I remember the first time I saw Bryce Canyon 20 years ago I was completely taken back by its scenery: it was different from anything I had seen before. I didn’t know anything about it at the time and was there with a few friends. If I had seen a picture or a drawing of it, I would have guessed it was a prank. Nothing in this world could have looked like this: orange columns and walls stood like soldiers, menacing and impregnable, filled the canyons. I have been back a few times since and was amazed each time I saw it. Hoodoos

Again, we could not resist its magic and charm; we planned our trip so we could visit it again. Kadia and Susan at Bryce CanyonThe orange columns, called Hoodoos and the rest of the formations are made of sandstone. Over millions of years, erosion sculpted the landscape to form its current glory. The erosion continuously alters the landscape every day. Every time we went, the scenery was slightly different. Queen’s Garden Trail
Some columns or walls might have collapsed and some new arches might have formed. This time, the Wall Street section of Navajo Loop trail collapsed just the day before we arrived. It was unfortunate as I remember it well from 13 years ago and was looking forward to hike in it again.

As we were unsure what route we could take on Navajo Loop trail, we started our hike from Queen’s Garden trailhead at the Sunrise point. We slowly descended down the canyon as the trail snaked through hoodoos and spires. The color was more than just orange, a spectrum of reds, oranges, yellows, purples and almost whites in some places. We had to go through a few archways as we walked along the narrow trail in the canyon. Bottom of Queen’s Garden TrailOn the bottom, we saw a sign pointing to a hoodoo that was supposedly resemble a queen’s head, thus the trail name. Even with the description, I had a difficult time recognize it. The trail could have been named many other things as each hoodoo can resemble different things to different people. We had our lunch there with a Steller’s jay eyeing our lunch the whole time.Queen’s Garden Trail

We hiked along the bottom of the canyon with a number of trees. It felt like an easy stroll through the park. Although we carried two backpacks, one for Bryden and one for Kadia, Kadia seemed to enjoy this hike, running back and forth from time to time and didn’t ask for a ride. Eventually we reached the Peek-a-boo junction where the Queen’s Garden trail joined the Navajo Loop trail. One section of the trail toward the Wall Street was closed so we followed the other section to the Sunset point. Navajo Trail

There was a steep section with many switchbacks up a wall (see left) and, when we finally emerged from it, we were treated to the famous Thor’s Hammer (see below), still proudly standing and seemingly sparkling, Navajo Trailand a canyon filled with a high concentration of spires and pinnacles. Along this final climb up to the Sunset point, we marveled at them all, every angle is a perfect shot. The picture on the right shown the Sentinel in the background. I hope it will still be there next time we visit. Finally when we reached the Sunset Point, we hiked back toward the Sunrise Point along the rim and continuously savior the fantastic views beneath us. We ran into a bunch of rangers walking excitedly and hurriedly toward the Sunset point so I asked them what was going on. One ranger told me that they were heading down to the Wall Street to look at the collapse. They were like excited kids going on a field trip. This was Kadia’s longest hike, 3 miles, a record that she would top many more times on the trip. We will be back.

Appalachian Trail is one of the famous trails in the United States. It goes from Maine down to Georgia for 2,175 miles. Each year, thousand of hikers attempted to hike the whole length and about 1 out of 6 would succeed after months of toiling on the trail. When we were in Vermont’s Green Mountains, we had a chance to hike a section of it and we would not miss the opportunity. Deer Leap MapThe AT Trail passed through the Green Mountains where the trail crossed a busy road, Route 4, near the hotel we were staying for the week. We packed up some lunch and parked at a trailhead off the Route 4 for the hike. Unlike Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail, Appalachian Trail goes through many densely populated areas so it has to cross many roads.

The trail started out flat and went through a dense shaded vegetation Dense Vegetationarea with many bugs. There weren’t much to see so we quickly walked through that area to escape bugs. After about 1.2 miles, the trail branched off and became steep as we started climbing toward our destination, Deer Leap Overlook. Hiking up a ladderWe had to climb a little section of a ladder (nothing like what we did at Badlands National Park) and finally arrived at the Deer Leap Overlook, a big chunk of rocks. We had a great view of all the surrounding areas. Deer Leap OverlookWe had our lunch there.

Instead of going back the same route, we made a loop back to our trailhead even though it meant that we had to hike along Route 4 for a little bit. We got back to the van and put Kadia and Bryden back in their car seats to get ready to go back to our hotel. I went to the glove compartment to get my wallet that I had decided to leave in the car the last minute before the hike as we didn’t need it. But it was missing! I knew right away something was wrong but there wasn’t anything else looked out of place or any evidences of the van had been broken into. Susan thought I might have misplaced the wallet but I was pretty sure. Susan had her wallet in a bag in the van as well and when she looked for it, it was gone as well. Then I knew, someone somehow got into the van and took our wallets away.

I held on to the faint hope that whoever took our wallets might have discarded the wallets outside somewhere after taking the wallets out of the van to take the important things: cash and credit cards. I searched and searched in vain but there was no luck. They were gone for good. We took a quick stock of our things and it appeared that nothing else was obviously missing, not my cell phone and telephoto lenses that were laid near the glove compartment nor were our passports and our van’s spare key that were stored underneath my wallet in the glove compartment. It could have been much worse.

Soon I noticed something was weird with the rear side window on the driver side. When I shut any door, the window would open slightly then close again. Actually I didn’t even know that it was a window that can pop up slightly to vent, I thought it was a completely closed window. I checked it and found out it had been pried opened, the locking latch was broken and someone had forced it open wide enough to get inside of the van through it. What a bad design to have such a weak latch.

Here we were 3000 miles away from home and both of our wallets were gone with all our money, credit cards, and IDs. What a costly hike! What were we going to do?

We are hardy hikers so whenever we want to hike a trail, we will complete it. Bearfence Mountain Trails However there was one trail we had to turn back earlier than we would like; it was the Bearfence Rocks trail at Shenandoah National Park. The trailhead had a sign with a warning that the trail was not suitable for small children who have to be carried. The trail was only about 1.5 miles so we decided to give it a try. However, we overestimated Kadia’s ability and expected her to hike the trail as it was relatively short. We set off on the trail with me carrying Bryden on our dependable child carrier.

The trail started out relatively flat on hard compacted dirt. We quickly ran into the Appalachian Trail. The Appalachian Trail (A.T.) is a 2,175-mile long footpath stretching through 14 eastern states from Maine to Georgia. We hiked 3 small parts of the Appalachian trail on this trip: near Killington of Vermont, Harpers Ferry of West Virginia and Smoky Mountains NP. It is amazing that every year people can hike the whole trail. Susan carrying Kadia on Bearfence Rocks TrailI think we probably hike on an average of 150 miles a year so it will take us 15 years to complete this trail. Wow! About 300 yards in, we started encountering many rocks protruding from the ground but it was still manageable as we navigated around them. Eventually, it became just rocks and the trail disappeared with occasional blue blazes as trail markers. The rocks were big and we had to scramble over many of them. Ralph with Bryden on Bearfence trailSome of the rocks were taller than Kadia so we had to carry her across.

Eventually some rocks we had to scramble over were taller than me. With that, we decided that we shouldn’t proceed with Kadia anymore. I scrambled up to the top with Bryden while Susan and Kadia rested on a big rock below. Susan on a rock Shenandoah is known for its Skyline Drive which runs for 105 miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. For many people who think driving through the Skyline Drive is equivalent of seeing the park are missing the real Shenandoah. At the top, I saw a panoramic view of the area. It was gorgeous with forested mountains everywhere. I went down to the rock where Susan and Kadia was to stay with Kadia so Susan could go up too see the great view.

Soon we headed back the trail with Kadia bravely climbing over, sliding down and jumping on many rocks. She probably think this was like a playground with ladders, slides and levels. She was a good sports and never complained. I had to admire her willingness and ability. I learned a lesson on this trail: if the trail sign indicated that it is not good for small children, there is usually a good reason.Kadia on Bearfence Rocks trailKadia on Bearfence Rocks trail 2

There are two Glacier National Parks in North America, one in Montana of USA and the other in British Columbia of Canada. We had a wonderful time in Montana’s Glacier National Park, spent 4 days hiking and sightseeing, and already wanted to go back soon in the future. It was, with high expectation and anticipation that we arrived at the Canada’s Glacier National Park. We were disappointed. It wasn’t that it was not beautiful in its own right but we were expecting the same scenery as the US Glacier NP, glacier fed lakes dotted landscape. Perhaps there might be some but they weren’t easily accessible.

We arrived in the afternoon then went for a short hike and were rewarded with mushrooms (see previous post). We stayed a night at Illecillewaet Campground and were looking for a half-day hike the next morning, perhaps a moderate hike. The information we got at the campground indicated that Glacier Crest trail was about 2500 ft elevation gain and 6 miles round trip. That sounded like a manageable hike for a half day.

We like hiking. Hiking is invigorating both physically and mentally. In additional to beautiful scenery, we often find other interesting things on trails such mushrooms, flowers, wildlife, leaves, etc. Of course, there is the physical reward that we get from hiking. With the current technology, everyone can be an arm-chair traveler, watching everything from the comfort of a couch at home but, for us, being there in person is an experience that transcends anything that can be achieved from watching. It is very simple: just us against mountains. We don’t think about much else, no worry, no bills to pay and no interruptions. It reduces the stress of daily life.

The hike started out flat and there were many mushrooms along the trail. We took our time hiking along with Kadia looking for mushroom. I was getting worry about the trail being so flat at the beginning because it only meant the climb would be steeper later. After a mile, it started to climb. Kadia started to complain endlessly around 1.5 miles to get a free ride; I eventually relented because we were not making slow progress. Hiking on Glacier Crest Trail

After another half of a mile, we ran across a hiker going down and inquired about how much further to go. At this point, we had already covered close to two miles and about 1100 feet elevation gains so we thought we may have at most another hour to go. The guy told us that we had at least 1 ½ hours to 2 hours ahead of us and the climb would get steeper. We were surprised but trudged on.

We had been hiking on a moderate climb for a while but soon the climb steeped as told and we had to stop about every couple of steps. And it just kept going up and up and never seemed to let up. We had always been judging our hiking trails by the trail, Mount Storm Kings we did in Olympics National Park. That trail climbed 2100 ft in 1.9 miles. It was a continuous climb and almost no rests. We had many trails coming close to the Storm King but never exceeded it. But this one did. On Glacier Crest Trail with Roger Pass in the backgroundWe were thinking that this couldn’t be that difficult with 2500 feet elevation gain but it was. Soon we reached 2500 feet elevation gain according to my GPS but the trail was still relentless an uphill climb and the end was nowhere in sight.
Asulkan Glacier on Glacier Crest Trail
Finally the trail flattened out some and we were walking along the crest with Asulkan Glacier on the right. Soon we came to a spot where the trail abruptly ended without any signs. There seemed to be a trail going up against the hill we had been walking along. But it was very steep and seemed to be slippery. We debated for a minute if it was indeed a trail until we saw a group of people appeared over the top of the hill and started scrambled down the trail. The steep trail on Glacier Crest TrailMany of them slipped and some of them were on their butts as they came down. After they left, we debated to see if we should go up as going up wouldn’t be a problem but coming down might. We came so far and it was just too hard to give up so we pressed on, with the knowledge that we had hiking poles to help us coming down. See the picture on the left when Susan was coming down a part of this section.

We climbed up the hill, exhausted and hungry, and discovered there was another hill to climb. My GPS indicated that we had already climbed 3250 feet and we were not done. We found a spot to eat lunch. Susan didn’t want to climb anymore so I went up alone, leaving Kadia with Susan and Bryden. Us on the top of Glacier Crest Trail The last 250 feet was easy without the heavy load as I practically bounced up to the top. It was a hazy day so the view was a little disappointing. Illecillewaet Glacier at Glacier Crest Trail I also saw the Illecillewaet glacier (picture on the left) on the other side of the mountain. Illecillewaet Glacier was down to the Illecillewaet campground where we started this hike but it had retreated this far in the last 120 years.

Glacier National Park used to be premier destination for vacationers in the late 19 century and early 20 century. It had a famous hotel, Glacier House Hotel which rivaled the Banff Springs Hotel and Château Lake Louis. Trains on the Northern Pacific Railway would make a stop at the Glacier House Hotel with the park and the hotel becoming the cradle of North American mountaineering. Glacier House Hotel’s foundation However, after 1917, a tunnel was built to bypass the Glacier National Park as there were too many avalanches and soon the visits to the park declined and along with the retreat of the Illecillewaet Glacier, the hotel shut down in 1926 and there are only a few stone foundations remaining (see right) to tell us the once illustrated history of the hotel. This reminds me of business here in the Silicon Valley: 8 years ago there were many high-flying companies but a lot of them are gone without a trace. How fickle life can be and how fleeting the fame can be as well.
Elevation Map of Glacier Crest Trail
Hiking back down was easy with the help of hiking poles. We were glad that we brought our hiking poles otherwise our knees would suffer badly. The trail ended to be 8 miles round trip with 3500 feet elevation gains. It was harder than it should be because we weren’t expecting such a hike and weren’t mentally prepared. We barely had enough water to last the whole hike. The scenery of this trail was disappointing given the difficulty of the hike, perhaps it was due to a hazy day. Weather can often make or break a trail. However, this will be the hike we judge the strenuousness of our future hikes by.
Hiking back down the Glacier Crest Trail

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. I had a sudden onset of acute stomach/flu virus which incapacitated me for the night. I was weak and achy as I felt powerless to do anything. This reminded me that how lucky we were on our trip: everyone was basically healthy; there were a couple of scares: Kadia complained about not feeling well near Canyonlands so we had to stay at a motel for a couple of days to observer her (and prepared to go to a hospital) and her complaint of a toothache in Toronto. And there was one other incident when we hiked to the Tanks in Capitol Reef National Park through the Capitol Gorge Trail.

The Capitol Gorge trail is at the end of the Capitol Reef Scenic drive. Hiking in the Capitol Gorge The trail leads through the gorge (part of them also known as Petroglyphs Narrows) into the Capitol Reef backcountry. A popular destination there was the Tanks. We thought the trail would be mostly flat and only 2 miles round trip so I carried Bryden on a backpack and expected Kadia to hike herself. Capitol Gorge RegisterThe 1st half of the trail was flat, snaked through the gorge on the dry river bed with many interesting features: petroglyphs, pioneer registers, rock holes on canyon walls, side canyons, etc. Here were Kadia and I looking at the pioneer register: amazing how historical they had become now where as if we were to do it now, we would get fined.

As we came out of the gorge, a spur trail on the left led up to the Tanks. Capitol Gorge Trail We scrambled through some of the rocks there as the trail became hard to follow with occasional cairns here and there. End of Capitol Gorge TrailIn some place, we had to carry Kadia up and across. Soon we were at the top and hiked on slickrocks. When we got to the Tanks, we felt a little disappointed. The tanks were just a few potholes filled with some water. The Tank, Capitol Gorge TrailI couldn’t get around one big pothole easily with Bryden on my back so Kadia, Bryden and I stayed behind while Susan went ahead to explore.

As I was standing there looking at the big pothole, I felt something wet around my nose and wiped it with my hand. It was blood. I get bloody nose from time to time, especially when weather is dry so I didn’t think too much at the time. But this time was different, the blood kept coming and soon the blood was all over both of my hands and was dripping down on my boots and on the rock. Kadia stood motionless and was shocked as she watched me, drenched with blood. I had a difficult time getting down on the floor as I was still carrying Bryden, I didn’t have anything with me at the time to wipe the blood off or keep the blood from flowing and the backpack was making things difficult for me to do anything. Blood at the Tank I finally asked a couple of people who just came to help but they turned and walked away, didn’t want to look at me. I didn’t understand; perhaps they were scared to see that much blood. Finally Susan reappeared on the top of a rock and saw me; she rushed down and helped me to take off the backpack and lie down. She had some napkins so I used them to stop further bleeding and clean up. It was a mess.

At that time, I worried about how to get back and what happened if we were many more miles from our trailhead with two kids we had to carry. All of a sudden, it dawned on me the responsibility of carrying two kids: how difficult it could be if something were to happen to one of us, like spraining an ankle. We had to be extra cautious. Luckily we didn’t have another incident like this on the trip. Susan had to carry Bryden on the return trip as we slowly made out of the gorge and fortunately my nose bleed had stopped and we were able to do another beautiful hike that afternoon.
Kadia on Capitol Gorge Trail

A few years ago when we were at Arches National Park, we paid a day visit to the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands. Needles, CanyonlandsAlthough we were impressed with what we saw there, it was the Needles, a wall of sandstone spires like an obstacle loomed menacingly and impregnably over the far horizon that took our imagination. They seemed to be protecting some hidden treasures; however, it also invitingly begged to be explored and discovered. Unfortunately the drive to the Needles was 4 hours away where we were. But the sight of the Needles burned into my memory, like some old friends awaiting a visit.

We planned 3 days trip to visit the Needles this time. Needles MapThe campground at Squaw Flat was small therefore we knew that we had to get there early to get a campsite. Luckily it was the day after the Memorial Day so we got a great campsite with a big rock behind us and looking over at the Needles. The next day, we drove to the Elephant Hill trailhead for our much-anticipated hike to Chesler Park. Actually we were thinking of hiking the Chesler Park Loop/Joint trail but weren’t sure if we were up to the 11 miles hikes as it would be the first time we each had to carry a baby and we hadn’t any serious exercises for a year. 4WD MapWe decided that we would make the final decision when we got to the Chesler Park Viewpoint (the pink trail shown on the map to the right). Also I didn’t know how well I can hike as I had painful bloody cracks on both heels of my feet from perhaps wearing sandals too often.

Canyonlands is a great place for 4-wheel driving into the back country. There are many 4-wheel drive trails. Maze District is the most remote and requires a 4-wheel drive vehicle to navigate. There are a few in the Needles district as well. At the trailhead, there was the famous Elephant Hill 4WD trailhead. We saw the sign (click on the picture on the left to read description) and walked up the trail a little bit. Oh my god. Even if I had a 4WD, I wouldn’t attempt it: it was steep and narrow, filled with hairpin turns and large rocks. Experienced drivers were definitely needed to tackle this drive. While we were getting ready to hike, we saw a jeep with a few people–yelling and screaming–headed up the 4WD trail but, within 15 minutes, the jeep backed down the trail with people subdued. They probably gave up.

This would be Kadia’s first serious hike, 6 to 7 miles if she hiked to the Chesler Park Viewpoint and back. Hiking at the beginning of Elephant Hill trail She had done a few hikes that were a couple of miles long before but this would be equivalent of us hiking 30 miles, I estimated. She seemed to be in good spirits and carried her cereal, not knowing what was ahead for her and my intention of not carrying her for as long as possible. Mushroom RocksThe hike started off with some steep climb. After about 300 yards, it luckily leveled off. The trail then winded through some open areas with shrubs and micro crusts. The view was great with many rock formations: spires, mushrooms, and hoodoos. The hike had varieties: sometimes we walked on the famous Utah slick rocks with cairns guiding our way; sometimes we squeezed our way through narrow canyons that could only let one person through at a time; one time the trail seemed to disappear then we discovered we had to climbed down a steep cliff; Toward the Needlesthere were also times we hiked along a narrow footpath half way up a canyon wall with steep drop-offs.

Kadia was amazing. She hiked and hiked without many complaints except she asked and drank a lot though. She constantly asked for water. I knew she liked to drink through the hose of our camel pack. The day was in the mid 80’s and there were few shades. After a while, I realized that she might be drinking for the fun instead of the need; we had to limit her drinking to every 15 minutes to regulate our supply and also her intake. She was always eager to take a few more steps quickly when it was about the end of 15 minutes interval. We did a lot of counting as I told her that she could take a drink once we counted together to 100. At Chesler Park Maybe her counting prowess started from that day.

It was a steep climb the last 150 yards to the viewpoint. Some steps were as tall as Kadia. When we got to the top, I was actually disappointed with the view on the other side as the view had been great all along the hike. We hiked down into the area known as Chesler Park and found a wimpy tree for a little shade and stopped there for lunch. Coming back dwon from Chesler Park ViewpointAfter lunch, I took Bryden into the Chesler Park a little more to check out the place (see above) as we had determined we didn’t have enough water to go on anymore and we might not have time as we were going at a very slow pace and it took us 3 hours to get to the Chesler Park viewpoint. After exploring for about 10 minutes, I think the place looked promising. The area was big and there seemed to be many interesting things far away. We reluctantly turned back.

Kadia had great fun going back down from the Chesler Park Viewpoint (see above). Kadia sleepingShe slid down many rocks on her butt and called it slide-rock (滑石 in Chinese) as if she was sliding down rock-made slide. Eventually she was really pooped so I carried her the rest of way with her sleeping in the backpack. In total she hiked about 4 miles and she was only 39 months old. I doubted that I could do that when I was her age. We also learned a lot about ourselves, what pace we could expect if Kadia were to hike and how much water we needed. It proved useful in many of our other hikes later on the trip. There were a lot of other great hiking trails there: Joint Trail, Druid Arch, Angel Arch, Devils Kitchen. We will be back, with or without a 4WD. Bryden scouting his routeHere was Bryden studying the map where he may want to hike the next time he comes.

If you have never been to badlands, never seen pictures of them, or never heard of them, you will find yourself amazed by them. They seem to be out of this world, like a moonscape. We had already seen some badlands at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota however it still didn’t prepare us for the immense volume and grandeur of the Badlands National Park. It was beautifully desolated.

It was hot there. The 1st day we were there, it was 109F at 2PM. We waited until the next morning to go for a hike as we usually like to hike for a minimum of two hours and it was not wise to hike in heat. Badlands near Notch TrailWe picked the Notch Trail because it was only about 1.5 miles so we would have a lot of time to explore the trail and the area around it before it would get too hot.

The trailhead also had trails leading to the Door and Window trails. We warmed up by taking the short Window trail first to get a great view of an intricately eroded canyon. There were many rattlesnake signs to warn unwary tourists. Stairway to Heaven, Badland, Notch TrailAny chance of snake sightings would always get me agitated and cautious; we decided to take our hiking poles as safety measures.

We started off the Notch trail by winding through a canyon. Susan with Bryden climbing stairs at Notch Trails, Badlands NPBadlands got the name because pioneers found them to be hard to navigate through and we soon discovered the reason. About a half way through the canyon, we noticed some people were hiking at the top of the canyon above and ahead of us. We were wondering how they got up to the top and soon we found out how: there was a steep ladder about 100 feet tall. I took Kadia by hand up the ladder. The last 20 feet were too steep to walk together side-by-side. Kadia with no fear, climbed up the rest of the way herself. Susan & Kada on Notch Trail, BadlandsSusan, with her fear of heights, scrambled up with Bryden on her back. It wasn’t difficult climbing up but, later on, on the way back down the ladder, she was shaking with fear: every step took many seconds.

The trail up on the canyon provided us a great view of the canyon we just hiked in.
Hiking at Notch Trail, Badlands NPIn some places, Looking down at the Notch Trail, Badlands NPit was a little treacherous so I had to keep a good hold of Kadia’s hand and we were glad that we brought our hiking poles. There were very few people on this trail and we felt like we owned the place, exploring through some of the side canyons there, enjoying ourselves. At the end of the trail, we arrived at the Notch above the Cliff Shelf with a great view of White River Valley. We waved to some people down at the Cliff Shelf nature trail and had the feeling that we were in heaven. This was a great and fun hike. Next time we will do some fossils hunting as well; maybe we can come face to face with a dinosaur and not blink.Ralph and Kadia having fun at Notch Trail

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