By Aaron Zagrodnick in TrailGroove Blog 5Originally published in 1968, Desert Solitaire is a work of non-fiction describing Edward Abbey’s experiences during a season while working as a park ranger - at what was then called Arches National Monument in Utah, before the Park and before the paved roads.
The book is an American classic and is likely already on many bookshelves of those who appreciate the natural world, and I read the book for the first time many years ago. It had been long enough to read again however, and as we change so too can change our interpretation and what we’re able to take away from a great book. With snow and perhaps a touch of cabin fever currently settling in, I recently re-read the book and was surprised at just how different a read it seemed to be for me the second time around.
As you read through the book Abbey seems to lure the reader into the desert landscape with a descriptive writing style – it’s almost as though you can see, hear, smell, and feel everything that’s being described as you’re transported to see the desert as Abbey saw it almost 60 years ago. The book seems quite personal, at times almost as though you’re reading Abbey’s personal thoughts that were recorded in a journal by a campfire at the end of the day. At other times you’re taken along for the ride as Abbey explores the surrounding countryside…Down rivers, up mountains, through canyons, and across the desert. As you progress through the chapters the book seems to build, at times with an addicting amount of suspense, and Abbey weaves philosophy, thoughts on culture, and humor throughout the text. Environmental issues affecting his part of the desert and nature as a whole aren’t left behind; a book about conservation without sounding or being green. One man’s relationship with the land…But it’s complicated.
The book is many things, and isn’t without contradiction, paradox, controversy…Edward Abbey isn’t the type of writer who’s afraid to tell you how he really feels and isn’t someone to mask the truth. And there are some things I didn’t agree with, but I get the feeling that would probably make the author happy. In the end the book will keep you turning the page and isn’t exactly a difficult read, but the thoughts and the ideas that are subtly woven throughout the story will keep you thinking well after you’ve read the last sentence. One of the better books you might ever read and in my opinion, required reading for any outdoor enthusiast with an appreciation for what life and nature have to offer. And if you like the book, it's worth reading the Monkey Wrench Gang by Abbey as well - two very different books with different approaches and perspective, but both quite entertaining southwest reads nonetheless.
You can find Desert Solitaire at Amazon.com for about $10.
By Greg Jansky in TrailGroove Blog 0Living in New Jersey, I’ve hiked all over my state: from the northwest region of the Water Gap, to the New Jersey Highlands (and their frequent view of New York City), to the majesty of the Pine Barrens in the south. I have made infrequent forays into the bordering states of Pennsylvania and New York, hiking a trail or two in both Harriman and Bear Mountain State parks. This past Fall, looking for something a little higher, different scenery, and a little bigger, I decided to explore both Harriman and Bear Mountain parks. It helps that both parks border each other, with some trails meandering into both parks.
Harriman State Park, found in Rockland and Orange counties in New York, borders Bear Mountain State Park, on the western side of the Hudson River. Both parks are a short jaunt from New York City, but are large enough to isolate yourself from the hustle and bustle of modern society. I usually do not lose cell service, but there are times where I have seen the signal get pretty weak. Visitors crowd some trails and you will be able to count your trail-mates on one hand in other areas. Both parks are open year-round, and there are plenty of shelters should you want to camp. (The parks also include beaches, picnic areas, and boat ramps. You even have the ability to drive up Bear Mountain to the observation tower.) I spent last fall making many day trips to hike all around the two parks, and I’ll describe some of my favorites.
Bear Mountain State Park
The first hike to describe is Bear Mountain itself. Park in the main parking lot for the Bear Mountain Inn (a note that there is a fee.) For this loop, take the Hessian Lake Loop (to the left of Hessian Lake) until it junctions with the Major Welch Trail. This trail goes right up the face of Bear Mountain where there are some great little rock scrambles. (Pro tip: don’t do this on a 90-degree day with humidity.) At the top you will find the observation tower which is easily climbable and offers spectacular views in all directions. When you’re finished climbing the tower, make your way beyond the parking lot to the rocks for a place to have lunch. Crowds abound here, as many people have driven up to this spot. To descend, look for the Appalachian Trail and head down. The AT is well-worn and there are many sections of stone steps. The AT winds its way down the mountain and will deposit you back to the Bear Mountain Inn and your car. Of note, before the lake is a large display describing how the New York New Jersey Trail Conference builds and maintains trails. This is a must see. (3.6 miles)
My favorite hike in Bear Mountain State Park starts from a hiker parking lot on 9W before access to Iona Island. From the lot, cross the road, and by the bridge start following the blue blazed Cornell Mine Trail. There are lots of mines in both Bear Mountain and Harriman parks; some are more easily found than others. The Cornell Mine trail is relatively flat until it climbs up the face of Bald Mountain using a few switchbacks. At the top, you will junction with the Ramapo-Dunderber Trail at a huge cairn. Turn right and head to the top of Bald Mountain. (To the right of this junction is the Cornell Mine, it takes some bushwhacking to find.) When the Ramapo-Dunderberg makes a hairpin turn, take a small spur trail to the rocks at the top of Bald Mountain. There, you will have great views of Bear Mountain, West Mountain, and the Timp.
Continue on the Rampapo-Dunderberg until the intersection with the 1777 Trail. If you would like, continue on the RD to climb the Timp – it’s not far, and there is not too much elevation gain. There is a large rock outcropping that has views onto West Mountain. Follow the RD back to the 1777 Trail and make a left. You will lose all your elevation on this wide trail that becomes a paved road. But, you will enter historic Doodletown, which thrived in the early 1900s. You can spend a lot of time in Doodletown – the 1777 Trail, though, will make its way back to the Cornell Mine trail and where you parked your car. Two mountains, some mines, and a historic abandoned town? There’s a lot to see here. (6.73 miles)
Harriman State Park
In southern Harriman state park, one of my favorite hikes is the Pine Meadow Loop. Note that this area is one of the most popular areas in southern Harriman and parking can get very crowded. Arrive super early to ensure you find a spot. You can find parking on Seven Lakes Drive around the Reeves Meadow Visitor Center. Take the Pine Meadow (red) Trail all the way up to the lake. The lake alone is worth the hike, and makes a great spot to picnic. I like this hike for the history and hike all the way around the lake. Follow the trail clockwise, passing many viewpoints of the lake and historical markers. At the eastern end of the lake, the Pine Meadow Trail veers left and you will want to jump on the Conklin’s Crossing Trail (white.) You will only be on this trail for a few minutes, as you will look for an unmarked trail to the right. This goes around the lake and meanders through an old Civilian Conservation Corps Camp. The trail joins up with the Pine Meadow Road and finishes circling the lake. Take the Pine Meadow Trail back to the visitor center. If you decide to take the Kakiat Trail (white) as an alternate, know that the bridge is out where it crosses Stony Brook. (8.24 miles)
A final hike starts from the parking lot on Kanawauke Road – take 17 north to the junction of 17A, make a right, and the parking lot is on the right after you pass Lake Stahahe. From the parking lot, head south on the White Bar trail around Car Pond Mountain. When you come to the junction of the Triangle Trail (yellow) make a left and take this all the way up Parker Cabin Mountain. Gorgeous views from the east greet you at the top. Make a left on the Ramapo-Dunderberg trail and head north to Tom Jones Mountain. At the top you will find the Tom Jones Shelter. Follow the RD trail north, down the mountain to the road. Cross Kanawauke Road and follow the trail uphill, steeply at times. At the top of the steep climb you will get to Black Rock (amazing views) and the junction with the Nurian Trail (white.) If you have had enough for the day, you can take this back to the lot. Or, you can continue on the RD to the junction with the Denning Trail (yellow,) crossing the highest point in Harriman State Park. You will pass the Bold Rocks shelter along the way. Make a left at the Dunning and take this to the White Bar trail, and follow this down to your car; ensuring you stay left at the junction with the Nurian Trail. (7.07 miles)
A couple of notes: I highly recommend the NY NJ Trail Conference map set for this park. The maps have all the trails, shelters, parking lots, topography, unmarked trails, roads, and more. The maps from the parks themselves are good, but there is so much more on the Conference maps. Link here – I’m not a member, but these maps are invaluable. And, they are great for planning your route from the parking lots.
Information: Harriman State Park is found in Rockland and Orange counties in New York, with Bear Mountain State Park bordering it on the east. Bear Mountain State Park rises from the banks of the Hudson River and besides hiking, includes an inn, a Merry-Go-Round, the Trailside Zoo and an ice rink. The Perkins fire tower is reachable by car (and trail) atop Bear Mountain; by car following Perkins Memorial Drive. There are many many miles of trails in both parks, with many trails crossing the park borders. Both parks include swimming areas (when open,) group campsites, and shelters for hikers. The Appalachian Trail winds its way through both parks. Permits are required for some group campsites, fees are required for day use areas. There is a $10 fee to park in the Bear Mountain Inn lot (which is huge), though there are plenty of lots and trails that leave from parking lots scattered around both parks. Both parks are open year-round; which affords some great winter hiking – though, bear (excuse the pun) in mind, some roads that cut through Harriman State Park are closed during the winter. Check the websites: Harriman & Bear Mountain.
Best Time to Go: Both parks are open year round. Some non-bridged stream crossings can be more challenging in the Spring with increased water levels from snowmelt and rain. Fall is probably the most popular due to the colors of the Fall foliage. You will see people in the winter. Super Important Note: The Reeves Meadow Visitor Center (which has a small lot) gets insanely packed. There is a pull-out lot across the street, but if you get to that lot late (8 am?) cars will be parked all along Seven Lakes Drive. This is a VERY popular trailhead.
Getting There: The main parking lot for Bear Mountain is at the Bear Mountain Inn (and costs $10.) That lot is huge. There are free lots scattered along 9W, 202, and Seven Lakes Drive. Parking in Harriman can be found at the day-use sites (which may have fees) and along Route 6, Seven Lakes Drive, Arden Valley Road, Kanawauke Road and Johnsontown Road. A Harriman parking area map can be found here.
Maps and Books: Both park sites have maps you can print. I cannot recommend enough the maps produced by the NY NJ Trail Conference. These maps have it all, trails, contour lines, roads, parking, unmarked trails, and forest roads. I find them invaluable. Harriman Trails is an excellent book describing the trails, unmarked trails, roads, lakes, mines, and history of both parks. While not necessarily a route-planning tool, the book will give great color to where ever you plan to go in the parks. Finally, if you plan to explore the abandoned town of Doodletown, I highly recommend the book: Doodletown: Hiking through history in a vanished hamlet on the Hudson. The author was one of the last residents to leave the town.
By Mark Wetherington in TrailGroove Blog 1When I became intrigued by the trout swimming in mountain lakes in the Northern Rockies, I realized the tenkara rod gathering dust in my gear room would be a great way to test the waters before outfitting myself with a full fly rod and reel set up. Tenkara is a Japanese method of fly fishing that focuses on simplicity and forgoes a reel in favor of a longer rod length, fixed amount of line, and uses as few fly patterns as possible. Presentation, mindful casting, and technique are emphasized more than trying to “equip” your way into catching more fish.
I’d used a tenkara rod in Kentucky with limited success, but it wasn’t until my second summer in Montana that I took it out onto the rivers, streams, and lakes in the Bitterroot Mountains and other ranges. I enjoy fly fishing, but almost exclusively as a supplementary activity to backpacking and not as my main motivation for getting outdoors. Fortunately, there is an incredible amount of overlap between amazing mountain scenery and fishable bodies of water. I’ve even noticed myself getting less interested in visiting lakes without fish and prioritizing camping at lakes with rumors of large trout.
At first, I just used the tenkara set up that I had because it was what I had on hand and there was no additional investment required. Plus, since I’d used it in Kentucky, I was familiar with basic casting so I didn’t need to learn any new skills – I just brushed up on my knots and bought the flies appropriate for the season and places I’d be fishing. I thought that after learning more about fishing the lakes (I almost exclusively fish lakes) I’d likely acquire a traditional fly rod with a reel and transition to using that.
However, after several short summers – fishing season in the high country is all too brief in Montana, with many lakes only ice-free from late June to early October – of catching a variety of trout on dozens of lakes, it seems that tenkara is all I need to have a great time. Its minimal weight (even with extra tippet, box of flies, clippers, and extra line my set up is less than 6 oz) and compact size (the rod I use collapses to 15 inches) are in a class of their own and absolutely perfect for weight-conscious backpackers.
The ability to quickly get a fly on the water is also something that cannot be emphasized enough, as I’m able to be casting within less than a minute of getting to a lake. When fishing with friends using traditional fly rods, I’ve often caught two or three fish by the time they’re making their first cast. The ability to efficiently pack up and move on is also a benefit, especially when fishing multiple lakes in the same day.
There are trade-offs when using a tenkara rod, like limited casting distance and inefficiency in fishing subsurface. Tenkara rods are designed to fish dry flies, but friends of mine have had some success using nymphs. For lakes where the fish are not actively feeding on the surface, this can be a point of frustration. However, in friendly “rod to rod” competitions with friends where I’ve used a tenkara rod and they’ve used a traditional fly fishing setup the results have been so similar that it appears that any advantage lies solely with the fly chosen and the skills of the angler.
On the topic of angling skills, I must admit that mine are certainly in the novice-to-intermediate range. With so many outdoor hobbies, I’ve never dedicated the time to becoming a technically proficient angler. Fortunately, because of the intuitive nature of tenkara and minimal gear to manage, that hasn’t stopped me from catching some impressive trout or dozens in a single afternoon during prime conditions. Tenkara is also a less-intimidating way of fishing when sharing it with others. I’ve had friends who never cast a rod in their life catch small trout within a few minutes.
Even if the fish aren’t biting, there is some solace that you’re not hauling around an extra pound or two of gear for no reason. Although they’re light, I’ve found the tenkrara rods to be rather durable. I typically don’t bring the rod case and instead just tuck them into a side pocket of my pack and cinch them tight with the straps. Even when in some thick bushwhacking, I haven’t lost or damaged a rod yet. My original rod is a decade old at this point and still casts great. I purchased a second rod last summer to have on hand for guests and to share some of the wear with my other rod. I’m hoping it should last at least a decade as well.
If you’re interested at all in fishing mountain lakes, tenkara is a great way to ease into the activity. A complete set up can generally be had for under $200, and much less than that if you’re willing to shop around. When compared to the other expenses related to getting equipped for backpacking, it’s not a bad deal for something that can bring you hours of entertainment on each trip and quite possibly provide you with a meal as well.
If you're ready to try tenkara, you'll want to get a rod that is appropriate for the types of waters you fish and the size of the fish you'll typically be catching. I've found rods in the 10 to 11 foot range to be ideal for the mountain lakes I fish and still reasonably maneuverable for streams and small rivers. Others might advise longer rods, especially if the lakes you're fishing tend to have larger trout (lucky you!). The topics of rod length, line length, tippet strength, and fly choices are much too broad for the scope of this article which is intended to serve more as inspiration than as a shopping list. That said, I've had success on mountain lakes in the Northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest using a 10 ft. 10in. rod, 11 or 13 feet of line, and 5-7 feet of 5X tippet. There are several different "beginner" kits by a variety of manufacturers selling tenkara-style rods that contain similar equipment and are a great place to start – you can find plenty of tenkara gear online and Amazon has a wide selection. But perhaps one of the most important things to remember when fly fishing in the tenkara style is that it is less about the gear and much more about the experience, the technique, and the interaction with the landscape.
By Steve Ancik in TrailGroove Blog 1I have been exploring interesting and scenic areas in New Mexico for several years. Often these visits have been at the beginning or end of longer trips to places farther west, so the visits are often just a day or so – much less time than the area deserves. I am especially intrigued by the so-called “badlands” of the northwest part of the state. These badland areas include several wilderness areas, including the better-known Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness. I first drove down Cabezon Road to ride my mountain bike at a trail system along the road, but soon found that there are several more things to do and see in the area, both before and beyond the mountain bike trails.
“Cabezon'', by the way, means “big head” or ''stubborn”, and is so-named because of Cabezon Peak, which stubbornly stands high above the plains to the northwest. The places that I have explored along Cabezon Road are, at least in part, the Tierra Amarilla Anticline and Ojito Wilderness, and of course the scenery and geology of the bike trail area itself.
Tierra Amarilla Anticline a.k.a. San Ysidro Anticline
An anticline is where the earth’s crust has been folded into an upward pointing curve, like an upside down “U”. Along the east side of the Tierra Amarilla Anticline, the rocks are tilted up to the west, and along the west side, tilted up to the east. The entire center of the anticline has been removed by erosion, as seen from the White Ridge Bike Trails. As you approach the anticline from the east, keep your eyes peeled for a “soft serve ice cream cone” formation on the right. It is somewhat hidden by the hills and ridges along the road until it is at your two o'clock position a couple hundred yards away. This hoodoo is sitting next to a “sinking ship” rock that is quite photogenic. On my last visit, I was climbing around the rocks and there was a pair of ravens watching me very closely and even hovering overhead for a while. I assumed that they had a nest nearby, so I quietly moved on to another area.
The rocks of these formations range in color from tan to orange with areas of yellow, brown, red, and even some that are nearly black. Since the rocks are tilted at a nearly 30 degree angle, exploring the area consists of climbing up and down around the steep slopes. The center of the anticline has been removed by erosion. The bike trails follow the ridge on the left side then wrap around the north end, and then head back south and follow the ridge. I haven’t yet been down in the center of the anticline, but it sure looks interesting. Maybe next visit.
White Ridge Bike Trails
These trails are primarily used by mountain bikers, but hikers are welcome. I’ve ridden there several times and if hiking, would stick to the eastern side of the trail system. There, the rocks and scenery are more interesting and varied. The eastern part of the anticline is exposed here, as well as several old geysers and travertine (a type of limestone deposited by mineral springs) deposits. There are a couple of places where there are open sinkhole-type features with water in the bottom–these are old geysers or geothermal springs. The water from these is high in minerals and has resulted in a series of terraced mineral deposits. The rock of these deposits is called travertine, and, when walked on, sounds hollow in places. To the east of the main mountain bike loop the anticline’s rocks are tilted up to the west, and this area has several interesting places to explore.
The Ojito Wilderness
This is a 11,823 acre wilderness area administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. It was established in 2005. It is open to primitive camping, hiking, and horseback riding.
One of the largest dinosaur skeletons ever discovered, the Seismosaurus, was found here. The area is a dry environment of multi-colored sandstone with multi-level terraces, box canyons, and arroyos. Small numbers of piñon pine and juniper can be found in the area, as well as a stand of ponderosa pine – the lowest elevation stand in New Mexico.
Starting from the Hoodoo trailhead, head north for just over a mile along an obvious trail. Along the way there is an interesting outcrop of bright yellow sandstone with interspersed layers of pink and red sandstone. Continuing on the trail, you eventually reach an area with several 10 to 20-foot tall hoodoos and a few large ponderosa pines. I have camped here on two different occasions. Once you set up camp, the trail continues northward for at least another mile before turning west around the northern end of Bernalillito Mesa, which stands a couple hundred feet high to the west of the trail for the entirety of the hike. The views to the north are beautiful, with most of the wilderness area visible and inviting one to explore more. From my short hikes in the area, it seems that there are ample opportunities for off-trail exploration. I have not hiked the Seismosaurus Trail yet, but intend to on my next visit. For further exploration, Cabezon Peak is apparently accessible by following a series of roads for about 20 more miles to the west and north from the Hoodoo Trail parking area.
Info: Permits are not required for any of these areas.
Getting There: From the intersection of I-25 and US 550 at Bernalillo, go northwest on 550 for about 25 miles, then left (west) on Cabezon Road. A brown sign points to White Ridge Mountain Bike Trails. Along Cabezon Road, after a couple of miles there are several places to pull off to explore the eastern side of the anticline before arriving at the mountain bike parking lot. The parking lot for the White Ridge Trails is on the right 4.4 miles from the highway. Continuing five miles further takes you to the first parking area for the Ojito Wilderness. This is the Seismosaurus Trail, and one mile further is parking for Hoodoo Trail. Visible in the distance to the northwest is Cabezon Peak, part of an old volcano. It is another 19 miles on Cabezon Road.
Best Time to Go: The elevation of these places is around 5700 to 6000 feet above sea level. March thru May have nice temperatures, but April is the windiest month. September and October also have comfortable temperatures, but August thru October are the wettest months. There will occasionally be snow in the winter, and summer months can have daytime highs in the 90s.
Books and Maps: 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Albuquerque (2nd Edition, pages 206 (White Mesa) and 211 (Ojito Wilderness)) by Stephen Ausherman. Delorme New Mexico Atlas and Gazetteer and / or BenchMark Maps, New Mexico.
By Aaron Zagrodnick in TrailGroove Blog 2Sometimes even a quick day hike can provide inspiration for another quick trip or a subsequent backpacking excursion, and such was the case last year on a family dayhike in the Bridger Wilderness of the southern Wind River Mountains. The plan: a simple morning in and a brief offtrail excursion to a river shown on the map, a brief afternoon of fishing, and a return to the trailhead before evening drew on too long. Logistically simple, the hike went as planned and was a typical summer stroll along and off the trail – until we reached the river.
Summer sights were abundant, but the river itself was nowhere to be found. Slightly bewildered and evaluating the map, we did now stand in a slight depression, entirely dry and it didn’t look like water had ever flowed through it. And we weren’t looking for an intermittent, seasonal creek either – this was a legitimate and named river. Doubting my map skills momentarily, I even turned my phone on and double checked with Gaia GPS – and sure enough, the app showed us standing in the river. Hiking on a bit farther through the lodgepole pine forest, we entered a scenic dry meadow where it seemed good campsites – perhaps for another time – were nearly everywhere you looked.
The more I hike, and perhaps the more bad campsites I stay the night in, the more I’ve come to appreciate the good ones. You know the spot: an actual flat place to sleep where you’re not sliding around your tent throughout the night, one that is protected but still with a view, and one that's close enough to a water source – at least according to the map. But this was just a day hike. At such a site in the meadow we had lunch, but with the day getting late the decision was made to abandon the river search and perhaps, return at a later time. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this in the Wind River Range. While the USGS maps are for the most part quite accurate, it seems that when it comes to waterways assumptions have occasionally been made; water always flows downhill, but not always where you think it might at first glance. In any event, finding one of these inaccuracies, whether on USGS topos or usually equally reflected on other options like the Beartooth or Earthwalk maps has always been a great excuse to explore further and to see what the land truly reveals, and adds a bit of mystery to any follow up hike.
A year later and in need of a quick and easy family style overnight with easy logistics, we headed back to the site. Some research at home and looking at satellite views had revealed the real location of the river – nearly a mile away from where the USGS topos had suggested. After a drive to the southern end of the range ending with a rough final drive to the trailhead, we hit the trail and made our way towards the meadow we’d eaten lunch at the year before, and after sheltering from a brief and quick moving rain shower we eventually made it just as our younger trail companion’s legs began to fade. Although late in the year…so much that aspens were turning yellow…lupine still bloomed and the last glimpse of summer wildflowers was quite the welcome surprise.
After deciding on a reasonable spot to setup the tent, we ambled off in the real direction of the river, to actually find it this time, evaluate fishing opportunities, and load up and filter some water. The meadow was higher, so after descending a game trail we found, and crashing through the brush, we entered a lush soggy meadow and eventually found ourselves on the river bank of the slowly flowing, lazy river that meandered through meadows.
Filled only with small brook trout, fishing was decided against, but water was filtered and returning to complete camp setup for the night, dinner was had – a fire considered but decided against on this mild evening. Much time was spent relaxing, taking photos, and watching the moon rise, then set, and stargazing as the show emerged overhead in force while elk bugled in the distance. Eventually we all piled into our trusty Tarptent Hogback for the night.
The next morning after a night well above freezing the elk were again bugling at sunrise, more water was filtered, camp dismantled, and packs shouldered as we made our way back to the trail and eventually the trailhead again. Although a short and easy trip, it was a trip that easily fell together and was easily accomplished and all at a great spot – sometimes just what you need – and with one last glimpse of summer to boot. And best of all, now we know even more than the map at first reveals.