Hike to Black Lake and Beyond

In the mid-nineties, when I first began hiking, one of my first "big" ones in Rocky Mountain National Park was the ten mile hike up to Black Lake, in Glacier Gorge.

Click this map or any picture to see a larger image

I did the hike in June, 1996 which is still pretty early to be above 9,000 ft, as there was plenty of snow on the trail. I call hikes like this "wet hikes" as there is much in the way of water along the way: Glacier Creek, Alberta Falls, Mills Lake, Jewel Lake, Glacier Creek, and of course Black Lake.

The first time I did the hike I was blown away by the views about 4 miles in -- The view of Stone Man Pass, McHenrys Peak, and Arrowhead were very dramatic. I snapped a pretty decent photo in about 1996 with my last film camera. The picture came out so well that I used it on my business card for Mountain Data Systems. Later that year, I met my friend Ernie and when I handed him the card, he immediately knew where it was taken. And we've since hiked up into Glacier Gorge together, both in the summer and winter.

Just below Black Lake in Glacier Gorge, June 1996

Glacier Gorge continues to be my favorite hiking area in Rocky, and I never tire of its beauty. So when I had the chance this month, I left my house for the trailhead about 6:30am. When I rounded the curve near Moraine Park I was greeted with ground fog with morning light on Longs Peak. 

Longs Peak, above Moraine Park

The Glacier Gorge trailhead

Alberta Falls

On the trail past Alberta Falls. Thatchtop Mountain at left

Along the trail before Mills Lake

Mills Lake, with Longs Peak and the spires called Keyboard of the Winds (taken on the way down)

Along Glacier Creek near the Shelf Creek drainage

iPhone shot similar to my business card image from 1996

Stone Pass upper left, Ribbon Falls, McHenrys Peak and Arrowhead

I lingered here at Ribbon Falls, taking various shots of the falls with McHenrys in the background. 

Ribbon Falls with McHenrys and Arrowhead

While I was shooting here, another hiker showed up, so we stopped to chat. He introduced himself as Hiroki, from Japan, and we took each others pictures here. 

Me, just below Black Lake. Thanks, Hiroki! :-)

Hiroki in my panorama shot after arriving at Black Lake
After a short snack break at Black Lake, I started up the drainage climbing up above the lake to a rock we have affectionately named "Mike's Rock" because I've taken so many people up to it. 

Looking back down to Black Lake on the way up the drainage

"Mike's Rock" at left, straddling the drainage and overlooking Black Lake

Enjoying my lunch
After a break, and more photography, I wandered around near Blue Lake, but due to time, I didn't visit it this hike.

Above the drainage to Black Lake; Longs Peak and Keyboard of the Winds 

The view to the North, back up Glacier Gorge
Pano from just below Blue Lake
On the way down: some of the last blooms of Fireweed
A mini-waterfall in the drainage
Reluctantly, I left Black Lake and headed down, stopping once to filter some water out of Glacier Creek. 

I took a slight detour to take in all of Jewel Lake. 

Jewel Lake, just above Mills Lake
I took one last break to shoot this small waterfall not far from Alberta Falls. 

This hike never fails to amaze and recharge me, but I was tired and happy to get back to my car. 

Here's the elevation/speed profile for the hike.

As you can see, I can easily turn a 6 hr hike into an 9 hr hike :-)

Perseids in Rocky Mountain National Park

It's really fun to be outside at night under the stars, especially when skies are dark, and the Perseids come out to play!

This year's Perseids meteor show was hyped up to be unusually good, with a closer approach of comet Swift-Tuttle's tail debris passing through Earth's orbit.

We went to Walden, Colorado in 2013 to observe and photograph the Perseids, but this year stayed close to home. The sky in Rocky Mountain National Park isn't as dark as Walden, but once the moon set, it was dark enough to get a good show.

At about 11:30pm on Aug 11, I drove up Trail Ridge Road, stopping at Many Parks Curve, Rainbow Curve, Forest Canyon Overlook, and Milner Pass before turning around to head home and get some sleep.

As always, click on an image for a larger version.

View from Many Parks Curve, looking east towards Estes Park and the plains. Deer Mountain center, YMCA far right

Here are some of the night shots I got during my outing.

Looking northwest from Many Parks Curve

Even with the bright moonlight, you could still see Andromeda (top center in above photo).

From Many Parks Curve. YMCA of the Rockies at lower left

The moon was illuminating the clouds as the passed overhead going east. I went west from here. Rainbow Curve was very crowded, so I drove on up the road, climbing higher and deeper into the park.

At the Forest Canyon Overlook, I found several cars in the parking lot, with a couple sitting in lawn chairs near their car. I decided to stop and walk out to the overlook. The moon was almost bright enough that I didn't need my headlamp. When I got to the end of the paved path, I found I had it all to myself!

Me and my moonlight shadow (bottom right) near the Forest Canyon Overlook

A meteor streaks by at far right center of frame

Looking east from Forest Canyon; Longs Peak with moon shadows, too!

After I bit I went on down the road, finding Rock Cut to be too busy, so I drove on to the Lava Cliffs overlook. It was busy too, but I want to be here as the moon set.

Another meteor at left

Finally, the moon went down and began to get a lot darker, making the Milky "pop" quite a bit more.

My car with the Milky Way over it

Meteor at left; Ypsilon, Chiquita, Chapin peaks at far right
Some of the people at the Lava Cliffs parking were walking around with their headlamps, so I decided to move on. I skipped the Alpine Visitors Center which had about 20 cars in the lot, and also drove on past Medicine Bow Curve.

The Milky Way over the parking lot at Milner Pass

I stopped at Milner Pass, where I had the whole place to myself. It was very dark here, now, with only starlight illuminating my path. I used my red headlamp to preserve my night vision.

I decided to setup to shoot some pictures with Poudre Lake in the foreground and was soon rewarded with a meteor reflecting on the lake.

Meteor over Poudre Lake

At one point, just as I had finished re-adjusting the framing of the camera on the tripod, I saw an incredible bright meteor flash by, but I didn't have an exposure going. I tripped the shutter release, and was still able to capture the "smoke" that still hung in the atmosphere!

Meteor "smoke" at top center; it hung there for over 4 minutes!

Soon, I realized that the moisture evaporating off Poudre Lake was fogging my lens, so I packed up at about 1:30am and headed east. Again, I skipped Medicine Bow Curve and the AVC, and didn't stop again until Rainbow Curve, where I joined the still active party of observers and photographers.

Looking east from Rainbow Curve; light curves are cars on Trail Ridge Road at 2am!

As I had done earlier, I setup my gear to shoot continuously, hoping to catch a big meteor, and it wasn't long before I was rewarded with this shot, the best one I captured of the night.

This huge meteor streak left it's own little smoke cloud for several seconds

I was getting pretty tired, so at about 3:30am I packed up and drove back home, but couldn't resist taking a shot of our house before I went inside to hit the sack!

It was a very fun night!

Twin Sisters landslide

Yesterday I took a short hike up the Twin Sisters trail. It's 1.5 miles and a few hundred feet of gain to the landslide caused by the 2013 Colorado Flood.

Left to right: Mt Meeker (13,916'), Longs Peak (14,259'), Mt Lady Washington (13,281'), Battle Mountain (12,041'), Estes Cone (11,006').

Longs Peak, 5.2 mi away (105mm focal length)

This photo was taken standing in the middle of the landslide (the trail crosses it) and shows the devastation that almost reached Aspen Lodge. To get a sense of scale, try to spot the pickup truck at the edge of the trees where the debris field forks to the right (about 4 o'clock from Aspen Lodge).

iPhone panorama shot from the landslide debris field

The other photo shows the Twin Sisters landslide I was standing on, viewed from the summit of Estes Cone, 1.93 miles away. This shot was taken on a hike to Estes Cone with Tim Morse.

The third image is the aerial view of the hike and landslide, courtesy of Google Maps satellite view. As you can see from the GPS track, I went a little beyond the landslide. The hike was just over 3.5 miles with about 900 feet of gain/loss.

Here's another photo looking up at the landslide debris field. 

Pop goes the weasel!

Susan and I have seen our fair share of Colorado wildlife, but one little mammal has mostly eluded us until recently.

A few years ago in the alpine tundra, near the Tundra World Nature Trail near Rock Cut in Rocky Mountain National Park, we caught fleeting glimpses of a long-tailed weasel. But it moved too fast in and out of the rocks for us to get a very good look at it and it was impossible to photograph it.

One morning, Susan was looking out the window and caught some motion in our front yard and when she zeroed in on it, she saw it was a long-tailed weasel, the first one either of us had ever observed in our yard. But this one too was on the move and it quickly disappeared from our yard and crossed the street and into the tall grass. I didn't get to see it.

Long-tailed Weasel in the yard

Arizona Spring Road Trip

Surprisingly, after all the family health-related travel Mike and I have done the past 7 months, when the time came to visit my aunt in Tucson, we both felt a road trip was in order. We didn't know exactly what routes we'd take, but the more scenic byways, the better!

Road trip!

The Highway of Legends was our first detour. This Scenic Byway along Colorado Hwy 12 finally got us off the I-25 shlog between Walsenburg and Trinidad, CO, traveling to the west around the Spanish Peaks.

Scenery from the Highway of Legends

The tourist season officially starts in April so there wasn't anything open in LaVeta or Cuchara yet, but the Deerprint Wine & Bistro looked interesting as a stop on a future visit to the Sand Dunes.

The next morning we started out from Raton, NM where I experienced my first swim in a saline pool at our motel. I highly recommend!

With high wind warnings in the area, we breezed through Santa Fe and Albuquerque without stopping, turning south on 117 just east of Grants, NM to explore El Malpais National Monument.

Views from a rocky overlook at El Malpais NM in New Mexico

This was a real winner of a stop. Easy access, good roads, uncrowded and the shortest route to Tucson!

La Ventana Arch, just a short walk from the main road

Along the road in El Malpais NM

We always enjoy the Tucson area, especially the desert habitat for birds, plants, and scenery. We especially like going there when it's not too hot.

Hummingbird at the feeder

Hummingbird feeding on blooming Ocotillo

While staying with my aunt, we took one day to hike in nearby Catalina State Park, After checking out the 1 mile birding loop, we decided to hike to Romero Pools, 2.7 miles in.

Hiking in Catalina State Park, near Tucson

Wildflowers along the trail

Saguaro cactus, and ocotillo
Cactus in bloom

We loved the saguaro and blooming ocotillo studded views. But after 3 miles of rugged terrain and still no pools, we turned around.

Susan with her aunt Lois

After a day of rest enjoying the company of my aunt, we headed home the same way we came, via Globe and Show Low, AZ. This time the skies were clear and we better enjoyed Salt Creek Canyon.

The scenic view along the Salt Creek Canyon road

At the canyon bottom Salt Creek flows by

Another view of Salt Creek Canyon

At Show Low, we headed north to Holbrook, the fastest route to Bisti Badlands. We barely made it before sundown, so booked 2 nights in Farmington, NM.

Our first view of Bisti Badlands as the sun went down

Nice light on the formations in the badlands

In the morning, we drove to Chaco Culture National Historical Park via some very cool unpaved backroads.

Big New Mexico views southwest of Farmington

Susan surveying the enormous ruins at Chaco Culture National Historical Park

Inside the ruins at Chaco

Doorways in the ruins

After we toured Chaco, we headed back to the Bisti Badlands to spend the rest of our day.

About a mile in we found incredible erosion-formed rock formations

We took almost 200 photos here, but here are some of our favorites.

Sometimes it's hard to judge the scale of what you're seeing...

... so Susan posed with some of the smaller formations

We hiked a total of around 5 miles until dusk and barely scratched the surface. There are no trails. And the landscape often looks like a desolate alien world.

Guided by a major wash that runs through the middle of the badlands, it was a blast to walk around towards whatever looked interesting. Which was everything. We'll definitely go back!

Our final view, near the trailhead

We had planned to drive straight home the next morning, but detoured once again, turning north at South Park to go through Creede and Lake City and adding 2 hours of gorgeous scenery to our day.

Panorama from an overlook in Colorado, on the way home

This road trip turned out to be over 2,000 miles of scenic drives, and we got to see more of our National Park Service gems plus some other fun new areas! Here's a map of our trip route.