Winter Wonderland

The year is new, the decade is new, and the endless rain FINALLY changed to snow! People in town have been calling in sick to work so they can head out the road with their snowmobiles, others are looking forward to this cold snap so the slough will freeze over and they can go skating, and I plan to head out on the snow shoes tomorrow.

The patterns in winter are so beautiful!

The first bit of sunshine inspired me to head out the road with the Mavic drone to explore some of the lovely winter landscape. Enjoy!

The Great Basin

America’s Great Basin encompasses over 200,000 square miles of our country – most of Nevada, half of Utah, portions of Oregon and California, and small parts of Wyoming and Idaho. We’re talking a HUGE area! All the water in the region is retained – none of it drains to the ocean, and the landscape is a series of alternating mountain ranges and flat valleys that are called “basin and range” topography, formed over the last 30 million years. All of this terrain is a high desert – even the valleys are at altitude.

We drove from Salt Lake City (the eastern edge of the Great Basin) into eastern Nevada to visit Great Basin National Park. Along the way we traveled on US 50, known as “America’s Loneliest Road” – a pretty accurate description.

We stopped along the way to fly the drone – it’s a great way to get a sense of the mountains and flat valleys in between. The white material on the ground isn’t snow – it’s salt crust.

We spotted mule deer, pronghorn antelope…

Pronghorn antelope

…wild turkeys….

…and even a tiny horned lizard hiding in the brush.

As we neared the national park we found a display about the ranching history of the area, as well as early car travel.

Our main objective, though, was to explore Great Basin National Park.

The fall foliage was past its peak in the high desert, though the rabbitbrush was still vibrant…

…and a few aspens still had color.

We hiked around some different parts of the park in the Snake Mountains, admiring the sweeping views of the flat valley below. Although Great Basin National Park is a bit out of the way, it’s a shame that more people don’t visit it – it’s very beautiful and it has some hidden gems. The mountains have limestone under them, and limestone can mean caves. Lehman Cave is just one of the caves in the park, though it’s the only one open for public viewing. We took the 90 minute tour, admiring the formations and learning about the bats that live inside.

Unfortunately, Lehman Cave has been exploited for tourism going back to the 1880s, and at that time visitors were encouraged to break off small stalactites or the formation-building “soda straws”. Evidence of this damage was everywhere – so very sad, though we’re glad the cave is now protected and can resume it’s slooooooooow process of building new formations. Maybe in another million years or so, the old damage will have been erased.

Damaged “soda straws” that form stalactites

In addition to the cave, the other special treasure we found were the Great Basin bristlecone pine trees. The trees live high up along the tree line, and they are some of the longest living things on our planet. Pinus longaeva live 4000-5000 years!

Although we had been hiking at altitude for a couple of weeks already, we had to take it slow on the trailhead that started at 10,000′.

Bristlecone pine grove

I have to say that we were awed by these trees – living in and adapting to harsh conditions for THOUSANDS of years. Just imagine the history that has occurred in the lifetime of these trees. Of all the natural marvels we’ve seen in our travels, I think these trees rank among the most wondrous.

In addition to the hidden world underground and the amazing bristlecone pines, we also lucked out and happened to catch a stargazing event at the park. Great Basin is one of the “dark sky” National Parks, and they offer an astronomy talk and a chance to look through telescopes on Saturday nights. We were at the tail end of the season, and it was COLD sitting outside, but the talk was great and we viewed Saturn (rings!) and Andromeda and two other star clusters. Magical! Our timing was bad – the moon was nearly full so it washed out the Milky Way, but if that’s our biggest “complaint”…

Great Basin National Park is a little gem, lightly visited because it’s off the beaten path, but well worth the trip.

Fall Color in Salt Lake

Autumn has always been my favorite season – the crunch of leaves underfoot, cooler temps and trees sporting beautiful color. We saw some nice color in Salt Lake – a consolation prize for cutting our Yellowstone/Grand Teton trip short.

We lived in Salt Lake for two years when we were in grad school at the U of Utah in the early 90s, and we loved spending our rare free time in nearby Big Cottonwood Canyon. It was a no-brainer to head back up there to do a little hiking and to see our favorite ski area before the snow flies… and to savor a little fall color.

Hidden Falls wasn’t all that hidden!

The higher you go up the canyon the color is less splashy since the landscape is mostly evergeens and quaking aspen… but it’s still beautiful.

Silver Lake is a cross-country ski area in the winter, but the rest of the year it’s a big pond surrounded by meadow and forest.

We took the chance to drive up Guardsman Pass – closed in the winter since it’s covered in deep snow. At an altitude of 9700′, we could see far and wide towards the Park City side of the mountains…. though it’s too high for much color.

We had a blast checking out our stomping grounds at Brighton Ski Resort at the top of the canyon – it looked so funny all green. We put the drone in the air partway up the canyon, and again up at Brighton… enjoy.

Coming back down the canyon the splashy fall color returned… so pretty.

Now we’re off to Great Basin National Park in eastern Nevada. And to get there, we’ll drive across a big chunk of America’s great basin!

Mitkof Island – We Live Here

Cruising around interesting places all over the Alexander Archipelago (also known as southeast Alaska), sometimes we forget how good we have it right at home. Mitkof Island is pear-shaped, about 10 miles wide at its widest by 17 miles long, with Petersburg located on the northwest tip.

Most of Mitkof is part of the massive Tongass National Forest, and some parts of the island were logged in the 1960s and early 70s. Logging roads are still maintained by the Forest Service to provide access for recreation – such as the Three Lakes area and one of my favorite easy hikes on the island – Ohmer Creek.

After cruising all summer, returning to the hustle and bustle of town was a little overwhelming so I took advantage of a beautiful day to head Out the Road with cameras and drone for some hiking, flying, and berry picking.

My first stop was to the middle of the Three Lakes – named Sand, Hill and Crane. The lakes are connected by trails, and Hill Lake also has a spur trail that runs down to Ideal Cove. Moose, black and brown bears, porcupines, grouse and deer are the most common animals on the island, though I didn’t encounter any this particular day. (Usually we see more deer in town than Out the Road.)

Hill Lake

The Forest Service built a little dock complete with a rowboat and a picnic table at each lake, and in the video below you can see some of the boardwalk where the connecting trail traverses the squishy muskeg. The video starts at Hill Lake, flies south to Crane Lake, then north to Sand Lake. As the drone gains altitude you can see the panorama of the Coastal Mountain range as well as the entrance to the Le Conte Glacier inlet.

After flying and a picnic lunch, I spent a little time picking red huckleberries and high-bush cranberries. A friend makes a delicious homemade ketchup from the high-bush cranberries, so I wanted to get enough to try making some of my own.

High-bush cranberries

The drive along the logging roads is so beautiful, coming around a bend and seeing a distant snow-capped mountain framed by trees, or savoring the sunlight dappling the forest understory.

Before heading back to town I decided to hike part of a favorite trail – Ohmer Creek (marked on the map at the top).

Venturing along the creek in one direction I found some humpy (also called pink) salmon trying to make their way upstream in the shallow water. You can just see the humps on their backs sticking above the water.

I was surprised that I didn’t see any bears – I must have just missed them because these fish were easy pickings. After hanging with the salmon for a while I headed in the other direction, into the thicker forest.

The bunchberries (also called dwarf dogwood) were ripe all over the place – they’re edible, though they’re not tasty to eat.

I launched the drone and got a terrific bird’s eye view of the creek, the muskeg, the mountains and the endless forest. The drone offers such a different look at familiar things, and makes me fall in love with this place even more. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that we get to live here.