Stuart Falls is a gorgeous 40-foot or so cascade of silver water nestled in a spectacular forest in the Sky Lakes Wilderness, near the extreme southwest corner of Crater Lake National Park. It has some wonderful campsites at its base and used to be readily accessible via the Red Blanket Trail (USFS #1090) from a trailhead on Forest Road (FR) 6205 to the west. But then this area was touched by the 2008 Lonesome Complex Middle Fork fire, which removed a lot of the understory and ground cover. This was followed by two years of minimal snow cover, punctuated by short, but intense, bursts of rain. No longer slowed by an understory, this water tore down gullies and completely obliterated the #1090 in several places (and also closed FR 6205 2.5 miles from the trailhead). Using my 4×4 to reach the trailhead, I did this hike in 2015 (post) and found the journey to the falls to be difficult at best and possibly even dangerous. A return visit seemed unlikely until I realized there was a safe (but slightly longer) way in from the east via the Pumice Flat Trail. So, leaving the LovedOne immersed in some sort of intricate fabric project, I headed out to return to the falls.
Since we’d all journeyed way up to the North Shore, almost everyone agreed that we needed to behoove ourselves of this oppotunity for a daytrip to Isle Royale National Park. The park is only accessible by boat and we lucked-out in that the transportation boat, the Seahunter III, was starting its season the week we would be visiting. The Seahunter III is a 65-foot twin diesel vessel that provides passenger service between Grand Portage, Minnesota and Windigo, Michigan, the park headquarters on the southwest end of the island. There was some trepidation about riding a small boat across a large lake but conditions on our day of travel were sunny, clear, and glass smooth.
Our family is scattered across the United States and follows different schedules and lifestyles, so arranging a get together involves solving numerous multi-body problems. Our animating criterium was for a place where we could all be together but still have different things to do (because, inexplicably, we’re not all hikers). A secondary criterium was for that place to be new and different (for most of us at least). So, after considerable back-and-forth, but without any major ruptures in the familial fabric, we settled on the North Shore of Lake Superior. We had been there once years ago to hike Eagle Mountain, Minnesota’s high point, and the LovedOne’s brother and sister-in-law had visited when they worked in Minneapolis, but this shore was terra incognita for the rest. The North Shore is also home to the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT), a tread that Backpacker magazine has ranked among this country’s top ten trails. The Chicago Tribune calls it the Midwest’s Appalachian Trail, although many think it’s more scenic than the actual Appalachian Trail.
For our last day in the Southwest, we decided to visit Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. The Monument, which is administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), is located between Santa Fe and Albuquerque, a short distance off Interstate-5. It’s notable for the cone-shaped tent rock formations that are the products of volcanic eruptions that occurred 6 to 7 million years ago and left pumice, ash and tuff deposits over 1,000 feet thick. Also visible are numerous hoodoos of various sizes, most protected by a precariously perched boulder cap of harder, less erodable rock. A potentially apocryphal story suggests that Doctor Seuss was inspired by some of these formations.
Our second day in Santa Fe dawned bright and clear but for some reason we couldn’t gather the enthusiasm for a hike. Perhaps that second helping of southwestern chili peppers at dinner – while delicious – was ultimately ill-advised? But what to do – other than air-out our hotel room? Fortunately, I’d been reading Hampton Sides’ excellent Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West (Doubleday, 2006) which recounts the history of Kit Carson, the Santa Fe Trail, and our appalling treatment of the indigenous peoples of the Southwest who got in the way of Manifest Destiny. So we thought it might be good to visit two extremes of this story along the Santa Fe Trail: Fort Union National Monument to the east and, a little closer to Santa Fe, Pecos National Historical Park.
After our hike in Great Sand Dunes National Park, we did a scenic drive through Chama, New Mexico enroute to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Along the way, we gave two Continental Divide Trail (CDT) thru-hikers a lift to their resupply point in Chama and stopped for lunch in Taos. The last time we were in Taos was when we came out (years ago) to climb New Mexico’s highpoint – Wheeler Peak. At that time a major utility outage reduced our meal choices to cold burritos and warm G&Ts, but we endured. Arriving in Santa Fe, it was a bit of a shock to see how much the city had sprawled-out over the years from the still walkable and interesting old town area around the Plaza to wide, treesless avenues lined with strip malls. Sadly, Oregon’s idea of urban growth boundaries doesn’t seem to have caught on here. Sigh. But we were here to hike, not comment of urban planning, so after some map pondering, we decided to visit Bandelier National Monument, just northwest of Santa Fe.
After our hikes at Palo Duro Canyon in West Texas, we roadtripped north to Alamosa, Colorado, gateway to Great Sand Dunes National Park. When we’d lived in Colorado years ago, we’d driven by this park several times enroute to climbs of nearby 14teeners, but never actually stoped for a visit. We were going to rectify that omission on this trip. You can hike on the dunes themselves – a la Beau Geste – but there are other hiking trails in the park. The most accessible of these – it starts almost at the visitor center – is the Mosca Pass Trail and that was the one we chose. It also tops out at around 9,800 feet and would thus be snowfree by now (unlike some of the surrounding peaks).