Magruder Corridor / Lolo Motorway Loop – Sept 2016

Sept. 14-17, 2016

Just over one year ago I started planning this trip.  I was studying the Idaho Backcountry Discovery Route (IDBDR) and I was intrigued by the Magruder Corridor and the Lolo Motorway.  With my small KTM 350, I am not really interested in riding any of the BDRs, but I enjoy learning about them.  The Magruder and Lolo looked interesting from a historical perspective as well as an enjoyable dirt bike ride.

I also studied the T1 Tour of Idaho routes.  While the BDRs are aimed at large adventure bikes, the T1 is designed for small dirt bikes.  The route consists of a lot of very technical single track trails.  I don’t have the skill or strength to tackle most of the T1, but I found that by taking the union of the T1 and IDBDR it formed a nice loop.

The western connection between the Magruder Corridor and Lolo Motorway did not consist of extreme single track, but what looked to be really fun ATV trails.  Perfect for my small dirt bike and my skill level!  But the eastern connection consisted of a lot of pavement – which I don’t like on my small bike.

I spent months looking for alternatives to avoid the pavement, but that made the trip get longer and longer.  With a time constraint of only four days, and road closures due to fires, my original loop ended up being the route of choice for this trip.

Here is my highlights video from the trip:

My GPS track for the four-day adventure is shown below.  I would point out, however, that my GPS randomly powered off a few times each day – usually while traveling fast.  Thus, it didn’t record an accurate track of the entire route.  If you look closely you will see straight lines.  This indicates the section where my GPS was off.  (I think the GPS battery vibrated loose, causing the GPS to power down even though I was running off 12V from the bike.)  Each days ride is shown in a different color.

 

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GPS track from our four-day Idaho adventure

I originally wanted to do an Idaho ride in July so my son and daughter could join me.  But about one week before we left, we learned that the Magruder Corridor was closed for repairs until August.  So we opted for a central Utah trip and explored some of the Arapeen ATV trails.

I rescheduled the Idaho trip for mid-September.  My children could not come because they were back in college, but some work colleagues were able to join me; Ross (KLR 685), Scott (KLR 650), and Danny (DR-Z400).

Day 1: North Fork to Poet Creek

We left work a little early on Tuesday so we could drive from home (Salt Lake City area) to Salmon, Idaho, where we had a motel reservation.

We awoke to a chilly and cloudy morning with a forecast for rain.  After breakfast we drove to North Fork, and then headed west along the Salmon River Road until we found a nice place to park.

We started our ride at about 9:30 AM and continued west on the Salmon River Road.  We rode about one mile past our turnoff to visit the small store at Shoup – even though it is currently out of business.  Most of this stretch was paved.

Salmon River Road

Salmon River Road

The Salmon River

The Salmon River

Shoup - out of business (again)

Shoup – out of business (again)

 

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Day 1 track

Just as we turned north on Spring Creek Road, it started to rain lightly.  Spring Creek was an enjoyable ride as we climbed rapidly into the mountains.  I saw about a dozen deer through this section.

Deer crossing the road

Deer crossing the road

We stopped to regroup on a pass and Danny noted that it was snowing lightly.  Great!  That is all we need!

Danny cruising up Spring Creek

Danny cruising up Spring Creek

We pressed on and took a side spur to Blue Nose Lookout.  The view was somewhat limited due to the cloud cover and drizzling rain/snow.

Blue Nose Lookout

Blue Nose Lookout

Light rain falling at Blue Nose LO

Light rain falling at Blue Nose Lookout

A short time later my GPS powered off for the first time.  Rather than figure out what was wrong, I pressed on from memory.  That is generally not a good strategy.  I ended up taking a wrong turn, which took us down to Horse Creek Hot Springs.  That would have been great if we had more time – but we were running behind schedule.  I figured that to make our desired camp by about 5:00 PM we would need to average about 23-24 mph.  We were riding about that fast, but we had far more stops than I expected.

Anyway, we powered up my GPS and returned to our designed route.  We wanted to stop for lunch at Painted Rocks Reservoir, but it started to rain harder and the temperature was dropping fast.

We opted to find shelter under a tree in the Alta Campground.  I dug my down jacket out from my luggage and pulled out my balaclava and glove liners to help stay warm.  This was also the first time I have used my grip heaters all day long.

Ross seeking shelter under a tree

Ross seeking shelter under a tree

After lunch we pressed on to Painted Rocks Reservoir.  It was raining pretty hard, but the road is paved in this area so it wasn’t a serious problem.

Painted Rocks Reservoir

Painted Rocks Reservoir

When we arrived at the dam we discussed our options.  We decided to press on and see how muddy the trail was.  To our surprise, mud was not an issue.  We crossed the dam and then rode along the other side of the reservoir.  We then took the Tough Creek trail over the mountain to the Magruder Corridor.

Painted Rocks spillway

Painted Rocks spillway

We were surprised that a section of the Magruder was paved.  In fact, I was surprised that the entire Magruder Corridor was in really good condition.  It was a much easier ride than I expected – but it was thoroughly enjoyable.

We stopped at Nez Perce Pass and at the Magruder Ranger Station.  Just before we got to the ranger station, the rain stopped and the ground was bone dry.  We were surprised how quickly we went from wet to dry conditions.

Nez Perce Pass

Nez Perce Pass

Magruder Ranger Station

Magruder Ranger Station

After a short break and snack, we pressed on as the road follows the Selway River for a few miles.  We were also surprised that just about every camp spot had an outfitter with their large white tents and horses.  Hunting season was ramping up, so there were a lot of people in the area.

One of many burn areas

One of many burn areas along the Magruder Corridor

Scott on the Magruder Corridor

Scott on the Magruder Corridor

Ross reading about the massacre

Ross reading about the Magruder Massacre

View from the Magruder

View from the Magruder

The only technical trail of the entire trip was the side spur to Burnt Knob Lookout.  We would like to rename this to Broken Fibula Lookout in honor of Scott, who dropped his KLR and smashed his ankle.  He was in a lot of pain, but didn’t learn that he also scraped his elbow and knee until we got to camp, and he didn’t learn that he had fractured his fibula until after the trip.  What a man!

The Burnt Knob LO trail is very rocky and technical

The Burnt Knob Lookout trail is very rocky and technical

Burnt Knob LO

Burnt Knob Lookout

Burnt Knob Lookout

Burnt Knob Lookout

This side spur doesn’t look very hard in my videos, but with a loaded bike it was quite a challenge.  Ross and I made it to the top, but it was quite a workout.  It is a long and rocky climb with a lot of loose dirt.  Danny stopped to help Scott, so he was not able to make the top.

While Ross and Danny helped get Scott and his bike off the trail, I went on ahead to find a campsite before dark.  Our target was Poet Creek, which is one of the nicer campsites along the route and has a nice stream for filtering water.  The main campground was full, but there was a nice spot alongside the road just outside the campground.  We covered about 162 miles on our first day.

Poet Creek campground

Poet Creek campground

We were able to get camp set up before dark, but we ended up riding until about 7:00 PM instead of our desired 5:00 PM.  We were just glad to have a nice place to camp and be out of the rain.  It did, however, get quite cold during the night.  Both of my water bottles froze.  I was glad I had the down throw blanket I got for my birthday a few weeks earlier!

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Our camp spot near Poet Creek

Day 1 video:

Day 2: Poet Creek to Smith Creek

The skies cleared during the evening, which is why it got so cold at night.  In the morning our tents were covered in frost, so we didn’t get as early of a start as we had planned.  But we enjoyed a nice breakfast and beautiful clear blue skies.

 

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Day 2 track

We continued along the Magruder Corridor for about 15 miles.  We passed our backup campsite at Granite Springs – we were glad we didn’t end up staying there – the place burned to the ground a few years ago.

Granite Springs Campground

Granite Springs Campground

In the Mountain Meadow area we split up.  Scott continued down the main road to Elk City while the rest of us tried the first of three planned ATV trails.  I don’t know the name of the trail, but I learned about it while studying the T1,  Tour of Idaho.

This turned out to be an absolute blast!  This trail is my new all-time favorite trail.  It starts off as a standard ATV trail through the forest.  It then enters a large burn area that is covered with 3’-4’ tall pine trees.  It was like riding through a Christmas Tree plantation.

More new growth

Small pines along the ATV trail

And then things got really interesting.  We took a fork in the trail, but the trail almost disappeared into thick brush.  According to my GPS we were on the right track, and there were a few tire tracks on the trail – but the trail was seriously overgrown.  We bushwhacked our way through and found it to be a really fun gem.  The trail drops down off the mountain until we finally popped out on the Red River Road.  The trail was about 12 miles long.

Bush whacking on the trail

Bush whacking on the trail

We planned on taking forest road 423 to another ATV trail called the Divide Trail #505.  Unfortunately, road 423 closes for wildlife management on September 15 – the day we were there.  The road was gated closed, so we had no choice but to find an alternate route.  Since we were running behind schedule (again), we opted to take the pavement in to Elk City and meet Scott for lunch.

Elk City

Elk City

We had a great lunch and filled up our bikes with fuel.  We covered about 217 miles on our first tank of gas.  With my 5 gallon tank, my low fuel light came on at about 213 miles.  I think the tank gives me a range of at least 250 miles.

After lunch we discussed our options again.  Our plan was to ride the third ATV trail – the Boundary Trail #835.  But Scott wasn’t up to riding an ATV trail and as I mentioned, we were behind schedule – so we opted to take the easy road up to the Falls Point Road #443 and head over to the Selway drainage.  This was another pleasant ride.

The Falls Point Road descends fairly rapidly for about seven miles.  It was an easy and fun ride, but it was amazing how long the descent was.  There were a lot of water bars and water dips to avoid erosion.  These were a little tricky with fully loaded bikes.

Descending Falls Point Road to the Selway drainage - lots of water bars

Descending Falls Point Road to the Selway drainage – lots of water bars

Danny on the Selway Bridge

Danny on the Selway Bridge

We stopped to take pictures of Selway Falls and continued on to Lowell and the confluence of the Lochsa and Selway Rivers.  The road along the Selway was under construction and had some sections with slippery, gooey mud.

Selway Falls

Selway Falls

Construction mud

Construction mud along the Selway

Our planned camp for the night was at Rocky Ridge Lake up on the Lolo Motorway.  We knew we couldn’t make it that far before dark, but we decided to press on and find a place to camp along the road.  My plan was to ride up Big Hill to Smith Creek #101, which leads to the Lolo Motorway #500.  Either I picked the wrong trail, or Big Hill is not open to motorized travel (at least this time of year).  So we bailed on that plan and buzzed down Hwy 12 to Syringa and started up Smith Creek #101 from the bottom.

Smith Creek is on a steep side hill and there are no obvious places to camp.  While Scott rested, Ross and I spent about 45 minutes scouting for a decent place to camp.  We finally found a flat patch of ground in the middle of a seldom used, overgrown trail.  There was no fire ring, but it turned out to be a nice place to camp.  The thick trees sheltered us from the wind and we were at a lower elevation than either of the other camps.  Ross entertained us by showing a Big Foot video on his phone.  Just what is needed before sleeping in the forest!

Mileage for the day was about 142 miles.  Once again we rode until almost dark.

Day 2 video:

Day 3: Smith Creek to Horseshoe Lake

We awoke to another gorgeous day.  We continued up Smith Creek road until we came to a side spur to Walde Lookout.  I told everyone where we were headed, but being early in the morning no one seemed to remember.

As I passed the last junction on the trail to the lookout I wondered if I should stop and wait for the group – but it was obvious that you want to take the trail that goes up since we were heading to a lookout tower.  Well, I thought it was obvious.

I pushed aside my fear of heights and ascended the 100’ tall tower (which seemed more like 500’).  The lookout host gave me a private tour of the small shack on top while we waited for the rest of the group to find their way.  They eventually remembered that we were heading to the Walde Lookout waypoint that I provided along with all of the other GPS tracks and points.

Walde Mtn Lookout

My bike at the base of Walde Lookout Tower

 

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Day 3 track

The tower was really interesting and well worth the time and the climb up the 165 stairs.  One of the steps has 5280 engraved on it – indicating that the step is one mile above sea level.

Smith Creek road is a well maintained road but it was covered in loose gravel.  This made cornering a little sketchy, but it gave us a chance to work on our cornering technique.  I think we all improved – a little.

We eventually arrived at the junction with Road 500 – the Lolo Motorway.  The Lolo is a really fun ride!  The middle section was a lot rockier than I expected, but it wasn’t difficult on a small dirt bike – you just have to pay attention and pick your line carefully.  There was, however, one long rocky climb that didn’t seem to want to end.

Like the Magruder, we rode through a mixture of forest, meadows, and burn areas.  The forests are so thick you can’t see very far, whereas the burn areas really open up the view.  The biggest challenge on these trails is paying attention to the trail and not over enjoying the scenery. Going off the trail could be fatal.

More Lolo

Lolo Motorway, Road 500

We were surprised to learn that this area of Idaho does not have Quaking Aspen trees, which we expected to give us beautiful autumn colors.  The undergrowth was changing color, but the pine trees made it difficult to see much of the time.

Fall colors on the Lolo

Fall colors along the Lolo Motorway

We stopped for lunch at Rocky Ridge Lake.  What a beautiful spot!  It would have been nice to camp there, but it would have been a lot chillier than the place we did camp.

Lunch at Rocky Ridge Lake

Lunch at Rocky Ridge Lake

We planned on camping somewhere near Lochsa Lodge for our third camp, but since we were running about ½ day behind schedule, we decided to camp at Horseshoe Lake.  This isn’t quite as nice as Rocky Ridge, but it wasn’t bad at all and we were the only ones there.  Unlike the crowded Magruder, we only saw a handful of people all along the Lolo.

The rockiest part of the Lolo is the part between Rocky Ridge Lake and Horseshoe Lake.  It wasn’t overly difficult, but it was the most tiring section of the entire loop, not counting Burnt Knob Lookout.

We took another side spur to Castle Butte Lookout.  This is a very nice lookout shack, but it was not manned while we were there.  The last portion of the trail is really rocky, so if you aren’t up for it, just park your bike and walk up to the lookout.

Castle Butte Lookout

Castle Butte Lookout

The gal at Walde Lookout told us there was a prescribed burn scheduled for that day, and it really filled the air with smoke.

Smoke

Smokey view along the Lolo Motorway

We only made 85 miles on day three, but it was nice to stop for camp at about 5:00 PM.

Horseshoe Lake

Horseshoe Lake

Camp 3

Camp at Horseshoe Lake

Day 3 video:

Day 4: Horseshoe Lake to North Fork

As we were packing our bikes in the morning, a cold front came through and the temperature started to drop.  It was also getting cloudy.

The eastern portion of the Lolo is the smoothest.  There were a few rocky parts, but most of it was pretty smooth flowing trail.

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Hazy day at Indian Post Office

We stopped to talk to two guys riding the IDBDR.  They said that they got about 2” of snow on Wednesday night at Trinity Lakes.  We were glad we didn’t have to camp in snow because we weren’t prepared for that extreme of weather.

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Day 4 track, part 1

We stopped at Lochsa Lodge to get gas (208 miles) and air up our tires.  Our original plan was to ride the Elk Meadows dirt road, but since we were behind schedule we just rode the pavement all the way back to our car in North Fork – approximately 160 miles of pavement.

The others are quite used to riding pavement, but my bike is geared so low that it really buzzes if I push it above 60 mph.  The ride up and over Lolo Pass wasn’t bad since the speed limit was only 50 mph, but the last portion, heading towards the town of Lolo jumps up to 70 mph.  I pushed it to 70 mph for a few seconds, but I didn’t like it so I backed off.  Luckily the traffic was really light.

Highway 12 to Lolo, Montana

Ross passing me on Highway 12 to Lolo, Montana

The long, straight stretches of Hwy 93 through Montana were the most stressful for me on my small bike.  We skipped portions of Hwy 93 by taking the East Side Highway – that really helped.

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Day 4 track, part 2

The last portion goes up over Lost Trail Pass.  This wasn’t bad because I could keep up with the traffic – and I even passed an old Subaru that was burning oil.  And twisty roads are fun on a bike.

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Day 4 track, part 3

We got back to the car at about 4:00 PM, loaded up, and started for home just as it started to rain – again.  We lucked out by beating the storm, but we did have a really stiff side wind as we rode along Hwy 93.

Day 4 video:

All in all it was an extremely enjoyable trip.  Even Scott enjoyed it in spite of his pain.  We were all glad he was able to complete the trip with his injuries.

Our total mileage for the trip came in at around 588 miles, which includes the time Ross and I spent looking for a place to camp on day two.  My only disappointment was that my children were not there to enjoy it with me.  Maybe next year.

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Arapeen Adventure – July 2016

July 18-20, 2016

I have only been to the Arapeen trail system once before.  Back in 2006 I took my two oldest sons on a three-day trip to explore some of the trails.  It was not one of our favorite trips.  I picked trails that were either too easy and boring, or too rocky or muddy.  And it rained every afternoon, turning the trails as slick as grease.  In fact, we bailed after two days and went elsewhere for our third day of riding.

The highlight of that adventure was building a bridge.  After spending almost an hour trying to get our bikes across a small mud bog, my oldest son suggested we build a bridge to make it easier for those that follow.  So we spent about two hours hauling logs and constructing a make-shift bridge across the small stream.

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Gary and Kevin building the bridge

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Success!

This year, my youngest son and daughter where willing to tag along with me on another moto-camping adventure.  We planned on doing a six-day trip around the Frank Church Wilderness in Idaho, but it turned out that the Magruder Corridor was closed for repairs.  So we decided to do a shorter three-day trip, and settled on taking another stab at the Arapeen trails.

The week prior to our trip was hot and dry throughout most of Utah – perfect conditions for the Arapeen mountain trails.  I was therefore quite disappointed when it started to rain 10 minutes before we got to the trailhead.  I knew that the trails could become as slick as grease with just a light rain shower.

It sprinkled on and off while we were unloading the trailer and prepping our bikes, but we decided to press on and give it a try.  We figured if the weather got worse, we could easily bail out and ride the pavement back to the car.

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Our staging area at the top of Fairview Canyon

We parked at the top of Fairview Canyon at a staging area along the Skyline Drive.  From there we worked our way south towards Joe’s Valley Reservoir.  We planned on riding trail #12, which is an ATV trail that parallel’s the highway.  Because we got a later start than hoped, we bailed and took the pavement most of the way to the Miller Flat road.

The Miller Flat road is easy and fast, but has a fair amount of vehicle traffic.  Being a Monday, the traffic wasn’t really a problem, but the weather was constantly a concern – we continued to have on and off light sprinkles.

I had heard that the Potter’s Ponds ATV trail was fun, so we turned off of the Miller Flat road and enjoyed that section of trail.  We stopped for lunch at a group campsite not far from Potter’s Ponds.

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Heading to Potter’s Ponds on trail #57

After lunch we intended to take trail #53 to Joe’s Valley Reservoir, but we missed the turnoff and ended up taking the easier route on trail #51.  By now the rain had let up, so we figured we were safe to continue on our adventure.

After arriving at Joe’s Valley Reservoir, we turned west and rode up trail #5; Reeder Canyon.  The loop made by trail #5 was our favorite trail from our 2006 trip, so I was anxious to ride it again.  Reeder Canyon was steeper and rockier than I remembered (I get that a lot), but it was a fun ride, even with a fully loaded bike.

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Reeder Canyon, trail #5

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They now have very nice bridges over the wetlands

When we reached the Skyline Drive up on the ridge, we could see another storm system moving in.  We figured we better keep moving and set up camp before it hit.  So, we continued down the other half of the #5 loop hoping to camp at Grassy Lake.  It started raining just before we got to the lake, but we noticed a nice campsite in the trees about ¼ mile from the lake.  We quickly set up our tents just before the rain stopped again.  But then it started raining again, a little harder this time, so we strung my thermal blanket between some trees and cooked and ate dinner under our small shelter.

After dinner we walked down to Grassy Lake and then it really began to pour.  It rained hard for 15 or 20 minutes as we sought shelter under some trees.  The walk back to camp reminded us how nasty the trails can be when wet.  The mud was sticking to our shoes, making us feel taller with each step.  Luckily the storm passed and it didn’t rain during the night.

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Grassy Lake

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Camp #1

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Our dinner shelter

On day two we didn’t hit the trail until about noon.  We waited for the sun to burn through the clouds and dry out our tents.  This also allowed the trails to dry out.

With our late start we were anxious to make it to Manti for lunch.  We rode up trail #52, then along the Skyline Drive south to the top of Ephraim Canyon.  I had planned what looked like an interesting ride down to Ephraim, but with our late start we opted to stay on the main road.

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Trail #52

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Trail #52

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Approaching the Skyline Drive

It sprinkled on us again as we rode down to Ephraim, but the temperature steadily climbed as we dropped in elevation.  We took the pavement from Ephraim to Manti, filled up our fuel tanks, and enjoyed a nice burger and shake at the local burger shop.

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Riding past the Manti Temple

After lunch we rode up Manti Canyon, being careful to avoid the trails my boys didn’t like ten years earlier.  I remembered that the mud bog was on trail #3, but trail #3 seems to go everywhere, so I wasn’t exactly sure where.  This time we rode up the main road and then veered left on #3, up past Logger’s Fork Reservoir and on to Jet Fox Reservoir.  That was a fun trail.

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Riding up trail #3

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Wildflowers

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Logger’s Fork Reservoir

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Storm clouds moving in again

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Jet Fox Reservoir

After crossing the Skyline Drive, we rode down trail #73, which made me quite nervous at first because the trail was quite wet.  Luckily it wasn’t very slippery even though there were many muddy sections.  As we dropped in elevation (rather quickly), it got warm and dry.  We rode past Cove Lake, which could have made a nice place to camp.

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Cove Lake

We came to a junction and opted to go left onto trail #74 guessing that it was not as steep as the lower portion of #73.

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Jason crossing a stream on trail #71

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Jamie’s turn

We joined #71 and finally #72 as we worked our way to Duck Fork Reservoir – our planned place to camp.

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Duck Fork Reservoir

There was a restroom near Duck Fork Reservoir, but no good camp spots near the outhouse.  We found a nice meadow below the dam near the stream.  This was a great camp with clear water in the stream (which we filtered to refill our water bottles) and thick grass to sleep on.

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Camp #2

After dinner we took another short hike to look at the reservoir and visit the restrooms.  It was a pleasant evening with no rain and everyone slept great that night.

On our final day, we rode #72 back up to the Skyline Drive and then buzzed back to our car about 45 miles away.  Some sections of the Skyline Drive are in really good condition, but the middle section was covered with 10” deep truck tire ruts.  The ruts didn’t give us any real problem, but they got old quickly and we had to stay focused to not wash out in a rut.

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Bridge crossing on trail #72

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Skyline Drive

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Spectacular views along the way

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Group shot taken somewhere along the Skyline Drive

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Another group shot

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Our faithful steeds

We made good time, arriving back at the car well before noon.  We loaded up the trailer, changed clothes, and drove down to Fairview for another burger and shake.  That was a good way to finish off our three-day, 170 mile ride.  In spite of the weather, we had a great time.  The scenery was spectacular.  We had a good mixture of ATV trails, Jeep roads, gravel roads, and pavement.  We found great places to camp and were well prepared.  Our only mistake was not bringing enough food to satisfy Jason.

 

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Weber River – July 2016

July 16, 2016

Jason took a four-week kayak class at USU during the spring.  Four weeks is enough to learn some basic paddle strokes, but nowhere near enough time to gain confidence in more advanced strokes, braces, and the Eskimo roll.  But Jason was anxious to get out on the river and give it a try.  Luckily, he fits quite well in my kayak – which has been collecting dust in the garage for several years.  My son-in-law, Isaac, offered to go along and teach Jason some basic river skills.

I decided to tag along as well, so I could drive shuttle and take some photos and video.

It has been a long time since I have kayaked the Weber.

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Dee and Steve try out our new kayaks on the Weber River back in the mid-1970s

I was surprised to find parking stalls painted on the dirt parking lot – and a lot of people.  There are now commercial outfitters that rent out inner tubes, inflatable kayaks, and give guided raft tours.  There were hundreds of people on the river.  And most of them were not wearing appropriate river shoes, many did not have their life jackets buckled – or even on, and most had no clue how to maneuver their water craft.  So, in addition to dodging all of the rocks on the river, you also have to dodge all of the people.

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The Weber can get very crowded

The water was actually much higher than I expected for this time of year.  I think it was flowing at around 550 cfs, which is pretty good level for beginners.  When the water is lower, the river becomes more technical due to all of the rocks.  When it is higher, the current is much more powerful, being much less forgiving.

There is a small wave and eddy directly across the river from the put-in parking lot at the north freeway exit for Henefer.  That is a good place to practice some basic kayak skills of entering and exiting an eddy, and even trying to surf the small wave.  Running rapids in a kayak is actually quite easy, but crossing eddy lines can be very tricky and most beginners tip over a few times before they get the hang of it.

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Isaac surfing the small wave near the put-in

As your boat enters or exits an eddy, the current will quickly turn the boat.  You must lean into any turn just like you do on a bicycle, or the current will quickly flip your boat over.

I think Jason was a little frustrated.  He had to deal with the current of the river, me barking out advice from shore, and Isaac giving him pointers from the river.  But he really did quite well for his first time dealing with eddies since he was a young boy.

As a youngster Jason spent a little bit of time in the kayak when others were taking a break.  He ran one fairly large rapid without a spray skirt and the boat filled with water.  As he approached shore, an eddy line flipped him over.  I just happened to be taking pictures at the time, and captured the following photo, which is one of my all-time favorites.  It captures the essence of beginning kayaking; the look of surprise, letting go of the paddle with one hand, and leaning the wrong way (which is totally natural).

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Jason tipping over as a young boy

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Jason is a lot bigger now

Part of learning to kayak is overcoming your natural instincts of balance.  You actually throw your body the direction you are falling, which rolls your boat the opposite direction, thereby preventing it from tipping over – if you do it right.  It takes a lot of practice to retrain your body and your reflexes.

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Jason getting ready to attempt his first eddy exit

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Not bad for a first attempt!

Crossing eddies is tricky.  You need to carry enough speed to completely cross the eddy line.  If you go too slowly, you will stall on the eddy line, which is very unstable water.  But going fast means that you need to time your lean just right.  If you lean too early, you may tip over in the eddy.  If you lean too late, the oncoming downstream current will likely flip you really fast.  Jason somehow managed to pull out of the following situation.  He didn’t lean downstream soon enough and the downstream current started flipping him over.

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Jason almost tipping over

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Jason’s grin

Jason and Isaac spent about 30 minutes practicing in this eddy before heading down the river.  Jason tipped over twice, and scraped up his leg on some rocks.

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His luck didn’t last

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Jason bailing out of his boat

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Coming up for air

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Getting those long legs back in the boat

After two swims, it was time to give up eddy practice and move on down the river.

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Heading down river

Jamie brought two friends to run the river in inflatable kayaks, and they were far downstream by the time Isaac and Jason headed down.  But they did eventually meet up and were able to run the second half of the river together.

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Eric, Mel, and Jamie getting the IKs ready

The last rapid is called Taggart Falls.  At this water level it is pretty easy.  Normally, the best run is down the left side near the cliff.  Jason and Isaac both hit it okay, but both of our inflatable kayaks were too far right, so they dropped over a submerged rock.  At other water levels that may have been a problem.

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Taggart Falls

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Eric got a good ride

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Isaac approaching Taggart Falls

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Jason in the wave train

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Jamie and Mel at the take-out

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Jason is all smiles!

Once off the river, we let the boats partially dry as we dealt with the crowd and the mass of cars at the take-out.  We eventually got packed up and headed for home.  In spite of Jason’s rocky start, I think he had a great time.

Jamie and Jason both had helmet cameras, and I captured some of the put-in practice with my camcorder.  Check it out:

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Main Salmon River – June-July 2016

June 28 – July 2, 2016

Wade snagged a permit for the Main Salmon River for late June.  The water level turned out to be about the same as our 2014 trip, which is a fun level.  It was 1.85’ the morning we launched, which is somewhere around 6500 cfs.  There were plenty of good waves and we had really good weather.

We had 26 people with 8 rafts and 1 two-man inflatable kayak.

Howard's new boat

Howard’s new boat

Layne

Layne enjoying some shade

Lee lining up for Black Creek

Lee scoping out Black Creek in the “Redd Green” boat

Our family arrived late at Corn Creek due to a flat tire.  We were lucky that the tire failed just outside of McCammon, Idaho, and not on the dirt road into Corn Creek.  We first looked for a nail in the tire, and then Jamie noticed air leaking from the backside of the tire.  We had a long slash on the inner sidewall.  After installing the spare, we drove to Pocatello and bought four new tires.  This set us back about three hours.

How many river rats does it take to change a tire?

How many river rats does it take to change a tire?

Luckily the group hadn’t eaten dinner before we arrived at Corn Creek.  Many of the others pitched in to help us rig our boats before dark.  The temperature had dropped to 97º by the time we rigged the boats – so it was a pretty hot week.

Campsites:

Wade did really well selecting campsites, winning two out of three coin tosses with other groups.

  • Lower Devil’s Teeth has a mixture of rocks and sand.  From the river, it doesn’t look all that great, but it really is a pretty decent campsite for a large group.
  • Magpie Creek is perhaps the nicest camp on the river.  It has a small sandy beach for the kids to play, and a large, flat upper beach that easily held our entire group.
Magpie Creek campsite

Magpie Creek campsite

Raft parking at Magpie Creek

Raft parking at Magpie Creek

  • Our third camp was our only non-reserved site.  We hoped to stop at Rhett Creek, but there were two people taking that large camp. We then tried for Boise Bar, but it was also taken.  We ended up at No Man’s Creek.  This would be a decent camp for a small group, but it was pretty cramped for our large group.  But it was getting very late, so we made it work.  There was a small stream at one end of the camp, which kept the kids entertained all evening.
Hannah taking an ice bath

Hannah soaking in the ‘cold tub’

  • Our final camp was Rabbit Creek, which has a huge sandy beach.  We were lucky to have this camp since he had to have a Life Flight helicopter land.
Rabbit Creek camp

Rabbit Creek camp

Water and sand rotorwash

Life Flight landing at Rabbit Creek

Rapids:

At this water level the rapids are pretty straight forward.  There are, however, a fair number with some nice roller waves which everyone enjoyed.  For more details on these rapids, refer to my 2014 trip report.

  • Ranier Rapid is the first rapid with decent sized waves.  It doesn’t look like much as you enter, but once you are in the wave train you can tell the waves are much larger than previous rapids.
  • Devil’s Teeth Rapid has several very large rocks.  The normal run is on the left side, but you need to be careful not to wash up on any of the rocks.  Our first camp was on river-left below the rapid.
  • Black Creek Rapid has a huge drop going down the tongue, and you really pick up speed.  The approach is extremely slow, and then you accelerate rapidly down the tongue.  The safest run is down the left tongue – the right side is choked with boulders.  There is a hole just off the right edge of the tongue, and two or three holes just after the tongue sticking out from the left bank.  At this flow, the run was straightforward – you just lined up in the tongue, and blew right through.  Most of us started on the left of the tongue and started ferrying right to just skirt the holes, but the current is so fast you don’t have much time to maneuver.  You mostly just try to keep the boat straight.
Hannah and Kim as we approach Black Creek

Hannah and Kim as we approach Black Creek

Howard entering Black Creek rapid

Howard entering Black Creek rapid

Lauren and Alex dropping down the tongue

Lauren and Alex dropping down the tongue

  • Bailey Rapid was fairly intense.  There were about three holes just left of center.  I remembered there being one hole, but not three.  As I slid down the tongue I knew I had to ferry right further than anticipated, so I ended up running the rapid backwards to row away from the holes.  That added a little excitement, but we had a really clean run.
  • Fivemile Rapid is a surprise.  It is not well known, but in my opinion, it is one of the more dangerous rapids on the river.  On my first trip down the Main in 1977 I tried to side surf the huge curler wave in my kayak.  It hit me like a ton of bricks.  I was surprised at the power in the rapid, so I pulled into the eddy to watch our support rafts come through.  My brother was on the back of a 16’ paddle boat.  He got launched and cleared the front of the raft by at least 10’.  He looked like Superman!  In our morning captain’s meeting, I warned everyone about this rapid.  But after a few hours on the river it is hard to remember all of the details I provided.  I skirted the curler wave to the left, and looked in awe at the huge hole and rock hiding behind the wave.  Kevin and Jason remembered something special about this rapid, but couldn’t remember the details.  It is interesting to hear Kevin’s comments in the video as he coaches Jason at the oars.  Unfortunately, the inflatable kayak flipped in this wave and Hannah slammed into the rock.  Her hip was bruised and she was pretty sore afterwards.
  • Big Mallard Rapid can be a difficult rapid.  The cleanest run is right down the left bank, sneaking between a rock jutting out from shore and a huge rock/hole about 15’ out from shore.  It is a tight fit, but the waves let a 16’ raft slide through quite easily.  Russ didn’t take my advice and ended up rowing out into the current to go right of the hole.  This can be done, but it takes a lot of effort.  Since Russ was in a cataraft, and he is a very experienced boatman, he was able to make it okay.  Jamie was in the inflatable kayak at the time and didn’t realize they were in Big Mallard until it was too late to take the left sneak.  But in an IK, it isn’t too hard to avoid the huge hole or the other rocks in the rapid.
Barry taking the left sneak through Big Mallard

Barry hitting the left slot in Big Mallard

  • Elkhorn Rapid had a few surprise holes that I ended up hitting.  Luckily none of them were large enough to cause us problems.  It was really a pretty fun section.
  • Dried Meat Rapid has a good drop and a huge wave, but it is very smooth and you hardly even get wet.
  • Chittam Rapid can be a dangerous rapid.  It has a series of large holes in the middle, and the current pushes into the cliff on the left side.  I suggested everyone follow the advice of my guide book, and float left of the shallow island above the rapid, and then ferry right across the tongue to avoid the holes.  Jamie and Russ were the only ones that took my advice – everyone else went down the left side.  They got a good ride down the waves, but then had to row away from the cliff.  The only mishap was Jason and Taylor in the IK.  They didn’t ferry over far enough and hit two holes.  They punched through the first one, but the second one sent them for a swim.
Jamie rowing Chittam

Jamie getting a perfect run through Chittam

Barry and Karla

Barry and Karla getting a good ride in Chittam

Sarah getting a wild ride in Chittam

Sarah riding the bull

  • Vinegar Rapid can be a fun rapid.  It has some good waves and a hole that could flip boats.  Some felt that this was the best rapid of the river.  I guess I went too far right, because we didn’t get much of a ride.
  • Carey Falls has a large wave at the top, which is a favorite play spot for kayaks.  We drifted into the wave, and to my surprise, we stalled on the crest and almost slid back down.  I should have carried a little more speed coming in – the wave was more powerful than I expected.

Photos:

Here are some miscellaneous photos from our trip.

Jamie giving me a break from rowing

Jamie giving me a break from rowing

Fun roller waves

Dee enjoying the roller waves

The Gardiner kids dropping into Black Creek

The Gardiner kids dropping into Black Creek

Jamie's dragonfly

Jamie’s dragonfly

Kevin being a good sport

Kevin being a good sport

Jason and Taylor in the duckie

Jason and Taylor in the duckie

Jason and Taylor about to take a swim in Chittam

Jason and Taylor about to take a swim in Chittam

Videos

 

Posted in River trips, Utah - Northern | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Satellite Communicator – July 2016

For a few years I have considered buying a satellite communicator.  There have been a handful of occasions in the past where one would have been useful.  But the cost always scared me away.

A recent motorcycle trip, with two of my children, to the remote Maze District of Canyonlands National Park convinced me it was worth the cost.  If we had an emergency it would have taken many hours to find help and someone would likely need to go for help alone.

So, this spring I decided to buy a Delorme inReach SE.  I selected this model because of its texting capability and the subscription plan that allows me to only pay for the months when I need the service.

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Delorme inReach SE

I have now used the device on two wilderness outings; a 5-day river trip, and a 3-day dirt bike adventure trip.  To my surprise, I actually used the SOS capability on my first outing – the river trip.  On the motorcycle trip I used it to keep my wife informed as to our status, which is how I expect to use the communicator most of the time.  This blog report talks about the lessons I have learned so far.  (I do not intend to discuss the pros and cons of different brands or models – that is really a personal decision based on your use model.)

Key inReach Features

  • SOS button
  • 3 pre-programmed text messages
  • Custom text messages up to 160 characters
  • Bluetooth pairing with a smartphone
    • Simplifies texting and provides your contact list
  • Location tracking
  • Map sharing
  • Social media (I haven’t used this feature)

Setup

When you first buy a satellite communicator, you need to select a subscription plan and then go through a fairly lengthy process to set up your account.  You need to add emergency contact information, text contacts, and set up pre-programmed text messages.  You can  upload GPS track information to your MapShare website so people can follow along.  You can also install the Earthmate App on your smartphone.

Be sure to sync your device after making any changes to your setup on the website.

Tracking

If you wish, you can enable location tracking so others can follow your progress on your journey.  It may cost you for each track point sent, so you should select the slowest rate that will yield reasonable results.

Arapeen PLB track

MapShare tracks

You can upload your planned route to the MapShare website.  This can include tracks and waypoints.  These are shown in red in the snapshot above.  This is from my 3-day motorcycle adventure.

I set the satellite communicator to send my location every 30 minutes.  This is shown by the blue dots.  The blue lines connect the dots, which shows an approximation to our route.  Our actual route is closer to the red tracks from my GPS mapping software.  The farther the dots are apart, the faster we were moving.  My wife could check this map throughout the day to see where we were and if we were on schedule.

The MapShare website also allows you to see where I was when I sent a text message (the blue boxes hiding behind some of the waypoint flags).

Texting

A satellite communicator is certainly nice to have in an emergency, but I also wanted to keep my wife informed throughout our trips and let her know everyone was safe and healthy – especially when I have some of my children along on our adventures.  Satellite texting allows me to do this.

The easiest text messages to send are the 3 pre-programmed messages.  You simply select one and hit the send button.

The unit can also store a set of other pre-programmed messages which you can use, but it takes more effort to search through them and find the one you want to send.

The most flexible option is to send a custom text up to 160 characters in length.  The keyboad on the device is very difficult to use, so it is advised to pair the unit with your smartphone.

Be aware that any text other than the 3 pre-programmed messages may cost you money.  With the plan I am on, I get 10 free text messages per month, and then additional messages cost me $0.50 each – both incoming and outgoing messages.

SOS

To send an SOS and request help, you first slide the lock button open and then hold down the SOS button.  You can also hit an SOS button inside the menu.  The unit will give you time to cancel in case you hit the SOS by accident.

Once you send the SOS, you will receive a confirmation text from the global rescue service.  You can then provide information about your specific situation and the type of help you need.

Lessons Learned

I practiced using the device at home to make sure my wife was getting my text messages.  But even with that practice, my actual field experience taught me a lot.

  • Think carefully about your 3 pre-progammed messages.  What do you want them to say?  Be sure your recipient understands what each message means.
    • For my first trip (where I used the SOS button), I had them set to provide four levels of emergency; 1) all okay, 2) having trouble but we can handle it, 3) we need help, but not an emergency, and 4) the SOS button.  This did not work out so well – before sending an SOS I sent my daughter message number 3 – which caused her to panic.  She knew we had problems, but had no idea what they were.  Too little information caused her to panic – which was worse than no information.
    • For my second trip I changed them as follows; 1) all okay, 2) at the car and okay, and 3) having problems.
    • In both cases, my daughter (trip 1) and my wife (trip 2) became frustrated by the lack of information.  For my next trip my plan will be to use all three messages to provide status when everything is okay; 1) just checking in, all is well, 2) at the car, all is well, and 3) at camp, all is well.  I would send #2 at the beginning of our adventure and when we finally return to the car.  Similarly, I would send #3 when we arrive at camp or before departing in the morning.  And I would send #1 any other time I want to check in – such as when we stop for lunch, or when taking a break.
    • If we are having problems, I will send a custom message with enough information to let them know what our situation is.  Information so they can send help if necessary, or know if someone is hurt.  Even though a custom message may cost money, if we are having problems, it will be worth the cost.  I can send as many texts as are needed to communicate our situation.
  • Be patient.  It takes a few minutes to send a text message.  By default, the device only checks for incoming messages every 20 minutes.  You can manually tell it to check for messages.  The delay can be frustrating during an emergency.  Even if not an emergency, I may not wait long enough to receive a response.  I would typically arrive at camp, send a check-in message, wait for an hour or so, then turn off the communicator.  The next morning when I turned it back on, I would receive their response which they sent the night before.
  • Have a battery charger available.  The communicator battery lasts a long time – but when sending and receiving frequent text messages, the battery will drain much faster.  But your smartphone will likely die even faster.  During our SOS communications I had to charge my phone during the ordeal.

Our SOS Experience

We had a fairly large group of family and friends rafting the Main Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho.  I have run the river many times in the past, as have most of the others in the group.  On our third day a couple flipped their inflatable kayak in a rapid and a gal slammed into a rock and hurt her hip.  She was very sore, but otherwise seemed fine.

By the time we arrived at our camp on day four, she was very sick.  She had severe stomach pain and bloody diarrhea.  Luckily, we had two medical doctors in the group, a life flight pilot, and I had my new satellite communicator.

We feared that her injury may have caused internal bleeding, so we decided to use the SOS button and call for a Life Flight helicopter.

The process worked – but it took quite a long time.  We concluded that texting via a satellite communicator is somewhat like communicating with someone on Mars – it takes a long time.  After we got home I was able to talk with my daughter to learn her side of the story – which helped me peace together what happened.  Here is what I think happened:

  1. I sent the SOS request.
  2. Rather than wait for the emergency center to text back, I sent the emergency dispatch a description of our situation.  I had one of the doctors tell me what to send – which was in medical terminology – assuming the medics would receive my text.  But my text goes to an emergency response center (similar to a 911 call).  The person receiving my text may not have understood the terminology.
  3. The emergency center called my cell phone to try and verify the emergency.  If I was within cell coverage I wouldn’t have needed the satellite communicator – but I suppose this is a way to avoid false SOS calls.
  4. Since I didn’t answer, they called my wife (my first point of contact).  Since she was on the river trip, she did not answer.
  5. They then called my daughter (my second point of contact).  Luckily I had previously informed her that the gal was sick.  Otherwise she would have been totally surprised by the call.
  6. I exchanged several messages with both my daughter and the emergency center.
  7. The emergency center frequently called my daughter for updates. She would read them my text messages and they would say that they saw that message – so apparently they can monitor all text traffic.  But since satellite texting was our only form of communication, the emergency center knew as much as my daughter.
  8. It took about 45 minutes to 1 hour to close the loop and get them to call for a Life Flight helicopter.  It then took another 40 minutes for the helicopter to arrive.
  9. Once they landed, it only took the medics a few minutes to assess the situation, load her on the helicopter, and fly back to the hospital.
  10. After Life Flight departed back to the hospital, I send a text confirming that they had arrived and retrieved the patient.
  11. I then terminated the SOS call.

From here on, I checked in periodically with my daughter, who was able to call the hospital and find out the gal’s status.  We were all relieved the next morning when we learned that she did not have any serious problem and would be discharged that morning.

Here are a few photos from the helicopter rescue, followed by a video of the event:

The beach prepped for the helicopter

The beach prepped for the helicopter

We moved our tents and kitchen away from the landing site and watered down the sand to minimize rotor-wash dust.  Luckily we were camped on a very large beach.

Helicopter landing

Helicopter landing

Medstar

MedStar helicopter

Medics on site

Medics examining the patient

People often tease me for sleeping on a cot – but they make a very nice stretcher!

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Wales – June 2016

June 1-6, 2016

After visiting Gary and his family for a few days, we began our six-day road tour of Wales.  I lived in southern Wales for about one year during my LDS mission back in the early 1970s, so I was anxious to visit the country again.

We spent several weeks working on our tour plan, using a google document so everyone could contribute to the plan.  It worked out really well and we settled on what turned out to be a great trip.  We spent a fair amount of time in the car each day, and the boys were unbelievably well behaved the entire time.  We didn’t have a lot of room with seven of us in the minivan, but everyone seemed content and excited to be visiting Wales.

June 1:

Our first stop was in the lovely mountain town of Llangollen.  We picked this stop because the River Dee flows right through town.  When I learned that there was a River Dee, I just had to stop and take a look since I have a long family heritage of river rafting and kayaking.  The town and surroundings were beautiful, and this would make a nice vacation destination.  Apparently they offer guided river tours 364 days of the year – every day except Christmas.

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Three generations of Dee at the River Dee

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Kim in Llangollen

Our next stop was Rug Chapel.  Kim and I bought a Welsh Heritage Pass which gave us access to all of the castles we would be visiting during the week.  We also picked up some small stuffed dragons as gifts for the grandchildren.

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The boys and their dragons

Rug Chapel is rather small, but it has a lot of decorations on the inside.  It is in a fairly remote part of the country, so it probably doesn’t get a lot of visitors.

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Gary and Sarah at Rug Chapel

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Little Gary in Rug Chapel

We took a short detour to visit Swallow Falls.  The falls are just off the road, so it didn’t require much walking.

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Swallow Falls

Conwy Castle was our first really large castle, and it was quite amazing.  Gary’s family had already visited about 20 castles while living in England, and this jumped near the top of the list – at least until the next day.

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Conwy Castle

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Conwy Castle

Conwy Castle is on the northern coast of Wales, with spectacular views of the harbor and nearby mountains.

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Harbor view from Conwy Castle

Our next destination was a hike to Aber Falls.  It was getting kind of late, so we were not sure if we would have enough time to complete the hike, but everyone kept up a good pace, allowing us to visit the beautiful waterfall.

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The three boys at Aber Falls

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Kim and Dee at Aber Falls

We even used my GPS to hunt for a few geocaches hidden along the way.  We didn’t find all of them, but the boys really enjoyed the hunt and the treasure associated with each cache.

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Geocache hunting

Our final stop for the day was at the train station in Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch on the Isle of Anglesey.  I think this is the longest town name in the world.  The sign at the train station is almost as large as the station.

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Sarah and the boys at the train station

The name means: Parish [church] of St. Mary (Llanfair) in Hollow (pwll) of the White Hazel township (gwyn gyll) near (go ger) the rapid whirlpool (y chwyrn drobwll) and the parish of St. Tysilio (Llantysilio) with a red cave ([a]g ogo[f] goch).

We also enjoyed some fish and chips at a shop across the street from the train station.

June 2:

We bought breakfast at a bakery in Beaumaris before visiting the Beaumaris castle.  Beaumaris castle has a nice mote, and is a well-designed castle.  I was surprised to learn that the castle was never finished – because the owner ran out of money.  I was also surprised to learn that it was built in just four years.  I can’t image how much labor was required to build those massive stone walls.

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Kim and Dee at Beaumaris Castle

Most of the castles had some form of treasure hunt or game for the kids to play, which made it more enjoyable and more educational.

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The boys building a castle

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Building an arch

Next we visited Caernarfon Castle.  This quickly became everyone’s favorite.  It is really large and has some great views from the tall towers.  This castle is still used for official Welsh affairs.

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Caernarfon Castle

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Caernarfon Castle

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Life sized chess set

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Dee and Kim😉

We then drove through the beautiful mountains of Snowdonia National Park.  We stopped for lunch at a beautiful lake called Llanberis.

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Llanberis

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Lunch time

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Snowdonia

We also stopped in the small town of Beddgelert to learn the legend of the dog that saved a small child from a wolf.  (Look it up on the Internet to get the full story).

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Beddgelert monument

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Beddgelert

We then hiked to Cynfal Falls.  This hike and water fall was rather disappointing, even though the countryside was beautiful.

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Sheep watching us hike

We stayed at a hostel instead of a motel for a change of pace.  It turns out that the owner of the hostel was from Utah.

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The hostel

June 3:

We started the day by enjoying the Torrent Walk.  This was our favorite hike; perhaps because it was in the morning before we got too tired, or perhaps because it was such a lovely walk.  It was a nice trail along a cascading stream.  There were no large waterfalls, but there were plenty of small cascades.  We even found another geocache.

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Starting the Torrent Walk

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A very nice trail

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Peter resting on a memorial bench

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Cascades

We left Snowdonia behind and visited the popular coastal town Aberystwyth.  We spent about one half hour enjoying the beach, which was covered by millions of flat, round stones that would be perfect for skipping on the water.

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Gary at Aberystwyth

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Daniel enjoying the rocks

After another fairly long drive we arrived at Whitesands Beach along the Pembrokeshire Coast.  This was a really nice beach and the boys had a blast playing in the water and staking rocks.  The wind was blowing rather hard, so no one wanted to get too wet.

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Whitesands beach

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Peter and Daniel playing in the water

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Kim at Whitesands beach

June 4:

In the morning we visited Broad Haven South Beach, which is on the southern coast of Wales.  It consists of a large semi-circular beach inside a cove.  Kim and I took a walk along some lily ponds while the kids played at the beach.

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Broad Haven South beach

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Broad Have South beach

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Lily ponds

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Kim at the lily ponds

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A swan

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Kim at the lily ponds

After finishing up at the beach we drove to Brecon Beacons and took another hike at the Waterfall Centre.  The trail was wide and smooth and led to a beautiful waterfall called Sgwd Gwladus.

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Kim in Brecon Beacons National Park

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A really wide trail

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Swgd Gwladus falls

June 5:

We spent the bulk of the day at the National Showcase Caves.  There are three separate caves to explore, and a large dinosaur garden.  The place is well kept and everyone enjoyed it.  Before leaving, we visited their animal farm.

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Kim entering the dinosaur garden

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More dinosaurs

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Inside one of the caves

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Exhibits in the caves

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A waterfall inside one of the caves

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The view from the park

We then drove towards Cardiff and visited Caerphilly Castle.  This is the largest castle in Wales.

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Caerphilly Castle

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A dragon!

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Caerphilly Castle

We drove to Pontypool where I served about seven months of my two-year LDS mission.  We found the house I lived in, and stopped at the small train station where I shared some stories from my mission with my grandchildren.  That brought back precious memories.

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The house where I lived 42 years ago

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The train station is much larger now

June 6:

One of my favorite castles from my mission experience was that of Raglan Castle, so that was our next destination.  It was a smaller castle than I remembered, but I like the angular architecture of the castle.

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Dee at Raglan Castle

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Strange inventions

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Raglan Castle

We then drove through the Wye River Valley.  It is a pretty valley, but the trees are so thick along the road it is hard to appreciate it.  We made a short stop at Tintern Abbey, which I also visited on my mission.

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Kim at Tintern Abbey

Our final castle to visit was Chepstow Castle.  I think I visited this on my mission as well, but I had no memory of it.

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Chepstow Castle

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Gary and the boys

Finally, we drove back into England and down to Stonehenge, which is discussed in my “England Trip Report”.

We were lucky to have six days of gorgeous weather.  Wales is absolutely beautiful with a great mixture of mountains, coastlines, and historic castles.  The people were very friendly and helpful.  We thoroughly loved our time in Wales.

 

 

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England – May 2016

May 24 – June 7, 2016

Just over one year ago, our oldest son, Gary, and his family, moved to central England.  Kim and I decided to go visit them and spend a few weeks touring England and Wales.

Prior to flying to England, we ordered two “Oyster Passes” which allowed us to ride the subway and buses without using cash or credit card.  We also ordered two “London Passes”, which included entrance into several attractions.  One advantage of pre-buying the pass is that you don’t have to worry about the cost when you are there.  Otherwise, the cost of entry may discourage visiting some attractions.

On the evening of May 24 we took a direct flight from Salt Lake City to Heathrow airport, just outside of London.  We arrived early afternoon on Wednesday and took the subway (or tube) into town and walked to the Tavistock Hotel.  After checking into our room, we went for a walk to gain our bearings and find out how long it would take us to walk to the British Museum and the train station.

We had a complementary curry dinner at the hotel, which wasn’t all that good.  Nor was the traditional English breakfast all that great.  We had much better food at other places throughout our trip.

On Thursday we took the subway to the Tower of London, arriving just before they opened.  Getting there early allowed us to see the crown jewels and walk around the place before joining the first Beefeater Tour of the morning.  The Beefeater Tour was well worth the time since they shared many interesting historical facts and stories.

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Kim, with the crown jewels in the building behind her

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Kim in the Tower of London

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Dee, with Tower Bridge in the background

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Our Yeoman, or Beefeater

By the time we finished the tour, the place was starting to get rather crowded.

To get a rest from standing, we took a river boat tour up (or down?) the Thames to Greenwich.  We visited the Cutty Sark sailing ship, the National Maritime Museum, and the Prime Meridian where we could straddle the 0º longitude therefore standing in the eastern and western hemispheres of the earth at the same time.

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River tour boat and Tower Bridge (not London Bridge)

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Cutty Sark

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Prime Meridian

We bought a “proper” hamburger at Byron’s café.  We noted a couple in the next booth eating their “proper” burger with a knife and fork.  Well that certainly wasn’t the proper way to eat a burger.

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Byron’s proper hamburger

We returned to London via the river tour and departed the boat near Big Ben.

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Big Ben and the House of Parliament

We wanted to visit Westminster Abbey, but they were already closed for the day. So, we walked over to Buckingham Palace, and then worked our way to the Cambridge Theatre to see the play “Matilda”.  I was a little disappointed in the play, but maybe it was because I was so tired.

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Buckingham Palace

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Cambridge Theatre

On Friday we checked out of our hotel and checked our luggage at the Euston train station.  This turned out to be far more expensive than their website led us to believe – we should have checked our bags at the hotel.

We then took a “Hop-On, Hop-Off” bus tour around London.  This wasted a lot of time due to the heavy traffic and some road construction.  But it was interesting to have a narration explaining different parts of the city.

The subway is a much faster way of getting around town.  You need to be careful when walking – if the cars don’t get you, the bicycles will.  I was very surprised at how many bicycles were in town and how fast they ride.  Since they drive on the left side of the road, you need to be very cautious crossing the street.

We eventually gave up on the Hop-On, Hop-Off bus and walked back to Westminster Abbey.  I was surprised at how much ‘stuff’ was inside the Abbey.  There are lots of tombs, statues, and engravings on the floor.

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Westminster Abbey

Our last attraction in London was the British Museum.  Museum lovers could spend days exploring the place – it is absolutely massive.  We spent about 3 hours walking through.  We didn’t take time to read many plagues, but we did manage to find the Rosetta Stone (we walked right by it 3 times before we found it).

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Easter Island statue

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The Rosetta Stone

We were surprised that they don’t have many toilets in the place, and not a single drinking fountain.  In fact, we only found a few drinking fountains during our two week stay.  And we learned that you need to carry change since many public toilets cost 20p or 30p.

We took a bus from the museum back to the train station because our legs were so tired.

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Double decker bus

We ate dinner and then hung out at the train station for a few hours.  We previously bought two tickets to Nuneaton, which is the closest train station to Gary’s house in Burbage.  We were able to get a much better price by going after peak hours.  We were surprised how large the crowds were during peak time.  It took us a while to figure out how the system worked.  Periodically a group of people would rush off from the crowd, all heading in the same direction.  We finally figured out that they were waiting until their train posted the platform number.  Then everyone would rush to get a good seat on the train.

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Euston station

The train ride was pleasant, but it was quickly getting dark so we didn’t get to enjoy the English countryside as much as I had hoped.  The trains were much nicer than the ones I rode 45 years ago when I served an LDS mission in southwest England and southern Wales.

Gary picked us up at the train station and drove us to his house in Burbage.  Burbage is the largest village in England.  Apparently, it is a village rather than a town because it lacks a town hall.

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Gary’s house and minivan

We visited with Gary and Sarah for a while, before going to bed.  Our grandsons; Gary, Peter, and Daniel, where already in bed, so we got to see them the next morning.

After breakfast we went to a flea market and then to Foxton Locks.  Foxton Locks is a series of canal locks that provide a significant change in elevation for the canal.  We got to watch a few boats go through the locks, and Gary’s family even got to ride through a few locks.

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Long, narrow boats on the canal

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Gary’s family at the locks

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Gary’s family hitching a ride

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Kim helping close the lock

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Foxton Locks Inn

We also played a smartphone app that Gary developed to help increase the number of visitors to the museum.  You have to visit several spots around the locks and find clues to solve a mystery about a fictitious missing girl.  The game was fairly challenging, so not many people have actually finished it – but we did!

On Sunday we attended church with Gary’s family.  Monday was a bank holiday.  In the morning we visited Bolsover Castle, where we got to watch some “knight club” activities.  It was fun to watch the archery contest and the club fights.

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Bolsover Castle grounds

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Kim and the boys at Bolsover Castle

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Archery competition

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Knights – notice the dragons on the helmets

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The boys in the castle

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Kim, Gary, and Sarah

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Medieval entertainment

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Club fighting

The club fights were really entertaining.  Each team consisted of about 10 or 12 players, all dressed in armor with shields and a plastic club.  One team member had a magnetic dragon on top of his helmet.  The objective was to be the first team to knock the dragon off the opposing team.  The competition was rather aggressive.

After lunch we drove to Sherwood Forest and visited the Robin Hood exhibits.

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Robin Hood and Little John

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The “major oak” tree

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Historical venues

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Historical camp

Tuesday was a rest day.  We spent most of the day at Gary’s house, other than going grocery shopping and having a traditional meat pie for dinner at a local pub.  It rained most of the day, and this was our only day of rain during our entire two week stay.  It was amazing how great the weather was.  Some days were a little chilly, and others were rather warm, but we were lucky to not have more rain.

On Wednesday, June 1, we started our six-day road trip through Wales.  I will report on that in a separate document.  On the final day of the road trip, we stopped to visit Stonehenge.  They no longer allow you to get near the stones, but it was still interesting to listen to the audio guide explain some of the history and theories about the large stones.

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The gang at Stonehenge

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Stonehenge

We had another traditional dinner at a pub near our hotel, and then we bid farewell to Gary and his family.  They dropped us off at the hotel and returned home so Gary could get back to work early the next morning.

Kim and I took a bus from the hotel back to Heathrow airport, and returned home to Salt Lake City on another direct flight.

We were tired and glad to be home, but we thoroughly enjoyed our two-week vacation.  It was great to see Gary’s family and tour Wales together.

 

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