Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Dinosaur National Monument - Uncovering the Past

Sign at Utah entrance to Dinosaur National Monument

Dinosaur National Park was given a name to mark it's most amazing feature - hills of sedimentary rock filled
Dinosaur skeleton in Quarry Exhibit Hall
with ancient bones.  We stopped on our drive to Colorado, expecting to see some cool dinosaur skeletons and then mosey on.  What we discovered was that this park holds many treasures besides the amazing fossils.  It is home to a stunning landscape of bare rolling hills and mountains cut by rivers and carved with the petroglyphs of ancient people.  It's almost a shame we only had one afternoon to explore, because it's clear to me that Dinosaur holds many more treasures than it's named for.

Here is how to recreate this adventure...


We only had one afternoon to explore this massive 200,000 acre wilderness, so we chose to focus on three activities.  Listed below...


1.  Quarry Exhibit Hall - This is one of the must-see parts of the park.  Instead of leaving fossils exposed to the "elements", the park has constructed an impressive structure around the "wall" of over 1,500 bones.  Visitors can walk the two-storied viewing area and use an interactive touch-screen monitor to find out what each bone belonged to.  To get there, enter the park from the Utah side (near Jensen, UT).  Once through the park gate, park at the Visitor Center.  During the summer, motorized trams take visitors every 15 minutes up to the exhibit hall (5 minute ride).  Once there, you can stay as long as you want, view the "wall" as well as see full dinosaur skeletons and interpretive signs.

Tram to Quarry Exhibit Hall
Exhibit Hall built around a wall of fossilized bone
Visitors get an up-close view of million-year-old fossils

2.  Fossil Discovery Trail - From the Quarry Exhibit Hall, you can take the tram back to the Visitor Center, or you can hike back on the easy, 3/4 mile (one way), trail.  The sandy path winds through the nearby hills where you will observe dazzling rock and discover million-year-old fossils still embedded in sandstone.  A description of the rock, fossils, and trails can be found HERE or a guide can be purchased at the visitor center.  I LOVED this short hike.  The layered bright orange and red rock was an exotic sight to a non-desert native like me!  Although short, pack at least 1 L of water a person and protect yourself from the sun.  It was hot.
Walk between colorful hills on the Fossil Discovery Trail
Flowers bloom against brightly colored rock

3.  Cub Creek Road - Once back at the Visitor Center, we filled our water bottles, and drove down the Cub Creek Road.  To get there, simply exit the parking lot of the Visitor Center and turn left.  This road winds along the Cub Creek, providing pull-out stops to important and impressive sights including 1,000-year-old petroglyphs and pictographs of the once-abundant Fremont people.  More information about the people at the their art can be found HERE.  At the end of the road, visitors are offered a small, shady picnic area and pit toilets along with the historic Josie Bassett Morris homestead - the cabin of the famous pioneer woman.  In total, the road extends 10 miles from the Visitor Center to Josie Morris's cabin, but we spent at least an hour stopping and walking/photographing the scenery and petroglyphs.
Faint petroglyphs of the Fremont people
Lizard Petroglyph made a thousand years ago

Amazing scenery along Cub Creek Road
It's truly a shame we didn't get to spend more time at Dinosaur National Monument.  One afternoon only gave us a small taste of what the park has to offer - stunning scenery, pure wilderness, and evidence of those who have lived there.  I can't wait to go back and explore more of this national treasure.  

Other Recommendations...
- Bring water bottles and sun protection - it's hot and sunny!
- Don't drive Cub Creek without stopping and walking to the points of interest.  This provided some of the best views in the park as well as a chance to see ancient petroglyphs.
- This is a great "family-friendly" park.  It wasn't crowded and all three places listed are very family friendly.


Pulled out to view petroglyphs (on rock on left)
  
Please leave questions and comments below...

Hiking to the Hollywood Sign

The back of the HOLLYWOOD sign as seen from the summit of Mt. Lee.
Wonder View Trail
I know hiking isn't the first activity that comes to mind when you think of Los Angeles, but as a hiking junky, I've discovered that almost every area in the country has hiking nearby.  Los Angeles, as it turns out, had AWESOME hiking!  And what better way to celebrate L.A., than a hike to the iconic Hollywood Sign?

There are multiple ascents to the famous landmark.  The sign sits on the side of Mt. Lee, one of multiple
peaks in the expansive Griffith Park.  The most well known and traveled is to take the paved Mt. Lee Drive (no cars).  Here, you can trudge up hill on a graded and wide paved road. This wasn't "natury" enough for this Granite Stater - so we chose to take the more challenging trail that is a narrow and steep hike through dusty red chaparral.  It was perfection.

Here is how to recreate this adventure...

Lone Pine Peak
Adventure:  Hiking to the HOLLYWOOD sign via the Wonder View Trail

Getting there:  The hike starts in the middle of a Hollywood hills neighborhood at the corner of Lake Hollywood Drive and Wonder View Drive.  We got there by taking Highway 101 to the Barham Blvd exit and traveling north on Bartham Blvd for 0.3 miles before turning right on Lake Hollywood Drive.  After about a half mile, you will reach Wonder View Drive.  There is plenty of parking along the road leading down to the reservoir.  There was no charge for parking.

Trail:  The hike starts by walking up the neighborhood road of Wonder View Drive.  This will turn into a
Leanne hikes the ridgeline to Mt. Lee
trail that branches off to the right.  From here, you have a steep (but moderately challenging) climb to the ridge.  When you read the fork at the ridge, you have a choice.  A quick scurry to the left and you'll be at Burbank Peak (also called Lone Pine for obvious reasons) gives you clear views of the San Gabriels and Los Angeles County.  If you go to the right, you'll first summit Cahuenga peak - the tallest peak in the Hollywood Hills. Continue on and you'll drop down, before joining the paved Mt. Lee Drive trail to the summit of Mt. Lee and views of the HOLLYWOOD sign, the Griffith observatory, and the city of Los Angeles.

Difficulty:  Moderate (some steep parts but no difficult scrambles)

Distance:  3 miles round trip.  925 foot elevation gain.

Yucca Plant and Los Angeles in the distance
Recommendations: 

- It's hot!  Get there early in the day and bring 2 L of water.  Although short, the hike is completely exposed and the steep climb will get you dripping sweat. Don't forget sunscreen, hiking shoes (no sandals), and a snack.

- Try for a clear day - Sometimes L.A. smog or a marine layer can get in the way of a fantastic view.  We were able to see the ocean, the city, the surrounding mountains and the Griffith Observatory.


Approaching the back of the Hollywood Sign
- Go before you go - there are no bathrooms at the trail head or on the trail...and nowhere to duck away!  Make sure you use the restroom before hitting the trail.

I can't wait to go back and explore some more hiking in Los Angeles!




Check out more about our 2014 Girls Trip at  Girls Trip 2013 - LA to Colorado

Please leave comments and questions below...

Girls Trip 2014 - LA to Colorado

Mountain View from Gondola in Telluride, CO.
Courtney (and baby Cedar), Leanne, Jenni, and I
For those of you who have followed my blog for a couple years, you might be aware that I look forward to one thing every year.  No, it's not Christmas, the start of summer vacation, or even my tax return.  It's my annual "Girls Trip"! This tradition started back in 2006 when my  best friend, Leanne, and I spent our savings to go to New Zealand for a month.  Soon, our friend Courtney wanted to do a girls trip so we headed out to see some of the southwest national parks.  The trips continued - each year having a least one adventure together.  We've added girls to the group, and over time, some have left the pack.  The goal is always the same - adventure to somewhere new with a great group of girls (or should I say women).

For this years girls trip, we decided to meet up in Steamboat Springs, Colorado for a week of hiking, a trip to
the annual Balloon Rodeo, and some town shenanigans.  Courtney, now carting around her baby, Cedar, lives in Steamboat, so it provided the perfect home-base to explore Colorado. With extra time, I decided to first fly to Los Angeles, where Leanne lives, and then we would road trip up to Steamboat, picking up friend Jenni on the way.  This gave us a chance to explore some more of the West as well.  My blog posts about the trip are meant to catalog my memories and photos from the trip, and also serve those who are looking for similar trips. Below you will see my itinerary as well as links to blog posts that give more detail about events, hikes, and locations.  Please contact me if you have any questions!

We drove over 2,300 miles.  Map by google maps
Itinerary

Venice Beach, CA
Day 1 (July 4) - Fly from Boston to Los Angeles.  Arrive in the evening and watch fireworks from a friend's rooftop apartment.

Day 2 (July 5) - Beach Day!  Get a pedicure (so LA!) at 9 am.  Drive to Venice Beach at 10 am.  Since it was early, we found free parking a few blocks from the beach.  Read, chat, swim at the beach until 2 pm.  Return to Leanne's apartment for showers and movie night.

View of Los Angeles from Cahuenga Peak hike
Day 3 (July 6) - Go for a hike up to the Hollywood Sign.  Summit multiple peaks, including the tallest peak in the Hollywood Hills - Post about it HERE.  Return to Santa Monica, eat lunch, and shower.  Head out in the evening to the Santa Monica.  Walk through downtown Santa Monica, shop, and watch street performers. Head out to the Pier and watch the sunset.  Enjoy late night burgers and drinks at The Craftsman.

Santa Monica Pier at Sunset

Day 4 (July 7) - Rollerblade from Venice Beach to Santa Monica and back.  Street parking available at 9 am.  Easy rentals at Venice Beach - mine was $15 for 3 hours (cash).  Easy Rollerblading terrain and no crowds on a Monday morning.  Pack up and drive east to Wrightwood, California (2 hour drive).  Spend the night with friend Jenni (who will be going on trip).

Day 5 (July 8) - Breakfast at the Grizzly Cafe in Wrightwood, CA and drive to Park City, Utah.  Stay at cousin Polly and Matt's house in Park City.  Dinner in Park City at Vinto Italian Restaurant.

Palm Trees at Venice Beach, CA


Dinosaur at Dinosaur NM
Day 6 (July 9) - Drive to Dinosaur National Monument (Utah Side) in Jensen, UT.  Visit the Vistor Center, take tram to Quarry Exhibit Hall, hike Fossil Discovery Trail, drive Cub Creek road.  We saw dinosaur fossils, petroglyphs, and amazing desert scenery. Around 3:30 pm leave and drive the 2 1/2 hours to Steamboat Spring, Colorado.  Dinner with friends in their home.  More about the visit on post HERE.



Hiking in Dinosaur National Monument, UT
Strawberry Park Hot Springs
Day 7 (July 10) - Hike to Strawberry Park Hot Springs ($12-$15 adults cash).  Park at Mad Creek Trail head on Routt Country Rd 129.  Walk back down road ~ 400 yards to start of trail head (not marked here).  Trail winds through meadows/farmland to forested trail marked "Hot Spring Trail No. 1169".  Trail is around 5 miles round trip and takes you straight to the hot springs. More on my Steamboat Hiking post HERE.  That night we took the Steamboat resort gondola to "Sunset Happy Hour".  $12 gets you a ride up and back, $5 off food and beverage at the Thunderhead Bar, live music, and an amazing view.

Sunset Happy Hour


Lower Fish Creek Falls
Day 8 (July 11) - Hike Upper and Lower Fish Creek Falls.  Park in US Forest Parking lot ($5) on Fish Creek Road in Steamboat.  Hike down the overlook trail to bridge (crowded on weekends).  Once you pass the the lower falls, you'll see less hikers.  Hike up through forest to the Upper Creek Falls (2.5 miles one way).  More info on my Steamboat Hiking post HERE.  After hike, clean up and head into Steamboat.  Walk around town, shop, etc and then go to Mambo Italiano for happy hour pizza and beer.  Head back to Courtney's house by free Steamboat bus system.

Day 9 (July 12) - Start the day with a hike up Emerald Mountain to view hot air balloons rising at the nearby "Balloon Rodeo".  Visit West Lincoln Park for the 40th Annual "Art in the Park" event.  Walk among vendors selling jewelry, art, and clothing.  Enjoy live music and food for sale.  Afterwards, head back to Courtney's to get tubes for a tubing afternoon down the Yampa River.  Put tubes in at Fetcher Park behind Mid Valley shopping area.  Expect some rapids and a fast moving river. We took out at 13th Street Bridge.  We had our own tubes, but many places including Backdoor Sports rent and sell tubes.  After tubing, we cleaned up and headed up to Gondola Park by free bus to see the Balloon Glow.  Unfortunately, the wind made it impossible to blow up the balloons, but we enjoyed people watching.
Art in the Park, Steamboat Springs, CO
Balloon Rodeo
Day 10 (July 13) - Wake up early for the launch of the Balloon rodeo.  Drive to Meadows parking lot at 6 am for a free shuttle to hot air balloon launch point.  Surround yourself in the color and magic as one by one, balloons take off around you.  Enjoy a breakfast burrito by the Lions Club.  Later, hike to Rabbit Ears Peak (3 miles one way).   This hike has beautiful wildflowers and stunning scenery.  It's accessed off National Forest Road 315.  Parking is free.  Trail is marked number 291 off the dirt road from the parking lot.  More information on Steamboat hiking post HERE.  After hiking, clean up at Courtney's and head back to town for happy hour drinks and delicacies along the Yampa River restaurant E3 Chophouse.  Return to Courtney's for our last night in Steamboat Springs.

Balloon Rodeo 2014, Steamboat Springs, CO

Telluride, CO
Day 11 (July 14) - Drive 8 hours to Telluride, Colorado with a stop to see Leanne's uncle in Conifer, CO.  Enjoy dinner and drinks at hotel bar Oak (near gondola) and soak in the hotel hot tub.  Amazing mountain views along the drive. Check into hotel Camels Garden.

Idarado Legacy Trail
Day 12 (July 15) - Enjoy a half day of exploring in Telluride.
 Walk Idarado Legacy Trail through town.  Trail meanders along the river and provides interpretive signs about the area.  We had hoped to hike up to Bridal Veil falls but heard from another hiker that the trail was closed due to maintenance.  Take free gondola from Telluride, to summit, and then down to Mountain village, and back.  Stop at summit and enjoy breathtaking views of Telluride and surrounding mountains.  Leave Telluride and drive the 12 hours back to Wrightwood, California - with a stop at the Four Corners Monument in UT, CO, NM, and AZ.


View from top of Gondola in Telluride, CO.
Day 13 (July 16) - Return to Santa Monica from Wrightwood.  Fly back to Boston.

View from the car in Arizona

Overall, we drove over 2,300 miles.  It was a great adventure and I look forward to more girls trips next summer!

Boots at happy hour

For other "Girls Trip" blog posts check out the following...
2012 - Newfoundland - 2 weeks hiking, camping, and exploring.  Blog magazine at http://ontherocktrip.blogspot.com/
2013 - Michigan - Upper and Lower Peninsula hiking, camping, and exploring.  Post on Freelance Adventure at
Beaches, Dunes and City Walks - HERE
Pictured Rocks Astounds - HERE

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Stratham Hill Park

Fire tower at the summit of Stratham Hill
After getting my puppy, Summit, I was searching for places near my house where I could walk the dog in a non-urban setting. After realizing the large Exeter Rec Park didn't allow dogs, I drove  down the road to Stratham Hill Park (5 minutes from my house).  After walking around the fields and playground, I was warmly greeted by park ranger, Kim, who gave me with a trail map, advice, and a dog treat for Summit.  Since then, I've been visiting Stratham Hill almost once a week, each time trying a new short hike and venturing deeper into the trails.

Kim let me know that there are over 9 miles of trails at Stratham Hill - traversing by fields, through forests, over hills, to fire towers, and alongside woodland ponds.  It's a hidden gem of peaceful nature in an otherwise populated part of the state.

Yesterday, Summit and I enjoyed a great 2 mile loop that got us out of the heat, into the forest, and a peaceful nature visit.
Sign at the parking lot at the end of Jack Rabbit Lane

Here is how to recreate this adventure....

Adventure:  Loop Hike at Stratham Hill Park  in Stratham, New Hampshire

Getting there:  Stratham Hill Park is easily located along Route 33 between Portsmouth and Exeter, NH.  From Exeter, head east on Route 33/Portsmouth Ave.  Stay straight through the traffic circle.  The park will be on the right after a couple miles.  A large sign and parking lot marks it's presence.

If you have a dog and you'd like to take her off leash, Pam suggested parking in a different entrance on Jack Rabbit Lane.  It is accessed on the right just feet before the main entrance to the the park.  At the end of the road is a large dirt lot and a sign greeting you to "Gordon Barker Town Forest".  This is the start of the Tote Road trail.  This is where Summit and I started our hike.

End of the Tote Road Trail
Both lots are free to park, and there are bathrooms, sports fields, trail maps, playground, and picnic areas at the main parking area.  Dogs must be on leash here.

Trail:  From the parking lot at the end of Jack Rabbit Road, I took the Tote Road trail.  It is just inside the woods.  On the right will be a field and on the left a series of ponds/wetlands.  We took this for about 0.5 miles.  About 0.2 miles after the pond we took a sharp left onto the Kitty Rock Trail (not signed, but obvious).  This trail continues through woods and gradually ascends 60 feet in elevation over 0.45 miles until it connects to the Lincoln trail.  Follow the Lincoln trail out of the woods and on to the grassy summit of Stratham Hill (elevation  280 feet).  You will see the fire tower and views of area lakes and even views of the Great Bay.  Enjoy the sunshine and picnic area before continuing forward, past the tower to continue on the Lincoln Trail.  The short and steep 0.36 miles will take you down 60 feet of elevation and into the main park area.  To return to our car, we stayed left (outskirts of the fields) on the Eagle trail to connect back to the parking lot at the End of Jack Rabbit Lane (0.3 miles).
Marker at summit

Difficulty:  Easy!  Great trail for a lazy day, families, or those who just want a casual stroll in nature.

Distance:  1.5-1.7 mile loop.  It is possible to have a longer/shorter loop.  The Outer Perimeter trail
skirts the entire park and is a 4.6 mile hike in total.  My version is shorter, and gets a view from the summit of Stratham Hill.

Recommendations:


  • Grab a trail map at the main entrance or download on from the town website here.  Not all trails are well marked.  Use the map and bring a compass.  
  • Wear bug spray.  Although I haven't noticed many problems there, Southern New Hampshire is
    Summit loves hiking at Stratham Hill Park
    infamous for ticks and Lyme Disease.  
  • Realize that if you start from the Jack Rabbit Lane Entrance, there will be multiple dogs off leash.  If you want to avoid this, stick to the Stratham Hill side of the park and don't take the Tote Road - a popular run for local pups.  
  • Bring a picnic and frisbee/ball. Enjoy the wonderful facilities of Stratham Hill Park!
  • Greet the staff - they are friendly and helpful!  There is always filled water bowls for dogs near the caretaker garage and dog treats if you meet Park Ranger Kim.  
I'm so glad I discovered this local treasure.  Not only is Stratham Hill a great sports park, but it's a wonderful spot to hike, picnic, and get into nature in the Seacoast region.  




Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sugarloafs - 2000 footers with Outstanding Views

View from Middle Sugarloaf Mountain, NH
I told my friend to pick out a hike that had great views, but that my 4 month-old puppy, Summit, could handle.  Her suggestion was a hidden gem - an under four mile hike with two peaks, amazing views, and lazy rivers.  This is a great hike for everyone from an experienced hiker to a family with small kids.  It was the perfect way to start summer.


Here is how to recreate this adventure...

Adventure:  Middle and North Sugarloaf Mountains, Twin Mountain, NH
Trailhead sign to Sugarloaf Mountains

Getting there:  The trailhead is located on Zealand Road (on the South Side of Route 302).  I took 93 North from Southern New Hampshire, took exit 35 to Route 3 North, and merged onto 302 East.  About 2 miles after the Rt 3/302 junction, turn right onto Zealand Road (large sign for Zealand campground).  Drive past the Sugarloaf campground entrances and park at the trailhead (sign). If you drive over the bridge, you've gone too far.

There are no bathrooms at the trailhead (but are at nearby campground).  There is a $3 per day cost to park at the trailhead.

Rock steps on trail.
Trail:  We took the Sugarloaf trail from the parking lot.  Early on, the trail walked near the river and then began a moderate ascent to the junction for both peaks.  Most of this portion of the trail is dirt and roots.  Although ascending, the terrain is fairly easy.  The last 0.2 miles gets steeper- with some rocky steps built into the trail.  After 0.7 miles, we reached a junction.  We turned left and took the 0.5 mile trail up the last 300 feet to the summit of Middle Sugarloaf (2539 feet).  This section had one section with a stair case - easy for adults, but could be challenging for small children (or in my case- puppies). 

Middle Sugarloaf had amazing 200° views of the Presedential Ridge and foothills.  We enjoyed laying out on the granite slab and soaking up the sun while enjoying our snacks and water.

From Middle Sugarloaf, we descended the 0.5 miles to the junction and continued straight to summit North Sugarloaf.  From the junction, this portion travels 0.4 miles up 200 feet to the summit of the north peak (2310 ft).  This had another awesome view and plenty of room to lounge in the sun.

We descended the way we came in - returning to the junction and hiking down the Sugarloaf Trail.  We stopped for a cool dip in the river before returning to our cars.
River near trailhead

Difficulty:  This is an easy to moderate trail hike for the White Mountain region.  It was a perfect start to my summer hiking season (I might have gotten a little out of shape), and it was easy for my puppy, Summit, to handle (with the exception of the stairs).  I recommend this for any hiker looking for great views at a low cost. 

Distance:  Approximately 3.2 miles round trip - longer if you leave from the campgrounds.

Recommendations:
  • Remember to bring $3 for parking at the trailhead.
  • There is no cell service at the trailhead. If you are meeting someone there, make sure they are aware that the trailhead is AFTER the Sugarloaf Campgrounds.
  • This is a perfect hike for a busy summer weekend when all the better known trails are crowded.  You won't have to fight for a spot on the summit!
  • Bring plenty of water (at least 1 L per person), a warm/waterproof layer, AMC trail map, and First Aid Kit.
  • Enjoy a lunch/snack break on one of the summits.
Summit the dog on the summit



Sarah recommended the perfect hike to start our summer hiking season.  With great views, river soaks, and manageable terrain - don't forget to explore some of the smaller peaks in the White Mountains this season!









You might enjoy these other posts about family-friendly hikes in the White Mountains...


5 Best Family Hikes in the White Mountains
3 Great Spring Hikes in Northern New England
Kancamangus Cool Down


Please leave comments and questions below...


View from North Sugarloaf Mountain.