Monday, August 29, 2011

Rafting Idaho's Salmon River: A Road Scholar Program

This Road Scholar/Elderhostel program was hosted by Oregon River Experiences and took us six days and 62 miles down the famed “River of No Return” in western Idaho. At 425 miles in length, the Salmon is the longest free-flowing, un-dammed river in the lower 48 states.  We put in at White Bird, Idaho, and after 52 miles, we reached the Snake River, home of Hell’s Canyon, the deepest canyon in the United States, named for its sweltering 130 degree summer temperatures.

The scenery typified high desert and magnificent vistas were revealed with each bend of the river. 

The amazing geology we were traversing was explained to us daily in stimulating talks by geologist and environmental scientist par excellence, Sheree Stewart, who explained that just like water has a cycle from ocean to cloud to rain to river to ocean, the earth also recycles from magma to rocks to erosion to transport by wind and water to re-deposition and burial and melting and back to magma (though at a geologically slower pace than the water cycle.)

Of course, the rapids were the reason we were really there, and the three dozen or so rapids included many class 2 and 3s, as well as a few class 4 monsters.

The temperatures each day were a blistering 95 degrees, but fortunately the waves consistently crashing over the rafts cooled us. We also swam in the calmer pools between rapids. At Cottonwood rapid, the five guides yelled ‘abandon ship” and dove in with us following, and we swam and body surfed the wave train of a dozen-plus huge four foot high waves, all of us bobbing like corks, unable to do anything but try to grab breaths of air in the trough between the waves breaking over us.  This was a highlight of the trip!

Hikes took us to see a series of these Nez Perce tribe pictographs, red drawings made by grinding ochre, an oxide with oil or grease and resin.  There is no known interpretation of the meaning of these designs, but they are interesting to observe nonetheless.

Another hike was at the beginning of Cougar Canyon where we hiked to a high overlook to peer down at the magnificent canyon stretched out before us…

Other hikes led us to ruins of stone dwellings constructed by Chinese miners who came here in the 1860s during the Salmon River gold rush to make their fortune…

If you can't envision the ferocity of class 4 rapids, see what Snow Hole Rapid did to Allison in the photo below.  Look closely and you’ll see her in the blue helmet to the left of the kayak (click to enlarge photo)...

 Here's the entire intrepid group of adventurous Road Scholars...

(L to R) kneeling/sitting:  Nancy, Sharon, Allison, and Sheree
Standing next to+those sitting: Holly, Amy, Lois and Joan
Standing in back: Simone, Claudia, Chuck, Karen, Mary, Roger, Sue, Paul, and Ron

Our journey was enhanced by the the professionalism of our five guides, but in addition to keeping us safe, feeding us, and cleaning up after meals, their youthful exuberance and antics kept us smiling and laughing and entertained, but also infected us and turned us into kids again!  Activities they led included the name game the first night to get acquainted, and later a cartwheel competition, a talent show for all to participate in, epic water fights between the rafts, a cookie challenge where a cookie is plastered to your forehead with jelly and then you make it slide down over your nose and into your mouth, a whipped cream contest where you make a blob of whipped cream jump from your elbow to your mouth (or elsewhere on your face), the hokey pokey, raft dancing, and a face painting night using leftover chocolate sauce.

(l to r): Jessica, Ted, Angie, Megan, and Travis

All of our activities on the water and ashore, as well as some of the highlights from the best rapids, are documented in the following video which documents most of the events of our trip. (Double click to enlarge)

Additonal photos can be viewed and downloaded from my gallery here.

Videos of my other adventures can be found on YouTube here.

Biking Moscow, Idaho's Latah Trail

The 12-mile trail between Moscow and Troy is a paved, 10-foot wide trail for use by pedestrians, bicyclists, in-line skaters,  and others with non-motorized transportation along the former Moscow-Arrow rail line.

The corridor for centuries was a path for the Nez Perce Indian tribe to access essential and reliable food sources. In late Spring they would camp at “the place near the mountains” as they called the Moscow area. Then in October when “the needles fall from the tamarack” they would use the path to access the high mountains to find deer, elk, and bear. The trail now parallels route 8 and you bike along wheat fields and grazing pasture land as seen below. The temperature was 97 on the afternoon I biked the route, and be aware that shade is a missing commodity on this trail.

Mileage markers are found every mile, and I saw more old railroad signage than usual on this old railroad trail. Washroom facilities are available at intervals along the trail.

I found no trailhead or parking, but east on Hwy 8 from town, the Eastgate shopping center between the Ford dealer and Dollar Tree allows easy access to the trail on the other side of Hwy 8.

Click to enlarge this map that was on one of the informational signs along the trail...

The trail is not as level as most rail-trails, but rather has numerous ups and downs, with predominantly ups as you head east to Troy. About the 7 mile mark out of Moscow, the trail passes beneath route 8 through an underpass. Some sections have lovely trees but again, not no consistent shade. Make sure you have plenty of water on hot days.

Farms, houses, trailers, and grain storage silos are passed, and route 8 is always nearby, though not as close as in Moscow.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Biking Clarkston, Washington's Greenbelt Trail

The Clarkston Greenbelt Trail is part of the Clearwater and Snake River National Recreation Trail and is administered by the Army Corps of Engineers which constructed the dam. The northern end trailhead is in Granite Lake Park.  Without the dam, you would be along the Snake River, just downstream from its confluence with the Clearwater River, and across the river from one of Lewis and Clark's campsites back in 1805.

The towns of Lewiston and Clarkston, sister cities, are named in  tribute to the explorers, and each town has a trail on the bank of the rivers courtesy of the Corps of Engineers. Bridges near the northern and southern ends of the trail connect the Greenbelt Trail with the Lewiston Levee Trail and allows you to make a loop ride if you so desire. The Greenbelt Trail runs for 7 miles and the Lewiston Levee Trail runs for 11 miles.

The Greenbelt Trail's northern end is actually in the greenbelt of parks along the river.  Be aware the trail routes you through several parking lots and down driveways several times, then continues beyond as asphalt trail. Enjoy the shade offered by the mature trees in this section...

...because the shade ends after about 4 miles after you go under the Southway Bridge, and you then find yourself out in the full sun.

The trail ends at Chief Looking Glass Park in Asotin, WA. As you near Asotin, the trail turns to the right and continues alongside the road to bypass the water treatment plant.  It then bears left and drops back down to pass along the high school football field and track and enters the park.

All along the trail are informational signs, giving Lewis & Clark information, Nez Perce info, and info on the fish and floods of the river. An interesting sign at Granite Lake Park relates how Lewis and Clark almost slept here -- instead they camped across the river to avail themselves of the high hill there to get star sightings (but the clouds prevented them for doing so.)

Trailhead parking is available every few miles if you drive along the river. Specifically:

Granite Lake Park at 850 Port Way
Greenbelt Ramp at Fair St. and Riverview Blvd.
Swallows Park at Hwy. 129 and Hillyard Dr.
Hells Canyon Rec Area office at 2535 Riverside
Chief Looking Glass Park at Hwy. 129 and Clemans Rd (Asotin, WA)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Biking Lewiston, Idaho's Levee Trail

This 11 mile asphalt trail is part of the Clearwater and Snake River National Recreation Trail and is administered by the Army Corps of Engineers which constructed the levee. Parking is available at Hells Gate State Park (fee) or the adjacent free marina lot, both at the southern end of Lewiston on Snake River Avenue. Several other free parking lots for boaters and bikers can be found along Snake River Avenue, too.

Bikers are treated to vistas of the river and are spectators to all the water activities underway on both the Clearwater and Snake Rivers. Clarkston, Washington is across the Snake River here and also has a bike trail along the water.  Lewiston and Clarkston are sister cities named after Lewis and Clark who camped here in 1805 on their journey to the Pacific, and numerous rest areas along the trail provide information on the rivers and their epic journey.

Starting at the south end, you traverse the east shore of the Snake River.  At its confluence with the Clearwater River, the trail follows the south shore of the Clearwater River until Memorial Bridge which brings U.S. Route 12 over the river. The trail appears to end here, but when you see the asphalt trail turn to gravel ahead, take the asphalt ramp down, turn right into the alley between the Hahn industrial buildings, and you'll find yourself in Locomotive Park...

Take a break here if you wish, or simply look at the locomotive and caboose, then follow the park sidewalk to the road and cross the bridge. You'll see the asphalt path to your left when over the bridge.  It will take you down under the bridge and up the levee on north side of the river, and you can continue 4 miles or so to trail's end at Lower Goose Pasture. The reason for shifting to the other riverbank is soon obvious: the miles-long Clearwater Paper Company plant is on the side you just left and seen in the photo below...

Be advised the trail begins to demand some up and down here and you soon find yourself right alongside route 12 traffic (with a safety barrier between you and traffic.)

The trail offers no shade and the sun can grow quite intense on summer days, but there are several rest areas with shade, restrooms, and water as seen below...

Friday, August 19, 2011

Biking Missoula's Riverfront Trail System

Missoula, Montana is bisected by the Clark Fork River, and several parks can be found along the river.  The Riverfront Trail connects these parks as it runs for several miles on both sides of the river.

The trail is the corridor of the former Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific Railroad, better known as the Milwaukee Road. The Montana portions of the railroad were built between 1906 and 1909

A convenient trailhead for accessing the various trails is McCormick Park, located west of Orange (also called Stephens farther south) and just south of Broadway and the river.  The park also has athletic fields,  an aquatic building, a skateboard park, and nearby is the baseball stadium.

From the large parking lot, I rode the Riverfront Trail east through parks and past the old Missoula train station and the University of Montana football stadium, all nicely landscaped as seen here...

The trail alternates between crushed gravel and asphalt until you reach the Kim Williams Nature Trail after about a mile. This trail continues east along the river for about 4 miles and degrades to loose gravel and rock outcroppings.  A road bike is not recommended here...

When the Kim Williams Trail ends, a single-track continues and a fork in the track offers two options.  I took the left fork and found myself riding along the active railroad tracks until it ended at a road.  I came back on the other single-track which climbed 25 feet up onto a ridge and I enjoyed this bit of mountain biking -- a narrow track with tall weeds on both sides, complicated by a drop off of 25 feet just 2 feet to my right, and a fence line on my left with constant shotgun blasts from a skeet shooting club.

Heading back, I detoured into the university campus using their bike lanes, then returned to the Riverfront Trail, crossed the river on a bike bridge, and explored that trail which ended several times requiring detours around private property to return to the river. You pass more parks, one of which had a large play area called Dragon Hollow and also a working carousel.

When that trail ended, I crossed the river on another bike bridge.  As I reached the baseball stadium parking lot, I saw a trail around the lot, and it took me to this round-about.  The post in the center said MILE 0 -- and trails led off in all four directions. To the left was McCormick Park and back to where I started.

To the right, was the Milwaukee Line Trail, which I discovered only goes a half mile or so but was in the process of being extended.  Heading straight ahead (south) was the Bitterroot Branch Trail which ran a mile and a half or so along an active trail line, through a light industry area with many road crossings.

 It was good for adding a bit of additional mileage to my total but had zero scenic value. It is possible to ride streets for a bit to reach another segment of this trail, but I was already over 20 miles and out of time.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Hiking Yellowstone National Park

I've visited Yellowstone eight or more times, and though I only had 48 hours to spend in the park this trip, I tried to make the most of it. I drove the entire 152 mile Grand Loop circle, stopping at a few old favorites and hiking three trails new to me.

One of my favorites is the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. Here's the majestic Upper Falls from a distance...

...and here's a new way to the bottom of the Lower Falls falls for me, via Uncle Tom's Trail. Back in 1900, Uncle Tom Richardson led visitors down his trail to the bottom of the falls by way of 528 stairs and various rope ladders, which had to be an amazing adventure. Now a series of switchback trails and then 328 steel stairs get visitors 3/4 of the way down, still a strenuous undertaking but far safer.

And here's the view your efforts earn you...

...including this marvelous rainbow in the mist of the falls...

Another new hike for me was to Natural Bridge, with the trailhead conveniently located right by my campground at Bay Bridge Campground. I've seen such formations in other parks, and I love the arches at Arches National Park, but I never realized Yellowstone had its very own natural bridge. It was discovered in 1871 by the Hayden survey party and a trail was built to it for visitors way back in 1881.

I also didn't realize that natural bridges are mainly created by the action of water, while arches are created by the action of wind-driven soils.

Natural Bridge is 29 feet across and 51 feet high.

My third new trail this trip was the beginning 2+ miles of the Specimen Ridge Trail which is mainly used by backpackers. Once up on this high ridge, you are rewarded with magnificent views of the Yellowstone River 200 feet below as seen in these 2 photos...

Finally, I had to visit Old Faithful and watch her erupt, after I enjoyed the wonderful prime rib supper buffet at the Old Faithful Inn...

Monday, August 15, 2011

Biking the Mickelson Trail through the Black Hills of South Dakota

The magnificent George S. Mickelson Trail runs 109 miles from Deadwood on the north to Edgemont on the south. Riders will traverse over 100 converted railroad bridges and bike through four rock tunnels. The trail surface is primarily crushed limestone and gravel. There are 15 trailheads, all of which offer parking, self-sale trail pass stations ($3 per rider per day in 2011), vault toilets, and tables. The trail is named for the governor who spearheaded the construction of this marvelous trail.

Most of the trail has a gradient of under 4%, but some segments exceed that and should be considered strenuous.  Dumont is the highest section and the longest incline is the 19 mile section from Deadwood to Dumont.

 I parked in Hill City along Railroad Avenue and biked 7 miles south, returned, then biked 5 miles north and back. Both directions out of town were consistent uphills, but the rides back to town were speedy coasts downhill.

The scenery around every bend is knockdown gorgeous as these photos attest. Bring plenty of water and bring a camera. Most of my shots are while I was pedaling, but stopping for photo opportunities make for a pleasant rest stop.

The trail is mostly in fine condition, though some sections had indications of vehicular traffic, as one section where logging was occurring.  I would not recommend a road bike, but any hybrid or full-mountain bike would work fine.

The trail follows the route of the former Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad and was built in 1890-91. In 1934,  the CB&Q ran the famous Pioneer Zephyr, the first diesel powered streamlined passenger train on this route. The CB&Q was obtained by the Burlington Northern in 1970 which operated the right-of-way until 1983.

Trailhead info is here.

Trail map with elevation/contour map (with downloadable PDF)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Biking Sioux Falls, SD's Loop Bike Trail

Sioux Falls, South Dakota has a parks system that includes a loop trail.  Falls Park, adjacent to the downtown, is a good starting point. And yes, there are waterfalls in this town.  Below is one, though there are others in the park, too.  Jasper, or quartzite, is a beautiful stone, harder than granite and nearly as hard as diamonds, and it makes up the bedrock of Sioux Falls. It was quarried and used for many of the important buildings and expensive homes in the city.

I suggest you bike around the park to the various overlooks, walk to the top of the observation tower for an overview of the park and town, then bike the downtown, and then bike the trail.

Several segments were closed in 2011 for sewer line work and bridge construction, but if you head counter-clockwise from Falls Park you'll have a lengthy open section to explore.  Falls Park is numbered below in red.  Biking counter-clockwise from there puts you in section 17, then 16, etc. and the green indicates an open segment.

When you get to the lengthy spillway seen below, go left...

... and you'll find yourself pedaling uphill on a series of 5 switchbacks seen from above in this photo...

...which puts you atop a levee that encircles the city.  You'll pass farm fields, a prison, the airport, a golf course, and several parks.  This paved trail is in good repair, and when finished, will be a wonderful loop ride.  I went about 10 miles, then returned the same way for a 20 miler.

Here's a downloadable PDf map of the trail.

Souix Falls Parks and Rec site.

Why I Explore the Wilderness

I was recently asked why I travel so much and why my destinations are mainly national forests, national parks, biking and hiking trails, and rivers to paddle. The answer lies in this poem I wrote a few years ago...

by Chuck Morlock
Copyright 2000

Curious to know what's over that rise
or around that bend?
What's a mile beyond here,
or a minute beyond now?

Courageous enough to scale that intervening rise
and round that obscuring bend?
To venture that further mile
and live that eternal minute?

What education may the side canyon confer?
What treasures may the endless trail unearth
or the infinite night sky reveal?
What headwaters of new-thought await?

Wilderness is home to the soul,
and its sights and sounds and scents
vital to the soul's nourishment,
beckoning one's spirit.

Abandon inertia and reap Nature's bounty:
moments to savor,
memories to share; both
mementoes to save.

Travel both diverging paths
within yonder yellow wood.
Be one traveler who avoids
the sorrow of the road not taken.

Curiosity kills neither cat nor man,
but bequeaths adventure and mission and exultation
to otherwise humdrum existence.
Acquiescence kills.

Yet few Dare.
Even fewer Do.
But none who Do
ever regret.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Kayaking Michigan's Pere Marquette River

On our free day, our Volunteer Vacation crew from the American Hiking Society was treated to a nine mile paddle down Michigan's lovely Pere Marquette River.

The water was flowing swiftly, so we had to carefully avoid obstructions and occasionally get ourselves off gravel bars.

The land in many areas was privately owned and some very impressive homes were passed, but quite a bit of the paddle was through pristine wilderness and we all enjoyed the solitude and beauty.

Here's the group...

If you are interested in the boardwalk and bridge construction project we were volunteering to build, the photos are here.

Boardwalk and Bridge Construction in Manistee National Forest -- An AHS Volunteer Project

Michigan's Manistee National Forest has a large segment of the 4600 mile North Country National Scenic Trail. The section that traverses Sterling Marsh floods every year and all attempts to solve the problem have failed.  So an ambitious three year project to build 4000 feet of boardwalk is nearing completion, and our volunteer crew from the American Hiking Society assisted volunteers from the Spirit of the Woods Chapter of the North Country Trail Association for a week.

Wooden bridges as seen below were not working when many inches of water were present... posts were buried, cross pieces mounted and side rails attached as seen below...

...and decking attached as below.  Then a curb rail was affixed to make the boardwalk handicap accessible.

Here's the finished product...

We also assisted the nearby Western Michigan Chapter of the NCTA in replacing the bridge shown below with a more substantial one...

These two large poles were used as stringers and are resting atop sills which are attached to two poles that are buried 5 feet deep for stability...

After decking the bridge surface, approach ramps were build from ground level to bridge level...

...and a railing attached.  Below is the final product...

The entire process for both construction projects is documented in this brief video...

Here's the AHS group, along with Loren and Dave from NCTA...

Kneeling: Wendy, Kyla, Loren, Dottie, and Terri
Standing: Jim, Annette, Natalie, Chuck, Sue, Kasey, and Dave

The AHS crew also went kayaking on the Pere Marquette River on our off day, and those photos are here.

Chuck's other volunteer trail projects.