2 Short Hikes, 1 Bear Encounter, Mammoth Lakes, CA

Lake George

Framed by the iconic Crystal Crag and the wall of Mammoth Crest, Lake George is lovely spot for a quick nature immersion and possible wildlife sighting. It’s just a short drive out of town, and the highest road-accessible lake at 9,250 foot elevation.

Features: Hiking, fishing, camping, rustic cabins, boat rentals, a tackle and snack shop (seasonal), bear proof food storage, and bear sightings

Lake George
Lake George’s Clear Waters
Lake George Light Lingering on the Granite

Winter access to Lake George is by ski or snowshoe only

Crystal Lake Trail at Lake George

Distance: ~2.7 miles

Difficulty: Easy to moderate, depending on your fitness level & altitude acclimation

Highlights: Panoramic views of the Mammoth Lakes Basin, captivating Crystal Lake

Panoramic Views From the Trail: Lake George and Lake Mary
Granite Rocks and Mountain Vistas
Crystal Lake
Crystal Lake
Along the Crystal Lake Trail

Bartlett Lake & TJ Lakes

Distance: ~1.5 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Big views for little effort. The trail crosses a stream then meanders up through lodgepole pines, hemlocks, western white pines to the shore of Barrett Lake.

It was along this trail on the edge of Lake St. George that we encountered a large brown bear. I was coming around the corner fast (trying to get as much hiking in before sunset as possible) when I heard a fisherman standing in the lake say in a low voice “Bear there.”

Fisherman on the left. Shadow of the bear center bottom.

I stopped in my tracks. The bruin was blocking the trail and had its broad back to me. It was busy foraging in the fisherman’s backpack and appeared not to notice us. We quietly retreated up to a high spot off the trail. At one point, the bear looked up, I think he must have detected our scent. That’s when I snapped the shot. After taking another bear detour above the trail, we completed the TJ Lake loop, first passing Barrett Lake, Very picturesque and the light was perfect for reflection shots.

A Charming Section of the TJ Loop Trail Pic Doesn’t Do It Justice
I Couldn’t Get Enough of These Vistas


More Eye Candy On the TJ Lake Loop
Barrett Lake Reflection
Barrett Lake Reflection
Barrett Lake Reflection

In all my years of hiking, this was my first bear encounter. (Well, I think there was one outside of my tent one night on top of  San Jacinto, but I didn’t go out to greet it- just made loud noises to deter it.) What makes me sad is that this wild bear’s days are likely numbered due to it’s habituation to people.

Exploring the St. George Area on 2 Wheels

For those of you who might be wondering, here’s a sample of what biking (road biking and mountain biking) looks like around St. George, Utah. As you can see, the views for much of this 60-mile ride were splendid, quintessential Utah—Virgin River, canyons, red rock, and snow-capped mountains. Road quality varied. (Utah drivers were not quite as courteous as I’d hoped. Lots of trucks sped by us without moving to the left or braking.)

Scenic views road biking Utah
Roadside Red Rock off the 7

Virgin River
Virgin River Views From River Rock Roasting Company

virgin river views la verkin
Virgin River Views From River Rock Roasting Company

L rocky roasters
River Rock Roasting Company: Definitely the Best Coffee / Gastropub and Views Around!

Quail Lake 3Quail lake 2

L Quail Lake

Not bad, eh?

Toquerville /La Verkin Road Bike Loop ~60 Miles, ~2500 feet  of climbing

A friend of mine, now a St. George local, guided us on this 60-mile road bike sampler with ~2500 feet of climbing on surrounding highways and byways. We took the lovely, low traffic 7 to Sand Hollow Road (rough surface) by Sand Hollow Reservoir (Half-Ironman site) across to State Street / 9. (The 9 is a main thoroughfare with heavy, fast traffic -not so nice. Maybe save this one for Sunday mornings when most of the locals are at church.)

At the halfway point, we enjoyed some refreshments and superb views at the super scenic, ever popular River Rock Roasting, which is perched on a cliff overlooking Virgin River in La Verkin. If you’re in the area, River Rock Roasting is a must stop and is definitely my top pick for coffee, food, brews and views. It’s slammed on Sundays (apparently everyone who is not in church goes here) so pick a weekday if possible.

Our route back on State Street/9 was topped off with a stop at dazzling Quail Creek State Park and Reservoir. And yes, you can swim in it. No, I didn’t this time, but will next! It’s 120 feet deep in places and stocked with rainbow trout, bullhead catfish, crappie, largemouth bass. There’s boating, kayaking, SUPs, hiking, biking and camping here.

There’s another route through the Gunlock and Snow Canyon area that has less car traffic, but we’d already explored those two areas so checking out the are on the flip side of St. George made sense.

Next time, will definitely try the Gunlock loop.

Desert Canyons Mountain Bike Trails: Pushing Tin and Secret Sauce ~8 miles

Our mountain bike sampler was limited as it had recently rained, but we’ve heard there’s tons of epic trails around here. The driest trail option was the newly developed Desert Canyons Trail System. We cruised around two of the trails, Pushing Tin and Secret Sauce, both pleasant easy to moderate with views from the top of the mesa out to the horizon. Unfortunately, these views are slated to be filled in by a Master Community in the near future. (The developer’s concession / gift was this mountain bike trail system.) We were lucky to have it to ourselves with no building encroachment yet.

MTB yellow wildflowers
Wildflowers and Mesa Top Views

desert canyon mtb cutout
Metal Art

Kara MTB jump
Kara Highlighting Crazy Technical Opportunities 

L MTB desert canyon
Open Views for Now…

Directions: From St. George, take the I-15 S to Desert Canyon s exit and take a left under the overpass

We were told that there’s plenty of great mountain biking in and near St. George, but it wasn’t in the cards for this trip. We did make it to Moab for an epic mountain bike ride – stay tuned for that post.

As far as these 2 rides go, I’ll give them 2 thumbs up.

 

Another Scenic Delight Near St. George: Snow Canyon State Park

Spent a lovely morning exploring this spectacularly scenic Snow Canyon State Park near St. George, Utah.  With dramatic, diverse scenery everywhere you turn, this park does not disappoint. If this epic landscape seems vaguely familiar, it’s because it was the backdrop for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Electric Horseman, and Jeremiah Johnson..

This 7,400 acre park has everything from black lava flows with tubes that you can crawl into to red rock and sandstone cliffs that you can scramble up. Here you’ll find 38 miles of hiking trails, a 3 mile paved trail, technical climbing (170 designated sport routes) and ~15 miles of  equestrian trails. If that’s not enough for ya, there’s some mountain biking and road biking with great climbs here too. Oh, and there’s also a  33 unit campground.

wildflowers black lava red cliffs Snow Canyon
Wildflowers, black lava rocks, and stunning red cliff vistas

snow canyon stream
Photo Credit: Ken Wells captured this spot much better than I did.

Snow canyon vastnessSnow Canyon red mtnsScenic snow canyon

Lava Tube Snow Canyon
Into the lava tubes

Snow canyon textures
Amazing textures

L Tree pose
On top of the world in Snow Canyon

dancer attempt pose
My attempt at dancer pose – a long way to go, I know

black lava rock and white mtn
Black lava rocks, desert vegetation, and white sandstone cliffs – oh my!

The park is actually inside of the 62k acre Red Cliffs Desert Reserve that I romped around on my first day in town. Note, these areas are all exposed so not recommended in the summer heat. Be sure to bring water, sunscreen, and a hat.

I just had time for a quick stroll as I’d already visited Gunlock State Park earlier in the morning and still had more sights to see and things to do. (Mountain bike ride planned for the afternoon.) The trail I took by the lava flows was more suited to a stroll versus hiking at pace or trail running due to the sharp rocks. Not sure if all the trails in the park are like this, or if it’s just near the lava flows. If you’ve been here and hiked around let me know. Otherwise, I’ll update on my next trip to St, George.

You know me, trying to pack as much into my short Utah road trip as possible.

Scenic delights near St. George Part I: Gunlock State Park and Ivins’ Reservoir

Spent a leisurely morning exploring a few of the wonderful State Parks and scenic reservoirs near St. George, UT.

What’s great about the reservoirs in Utah, is not only are they breathtakingly beautiful, but you’re also allowed to boat, fish, and swim in them.

The 66-acre Gunlock reservoir, as you can see from the picture above is overflowing with scenic beauty. (Pun intended.) We heard that the falls haven’t flowed in about seven years so we got a special treat-they’re quite spectacular as you can see. Unfortunately,  people have died cliff jumping here so immerse yourself in the beauty wisely. The park is approximately 15 miles northwest of St. George and the dam was constructed in 1970 for irrigation water and flood control.

Gunlock Reservoir

 

 

 

 

 

cactus bloom framed gunlock fallsBest cactus bloom and gunlock

Meanwhile, back in Ivins, enjoying a coffee (not as hard to find in Mormon country as you might think) and a stroll around the reservoir. Ivins is a “bedroom community” of St. George that features its own little reservoir and the dazzling artist’s and retirees’ enclave of Kayenta. They have a coffee shop / restaurant, lovely gardens, galleries, and a theater there. Imaging waking up to this view every morning. In the other direction, a snow capped mountain range. Absolutely  gorgeous!

Ivins reservoir
Ivins’ Reservoir

 

 

 

Stay tuned for more explorations in the St. George area and beyond: Red Cliffs Desert Reserve

Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, St. George, UT

First stop on the Utah road trip after 6 hours cooped up in the car, the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve rolled out their welcome trails. Not a bad stop to stretch the legs for hike or a mountain bike cruise. This picturesque reserve with expansive views out to the snow capped mountain range is right next to town and boasts 200 miles of non-motorized trails. (Yes, that’s 200 miles so you can stretch those legs of yours to your hearts content.)

wildflowers Red Cliffswildflower close up red cliffsmtn vistas red cliffs

The reserve was established in 1996 to protect critical desert tortoise habitat form being destroyed by development. It worked. You’ll notice tortoise scat on the rocks everywhere. And if you’re lucky, you might see one.

desert tortouise 2

I only hiked a couple miles here, but look forward to coming back to explore more. Perhaps on 2-wheels next time…

Note: the trails can be hard to follow in this terrain so bring a good map or GPS if you venture out very far, and plenty of water, of course, as it’s all exposed.

Stay tuned for more Utah adventures: Scenic delights near St. George Part I: Gunlock State Park and Ivins’ Reservoir

 

Short Peak Scramble, Flinn Springs County Park, San Diego

On the way back from 3 Sisters Falls, we decided to add on a roadside, quickie hike in Flinn Springs County Park. The hike begins at the back of the park.

This small 40-acre park near Lakeside has 1 short trail that takes you up a consistent, steep incline to a great vista above Escondido and Lake Jennings.

Once you reach the saddle you can go east to reach a short peak or west to climb Silverdome Peak or south for Flynn’s Peak. I’m not sure which one we scrambled up, but it was definitely a scramble.

views from flinn

It’s rated as moderate, but if you are less than moderately fit, it’s likely you will suffer. (Especially if it’s a hot day as the trail is completely exposed.) That being said, it’s a good, short workout and “bun burner”.

 

ken
A little trail eye candy

I wouldn’t go out of my way for this one, but if you’re driving by and want a leg stretcher / burnergo for it.

There’s picnic tables and a lovely wood pavilion too.

Flinn Pavilion

Total distance ~<4.3 miles RT

Elevation Gain: 1,443 FT

Parking Fee: $3

Address: 14787 Old Highway 80, El Cajon, CA 92021

Chasing Waterfalls and Wildflowers: Three Sisters Falls Hike, SD County

San Diego County’s 3-tiered seasonal waterfall  in Cleveland National Forest is definitely worth a visit when the water is running.

3 sisters fall trailhead sign

 

 

 

 

 

At the beginning of the hike, these 3 lovely trees will greet you.

3 lovely trees 3 sisters hike

The falls are much more impressive than you might expect. As you hike down the trail, you can see the frothy, white veils in the distance.

 

For me, it was vaguely reminiscent of Yosemite. Of course, I was fortunate to experience the area after a rainy season, during the spring super bloom. The hillsides were green and sprinkled generously with wildflowers. If you’ve been following my superbloom posts (Walker Canyon, Diamond Valley Lake, Denk Mountain) this spring, you know I can’t get enough of these wildflowers. (I wasn’t expecting any on this hike and what a wonderful surprise to see the colorful abundance along the trail – perfect wildflower filters for my distant water shots.)

poppy filter 3 sistersbest wildflower filter 3 sistersCactus bloom 3 sisters

It’s a pleasant single-track, out & back trail that takes you down to the falls and then bring you back up to the parking area.

L with flowers on the trail 3 sisters

 

Lydia taking pics

 

 

 

 

rock falls 3 sistersfalls flower filter

The falls are a wonderful spot to have a picnic, cool off, and while away the afternoon – that is if you don’t mind being joined by too many humans who have the same idea. (Heavy sigh.) Be forewarned, this is one of San Diego’s most popular hikes so go early or be prepared for the crowds and a full parking lot.

If you want to add on another hike, the Cedar Creek Falls hike is in the vicinity too. Since I’ve done that one already, I decided to take the scenic drive out the other side on Descanso Road.

Descanso dirt road

The Scoop on 3 Sisters Waterfall Hike

Distance: 4 miles RT (out & back)

Elevation gain/loss :1000 ft (downhill on the way out, uphill on the way back)

Difficulty: Easy to moderate, depending on your fitness level. Trail run friendly on a non-crowded morning.

Getting there: From the town of Julian, turn left on Pine Hills Road, right on Eagle Creek, and left on Boulder Creek Road, which will become dirt road for the last 5 miles.

Note: Both Boulder Creek and Descanso are dirt roads with potholes, but no suv or 4-wheel drive needed. A regular passenger car with adequate ground clearance will do the trick as you have patience with potholes and bumps. However, it might not be prudent to attempt it without a SUV or 4-wheel drive after a heavy rain.

Fee: Display a National Forest Adventure Pass – $5 day pass [purchase info]  https://www.fs.fed.us/portaldata/r5/ap/r5-ap-vendors.php

On the way home, I added on short, vertical hike / scramble at Flinn Springs County Park on old highway 80 off highway 8. Post to come.