Sunday Hikes: The Tower Trail at Devil’s Tower National Monument

The Tower Trail is the 1.3 mile loop trail through ponderosa pine forest around Devil’s Tower.  After being cooped up in the car for much of the day driving across Wyoming, I was very excited to hike this quick and easy trail.  


The trailhead is right at the visitors center.  After a walk of a few hundred feet, you come to the rock scramble at the base of the tower.   This is where everyone wants to take their pictures of Devil’s Tower.  Apparently it is acceptable to climb through the rocks to the base of the tower.  With a permit you can climb to the top as well.  


We took the right fork of the paved trail and started our journey around the tower.  There are some minor elevation changes but nothing to worry about.  The views of the tower from each side are slightly different so it was good to go around.  We saw climbers on the backside and that is what really made me appreciate the size of Devil’s Tower.  They looked like specs about 1/3 of the way up the 867 foot tall volcanic rock formation.

As we followed the trail around, we ran into a few deer along with passing several prayer cloth bundles left by native Americans.  



This was a very enjoyable trail and I recommend completing it during your visit to Devil’s Tower.  Also set aside some time to check out the visitors center and climb some rocks during your visit.  Thanks for reading.  rk

Sunday Hikes: Natural Bridge Trail (Yellowstone) 

If you are looking for a secluded and unique hike Yellowstone National Park, look no further than the Natural Bridge Trail. The trailhead is located just south of the Bridge Bay Campground on the Grand Loop Road with another trailhead leaving from the campground. 


We were camping at Bridge Bay so we hiked the 2.8 mile round trip trail one afternoon right after we had dinner. The trail is mostly flat and takes you through the trees for .7 miles where the tree cover helps the winter snow not melt well into summer. After that the trail met up with an old service road that we followed most of the way there. The trail forks with the service road going to the left and the trail going right and in between was a small pond. There were some ducks floating around on the water and a huge porcupine drinking on the edge. We tried our best to get a good picture but once it realized we were there it took off with quills ready to fire. I don’t think I had seen a porcupine before this one so I’m not sure if they are all giant but this one was larger than a toddler.


 Maybe 50ft after the fork in the trail we reached the natural bridge. It was quite impressive with a water falling flowing through it and it something we had seen anywhere else in the park. 


There was a very cool but somewhat old sign that humbly compared this arch to two of Utah’s largest arches (Rainbow and Landscape). 


The trail continues to the top of the bridge and gives you the only part of the trail that isn’t flat. At the top you could easily stand on top of the natural bridge (but you really should not because it will likely break). There is also what looked like the remains of a stone bridge over the creek to go look at the other side but it appeared to have washed away at some point. 


After taking some pictures and enjoying the solitude of the trail (we had seen nobody else there) we hiked back and kept an eye out for our porcupine friend. Much of this trail seemed somewhat rundown and dilapidated as if it had once been a very popular attraction but fell into obscurity. We really enjoyed this hike and was one of the few we got to do in our short time in Yellowstone. Whenever I get to return to Yellowstone I will probably be hiking this trail again! 

Thanks! – Josh

Sunday Hikes:  The Monument Geyser Basin Trail 

The Monument Geyser Basin Trail was my favorite hike during my visit to Yellowstone National Park this past week.  This trail is a little under the radar as it isn’t listed on the National Park website.  The Monument Geyser Basin is shown on the park map, but no trail or further information is given.

The trailhead is located off of the main park road, between the Norris and Madison junctions.  Right before we arrived at the trailhead we saw a grizzly bear walking along the roadway.  That really jazzed us up as we arrived at the trailhead.   It wasn’t well marked and the parking was limited to a dirt area on the side of the road that could probably only fit 2-3 vehicles. 


The air was warm and the skies gray as we started the hike.  I had expected an immediate vertical hike, but was surprised as the trail blazed through the trees along the bank of the Gibbon River.  After about 1/2 a mile, the trail cut left and the steep ascent finally began.  I estimate we picked up about 600 feet in elevation over the next 1/2 mile.  The overlook views got progressively more breathtaking the higher up we went.  I especially liked seeing the Gibbon River snaking through the valley below.


At the top of the mountain lies the Monument Geyser Basin.  This geyser basin isn’t as impressive as the ones farther south in the Old Faithful area.  We saw a little spurting water and some steam but not much else.   We could hear water gurgling nearby but couldn’t locate the source.  We checked with a Park Ranger later and he wasn’t aware of large flows of water up there and promised to check it out the next time he was in the area.  


As a light cool rain shower began to fall, we quickly descended down the mountain and then followed the river back to where our car was parked.

The reason I liked this trail so much was that I felt like we had it to ourselves.  Much of the Yellowstone iconic sights are very crowded so it was nice to have some space to ourselves.   At 2.4 miles round trip this is a trail where you can work up a sweat, enjoy beautiful scenery, and also complete pretty quickly.  I hope you can try this trail the next time you visit Yellowstone National Park.  rk 

Sunday Hikes: Tray Mountain

About a month ago I was at work, halfway through my shift when I got a text from a friend saying; “want to go camping this weekend?”. I said yes and I got off work at 5pm and we left at 6pm. We drove into north Georgia and followed a dirt road far into the woods that dead ended at the Appalachian Trail. We got to our backcountry site off the side of the dirt road well after dark to find that the site’s previous occupants had left us a surprise. The fire pit was filled with trash, empty and full beer cans, whole liters of coke, multiple loaves of bread, and a ripped in half trash bag. We also found multiple pairs of socks strewn about the site as well as vomit on a tree. Needless to say this wasn’t the best example of Leave No Trace. It was probably 10pm when we started cleaning up the trash and an hour later we had stuffed it all in the car and cleaned the site up as good as new. We made food and coffee and called it a night after hanging out by the fire for a while. 
The next day We decided to hike a small bit of the AT. We took the 1.5mile connector trail that took us to where Tray Gap and Addis Gap meet. We hadn’t planned which way to go and ended up going towards Tray Mountain. Tray is the second tallest mountain on the AT in Georgia and is only a few feet shorter than the tallest, Blood Mountain. The first point of interest we hit was the Swag of the Blue Ridge sign and took our picture by it. 


There were a lot of long steep stretches that took us over a couple mountains. And at some point we took a side trail to fill up on water. We reached the bottom of Tray and sat down in a little grassy knoll to eat some granola before the steep hike to the top. I could have easily fallen asleep on that comfy patch of grass. We didn’t sleep though and forced ourselves upwards towards Tray’s peak. The trek was long and steep but all of the sudden we found ourselves walk out into the small open granite area on top of the mountain. The views were great from the top and we were both excited to reach the top and began to take pictures and admire the views. There were a couple of AT thru-hikers that had reached the top at the same time as us and we chatted with them for a bit before having another snack and heading back. We hiked back as far as the Swag of the Blue Ridge with two other hikers that we got to talk to about hiking gear, mountain lions, travel, and probably more stuff I don’t remember. We left them behind and headed back over two more small mountains before taking our side trail back to the campsite where we made lunch and chilled the rest of the day. We did the math later and we did somewhere around twenty miles of hiking that day without planning to. Spontaneous trips like this one are some of my favorite things to do and can be so relaxing. 


Thanks for reading! – Josh

Also sorry about the lack of pictures. 

Sunday Hikes: Dunbar Cave Recovery Trail

Clarksville TN is a fun little town about 45 minutes northwest of Nashville right on the Kentucky border.   Occasionally I spend time here for work.   I discovered a few years back a real gem of a place to hike, Dunbar Cave State Park.   This State Park is in the city limits and has a well marked hiking trail that covers almost the entirety of the park.

The State Park covers 110 acres and centers around Dunbar Cave.   The visitors center and parking lot are in one corner of the park.   The trail leads from the visitors center to the cave entrance and then has a figure 8 trail system behind the cave.   The total length of the trail is 2.8 miles.

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The pond area formed by the stream that comes out of the cave

Last week, I was able to revisit this state park and hike the trails and view the cave entrance.  The trail from the visitors center to the cave area is a short flat walk.   The cave area is pretty neat.   Back before air conditioning became common, they used this area for outdoor concerts and functions.   They built a two story complex with a concession area and dance floor.  It’s really amazing to think about how it must have been back in the day with live bands and dancing.

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The cave entrance / big band stage

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Concessions area next to the cave entrance / big band stage area

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Peering into the fenced off cave entrance

After viewing the cave entrance area, I hiked the figure 8 behind the cave area.   The trails are wide and well marked with numerous sinkholes off to the side.  At one sinkhole I saw several deer.   I did take a few pictures so that you could see what the area was like.   I hope you enjoy and thanks for reading.   rk

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The trail behind the cave entrance

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Coming back around towards the sinkhole area

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Sinkhole with very poor fencing effort

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Deer hanging out near the sinkholes

 

Sunday Hikes: Cheaha Mountain

At 2,405 feet above sea level, Cheaha Mountain in Alabama is one of the less impressive state high peaks. Nonetheless I found myself driving 2 hours west on I20 about a month ago to hike up the mountain. We got to Cheaha State Park around 8am and drove to the top of the mountain where they were doing some construction. The views were good and if the day wasn’t so overcast we could have certainly seen Birmingham in the distance. 


We didn’t go to the mountain to drive to the top though so we went down to the nearby Cheaha trailhead and hoped it was the one we wanted to hike (the trail maps provided at the state park were pretty much unreadable). We hit the trail which quickly connected to the Pinhoti Trail and followed it along the top of the tallest mountains in Alabama. 



We followed the Pinhoti for 4 miles and passed a bunch of cool overlooks as well as backcountry campgrounds. The most interesting part of this trail came at the end of the four miles when we came across a small old plane that had crashed in the woods at some point in history. We checked it out and took some pictures before continuing to an overlook to eat lunch. 


Once we departed the overlook we took the 3 mile connector trail from the Pinhoti to the Cave Creek trail. The Cave Creek Trail took us another 4 miles back up to the Cheaha trailhead where my car was parked. 


Somewhere along the way though we ended up on an unmarked side trail and went about a mile before turning back and having to hike up some very steep stretches of trail. We finished the trail a little after noon and ate some granola bars in the bed of my little pickup truck. Overall it was a great hike (although a little longer than expected) and I was disappointed at not seeing any cave creeks (whatever that is) on the Cave Creek Trail. It was a nice little day trip and gives me another state high peak to mark off the list. 

-Josh