Saturday, July 21, 2018

Glacier National Park (July3-18) Part 2: Amtrack-Washington D.C. to Chicago

On July 3rd, My parents drove me through the chaotic streets of Washington D.C. and dropped me off at Union Station where I planned to take the Amtrack. My route would take me from Washington D.C. all the way to Glacier National Park in East Glacier. We were running a little behind and I only had a few minutes to spare. I always feel a little strange with my hiking backpack in the city. Once in the train station, the scene became more chaotic with people everywhere moving in every direction. Most train stops I've been to are very simple. Usually one train heading in one direction. This was a little more like a small airport. My mind was not in travel mode yet so I had a hard time processing all the information bombarding my senses. Fortunately, I got into the right line just by chance, and a few minutes later, we were boarding our train.

I've had some great train rides in the past, which is why I still choose to do it I guess. Train rides are social affairs. There is plenty of room to walk around, get up and use the bathroom, and assigned seats have plenty of leg room. The lounge car has always been my favorite with large windows to enjoy the scenery. I'm not the most social person in the world, but it's always nice to meet new people on the train. It's not like airplanes where you can get by with not saying a word to anybody if you don't feel like it. On the train, you become "companions on the journey" so to speak, and conversation often occurs naturally as a result.

As soon as my tickets were checked, I walked to the lounge car. The stress of making the train on time began to melt away. A few minutes later, an older man asked,
 "Is this seat taken?" Pointing to a seat next to me.
"Nope," I replied.
"Hi, my name is Mike. Where are you headed?"
I told him about my plans to hike in Glacier National Park. Mike was a Morman accountant and was heading to Utah to visit family for a week. We continued to chat as the scenery unfolded around us. Highlights for me was seeing the Potomac River, C&O bike path, Harpers Ferry complete with what appeared to be an Appalachian Trail thru hiker taking a nap on the bench outside the train station. The lounge car began to fill up and conversations ignited all around us.

As evening approached, the train began to fall behind schedule. A few minutes here, a few minutes there. I didn't mind because I had a 6 hour layover in Chicago, before catching another train called the Empire Builder, west. By midnight, the train came to a complete halt. I was still in the lounge car, beginning to doze off and on into sleep. One passenger had unrolled a sleeping bag, and was completely horizontal in the corner of the lounge car, fast asleep.
"That guy is a genius," I thought to myself.
The train was not moving anywhere and then I realized how cold it was in the lounge car. I could feel the tip of my nose losing it's heat and wrapped myself in my rain jacket. Soon other passengers that were still in the lounge car began to sprawl across the remaining seats, trying to catch some z's. I decided to give the floor a chance, since it was apparent the Amtrack staff was not going to send us back to our seats which they sometimes do. It was too cold though, and could feel the AC blowing onto me from below. It was going to be a long, sleepless night.

The train finally began to move four hours later. Later we learned the cause of the delay was a fallen tree across the tracks in West Virginia, and break maintenance on the train as a result of hitting the tree. By the time the sun came up, the lounge car began to fill up once again. The guy in the sleeping bag in the corner woke up, yawned and stretched, packed away his sleeping bag, and returned to his assigned seat in another car. He probably had the best sleep of anybody on the train. I walked downstairs to the café car and ordered a coffee. I was going to need it. The conversation in the lounge car shifted to the delay. How far behind schedule were we? Would we be able to make our connecting trains? Mike had to catch a train to Utah via Chicago, and as things stood, he would just be able to make the transfer. I learned several other passengers were also heading west on the Empire Builder, and we had about an hour of wiggle room remaining to make our transfer in Chicago. The train still seemed to be moving at an excruciating slow pace, stuck behind freight train traffic which has the right of way on the rail lines.

Suddenly near Cleveland Ohio, the train stopped again. A groan let out amongst the passengers. 5 minutes passed, 10 minutes, 30 minutes. Finally after an hour we began moving. Rumors swirled amongst the passengers. Suposedly a pedestrian was struck by a freight train. Someone mentioned a protester. I still don't really know what happened. The Amtrack conductor came over the loud speaker and apologized for the delays and the "unfortunate incident." As the day progressed, it was clear we were now in a race against the clock. Those of us who had to catch the Empire Builder formed a small team and began calling the Amtrack hot line asking whether or not they could hold our transferring train for us. Many of us had places to be obviously, and schedules to maintain. One young woman named Kara was trying to make a wedding in Seattle. She began to lead the charge, encouraging other passengers to call and see what our options were.

The country side began to transform into an urban landscape. Finally we got word from Amtrack that they could not hold the train and we would be missing our transfer. Mile also was going to miss his train to Utah. We would all have to report to the customer service station in the Great Hall to see what to do from there. The landscape outside turned into an industrial wasteland and we could see the Chicago skyline off in the distance and one of the Great Lakes to the north. We pulled into Chicago 45 minutes too late to make our connecting train, almost 7 hours late total. Having only a limited amount of time in Glacier, I was disappointed to lose an entire day. Like they say, when life serves you lemons, make lemonade. It was the 4th of July in Chicago, the night at least held some promise...

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Glacier National Park (July 3-18) Part 1

My friend Camo from the Appalachian Trail texted me a few months back asking whether or not I'd like to join him on a hike through Glacier National Park on the CDT this summer. Since I work in education, I had the summer off. I was not planning on doing any hiking this summer since I just recently picked up a fiddle and was planning on practicing during my break. The call of the mountains was too strong however, and I had to say yes. I was looking forward to getting a few more miles in with my friend. We contacted Moosie to see if she wanted to join us, but she was unable this time.

Camo wanted to aim for the first week in July to hike Glacier. I suggested we do the 90 miles or so along the CDT, from East Glacier to Chief Mountain. It was one of my favorite sections along the whole CDT when I hiked it southbound in 2013. The time frame fit just about right, so Camo and I began planning.

Since both of us have done a lot of hiking, there really wasn't too much to do. Camo had to pick up some more winter gear, including an ice axe and yak tracks. I had all of my gear, I just needed to make sure it all worked. I still had my GPS from 2013 with all of the waypoints stored on a small disc. I still had a CD with all of Jonathan Ley's maps on it. I simply had to print out 8 maps of the Glacier National Park section and print out another 8 for Camo. We decided to get our permits there at the park when we arrived, rather than go through the application process online. In 2013, I had no problems getting the itinerary I wanted although I started about a week earlier than what we were planning. This time however, we ran into problems, but more on that later. Camo decided to do an airplane/train combo to get to the park, but later changed his plans after a friend of his was also heading to the park at the same time. Camo drove up with them. I decided to take Amtrack all the way from Maryland to East Glacier, with a 6 hour layover in Chicago. I liked the idea of being able to reach the park completely by train.

After packing up my gear, my parents gave me a ride to Union Station in Washington D.C. and I hopped on the Amtrack on July 3rd and began heading west. Camo left with his friends on July 4th and began driving north from Texas...

Monday, June 25, 2018

Variegation in Plants

The forest is very green right now. Keep your eyes peeled and you may spot a rare variegated plant. A couple days ago, I spotted a variegated clover in a clover patch. It reminded me of a couple of variegated plants I have seen in the woods the last couple of years. Today I checked to see if they were still there, and sure enough they were. That sent me on a quest to see if I could see any others. Since the forest is so fresh and green right now, the variegation really stands out. Amazingly, a variegated blade of grass revealed itself towards the end of my hike. They are beautiful genetic mutations. Now is a good time to look for others...

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Mountain Laurel

Mountain Laurel are blooming in Maryland's Piedmont Region right now, Get out there and see them before they are gone!

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Spring Wildflowers in Maryland

Periwinkle with variegated leaves

It seemed like warm weather was never going to come this spring in Maryland. Winter seemed to keep it's frozen grip on the area until mid April. This past week temperatures exploded into the 90's for two days in a row, and suddenly the leaves on the trees burst open and the area has been flooded with green and color once again. Bird song fills the mornings and a bright high sun dominates when it is out. Many wildflowers that were once on the seen a couple weeks ago have already gone and others have made their arrival. It's a great time of year in my opinion, despite the pollen.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Death Valley Part 4: Badwater Basin/Mojave National Preserve/Joshua Tree NP/Salton Sea/Anza Borrego SP

Sunrise on Telescope Peak


Badwater Basin Salt Flats

"Sea Level"

Mojave National Preserve

Full Moon Over the Mojave

Mojave Morning

Joshua Tree NP: Wonderland Ranch

Ocotillo Cactus

Fantastic trees just before the Salton Sea. These trees appeared to be very old, although I don't know for certain.

Salton Sea

Anza Borrego State Park
About a month ago, Moosie, Camo, and I finished the final leg of our "Southern California Desert Excellence Tour." Our last couple days took us out of Death Valley National Park. We spent a night in the Mojave National Preserve, continued on through Joshua Tree National Park, stopped by the Salton Sea, entered Anza Borrego State Park, did some trail magic on the Pacific Crest Trail at Barrel Springs, and then continued on towards San Diego where our trip ended.

We woke up on April 29th to our moonscape campsite overlooking the Badwater Basin, just below Telescope Peak. We had a steady warm breeze the night before. On this particular morning, the breeze stopped just after the sun came up over the mountains. Suddenly we were swarmed with noceum type gnats that bombarded our heads and faces. We quickly packed up the car and drove down towards the valley. 30 minutes later, we parked the car along the salt flats, and enjoyed a peaceful, warm, sunny breakfast in the shade of the car. Our goal for the day was to check out the Badwater Basin, and then head towards Mojave National Preserve and spend the night there.

After breakfast, we drove to the Badwater Basin parking area. It's a popular spot, and the lot was already filled with other tourists walking out on the flats. It was also getting hot quickly. Moosie, Camo and I spent about an hour walking out onto the flats and then back to the car. We then began driving towards the Mojave. First, we stopped in the small desert town of Tecopa for a refreshing lunch.

We arrived in the Mojave Desert Preserve in the late afternoon. This was a place I would love to spend more time some day. Gone were the hordes of people, and at this time of year, the desert was greener and appeared more diverse than Death Valley. We found another campsite off a rugged jeep road and were able to enjoy the peace and solitude of the area. After spending the late afternoon and evening exploring the granite mountains nearby, Moosie, Camo, and I enjoyed a fine dinner and campfire. The full moon rose over the mountains. I cowboy camped another night on the desert floor. This was also our last night camping.

The following morning, I went for a short hike up the granite boulders while the sun came up. I could see Moosie and Camo down below beginning to wake up, so I returned to our car. Our goal for the day was to drive through Joshua Tree NP, the Salton Sea, Anza Borrego on our way home.

It was a full day of driving but scenic. We stopped briefly in Joshua Tree NP and did a hike near the abandoned Wonderland Ranch. It was Easter Saturday and the park was filled with tourists. After leaving Joshua Tree we stopped by the Salton Sea, first stopping to eat lunch in a raggedy canyon area filled with free public campsites. In the canyon were these fantastic trees that appeared to be very old, judging by their twisting gnarly trunks and branches. Eventually we reached the Salton Sea, my first time seeing this odd lake. The surrounding area was much greener than I imagined, all types of successful agriculture taking place. The water of the sea looked heavy and unhealthy, the body of water much larger than I imagined. The apocalyptic neighborhood we stopped by added to the strange effect, a local resident blasting industrial rock music out of his run down shack.

Finally, after leaving the Salton Sea, Moosie, Camo, and I drove through Anza Borrego State Park on our way back to San Diego. We had one more thing to do, and that was to stop by the Pacific Crest Trail at Barrel Springs and give some beer and snacks to any possible thru hikers that may be there spending the night. The area near the PCT is beautiful, giant old oak trees dotting the landscape. We reached the PCT just before sunset. Sure enough there were a couple of German women spending the night there heading north on the PCT and one man heading south on a section hike. After gifting the beer and sharing in some trail talk, Moosie, Camo, and I finished the final leg of our journey in the car in the dark. We stopped by a small market that sold pies from Julien. Camo bought one and feasted in the back seat of the car. Another great trip had come to an end...

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Death Valley Part 3: Marble Canyon/Artists Drive/Badwater Basin

Hiking out of Marble Canyon

Sign at Stovepipe Wells

Getting hot in Death Valley

Artists Drive

Salt in the Badwater Basin

Moosie, Camo, and I woke up around sunrise and ate some breakfast. The plan for the day was to hike out of Marble Canyon, do the Artists Drive, and find some dispersed car camping near the Badwater Basin. First, we wanted to explore a side canyon near our campsite. Our hike was cut short when the canyon came to a steep cliff where a waterfall would exist during rain or a flood, and there was no easy way to continue exploring up the canyon. We decided to turn around and hike the few miles back to our car. Again, it was warming up a little more, we took a couple short breaks but mostly hiked straight to the vehicle. Camo arrived first, and when Moosie and I arrived, he was already sitting in the shade under the canyon wall, resting and snacking. We had beer in the car, so the three of us enjoyed a nice long break, drinking beer, eating olives, and feasting on the desert view into the valley. Again, it was the simple joys of this trip that I appreciated the most, and this was a good break.

After our rest, we drove back to the Stovepipe Wells visitor center to clean up, rehydrate, and buy a few resupply items. There, we found a nice bench in the shade and enjoyed sandwiches for lunch. After maximizing our lunch break, the sun forced us off the bench and back into the car. We drove to the Furnace Creek visitor center and checked out a few exhibits, and then hopped back into the car and did the Artists Drive.

Once we finished the drive, the full moon began to creep up over the mountains while the sun was setting in the west. We drove across the Badwater Basin and started looking for a place to car camp. We eventually found a road that led up into the mountains below Telescope Peak. We found a flat spot halfway up in an exposed, moonscape. There was a steady breeze, but nothing too extreme. We cooked dinner in the dark under the full moon. Camo put on some tunes, Moosie pulled out the folding chairs and we all popped open a few more beers. I have to say it was a surreal night. Warm breeze, full moon, moon rocks everywhere, and the most expansive view of the Badwater Basin all set out before us. All of this enjoyed in a folding chair pretty much made the night...