Thursday, July 7, 2016

Rafting Wyoming's Snake River

Just found these photos from my first-ever whitewater rafting trip. In 1982, our family was vacationing out west, including a visit to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. While in Jackson, Wyoming, we investigated the possibility of rafting. Our youngest, Steve (age 5), was too young for the trip but there was nowhere to leave him if we went without him, so we turned around and began leaving the rafting company's office when the clerk told us to hang on a minute. After a brief consultation with someone else in the office, she told us Steve could go on the trip, but we'd have to keep him sitting on the bottom of the raft and hold onto him. We agreed!

The scenery was drop-dead gorgeous for the eight mile trip through the Bridger National Forest. The river is rated at class II and III rapids, with the largest two rapids called Lunchcounter and Kahuna.

At Lunchcounter Rapid we knew why they had told us to hang onto the boys -- this fellow was  thrown out and quickly retrieved.

Here's the photo taken by the professional photographer just as we were about to hit the six-foot-tall standing wave of Big Kahuna Rapid.

You can see young Steve next to me in the bottom of the raft between the two girls who are in front. I enjoyed the whitewater experience so much that I've done whitewater rafting and canoeing over 20 times since then, including a number of multi-day expeditions where we camped each night on beaches.

When the trip was over, Steve was shaking from sitting in the cold water at the bottom of the raft for a couple hours. I asked if he had enjoyed the ride and he shivered,  "Yeah."  Then I asked if he'd like to do it again and he shivered, "Not right now."

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Des Plaines River Trail is Complete!

Last year, the Lake County Forest Preserve District acquired the final piece of land and constructed the last missing segment of their premier trail to finish the 31+ mile Des Plaines River Trail, which passes through 12 forest preserves on its way.  The vision of the trail began in 1961, construction was begun in 1981, and it required 34 years to acquire the land and construct the trail. And it is a job very well done! One of the reasons it took so long to complete is the fact that the preserve board refused to ever use eminent domain to acquire property. In fact, the LCFPD owns over 85% of the land abutting the two sides of the river, a testament to their perseverance and dedication to conservation.

The LCFPD section of the trail ends at Lake-Cook Road, the diving line between Lake and Cook Counties, but the trail continues another 27 miles through Cook County, making a 58 mile trail and connecting over 30 forest preserves.

Of the 220 trails across the country that I've ridden, I consider it one of the top trails I've biked.  Here are photos of this newest 1500 foot section:

The Des Plaines River is on the left, and since this is flood plain, pilings had to be driven to stabilize the trail. The black fencing on the right separates the trail from the land owner who after 20 years of overtures, finally relented and sold the property to the forest preserve district.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Biking Nashville's Shelby Bottoms Greenway

This park and Greenway are in the East Hill section of Nashville, across the river and a bit south of Opryland Hotel. Numerous grass hiking trails bisect the park and the paved bikeway runs for nearly 5 miles, with another mile and a half or so of spur trails connected to it. The trail is in good repair and is mostly level.

The scenery is as seen below -- lush green on both sides but with very few views of the Cumberland River which it parallels.

Near the northern end of the trail you'll find this bridge with spiraling ramp to access the Pedestrian Bridge which takes you over the Cumberland River. The trail then takes you below Briley Road (route 159) via underpasses to Two Rivers Park (and The Wave aquatic park) and to the start of the Stones River Greenway.

Here's a view of the Cumberland River from the Pedestrian Bridge.

The trail is flat and this is a very popular trail so expect company while biking here.

Trailheads and parking are available at 1900 Davidson Street, 2032 Forrest Green Drive, and 2544 McGinnis Drive.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Biking Nashville's Cumberland River Greenway

Nashville's Cumberland River Greenway runs 7.5 miles along the namesake river. I parked at Morgan Park (411 Hume Street, just off Rosa Parks St.) and biked the short access trail to the Greenway. Turning right, the trail passes behind some commercial properties and along a railroad spur and eventually takes you to the waterfront. Nissan Stadium is across the river.

Here's a photo of the downtown from atop the Ascend Amphitheater hillside. Most of the trail is on the downtown side of the river, though it does cross over the Shelby Street bridge and continues to LP Field.

If you turn left off the access trail from Morgan park, you pass the cement company and soon climb atop the levee, with the river 20 feet or so below you on your right and commercial enterprises on the left. The trail is eight or so feet wide and paved, but don't lose your concentration -- it's a long way down and there are no guard rails.

In the photo below, you see a rest area on the levee. The levee segment of the trail runs about three miles.

In the photo below, the Greenway is the green line seen just below the blue river.

Other access points to the trail are at Riverfront Park (100 First Avenue North), Freehand Station (766 Freehand Road), 231 Great Circle Road, and 50 Titans Way near LP Field.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Biking Tennessee's Maryville-Alcoa Greenway

This trail runs from Sandy Springs Park in Maryville to the Bicentennial Greenway in Alcoa, nine miles in length, with loops in the parks at each end. You can also access the trail at Pearsons Spring Park, Founders park, and Greenbelt Park in Maryville, as well as Alcoa's Richard Williams Park and Hall Park. 

I parked at Bicentennial Park in maryville because it was easy to find as I drove in on Highway 411(East Broadway Avenue.)

My favorite section runs from Maryville to Alcoa along Pistol Creek, on an easement granted by Alcoa Company. The trail features lovely woods on both sides and the pavement is in pretty good repair. At the western end, you briefly run along Edison Street, turn left along Springbrook, pass the aptly named Duck Pond, and reach and circle Springbrook Park. Signage is minimal if at all in many places, so just enjoy riding the paved trails and relish the lovely park scenery as you traverse the parks, and don't be concerned that you somehow missed a sign post.

Parts of the trail have lighting for evening use as seen below.

Bicentennial Park in Maryville has Greenbelt Lake with a pond and waterfall to enjoy.

Biking the Cumberland River Bicentennial Trail

Also known as Ashland City Rail Trail and located just 20 minutes from Nashville, this trail runs nearly seven miles to the Cheatham Lock and Dam Campground. The trail is level and gives occasional views of the Cumberland River which it parallels. The eastern 4 miles is asphalt in fairly good condition except for numerous root heaves (or frost heaves -- in Tennessee?) The last 3 miles are gravel, mostly hard-packed but some loose and sometimes with larger gravel too.  Around the first mile mark is the Turkey Junction Comfort Station and Native Garden along a creek if you need a break while traveling in either direction. I've biked over 200 trail across America and never seen so many picnic benches along a trail!  They must have been located every couple hundred yards. The first mile or so has numerous signs telling you the name of the varieties of flora decorating the trail.

Views of the river and its tributaries occasionally present themselves for your enjoyment. All the tree foliage probably shields riders from the heat of hot summer days.

Around the 3.5 mile mark you reach this lengthy trestle with long boardwalk approaches on each end.

Below is the gravel section. I was traveling with my road bike, not my mountain bike, and I had no problem with the trail except one section where there was no trestle, just a downhill-then-uphill section crossing a drainage. I walked the bike down and up both directions to play it safe. If I'd had my Trek mountain bike, I would have just blasted down and up the loose gravel grades.

This photo displays the magnificent limestone cliffs that border much of the trail.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Biking Chattanooga's Riverwalk Trail

I began the ride from the north side of the Tennessee River in Coolidge Park, and after working my way from the parking lot (parking fee is $2 per 2 hours, pay at machine) I crossed the river on the Walnut Street pedestrian bridge seen in the first two photos below.

Turn left over the bridge, walk your bike over the glass-bottom bridge and past the museum buildings, and follow the road down the hill and to the right. I had to ask a local resident for directions as none of this is marked. Then look for the blue paint as seen below -- on bridges, light poles, garbage cans, rest benches, and railings -- and you'll know you're on the trail.

Wet and low areas are bridged as seen below...

Eventually and occasionally you'll get good views of the Tennessee River as you head the seven miles to the Chickamauga Dam (TVA) where the trail ends.

The trail is paved, wide, and in extremely well maintained. This Riverpark greenway is the pride of Chattanooga, is well used, and is well cared for.

Every mile or so you'll come to parks with rest rooms, benches, picnic tables, grass lawns, etc. These are all accessible from Amnicola Road, and if you drive the road and park in one of these parks, you'll have free parking and amenities, and enter the trail at the well-marked segment of the trail.

The Chickamauga Dam signals the end of the Riverwalk Trail.

Tennessee Riverpark website

Biking the Louisville Loop

The Louisville Loop is an estimated 100-mile trail system that will eventually encircle the city. The imagine below provides a rough overview of all the parts of the Loop that have been constructed, designed, and planned (click to enlarge.)

We biked in "The Parklands of Floyds Creek" through The Strand, Pope Lick Park, Beckley Creek Park, Trestle Point, Distillery Bend, and Grand Allee, a 14 mile round-trip. At the seven mile mark we hit a section of trail that is closed area due to a landslide that blocks the trail. 

The Parklands spread over nearly 4000 acres, almost five times the size of New York City's Central Park, and a scenic park drive traverses the four parks.

The Floyds Fork watershed is in the far eastern part of the county, stretching from Shelbyville Road on the north to Bardstown Road on the south. It is characterized by its many creeks, and it features the oldest exposed bedrock in the county, Waynesville Limestone, which is as much as 500 million years old. Moving from west to east in this region, the landscape drops from 700-foot elevations to 440 feet in the Fork Creek bed.

As seen below, the trail is paved with concrete in areas that might flood and asphalt elsewhere. 

Mountain bikes have an extensive system of unpaved trails branching off the paved trail, and hiking trails also abound through the woods. Floyds creek also offers good paddling and several access points are available for paddlers.

Trestle Point features an active railine high above the bike trail and creek.

Road crossings are safe thanks to underpasses. Be aware that the trail has several big hills to get your heart rate up, though switchbacks help ease the burden a bit.

The Parklands of Floyds Fork website

Biking Nashville's Stones River Trail

Nashville's Stones River Greenway travels about seven miles from the Cumberland River to the J. Percy Priest Reservoir, parallel to and occasionally within sight of Stones River. The trail connects a number of communities and parks including the skate park at Two Rivers Park where I began. This trailhead is adjacent to The Wave Country waterpark, just off Route 155 (Briley Parkway) and about a half mile south of the Grand Old Opry, Opry Mills, and Opryland Hotel complex.

The trail is paved and in very good repair. It was April and foliage was nearly in full bloom, making for a very scenic ride. The trail is not a former rail line so steep grades and a one-half mile long uphill will get your heart pumping.

Boardwalks and bridges protect fragile environmental areas and drainages.

Here's a photo of the namesake Stones River.

If you head left onto the trail from Two Rivers park, the trail takes you below the freeway and its ramps and then over the adjacent Cumberland River on the Pedestrian Bridge and gets you to Shelby Bottoms Greenway and another five miles of paved trails.

Monday, January 11, 2016

America's National Parks

After re-watching Ken Burns' marvelous PBS series, "The National Parks: America's Best Idea," I began counting up the parks I've visited.  The National Park Service administers 409 properties, but only 59 have full national park status (as opposed to being a national seashore or lakeshore or scenic river or monument or battlefield or historic site, etc.) Below are the 59 parks with links to my photos and info about my visits and the years I was there, representing over 140 visits in total.  (I am also including links to information I've compiled about the 8 parks I haven't yet visited.)

Acadia National Park, Maine  (2005, 2009)

Arches National Park, Utah    (1990, 2003, 2006, 2008, 2010)

Badlands National Park, South Dakota  (1959, 1982, 1997, 1998, 2004, 2007, 2011, 2014)

Big Bend National Park, Texas   (2007)

Biscayne National Park, Florida   (2008, 2012)

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado   (1959, 1989, 1991, 2007, 2014)

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah   (1985, 1999, 2008, 2012)

Canyonlands National Park, Utah  (1990, 2003, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012)

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah  (1985, 1989, 2012)

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico  (1985)

Channel Islands National Park, California  (2011)

Congaree National Park, South Carolina   (2011)

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon   (2011)

Death Valley National Park, California  (2012)

Denali National Park & Preserve, Alaska  (2004 - 3 separate visits)

Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida  (2012)

Everglades National Park, Florida  (2003, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015)

Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska  (2004)

Glacier National Park, Montana  (1997)

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona  (1981, 1985, 1989, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2010)

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming  (1982, 1987, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2004, 2007, 2011, 2012, 2014)

Great Basin National Park, Nevada  (2012)

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado  (1990, 1991, 1994, 1996, 1999, 2003, 2007)

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee & North Carolina  (1965, 1967, 1971,1995, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2008, 2016)

Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas  (1985, 2007)

Haleakala National Park, Hawai'i'  (2003)

Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas  (1968, 1985, 2006)

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan  (1993, 1995)

Joshua Tree National Park, California  (2011)

Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska  (2004)

Kings Canyon National Park, California  (2011)

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California  (2011)

Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky  (1962, 2001)

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado  (1985, 1994, 1999)

Mount Rainier National Park, Washington  (2000, 2004)

North Cascades National Park, Washington  (2011)

Olympic National Park, Washington  (2000)

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona  (1989, 1999)

Redwood National Park, California  (1993)

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado  (1982, 1990, 2014)

Saguaro National Park, Arizona  (2012)

Sequoia National Park, California  (2011)

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia  (2012)

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota  (2012)

Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota  (2013)

Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota  (1998)

Wrangell – St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska   (2004 — 2 separate visits)

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana, & Idaho  (1982, 1987, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2004, 2007, 2011, 2012, 2014)

Yosemite National Park, California  (1993, 2011)

Zion National Park, Utah  (1985, 1999, 2008, 2010)

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

National Park of American Samoa

The National Park of American Samoa welcomes you into the heart of the South Pacific with sights, sounds, and experiences that you will find in no other national park in the United States. The Samoa Archipelago is a chain of inhabited Pacific islands located 14ยบ south of the equator. It is divided into two political entities, the United States Territory of American Samoa and the neighboring independent country of Western Samoa.

The park was established in 1988, but the National Park Service could not buy the land because of the local traditional communal land system. This was resolved in 1993 when the National Park Service entered into a 50-year lease for the park land from the Samoan village councils. In 2002, Congress approved a thirty percent expansion onto two islands, so now The National Park of American Samoa is really three parks on three separate islands -- Ta'u, Ofu, and Tutuila -- and is our sole park located in the Southern Hemisphere (near the International Date Line.)

The United States Government was unable to acquire the necessary park lands outright as has been done in most other United States national parks, because American Samoa retains many longstanding cultural traits relatively unchanged over time. Among them, Samoans retain their ways of communal ownership of land, an oral tradition of boundaries rather than written or surveyed boundaries, and a fierce protection of land and the status land provides a family.

The deeds of cession that the United States signed when making American Samoa a United States territory in 1900, and the American Samoan constitution, both provide the Samoan people a guarantee for this cultural tradition to continue. Thus it was impossible for the United States to acquire and own the lands for a national park. Instead, the law that established the park stipulated, "The Secretary of the Interior shall establish the park only when the Governor of American Samoa has entered into a lease of the lands and waters for a period of 50 years. All lease payments made by the United States under the lease may be disbursed only by the Governor, in amounts determined by the High Court of American Samoa, to those villages and families located within the boundaries of the park. The High Court of American Samoa shall have exclusive jurisdiction to determine the amount to be disbursed under this section to any person."

Samoa, the only U.S. territory south of the Equator, consists of 10 rugged, highly eroded volcanic islands (five inhabited) and two coral atolls (one inhabited). The land area of the territory is 76 square miles.  The five volcanic islands are Tutuila, Aunu'u, Ofu, Olosega, and Ta'u, and the two remote atolls are Rose and Swains Islands. The park preserves and protects coral reefs, tropical rainforests, fruit bats, and the Samoan culture, which is Polynesia's oldest. It is believed that the first people on the Samoan Islands came by sea from southwest Asia some 3,000 years ago.

American Samoa's population is about 70,000, with most of the people on Tutuila. Except for perhaps a few thousand individuals, nearly all inhabitants of American Samoa are indigenous Samoans of Polynesian ancestry. More than any other U.S. or Polynesian people, Samoans are tradition-oriented and closely follow social customs and hierarchies from long before the arrival of the first Europeans. This Samoan way (called fa'asamoa) is still deeply ingrained in American Samoa culture. The most apparent characteristic is the Samoan matai system of organization and philosophy. In general each village is made up of a group of alga (extended families) which include as many relatives as can be claimed.

The United States' National Park System protects and preserves outstanding locations representing our country's finest natural, scenic, cultural, and scientific heritage. American Samoa National Park adds to the National Park System the finest examples of paleo-tropical rainforest, superb Pacific island scenery, and outstanding coral reef ecosystems .

The park is popular for hiking and snorkeling. Popular destinations include the Maugaloa Ridge, the Amalau Valley, Craggy Point, Tafeu Cove, and the islands of Pola and Manofa. Only part of the park is accessible by car and that section attracts the vast majority of visitors. The entire park has steep terrain and unstable volcanic soils due to its tropical rainfall climate and it is very hard to build and maintain trails in this environment. Though the park is new and has a very small staff, some short to moderate trails have been completed, including a trail to the top of Mount Alava (1610 feet) and its historic World War II gun emplacement sites at Breakers Point and Blunt's Point. The trail runs along the ridge in dense forest, north of which the land slopes steeply away to the ocean.

The coral fringing reefs of the park shelter the greatest marine biodiversity in the U.S. and its possessions. The 80-plus native fish and 200-plus coral species of the park are bewildering and awesome. Except for a few wide-ranging seabirds and marine fishes, most of Samoa’s biota is strikingly different from that of all other U.S. National Parks. The only native land mammals are three bat species. For a newcomer from the mainland, this national park will likely present a bewildering array of paleo-tropical plants, forest birds, reef fishes, and corals.  991 fish species representing 113 families are also found in or near the park, about twice the number occurring in Hawaii, but half the number in the Indo-Pacific region.

Drinking unfiltered and unpurified stream waters, or swimming in freshwater streams with open sores or cuts, may expose you to typical tropical maladies -- diarrhea, giardiasis, dysentery, hepatitis, and leptospirosis.

There are numerous archeological sites found within the national park boundaries. Below is an old grave site.

Although there is no official code, dress is very modest in American Samoa. Men and women should wear clothes that cover the shoulders and knees, and when swimming or snorkeling, you must cover your bathing suit with shirt and shorts.

Plant communities of the park, from the mountaintops down to the ocean, are largely tropical rainforest. It is an evergreen forest with the vegetation of the equatorial climate. Unlike the temperate forests of North America dominated by one or only a few tree species, tropical rainforests have high species diversity and the climax forest (a forest community that is stable and mature and no longer evolving) is dominated by many species. Samoa, as a geologically young ocean island, lacks any earlier land connection to continental land masses. Because its native species got here by chance, its species diversity is not as rich as Southeast Asia, the main source of the islands' plant dispersals.

During northern summers, three shorebirds -- plover, turnstone, and tattler -- nest in Alaska and northern Canada. After nesting, they fly non-stop over 3,000 miles of open ocean to Hawaii, and after briefly resting there, they continue another 2,500 miles to American Samoa. The round-trip journey each year is 11,000 miles!

There are two fruit bat species in American Samoa representing the only native mammals. They are important pollinators and seed distributors in the tropical rainforests. The animal life of the National Park of American Samoa is unique among the U.S. National Parks. Key animal forms, from the flying foxes or fruit bats in the mountains to the massive coral reefs along the shorelines, shape all natural ecosystems here. Flying foxes are important terrestrial pollinators and thus this rain forest is dominated by fruit-bearing species, in contrast to Hawaii where the native forests are pollinated largely by nectar seeking birds and insects.