Jerome, AZ: Where the journey is as good as the destination. Epic views and fun times await!

Howdy partner, if ya’ll are in the vicinity of Jerome, you must visit and be sure to take the historic & hairy (158 crazy switchbacks) scenic route 89A.

The Journey

Jerome is just a 35-mile drive from Prescott (27 miles from Sedona, 71 miles from Flagstaff). You might want to make it an overnighter from Phoenix (110 miles). You’ll want to take Historic State Route 89A to Jerome, it’s one of Arizona’s most beautiful drives. You’ll know when you get to the 12-mile scenic portion as you climb up Mingus Mountain, navigating the 158 switchbacks and curves as epic panoramas stretch before you. It’s definitely challenging to keep your eyes on the road so use those pullouts and gawk to your heart’s content. The spellbinding views stretch across the broad Verde River Valley with Flagstaff, the San Francisco Peaks, and the iconic red buttes of Sedona in the distance.

The Destination

Located upon Cleopatra Hill, the historic copper and gold mining town of Jerome was founded in 1876 and, at its boom, was the fourth largest town in the Arizona Territory with a raucous (known for its saloons & brothels), wild west population of ~15k. The mines here produced over a billion dollars’ worth of gold, copper, silver and zinc during a period of over 70 years When the last mines closed in 1953, the town became more of ghost town. In the 60s and 70s, artistic types began to populate Jerome.

Today, Jerome draws visitors from around the world who take in the town’s dramatic views of the Verde Valley, explore the historic buildings, visit the galleries and shops, and enjoy the wine bars, saloons and restaurants.

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Biker’s like Jerome too

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Smoke from the Flagstaff fire across the Verde Valley from Jerome

 

 

Jerome homestead
The mansion in the middle is for sale: 8 Beds, Baths 12,398 Sqft. $6,200,000 Since it doesn’t have a pool or tennis court, I’m going to pass on it.

When in Jerome, there is plenty to do, including visiting the Jerome State Park Mining Museum, getting bedazzled at Nelly Bly Kaleidoscopes, the world’s largest kaleidoscope store, getting spooked at the haunted Grand Hotel, or simply sitting back and enjoying the spectacular views over lunch or dinner.

Two interesting and somewhat destabilizing facts about Jerome: Jerome is located on the Verde Valley fault and over 88 miles of excavated tunnels lie beneath the one square mile of town.

Attractions near Jerome

With its 7 wineries and 8 tasting rooms, the Verde Valley Wine Trail through Cottonwood, Jerome, Sedona, Clarkdale and Cornville is a must do for oenophiles.

The Verde Valley Canyon Railroad (Clarkdale and Perkinsville, AZ) transports passengers to a simpler time as it takes them on a 20-mile excursion through quintessential Southwestern back country.

 

Mt. Whitney: Deja Vu: Repeat hiking the highest peak in the Continental US (24 years later)

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All smiles at the start. Pack Weight: His 40 lbs & Hers 20 lbs

Whitney Route

Distance: 22 mi, rt

Difficulty: Yes, challenging – all depends on your fitness level & your knee health. Peak is 14, 505 ft elevation with a gain & loss of 6,100 ft & rocky, uneven, occasionally treacherous terrain. If you have arthritis in your knees, like me, going down is going to hurt. A lot. Even with poles.

First of all, I probably wouldn’t have done Whitney again since I’d already been there and done that (1994) and I’m not much for redos.

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Circa 1994

But we were up in the area. And my swim buddy, Rosie, and a group of her friends were doing it, and Ken wanted to do it, so I figured let’s leave it to fate.

If we’re able to get a last-minute permit, we’ll do it. We had planned on doing at least 1 overnighter anyway so why not make it Whitney? Trouble is, day hike and overnight permits for Whitney are tough to get–only about 15% of people who want a permit get a permit so I didn’t have high hopes. No big deal, there are so many wonderful places to explore in the sierras, we were just winging it day by day anyway. We’d started in the Mammoth area 2 days prior and had already enjoyed a short lovely waterfall-filled, sunset hike with a tricky ending at Lundy Lake and a spectacular 11 mile day hike to Valentine Lake.

We raced down from Mammoth Lakes to Lone Pine and  lined up at the Ranger and Visitor Center at 11AM sharp as instructed. Ken picked a lucky  #3 out of the hat, which put us in the lead to capture a spot. Fate would have it that Mt. Whitney and I would meet again. Off we went equipped with the requisite bear canister.

Note the trail is difficult (altitude, terrain, length, elevation gain/loss). Many people train and prepare for months to do it. We are both endurance athletes and accustomed to pushing our boundaries (sometimes we are [i am] a bit too ambitious though  – see our Catalina mt. bike adventure). While we were a little concerned about altitude sickness, we were relatively sure we could handle the hike.

Our trip to the mountains was last minute. We packed up in about 30 minutes and accidentally left out some key items (water purifier, hats, gloves, headlamps) at home. We stopped at the Lone Pine grocery and loaded up on munchies and water and then strolled across the street to pick up a couple headlamps at the Outfitters store.

Note, we were not prepared for high-altitude sub-freezing temps the night we camped (without a tent to keep the packs light) and the morning we hiked to the peak. I’m going to put together a camping checklist and post it here so we don’t leave home without the essentials again.

We could have cut the weight in our packs significantly if we’d brought the water purifier. Contrary to memory of 1994 there was plenty of water along the trail and at Trail Camp – lakes, streams and waterfalls.

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We started on the trail at 2:30 PM with the goal of camping at Trail Camp 6 miles up, elevation 12,000 ft. I had a vision of sunrise on the peak that I wanted to fulfill – that would certainly make hiking this monster twice worth it. I had no memory of the lovely lakes, streams, and waterfalls (perhaps it was a dry year) and the beauty of the Whitney.

Note there is an earlier opportunity to camp near a waterfall at Outpost Camp just 3.8 miles up and 10,800 feet elevation.

 

 

 

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About a mile after Outpost Camp the terrain begins to get a bit more ornery (rocky)…Of course, the views become more beguiling to take your mind off the occasionally tortuous footing. Speaking of footing, I hiked both times in trail runners. Ken wore running shoes and said his feet took quite a beating. It’s really personal preference. A visual poll of hikers, coming and going, was about 50/50 hard-toe hiking shoes, running / trail running shoes.

Some hikers wore no shoes at all.

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We arrived at Trail Camp at 6:30 PM just in time for sunset. At least a half dozen other hiking parties had already set up their tents. We laid out our mats and sleeping bags. I jumped in immediately, the temperature was already dropping. The video and the picture below were taken from my sleeping bag vantage point. How dreamy to experience sunset on Whitney and (fingers-crossed) sunrise too.

Trail Camp Sunset

After chowing down on some nuts, Slim Jim’s and other munchies “in bed”, Ken put the bear canister ~150 yards away and it was lights out. My plan was for a 3:30 AM start. We didn’t sleep much—it was quite chilly (understatement). At 2:30, I saw another group rustling around with their headlamps and beginning their hike to summit. We got our start around 30 minutes later, rising at the crack of darkness to make a run for sunrise at the summit. Watching the string of headlamps bobbing in the darkness ahead and above us, snaking around the ridges through the infamous 97 switch backs was like being in an adventure film. I wish I had taken some pictures or videos, but my phone battery was low and my hands were freezing, despite my improvised sock mittens.

Unfortunately, my headlamp failed (note to self – bring extra batteries – duh). Since my eyesight is so bad, Ken let me lead with the other headlamp. The footing is quite tricky and some areas were wet so it slowed us down a bit. (The puddles had turned to ice when we reached them on the way back.)

trail crestWhen we arrived at Trail Crest, the highest trail pass in the US (13,645 ft) it was still pitch dark and we were half -asleep and perhaps a bit altitude touched. Somehow, we misread the sign and went the wrong way – going about 1/2 mile off course. We thought it was odd that we’d be descending before the peak, but we saw some headlamps down there and none in the other direction…Despite the wrong turn, we made it to the top in time for one of the most memorable sunrises of my life.

 

Dawn on Whitney

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This time, no altitude sickness at all, but you can hear me slurring my speech a tad in the video – from the cold & altitude (no mimosas, unfortunately). These past 24 years and my history of running have not been kind to my knees so the way down was much harder (hurt more) than the way up. Not sure I’ll be back again, but ya never know. Maybe I should do it every 24 years? Maybe not. Anyway, it was totally worth it.

The steep drop-offs on the upper trail were equally daunting in the dark and in the daylight.

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Yes, those are socks on my frozen hands.

The view of a few of the infamous 99 switchbacks and the little lake by Trail Camp on the way down.

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Ran into my swim buddy, Rosie, on the way down – her way up.

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Ran into my swim buddy, Rosie, on my way down – her way up.

We made it back to Trail Camp by 9AM and out the bottom by 1:30PM – all in a days work – 23 hrs with camping. I recommend camping if you can, you get to enjoy the hike more and see more.

Many thanks to Ken for capturing and sharing his great photos on this post, for always being a great sport on my crazy escapades, and for carrying the heavier pack.

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After – still smiling

My toenail causality. Guess my foot modeling days are over.

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Getting there: Take Whitney Portal road from Lone Pine

Permit details: https://www.recreation.gov/wildernessAreaDetails.do?contractCode=NRSO&parkId=72201

 

 

 

 

Exploring the Goat Canyon Trestle by Mountain Bike, Jacumba, CA

Deep in the heart of the Jacumba Mountains overlooking Carrizo Gorge in Anza Borrego State Park, you’ll find the Goat Canyon Trestle. Getting to the world’s largest curved wooden trestle is like being transported to the wild west of days done by. You’ll traverse dark tunnels in various stages of collapse, dodge rock slides, narrowly avoid precipitous drops into rock canyons, explore abandoned trains and endure the blazing desert sun. If this is your idea of fun, read on. Ok, it’s not that bad. In fact, it’s an easy, flat mtb cruise or a longish flat hike through some very cool (pun intended) desert terrain.

(Video credit and pics I’m in below: Ken Wells)

It’s slow going as there are several points where you have to lift your bike over one obstacle or another. You can’t speed through because you never know what’s around the next corner or if the bottom might drop out in front of you.

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Be alert and cautious all the way out and back. Headlamps are a must for the tunnels, lots of obstacles in there. Workout-wise, it’s easy – safety-wise, it could be considered a bit sketchy.

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As you bike along the railway, sometimes the path is quite narrow with a precipitous drop into the rocky canyon below. A moment of distraction could make for a very bad day. Wouldn’t suggest mountain biking for kids here, unless they are quite skilled and cautious riders.

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Up close, the trestle seems a bit rickety, like a skinny, dilapidated Jenga set.

 

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Background: The trestle was built in 1933, as part of the San Diego and Arizona Eastern Railway, aka “the impossible railroad” that ran through Baja California and Eastern San Diego County and ended in Imperial Valley. Over the years, collapsed tunnels and rock slides plagued the railroad, including the collapse of Tunnel 15, which led to the creation of the trestle. The trestle was constructed of wood (no nails used), rather than metal due to the area’s extreme temperature fluctuations, which can lead to “metal fatigue” / failure and it was designed with a 14 degree angle to offset Goat Canyon’s high winds. By 2008, rail traffic had ceased.  As recently as last year, another tunnel, Number 6, near the trestle collapsed…(Yikes.)

Distance: Roundtrip 10 -14 miles, depending on where you start

Getting there: 8E from San Diego, take the Jacumba Exit

Parking: Park for free in the dirt lot right off the freeway at the Jacumba exit and follow the dirt portion of Carrizo Gorge Road 2 miles towards the DeAnza Spring Resort, the largest “clothing optional” resort in North America. Optionally, pay $5 to park at the resort.  1951 Carrizo Gorge Rd.  There’s a Subway & gas station right off the freeway. You can also grab a bite & beer at the resort after your ride…20180421_102928.jpg

Note: This is the desert, plan accordingly – ample water, sunscreen, hat, etc…

 

Big Sky, MT: Beehive Basin Hike

Big Sky,  unlike Anaconda, has a name that captures its essence as you can see. This vista above was a big highlight on an otherwise fairly unremarkable first couple miles. I’m a bit surprised that this out and back hike in the Gallatin National Forest was rated one of the top 10 in the world.  (Guess I’m becoming a bit of a hiking snob.) In wildflower season, I suspect it blossoms beautifully, bewitching its visitors. November is not her best month. It’s either dry and reedy or muddy and icy, but there are shimmering sights at the basin that do reward those with the  tenacity to trudge through the thick slime and slog through the snow in the off-season…(Yes, that would be me.)

In my first video, I mistake the first, unnamed lake for the destination lake.

 

 

As for equipping myself with the bear spray, I learned that the “griz” are the most active before hibernation and there have been recent attacks in nearby  Ennis and Yellowstone National Park. Not to mention that the sign at the trail head was difficult to ignore.

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You may notice that I’m wearing a bell around my neck to alert bears of my presence. (Let’s see a bell, chocolate in my pocket -you got it, I’m a walking, talking bear toy.) Have you heard the rangers joke about how you can tell black bear scat from grizzly scat? The grizzly scat has bells in it. I’ve stopped wearing the bell as they say the bears might find the ringing intriguing (or perhaps annoying). They say it’s better just to talk loudly and make a lot of noise in areas with limited visibility. You don’t want to surprise a griz. Supposedly, they’ll hear you coming and go the other way.

 

 

The panoramic views were breathtaking. And slogging through mud, ice, and snow mean I’m getting a more intense workout. What’s not to like, right?

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Topped off a fantastic day with a feast at the Gallatin River House Grill, what a great spot on the river with outdoor seating, a band stage and volley ball court. Their Famous Flank Steak Sandwich is as outstanding as is their riverfront view. One day, I will return to see the trail in its wildflower splendor and for post hike festivities and another feast at the River House.

Spokane Quickie

First impressions: Fantastic fall foliage, clean, bike-friendly city, easy to navigate, nice parks, incredible vistas, great centennial trail, rainy.

Arrived at the small airport at noon, rented a car, and headed directly to Spoke ‘N Sport. Pete set us up on a couple hybrids for our quick tour of Spokane. Just a half hour after landing, we’re pedaling through Riverfront Park, meandering by Gonzaga University where the fall’s display was in its full glory.

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Despite the brisk, wet weather, there were many runners (one stud without a shirt), bikers, and skateboarders about. In addition to nature’s displays, the city also features many outdoor art sculptures.

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Monroe Street Bridge, built in 1911

A little history:

Built in 1911, the 896 foot Monroe Street Bridge spans the Spokane River, which flows at 7,946 cubic feet per second here. The Spokane River is a tributary of the Columbia River, approximately 111 miles long, in northern Idaho and eastern Washington. At one time, Spokane was internationally known for its fishing, including Chinook, steelhead and coho salmon and, above the falls, a huge population of cutthroat trout. Sadly, those days are long gone.The Little Falls Dam, built in 1911 had only had a rudimentary fish ladder and the Long Lake Dam built in 1915 didn’t have one at all. In 1939, the Grand Coulee Dam blocked the Columbia, which sealed the salmon off from the entire Spokane River and thus destroyed a dietary staple and way of life of the Spokane Indians and many other tribe’s.

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Another lovely view of the Spokane River from the Riverfront Park bike trail

We managed to get in some great views of Spokane Falls, Riverfront Park and cruise an upscale neighborhood on Summit Road before the rain became more insistent.

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Moose sighting along Spokane’s Riverfront Park Bike Trail

Very enjoyable afternoon spent in Spokane. Would like to return and explore some more and do the Centennial bike trail to Coeur d’alene and back.

Coeur d’alene was next on the agenda, but the overly-manicured waterfront park, upscale shops and restaurants didn’t appeal in the pouring rain. We kept driving and happened upon the charming gem of Sandpoint, Idaho, where we spent the night.