Getting lost in the mountains of Grand Teton National Park.

Our next stop – Grand Teton National Park – was a short drive south from Yellowstone on the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway. As Grand Teton borders Yellowstone on the south, vacationers often combine visits to both parks.

(Fun fact: Early French explorers named this mountain range; being overcome with awe at the majesty and scale of the peaks, they were of course reminded of breasts. ‘Grand Tetons’ literally translates to ‘big boobs’).

While a much smaller than its northerly neighbor, Yellowstone, the scenery of Grand Tetons is no less stunning. The park is named for the mountains that form most of its 309,944 acres. As the youngest mountains in the Rocky Mountain Range, the Grand Tetons are also some of the highest, with Grand Teton Peak (the largest boob) soaring to a height of 13,000 feet above the lakes at its base.

As with Yellowstone, we opted to explore Grand Teton by foot and by bike. Our first day took us on a 60 mile ride from Colter Bay through the Snake River Valley, where we were afforded unobstructed views of the mountains the entire way.

IMG_0469
Um, yeah, so this was pretty much our view for the entire bike ride. Tough to deal with, but somehow we managed.

At the Jenny Lake Visitor Center, we were happy to discover a 2-way bike trail that paralleled the main valley road for several miles. The trail – the Grand Teton Multi-Use Pathway – took us ~ 8 miles to the town of Moose, where we opted to turn back. However, the trail – which was one of the best maintained we’ve ever ridden – extended another 12 miles to the town of Jackson. If we’d had more time (and not rushing due to family dinner obligations) we would have loved to take it! All in all, the ride offered a beautiful stretch of gently rolling terrain with epic mountain views – and a nice reprieve from the significant climbing from previous days. On the way back, we picked up the pace quite a bit, snagging a Strava course record (or two) in the process.

Check out our bike route here!

The following day we took to the trails, eager to explore the mountains. We started from the Jenny Lake Trailhead near the Visitor’s Center, and took the Jenny Lake Trail up to Inspiration Point, before doubling back and then turning on Cascade Canyon Trail and following that along a swiftly rushing creek up to Lake Solitude. Along the way, we were fortunate to catch a glimpse of a mother black bear and her cub, happily munching away on huckleberries on the side of the trail!

IMG_0480
Best shot we could get of Mama (lower right) & Baby Bear from the super-safe distance we were keeping.

We were very careful in passing them both at a safe distance – and we’re glad we remembered our bear spray. However, both mother and baby seemed 1,000x more interested in their berry breakfast than us, and we happily wished them a good day before continuing on.

IMG_0500
The trail was technical in some places, but for the most part very runnable.

All in all, the trail took us up some 8 miles and roughly 2,500 feet before ending at a snow-covered valley with the ice-filled Lake Solitude at the center – a far cry from the sweltering, 90+ degree valley floor where we had started less than 2 hours earlier.

IMG_0504
The views on the way to Lake Solitude were beautiful.

We stopped to enjoy the views – and a quick bite to eat – before turning back. On the way down, we opted to soak our legs in the mountain creek – which felt so so good on our tired muscles!

Check out our run/hike route here!

IMG_0509
The view at Lake Solitude. Why we do what we do.

Throughout our stay, we were struck by the difference in environment stewardship (or lack thereof) demonstrated by the companies that managed the lodging/dining at Grand Teton vs. Yellowstone. In Yellowstone, they have all but eliminated plastic bags and styrofoam from the park, and Xanterra (the company that constructed and manages the accommodations there) prides itself on its use of environmentally responsible materials – from beetle-killed pine in the construction of its lodges, to compostable food containers. In Grand Teton, in contrast, the Grand Tetons Lodging Company offers plastic bags and styrofoam at all of its general stores, dining, and hotels, and there is a notable lack of designated recycling or compost containers – all of which seem antithetical to the purpose and mission of the National Park System. We invite the readers of this blog to write the Grand Tetons Lodging Company (www.gtlc.com) and ask them to commit to greater environmental stewardship in their management, including the elimination of styrofoam and plastic bags from their facilities, and the provision of more recycling receptacles.

Interested in visiting the Grand Teton NP? While we enjoyed our time there, we personally will not be visiting overnight again until the GTLC cleans up its act and commits to a greater standard of environmental responsibility. We encourage you to do the same. That said, you can still visit the park for a day hike or bike ride, without patronizing GTLC facilities. Feel free to check out the run and bike ride routes we did, or check the park website for other suggestions.

Fee? Yes – $30 per vehicle. Annual National Park Passes also accepted. Dogs? Yes – on leashes and in parking areas and along roads. Dogs and other pets are not permitted on trails in any national park. MTB? Yes – on designated trails.

Next stop: Utah – Arches and Zion NP!

Yellowstone: Because what could be more epic than a park on top of a supervolcano.

Following our visit to Craters of the Moon in Idaho, we turned to the northeast, making our way towards the wilderness and famed national parks of northern Wyoming. Our first stop was none other than the flagship park of the National Park Service: the iconic Yellowstone.

Apart from its distinction as the first national park, Yellowstone is also a geologist nerd’s delight: It’s essentially 2.2 million acres atop an ancient supervolcano. Everything in the park – from the rivers and lakes, to the flora and fauna – is in turn affected by the volcanic forces at work. Within the 30 by 45 mile caldera are some of the most impressive geysers and hot springs in the world, including the emblematic Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Springs, along with lesser known (but equally awesome) features like Dragon’s Breath, Artists Paintpots, and others.

IMG_0605
Yellowstone gets its name from the colored rock surrounding the Yellowstone River, which winds its way throughout the park.

(Important note: When exploring the park’s geysers and hot springs, stick to the boardwalks. The surrounding area is not only fragile, but surrounded by boiling sulfuric acid; you will die a horrible death if you jump in. 😊 )

IMG_0604
These helpful signs found throughout the park show the impending doom that awaits if you step off the boardwalk. You will get hurt while onlookers point and laugh or walk away indifferently.

We spent a total of 4 days in Yellowstone, which we agreed was still not enough time to fully take in and appreciate this massive park. That said, we tried our best to explore as much of it as we could by foot and by bike.

One of our favorite runs/hikes took us to the summit of Mt. Washburn and back down. We started at the trailhead on Dunraven Pass, just off Grand Loop Road. From there, we climbed roughly ~1,500 feet over 3.5 miles to the summit. Along the way, we were afforded sweeping views of the surrounding meadows and countryside, awash in varying shades of lavender, rose, and yellow wildflower blooms.

Near the summit we were happily greeted by a small herd of bighorn sheep! They seemed unafraid of humans, and we did our best to give them sufficient space as we continued to make our way to the summit.

Check out our route up Mt. Washburn here!

IMG_0606
Bighorn sheep silently judging our mountain running skills near the summit of Mount Washburn.

(Another important note: Yellowstone provides a refuge to several species of wildlife; apart from bighorn sheep, it’s also home to buffalo, elk, moose, grizzly and black bears, wolves, and others. If you encounter any wild animal in the park, please be respectful of them and give them space. The park offers guidelines of 100 yards for non-carnivorous species like buffalo and elk, and 200 yards for carnivorous species like bear and wolves. Additionally, it’s a good idea to carry – and know how to use! – bear spray when running, hiking, or biking in Yellowstone or other parks in the region. While bears are not generally aggressive unless provoked, it’s best to be prepared).

The following day, we opted for a bike ride that took us on a 68 mile loop from Canyon Village clockwise to Norris, through Mammoth Hot Springs to Tower, and back up Mt. Washburn before descending back into Canyon. While the ride was challenging – with nearly 6,000 feet of climbing – it was also one of the best ways to experience the the park. We were able to see so much that we otherwise would have missed in the car – including a big bull buffalo rolling in the dust on the side of the road (!), just barely hidden by a small pine grove, or a pair of marmot chasing each other over and around fallen trees.

On our ride, we made another ascent up Mt. Washburn, this time starting from the northern side at the Tower-Roosevelt junction, and making our way up 2,300+ feet over ~10 miles to the summit. The climb offered us breathtaking (quite literally) views of the valley below that we would not have enjoyed or appreciated as much if we had been speeding by in our little Toyota.

IMG_0607
Our bike ride took us through some of the most beautiful – and less traveled – areas of Yellowstone.

Check out our bike route here! (FYI, if you opt to do this route, Mammoth offers a nice halfway(-ish) point for refilling your water bottles).

Before closing out this entry on Yellowstone, we owe a shoutout to Xanterra, the company that manages much of the lodging and dining throughout Yellowstone. They make a concerted effort to prioritize environmental stewardship in everything they do: from building their lodges with beetle-killed pine, to eliminating plastic and styrofoam from both lodging and restaurants. We mention this, because this was in marked contrast to the environmental *irresponsibility* we observed in the dining, general stores, and lodging at Grand Tetons, our next stop.

So our final tally for Yellowstone: 68 miles biked; 26 miles run/hiked; hundreds of buffalo, 10 bighorn sheep, 6 elk, 3 moose, 2 pika, 2 marmot, and 1 bear (grizzly!) sighted.

Interested in going? With ideal weather conditions, late spring and summer are the most popular times to visit Yellowstone. If you’re planning to visit during the months of April – August, be sure to book your lodging/camping reservations months ahead of time.

Fee? Yes – $30 per vehicle for a day pass; national park annual pass also accepted.

Dogs and other pets? Yes, but not on trails. MTB? Yes – on designated trails. Check signs!

Next stop: Grand Tetons!

Back to the west coast to kick off 2017!

After a fun-filled holiday vacation with family on the east coast – and plenty of quality time exploring the parks and trails there – we headed back to our home state of California to hit the ground running for 2017!

Here in Northern California, we are fortunate to have access to a diverse array of parks – from the world-famous Yosemite, to smaller county parks – for year-round training, racing, and general trail-running fun. Some of our favorite parks are the open space preserves (OSPs) scattered throughout the region. As described on their website, the Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space District ‘is a regional greenbelt system in the San Francisco Bay Area comprised of over 60,000 acres of land in 26 open space preserves.’

These preserves offer hundreds of miles of trails for your favorite outdoors activities – from hiking to trail running, horseback riding to mountain biking. Not all preserves allow dogs, though – so be sure to check on the website regarding which preserves are pet-friendly.

Of the OSPs we’ve visited so far, Russian Ridge and Windy Hill are two of our favorites.

air_osp_rr2_2017
Running along Russian Ridge in mid-summer.
  1. Russian Ridge is a 3,137 acre preserve in San Mateo County, known for its joyful display of wildflowers in spring. Interested in visiting? We recommend parking at the trailhead at the northwest corner of the Skyline Boulevard (Highway 35) and Page Mill / Alpine Road intersection (across Skyline Boulevard on the right). From here, you can head out along the Ridge trail, which will take you up to Borel Hill, the highest point in San Mateo County, with commanding 360 degree views of the Bay and Pacific. Check out a map of a recent Russian Ridge trail run hereFee? No. Dogs? No. MTB? Yes – on designated trails.
  2. Windy Hill is a 1,335 acre preserve located in Portola Valley, just south of the town of Woodside. It offers a diverse mix of redwood, pine, and fir forests, and at its summit, spectacular views of both the Bay and Pacific. Interested in visiting? Park at the trailhead just off Portola Road (overflow parking is available at the Portola Valley Town Center, about 3/4 of a mile down the road). From the trailhead, you can head out on the Spring Ridge or Betsy Crowder Trail. Continue climbing all the way up to the Windy Hill Summit, where you’ll be able to take in views of the Bay to the east, and the Pacific to the west. Feeling up for a bit longer run or hike? Then consider the Windy Hill/Russian Ridge crossover – a 19 mile loop that will take you through both parks! Check out the route here.

Apart from the the wealth of trails offered through the open space regional system, the preserves also provide an important habitat for wildlife – including mountain lion, coyotes, deer, and several bird species. The work of the Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space District ensures that these preserves will continue to be a haven for both wildlife and outdoors adventure lovers for years to come.

We definitely recommend you taking a weekend to explore some of these great preserves. Be sure to visit their website today to learn more. With 26 options to choose from, you’re sure to find a preserve that’s right for you!

Trail running holiday! Deep South style.

Welcome back from the holidays, and Happy 2017, y’all!

We here at AIR Adventures hope you spent plenty of quality time with family, friends, and – of course – exploring the great outdoors.

For our part, we did all of the above. Our travels took us from the west coast back to the Deep South of the east (beast?) coast – specifically Georgia and Florida. We spent our first few days exploring the trails of North Georgia, in the beautiful Smithgall Woods, and later on to the swamps and sugar sand trails of North and Central Florida.

Some of our Florida favorites included:

  1.  Tom Brown Park, a 255 acre park on the east side of Tallahassee. The park boasts several recreational areas – including a frisbee golf course, BMX track, and miles of trails. Perhaps most notable of the park’s offerings is the plethora of native plants, birds, and other wildlife that it protects. It borders Lake Lafayette, where one can expect to see a wide variety of wading birds – including the iconic great blue heron – as well as plenty of gators, of course.                                                                               Interested in exploring Tom Brown? Consider a trail running or mountain biking adventure: Like us, you can start on the Cadillac Trail – so named because of the old, rusted out 1960s model plopped conspicuously on one hairpin turn of the trail – and continue across the railroad tracks to the colloquially named ‘Bill’s Trail’ in Lafayette Trail Heritage Park. From here, you’ll catch glimpses of Lake Lafayette through the scrub oaks, as you head into the neighboring J.R. Alford Greenway. Check out our mapped trail run here! Fee? No. Dogs? On leashes. MTB? Yes – in some areas.

    img_3032
    Railroad tracks on a misty morning along Lake Lafayette.
  2. Seminole State Forest, which includes 1,725 acres of protected sand pine scrub around the Wekiva River Basin. This park provides important habitat for several rare and threatened species, including the Florida black bear and indigo jay. It also offers over 21 miles of hiking trails, 23 miles of designated horseback trails, and 25 miles of designated MTB trails. Horseback and MTB use are restricted to designated trails. Interested in exploring Seminole State Forest? We definitely recommend this for trail running and MTB alike – the trails are well-maintained, and the famous Florida sugar sand will definitely challenge you! We parked at the trailhead just off SR 46, and took the orange trail to the white trail for a 10+ mile loop. Check out our mapped run here! Fee? Yes – check website for details. Dogs? On leashes. MTB? Yes – on designated trails/ Check signs!
  3. Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, a 22,000 acre protected area in Central Florida. The refuge provides a haven for numerous native plants and animals, including several threatened or endangered species like the bald eagle, whooping crane, manatee, and gopher tortoise. Gators are also abundant here – and can be seen sunning themselves on the banks. There are several miles of constructed trails that are open to hiking, trail running, and MTB. This area is truly a hidden gem in central FL. We recommend visiting in late afternoon, when the setting sun turns the marshland to varying shades of pink and gold. Fee? No. Dogs? No. MTB? Yes – on designated trails.
fullsizerender
Gator sunning itself in Lake Woodruff.

Overall, our holiday break not only reminded us of the importance of quality family time – but also of the beauty and diversity of the natural habitats in the Deep South. We encourage you to visit these and other parks in the near future, and learn more about the important work they do to protect these priceless natural resources.

Interested in supporting global conservation efforts? then visit the Alliance for International Reforestation, or donate now to help today.