The family I set off in June for something we haven't done in a while. We unplugged, and we had a blast doing it. We set out for southeastern Missouri, and camped at the Johnson Shut-Ins State Park. Over the course of the multiple day summer vacation we actually visited a few other Missouri State Parks (more to come on those later).
The Shut-ins are just across a state highway from the campground. The Shut-Ins themselves are a part of the Black River that runs through the park and provides ample low and slow water fun as well as many deep and rushing water spots to enjoy.
The park itself is quite interesting due to a rather recent disaster that took place within the past many years. When the Taum Sauk pumped storage plant reservoir on a neighboring mountain failed on December 14, 2005, Johnson’s Shut Ins was devastated by a catastrophic flood. It destroyed the park’s campground, which was fortunately unoccupied at the time. The only injuries were minor and were sustained by the park superintendent and his family, the only people at the park at the time.
The park was closed due to the damage, and didn’t completely reopen for water recreation in 2009, and a new campground opened in 2010. Restoration was funded by $52 million of a settlement of $180 million, paid by AmerenUE, the owner and operator of the failed reservoir.
The park is overall one of the cleanest and well maintained family campgrounds I have been too in quite some time. In addition to the clean park, new and clean facilities the park staff was amazing. It has been quite a long since I have experienced nature themed activities for the kids at night during a week night at a state run campground.
Not only did our girls really enjoy the program on owls, but the Missouri Department of Natural Resources Staff came to our campsite and brought multiple pelts, fossils and other nature items for our girls to touch and experience. In addition, staff came back again with nature journals, animal posters and guide books after finding out what our girls were interested in. Grace and Gabby talked about this particular experience all the way home.
The Shut-ins provided access to the Ozark Trail as well as many other native trails that reside only in the park itself. In addition to visiting the Shut-ins we also visited Taum Sauk State Park which is the tallest point in Missouri (roughly just over 1,700ft) as well as Elephant Rock State Park. This park is a joy for the whole family allowing everyone to get involved and explore at their pace on either a pave walkway or while exploring the boulders on the edge of the walk way.
In addition to the fun we had playing in the river, explorng the trails and climbing the boulders at Elephant Rock we also began a new journey with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 2017 is the Centennial for the Missouri State Parks. MODNR has created a passport showcasing all of their state parks, museums and historic sites. You can pick one up for a mere five dollars at any site and your your book stamped with a unique site specific stamp. We managed a total of five stamps in just a few days.
For more information about the passport click here.
Simply put, this was a great trip with a wide array of activities to undertake that everyone in the family enjoyed. So, if you in the Midwest... the natural wonders of both the Shut-ins and Elephant Rock are worth the drive.
Keep Hiking Forward!
With just a few hours of hiking time left before the rental car was due back in the Emerald City, we decided to scan the park map and see what aroused our interest. It didn't take long before the trail named the Grove of the Patriarchs stood out as the trail of choice.
Using the clues from the name of this trail to assume this was part of an old growth forest, I instantly wanted to check it out. I love trees, but I really love BIG trees. Oddly enough, as we arrived, one of the first thing that caught my eye was something quite small. I lovingly called it the Smurf Village, as it was a collection of tiny mushrooms.
There were tons of old growth trees all around us. While a variety of species was intermingled throughout the trail, fallen trees along the path made for excellent pictures and observations.
Standing next to these giants really put into perspective the gravity of how important it is to preserve nature all around us. These trees have seen so much and they need to be preserved so that so many more can see them.
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Being a fan of hiking and the national trails scene, I knew I couldn't skip trekking some of the Pacific Crest Trail as we headed west. Luckily for me, the trail meandered through Mount Rainier National Park, just a scenic hour-long drive from where we stayed.
Back in the Badger State, we are frequent visitors to the Ice Age Trail. With diversity in the landscapes offered and route difficulties, each trip offers up a new adventure. When we visited the Great Smokies, we made sure to hit up the Appalachian Trail. The segment we traveled was pretty rocky and treacherous, but quite memorable. Now that we knew we were within sixty minutes of the Pacific Crest Trail, there was no turning back, though our hike did not go as planned.
Trail signage is always an issue. I must admit that the area of trail near my hometown is well-taken care of by a group of volunteers known as the Blazin' Babes, so I am probably a bit of a signage snob. My wife and I like to compare the signage of different trails and parks we visit, and honestly, it can get frustrating at times. This was definitely one of those times. Luckily, just off the parking area, there was a small sign labeled PCNST, for Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. From my research, we would start on the PCNST, embark off on a scenic loop trail known as Naches Peak, before returning to the PCNST to complete the journey. Through poor signage, inattentiveness, or a combination of both, it didn't take long before we found ourselves a bit lost. Not terribly lost, but lost nonetheless. The once wide trail had become quite narrow and unmarked.
The path was most certainly trailblazed by previous adventurers as it was by no means the easy to moderate trek promised by the trail information sheet a ranger and provided us.
Getting lost can bring out anger, annoyed feelings, and tension. However, the "Positive Peter" nickname once coined to me was able to squeeze some much needed lemonade out of a seemingly sour lemon. I kept a smile on my face, remembering that sometimes getting lost just provides an opportunity to find yourself.
We found a few other things as well, including another pair of mountain goats. We enjoyed watching them from afar and checking their progress throughout our unintended excursion. I also found a stunning yellow flower all alone in a field of rocks and roots.
Eventually, we decided to retrace our steps and see if we could find where we originally aimed to explore. It wasn't long before we found our initial error and regained the path to the promised land, or at least the PCNST.
I am sure glad we did. While the Naches Peak loop was very uphill and our already tiring legs had hiked a bit more than we had planned for, the sea of green and magnificent mountain views eased the aches and pains coursing through my legs.
Eventually, the endless climb came to a flattening out and we were greeted by a number of other hikers and a sign. We had made it back to the Pacific Crest Trail. Though connected to the previous trail, this trail felt different. The air was fresher. The rocks were prettier. And oddly enough, the terrain was ridiculously easier. It felt flat. It felt more open. It felt more comfortable.
We took in the sights, sounds, and smells of the area on this hazy and cloudy afternoon. Though the original route was altered by factors in and out of our control, the end result made all the missteps that much more worth it. I enjoyed my short stay on The PCNST. I'll be back again.
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The road to Mount Rainier provided many spectacular views. The snow-capped peak of Mount Rainier reminded visitors of the chilly temperatures and snow-packed glaciers that go along with being in the high elevation. Even on a relatively pleasant autumn day, climbing up the side of a mountain increased the heart rate, but because of the physical exertion and the breathtaking beauty.
Winter is coming. The frosty mornings and constant haze were sure signs. So too were the actual signs reminding park visitors that tire chains were required once the calendar hit November 1st. Though we arrived before this time, we noticed that the park was gearing up as many roads and are restaurants and lodging options were closed for the season. The restaurant and lodging option known as Paradise Inn was already closed, but the interconnected trails adjacent to it were wide open. It was time to hike!
Before we even hit the trailhead, we saw a number of beautiful birds, many of which didn't stay long enough to identify or photograph. We did get quite close to a grouse of some kind and snapped a Steller's Jay searching for a snack.
The trail system around Paradise Inn was labyrinth-like. With many trails combining at times, intersections rampant throughout, and crisscrossing a regularity, these trails all did have a few things in common. They were paved and they were a slow, uphill battle. What goes up must come down, but there's nothing like taking winding paths to agonizingly ascend a mountain. Though you're continually climbing, you rarely seem to get any higher.
Along the way, we encountered a variety of fellow hikers. Solo hikers. Young couples. Apparent campers. Families. The mountains bring everyone out. One gentlemen from Utah who we encountered was very excited to share his knowledge of the geology of the area and was kind enough to point our Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens in the distance.
A John Muir quote at the start and eventual finish of our adventure said it all. This is "the most luxuriant and the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountain-top wanderings." Now I by no means have the same bank of experiences as Mr. Muir had, but in this case, I'll take his word for it. It was a long day of hiking and while it tired the body, it rejuvenated the soul.
The warning signs were provided in the Mount Rainier National Park paperwork. Avalanche. Volcanic activity. Bears. Cougars. Rock slides. Tree hazards. I especially like the advice of "fighting aggressively and aiming for the eyes" when learning how to fight off an attacking cougar. Though reading the park map and scouting out our hike was serious business, my wife and I couldn't help but chuckle at the thought of all of these issues combining to wreak havoc on our nature time. We also reminded ourselves that we didn't have to be faster than the bear, just faster than someone else.
Final inspection of the hiking options for the day plus a little insight from a park ranger led us to Comet Falls. We were certainly not disappointed, though our quadriceps and ankles might tell you differently. The park ranger did mention parts of the trail were moderate to strenuous. Next time I take a trip to the mountains, remind me that moderate on a mountain trail is different than moderate on a Wisconsin trail.
My wife and I began our trek on the rocky terrain, avoiding a rainbow of rocks and spiderwebs of thick, gnarly roots on our gradual and meandering ascent to the falls. As my wife mentioned, "climbing is worse than walking." Still, besides the exhausting exercise, our hearts were pounding because of the amazing views and a few unexpected treats
Now your definition of treats and my definition of treats may differ. You may think chocolate or adult beverage. My wife and I think animal encounter. Well, at least when we are hiking. Don't worry, it wasn't the predatory kind. As we approached a few other stalled hikers, we noticed why they were taking a break. Across from the ridge was a sole mountain goat. He seemed quite content on his ledge, which this picture gives little justice. One slip and bye bye goat. Did I mention those hikers were also from the Badger state? This is our second trip to a national park in the mountains. Both times our first hike took us to a waterfall. Both times we met fellow Wisconsinites on the hike.
Before we left for the hike, we were given a tip from the ranger. She mentioned that on the Comet Falls trail, there was a misleading sign that led to many missing out on a wonderful waterfall. There was a sign that read Comet Falls with an arrow and the words 200 feet. Interestingly enough, the arrow pointed right to a log bridge. On that log bridge, I snapped the first picture below. Nice waterfall, right? It was a nice waterfall, but it wasn't Comet Falls. Not even close! The ranger noted that many people interpret this sign as pointing to the falls when in fact it points to the bridge, which is supposed to take you across to the connecting trail. The trail that takes you to Comet Falls. When she said it was misleading, she wasn't joking. We crossed the bridge and noticed the trail seemed to vanish. It seemed most people took those falls as THE Comet Falls and turned around from there. Luckily, I was listening. As my wife and I used our trail eyes to find the real falls, we were blown away by the much more magnificent view shown in the second picture below. The ranger stated these falls fell nearly 360 feet from the ledge above.
The trip to Comet Falls was an amazing and at times painful introduction to Mount Rainier National Park.
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This time last year, I was fortunate enough to be in Zion National Park. I had been planning the trip for roughly 6 months, and it was a dream come true. Originally it was intended to be a trip by myself to tackle some challenging hikes and spend some quality time with nature. During the summer, while riding the train to NYC to visit friends, I got the idea to invite my dad to join me. He had never hiked before, but I knew he would love the landscape and natural beauty.
This was my first experience with navigating the National Park System to this extent. I needed permits, needed to plan routes, lodging, timelines, transportation, and a multitude of other things. In the beginning it was daunting, and the learning curve was steep, but fortunately I had started planning far enough ahead that I tackled it piece by piece. The old saying "How you you eat an elephant? One bite at a time", especially applies to planning these type of trips. My hope is to provide you with some tools and information that will make planning a trip to Zion much easier and less stressful.
Decide what "style" you want your trip to be
Are you super adventurous and hoping to push your limits? Or do you want to take a more stately pace and really soak in the natural beauty? Are you bringing your kids or family? Do you hope to improve your photography skills? If you plan on doing a lot of hiking, how far can you reasonably hike in one day?
Answering those type of questions will help you narrow down things like the best time of year to visit, how much time you will need to visit, what sort of skills and/or gear do you need to acquire prior to your trip, etc. All the National Parks I have visited thus far have a wide variety of things to offer to people of all ages and skill levels. Popular trailheads along the shuttle routes and areas near the visitor's center, for example, closely resembles the crowds and infrastructure you would expect at Disney World. It's a great place for families hoping to expose their kids to some natural beauty, but those of you who crave solitude might find it claustrophobic and annoying. Many parks are somewhat limited by weather and have areas that are closed during certain months. Zion is open year round, but your itinerary will still dictate what time of year is best to accomplish your goals. For example, I knew I wanted to visit when it wasn't too hot or too cold, and I wanted little risk of rain. I planned on hiking the Narrows which is prone to deadly flash flooding, so limiting the chance of rain was a priority for me. The website has a great guide to the different seasons and weather that will help you decide.
If children will be accompanying you, the National Parks do a great job of setting up activities geared toward them. Ranger talks are awesome, and there are usually lots of other Youth Programs designed to help little ones engage in nature and get the most out of their visit.
The NPS websites are usually very thorough and great with helping to plan. I recommend always starting there. Once you have some ideas of what you are planning, other sites like Trip Advisor have great forums where you can read other people's questions and answers and reviews, or post your own questions. Be sure to check the park website often during planning for alerts and updates like road or trail closures or other issues that might affect your trip.
Zion, like most National Parks, has an excellent shuttle system within the park. In fact, from March-October, the shuttle is the ONLY way to get around inside the park. The town of Springdale is right outside the park's gate, so if you are lodging there, you can literally walk to the shuttle and get to most of the destinations in the park. There are also shuttle services run by the Zion Adventure Company that cater to those who need to get to remote trailheads. You'll need to plan ahead for those and make a reservation. You will also need to show up on time because they WILL leave without you. I used them to get to the Lava Point trailhead and the Chamberlain's Ranch trailhead for long day hikes. While these trailheads aren't too far away as the crow flies, the shuttle to Lava Point took about 1 hour and 15 minutes and the shuttle to Chamberlain's Ranch took close to 2 hours.
As soon as you think about planning your trip to Zion, you'll want to get a good map. The NPS website has a pretty good hiking guide, but it doesn't really get into many longer routes or loops. There are some awesome websites out there with great hike reviews, namely the Citrus Milo site. Compare the trail map with the routes described for the best details on the routes on to decide which routes best meet your goals and abilities. Many hikes are accessible directly from the various shuttle stops throughout the park, and there are hikes of all distances and ability levels. Generally though, the easier the hike, the more crowded the trail will be. We opted to hike the West Rim Trail from Lava Point to the main canyon. This is usually done as an overnight backpack, but we did it as a day hike, and if you are up for it, I definitely recommend it. As I said, I also did the Narrows (top down) as a thru hike. I do think if I opted to do the Narrows again I would do it as an overnight. It was very mentally challenging to be in the water for 16 miles in one day.
Ahhh, my favorite subject, permits. My experience with getting permits for hiking in Zion was a good one, though I know certain trails are very competitive. I applied for several different permits and was successful in being granted all of them. I only needed a permit for my thru hike of the Narrows, so I was able to cancel the others. Permits are required for the following: ALL thru hikes of the Narrows and its tributaries, all canyons requiring the use of descending gear or ropes, and all trips into The Subway and Left Fork, and any overnight wilderness trips. Apply for your permits as soon as possible to hopefully get them well in advance of your trip. Walk up permits are available as well, but you'll be waiting in line and it's still a crapshoot. Once you have been notified that you have a permit, the fun is not over. You will still need to report to the visitor's center to pick up your permit the day before your hike.
Getting to Zion
The easiest and most inexpensive way I found to get to Zion was by flying into Las Vegas and renting a car. The drive from Vegas to Zion is one of the most spectacular sights I have ever seen, so if you can plan do do your driving while it's light out, I highly recommend it! The town of Springdale is really easy to navigate, it's basically one road through town with lots of hotels, restaurants, etc. along the way. Most things are within walking distance and we found everyone to be friendly and helpful. Because Zion is so popular, you'll want to make hotel reservations as early as possible. There are hotels in literally every price point, from budget motels to luxurious hotels, so do some research and find the right hotel for your needs.
Zion is located relatively close to many other awesome attractions, so if you have the time, you might want to plan some excursions to these areas.Bryce Canyon, the Grand Canyon (North Rim), and Antelope Canyon are all within a couple hours of Zion. We opted to visit the Grand Canyon since my dad had never been there. Antelope Canyon is great for photographers, from what I've heard. Bryce Canyon could warrant a few days on it's own, and I hope to visit there in the future.
You really can't go wrong with a trip to Zion. The more you navigate and plan trips like this, the easier it gets. But the great thing about our National Park system is that no matter where you go, you will find incredible natural beauty, a well organized infrastructure, and helpful rangers and employees to help you make the most of your trip.
Keep Hiking Forward
I stood outside of a motel in New Meadows, Idaho on a clear brisk morning wearing a new knit hat from a new friend wondering what the next six days ahead of me would be like. That morning I left excited, nervous and ready to take on whatever challenges laid ahead. Hell Hike and Raft over the next six days did in deed challenge me, reward me and open up a part of me that needed to once again be opened.
With new friends, new gear and full of expectations of an epic adventure we collectively set of into the wilderness. A year later on the cusp of just returning once again from the Seven Devils and Hells Canyon this time with a new group of epic adventurers, I feel truly grateful.
While each trip for me has it's own merits, stories, bonds formed and specific memories this recent adventure was quite invigorating. Maybe it was because I knew what to expect, knew what was around the next corner but I felt stronger and hiked better then I can remember. Climbs and stretches of the hike that kicked my butt last year had minimal impact on me this year. Your probably thinking well you must have trained harder this year knowing what was upon you? Right? Wrong! I did nothing. Eating, traveling for work and partaking of things that would not be helpful for ascending 1,000 ft on day one were the norm. My unintended strategy was also hampered by a wrist brace to secure at the time what I thought was a sprained wrist. Recently, I just found this injury may be a torn radial meniscus in my left wrist. Yeah Me! I will keep everyone posted on the outcome of my impending MRI and potential surgery. :(
My mantra of Hiking Forward truly came alive inside me during this past trek. I saw things I didn't notice the year before or potentially were too tired or exhausted to look for. The extra energy, strength, endurance whatever it was that let me feel the way I was allowed me to do things I didn't do the year before as well. Experiencing new things definitely enhanced the trip and my spirits along the way. Backpacking no matter how you feel, for me gives a natural high. Seeing nature in its pristine state and seeing things most don't get the privilege too, helps make the next step easier for me. But on top of the beauty within the Seven Devils having the legs to conquer and accomplish this journey in a way I never knew was possible made this adventure truly amazing for me deep in my core.
I know I am not getting any younger (damn birthday just a few days away) and moments and feelings like this will obviously diminish over time. But I feel its important to cherish every adventure no matter how you felt during it. On any trek you need a baseline. Last year was my baseline and I loved every minute of it. But without it, I would not have known just how amazing I felt this year and been able take advantage of all the new experiences.
Word of advice. Do the same adventure again. Not all the time. But go and take your favorite backpacking trip or hiking trip again. See what you can see, go slower, go faster. Camp somewhere different. Experiencing the same thing in a different way and maybe with different people can be quite and epic adventure.
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Another amazing weekend with my fellow Corn Desert Hikers is in the books. As mentioned last week, we traveled to the Shawnee National Forest and camped at Pounds Hollow Recreational Area. The weather was fantastic, the food amazing and the company, always exceptional!
Thursday, we arrived to Pounds Hollow Recreational Area to set up camp just before dark and started our fire and quickly began cooking dinner and catching up. On Friday more and more members of our group arrived throughout the day and began setting up. A few of us decided to take a short hike to the north around Pounds Lake to check out some of the smaller rock formations and the low lands around the lake.
As the afternoon continued and more of our cohorts arrived we transitioned our gear and prepped for our visit to the Garden of the Gods. We were blessed with amazing weather and a beautiful sunset at GOTG. A spectacular sight and vista as you can see from the pictures below. I am so happy to have finally gotten to see this location and check it off my list.
As is with any Corn Desert adventure, food takes priority and I was happy to share a culinary experience from Hell Hike and Raft with my mates. As mentioned in last weeks post "Mmmmmm Hell Hike and Raft Pork Loin", I prepared and marinated a rather larger pork loin for my friends for this trip using Hotlime and following the same recipe as used during HHAR. The meat marinated for over two full days and was cooked in foil then charred over the open flames. I heated the remaining marinade over the fire and used it as a dipping sauce prior to serving these delicious hunks of meat around the campfire.
Even though the planned hike was short, many packed full packs and then continued on to get some much needed training in for longer upcoming hikes, needless to say the group worked up a large appetite. With the group now at fifteen members we decided that two campfires are better then one. One for cooking and one for warmth. I began cooking brats for all and soon a symphony of mmmm's filled the early evening air as all enjoyed the evenings main course.
Also, while on this trip I took time use and test the following gear:
Resection Athletic Trail Shoes by Rocky®
Sierra Designs Mobile Mummy 800 4 Season Bag
d.light S300 Solar Lantern
Native Hardtop Sunglasses
Please stay tuned to Hiking Forward for upcoming reviews on these products and a giveaway.
The Shawnee National Forest is within a short ride from St. Louis, Memphis, Louisville and Indianapolis and offers a host of short and long trails as well as many fantastic sites to explore. The River to River Trail passes through Garden of the Gods and goes from the Mississippi River in the west to the Ohio River in the east. Two of my good friends and members of the Corn Desert Hikers Tom (Arbor) and Jana (Willow) just completed the hike this summer. They blogged about their R2R adventure and other experiences at www.tauspotting.com. Take a moment and check out their blog, they take great pictures of their adventures and write with a style that makes you feel like you are right there with them.
I hope you had just as much of a fantastic and adventurous weekend as I did. If you didn't, the good news is your only a few days away from creating a epic weekend.
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Finally, my four legged best friend finally got to explore the water both in my canoe and play fetch with the wife. An amazing day was had by this Hiking Forward family. We hit one of my favorite spots at Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Park on Saturday to paddle and have lunch.
Boston was unsure of the canoe at first as was my youngest Gabby who didn't care for how Boston was tipping the canoe. All this, even though the canoe was only half way in the water and half way out. Me and my girls still paddled the canoe around Prairie Lake for a bit on a beautifully mild later July day. Little did we all know that mom was back on the shore with Boston playing fetch in the lake.
Upon our return we were amazed to see Boston swimming about the lake, and chasing a stick he had dug out of the muck near the edge of the lake. I have never seen him so happy. Jump in the lake, swim to the stick, come back on dry land, shake and get everyone wet, sit and repeat. Over and over he jumped in the lake after his stick.
My dream has always been to have an outdoorsy water dog who loved the water and being out on it as much as I did. The real test came when I wanted to get Boston in the canoe and to paddle around with me... keeping him in the canoe would be the test. I coarsened him in by taking his new stick. He hopped on in the boat. I hide the stick in the seat and paddled away. For a while he wondered where his stick was then soon became comfortable with being in the boat. Never did he sit still always pacing from side to side and looking about. However, I am thrilled that the two of us got the chance even for a short while to have a quiet moment out on the water. With a little more practice and patience, I see us spending lazy afternoons fishing together and enjoying the lake in our future.
The other highlight of the afternoon was when Grace asked if she could take my kayak out and give it a try. Mind you, this is a fourteen foot kayak and a normal adult sized paddle. Okay sure, I said and off she went. She listened intently and paddled well and hard when needed to make turns. She is now curious what other colors kayaks come in. She has already requested lime green. Looks like I am going to be building a second tier on the trailer I just built to fit some more boats.
At the end of the day we all finally realized that this Hiking Forward family has discovered a new family activity with Boston and one that will expend a ton of his extra energy. Going camping with him in the future will require lakefront property I think.
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This past weekend along with good friends from my hiking and adventure group, together we tackled a section of the Ice Age Trail in Southern Wisconsin in the Kettle Moraine South State Park.
As always, when we get together the food was abundant and amazing. Fortunately, the weather was gorgeous. But the best part of getting outdoors is not the trail, the weather or the food. It's the experience of letting it all go, your worries and concerns and just allowing yourself to be. And who better to "be" with then great like minded people who think and care about being outdoors in nature as much as you do.
An amazing time was, as always had by all! I hope you have people like this around you. And if you don't, find some and get outside. The mountains are calling. GO!
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