Ouray Perimeter Trail, CO

CJP_4638The Colorado Adventure: Day 4, part 1

The fourth day of our adventure was a hike around the Ouray Perimeter which turned out bittersweet for me. The hike was awesome, but I screwed up and didn’t pay attention to my camera settings before we set out. Every shot I had was completely underexposed to the point that everything was unusable. Luckily, I got a couple shots the day before when we arrived in town, I did take some pictures with my phone for Instagram, and my wife was my second shooter to help enhance the story and her shots turned out. So there are pictures! Let’s start at the beginning as we will continue to do for the 2017 Family Vacation.

If you’re new to this string, keep reading. If you’ve read about our adventure before, skip to the next picture.

Less Junk More JourneyColorado TripI must give credit where it is due. While the majority of the trip were places we knew about, the specific itinerary ideas were thanks to a YouTube channel called Less Junk, More Journey. The channel is a regular vlog about a family traveling around the country full-time in their RV. I used locations from their videos that really interested Cheryl and I, and formed a route that covered most of the state of Colorado. The route’s intention was to give us a taste of what every area had to offer so that we would know what we wanted more of. We consulted the kids to get their input and set our plans in motion.

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Ouray GoogleOur third stop on our adventure was to the tiny town of Ouray in the southwestern corner of the state. I had heard of the town before, but vaguely knew anything about it. When the Less Junk, More Journey channel featured a hike there, I knew it had to go on the list. The town is nestled in the mountains at around 8,000 feet of elevation, which allows you to look in any direction and be rewarded with an amazing view. The above shot was from the front door of our hotel room, the shots below were from the back balcony (the bridge is part of the trail).CJP_4633

CJP_4629For its size, the town was intensely busy. The main street was packed with people checking out the shops, mostly tourist trap souvenir stores and a couple candy shops. There were a few places to eat, although I’ll add that they know what they are, where they are, and charge accordingly… There was one grocery store in town that was more of your traditional country store with a limited inventory. It was quite warm the day we got there and I went to get some water for us only to find that they were sold out of pretty much everything liquid and they had no ice. So we rationed what water we had in our Camelbaks as we were intending on refilling in town and the hotel water… didn’t feel right. However, the humming birds thought the water was pretty sweet…

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The perimeter hike was harder to research than I anticipated. There were tons of sources quoting that it was a 5 mile loop. However, no one had any maps to back that up. There was a lot of that, 5 miles, no proof. Even once we got to town and looked around all I found was a map on a pamphlet from the visitor center that revealed the trail wasn’t completely finished, but there were plans. What we found was a trail that was 75% complete, but still worth every ounce of sweat to experience it.

Ouray RouteOne thing I like about the trail is that you can start it at pretty much any point you want. There are access points all around the circumference of the town. We decided to start our hike from the visitor center at the northern edge of town. We parked the Jeep in the parking lot for the hot spring fed pool, strapped on our packs and headed across the street to the trailhead where we were greeted with an immediate steep switchback climb to the trail overlooking the town.

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I think the reason you jump straight into a climb is so that when you take a moment to catch your breath… you get to soak in the view of the sleeping town below. The trail itself is what I envisioned a trail would be like in the Colorado mountains, worn and rough and potentially dangerous. At certain points the trail is only a couple feet wide and the edge of it is a sheer drop-off into a scree field that would tear you up.

DSC_4618The northeast portion of the trail is the most attractive and pleasing in my opinion. On one side you have the view overlooking the town, with a gray rock of the mountain climbing above you on the other. All smiles the whole way. Then at the northeastern “corner” you come across a waterfall (green star) that we noticed from town. This was a bit sketchy as finding the route to base in order to pick up the next section of trail took a few minutes. We eventually got to the bottom and found the older kids who had disappeared down the trail on their own.

What we thought was Titan and Odessa waiting for us to catch up, turned out to be them just not knowing where to go from there. At the base of the waterfall is an access point to the trail. I went over the route with everyone the night before and they remembered there was a road walk near the fall. So using their smart goat-thinkers, they waited to verify if that was the road walk or not, it was not.

DSC_4646The next section from the falls to the southeast “corner” was a nice wooded section through pines. This is one of the sections that has a road walk. It once again starts out with a switchback climb to get back up to the trail level. After a little bit it comes to a road and the sign is kind of confusing. It appears to point northeast, so we started to walk the road uphill, but it didn’t feel right. So I broke out the pamphlet and compass and turned us around. We should have been heading the other way downhill. Luckily I didn’t let us get too far and we got back on track.

DSC_4652The temps started to feel a bit chilly and CJ was getting a little crabby. So Momma came up with the idea to put her jacket on and then take my rain jacket to wrap her legs up with it. It was just enough to get the wind off of her and let her body heat increase enough to bring out the gabby baby-girl I know and love. It was some good Momma goat-thinkin’. Once again the older kids pushed on ahead further, at least this time we got to catch glances of them now and then.

This section wound through a couple campsites and ultimately came to a conclusion with a steep uphill hike on a service road (red star). Momma and I had to take a break after that climb, so glad for the trekking poles.

CJP_4718After we recovered from the climb and snacked on Clif Bars, we continued on our way. The next portion brought back those views we were first presented with. It was pretty open, rocky, and full of scrub brush. Here is where the trail gives you an option to take the shortcut straight toward the bridge from earlier, or you can wind a little further south. We chose to take the shortcut route, which was a rugged, rocky decent that taxed the knees a bit. It eventually terminated at a road (blue star) that headed back up towards the trail to the bridge and tunnel.

DSC_4704There was a short road walk that crossed a bridge and gave us a view of another waterfall that fed into a small river. Unfortunately the pictures of the actual river didn’t turn out. It had some pretty violent rapids in it though. It wasn’t long before we reached the bridge crossing the gap over that fast flowing river.CJP_4763

DSC_4722The neat part about the bridge (purple star) is that you cross over into a tunnel through the mountain. The ceiling is pretty low, so we put the sunshade up that comes with the Osprey Poco Plus child carrier to help inform me when the ceiling was getting too low and could bonk CJ in the melon. Definitely, wanted to protect her from that.

We passed through the tunnel without incident and emerged into the daylight on the other side. It was only a hundred yards or so until the trail met up with a dirt road (orange star) and our off road journey was done. From that point on the dirt turned into pavement and it was a road walk back to the car. This is one of the areas they said they had plans to expand in the future, funds just weren’t there yet.

DSC_4710In the end the hike came out to 6 miles after taking the shortcut. We all super enjoyed the experience, and after looking through the brochure we discovered there is a pretty good sized network of trails surrounding the town. So we may have to return for an extended period of time to do some more exploring!

DSC_4602From there we drove straight to Mesa Verde National Park. So until next time, get out there and go for a walk!

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Hanging Lake Park, CO

The Colorado Adventure: Day 3

DSC_4452In 2015 we were traveling back to Iowa from my wife’s family reunion in Idaho, on a route through Colorado, because I made the route and wanted to see Colorado. Along the way she saw the road sign for Hanging Lake, looked it up on her phone, and said she wanted to come back and check it out. Then a little over a year later we start watching a YouTube channel that visited the park, and she excitedly remembered it and said that it had to go on the list. Even though that is the true beginning to this hike, let’s start at the beginning as we will continue to do for the 2017 Family Vacation.

If you’re new to this string, keep reading. If you’ve read about our adventure before, skip to the next picture.

Less Junk More JourneyColorado TripI must give credit where it is due. While the majority of the trip were places we knew about, the specific itinerary ideas were thanks to a YouTube channel called Less Junk, More Journey. The channel is a regular vlog about a family traveling around the country full-time in their RV. I used locations from their videos that really interested Cheryl and I, and formed a route that covered most of the state of Colorado. The route’s intention was to give us a taste of what every area had to offer so that we would know what we wanted more of. We consulted the kids to get their input and set our plans in motion.

DSC_4483Hanging Lake GoogleOur second stop on our journey was at Hanging Lake Park, just off the interstate in northwesterly Colorado. Hanging Lake is this not-so hidden little gem that is challenging and in-demand. The parking lot is small, only holding roughly a couple dozen vehicles. I read up and learned that it fills up quick and doesn’t take long to form a line all the way out to the off-ramp. If you get there at a bad time the rangers will actually turn you away. As we were leaving there was a ranger at the entrance holding everyone up, and as he saw us exiting he pointed to the next car to let them in. The line went on for quite a while, but there was room for a good number more that day. Shortly after our visit I read somewhere that the park service is considering requiring permits to limit the number of visitors per day and help the parking situation starting as early as next year (2018).

(This is all they have for parking.)Hanging Lake parking

Being forewarned of the parking situation we once again left the hotel just before dawn. When we arrived our preparedness worked again. We were one of the first visitors of the day, but there were only a few parking spots left already! The sun was barely cresting the horizon and this place was almost full.

DSC_4467The hike itself is pretty short overall, only about 1.2 miles from the parking lot to the lake. That’s the length… the vertical gain is a around 2,000 feet in that 1.2 miles! It’s a butt-kicker for sure. The state of Iowa only has roughly 1,200 of gain from the lowest point in Keokuk to the highest point at Hawkeye Point. In fact I just did a 20 mile hike up at Yellow River State Forest in the northeast corner and only had a total of 2,200 feet over that 20 miles. This was a climb, with a toddler on my back no less, but totally worth it!

DSC_4455The trail starts off as this nicely paved path that traces along the river. The kids were in a brighter mood and started farting around with the trekking poles. Like the great parents that we are… we decided it was a good idea to take pictures instead of the, ya know, safer alternative of telling them to stop.

However, this path is not specifically for Hanging Lake. This path is an exercise path that just happens to go past the trailhead for Hanging Lake. You only get the bliss of this smooth path for the first .2 miles of your 1.2 mile hike. Once you exit the path you are immediately set upon by this jagged slope of rock that informs you this climb is for real.

While the steepness of the climb doesn’t relent often, the surface of the trail does smooth out so you can enjoy your surroundings more easily. The majority of the trail runs alongside the fast flowing creek created by the overflowing waters from Hanging Lake. This little steady stream of water has mini waterfalls of its own that creates this rushing sound your entire journey.

CJP_4522Cheryl being your standard waterfall enthusiast, had to stop and get pictures every time we came across any white water. While it slowed her and me down a bit, I didn’t mind since I was carrying some extra weight and appreciated the breather (Titan and Odessa just kept charging forward). I got several “good job dad,” and once I crossed paths with another toddler carrying dad, we gave each other a knowing smile and nod. lol.

The scenery during the entire hike was simply amazing and helped to detract from the strain of the effort. Here are a few shots to help you see just how much the trails crams into only 1 mile:

After all of that, you make it to the top and are greeted with an open view of the valley you just hiked up.CJP_4565

 

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In truth you only have one spot to see this view before you are back in the trees. Unfortunately, this little spot is part of the last few feet of the trail as well. So you do need to be quick with your camera as people do want to pass by. Everyone we encounter were very nice and and even offered to take our “selfie” for us.

Part of that could also be that at this point in the trail more often than not the people we encountered pulled their little groups off to the side to make way for the huffing and puffing dad, and smile at the cute baby enjoying the ride.

Finally we get to see what all of the effort was for, Hanging Lake!DSC_4525

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The lake is surrounded by a nice walkway made of deck boards with warnings not to stray from the path. Not only that, but there were plenty of benches! Oh yeah, and we caught up to Titan and Odessa who had been chillin’ at the top for a bit. They have a somewhat large platform that puts you right in the center of the lake to make room for all of us that want to get our photos. There were a good number of people trying to get photos, but for the most part everyone was very courteous. They snuck up to the railing, took their photo, and stepped back to make room for the next person. Ahem, I was actually the one taking my time.. but I only felt a little bad about it. My whole plan once we got to the top was to take a long exposure of the falls to get the smoothed out surface look with the white streams of water from the falls. I set my tripod up and proceeded to take several exposures; one to make sure I got it right, and two… remember I said the platform was made of deck boards. Well deck boards vibrate when people walk on them and it was just enough to cause camera shake during the long exposure to ruin the image. Eventually I did get what I was after though:CJP_4555

DSC_4540After we figured we spent enough time at the lake we went back to the entrance of the platform where another steep trail heads up and behind the lake so you can check out the source of the water; Spouting Rock.

IMG_3888Spouting Rock is a large  waterfall that is spewing tons of water with some powerful force. It doesn’t just trickle over the edge, but projects the water like someone turned on a hose at full force. CJ didn’t quite know what to think of this loud shower.CJP_4560

Eventually we had to start making our way back down the trail and move on. Even on the way down new sights crossed our camera lenses that had a smiling and praising this little hike. Once the sun was above the mountains the trail seemed to brighten up (both literally and figuratively).

As we neared the bottom of the hike and the paved trail back to the car we were given one last scenic shot with trail disappearing into the trees and sun shining on the river and mountains:DSC_4577

Of course when you’re in Colorado with your family, it isn’t hard to find a scenic view around any corner.

Here are the rest of the photos from the hike and I hope you have a great walk!

Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

The Colorado Adventure: Day 2

CJP_4324The most amazing place I have encountered to date is Rocky Mountain National Park! That place will forever be my spirit animal (as they say)… Let’s start at the beginning as we will continue to do for the 2017 Family Vacation. If you’re new to this string, keep reading.

If you’ve read about our adventure before, skip to the next picture.

Less Junk More JourneyColorado TripI must give credit where it is due. While the majority of the trip were places we knew about, the specific itinerary ideas were thanks to a YouTube channel called Less Junk, More Journey. The channel is a regular vlog about a family traveling around the country full-time in their RV. I used locations from their videos that really interested Cheryl and I, and formed a route that covered most of the state of Colorado. The route’s intention was to give us a taste of what every area had to offer so that we would know what we wanted more of. We consulted the kids to get their input and set our plans in motion.

CJP_4460First stop on the list was Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). I always knew that RMNP was one of the most popular parks of our national park system, but I didn’t understand exactly what that meant in terms of visiting it. Thanks to the YouTube channel describing it as being similar to Disneyland, I was far more prepared. We were going to be visiting in mid-July, the height of the tourist season for Colorado, hence why we were there.

RMNP.JPGOur plans were to hike from the Bear Lake trail-head to Emerald Lake and back. There is a small parking lot at the Bear Lake trail-head, but it fills up quickly according to many sources. So the other option is to park a little further back and hitch a ride with the free shuttle service. It is only about a 10-15 min drive by car between the parking lots, but the shuttle makes multiple stops, so expect about an hour once you get on from what people are saying.RMNP Shuttle

DSC_4407Being someone who is willing to sacrifice a little sleep in order to get on the trail at sunrise, I informed the family that they were going to be sacrificing their sleep as well. There might have been a couple unamused faces after gaining this information… The dark of night was just fading as we pulled out of the hotel parking lot in Loveland on our way to Bear Lake. My intent was to beat the crowds and get one of those coveted parking spots at the trail-head. As we pulled up to the entrance there was only one other car driving in, things were looking good. We proceeded to weave through the park and found that the elevation change for these Iowa lowlanders was starting to affect Titan, so we had to pull over for a couple of minutes. We got back on the road once he felt better and hit the parking lot a few minutes later. The sun hadn’t crested the mountains yet and the Bear Lake trail-head parking lot was already 1/4 full. There were a few hammocks hanging around the lot, so some had been there overnight. At any rate, success! We got a spot!

We stretched our legs a bit and got ready to hit the trail, even though Titan and Odessa were a little grumpy still at the early rising, you could sense the excitement of hiking in the mountain for the first time. We stepped into the trees and started down the well-worn path. The trail was extremely well maintained, which was to be expected, it is a national park and this is one of the most popular hikes in the park. It didn’t take long to confirm the efforts put into planning were well worth it, the views were breathtaking as I… I mean we… finally got to officially be in the mountains!

CJP_4292Another perk to getting out on the trails early, there weren’t many other travelers to jockey around for position amongst the congestion. We didn’t have to wait in line to take the shot we wanted, or have to worry about the discourteous visitor jumping into your shot because they only cared about getting theirs. By 10 AM the trails were already starting to see a large influx of people on the trail as we were heading back to the parking lot. You could actually begin to time the buses as we would encounter very large groups of people every 15-20 minutes.

CJP_4305The hike from Bear Lake to Emerald Lake is 2.3 miles (4.6 round trip), but there are two other lakes along the way. The first one you come to is Nymph Lake after about a 1/2 mile of steady climbing from the trail-head, which produced some initial huffing until we got our legs under us a bit. On the way down more than one person asked how the rest of the hike was, because the first section was obviously working them. After Nymph Lake it was a lot easier. It is the smallest of the four we visited that day, and completely shrouded by the mountains. The light was trying to creep in, but the mountains blocked any hope it might have had of reaching the surface of the lake until late in the day. As a consequence, the mosquitoes were quite thick along the shore. Fortunately this was the only place we encountered any mosquitoes during our visit through the entire state. Nymph Lake had all of Colorado’s mosquitoes in one place!

We stuck around for only a little bit to try to capture some images, but the low light and mosquitoes won out, and we decided to try later on the way back. By the time we returned both were far better. As we moved on to our next stop, Dream Lake, the trail continued to climb, but with far less grade to it. This section of the trail provided the most spectacular views along the hike. There are two specific locations that really lend themselves to photographs, the first was the rock introducing this post. It is directly above Nymph Lake, so you can look down into it, and the forest surrounding it.

CJP_4447-PanoThe second is several yards down the trail where you get an open view of everything you think of when imagining a national park in Colorado. Both of these locations were spots I watched visitors trying to “fight” for position to get pictures (notice us early risers don’t have any other people in our shots…).

CJP_4341After about another 1 mile we arrived at Dream Lake. Dream Lake was filled with such crystal clear water that you could see the trout swimming around logs and rocks resting on the bottom. There were a good number of fisherman spending their morning with rod and reel here. We didn’t see any of them catch anything, but that’s not the purpose of fishing right?

CJP_4350Dream Lake is long and narrow so there was really only one shot of note for most people, a large rock outcropping at one end with the length of the lake stretching out and leading to the base of a mountain peak.

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Of course we joined in and took our family photo! All four of us had a camera of some sort, so after we all were satisfied with our photos we began our trek to Emerald Lake.

DSC_4352We started to run into the remnants of that winter’s snow along the way which surprised the kids since they didn’t comprehend that snow can stick around well into July due to the elevation and low sunlight, etc. Heck, as some readers may remember, I was praying for snow in Iowa this year and didn’t get a chance to test out my new snowshoes until late January or February, and that snow only lasted a couple of days!

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There were a couple climbs along the way, but overall the elevation gain felt relatively mild. It was roughly 3/4 of a mile from Dream Lake to Emerald lake. Aside from the fact that Emerald Lake was beautiful, I noticed that it felt more secluded than the others. The trail did terminate there, forcing you to turnaround and head back to the trail-head, so that could have been part of it. The other lakes had open areas around the lake with wide trails where one could easily move around. At Emerald it felt like the mountains shot straight up from the shoreline, and visitors only had a small 30 foot circle to gather and enjoy the sight.

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Even though it was still quite early and the main traffic hadn’t started yet, there were a good number of people hanging out in the small area. Like Dream Lake, there was really only one point of view that was attractively photogenic, and everyone that arrived wanted their shot from it. Yes, including me. The annoying part, the majority of us that stopped for a breather and a snack, stuck to the outer areas of the circle, back from the edge of the lake. Except one lady. She decided she wanted to sit on a rock protruding out into the lake a touch that was the only good spot for pictures, and refused to move. Of course she was European, possibly only spoke German it sounded like, and didn’t understand a group of us would like pictures of the lake without her in it. Eventually, after multiple people started to stand around her in awkward ways to try to get photos without her, she caught the hint and left. Then we all took our turns, got our photos, and moved away for the next person.

That lady was the only negative encounter we had though, but remember, the crowds hadn’t started to arrive yet. I started to feel a little bit of the elevation once we got to Emerald Lake; probably due to the combination of elevation, carrying CJ, and failing to drink enough water on the way up. (Elevation reduces the amount of oxygen in the air, water is partly made up of oxygen, drinking it helps add oxygen into your body.) I downed a good bit of water during the break and felt better for the return. I made sure that I continued to drink water regularly for the rest of our adventure in Colorado, and didn’t have an issue again. Once everyone felt rested and finished their snacks we put our packs back on and started back to the trail-head.

The little over 2 mile journey back was one of mixed sadness. I was loving every minute I got to spend on the trails within the mountains, but I couldn’t help feeling a bit sad that I knew we were heading back to the car so we could leave and continue on down the road (Cheryl is still suffering from the loss…). Along the way we kept running into large bus load after bus load of people on their way to Emerald Lake. We got some more photos as we could, stopped at Nymph Lake to try to get some better ones (which we did), and eventually made it back to the trail-head.

CJP_4480DSC_4292We were ahead of schedule, so we decided to sneak over to Bear Lake since it is only a 1/2 mile trail around it. Well, on paper it looked and sounded bigger than it was. The lake is only about 50 yards from the trail-head, and once we got to the shore we saw that you could see every bit of the lake from that one spot and to hike around it would just be for exercise as the views weren’t going to change. So we decided that was good enough.

DSC_4364So with big smiles, but slightly sad hearts, we walked back to the car. Here is where the “circus” began. The parking lot was full and there were a couple of cars circling like buzzards waiting for something to open up. Once they realized we were heading to our car the race that wasn’t a race was on! the First one there proceeded to block everyone else (one lane loop) while they waited for us to drop our gear, pack up the cameras, get CJ and the packs loaded into the Jeep, film the talking head part I do about the conclusion of the trail, and finally back out and leave. On the way out Cheryl wanted to stop at the gift shop so another encounter was incoming. heh. We got lucky and we got the last available parking spot immediately upon pulling in. However, the discourtesy among the majority of the people at the gift shop was amazing. People were walking out in front of moving vehicles with total disregard, or just simply standing in the middle of the roadway talking as cars are trying to leave. Others sending their young children to run ahead of other cars and stand in and block open parking spots, with vehicles basically informing the child move or get run over. The ugly selfishness of the human race showed its face for certain. It was only a little after noon!

CJP_4323In closing, even though the gift shop soured the experience a little, Rocky Mountain National Park is absolutely amazing! Just make sure you arrive just before dawn to beat the crazies. We’ve agreed that we’ll be returning for an extended trip with the goal of hiking as many of the trails as we can in the years to come. If you’re wanting to visit RMNP and don’t know what to do, the Bear Lake to Emerald Lake is very popular because it is so accessible. We saw a multitude of walks of life with varying physical conditioning along the trail. Just remember to take your time if you need to, and plan for a longer day. Make sure to bring plenty of water and some snacks to help keep you going. Even if you don’t take a lot of pictures, the experience would be good for your mind and body!

DSC_4340Now get out there and go for a walk!

Bensen Sculpture Garden, Loveland, CO

The Colorado Adventure: Day 1

Colorado Trip

In July of 2017 we packed up my wife’s new Jeep, and headed for a week of traveling to the mountains of Colorado with the kids. Our first stop on the trip was going to be Rocky Mountain National Park, but we wanted to hit the park at sunrise to beat the majority of the crowds (which was an excellent plan!) so we needed to stay over in Loveland just outside of the park. Well this gave us a long afternoon of sitting in the hotel, so the wife and I scoured the Google looking for things to do and we found Bensen Sculpture Garden in the center of town.Bensen LargeDSC_4051

DSC_4075The park is made up of over 150 large sculptures on a paved loop that circles a pond and covers 1.5-2 miles. The majority of the sculptures were pretty neat. At first the older kids had that “oh yay… look at the rock” attitude that a tween and teen have on family outings, but eventually they forgot they were supposed to be acting too cool and began having showdowns with the gunslinger and practicing their yoga poses. DSC_4166

Baby girl of course thought pretty much every one of them was neat and kept trying to go back to the ones with balls and puppies.DSC_4229

It was a pretty popular place with some steady traffic. There was even a wedding going on in the central gazebo that CJ tried to check out. As we neared the car we noticed it appeared that there seemed to be more on the other side of the road. Unbeknownst to us, there was a new section that was built to expand the park, to include a little mini train that went around that section! They don’t have an official website from what we found, so nothing really talked about the addition. I wish we had known so we could have planned a little more time to take CJ on a train ride. Either way, weather eventually started to move in and we were getting hungry as we completed the loop, so we decided to head back to the hotel.

 

A fun little place to check out if you find yourself in the Rocky Mountain National Park/ Fort Collins/ Loveland area with a couple hours to kill. Once again, I really wish I’d known more about the train. For me at least, I know I’m going back to RMNP for a few days next time, so CJ will get her train ride!DSC_4123

Here are a handful of the neater sculptures:

 

Gull Point State Park (plus Hawkeye Point)

 

DSC_1104Hawkeye PointGull Point State Park is located in northwest Iowa on the southwestern shores of the Okoboji Lakes in Wahpeton.

I visited Gull Point with my wife and my little Adventure Baby for a nice stroll through some woods on our third stop of the day over a Halloween weekend to check out what northwest Iowa had to offer. The whole idea for the weekend was to spend some family time in the woods checking out the last remnants of the fall colors and to see how much Adventure Baby could handle riding in her chariot (she was just shy of 11 months). Let me just say, even though it was slightly chilly, the weekend did not disappoint!

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The park has a short interpretive trail across the road from the campgrounds that produced a couple surprises. Now the park is pretty much flat with a small amount of grade to it at points. That being said, it was a pretty quick little trail to close out our hiking for the day.

DSC_1068aThe weather continued to decline as we left Fort Defiance and some very light sprinkles started to show up. We put the rain cover on the child carrier and marched once more down the trail. I’ll just say that for an interpretive trail, it wasn’t overly interpretive, just sign-less trail. We started at our orange star as usual and immediately found ourselves on a well worn trail.

I had almost decided to cut this one off the list, but I’m glad I decided to create these park tour trips and was able to fit it in, because the wooded surrounding were very pleasant. We hung a right at the first intersection and found a nice little chapel nestled quietly in the trees (red star). I later learned that it is considered the Boy Scout Chapel as it was built as a memorial to a boy scout troop that is no longer around, but was apparently quite popular.

DSC_1074We headed south from there and crossed the bridge toward the large loop. A few yards west of the bridge there was a canoe launch that looked to be part of some camp, and a neat little overlook (green star) that suggests that the park must be pretty active. The next surprise was at the blue star where we found a small scout camping area that had a bench overlooking a small nature space.

DSC_1080The rest of the trail was simple path flowing smoothly through the woods. All in all a small little gem I did not expect. The Okoboji Lakes are a very popular destination in Iowa and this little walk is definitely worth hopping over to.

A short and simple little review for a short and simple little hike. The 1.5 mile loop only took a touch over 30 minutes to hike. It’s flat and fast, so the only thing I would suggest is to bring your map!

DSC_1092This tiny treat completed our hiking tour for the day and Adventure Baby did great! She did finally start to express a little fussiness while were buckled her in this time, but once we were moving she continued to enjoy the ride. Day 1 test: success! Now on to a quick visit to Hawkeye Point before heading to our overnight in Sioux City.

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Bonus: Hawkeye Point, Iowa

DSC_1170Hawkeye Point is located near Wilson in the far northwest corner of Iowa.

Given the rugged, rocky hills of northeast Iowa, most people tend to think that the highest point in Iowa would be in that part of the state. In actuality it is in the northwest corner at Hawkeye Point.

DSC_1135At 1,670 feet, Hawkeye Point is the summit of Iowa. It is a small patch of ground that was donated to the state by the original family who worked the surrounding fields for decades. I was a little apprehensive as I pulled into the standard looking farm driveway that split the old farmhouse and barn, but once I got past them I saw the signs and knew I was going to the correct place. There are plans to build it up into a park with camping, but for now it is still just a spot on an Iowa farm. It is pretty simple in design; a tiled mosaic marking the point surrounded by a flag pole and posts with signs pointing to the other 49 highest points in each state with their elevations and distances away. Most of the work was done by local 4-H and youth groups.

DSC_1168The wind was really whipping through and the temps had dropped a good chunk by the time we got there, so we only stopped for some quick pictures and hopped back in the car to head to our room for the night. Adventure Baby had definitely had her fill of adventure for the day and proceeded to take a solid nap!

DSC_1153Thanks for reading and enjoy your walk!

Fort Defiance State Park

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Ft Defiance google mapFort Defiance State Park is located on the outskirts of Estherville in northwest Iowa.

I visited Fort Defiance with my wife and my little Adventure Baby for a nice stroll through some woods on our second stop of the day over a Halloween weekend to check out what northwest Iowa had to offer. The whole idea for the weekend was to spend some family time in the woods checking out the last remnants of the fall colors and to see how much Adventure Baby could handle riding in her chariot (she was just shy of 11 months). Let me just say, even though it was slightly chilly, the weekend did not disappoint!

Fort Defiance State Park gets its name from the old fort that once stood in what is now Estherville. It was built to protect the area from the Dakota Indians following their attack on settlers at the Spirit Lake Massacre in 1857. However that would be the only attack by the tribe. The Dakotas were eventually expelled from Minnesota, and the Civil War required resources and manpower, so the fort was decommissioned not long after.

Ft Defiance Trail Map.jpgFort Defiance has a lot to offer in its number of trails and terrain. We ended up cutting ourselves short sticking to the trails on the outer edge of the park, partially due to some frustration caused by low maintenance issues in places. We planned for around 5 or 6 miles, but ended up only knocking out 3 when all was said and done. Let’s get to the hike.

DSC_1001aWe parked at the lodge (orange star) and got Adventure Baby all prepared with a snack and a clean diaper. The temp did dip a touch since leaving Ambrose A Call State Park, so we put her winter coat and pants on her and buckled her into her pack. Then we set off to the west to begin our counterclockwise hike around the perimeter of the park. The initial hundred or so yards was a road walk to the first trail head, the mini Spring Creek Trail (tight purple dashes). This trail was a steady downhill that immediately awarded you with a sense that you were in the woods, our smiles were genuine.

DSC_1008Eventually it met up with the actual Spring Creek Trail (aqua). This intersection was the first point where low maintenance showed its head. There were a couple downed trees across the trail that had been there for a while. A makeshift attempt to go around the trees had been attempted by a few people before us, but not enough to really make it easily passable. We eventually got around the road block and back on the trail. The rest of the trail was very enjoyable and passed without incident.

Spring Creek Trail terminated at a road where it meets up with the two prairie trails; East and South Prairie Trails. We hopped on East Prairie Trail (purple) from here which turned into a grassy walk on what was probably the least scenic of the park. About 2/3 of the way down the path we discovered it met up with the road where we found a bench swing looking off toward the center of the park (red star). The view from the swing was great, making this a neat little road side pull off site. DSC_1033After a few photos, we continued along and found ourselves wandering a bit through a section of trees where the trail wasn’t overly noticeable. While I normally grumble about them chewing up the trails, luckily horses had been through earlier so their tracks were easy to follow to the end of the trail.

DSC_1037I was able to get us back on track and entered the descent of East Trail (yellow), and quite a descent it was. It didn’t last long as we were only on it for a few dozen yards before branching off onto Ridge Trail (gray) (and a new climb…). Ridge Trail was great as it wove through the trees overlooking the valley below. We noticed that there are a few lucky people with backyards that meet up with the northern border of the park for ready access.

DSC_1052Low maintenance appeared again where Ridge and North Trail (orange) met, and sporadically came in and out throughout its length. The North Trail was kind of scraggly in places before turning into a pretty good descent into the valley floor where Flume Trail (blue) followed the creek. The area surrounding Flume Trail felt very open and was quite attractive. In hindsight, I wish I had known and planned to hike more of the green circled area. I would probably have hiked the full length of Flume Trail, re-hiked the small section of Ridge Trail until it met with East Trail again and taken that back to the lodge.

DSC_1047As it was, we didn’t hike as far as we thought we had on Flume Trail, and once we could see the lodge, we accidentally exited the trail about a 1/4 mile early by following a game trail up the ridiculously steep climb thinking it was a low maintenance trail heading up the hill on the east side of the lodge. Once up top, we walked the 50 yards or so to the car and prepared for our next stop.

DSC_1063I would still say there are a good 6 miles worth of trails to snag out at Fort Defiance State Park, 6 rugged miles. That being said, as you can tell from the map and my report, you can plan as many miles as you want. You should keep your personal conditioning in mind when making your plans. I had put in a good number of miles that year and found myself breathing pretty hard on some of those climbs. Due to the ruggedness I would suggest a minimum of a pack with water and snacks. I would also promote the use of trekking poles here for sure. While not necessary, they really do alleviate some of the stress on the knees during the climbing and descending. Obviously I would say that a map is a must as I got a bit off trail even while using it, imagine if I didn’t have one.

Now don’t take any of the negative chatter within this post as the park being a less desirable location to visit. I really did like that park a lot and feel that with a little more attention to trail maintenance it could be an awesome state park! If you head that way to check out the fall colors, Fort Defiance State Park will provide an excellent scene. Now on to Test part 3: Gull Point State Park.

DSC_1005Thanks for reading and enjoy your walk!

Ambrose A. Call State Park

 

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Ambros A Call Google MapAmbrose A Call State Park is located up by Algona in northwest Iowa.

I visited Ambrose A Call with my wife and my little Adventure Baby for a nice stroll through some woods as our first stop of several over a Halloween weekend to check out what northwest Iowa had to offer. Let me just say, even though it was slightly chilly, the weekend did not disappoint!

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The whole idea for the weekend was to spend some family time in the woods checking out the last remnants of the fall colors and to see how much Adventure Baby could handle riding in her chariot (she was just shy of 11 months).

We parked at the orange star next to the lodge and got baby girl all secured into her pack. One thing I noticed right away is that they appear to have a really nice disc golf course around the main recreation area of the park, complete with signage and maps of each hole (yellow star). It suggests that they put a good amount of effort into the park and speaks to its potential.

DSC_0950Overall the park has a short 1.75 mile trail system through some very pleasant woods set on a good-sized hill. We started our hike on the Woods Trail staying to the outer loop in a counter-clockwise route. As the map suggests, a .2 mile trail is super quick to complete. The trail was pretty well maintained for the most part, however at the red star this one got a little over grown and confusing until we came out at the southwestern most picnic area. That was our only hiccup with the trails though. After that, all of the other trails were solid and easy to follow.

DSC_0961As we started our trek eastward from the picnic area we followed the road for a few feet until we found the trail-head to Creek Trail. It started with a good downhill descent and then turned into the most enjoyable section. The scenery was great as we followed the creek in a northeasterly direction toward the park entrance. Adventure Baby was having a blast slapping the back of my head and pulling at my ears most of the way.

DSC_0969DSC_0948Eventually we had to climb out of the creek bed and found ourselves on the main park road. I snuck down the road to catch a picture of the entrance sign (something I often forget to do…) and then back to jump on the last section of trail, High-Low Trail. Now this last section did have a couple of spots at the beginning where you could easily follow the trail, but it was a little tough to pick it out until you were right on top of it. As we rounded the bend at the northern most point we were met with a long, steady, incline back to the top of the hill.

DSC_0997Once we got to the top, there was a moment of, “oh hey, isn’t that grass over there pretty.” Chuckles aside, at the top was a home of one of the original settlers to the area. It had been preserved and relocated to the park a number of years ago as a representation of the original home of the family that donated the land to the state that once sat in the park. From here it was a road walk back to the car to complete our hike. Adventure Baby had a blast, but was ready to be done and get something to eat. Test part 1: success.

Given the short length of the trails (1.75 miles over a casual 50 minutes), gear is more of a comfort item for this hike. I would still suggest bringing some water and your map of the park. Since they are small, I’m never opposed to taking something like a Clif Bar as a snack for just in case you get hungry (ya never know). There was a good amount of climbing/descending, so I would also recommend trekking poles for those who want more stability.

I tend to shy away from these shorter length parks as I enjoy chewing up the miles, but Ambrose A Call State Park is definitely a beautiful fall destination. If you’re just looking for a quick stroll, or introducing some little ones to the outdoors, this park gets my stamp of approval (if I had a big ole’ stamp to approve things with). Now on to Test part 2: Ft Defiance State Park.

DSC_0968Thanks for reading! Now go enjoy your walk!