Journal/Blog

Milburnie Dam Removal

posted Nov 18, 2017, 2:53 PM by Justin P   [ updated Nov 18, 2017, 2:59 PM ]

The City of Raleigh is removing the old Milburnie Dam on Neuse River, so I figured I'd head over and get a couple pictures before it's gone.  I headed to Buffaloe Road Athletic Park to pick up the Neuse River Trail, part of the Capital Area Greenway.  Although November is more than half over, there is still a lot fall color along the trail.


It was about 3 miles or so to where a footbridge leads over the river just past the dam.  Although it's Saturday, there were doing construction work to remove the dam today.


I crossed the river and went down to the sandy beach in front of the dam for some pictures.


The original dam had been built of wood in the mid 1800s.  Around the turn of the century, the dam was rebuilt with rock and masonry.  It operated as a paper mill, a grist mill, and to generate hydroelectric power, operating until the 1980s.  Upsteam of the dam is an area of wetlands that had been formed by the dam.  With its removal, I could see the water draining from these wetlands.  I suppose this will revert back to floodplain forest.  Since the fall color was still nice, I stopped at North Wake Landfill District Park on the way home.  Climbing to the Top of the Hill, the leaves were really pretty around the Falls River subdivision.


Looking south, I could see the Raleigh skyline, but it was too sunny for a picture.

Las Vegas Strip

posted Nov 12, 2017, 4:37 PM by Justin P   [ updated Nov 12, 2017, 4:37 PM ]

Saturday, we were heading home, but our flight wasn't until later in the evening.  We had a really good, but expensive breakfast at Avenue Cafe in MGM Grand and then got our stuff all packed up and checked out.  The hotel was nice enough to hold our luggage so we could spend the day walking around Vegas.  We first headed south a little ways to get some pictures of the sphinx at Luxor.  Sandy wanted to get a souvenir glass from Excalibur with daiquiris.  Then we started heading north along the strip, stopping to check out the casinos.  Sandy played slots for a little while and we checked out the stores at the Forum at Caesars Palace.  We went as far as Circus Circus and then started making our way back.  Back at MGM Grand, we had dinner at Buca Di Beppo and then retrieved our luggage.  The flight home was uneventful and I slept the entire time.

Red Rock Canyon

posted Nov 12, 2017, 4:22 PM by Justin P   [ updated Nov 12, 2017, 4:22 PM ]

Friday morning, we had breakfast at the hotel and checked out.  We drove back towards Las Vegas and went to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.  After paying admission, we stopped at the visitor center.  We walked around the outdoor viewpoints - the views of the canyon and colorful rocks were beautiful.  I was hoping to see the park's most famous resident - Mohave Max, a desert tortoise, but he has gone underground for the winter.  I spoke with a ranger and she suggested we hike the White Rocks Loop Trail after making a couple scenic stops.  So we continued on the one-way scenic drive around the canyon.  We first stopped at Calico I with nice views of the colorful rocks.  Our next stop was Sandstone Quarry.  Here there was a nice view of the distinctive Turtlehead Peak.  Finally, we made one more short stop at High Point Overlook, the highest point on the scenic drive.  This overlook had great views of the entire canyon.  Continuing on a short ways, we turned right on the road for Willow Spring Picnic Area and parked here.  After getting our stuff together, we first did the very short Petroglyph Wall Trail.  This short trail led to a wall where some ancient petroglyphs were visible.  We got a couple pictures and headed back.  Following Rocky Gap Road past the picnic area, we went just over a half-mile and turned right on a trail that entered La Madre Mountains Wilderness.  In about another half-mile there was a split.  First, we went left on La Madre Springs Trail.  In about a mile, we made it to the namesake spring.  The water level was low and the area had not had rain in months, but there was still some water flowing.  The area immediately around the spring was very green - a stark contrast to the desert landscape.  We then headed back to the main trail and continued on.  The trail got moderately steep and headed up to a ridge before turning right and leading over a gap.  It then descended gradually towards the White Rock Parking Area.  Just past here, we made a quick detour to White Rock Spring.  The trail then looped around, passing Lost Creek Trail and leading back to Willow Spring Picnic Area.  At the parking lot, we got our stuff arranged and then headed back to Vegas to return the car.  From the rental car center, we took a cab to our hotel - the MGM Signature.  We had a room on the 36th floor, so the evening view over the strip was great.  After checking in, we walked around the Strip for a while, checking out the fountains at Bellagio.  Then we headed back for the evening.

Angels Landing

posted Nov 12, 2017, 4:04 PM by Justin P   [ updated Nov 12, 2017, 4:04 PM ]

Thursday,  we had breakfast and headed back to Zion National Park.  We were planning to hike to Angels Landing and this is one of the most popular hikes in the park, so we wanted to get an early start.  We parked at the visitor center and took the shuttle to stop #6, the Grotto.  Crossing the street and the river on a footbridge, we turned right to hike West Rim Trail.  The trail starts out gradual with nice views of the Virgin River and Angels Landing towering above.  The trail began to get steeper and switchback up the mountain.  Finally, as we approached Angels landing, the trail turned into a small gorge and leveled off a bit.  There was some beautiful fall color in the gorge.  After a nice flat section, the trail headed up Walters Wiggles, a series of 12 or so extremely steep and short switchbacks.  It was really cool how the trail had been designed here.  At the top of Walters Wiggles was Scouts Lookout.  West Rim Trail continued and Angels Landing split from here to head steeply up.  We took a short break before beginning.  The trail followed narrow ridgelines with 1000-foot drop offs on either side.  This is definitely not the trail for someone with a fear of heights.  Much of the trail had chains, which provided something to hold on to.  After the first climb up, we had to go back down a ways across a saddle and then steeply climb back up again.  Perhaps the most difficult part was passing around people, which inevitably occurred at the most narrow and difficult parts.  I guess we didn't start quite early enough, though it was definitely more crowded coming back down.  Soon we made it to the top and it was so worth the effort.  The views from up here were just great.  Looking south, we could see all the way down Zion Canyon.  To the northeast, Weeping Rock was visible way, way down.  We had a snack up here and relaxed, enjoying the view.  As more and more people arrived, we started making our way back down.  I'm glad we didn't start any later than we did.  The hike down was much easier.  Back at the Grotto, we took the shuttle down canyon and got off at Canyon Junction, stop #3.  Following Virgin River upstream a short ways, we stopped at some nice cascades along the river.  Then we took Pa'rus Trail and followed the river downstream back towards the visitor center.  There was another spot on the river where I spotted some cascades, but these were in fact a diversion dam.  Back at the visitor center, we returned to our car and drove past Canyon Junction up the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway.  At the first switchback, we pulled off and hiked up an unnamed trail following Pine Creek upstream.  The trail was easy at first, then we had a couple creek crossings that were easy to rock hop.  In high water, these might not be so easy.  Then we came to a difficult spot, where he had to climb up the steep rock face along the creek.  Just past here, we had to climb under a balanced rock and then came out at the base of Pine Creek Falls.  Even in low water, this was a real nice waterfall.  The upper section had three individual streams flowing together - in high water, they probably wouldn't be distinguishable.  The main lower drop was a thin ribbon of water sliding down the rock face.  We hung out and got some pictures before heading back.  Continuing up the switchbacks, eventually we came to the mile-long tunnel and drove through, parking on the left after the tunnel.  Hiking back on the road towards the tunnel, we picked up the Canyon Overlook Trail.  Less than a mile, this trail led to an overlook above the Great Arch.  We had great views of Zion Canyon in the distance and Pine Creek Canyon below.  Looking at the mountains to the south, I could see "caves" in the mountain, which were in fact the light openings in the tunnel.  After some pictures, we headed back.  Since we hadn't had the chance much this week, we put the top down on the convertible for our drive back.  Driving down the switchbacks, it was very scenic.  We made a stop at one of the overlooks with a beautiful view of the Great Arch.  We left Zion one last time and parked at the hotel.  Sandy wanted to do some shopping while we were here.  We stopped by David J. West Gallery.  His photos decorated our hotel room and the lobby of the hotel and we wanted to see his gallery.  Mr. West had some fantastic photographs - we bought a couple prints to take home.  Then we had dinner again at Jacks Sports Bar and started packing up after dinner.

Zion Extreme Canyoneering

posted Nov 11, 2017, 5:04 PM by Justin P   [ updated Nov 11, 2017, 5:05 PM ]

Wednesday was our big canyoneering day.  We had a quick breakfast at the hotel right when it opened and then headed to Zion Adventure Company to meet up with Bill.  He had packed all our gear so after parking, we took off.  Driving west past Springdale and Rockville, we turned right on Kolob Terrace Road.  The road headed steeply up the Kolob Plateau, passing a couple trailheads for the park.  After a while, we turned on a private gravel road and drove to the company's remote cabin.  Here we suited up and got our gear together.  A steep and narrow path led down to the canyon.  About half-way down, we stopped at a practice wall.  Here we practiced climbing a ladder using the double carabiners to lock onto the rungs in case of a slip.  The ladder here was only maybe 30 feet high, but the one we would be climbing later was much, much higher.  After a practice run, we continued on the trail down to the start of the canyon on South Fork Oak Creek.  The creek started out quite small, but we could hear a waterfall in the gorge below.  After zipping up our dry suits and getting all our gear together we started off.  Bill tied a rope around a big Ponderosa Pine and we rappelled down into the gorge.  A nice 20 or so foot waterfall was right here at the start of the canyon.  This first rappel down was over the cliff wall, so it was dry, but all the rest were not.  We rappelled down another couple 30 to 50 foot waterfalls and at the next break between, we saw a critter moving on the ledge.  It looked like a skunk had fallen down into the canyon.  He seemed weak, but didn't appear injured - he must have landed in the water.  We left an apple and some trail mix to help keep his strength up and Bill was going to come back and rescue him the following day.  We continued further down the canyon, coming to a very deep and cold pool.  It was waist deep and the pool was blocked by the steep walls from ever receiving sunlight.  Bill quickly set up the ropes so we didn't have to linger long in that frigid pool.  The next waterfall was the big one - around 100 feet high.  And there was a rock arch, called the Eye of the Needle, we would have to get through.  This was really a rush.  There was a sandy beach at the base and we stopped for a snack here.  Then we continued down the canyon, rappelling down a couple more waterfalls before reaching the end, where South Fork flowed into Oak Creek.  This was as far down as we would be going.  We had lunch here and then got prepared to get back up.  Bill and his coworkers had installed a 450-foot ladder climbing back up and out of the gorge - easier than climbing ropes to get out, but pretty crazy nonetheless.  The first part was the most difficult as it was slightly more than vertical.  After about 60 feet or so, it leveled out, but there were several points where we had to go horizontal on the cliff face.  In all, it took us about an hour to climb up to the rim of the canyon.  We stopped here to enjoy the view and then made the short, steep hike back to the start of the canyon.  It was hard to believe how little distance we covered.  But we sure did get a lot of elevation change.  We hiked the rest of the way back to the van and changed out of the dry suit.  Then Bill drove us back to Springdale.  All in all, it was a pretty crazy adventure - I don't think I'll ever forget that ladder!  For dinner, we had pizza at Flying Monkey and relaxed in the hot tub before heading to bed.

The Narrows

posted Nov 10, 2017, 4:35 PM by Justin P

Tuesday, for Halloween, we headed to the Zion Narrows.  After breakfast at the hotel, we drove to the Zion National Park visitor center and took the shuttle all the way to the last stop at Temple of Sinawava.  From here, we hiked the one mile Riverside Walk into the canyon.  Where the trail ended, we waded into the water and continued following Virgin River upstream.  Starting out there were two girls also heading up the Narrows, but we didn't really see anyone else besides the occasional backpacker heading out of the canyon.  There were some beautiful hanging gardens growing out of the sheer cliff walls.  In about a half mile, we came to Mystery Canyon Falls.  The water level was pretty low, but it was still quite scenic, especially with the fall foliage.  Continuing on, there were some dry areas and we got well ahead of the two girls and pretty much had the canyon to ourselves for a while.  In a little ways we came to an area with some huge boulders that we had to climb over.  The fall color in this section was just gorgeous.  I wa surprised by how colorful it was here in Zion.  A little ways past here, there was a split and we went right to head up Orderville Canyon.  We could go about a half mile up this canyon without a permit.  The water level was much lower in Orderville than in Zion, but there were several tricky spots.  Almost immediately, we had to climb up a small waterfall.  It was then flat for a bit before we came to a more difficult challenge.  The pool if water was deep and the waterfall too high to climb.  Instead, we had to scale up a rock face.  Fortunately, sandstone is very rough and we had good traction.  A little ways further, we got to a point where we couldn't figure out how to go further without ropes and turned around.  The previous falls was really difficult getting back down, but it was just a short ways past to return to Virgin River, where we continued upstream in the Narrows.  By this time, a lot more people had entered the canyon, though few ventured up Orderville.  The next section of the Narrows was Wall Street, a section where the river narrowed and the canyon walls went straight up.  The next landmark was Floating Rock, a huge boulder that bisects the river in two streams.  Many people had stopped here.  Sandy and I went a little further until near the end of Wall Street and stopped at a dry spot to eat lunch.  After lunch, we started making our way back.  The going was definitely faster going with the flow of the river.  It was also a lot more crowded on the way back - I was glad we had started early.  Back at Temple of Sinawava, we caught the shuttle back to the visitor center and headed back to our hotel to change out of the dry suit pants.  Then we went to Zion Adventure Company to return our gear and meet up with our tour guide for the following day.  We chatted with Bill for about thirty minutes, going over gear and getting to know each other.  Since it was just the two of us, we decided to meet up and leave the office at 730 the following morning.  Afterwards, Sandy and I went to Jacks Sports Grill for dinner and drinks and then went to bed early since we had a busy day coming up.

Kolob Arch

posted Nov 9, 2017, 4:46 PM by Justin P   [ updated Nov 9, 2017, 4:46 PM ]

Monday, we headed to the Kolob section of Zion National Park.  Heading west from Springdale, we took I15 north to the Kolob entrance and parked at the trailhead for La Verkin Trail.  From the road, the trail headed rather steeply down, following Timber Creek downstream.  Up near the headwaters, there was really no creek to speak of.  The views of the mountains were great from the trail but we knew it would be a steep climb back up at the end of our hike.  In about three miles, we reached campsite 3, where the trail turns left to begin following La Verkin Creek upstream.  We had great views of the mountains and some nice cascades along the creek.  In about 6.5 miles from the trailhead, there was a split where left led to Kolob Arch.  Heading up this trail, we followed a small tributary upstream between some really high canyon walls.  In about a half-mile, the trail basically ended where three small tributaries came together.  Looking to the left, we could see Kolob Arch high above.  It's really huge - I almost missed it because it was much bigger than I expected.  The view wasn't great here, so I found some rocks to climb up on for a better view.  The arch was just amazing.  I guess it's withstood the test of time, because it's so tucked away in this little canyon.  The topo map shows an intermittent stream (the western tributary of the three) flowing down through the arch, though it was completely dry today.  I suspect if you came during a good rain, there might be a waterfall through the arch!  We had lunch up here and then started making our way back.  It was a good seven miles make to the car and it took a while.  Most of the trail was relatively flat, but the last half-mile or so was fairly steep up.  Back at the car, we made the drive back to Springdale.  When we were almost there, I called Zion Adventure Company and we were able to pick up our gear for the Narrows tomorrow.  After getting that squared away, we went to Bamboo and had Chinese for dinner.

Hidden Canyon and Emerald Pools

posted Nov 8, 2017, 4:56 PM by Justin P   [ updated Nov 8, 2017, 4:56 PM ]


Sunday morning, we woke up early and had breakfast at the hotel and checked out.  Driving east on I15, we passed through Arizona in the Virgin River Canyon.  It was a very scenic section of highway and I thought about how this was the major river through Zion.   Soon we reached Utah and got off the highway to head towards Springdale. Although it was past peak season, Springdale was still very crowded.  After paying admission to Zion National Park, we parked at the visitor center and took the shuttle into the canyon.  I was stunned by how beautiful Zion is.  The canyon walls are incredibly steep and high.  The shuttle provided a nice opportunity for us to enjoy the canyon without having to pay attention to the road and learn a little about the park.  We got off at shuttle stop #7 for Weeping Rock.  First, we headed up to the Weeping Rock on the short paved trail.  Weeping Rock is an unusual "waterfall" in that it's formed by water penetrating the upper levels of rock.  As it hits an impermeable layer, the water weeps out of the rock face and tumbles over a small cave. It was very scenic, but also crowded so we didn't stay long.  Next, we headed on the East Rim Trail towards Hidden Canyon.  The trail was moderately steep, but with switchbacks, it wasn't too bad.  And there was plenty of beautiful fall color along the trail.  I was surprised to see so much color here.  As we got higher, we had nice views of Angels Landing and the horseshoe in the Virgin River.  In about a mile we came to a split and went left to get on Hidden Canyon Trail.  The trail continued switchbacking up to a nice viewpoint.  We stopped and had a snack here.  A couple chipmunks were scurrying around our feet, hoping for a snack.  People had clearly fed them before, but they weren't getting anything from us.  Past here, the trail became more rocky with steep drop offs.  Soon we came to the first chain section.  Unlike Angels Landing, there was only a drop off on one side, with a steep wall on the other.  Nonetheless, I held on to the chain hiking up.  We had to pass around a woman who froze up with acrophobia and couldn't move.  There was another chain section and then we came to the end of the maintained portion of the trail.  The stream that forms Hidden Canyon comes out here and tumbles down the cliff in what must be a waterfall in periods of high water.  But today, there was no water at all.  The rocks had some great potholes though.  From here, we headed into Hidden Canyon.  The trail is not maintained and had several parts with some fun scrambling over huge boulders.  The fall color in here was just great.  And about half way though, we found a cool arch in the canyon.  At the end of the canyon is a sign indicating the end so we turned around and headed back.  Heading down canyon on the shuttle, it was still pretty early so we got off at stop #5 for Zion Lodge.  For construction, the park was closing the access to Emerald Pools from here tomorrow, so it was a good time to get that hike in.  We crossed the river on the pedestrian bridge and went right to get on Lower Emerald Pools Trail.  The trail follows Virgin River upstream a short ways then curves left to follow a tributary upstream.  It was just a short ways to the Lower Emerald Pools.  Water falls down over an overhead ledge into the pools forming a wide veil of waterfall.  Unfortunately, it hadn't rained in over a month and the water level was really low.  Much of the waterfall was a just a drop here and there, though there was one nice ribbon of water.  Past here, the trail climbed up to the intersection with Kayenta Trail and Upper Emerald Pools Trail.  We took the latter and continued up to the upper pools.  The water level was low, but there was some water in the pool.  The sheer cliffs all around were just beautiful and the pool was reflecting the fall foliage.  After a snack break we started heading back down.  A side trail led to a nice overlook above the lower pools.  The trail continued to Middle Emerald Pools, but was closed due to a rock slide.  So we headed back to the trailhead.  Crossing the Virgin River, we watched a family of mule deer wade across the river.  Taking the shuttle back to the visitor center, we drove back to Springdale and checked into the La Quinta Inn.  We had a nice 2nd floor room was beautiful views of Zion Canyon from our room.  After unpacking, we headed to Zion Pizza and Noodle for dinner.  It cooled off in the evening, but was still warm enough to enjoy the outdoor hot tub before retiring for the evening.

Valley of Fire

posted Nov 8, 2017, 1:29 PM by Justin P   [ updated Nov 16, 2017, 4:21 PM ]

The last week of October, Sandy and I headed to the US southwest for a week in Zion.  We flew out Saturday morning from RDU on Frontier Airlines.  It was our first time flying them, but everything went smoothly and the flight attendants were very friendly.  Even after paying for bags and seat upgrades, it was a lot cheaper than other airlines and we got direct flights.  Our flights even arrived a bit early to Las Vegas at about 930.  After getting our luggage, we headed to the rental car center.  Avis upgraded our reservation and we got a convertible Mustang for the week.  From Las Vegas, we got on I15 north for about 30 minutes and got off for Valley of Fire Road.  The road heads through some remote desert terrain before entering Valley of Fire State Park after about 15 miles.  After paying the admission fee, we continued east and turned left on White Domes Road at the visitor center.  We drove almost to the end, parking at the third parking area after Fire Canyon Road at the trailhead for Fire Wave Trail.  After getting our stuff together, we crossed the street to pick up the trail.  Right at the start, the desert views here were just great with gorgeous red rock mountains all around.


It was a totally different environment than what we're used to hiking in.  No trees and sparse plant life, though there were many cacti, creosote bushes and other desert flora.


The sandy trail descended down towards the base of Gibraltar Rock then south and east around the mountain.  Gibraltar Rock stood out like a monolith and was visible along the entire hike.


After passing around the mountain, the trail then headed southeast across open desert and the rocks began to show the red and white stripes of Fire Wave.


Soon we made it to the Fire Wave, a beautiful area of candy-striped white and red rock that resembled a fiery wave.


It was just amazing that the rocks could naturally be so colorful.


Sandy found a small cave where we could relax in for a few minutes to avoid the desert sun - no trees means no shade.  After a break, we started heading back.


Back at the car, we drove the rest of the way to the end of White Domes Road and the trailhead for White Domes Loop.  From the trailhead, we hiked south to do the loop in the clockwise direction.  The trail initially descended down a gorge between the colorful mountains.


The rocks and mountains here were so colorful and the Aztec sandstone had eroded into some amazing formations.


Soon we came to the site where the ruins of a rock wall were visible - part of the set from the 1966 movie The Professionals.


Valley of Fire is a very popular filming location.  The trail then turned west and led through a dry slot canyon on Kaolin Wash, known as the Narrows.


True to its name, it was very narrow.  The trail then turned north passing by more interesting rock formations.


We started to hike through more open desert with White Domes to our right.  The rocks became more eroded as we continued.


Soon, we began to spot some rock windows that we could see completely through.


One of these windows was quite large - eventually this will erode into an arch.


Finally, the trail started to loop back around, passing a small cave in the mountain.


From here, we drove back down White Domes Road, making a quick stop at the visitor center.  While Sandy used the facilities and bought some drinks, I hiked out to the Balancing Rock for some pictures.


The trail is only about a tenth of a mile.  I walked around a bit to view the Balancing Rock from different angles.


From the far side, it doesn't appear to be balancing, but the rock had a bunch of holes eroded in it and it kind of resembled a sphinx.  Hiking back, I could see the half-moon over Valley of Fire.


It was a beautiful scene.  We met back up at the visitor center and continued heading east.  We made a quick stop at Seven Sisters, seven large rock monoliths.


I couldn't find a good spot to view all of them and there were many people here picnicking.  The picnic shelters here distracted from the scene and it didn't seem appropriate to have them.  Continuing east, we made one last stop just before the east entrance to the park.  As we got on the Elephant Rock Trail, I spotted a rock that resembled a dragon.


The light was in just the right angle to illuminate the "mouth" and look like it was breathing fire.  Just past here, we went left to hike the loop in the clockwise direction. We passed Elephant Rock shortly but the view from the trail wasn't great.


I did find a cool view spot between two rocks.


From there, the trail ran right next to the road for a while before looping back through the desert.  The sun was getting lower in the sky and the moon was clearly visible.


The rocks around here were really eroded with many holes and small caves.


This part of the loop trail was also the Old Arrowhead Road Trail and was quite scenic.


After completing the loop, I went back to Elephant Rock and managed to find a better view.


It was just amazing how much this rock arch resembled an elephant.  It was getting late, close to sunset so we found a nice spot to watch the sun dip below the mountains.


But the park closes at official sunset, so we headed back to the car and left the park.  Driving into Overton, we checked into the North Shore Inn and had dinner across the street at La Fonda.  It was a long day, so went to bed shortly after dinner.

Robertson Millpond

posted Oct 21, 2017, 2:58 PM by Justin P

Saturday was a beautiful fall day, so we decided to take our kayaks out and go to Robertson Millpond Preserve.  We arrived around 930 and put in at the dock.  Park staff have installed numbered buoys to mark a paddle trail through the swamp.  The last time we visited, about a year ago, the buoys went up to 37, at which point we had to turn around.  Now, they've made a complete loop going all the way up to #73.  The weather was just perfect and the pond was so scenic.


Sandy was excited to kayak since we haven't been in a while, so we went around the loop rather quickly.  Since it's just over a mile, we continued on another partial loop, going a lot slower so we could enjoy the views and get some pictures.


The bald cypress trees here are really beautiful and so unexpected to find them here in Wake County.  I even found some Spanish moss.


We went about a quarter of the way through the loop then slowly made out way back.

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