Thursday, August 14, 2014

National Bison Range Montana - August 2014

Don't miss the amazing wildlife in the National Bison Range in Montana! 

It was a beautiful Sunday in Missoula, Montana.  The only problem was that we had just

Bison herd, Montana
hiked 12+ miles the previous day and our legs were literally shot.  We certainly didn't want to spend the entire day inside so we decided to take a road trip north towards Kalispell, Montana.

We headed out of Missoula heading north on 93.  We weren't 30 minutes en-route until we saw the sign for
A Bison relaxes by the side of the road
A Bison relaxes by the side of the road
the Montana National Bison Range.  Why not?  We had no schedule - TripAdvisor reviews looked good - so we went to check it out.

The Montana Bison Range is a beautiful wide open area of land set aside by the government nearly a century ago.  There is a 20 mile smooth dirt road that you drive through the area.  For a gravel road, it is generally pretty smooth.  There were also very few people when we were there so it made for a nice drive.  There are a few small places to walk, but there is no hiking in the Montana National Bison Range and you are not
Expansive views in the National Bison Range, Montana
Expansive views in the National Bison
Range, Montana
supposed to get out of your car except at designated areas.  Surprisingly that even though the speed limit is 25, you are generally going to be moving slow as there is so much to see in the Bison Range. Along with the wildlife, the drive also offers you beautiful expansive views in all directions for almost the entire drive.

We saw tons of Bison.  A few of them even right up close sitting near the road.  Giant herds off in the distance, playing in the was quite the sight.  Then there were plenty of pronghorn antelope, deer and a couple of bighorn sheep.  The highlight of our trip to the Bison Range was without a doubt getting to see a mama black bear and her two cubs.  We sat and enjoyed
Sow black bear cruising in the Bison Range
Sow black bear cruising in the Bison Range
watching the bear cubs for a good 15 minutes - climbing and playing up and down a seriously tall pine tree.  Just enjoying themselves.  After a while, the mother bear comes walking in from across the field.  While she appeared brown, based on her size and features she was most certainly a black bear.  We stayed in the car and she paid no attention to us as she walked closer.  She eventually strolled by and the cubs followed her off into the forest.  It was truly amazing to be able to watch these animals in the wild with the bears seemingly unaware of our presence even though we were within 50 yards the entire time.

If you're in the area, spending a couple hours in the National Bison Range in Montana is certainly time well spent.

Pronghorn antelope, National Bison Range, Montana
Pronghorn antelope, National Bison Range, Montana

Bull Bison, close up and personal!

Black bear, national Bison range, Montana
Another shot of the black bear from across the field

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Hiking to Canyon Lake in the Bitterroots, Montana

We're a few days into our extended stay in Montana.  Outside of a few relatively flat miles on a couple of trails around Missoula we haven't walked on any significant elevation since last year.  Unless of course you count a few feet up sand dunes and then a few feet down them to get to the beach.  Our legs today are telling us that our eagerness to get on an epic hike may have outweighed the logic in choosing our first trek of the trip.

The choice - hike to Canyon Lake in the Bitterroot Mountains south of Missoula.  It's a 5 mile in and out that gains 2200ft of elevation.  That didn't seem too hard to start with did it?  Oh yeah and I forgot, my wife is 14
weeks pregnant.  For the record, she picked the hike!

Anyhow, the hike to Canyon Lake is nothing short of beautiful.  For the first 3 plus miles you climb a gentle grade next to the creek.  Some minor ups and downs along this area but nothing too tough.  You go in and out of being down next to the creek in the covered forest and then out up over rock falls along the base of the Bitterroot mountains.  The walls of the mountains climb a couple thousand feet and both side of the creek
Dori heading up towards Canyon Falls
providing spectacular views as the area opens up.  As a bonus, the berries were in full bloom.  We had a nice continuous snack of blueberries as we hiked along canyon creek.

At around the 3.5-4 mile mark the trail ascends out away from Canyon Creek towards Canyon Lake.  The views become amazing here as the vistas open up as you come out of the dense forested area.  You'll soon be able to see Canyon Falls as well.  From here you'll ascend up above the falls and then back down, finally arriving at Canyon Lake.

The wildflowers had already peaked but still provided some great colors for us on the hike.  These colors matched with spectacular views of the surrounding peaks, rock falls and waterfall were just amazing.  I do
Katie and Dori ascending among the
wildflowers heading to Canyon Lake
have to see that our Florida legs were pretty beat when we arrived at the lake.  We were happy to be there and the views were impressive.

The water in the lake was crystal clear.  I quickly was able to spot some trout near shore; wishing I had a fishing pole with me.  We hung out at the lake for around an hour.  Cooled off, had some lunch, dipped our toes in and let the dog swim for a while.  Perfect weather, perfect views and a great hike made for a great day.

Canyon Lake
We were moving pretty slow throughout.  Between our flat land legs and my wife being pregnant we took our time on the hike.  We definitely burnt a few beers worth of calories!  Overall, it took us about 8.5 hrs including our lunch break at the lake and numerous stops on the trail.  The few miles of steep descent near the lake took quite a bit more than it's share of time.

We definitely recommend Canyon Lake if you are looking for a hike in the Bitterroots.

Katie hiking up along a rock fall; getting close to Canyon lake

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

8 Weeks in Missoula!

I think this officially makes us snowbirds.  We're evacuating Florida for the next two months and escaping what is pretty much a big hot humid mess for the worst two months of August and September.  Our new temporary home is in Missoula, Montana.  A nice little cabin just a few minutes from town but secluded enough to feel like we're far enough away.  After 2900 miles across the country we made it, barely.  It was a pretty boring drive and unfortunately it was dark as we finally arrived in west South Dakota where the scenery starts become more than just corn.  However, we made it safely and our place in Missoula is fantastic!

Only a couple days in and we've already experienced a couple of cool hikes.  Short hikes, but beautiful none the less.  A quick jaunt into the Rattlesnake area just outside of Missoula and a couple miles into the Bitterroots about an hour south of town.  Both were wonderful.  Then again, I think we're just happy to be out of the humidity!  I don't know who's more excited:  us or the dogs?
Morning hike on the main Rattlesnake trail in Missoula

Dori interested in some wild turkeys.

Dori on the Canyon Creek trail in the Bitteroots outside of Hamilton, Montana

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Ft. Pierce Sailfish

Congrats to Bonnie Peek for catch her first ever offshore fish and it just happened to be a sailfish!  She at a live pilchard in 160' due east of the Ft. Pierce inlet.  A quick fight, photo and she was released and swam away strong.

We also added a nice Mahi to the box shortly thereafter.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Hiking in Sedona - Bear Mountain

Obligatory "selfie"
While it's pretty easy to forget when I get in my day to day grind, days like today remind you just how lucky I am.  Not really a reminder either, more like a really hard smack right in my face.

So I had a pretty big dilemma.  Here it is Saturday night, I am in Vegas, need to be in Tucson Monday afternoon.  I haven't been outside all week and I need my fix.  The dilemma: on my only free day, Sunday, do I go hike the Grand Canyon or make a stop in Sedona and hike there?  Looking back now I really don't know why this was such a hard decision.  The forecast in the Canyon was 45 degrees and 30+ mph winds.

Amazing view from the Bear Mountain
 Trail in Sedona
Miserable right ?!?!  Plus I have already been there a few times and let's face it, once you've seen it and hiked it a couple times there just isn't that much new to see.  Don't get me wrong, it's an amazing place that EVERYONE has to see once, but for an avid hiker once really is enough.  Tons of people, tour buses full, most of them not having the same personal space that we do.  Not very many trails...geesh not sure why I had the urge to go in the first place.  Luckily I came to my senses and headed down to Sedona.

Sedona is an outdoors mecca.  TONS of trails for hiking, biking horseback.  You name it, they've got it.
Looking back down at the amazing
sandstone formations
 Top that with no where near the crowds of the Grand Canyon, better weather, amazing scenery and tons of options to hike and you get a truly amazing place.

Ok enough about Sedona and more about my hike.  I decided to do something a little off the main drag.  Bear Mountain is a pretty tough hike.  Pretty easy to find, just a couple miles off of Dry Creek road and 89A in town.  The hike isn't too long at just over 5 miles round trip, but it gains close to 2000' of elevation and offers spectacular views.  I wouldn't make this the first hike of my life but it's not too tough if you are in generally ok shape.  I arrived at the trail head at 10am to 65 degrees, a nice breeze and sunny.  Perfect hiking weather!

The first section of the trail crosses over the valley just slowly gaining elevation.  Once I got closer to the cliff faces I felt like I was basically trekking straight up.  There were a few ups and downs along the trail, but it
Awesome views from the trail
generally is pretty steep.  Once or twice I used my hands as I scaled up or down a rock face, but overall it's a pretty straight forward "two feet needed" type of hike.  I came over a few false summits, each offering awesome views, but the summit of Bear Mountain was unmistakable once I saw it.  The pain of the constant climb was numbed by the scenery as I climbed further and further.  Along with the continuous vistas, the sandstone walls continuously transforms as you hike further and further up.

Once I made the summit I was greeted with 360 degrees of the entire area.  The sun lit of the geological
Lunch at the summit of Bear Mountain
formations all around me and was nothing short of breathtaking.  I never get tired of the feeling I get after you make the top of a challenging hike.  I stopped for a while up there as it was about the most fantastic spot I could imagine having lunch.  No need to rush out, I had all day and I felt like I had the best view on the planet.

The descent didn't feel too hard, but I found myself stopping every couple of minutes to take pictures!  I am sure if I just pushed through my legs would have a bit more upset with me.  Or maybe I was just ignore it was I gave all of my focus on soaking in everything around me.  Once I was back at the trail head it seemed like it came too quickly!

As a side note, I met a nice family from Chicago on the hike.  Interestingly enough, they told me the same thing: they went to the Grand Canyon, but were having so much more fun in Sedona.  Jennifer was 22, her mother 45 and her grandfather 76.  All 3 of them made it to the top and back.  Truly inspiring to see the
Jennifer and her family heading
back down to the trail head.
whole family make it; I can only hope that when I am 76 I am still able to kick some mountain butt too.  You've got no reason to get out there and try it too!

Net net: if you are going to the Grand Canyon to hike, you may want to reconsider and spend some time in Sedona!  At least make sure you stop and look at the "big hole" if you haven't been there before, but once you get sick of bumping into people and staring at the same thing get in you car and drive south.  Sedona isn't even 2 hours away and will keep you entertained for days on end.

And a few more pictures for you from Bear Mountain, Sedona, AZ:

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Denali K2 Aviation Tour Pics

While I am not a big fan of tours, the flight to Denali on K2 Aviation was the highlight of our Alaska vacation.    The weather cooperated and we had greats views of Mt. McKinley.  The scenery was stunning as you'll see below in the pictures of mountains, ridges and glaciers:

Alaska Hiking, Kayaking and Traveling Pictures

We spent 2 fabulous weeks Alaska in May of 2013.  A late snow this year, while concerning at first, turned out to be a great part of our trip.  Due to the late winter we were able to watch the Alaska landscape transform from winter to early summer almost overnight.  The difference in the scenery over the course of a week was phenomenal.  It was an amazing trip with such a great diversity of activities and camera worthy destinations.  Our stops included Anchorage, Seward, Talkeetna, Denali and many little towns and spots in between.  No reservations or formal plans, we just roamed the state spending time where we enjoyed most.

Here are a few pictures from our trip.  Check out a couple other posts on the blog for more as I get them posted.

Eagle River Nature Center in Alaska
Eagle River Nature Center.  Hiking near the entrance early in the day.

Hiking near Exit Glacier
Looking back towards the mountains at Exit Glacier in Seward, Alaska

Aialik Bay Picture
About to start kayaking in Aialik Bay
Portage Glacier picture in May
Portage Glacier near Anchorage

Glacier cutting through the mountains of Denali
Glacier cutting through the Denali mountains.  Our flight through the Denali on K2 Aviation was definitely a highlight.

Rock formations on Aialik Bay
Rock formations on Aialik Bay
Hiking in Kenai Wildlife Refuge
Hiking above the Kenai River in the Kenai Wildlife Refuge
Glacier landing in Denali national Park
Picture from our glacier landing in Denali National Park, Alaska
Denali National Park bull moose
Close up shot Bull Moose in Denali National Park
Mt. McKinley off in the distance
Fishing boat headed back into port in Seward, Alaska
Kayaking at Aialik Bay Glacier, Seward, Alaska

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Grand Gulch - Hiking and Pictures

While it's a bit of a haul from Tucson, we drove up towards Monument Valley and the Valley of the Gods area in January 2013 for a quick weekend.  We stayed at the Hampton Inn in Kayenta which ended up being a really nice hotel.  Even the restaurant in the hotel was pretty darn good.  I would definitely recommend it as a good place to stay if you are staying the area.

We left the hotel bright and early welcomed by brisk 15 degree temps.  Quick breakfast in Kayenta we were on our way.  We cruised through Monument Valley, stopping for a few quick shots on the way towards the Grand Gulch area.  It was pretty, but we wanted to hike and roam not be restricted since they don't allow unguided hiking in Monument Valley.

On 163 through Mexican Hat and then up route 261 for 25 or so miles we went.  Quite a twisty haul up the face of the cliff.  We parked at the Kane Gulch ranger station with not a person in sight for miles.  The snow was pretty thick and it made the hiking go a bit slower than usual.  But the weather was perfect and scenery superb.  As we picked up some distance the canyon continued to grow steeper and the scenery continually improving.  The snow was hit or miss and the hiking eased a bit as we went further in.  The snow and the ice really made the Grand Gulch area even more picturesque.

By the way, dogs are not allowed on this trail!

The area was amazing but the snow taxed us quite a bit.  We had hoped to make it to some of the ruins but about 3 hours in with only 4 miles or so behinds us we turned around.  It was a good call as we were all pretty tired when we made it back to the Kane Gulch ranger station.

A great area, we will definitely be back in the spring and do an overnight trip.  Enjoy the pictures:

Grand Gulch dog hiking
Max posing in Grand Gulch canyon

Katie hiking in Grand Gulch
Katie hiking in the Grand Gulch canyon

Overhang in Grand Gulch near Kane Gulch Range Station

Max looking into the canyon

Some cool ice formations in Grand Gulch Canyon