of international importance and a National Natural Landmark. The Congaree River forms the southern border of the park, but Cedar Creek and other streams cross the park as well. There are over 35 miles of trails in the park all of which can be accessed from the visitor center, but most people visit the 2.4 mile long boardwalk loop.


When I visited on the last day of 2013 the water levels in the Congaree River were so high that the forest was flooded up to four miles away near the visitor center. So, I was only able to walk across the elevated portion of the boardwalk to Weston Lake as an out and back hike (although it would have been a great day to canoe through the park). The other half of the boardwalk isn't elevated and was flooded. Other than a few birds, squirr…

Montezuma Castle National Monument

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Location: Camp Verde, Arizona
Date: December 11, 2013


Montezuma Castle is the name given to one of the pueblos above Beaver Creek near Camp Verde, Arizona. The pueblo was built into the cliffs above the creek beginning around 700 CE, and it was occupied until 1425. The five-story pueblo is the best-preserved structure at the site, which includes several other ruins to its side and along the base of the cliff. Visitors are not permitted to enter any of these structures, but a short, flat, and paved trail goes from the visitor center to the base of the cliff where you can easily view the ruins.



About 11 miles northeast of Montezuma Castle is Montezuma Well, a section of the national monument  that is a natural limestone sinkhole. The sinkhole is 368 feet across, 55 feet deep, and is a filled by 1.4 million gallons of water that pass through it each day from two springs. Five species are endemic to the well, thus being found nowhere else in the world. A loop trial goes from the parking …

Tuzigoot National Monument

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Location: Cottonwood, Arizona
Date: December 11, 2013


After hiking through the snow on the West Fork Trail in Oak Creek Canyon, I drove southwest to Cottonwood, Arizona where I stopped briefly at Tuzigoot National Monument. Tuzigoot preserves a pueblo built on a small ridge about 120 feet above the Verde River. Built between 1125 and 1400 CE, the pueblo contains 110 rooms and was occupied by the Sinagua people. As such, it is the largest and best preserved structure built by the Sinagua.


There is a visitor center next to the pueblo with artifacts from the region on display. A short paved trails goes from the visitor center and loops around the pueblo with a short spur that goes into the structure and onto its roof. For more ruins in the area, see Montezuma Castle National Monument.





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West Fork Trail, Coconino National Forest

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Distance: 3.4 miles one way (~2 miles to where I stopped)
Location: Coconino National Forest north of Sedona, Arizona
Date: December 11, 2013


The West Fork Trail is a 3.4 mile long (one way) trail along the West Fork of Oak Creek in Oak Creek Canyon in Coconino National Forest north of Sedona, Arizona. After waking up in Flagstaff on December 11th, I made the 30 minute drive south to Oak Creek Canyon. When I arrived at the trailhead, there was only one other car there, but the entrance station was staffed. I payed the obligatory $9 per person to the private concessionaire (no public lands passes are allowed on these federal lands), which seems to be quite a ripoff since you have to pay again if you stop anywhere else near Sedona.


Being early morning, the temperature was probably around 20 degrees, but the trail had seen some use the the previous days since the snow was fairly well packed on it. I decided not to take my snowshoes but did take my crampons, although the crampons weren&#…

Grand Canyon 2013

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Location: northern Arizona
Dates: December 7-10, 2013


I visited Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona for my second time in December 2013 (I was first there in January 2011). My main goal of this trip was to backpack down to the Colorado River and Phantom Ranch while spending another day hiking from Phantom Ranch before returning to the South Rim. You can see more about the backpacking portion of the trip here:

South Kaibab TrailNorth Kaibab TrailRiver Trail loopBright Angel Trail

I arrived in the park late in the afternoon of December 7 just as a snow storm entered the park. As I drove from the entrance station to the Bright Angel Lodge there were nearly whiteout conditions, and the roads quickly became slick. I pulled into the lodge's parking lot, checked in, and got settled in my room (I chose the cheapest option with a shared bathroom, which were nicer than I had expected although still quite minimal). During a break in the snow, I stepped outside to check out the canyon, which…

Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon

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Distance: 9.5 miles one way to/from Bright Angel Campground
Elevation gain: 4380 feet
Location: Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Date: December 10, 2013


On the final day of my three day backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon, I hiked from the Bright Angel Campground near Phantom Ranch to the South Rim via the River and Bright Angel trails. I began my hike at 7:30 after having the 7:00 breakfast at Phantom Ranch. The weather was clear but the temperatures were in the 20s. Being early morning, there wasn't yet sun in the canyon; in fact I didn't see the sun until the last switchback just before the uppermost tunnel on the Bright Angel Trail just below the rim.


I crossed the Silver Bridge and turned to follow the River Trail for 1.3 miles as it goes up and down along the Colorado River before I reached its terminus with the end of the Bright Angel Trail at the River Resthouse where water is available. This section of the trail has good views of the canyon, but doesn't climb …

River Trail Loop, Grand Canyon

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Distance: ~1.5 to 2 miles
Elevation gain: ~400 feet
Location: Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Date: December 9, 2013


The River Trail is a two mile long trail along the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, and it connects the lower end of the Bright Angel Trail with the South Kaibab Trail above the Black Bridge and also to below Phantom Ranch via a spur across the Silver Bridge. The River Trail loop is a 1.5 to 2 mile loop hike (depending on exactly where you start from) that starts from the Phantom Ranch/Bright Angel Campground area.




It doesn't matter which direction you hike this trail in, but I'd recommend counterclockwise so that you more gradually gain elevation along the River Trail on the opposite side of the river from Phantom Ranch. From Phantom Ranch, follow the North Kaibab Trail to the junction with the River and South Kaibab trails. Then go around a corral and other structures along the river before crossing the Silver Bridge over the Colorado River.