A Quick Arizona Escape

This trip explores the three National Parks in Arizona, from north to south and some nice national forests, canyons and scenic drives in AZ. I am sure there are many, many more to explore, and visiting Arizona again is not out of the question. The only thing of popular note we missed is visiting the Havasu Falls area, which I heard inquiring a permit for is extremely difficult anyway. That will be for another time.

Day 1 – I landed in Tucson early morning and hopped in a car filled with friends, veggie wraps and cupcakes. We drove towards the Grand Canyon via Sedona’s Red Rock Scenic Byway. Taking this short 7.5 mile byway is well worth the extra half-hour.

Sedona Red Rocks

Going the scenic way takes five and a half hours, no stops. But, we got out and hiked around for a quick bit, enjoying our first bits of AZ sunshine. It gets cold up north.  We got to the Grand Canyon with dwindling crowds, not to mention it was a Wednesday, and we stayed for a most awesome sunset. The whole thing absolutely breathtaking, never ending, and bigger than anything I’ve seen here.

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We stayed in Flagstaff for the night. It took little over an hour, but the hotels are probably cheaper – I never checked lodging pricing near the park, but the mountain-town feel of the hotels seem to be a tourist trap. Forgive me if I’m wrong.

Day 2 – Good morning! If you have an extra day and can successfully plan and get a camping permit for Havasu, go. It’s very close to the Grand Canyon. On our end, we picked through the complimentary breakfast and filled up our water bottles and bladders for the 3 hour drive to to Petrified Forest National Park. We followed Route 40 to the the north end, beginning at the Painted Forest Visitor’s Center.

Painted Desert, AZ

The drive is 26-miles of pristine road with perfect overlooks and paved trails. The most astounding thing is just how much the scenery changes. From red desert to rainbows of blue, the views are always different from each stop. Take the marked trails and explore what you wish, there are many.

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Blue Mesa, the beginnings of the Petrified Forest
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Crystal Forest, where the petrified wood shows off colors of Quartz.

I was pleasantly surprised. I did not think the petrified wood would spark my interest, but it was gorgeous! And to think the area used to be a lush rainforest for the dinosaurs. All in all, it took us to about mid day, choosing to hike only Blue Mesa and Crystal Forest, but stopping plenty of times. Time to drive south. We were pretty exhausted by the time we stopped in Show Low for food and gas, and I had to pull over on the drive home via Route 60 for the gorgeous views of Salt River Canyon – both to take pictures and to switch drivers. The elevation got me for the first time here.

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Straight out of Jurassic Park – definitely can see dinos here.

Finally, we land just south of Tucson, popular for Saguaro National Park and birding.

Day 4 – We visited some short, uphill hikes where I was pushed to my limits and realized I hated hiking without the shade of trees when the weather is 85+. With trees, hiking a mile up Ramsey Canyon’s steep switchbacks and a ton of birders at the base had me looking up and around and everywhere. Hamburg trail led to a beautiful overlook at 6,200′ and also had me stopping every hundred feet or so to catch my breath. Again with the elevation. Nearby, we made another stop at Corondo Cave Trail for a short half-mile hike to the open cave and had some fun exploring. Past that, we took the dirt mountain road to the Coronado National Memorial scenic overlook at 6,700′. Mexico was on the other side.

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Did I mention southern Arizona had wineries? It does. I drowned my sunburn with crisp whites late into the day.

Day 5 – There was a rest day shoved in there somewhere. My flight was in the late afternoon and that means I can fit in just one more park. I went to see what Arizona looks like in the movies – Saguaro. These suckers are HUGE! And old. This is a short and sweet 8-mile drive through some scenic views and quick hikes. Unfortunately, it put the nail in the coffin for my hate of hiking in the desert. I feel bad for it, like I should be more grateful, but would you really think someone who loves the snow would love the desert, too? It doesn’t mean it wasn’t beautiful… I just liked it more from the car, with AC blowing in my face.DSC_1470DSC_1445

That’s it, thats all. See more fun posts of wineries and rainbow wood on Instagram – @christina_skis and let me know what else I should have visited on my way! Maybe I’ll come back after Monsoon season.

 

 

 

Late Trip to Blackwater Falls, WV

I decided to cut out of lazy Sunday and take the drive to to Blackwater Falls State Park, in West Virginia. I had always seen the signs on my way to Timberline/Canaan Valley to ski, but never took the right turn during the winter. Here in the Laurel Highlands, the leaves are still pretty great, but with the higher elevation of the Allegheny Mountains around Canaan Valley… we missed it by a week.

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According to the State Park’s site, the “black” water is caused by fallen hemlock and red spruce needles creating tannic acid. It was a dark scene all around, from the bare trees to the black water, but of course, every waterfall is gorgeous when you are right there. This is also the most photographed sites in the entire state.

There are two more falls in the state park, so of course we had a mapped out plan, but who follows those? We missed Pendelton Falls, but we did walk the trail from the Pendleton Overlook, which lead about 1.5 miles to another view point and gave us just a tiny section of still-leafed trees so we could pretend to be there in time for some gorgeous foliage. All the same, the gorge was pretty, again, as they all are, when you’re there. Note to Self: Nothing ruins standing on a cliff that falls into a gorge like a cell phone ringing – the silence button was created for that reason. Hikes. So, I have made it to the PA Grand Canyon this summer, shall we consider the gorge created by the Blackwater River the Grand Canyon of West Virginia? Also, from the Pendleton Overlook, you can see the upper and lower sections of Elakana Falls, pictured below. There is a perk to bare trees!

Even thought it was a rainy day and the leaves had run their course here, the hiking was good and there are plenty of overlooks, viewpoints and other waterfalls to get your fill of the entire day. Plus, the park rests between the small towns of Thomas and Davis, where you will get your mountain-town fill of breweries and burritos.

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36-Hours in the Woods

I took 36 hours to do whatever I wanted this past weekend. No schedules, no meetings and some rough plans; it was liberating, to say the least. I haven’t taken that time for myself in a long time, and got to see some of the most beautiful places in Pennsylvania because of it.

Our first stop landed us in Jersey Shore, PA in hopes of finding an overlook to see Pine Creek Gorge, or – the PA Grand Canyon. This was on the way to Ricketts Glen with no out-of-the-way driving time. The south end of the gorge is situated right along this town, and after a few miles of envying the river-tubers, we realized we were taking a long road through the gorge and there was no overlook in the southern area. So, after a quick stop for lunch pointing and picking from signage (no Urbanspoon or Yelp reviews were used), we picked up and drove an hour north to one of the more popular overlook destinations – Leonard Harrison State Park. It was so beautiful – I can’t even imagine this place in the fall.

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Pine Creek Gorge (PA Grand Canyon) – Leonard Harrison State Park Overlook

After this short, out-of-the-way visit (worth it), we set off to Ricketts Glen State Park, tacking another hour onto our detour. It took us 6 hours to get there, but it was, quite simply, awesome. Settling in as car-campers, the trunk of the Kia was full. We were by no means minimalists, and I don’t think I ever will be.

Up at 6 am the next morning, we started the hike an hour later and took the easy Bear Walk Trail from Beach Lot 2 to Lake Rose Trailhead Parking, starting the Falls Trail over a mile into our hike with the 37-foot Mowhawk waterfall. We didn’t know what to expect, but the entire thing glorious, and one of the more frightening trails I’ve taken at this point (it really wasn’t that bad). The waterfalls came like waves once you saw the first one; you would walk out of earshot of the one behind you and begin to hear the rush of the next – and then you’d see a cliff in front of you. It was your next challenge to concentrate on climbing down and not be so excited that you’re shrieking like a girl in the middle of the woods… there was a reason we set out early enough that people wouldn’t be on the trail for our first few views, haha!

The trip as a whole was nothing short of amazing. I can’t wait to go on the next 36 or 48 hour trip with no time limits. The Mid-Atlantc is my oyster.