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St George, Utah: World Class Outdoor Venue

I have been very blessed to live where I have throughout my life: The Santa Cruz area in California, Southern Oregon, Bellingham, Washington, Ogden in Northern Utah and now St. George in SW Utah. Each of those places had amazing outdoor opportunities and spectacular scenery, and each has a special place in my heart. But I have to say, after just a couple of months living in this far corner of Utah, that St. George takes the top spot for outdoor recreation opportunities. And that isn’t meant to detract from the other places, but here in the desert the combination of diverse terrain, massive volume of developed trails, rock climbing areas, wilderness and near-perfect weather makes my new home truly epic and indeed, world-class for outdoor enthusiasts.

Let’s take a look at why this place is so special.

1. Hiking

When I first came to Southern Utah back in 2011, I was immediately impressed by the sheer volume of trails I saw on the way to Zion. Before we moved here, I did a lot of research on places to explore, and knew that I was moving into territory that was unparalleled in hiking opportunities. Here are a few examples of why St. George is a hiker’s paradise:

Red Cliffs Desert Reserve: This 62,000 acre reserve was set aside primarily to help protect the endangered Mojave Desert Tortoise, but is also a hugely popular outdoor recreation area, with not only miles of hiking trails, but also mountain biking trails, rock climbing areas, Native American archaeological sites and even dinosaur tracks!

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Snow Canyon State Park: There is a saying that if it wasn’t for St. George’s proximity to Zion, Bryce and Grand Canyon National Parks, this park would probably be a national park. Instead, it is “just” a state park, but what a beauty it is: Sandstone cliffs close to one thousand feet high, a pallet of colors that dazzle the eyes, miles of hiking trails, caves, rock climbing, canyons and more. I am particularly fortunate to live less no more than a quarter mile from its eastern border.

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Pine Valley Mountains: St. George is not all desert, either. About ten miles north of town, the Pine Valley mountains rise up to 10,000 feet and provide a cool refuge from the desert heat. With a completely different environment than the red rocks and mesas below, there are large grassy meadows, forests of pine and fir and beautiful little mountain streams in this large wilderness area (one of the largest in Utah.) The trails up here are a stark contrast to what you will find in the lowlands below.

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Zion National Park: A short 45 minute drive from town, this national park, one of the crown jewels of the national park system, also provides an amazing, vast playground for hikers (not to mention climbers and canyoneers.) Probably my very favorite spot in this world. There are trails that run from serious and slightly scary (Angel’s Landing) to long and adventurous (West Rim trail) to easy (The Narrows.) There is something for everyone here.

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These are just some of the general areas in and around town. There are also numerous trails that aren’t part of the wilderness, state or national parks system. I have been speculating that there are so many trails here that you could hike every day for a year and not have to drive more than 20 miles without repeating a single hike.

2. Rock Climbing:

According to Mountain Project.com, there are at least 26 distinct areas with 637 routes in the area right around St. George (Zion not included.) These areas provide a wide range of climbing options from trad (traditional) climbing, sport climbing and bouldering. You can climb on sandstone, limestone and basalt here. The routes vary from short bouldering problems to multi-pitch trad routes. With so much to choose from, most places (except perhaps Chuckwalla and Black Rocks) are crowd-free and pristine.

3. Mountaineering

There aren’t a lot of really big, alpine mountains around here, but the Pine Valley Mountains do have a nice selection of hiking peaks such as Gardner Mountain and Signal Peak (the apex of the Pine Valleys at 10,365′.) There is also West Peak in the Beaver Dam mountains, Scrub Peak, Moapa Peak (in Nevada) and Mt. Bangs (in Arizona.) It is also only half a day’s drive to bigger mountains in Utah, Nevada and California.

4. Canyoneering

Utah is world-renowned for its canyoneering, and rightly so. There are numerous slot canyons in the immediate area, ranging from easy family hikes to epic, super-technical horror-shows. I haven’t had an opportunity yet to do more technical routes, but have explored a few of the easier slots in the area, such as the Narrows (the local Narrows, not the Zion Narrows) and the Red Reef slot.

5. Mountain Biking

I’m not a mountain biker (yet), but St. George is truly one of the epicenters of the mountain biking world. There are so many dedicated mountain biking trails that it deserves an article of its own. Places like Gooseberry Mesa, the Jem trail, the Zen trail are well known in the MB community, and committed cyclists come from far and wide to test themselves on these trails. The Red Bull Rampage, one of the most extreme and mind-blowing competitions on the professional circuit, is held in the nearby town of Virgin.

6. Other assorted outdoor adventures

The swimming is great here. We have gone to both Quail Creek and Sand Hollow reservoirs (both Utah state parks) and while Quail Creek has incredibly warm water, myself and my family really prefer Sand Hollow. The water is much more clear and there are lots of interesting spots to explore, like an island within easy swimming distance and a cliff with deep water for thrill seekers.

St. George also has a vibrant skim boarding community. The Virgin river is particularly suited for this sport, since it runs flat and wide.

One of the places I am most eager to explore is the Bloomington Cave. The largest tectonic cave in Utah, this spelunkers delight has six levels, a labyrinth of rooms and passages and is almost a mile and a half in length.

Despite being the warmest spot in Utah, there is also excellent winter skiing available at Brian Head Ski Resort, an hour and a half drive from St. George. Brian Head is the highest elevation ski resort in Utah and has a wide selection of runs to choose from.

There is also whitewater opportunities in the Virgin river, but generally this will only happen after a modest rainfall.

As an outdoor adventurer I am completely under the spell of this magical area. So much to choose from, and with weather that is sunny for over three hundred days per year (and with a year-round average high temperature of 70 degrees), the opportunities to get outside and explore are almost limitless. I have been here less than three months and have already climbed and hiked more than in the previous two years (of course this has more to do with being a full time college student than anything else.)

I am eagerly looking forward to more.

A New Life (in the Desert)

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On August 5, my family and I departed our longtime home of Roseburg, Oregon, and headed south in our RV (piloted by yours truly) and small Honda (with Brook and our two youngest kids.) Over the next couple of days, we drove over 1000 miles and arrived at our new home in St. George, Utah in the afternoon of August 7. Our first month here was a stressful one. It had cost us significantly more in gas to get here than we were anticipating, and we had come here with a tight budget that allowed no room for miscalculation, so we didn’t have enough for a month of rent at the KOA when we got here. We quickly found jobs, but had to depend on the kindness of friends to avoid having to spend time living in the parking lot of a Walmart. Eventually we found a spot to park our RV at the home of a guy named Terry, and that is where we are now.

Both Brook and I have jobs we really like, in fact, I have three jobs right now: working as a baker at Paradise Cafe & Bakery, a hiking guide with Desert Cliffs Fitness and as a free lance photographer. Brook works as a teacher’s aide at the Dixie Montessori charter school, and our two youngest kids attend this same school. It is so refreshing to come from a town with pretty bad unemployment to a city where the job market is booming.

Since arriving in St. George, I have gotten into the outdoors well over 30 times. I have gone rock climbing, mountaineering and hiking (not to mention swimming) more than I have in the past two years. And I have barely touched all the amazing hikes within and surrounding St. George. This place is truly a world-class outdoor adventure arena. There are hundreds, if not thousands of rock routes within 30 miles, trails branch out everywhere and the terrain is incredibly diverse. For rock climbing there are areas composed of sandstone, basalt, limestone and even granite. There are flat trails, steep death scrambles and everything in between for hiking. There are multiple large arches in the immediate vicinity of town. I haven’t even mentioned that this place is one of the absolute best places in the United States to mountain bike (since I haven’t gone mountain biking — yet.) The world-famous Red Bull Rampage is held yearly in nearby Virgin, Utah. Oh, and this is also a great place to go skim boarding. The Virgin river is ideal for the sport since it tends to run wide, flat and shallow.

There really is an seemingly endless amount of outdoor recreational opportunities here. You could go to a different place every day for a year and still not have to drive further than 20 miles from the city center. Epic.

Some of the places I have hiked and climbed these past 10 weeks:

Hiked the Padre Canyon trail three times (twice with clients) in Snow Canyon State Park

Explored Pioneer Park on numerous occasions

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Scrambled through the narrows (at Pioneer Park) several times

Rock climbed at Soul Asylum, Prophesy Wall, Kelly’s Rock (at the Woodbury Road crags), and Snow Canyon.

Hiked part of the Red Reef trail

Hiked up Shinobe Kibe, a mesa and sacred site

Hiked most of the way up the Gunsight route on Red Mountain

Hiked the larger, northern cinder cone (twice) of the Santa Clara volcano

Walked a large (10 mile) loop combining the Gardner Peak, Canal, Forsyth, and Whipple trails

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Climbed the sub-summit of Gardner Peak

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Hiked up to 9,200 feet on the Oak Grove trail

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Hiked a part of the Gila trail

Hiked a large (14 mile) loop combining the Chuckawalla, Beck Hill, Scout Cave, Johnson Canyon and Paradise Rim trails. Oh, and saw this desert tortoise:

photo courtesy of John Kemp

photo courtesy of John Kemp

Explored the undesignated recreation area behind our home numerous times

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Swam in Quail Creek and Sand Hollow reservoirs

Went to Zion National Park

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There is a lot to do here in St. George and I am not even writing about all the other amazing things to do and see in this fabulous city that aren’t outdoor centered. We love it here. It was hard at first but now that we have some stability this town and area has really become home. The people are really nice, the weather is fabulous (St. George and the vicinity averages about 300+ days of sunshine per year), and it is a great place to raise kids.

In the days to come, I will start writing about individual adventures in more detail.

 

 

 

The North Bank Habitat: The East Ridge Loop

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I have written often about the North Bank Habitat Management Area before, but considering the limited time I have left in Oregon, I would like to write at least one more post about this under-appreciated jewel of a park. I have had a love affair with this place since I first came here, although it took a couple of hikes before I really came to realize how amazing a spot it is.

A brief history: Several decades ago, the Columbia White Tailed Deer was nearly extinct. As far as anyone knew (in the 1970’s), there was only a tiny isolated population found on an island in the Columbia river. But then it was discovered that there was also still a small population living in Douglas County near Roseburg. This habitat (the NBHMA) was at that time privately owned, and in 1994 the Bureau of Land Management acquired the area in a land exchange. The deer have since rebounded and were taken off the Douglas County endangered list in 2013. The park itself is over six thousand acres in size, or approximately ten square miles.

Personally I have hiked all over this place, but what I enjoy most are the really long ridge hikes that can easily exceed ten miles in length. The views on these particular hikes are superlative, with Mt. Scott looming to the northeast and the North Umpqua river winding its way to the south. It is also quite incredible how few people come here to hike. I don’t think I have ever seen more than five people in a single hike. Most times it seems as though it is completely empty.

My favorite of all the hikes I have completed so far is the East Ridge Loop (my name for it.) It is a combination of the Thistle Ridge-Middle Ridge to the Northgate junction, then east along the North Boundary Road/Ridge trail to the East Boundary Ridge trail in a massive, 13.5 mile loop (according to my GPS.) You gain about 1500 feet of elevation along the way and completely circumambulate a large valley. Along the way there are massive madrones, a nice rocky crag that is supposed to be a den for rattlesnakes, a weather station, endless hills and a Purple Martin sanctuary.

Recently I put together a video of the hike for a school project, and I am pleased to present it to you now. Rather than wax rhapsodic about the hike, I will just stop and let you watch the video. Enjoy!

A New Year, Some Thoughts

It is places like the Grand Canyon that make me feel the most alive

It is places like the Grand Canyon that make me feel the most alive

2012 was an interesting year for me as an avid outdoor adventurer. It was another down year in some ways, I hardly rock climbed at all, I only climbed three big mountains, and yet I still managed to get in a wide diversity of adventures, from rafting the upper North Umpqua to backpacking in the Grand Canyon. For a lot of people, this would have been an epic year. I guess it just shows where my standards are these days, and that is both a good thing and a bad thing.

This year, however, I would like to have a lot more adventures. These are my resolutions/goals and manifestations for 2013:

*Rock climb at least 20 times this year. Considering the amount of cragging available within an hour of my house, there is no reason I shouldn’t be able to accomplish this goal.

*Climb (or at least make a serious attempt) 10 big mountains this year. My list includes Rainier, Baker, Middle Sister, Jefferson, Whitney, Hood, Adams, and several others, but the first five are the most important.

*Kayak at least 20 times this year. I live on the North Umpqua river for goodness sake! Also, this list does not include the times when I just go in my backyard and paddle, I mean that I want to make at least 20 runs down the river.

*I want to get my family more active in the outdoors. Since Julia was born in 2011, we have not taken her on a single hike. Not one! Ridiculous. We just got out of the habit. The sad thing is (as if the above statement wasn’t sad enough), we went on many waterfall hikes while Brook was pregnant with JuJu and yet haven’t taken her to see a single one of these falls after her birth. Going to change that this year.

*Visit at least four national parks this year. Crater Lake is a little over an hour away. Rainier is half a day’s drive. Same with Lassen. If I climb Whitney, I will be in Sequoia/King’s Canyon NP.

*Start climbing more serious mountains with my eldest daughter, Zoe. She will be twelve in February, and this is a pretty typical age for kids to start climbing mountains that are a step up from hikes. We are planning on starting with Diamond Peak, McLoughlin (when they are still snow covered and require the use of an ice-axe and possibly crampons), Hood, Middle Sister and Whitney. I am also going to get her a new harness for her birthday, so we can resume rock-climbing together.

I am a better person when I get myself and my family into the great outdoors. Maybe living in the woods and on the river has jaded us a little bit, making us feel like we just have it all right here, and while it is absolutely beautiful here, there are so many places that are truly awesome that we need to get to. I certainly do. There is a huge difference between what we have here and what we could experience at a place like Crater Lake or Rainier. A sense of awe. A sense of power, a sense of humility.

I watched this video the other day, and it really reminded me of what I am missing when I don’t get to the really big places in the world, and it woke me up, made me realize what I long for. I need to go to places like Glacier, Zion and the Grand Canyon to tap into what has always been the most amazing feeling for me. It started when I first went to Yosemite as a child, and felt so small and yet so alive, and it will continue as long as I am able to get to these places.

So here’s hoping that this will be a fantastic year for me and for my family. I pray to the powers that be that I can get there often.

 

On the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

Returning to work

On the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

I have been in a different mental and emotional state for the last month or so. I had some emotional issue with my eldest daughter that really threw me off-track, but I just found it hard to get back going as a writer again. So this is me saying that I am going to be back at it again tomorrow. It is a process, becoming the writer I know I can be, but I am going to have to establish some healthy discipline in my life to get where I want to go. I just need to write every day; I let a day or two go by, then I get embarrassed and two days turns into a month, and by that point I am feeling downright humiliated. I just have to let that go, which is what I am doing now.

Tomorrow is a new day for me, a new day to write and formulate my thoughts. I am so fortunate that I live in a time when being able to publish your thoughts is an easy and (generally) friendly environment. I need to take advantage of that.

See you tomorrow.

Wheeler Peak, the only significant peak I have climbed this year. Photo courtesy Charles Young 2012.

Time to Re-Evaluate

Wheeler Peak, the only significant peak I have climbed this year. Photo courtesy Charles Young 2012.

This year has not gone as I would have liked. Except for the big trip to the Grand Canyon, Zion and Great Basin, I haven’t climbed — either rock or mountain — nearly as much as I would have liked. Neither have I kayaked, other than paddling in my backyard. I was supposed to climb Middle Sister a few weeks ago, but an averse withdrawal from some medication I was taking forced me (by doctor’s orders) to withdraw from that trip. Now, a few days before I was set to leave for Mt. Rainier with Charles, the guy I went with on my big trip, informed me that he was dropping out of this trip because — it still makes me angry — his twenty-something daughter got spooked since we were going as a two-man rope team instead of the ‘traditional’ three-man team. She had done ‘some research’ and decided that she knew more about climbing than I do, apparently.

This is two years in a row that I have had a major slowdown in my outdoor activities, and I do not like it. I live for outdoor recreation, and here I live in a region famous for it and I find myself going through another semi-wasted summer. It started out very promising in the spring, and then the early summer, but now it has fallen apart. I don’t know if I will be climbing any more mountains this year. I hate having to say that.

But at the same time, I have some issues to work out, and perhaps the reason why I am not getting where I want is because of these unresolved issues. I am terribly disorganized, I get serious lapses in motivation and self-discipline and I don’t exercise like I should. Being a big believer in manifestation, I know I am sending mixed signals to the universe by not doing those things.

I stopped working several years ago due to the serious and unrelenting nature of my chronic pain caused by fibromyalgia. I actually did try to get a job a year and a half ago, but I am in an odd position since I was a manager of an incredibly busy and successful business in Eugene, so I am over-qualified for most barista jobs I tried to get, and that is my main marketable skill. I have a ton experience in that area, but despite putting out a bunch of resumes, I didn’t get a single phone call. Never in my life have I ever struggled trying to gain employment.

So, no job, no money, no outdoor trips. It’s as simple as that. I probably could have rock climbed locally on a more regular basis, but my friend Kevin was hurt and then moved to Minnesota, my friend Dave, when we were giving him a space to stay when he was trying to get himself in drug recovery, started being sketchy and looking for drugs in our house, so I am not on speaking terms with him. My friend Scott now lives in Texas. I am almost out of reliable climbing partners.

For now, school, writing and family are my focus. I am forty-one years old, and time is a-wasting for me to start a career. So I just have to focus on getting my degree, continuing to write my various blogs and fiction, and know that I will be able to climb and kayak and hike like I want to when I do get hired as a journalist or in some other capacity. In addition, I also must work on being more organized, more disciplined and I really need to get myself in much better shape.

Life is full of do-overs. This is just another one.

In a year we will be moving to St. George, Utah. It is a year-round playground for outdoor recreation enthusiasts, and being in a bigger city will no doubt put me into contact with a lot more climbers, so hopefully the move will spur much more outdoor adventures.

For now, the focus needs to be inward, to make the changes I know are necessary.