Saturday, June 29, 2013

lake powell - pt. 1

Sunday morning was spent packing coolers and loading up the cars.  After leaving B at the kennel, we headed southeast towards Lake Powell: through Spanish Fork Canyon and along the Book Cliffs, then past Goblin Valley.  Once we got past Hanksville, we were amazed at number of pickup trucks towing gigantic boats through the desert.  Clearly we were headed in the right direction.  When we got to Bullfrog Marina it was hot (mid 90s), dry and clear - a sign of things to come.  We all spent the night in one of the "family unit" accommodations: a spacious, clean trailer with A/C, three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a nice view of the marina.

View of the marina from our trailer 

We were down at the marina as instructed at 8 a.m. to pick up our 46' houseboat, lugging our gear down the dock and ready for the hour-plus long safety and instructions presentation.  Gear stowed aboard, it was determined that my brother would pilot the boat; H, my dad and I followed in the powerboat, tying up to the houseboat once we were clear of the marina traffic.  Since it was Monday morning, there weren't too many boats out and about and we started to head north up the lake, everyone's jaws dropping at the scenery.

Lake Powell is a pretty amazing place.  The water is very low right now so you can't get as far up some of the side canyons as in prior years.  But even in high water years, the massive cliff walls tower over you, looming red and white against the very blue skies.  I'd never seen anything like it before.

Motoring north

Our destination for the first night was Good Hope Bay, about 25 miles north of Bullfrog.  We stopped a couple of times along the way to swim, just cutting the houseboat's engines and drifting in the middle of the main channel so everyone could have a chance at the slide that went from the upper deck of the houseboat.  We'd originally thought to do this trip in May so it wouldn't be so hot; even with the heat - and it stayed hot all week, mid 90s to 100 - I'm glad we didn't go any earlier because the water temperature we had was perfect: cool enough to be a bit of a surprise at first but easy to acclimate to.

Cruising past the Tapestry Wall

There were just a couple other boats up at Good Hope Bay when we rolled in there in the afternoon, so we were able to choose a wide open spot for our first attempt at beaching the houseboat.  After a couple of tries to secure the lines (you beach the bow pontoons on shore, then run lines from the stern out to shore at 30 degree angles, either tying onto rocks or burying the anchors), our houseboat was secure.  It was hotter onshore so we either read in the shade or swam, and my dad and I ventured into the scrub below the cliffs in search of some perennial springs.  We never found any springs but we did find a lot of prickly plants - ouch!

Our beach at Good Hope Bay

Dinner was burritos with chicken, rice, black beans and chimichurri; getting into the spirit, we made margaritas too.  As evening fell, my dad and sister-in-law tried their hands at fishing to no avail.  Although the houseboat has two staterooms plus fold-out futons in the living/dining area, most of us opted to sleep up on the upper deck where it was a little cooler.  That night, far from the light of any civilization, the stars were absolutely spectacular.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

the arrival

And ... we're back in business here at WWW!  As I mentioned, the reason for the prolonged hiatus was the arrival of house-guests, this time my family: parents, brother, sister-in-law and niece.  They all flew out here from Maine so the whole bunch of us could go down to Lake Powell for five days on a houseboat, something none of us had ever done.  We'll get to that, but first things first.  The Maine gang arrived Friday night and H and I picked them up at the airport, swinging by Oh Mai for take-out banh mi on the way home. The delicious sandwiches were a big hit and we kept them up late talking and enjoying a couple of Utah microbrews.

Pausing for a break on the way up

Since we weren't leaving for Lake Powell until Sunday morning, we had time on Saturday for an exploration of Little Cottonwood Canyon.  After my dad, my brother and I went grocery shopping for the Powell trip, we went for a hike up to Cecret Lake at Alta, lobbing snowballs at each other from the remaining snow.  It was a slight shock for some of them, hiking above 9,000 ft. after being at sea-level just the day before, but the whole group is active and outdoorsy and no one complained.

Ice is definitely out at Cecret Lake

After the hike the adults were parched.  Luckily, the Brewfest was just hitting its stride at Snowbird so we stopped in for a sampling of the state's best.  My niece convinced her father to go on the alpine slide with her so everyone ended up happy about the day.  Back at home, we got pizza and got organized to head south to Powell the next day.  Items not to forget: beer, sunscreen and swim suits!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

round and round

Sunday: back to Round Valley.  I'm definitely improving because I was able to ride two more switch-backs than I usually do on the "sweet sixteen" section of our regular loop.  ("Sweet sixteen" because there are sixteen switch-backs in a row - all going up, the way we ride.)  The day was sunny and breezy, but without the big headwind we'd had last time; there were folks out there on the trails but it wasn't really.  Also, I managed to pass two people - on an uphill slope!  Great day all around.

I'm going to use this puny little post to let you know that there will be a break in the posting-action for a bit as we have house guests arriving: it's just not polite to write blog posts when you're supposed to be a host.  But never fear - after their visit, I'm sure I'll have plenty to share with you all!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

solo hike to desolation

On Saturday H felt like going for a road ride so I thought I would hike myself up to Desolation Lake in Big Cottonwood Canyon.  We've done it before so I knew it would be a largely shaded, dry, not-too-steep hike.  As an out-and-back, it's about 7.2 miles: 1.7 miles to the Dog Lake/Desolation Trail junction and another 1.9 miles up to Desolation Lake.  This made it a little longer than I remembered and I was dragging a little bit on the second part, but a granola bar and lots of water put the spring back in my step.

It's so green this time of year!

This is a popular area, with lots of families doing the shorter hike to Dog Lake, lots of mountainbikers coming down the trail from the Great Western Trail on the ridge above and a good number of trail runners because the path is mostly packed dirt and easy underfoot.  After the hike I came up with a theory that the vast majority of trail runners are ridiculously good-looking people: they tend to be young, extremely fit and not wearing very many clothes.

You can just barely make out 
all the little blue flowers

It was a beautiful day, the strong sun and bright blue skies peeking through the aspen groves, the little creek still chuckling its way down Mill D North Fork.  I didn't see any wildlife other than a couple of potguts (and the aforementioned MTBers and trail runners).  My hike took me three hours, including some time soaking in the scenery up at the lake.

Still some snow - but melting fast

Back down at the car, I watched MTBers and hikers coming and going as I had my post-hike celebratory PBR.  The parking lot was pretty full - and the parking further down canyon at the uber-popular Mill B South Fork was as busy as I've seen it - and it was great to see people outside, enjoying the afternoon in the Wasatch.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

riding in ruts, not stuck in them

Surprise, surprise - on Sunday we went MTBing in Round Valley.  I like this set-up we're developing, of hiking one day and riding the other, and although we keep going back to Round Valley I still find it challenging enough that it stays fun and interesting.

First, though, just to mix it up a little bit, we tried a new place for breakfast: the Olympian Restaurant in SLC (700 E 2181 S).  I drive by the Olympian twice a day, every day, on my commute to work and I figured it was time we gave it a try, plus it's close to an entrance to I-80 which would take us to Park City.  The Olympian is a pretty standard, family-run restaurant: clean, a little kitschy and with decent breakfast food.  Service was quick and friendly; our eggs, toast and hash browns were fine (although they didn't have sourdough toast which is pretty much de rigeur out here in the West).  Everything was fine and filled us up but we have other, tastier, more character-filled places we prefer.

After that it was off to Round Valley.  The skies were clear and it was windy and slightly warmer than last weekend, and there were a fraction of the folks out on the trails than we'd seen in recent trips.  I felt I was riding better - slightly faster and more confident - than I have been, even riding up the long hill that I call "My Nemesis" more easily.  H rode up Hammerhead Hill without putting his foot down this time; from down below where I was watching, it looked effortless for him although he was still breathing a little hard by the time I pushed my bike up to the top.  I ran out of gas a bit on that endless series of uphill switchbacks that H can ride and I can half ride/half hike-a-bike, probably because it was pretty hot; and the long uphill slog on the paved bike path back to the truck was excruciating for me with the head wind.  Still, I felt pretty good about the day.  H is very patient with me, letting me build confidence and strength on the bike.

We stopped by Park City Mountain Resort to sit in the shade with a couple of beers and people-watch.  The place was a ghost-town compared to Memorial Day weekend and there was hardly any line for folks wanting to take a scenic chairlift ride.  We were perfectly happy to sit in our non-lifted chairs and just enjoy the scenery from there.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

neff's canyon

We wanted to do a hike on Saturday but didn't want to drive too far and didn't want to slog around in the snow.  That limited our options somewhat and we landed on Neff's Canyon.  We'd done a little bit off Neff's back in 2010 but decided to go up to the meadow this time.  The trailhead is located in a residential area between Millcreek Canyon and Mt. Olympus; the parking lot was pretty full when we got there.  It's a popular trail, at least the lower reaches, because it's not a watershed and dogs are allowed.  We saw a LOT of dogs.

Looking up into Neff's Canyon

The trail starts as a graded service road which ends after about half a mile where the creek comes down the canyon.  After some false starts (our guidebook told us to cross the stream but what you actually need to do  is cross the dry stream bed, not the watery one) we continued on an older road through tall scrub oak that began to climb quickly.  When that road ended, at a sign marking the Mount Olympus Wilderness Area, the trail got narrow and quite steep and included a couple of stream crossing.  It was a little humid, being in the trees and near the water, and there were lots of flies - houseflies, not the biting kind - which was a little annoying.  The crush of people thinned out too: we didn't have the trail entirely to ourselves but we didn't see that many folks.

Blues and greens

The trail reaches the meadow at about 2.5 miles, ringed with aspen trees and cliffs overhead.  There were patches of snow in the trees and a guy we talked to said that the snow started to get deep quickly once you headed up to the ridges above.  We paused for a few minutes to have a snack but didn't linger too long.  As we headed back down the way we'd come up, the views down canyon and out to the Great Salt Lake were impressive.  About two-thirds of the way down we came across a fat and cranky rattlesnake curled up in the shade on the side of the trail and shaking his rattle for all he was worth.  We tried to get a photo but none of them came out, unfortunately: he was in tall grass in the shade so he was hard to see, plus we didn't know was his striking range would be and didn't get too close.

Don't fall in!

When we got back to the car, we lingered longer than normal over our PBRs because we were having so much fun patting dogs and talking to their people.  Dogs we saw: a 150-lb. Great Dane, a flat-coated retriever, German shepherds, beagles, numerous golden retrievers, Dobermans, a papillon, Jack Russell terriers, two 10-wk. old Lab puppies, border collies, mutts galore and more.  A couple of them even jumped in our car to see if we had any snacks (we didn't).

Looking out at the lake from the meadow

Hike statistics:  sunny and mid 70s; 5.37 miles RT; 2 hrs. 23 min. (2:53 with stoppage time); 2,358 ft. elevation gain.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

wild(life) ride

A sunny but cool Memorial Day Monday meant another day to play, so we loaded the MTBs onto our new bike rack - a Thule platform rack which meant that we didn't have to take my front wheel off and just made things tons easier - and headed off to Round Valley.  It was breezy and cool but the sun was out which made for perfect riding temperatures.  There were a fair number of people there, what with the holiday and all, but not nearly as many as there had been Mother's Day - I guess more folks were out camping or away for the weekend (we heard Moab was mobbed).

We did our by-now regular loop, with H doing some additional riding when I was slow coming up hills.  I felt like I rode much better than our first time out although I still struggle with hills, switchbacks and rocks.  After our ride, we went to Park City Mountain Resort, now open for the summer season, and had a PBR on a secluded patio, watching the folks waiting in line for the chairlift ride, finally feeling like summer has arrived.*

They're in there, honest, four sandhill cranes

What made the MTBing particularly fun this time was the wildlife: as we rode the paved rails-to-trails portion out of town, we saw two huge sandhill cranes and their two fuzzy chicks in a marshy area.  We thought the adult cranes were deer at first since they were so big.  Later, as we were heading down the backside of Rambler (?) through the scrub oak, we had to stop to let a mother moose and her baby cross the trail.  We know that you never approach a mother and baby moose so we stopped a good distance away, keeping our bikes between us and the animals.  The baby was a little nervous but the mother seemed entirely unconcerned, keeping an eye on her little one (that's relatively speaking as the baby was bigger than a pony) and munching on the trees.  Even when a couple of hikers came up from the other side, the moose never got agitated, simply strolling across the trail and into the trees a ways.  We only had our cameras phones so the photos aren't that great; getting to see these animals up close is always a thrill, though.

That dark lump: momma moose

* Of course, the next day we got massive storms, including hail, and temperatures in the 40s ... and that felt a little less like summer.