National Parks

Photographs and writing from our quest to visit all 59 National Parks.

National Parks

Crater Lake National Park

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“In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also.” – Psalm 95:4.

Crater Lake captivated me as soon I caught my first glimpse of its perfect blue water.  At a depth of almost 2,000 feet it is the deepest lake in the United States and the ninth deepest lake in the world.  The tranquil glassy water is so still, clear and calm that staring down at the lake from the snow covered peaks above is entrancing.  I constantly had to remind myself that what I was looking at wasn’t an illusion, making it all the more fascinating.  Ryan and I had the unique opportunity to visit the park at the end of the winter season, when there was still close to ten feet of snow depth at the park.  The quietness of the winter, the beauty of white snow capped mountains and crisp cool air added the magic I experienced at Crater Lake.

While visiting parks in the winter provides solace and a special way to experience natural wonders, it does limit the activities available to visitors.  Since Ryan and I only had time for a day trip we rented snow shoes from the visitor center and hiked/snowshoed along the Rim Drive; a 33 mile road that circumnavigates the lake.  By the time we visited the park in mid April, the park service had already started plowing the road in anticipation for the summer season.  Therefore, the first mile or two of our hike was actually through an impressive canyon of snow pack.  As we climbed out of the snow canyon and off of the road, we got to see park rangers operating the massive snow plows, which not surprisingly, fascinated Ryan.  The downside of this was that the snow was piled so high making it impossible to see anything until we got on top of it.  I hope to make it back to Crater Lake in the near future, I would love to do a winter backpacking trip around the entire lake and visit in the summer for camping, cycling and maybe even a quick swim!

Crater Lake was formed when Mount Mazma erupted, and imploded on itself, leaving a 5 mile wide and 1,943 feet deep caldera.  Given the high elevation and large amount of snowfall each year the crater quickly filled with pure, fresh mountain water. 

National Parks

Riding the Towpath in Cuyahoga Valley National Park


I grew up about twenty miles from Cuyahoga Valley National Park, I went on field trips to Hale Farms and the Ohio and Erie Canal, concerts at Blossom and learned to snowboard at Brandywine & Boston Mills Ski Resort.  So it was almost funny when I realized that Cuyahoga Valley National Park existed; granted I was kind of a late bloomer when it comes to being an outdoor enthusiast and National Park buff.  Two years ago when we traveled to Cleveland for my best friend’s wedding, Ryan and I stopped at the park to check it off our list.  The entire park was covered in snow then, we even built a snowman on a walk to Brandywine Falls.  Last weekend Ryan and I went back to Cuyahoga Valley National Park to ride bikes along the Towpath.  There aren’t many safe places to ride near my parent’s house and there is a serious lack of bike shops in Northeast Ohio so we ended up on the Towpath by default – Century Cycles in Peninsula is the only shop that rents bikes on Sunday mornings.  It worked out well as the shop is located right on the path, and given our love for National Parks Ryan and I weren’t complaining at the chance to spend some time in Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

As some of you know I have a distinct fear of falling, I often describe it as a fear of heights, but it’s really not that.  It is actually a fear of falling off of an edge.  Things like hiking trails on exposed ridge lines, descending steep switchbacks and crossing tall bridges tend to make my palms sweat and stomach tie up in knots.  I have a few vivid memories from my childhood where I can recall my fear of falling being triggered.  The first was a repeat offender, crossing the bridge to get from the parking garage to the Gund Arena (now “The Q”).  I always walked quickly and as far away from the glass windows as possible, this was quite ridiculous since the bridge is a solid enclosed structure.  The other fear I had was that I was going to fall into the Ohio and Erie Canal.  I know this fear was instilled in me when I went on a field trip to the canal in elementary school.  The adults that were giving the demonstration and explaining how the locks worked weren’t super enthusiastic, despite their stunning early 1800’s attire.  In fact, I don’t really remember anything about how the canal worked or the history of the area, which is unusual given I have a great memory.  The only thing I remember is the strict warning we received, if we weren’t careful and behaving we might fall in the canal and get trapped in one of the locks.  I was terrified, and have been coping with a fear of falling ever since.  Years later I remember my Dad asking me if I wanted to go ride bikes on the Towpath, which paralleled the canal.  I refused because I was categorically convinced that I would fall off the path and into the canal.  I’m sure my Dad thought I was being a teenage brat, because that must have seemed like the most illegitimate fear imaginable. So regrettably, I didn’t spend much time on the Towpath growing up, which is a shame because it is an incredible path for running and cycling that travels 81 miles from Bolivar to Cleveland.

Ryan and I rode 12.5 miles (for a 25 miles ride) of the path this weekend and he must have said how nice the trail was five times.  We only got to go from Peninsula to Rockside Road before we had to turn around and get back to my parent’s house, but I enjoyed every minute of it.  We even got to ride past the very spot where my fear of falling was born, the Canal Exploration Center at Lock 38, where the demonstrations and history lectures are given.  I had to laugh to myself and the irrationality of my fear as we pedaled past the locks.  First of all, there are several stretches of the path where there is no visible water on either side, second the path doesn’t butt up directly on the water’s edge, there is a barrier of grass and dirt between the two, and finally the water is shallow and stagnant.  If in fact anyone ever were to fall in its not as if raging rapids would carry them away.  That’s the thing about fears though, by their very definition they are irrational.  They rob us of our intelligence and logic if we let them and manifest themselves into insurmountable and paralyzing monsters.  Once we learn how to battle and quiet our fears and overcome them we can look back and see how senseless they were to begin with.  While I can proudly say I am no longer afraid of falling in the canal, my fear of falling still gets me from time to time, especially while mountain biking, but I’ll save those stories for another post.  I had a great time facing my fear head on this past weekend and look forward to riding on the canal again someday.  I’d like to do the Towpath in its entirety, and maybe even tackle the whole Buckeye Trail, hopefully on my own bike next time.  Dad, if you are reading this it’s time for you to start training!

If you don’t know a canal lock is like an elevator for boats, it lifts or lowers the boats onto the next level of the canal.  The trail is called the Towpath because it used to be a towing trail for mules to tow the canal boats along the water. 

National Parks

Pinnacles National Park

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Ryan and I visited Pinnacles National Park on our way to Monterrey, California for Sea Otter Classic.  We only had time for a quick day trip so we did a short hike through Balconies Cave on the Balconies Cliffs-Cave Loop trail.  The park itself is quite small so there wasn’t a need to spend more time there, however, if we had time to do an overnight trip we could have hiked across the entire park.  Despite the small size Pinnacles was far more intriguing and beautiful than I had expected.  The pastoral and peaceful landscape was contrasted by the sharp, jagged rock formations rising above the rolling plains.  Years ago volcanic eruptions and shifting tectonic plates created the unique ecosystem found here.  Pinnacles National Park is definitely worth checking out if you are ever in the area.


Bikepacking, National Parks

Bikepacking Redwood National Park

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Our giddiness on arriving at Redwood National Park vanished as soon as we stepped out of the car at Elk Prairie.  The grass was still covered in dew despite the fact that the noon sun was blazing hot and the air was so thick you could cut it with a knife.  As we begrudgingly loaded our gear into our bikepacking bags and backpacks I stripped down to shorts and a sports bra, my skin was covered in a salty sweat.  After forcing down some lunch I peeled a jersey over my sticky body, wiped the sweat from my face and we set out on our bikes. (more…)

National Parks

Exploring Lassen Volcanic National Park

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“The joy of living is his who has the heart to demand it.” – Theodore Roosevelt.


National parks are dangerous, they are remote, rugged and have an abundance of wildlife (a.k.a. bears).  In the days leading up to our trip to Lassen (pronounced [lass-uhn]) National Park I did a lot of reading about places to go and winter activities in the park.  Everything I read made Lassen seem more and more dangerous.  In addition to the normal ruggedness, wildlife and remote location this park also has frequent avalanches and rock falls, a likelihood for high wind and white out conditions, puddles of boiling acidic mud scattered alongside the trails and is centered around an active volcano; while an eruption is highly unlikely it is called active for a reason.  Thankfully, this was a spur of the moment trip so there wasn’t much time to get anxious about the looming hazards; we packed our bags, didn’t tell our Moms what we were doing and set out for a weekend of snowshoeing.

On Friday at 9 AM we drove through the unmanned ranger station at the north entrance of the park, as we pulled into visitor center parking lot, we excitedly noticed there was not another car in sight!  We were officially the only people there!  As we unloaded our gear from the car we realized we had only brought one half empty nalgene for the entire day, uh oh.  So add lack of water and no other humans for miles onto the growing list of risk factors.  Luckily, the restroom facilities were open so we topped off our one and only bottle and figured we could refill it with snow if we got really desperate.

LassenNP 064

After signing into the log book outside the visitor center we wandered into the snow to strap on our snowshoes.  Being our first time it took us (me) a little while to get the shoes strapped on.  After finally getting situated it immediately dawned on us how difficult navigation is when the trails are buried under three feet of snow!  The only information we had on the trail/route we were taking from Manzanita Lake to Chaos Crags was this tiny paragraph and drawing from the park newsletter.  Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 2.35.42 PM

We read the newsletter a few times and then set off, blindly following the tracks from previous snowshoers. After walking for a quarter of a mile, we had a spirited discussion about whether or not we were on the trail.  “Are we still on the trail?” and “I don’t know..” were by far the most common phrases from the entire weekend.  I decided we should go back to the start and more deliberately follow the newsletter instructions instead of the existing tracks.  So back to the bridge we went to course correct.  It turned out we were in fact not on the trail and quickly determined where we needed to go.  That however, did not last long.  We were supposed to be looking for yellow tree markers, which were extremely infrequent and hard to spot.  They seemed to appear every quarter of a mile and there were trees everywhere, which tree were we supposed to look at?  There were also ski and snowshoe tracks going in every direction all over the place!  For all of the threats of avalanches and acidic mud pots lurking around every corner it seemed that everyone was perfectly comfortable to blaze their own trail.

We continued in what we assumed was close enough to the right direction with nothing but the sound of our swishing rain pants and the snow crunching beneath us to break the silence.  Every so often we would lose the previous tracks we were following and allowed instinct to guide us.  Eventually we came to a clearing in the trees and saw Chaos Crags looming above us.  Chaos Crags are lava domes that were formed by a volcanic eruption 1,100 years ago.  Steep snow covered slopes littered with huge chunks of gray rock, otherwise known as the jumbles, which we affectionately called crumbles, separated us from the tall jagged peaks ahead.  The jumbles were left from a rock avalanche 300 years ago that flattened parts of the forest and created Manzanita Lake (by damming the creek) where our trek had started.  With the trees no longer obstructing our view, I began deliberately marching up the mountainside.  After a while we determined we were definitely off the trail and decided to take a lunch break on a pile of jumbles.  We took some pictures, enjoyed the views and planned our route for the rest of the afternoon.

On the way back down the mountain we decided to follow ski tracks straight down to the road so we could create a loop with another trail in this section of the park.  Our description for this trail was equally lacking in details, but this time we would be looking for orange trail markers.  After snowshoeing down the road for about 1.5 miles we started to spot some orange ribbons tied around the trees.  We studied the curves and bends in the road as compared to the map and found where it appeared that the trail crossed the road and headed into the woods. We followed the orange ribbons weaving through the trees and were happy to see a ribbon every couple hundred of feet or so. The conditions however were not pleasant, we were constantly ducking under branches and stepping over fallen logs.  How could this be a National Park trail? We continued spotting ribbons and weaving through the woods like two kids following a treasure map.  Suddenly, the ribbons stopped appearing.  Not this again! After a few desperate circles in every direction we gave up and headed back in the towards the road.  Just as we were about to make it to the road Ryan spotted an orange tree marker (not ribbon!), we were never even on the trail to begin with!  We continued to follow the orange tree markers only significantly loosing track of the trail once more on our hike back towards the car.  After 10 miles and 1,400 feet of climbing our feet were soaked and our legs were tired.

For our second day of snowshoeing we drove from our cabin down to the Southwest entrance to the park.  During the summer the park road is open between the two entrances, but in the winter the road is closed, so we had to drive 90 minutes back through small towns to get to the entrance.  The drive traveled scenic winding roads through farms and and sprawling green pastures.  Cows lazily grazed in the pastures which were blanketed in volcanic rock.  As we continued driving Lassen peak grew smaller and smaller in the distance, but this seemed to have no bearing on the density of rocks spread across the fields.  While this part of trip wasn’t even inside the national park  boundaries, it gave me a real appreciation for the gravity and magnitude of volcanic eruptions.

As we approached the park the road quickly gained elevation.  Upon entering the park the snow was piled so high on either side of the road that it felt like we were driving through a canyon.  Even the visitor center was buried!  We parked our car and started strapping on our gear.  There was certainly a lot more activity on this side of the park, but calling the park crowded would be a stretch. Despite the ski and snowshoe celebration event and families sledding near the entrance we still found ourselves on the trail with no one in sight several times.  Our first destination on day two’s hike was Sulphur Works.  This is one of the areas in the park where visitors can experience lot of volcanic activity firsthand.  We got to stand right next to a boiling mud pot and observe steam rising out of rocks and hillsides.  The steam and boiling mud are a result of snow melt and rain seeping into the hydrothermal system beneath the park. Here the water is heated by molten rock and the boiling water and steam rise back to the earth’s surface through cracks in the rocks.  As we marveled at the interesting features Ryan mentioned that it smelled like fireworks, I on the other hand said the smell reminded me of downtown Cleveland.  Ahh, fresh air with a strong sulfuric odor!

We had planned to hike to Ridge Lake from Sulphur Works, but by this point we had already passed the trailhead parking lot.  Like everything else it was hard to spot in all of the snow.  The restroom rooftop just barley peeking out from the snow was the only indication that we had passed the parking lot.  Instead of back tracking we decided to follow an older couple that seemed to be experienced telemark skiers onto what we thought was the ranger cut off.  The couple was attempting to ski to Bumpass Hell, an area of the park with the most volcanic activity.  Getting there requires taking a cut off trail up and over a mountain in order to avoid the avalanche prone area accessed by the road.  We followed them off the road and quickly passed them as it was much easier for us to climb the steep slopes in snowshoes.  As we continued on the hill got very steep and it felt like we were scaling a wall.  We decided to head back down and continue exploring along the road.  There was a bend up ahead with some expansive views so we agreed to go that far.

As soon as we crested the corner of the road we saw a sign for the ranger cut off trail!  Oy vey! Once again following others had lead us astray!  We decided to check out this trail and started climbing.  As you can imagine, since the cut off takes you up and over a mountain instead of around it, it was steep.  Ryan was struggling the higher we climbed so we decided to take a break in a cluster of trees for lunch.  There was no where to sit so we just sat down in the snow.  We started getting wet and cold and the longer I sat there the more I thought my fear of heights might cause me some anxiety on the descent.  We headed downward and to my surprise my fears stayed at bay.  Snowshoes (and snow) are awesome!

LassenNP 305

After that we headed up to Ridge Lake.  Luckily, there were tons of tracks headed up this trail so we were confident we could find our way there.  Though previous experience should have taught us not to rely on old tracks.  The Ridge Lake trail rises 991 feet in 1 mile to a small alpine lake.  Everything we had conquered on day two was steep, but this was the steepest yet.  In some places the slopes we were walking up were 30-45% grade!  It was insane.  About two thirds of the way up it started snowing!  At first we were both excited and tried (for the most part unsuccesfully) to catch the snow flurries in our pictures.  After living in the desert for 8 years a few flurries are rather exciting.  As we continued on and looked behind us the skies were gray and visibility was deteriorating.  Ryan wondered if we should turn back in case the conditions got worse, I on the other hand found this as motivation to hike faster.  We only had a third of a mile to go.  Finally we made it to the lake, which didn’t look like much of a lake at all, just another expanse blanketed in snow.  Add another hazard to the list – wandering out onto thin ice!

On the way down there were a few tricky sections where we had to be careful due to the extreme slopes.  Luckily the snowshoes make it so much easier to handle steep terrain.  It was really tempting to sled down the hill on our butts, but we were too concerned about our snowshoes getting caught on something, resulting in a twisted ankle.  So down, down, down the mountain we hiked.  Once we reached the bottom it was one a short mile back to the visitor center – another epic day of snowshoeing in the books!  On the way back to our cabin we stopped at a local vineyard, Indian Peak Vineyards in Manton, for a little relaxation.   We enjoyed a free wine tasting with generous pours and a delicious taco bar, which even had vegetarian options!  The winery was in a barn and the owners hospitality and company of the other guests was great.  And we finally learned that it’s pronounced Lass-uh-n not Law-sen!