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.

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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. 😊 )

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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!

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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.

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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!

Exploring the Martian landscape of Craters of the Moon!

Following an all-too-brief stay in Tahoe, the AIR Adventures team headed east, to Idaho, and a pit stop at Craters of the Moon National Monument.

Located just north of the Snake River Plain in Central Idaho, the wonderfully bizarre landscape of this park seems to bubble up from the surrounding plains like some strange brew from an underground cauldron. Indeed, this descriptor is not far from the truth, as the park’s myriad of craters, fissures, and fossilized lava flows that comprise some 750,000 acres owe their existence to the region’s intense seismic activity and violent volcanic past. The most recent eruption occurred only 2,000 (!) years ago.

We opted to explore this strange and somewhat unsettling landscape by foot, as mountain bikes are not permitted on the trails. Additionally, there are a few areas where you have the option to explore caves formed by ancient lava tubes, and which are only accessible by foot (hint: bring a headlamp!).

 

Our day hike took us from the very top of the Inferno Cone – which at 6181 ft afforded beautiful panoramic views of the entire valley – to the caldera of the immense North Crater, and finally down to the subterranean maze of the Buffalo Caves. Along the way we encountered people of all ages and walks of life enjoying the wonders of the park, including the largest group of Boy Scouts we’ve ever seen. We have no idea how the Scout Masters kept them all accounted for.

Check out our route here!

Apart from being an ideal destination for losing a Boy Scout, Craters of the Moon also is an important ecological site that sustains a diversity of plant and animal life – including six species of bats that make their home in the lava tubes.

 Interested in going? Check out the park’s website here for information on hikes and other activities inside the park. One important note: With the dark volcanic rock and ash, it can get particularly hot during summer months, so try to plan your visit early in the day.

Fee? Yes – $15 per vehicle. National Park Annual Pass also accepted. Pets? In the campground, park lot, and on paved roads. Not on trails. MTB? No.

Next stop: Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons!

Kicking off our tour of parks, with a visit to Tahoe!

 

This week, the AIR Adventures team kicked off our tour of national and state parks, which will take us through some of the most beautiful landscapes in the American West!

We started things off with a trip to Lake Tahoe, which some have heralded as “the best lake in America.”

Situated on the border of California and Nevada, Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America, and the second deepest after Crater Lake in Oregon. The majority of the lake’s watershed is protected land, with several state parks including Sand Harbor; Sugar Pine Point; Spooner Lake; and of course the eponymous Lake Tahoe State Park.

The area is popular year-round – offering a myriad of lakeside activities in the summer, and skiing or snowboarding in the winter. Apart from being an Instagram-perfect vacation destination, though, Lake Tahoe also provides important ecological benefits as a watershed. Additionally, it’s home to numerous protected or endangered species, including the bald eagle and kokanee salmon, as well as rare plant species like the Lake Tahoe watercress.

On our visit, we took advantage of the beautiful blue-sky July weather to explore the region by bike and by foot. Our first venture took us on a 70+ mile bike ride around the entire lake, which included 4,000+ feet of climbing over a mix of long, gradual mountain inclines  and gentle rollers.

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The area has several miles of bike trails, taking you along the outskirts of the lake and through rolling countryside.

Throughout the ride, we were afforded panoramic vistas of the lake and surrounding mountains, which were surprisingly still snow-capped in late July owing to the record snowfall the region received this past winter. The views were only somewhat marred by the seemingly endless traffic in both directions (FYI, if you’re not already aware, you could say that Lake Tahoe is *somewhat* of a popular tourist destination. On the weekend we were there, it seemed like everyone within a 2,000 mile radius also had the same idea to visit. It was crowded). However, even with the bumper-to-bumper traffic, cars were generally respectful, and gave us plenty of room to pass.

Check out our ride here!

The next day, we opted to avoid dealing with traffic and  ventured out for a run along the trails of Spooner Lake State Park. This Nevada park is about 8 miles to the east of Lake Tahoe, and is home to two  equally picturesque lakes of its own: Spooner and Marlette. Our run took us point-to-point from one lake to the other, and back along the Marlette Lake Trail. The route climbed over 1,600 feet through rustling alpine groves and  high mountain meadows – with epic mountain views the entire way.

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Exploring the Marlene Lake trail, on a brilliant late summer afternoon.

Check out our route here!

Interested in going? Be advised that Lake Tahoe and surrounding areas are popular year-round, and can be particularly crowded on weekends and holidays. Plan in advance and make your reservations early. If you’re looking to do a hike or trip to the beach, you should also arrive early in the morning, as parking fills up quickly. (On our bike ride, we observed no less than 4 rather heated arguments over parking. Don’t be one of those guys – plan in advance.)

As for the state parks in the area: they will likely require a fee of $6 – $10. Most are dog and mountain-bike friendly, but be sure to check signs beforehand.

Finally, it’s important to note that despite being a beloved travel destination, Lake Tahoe is under threat due to development and associated pollution. Studies estimate that the clarity of the lake has decreased substantially due to pollution from stormwater runoff associated with construction. Pollution of the lake in turn affects species that depend upon it for survival, including those found in the Truckee River fed by the lake. That said, efforts by local environmental groups like Keep Tahoe Blue have made substantial gains in protecting and restoring the lake and surrounding areas.

Interested in supporting global conservation efforts? Then check out the website of our sister organization, the Alliance for International Reforestation, here!

Next stop: Craters of the Moon National Monument!

 

 

 

 

 

In celebration of national parks – preserving ‘everyone’s stories’ (part 2).

Some 145 years ago on March 1, 1872, then-president Ulysses S. Grant signed a bill creating the nation’s first national park – Yellowstone. However, it wasn’t until decades later, in 1916, that the National Park Service (NPS) was created to manage and protect the large – and growing – number of parks throughout the U.S. The battle to protect the Grand Canyon was instrumental to the development of the NPS.

In our last blog entry, we highlighted the environmental value of our national parks. This latest entry focuses on their historical value – and the role they play in preserving ‘everyone’s stories.’

While national parks play a prominent role in protecting natural landscapes and unique environments, they play an equally important role in protecting the diverse histor(ies) of our nation – dating back to the Paleo-Indian tribes who first set foot in North America some 12,000 years ago.

The iconic Grand Canyon is a prime example of a park preserving both nature and history. As one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the Grand Canyon has become a worldwide symbol for the grandeur of the American West. The park – designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site – is over 1.2 million acres in the northwest part of Arizona. The canyon itself is a geological marvel, averaging a depth of 4,000 feet for roughly 277 miles. Moreover, the park provides a wealth of biological diversity with three different desert types and five distinct ‘life zones’ – each home to several rare and endemic plant and animal species like the desert bighorn sheep and desert shrew.

Moreover, the Grand Canyon also played a pivotal role in the development of our National Park System: it was in part out of a desire to protect the canyon that Stephen Mather fought to establish the NPS, as a way of better managing and protecting the parks. While the Grand Canyon did not gain official park status until 1919, nearly 3 years after the NPS was established, many credit it with Mather’s drive to develop and lead the NPS as its first director.

The human history of the Grand Canyon dates back much further than the creation of the NPS, of course: artifacts dating back nearly 12,000 years have been discovered within the canyon, evidence of early Paleo-Indian tribes. Currently, 11 traditionally-associated tribes and historic ethnic groups are involved in co-managing the park, as part of the preservation of their cultural heritage. These include the Havasupai, Hopi, Hualapai, Navajo, Paiute, White Mountain Apache, Yavapai Apache, and Zuni tribes.

Interested in visiting? Check out the park’s website here, which includes information on how to plan your visit, as well as important weather advisories. The AIR Adventures team had the privilege of visiting as part of our cross-country road trip in 2015. We stayed at the historic El Tovar Hotel, built in 1905 on the South Rim. We recommend taking some time to hike or run the Bright Angel Trail, a 6 mile one-way trail that starts from the South Rim and takes you on a scenic tour into the canyon. A note of caution, though! The trail goes straight down – meaning the distance you go down equals the distance you have to come back up! Do not underestimate the challenge of the hike back out of the canyon.

Fee? Yes – $30 per vehicle.

Bikes? Yes – in designated areas. Rentals are available on the South Rim.

Dogs? Yes – in designated areas, and on leashes. The South Rim trails are particularly dog friendly.

Interested in learning more? Then check out the Grand Canyon site here, or to learn more about the NPS and its history, check out their webpage here.

Interested in supporting global conservation efforts? 

Then check out the Alliance for International Reforestation, a globally-recognized organization dedicated to sustainable, community-based reforestation efforts. Pledge to donate today!

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.

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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!