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Thursday, November 5, 2015

Copper Falls State Park, Mellen, WI

View of Copper Falls from Doughboys Trail

October 2, 2015

M and I decided to camp in northern WI for our one year wedding anniversary in hopes of catching peak fall color. Our first stop was Copper Falls State Park in Mellen, WI. We arrived early afternoon and settled on hiking the 1.7 mile Doughboys trail around the waterfalls. To get to the trail, we had to hike past the concession stand which was a nice addition to the park but even nicer because it was still open! Though Copper Falls was bustling with visitors due to the warm autumn Friday, most visitors were getting food at the stand which thinned out the crowds along the trails. We had braced ourselves for large groups since this loop was the most popular section of the park.

Doughboys Trail was well maintained, wide, and had stone and wooden steps to navigate around the river and waterfalls. The trail looped along the cliff edges of the Bad River and had two bridge crossings that took you on either side of the river as well as on either side of the two waterfalls, Brownstone and Copper Falls. Going around clockwise on the trail, we first stopped at the observation tower which was accessed by going up a series of stairs. Once we reached the top of all the stairs, we still had to climb the tower. Though the tower was tall, it didn't provide expansive views of the surrounding area as most of the trees were the same height as the tower. After the quick excursion to the tower, we continued on the trail and stopped to view Copper Falls.

The trail then snaked along the top of the gorge providing views down to both Brownstone and Copper Falls, showing where they coalesced into the Bad River. The trail then changed course going down granite steps to the 2nd bridge which crossed over the river, then climbed up the other side of the gorge. Doughboys Trail was now also a part of the North Country Trail. After a few more stairs along undulating hills, a boardwalk led us to the raging Brownstone Falls. It was here on the boardwalk that we finally ran into some people, passing by a family with toddlers and two photographers. We then crossed another bridge to a large viewing platform and then to the end of the loop. Copper Falls was a wonderful park with beautiful waterfalls. We loved that it had the North Country Trail running through it and that it provided great trails that were family friendly. The 1.7 mile hike took us about an hour and was a delightful stop before we started our camping weekend in Chequamegon National Forest.

We hiked clockwise on Doughboys Trail which is highlighted in orange. Map courtesy of WDNR

The start of the hike on Doughboys Trail. This paved section passes by the concession stand.

The first bridge takes you over the Bad River.

The Bad River at Copper Falls State Park

The trail splits and to the left leads you to the observation tower.

Climb up all these stairs before reaching the base of the tower

The wide trail at the top of the stairs

More stairs to climb to get to the top of the tower

Looking north from the top of the tower

Back on Doughboys Trail, fenced off so you don't fall off the cliff

View of Copper Falls from the trail

View of Brownstone Falls at Copper Falls State Park

Doughboys Trail on top of the cliff

One of the shelters along the trail

Granite steps take you to the bottom and to the 2nd bridge

Bridge crossing over the Bad River

Bad River at Copper Falls State Park

Bad River at Copper Falls State Park

After the Bad River, more stairs take you up the cliffside

Doughboys Trail and also the North Country Trail

Well  maintained trail at Copper Falls State Park

Great trail condition, wide and clean

North Country Trail portion on the Doughboys loop and to the right is the boardwalk

Going down the well maintained boardwalk

Views from the boardwalk of Tyler Forks as it descends into Brownstone Falls

Series of cascaded on Tyler Forks before it turns into Brownstone Falls

Still the North Country Trail and a bridge crossing over Tyler Forks to get back to other side of the cliff
North Country Trail/Doughboys Trail

Viewing platform showing where Brownstone Falls meets Copper Falls to join up with the Bad River

This portion of the North Country/Doughboys Trail leads back to the concession stand and parking lot.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Tour of Petrified Forest National Park

Piece of petrified wood at Crystal Forest in Petrified Forest National Park

May 6-7, 2015

Directly after a failed summit attempt on Humphrey's Peak in Flagstaff, AZ, M and I drove to Holbrook to stay at the Wigwam Motel. Our first stop for the evening was the south entrance of Petrified Forest National Park at Rainbow Forest Museum where we inquired about how to get a backcountry pass. Passes were only available at the main entrance, Painted Desert Visitor Center so we then strolled around the Giant Logs and returned to the Wigwam Motel to pack our bags for a possible backcountry hike. 

The next day, we drove out to the Painted Desert Visitor Center. We decided to first explore the park before picking up a permit. We drove about 20 miles one way to view the sites of the park but did not stop at Blue Mesa and Blue Forest. Each stop was breathtakingly beautiful ranging from panoramic vistas to historical buildings and even petroglyphs. The petrfied wood littered the land as far as our eyes could see and, if you weren't looking for the wood, you'd think it was just a pile of rocks. 

The entire drive through the park and back to the visitor center with stops for photos took us a little over 3 hours to complete. It was amazing to see the different types of petrified wood and learn about how this was all came to be. This was only the beginning for us since we were able to obtain the backcountry permit, insuring we would get to spend an entire day and night in the wilderness and, hopefully, have the place to ourselves.

South Entrance, Rainbow Forest Museum Area

Petrified Forest National Park south entrance by Rainbow Forest Museum

Walking around Giant Logs and Rainbow Forest Museum in the background.

Chinde Point

View from Chinde Point in Petrified Forest National Park

 Nizhoni Point

View at Nizhoni Point in Petrified Forest National Park

Route 66

At the Route 66 vista, you can view the remnants of what used to be Route 66 running through Petrified Forest National Park. Interstate 40 runs parallel to this in the background.

Newspaper Rock

Fun stop at Newspaper Rock to see petroglyphs

Newspaper Rock petroglyphs through the binoculars at the viewpoint

Agate Bridge

Agate Bridge is a natural bridge made from a stone log. A concrete support beam was placed under it to conserve the bridge.

Hedgehog cactus bloom near Agate Bridge

 Jasper Forest

View from Jasper Forest. If you look closely, you can see the petrified wood littered on the ground. This is one of the areas with the largest deposit of petrified wood in the park.

Closer look at the beautifully colored badlands formations in Jasper Forest

Crystal Forest

Paved paths lead you around all the logs in Crystal Forest

Large log broken up in pieces laid next to the path in Crystal Forest

Large logs were everywhere in the Crystal Forest section of Petrified Forest National Park

Beautiful rainbow deposits in this petrified log

More rainbow colored log pieces in Crystal Forest


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

South Kaibab to Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon National Park

For scale, the green shrubs next to the trail to the far right are about 5-6 ft tall. 3-mile resthouse is near the middle of the picture. The green valley and dark cluster of trees on the left is where Indian Garden is located. Rain pouring into the Grand Canyon along Bright Angel.

Scroll down for photos if you wish to skip the story

Hike Date: May 4, 2015

Disastrous Start

For our 17 mile hike in the Grand Canyon, a disastrous start to the day seemed to doom us early on. When we first arrived in Arizona, we didn't realize that the state didn't observe daylight savings time. Even though everywhere we looked it said Mountain Time, it was an hour earlier than what we had thought. On the morning of our hike, we woke up an hour before the first shuttle was set to pick up hikers. The plan was that we would catch the Hiker's Express Shuttle at the Visitor Center, get dropped off at South Kaibab trailhead, hike down to river and back out to Bright Angel Lodge, then pick up another shuttle back to our car at the visitor center. We arrived at the visitor center in the dark and, after waiting in the cold for 20 minutes with no signs of a bus, we finally realized that our time was off.

With our newly gained hour, we changed plans and decided we would drive to the Bright Angel trailhead so we could get picked up by the shuttle and leave our car there so, when we finished our hike, we could drive back to our campsite and not wait for an additional shuttle like we had originally planned. However, when we reached the Bright Angel bus stop, I realized that I left my camera at the visitor center! We then rushed back to find the camera. Thankfully, since we were so early, no one was out and I was able to retrieve it with no hassle! We drove back to Bright Angel with 15 minutes to spare. The extra hour proved helpful and we were dropped off at the South Kaibab Trailhead at 6:30 AM which was a little after sunrise.

South Kaibab Trail Down to Colorado River

The trail itself was well maintained with much less traffic than we anticipated. The plan was to hike South Kaibab, cross both bridges, and hike out of the canyon via Bright Angel Trail. Though the rangers warned us not to do this hike in one day, we found that it was easily doable if you trained for it. From the trailhead, the trail dropped us down hundreds of feet with switchbacks snaking along the cliff wall. We quickly passed Cedar Ridge 1.5 miles down the canyon and went onward to Skeleton Point. Skeleton Point, 3 miles down, had multiple switchbacks and logged steps which resembled a spine hence the name. At the end of Skeleton Point, Tonto Trail intersected and at this intersection was an outhouse (4.4 miles down) and a flat plateau to rest. From the outhouse, the trail dropped down into a rockier portion of the canyon with the cliff walls changing into darker hues and the Colorado River finally coming into view. Everything was scenic and breathtaking with surprising vistas at every little turn. We then went through a tunnel to the first bridge crossing at the Kaibab Suspension Bridge. Crossing the bridge, we arrived at the Bright Angel Campground and Phantom Ranch. We were now 7.5 miles into our hike and at the bottom of the canyon.

Colorado River to Bright Angel, Hike to Top

Four hours into our hike, we started our ascent. From Phantom Ranch, we crossed the Silver Bridge to Bright Angel Trail. Silver Bridge was much different than the Kaibab Suspension Bridge as it was constructed with metal grates, giving hikers full view of the river below them. M crossed quickly while I lagged due to my fear of heights. After crossing the 2nd bridge, we now had 10 miles left to our hike. We quickly passed the River Resthouse, our last refuge until Indian Garden which was 3 miles away uphill. The canyon walls diversified and we were now zig zagging through layers of different colored sandstone. This section of the hike was lush with trees growing larger and streams babbling next to us. The temperature started to drop due to a storm that was rolling in so M and I tried to speed up our pace. We reached Indian Garden but did not linger for fear we would get drenched for the next 5 miles of our hike. Hiking up the steep, long switchbacks broke my spirit at this point. I was tired, sick, and aching. To make matters worse, the thunder clapped above us and rain started to pour. We passed 3 mile rest house knowing, as the name indicated, that we still had 3 miles left. These last miles proved to be the steepest. With the rain, I wasn't able to take many pictures so we ended the last 3 miles of the hike with only a handful. The end of the hike was glorious and in the final mile, I was able to speed up and finish just as the rain stopped.


Overall, even though it was an out of this world experience, the air and smells distracted me from really enjoying some parts of the hike. I knew there were mule rides on the trails but did not expect the ample amount of poop and the malodorous stench from it. At times, especially when it was hot and the canyon walls didn't let any wind in, the overpowering zoo smell made the hike less enjoyable for me. I was able to get over this slight discomfort but just be aware that you will run into this in the south rim. Thankfully, as the temperature dropped and winds picked up due to the storm, the last 10 miles of the hike was odor free. We were thankful for the storm and took advantage of the wet weather since most hikers stopped at a shelter so we were able to hike out of the canyon with very little traffic. Moreover, the storm gave us cool weather during the most strenuous part, making it a much more comfortable hike than it should have been. It took us 9 hours to hike 17 miles into the canyon and back out. It was a once in a lifetime hike and I hope to repeat it at least one more time! If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend you do it either by foot or mule!

Started our hike on the right orange dot. This was the entire trail. Map courtesy of Google.

South Kaibab Trail

The shuttle dropped us off at the South Kaibab Trail. This is the beginning!

The switchbacks on South Kaibab dropping down hundreds of feet.

Warning for hikers to not hike to the river and back in one day.

View to our left along South Kaibab Trail. All the different layers of sediment for the top half of the Grand Canyon.

The trail continues down and around the butte then on top of the next butte then down to Skeleton Point, the tan zig zag in the back.

M hiking on South Kaibab Trail

M rounding the switchback on South Kaibab Trail

South Kaibab, getting closer to the butte towards Skeleton Point

Great views along South Kaibab

Looking back on South Kaibab to see how steep it is to go back up the trail.

Skeleton Point

Mules can stop here at the start of Skeleton Point.

Skeleton Point starting to snake along the cliffside

Full view of Skeleton Point going down further into the Grand Canyon

M hiking along the spine-like trail along Skeleton Point

Trail marker on South Kaibab Trail along Skeleton Point

Tip Off and Tonto Intersection

A rest stop with an outhouse at Tip Off. This intersects with Tonto Trail. This area is flat and we stopped here for a mid-hike snack.

Continuing on South Kaibab, going down the 2nd part of the canyon.

Trail curves around and changes from orange to red sediment. 

First view of the Colorado River on South Kaibab Trail. Gorgeous changeover in the trail and also my favorite section!

M rounding the corner to come over to me in the red dirt section of South Kaibab.

South Kaibab Trail goes around the left side of the boulders. 

Views to the left of us. The cliffs are now rocky and jagged, reminiscent of Black Canyon of Gunnison

Colorado River view from South Kaibab

South Kaibab zig zags down the canyon walls. At the bottom left in the clearing, you can see the tiny brown spots of the mule train

First view of the Kaibab Suspension Bridge from South Kaibab

Kaibab Suspension Bridge

Kaibab Suspension Bridge over Colorado River on South Kaibab Trail

Tunnel before reaching the suspension bridge

Kaibab Suspension Bridge, nicely covered walkway and well protected. Easy to cross, no vertigo, no fear.

Crossing over the bridge, this takes us to the Bright Angel Campground and Phantom Ranch.

Phantom Ranch

Phantom Ranch among some construction. The campsites were scattered around this area.

Silver Bridge

Next, we crossed over the Silver Bridge to connect us to the Bright Angel Trail to get out of the canyon

Silver Bridge is made up of metal grates causing me great discomfort. Fun but scary crossing the Colorado River at this junction.

Bright Angel Trail

Bright Angel trail will now take us out of the canyon

The sandy trail was quite the respite on our feet. Bright Angel Trail with views of the Colorado River

Looking back to see how far we have come. You can faintly make out the two bridges we passed. Colorado River cutting the Grand Canyon.

River Resthouse

River Resthouse, the last bathroom until Indian Gardens 3 miles up through the canyon. There's a nice babbling brook next to this.

Going up and up on Bright Angel Trail

Bright Angel was more lush than South Kaibab.

Going up through the layers of sediment. This area was lighter in color with less growth on Bright Angel.

A beautiful green waterfall growing along the canyon walls on our right. Bright Angel Trail

Bright Angel Trail climbs higher and higher. We are nearing the top of this section.

Views from Bright Angel Trail. What a gorgeous view of Grand Canyon!

Looking back to see how high we climbed on Bright Angel Trail

Nearing Indian Gardens, scenery is more verdant with larger trees/plants.

I referred to this section as the "pancake layers." We were about 1/3 of the way out of the canyon, maybe 1/2 way. A great view of this waterfall along Bright Angel Trail.

Indian Garden

Trail marker! Indian Garden!

This large tree will signify that you are in Indian Gardens. There are tables and buildings for you to rest in. M and I continued along without stopping since a storm was brewing. We could hear thunder up ahead.

Leaving Indian Gardens, we saw all the layers of the canyon that we still had to climb out. Bright Angel Trail

Little by little, we were going higher and higher out of the canyon on Bright Angel Trail

Three-Mile Resthouse

It started to rain so there are fewer pictures of this area. This is 3-mile resthouse which is about 2 miles from Indian Garden

Looking back on the trail and watching the rain pour into the Grand Canyon along Bright Angel.

For scale, the green shrubs next to the trail to the far right are about 5-6 ft tall. 3-mile resthouse is near the middle of the picture. The green valley and dark cluster of trees on the left is where Indian Garden is located. Rain pouring into the Grand Canyon along Bright Angel. 

Didn't take any pictures of the steep zig zagging trail to get out of the canyon. This was the view from the top once the rain stopped. The last 2 miles were steep and fun. Once in a lifetime!