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Mount Si Hike

July 21, 2017

With my summer Fridays off of work, I was able to do some hikes with my girlfriend Katie, because she has Fridays off too!  We went south one day and did the Mount Si hike in the Snoqualmie Region, just outside of the town of Snoqualmie.

Mount Si, for the Snoqualmie people, was the body of the moon, fallen to the earth through the trickery of the fox and the blue jay.   It is a spiritual place, with a craggy mountain rising out of the foothills.  For those of you who watch the television show Twin Peaks, Mount Si features prominently in the show, which was filmed in and around the town of Snoqualmie.  The mountain is named for a settler named Josiah Merritt, who had a cabin at the base of the mountain in the late 1800s.

Katie and I headed down early that morning, and took the scenic route down to the mountain – off on the back roads to avoid rush hour freeway traffic.

We arrived just after 8 – we got out our packs and got ready to go.

Mount Si is a tough hike.  It is a steep hike – 8 miles round trip with over 3,100 feet of elevation gain.  Mount Si is considered a training hike for Mount Rainier; if you can summit Mount Si in less than two hours then you are considered to be ready to summit Rainier.  We headed up the mountain, which is basically 4 miles of switchbacks up the mountain.  There are parts that are steeper and parts where the switchbacks are more gentle, but it is all switchbacks, all the time on this route…

 

We took breaks when we needed and encountered several groups of millennials hiking with their phones streaming music into the air.  I don’t think I will ever understand why they want to hike with music blasting out like this.  I prefer to listen to the sound of nature when I am out hiking.

Early on, Katie and I came upon a leucistic slug – it was white!  That was far more fascinating than it might have been had we not needed at rest break! But honestly, I think it might have been the high point of Katie’s day.  She was pretty excited about that slug…

At the top of the mountain, Mount Si is a collection of boulders and rock faces – lots of climbers like to climb to the actual summit here.  We weren’t going to do that, because it is a technical climb, but enjoyed seeing it still up above us.  We did scramble around and among boulders to go see close up where the technical climb begins.

 

A Gray Jay on Mount Si

 

 

Katie and Me!

Mount Si also has a fun draw.  Now, I know I will get in trouble with some of you for this, and I hope you will be able to forgive me…  I never do this.  Katie and I fed the birds…  (hangs head in shame, but only a little…) The Gray Jays there would swoop down to grab a peanut or dried cranberry from the palm of your hand!  Surprisingly, they are very gentle.  I have to admit it was pretty fun.  And the photos I got were absolutely priceless.

Yes, these are unedited…

 

We hung out at the top and ate our lunch of nuts, granola bars and fruit, and checked out the views of Mount Rainier and the Cascade Range.  It was stunning!  Certainly worth the pain of the uphill hike!

For obvious reasons, the hike back down was faster and easier, and when we got to the bottom we were more than ready for a trip to Snoqualmie Brewery for a late lunch and a pint.  I had the Muffaletta sandwich (which while not very traditional was delicious!) and the Copperhead American Pale Ale, and got myself a pint glass to take home.

On the way home, Katie and I did a quick stop at Snoqualmie Falls.  We checked out the falls, which at 268 feet tall is the 6th highest waterfall in Washington State.  It has two powerhouses generating power for Puget Sound Energy; one is actually buried underground!  Snoqualmie Falls and the Salish Lodge that is located at the top of the falls, were both also featured in Twin Peaks, giving Katie a Twin Peaks trifecta for the day.

It was a great day!

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Monte Cristo Hike

July 15, 2017

In July, I went on another hike I’d never done before, an 8 mile round-trip hike over a relatively flat route to a gold and silver mining site.  The ghost town of Monte Cristo.

Between 1890 and 1907, Monte Cristo experienced a huge boom, growing to over 1,000 people at its peak, with 13 active mines and 211 active mining claims.  It was the first mine site on the west side of the Cascade Mountain range.  John D. Rockefeller took an interest in the site and for a period of time Frederick Trump, grandfather of President Trump, operated a boom-town hotel and brothel there.

At first the town and the mines were profitable, but over-estimates of the ground’s ore potential and frequent floods took their toll.  Most of the ore was near the surface; it was rarely profitable to go more than 500 feet down below the surface.  The river also flooded several times, requiring expensive repairs to the road and the railroad line in order to keep the ore flowing out to the smelter.

After mining operations ceased in 1907, for several decades there were attempts to keep the town going as a resort destination, with only limited success.  The county road to Monte Cristo was flooded in 1980 and not rebuilt, and the only remaining business, a lodge, burned down in 1983.  Monte Cristo is a ghost town today. A few original buildings and relics remain, as well as several more cabins from the various resort town efforts. The forests have grown back, so it is tough to imagine the bare hillsides with tramways and men bringing ore down from the steep mountains.

The route follows most of the old route taken by the miners over a century ago.  Floods over the years have washed out the road alongside the South Fork of the Sauk River.  The hike starts at the Barlow Pass trailhead on the North Cascades – Mountain Loop Highway and travels along the road for about 4 miles. You have to cross over the river on a large fallen tree at one point, but it is wide and flat enough that it doesn’t feel treacherous.

A view of the mountains on the hike in

There is a slight incline the entire way, with a total elevation gain of 700 feet to a final elevation of 2,800 feet.  The scenery is stunning, with the shallow river showing its rocky bed, and the craggy mountains above.  The 8 miles are pretty easy miles as long as you can handle the distance.

A Wiggin’s Lily at Monte Cristo

Once in the town it was fun to just wander around, seeing the old cabins and reading the signs showing where other buildings used to be.  There has been some remediation done in the area, in order to clean up the heavy metals that still exist in the mine tailings.  There is still a lot more work to be done, so they recommend you don’t drink the water there, or at a minimum filter it.

There is a pack-in campsite; it looks like a fun place to stay the night and explore the town.  I wonder if there are ghosts!

West 2016: Grand Teton Tidbits

The Chapel of the Sacred Heart is located within the boundaries of the park at the south end of Jackson Lake.  It was originally built in 1937 outside of the park, but Grand Teton’s boundaries changed after that and now include the beautiful log chapel. 
 
It seats about 115 people and is open 24 hours a day from May to September, with a Sunday mass.  The chapel is closed in the winter.  It was worth a stop to see the interior with its stained glass windows and icon of Mary with Jesus. 
 
Signal Mountain is a mountain within the park that has a total elevation of 7,720 feet; it rises 890 feet from the valley floor.  There is a 5 mile drive up the mountain and two different viewpoints at the top; from there you have a great view of the valley below, as well as Jackson Lake.  You can also hike up Signal Mountain via a 6.8 mile hiking trail.
 
 
And who could resist a photo of the signage we saw all over Yellowstone and Grand Tetons on the pit toilets!  Well, perhaps you could resist, but I couldn’t…  Even though it is not historic, it is definitely going into my toilet archive!  Sit don’t squat!  I am a firm believer that signs exist because somebody doing it wrong created a need to clarify…  I don’t even want to imagine what happened when that went awry… 

Oh the ways to do it wrong!

 
And with that folks, my West adventure was nearly concluded.  All that remained was to make the long drive back to Billings, MT and stay there one last night before our flight home.  We turned in the rental car without further incident, and were relieved when no one noticed anything from the run-in with the curb and wall at Wind Cave, or the collision with Jelly 
 
I thoroughly enjoyed this trip, and was glad for the opportunity to spend this time with my mom.  Until next time! 

Me with the mountains

 

Me with the moose at the Visitor’s Center

West 2016: Menor’s Ferry

Day 11, Monday, August 15, 2016

The Snake River is generally a wide multi-channeled river as it flows through Grand Teton National Park.  There are only a few places within the park boundary where the river narrows to a single channel.  It is at one of these spots where Bill Menor settled in 1892, and established a ferry to cross the river, as well a General Store.  His brother Holiday settled on the other side of the river and operated a limekiln.  Bill Menor used this lime to whitewash his General Store.

The ferry was a reaction ferry, which used the current of the river to propel the ferry.  In the winter, when the river was low, he used a cable car to transport passengers.  Menor operated the ferry until 1918, when he sold the store and the ferry to Maud Noble, a Philadelphia women who came to Jackson Hole looking for adventure.  She operated the ferry until 1927, when the state of Wyoming built a bridge nearby.

Maud Noble was significant for another reason too.  She was instrumental in the movement to create Grand Teton National Park.  She hosted Horace Albright, then the Superintendent of the National Park Service, along with several local ranchers and farmers, at a historic meeting in her cabin to talk about the creation of the park.

The Menor’s Ferry history area contains the Menor General Store, a replica reaction ferry, the original well, a replica barn and Maud Noble’s cabin, which was moved to the site when she purchased the store and ferry in 1918.

 

 

 

Nearby is also the Chapel of the Transfiguration, an Episcopal Church that was built in 1925 on land donated by Maud Noble.  Services are held weekly between May and September, and the chapel can be booked for weddings with the stunning backdrop of the Tetons through the window.

 

 

 

Be sure to visit the area when you are in Grand Teton National Park – it is worth a look around!

West 2016: Cunningham Cabin

Day 10, Sunday, August 14, 2016

In Grand Teton National Park, I visited the Cunningham Cabin, which is a homesteader’s cabin that was built sometime between 1888 and 1890.  J. Pierce Cunningham arrived in Jackson Hole from New York in 1885, and spent his first years in the valley trapping.  He got married and then decided to try his hand at homesteading, staking a claim for 160 acres.  The cabin was constructed in the dogtrot style, with two small cabins joined with an open breezeway – it was a style common in the eastern states.

The Cunningham cabin with the mountain view

Unfortunately, ranching was difficult on 160 acres in the West, due to the fact that ranchers had to supplement feed for their cattle in the winter.  They needed enough land to grow enough hay to last the winter, which could be up to 6 months long.  Cunningham purchased an additional 140 acres in 1897 at $1.25 per acre.  In 1918 he increased the size of his ranch again by purchasing 240 acres from a neighbor’s property to the north.  Cunningham had to produce and store 200 tons of hay each winter.

The cabin has a dark side too…  In fall of 1892, two wranglers showed up at the cabin to buy hay for their horses.  Cunningham struck up a deal for them to stay over at the ranch for the winter.  However, rumors began spreading that the men were horse thieves.  A man who claimed to be a U.S. Marshal arrived in April 1893 with three deputies from Idaho, and convinced several local men to join their posse.  The cabin was surrounded and the men were gunned down when they left the cabin.  Although Cunningham wasn’t directly involved, he admitted that he felt that the brands on the men’s horses had been altered.  Interestingly, neither the allegations against the men nor the identify of the supposed U.S. Marshall was ever proven…

The view of the mountains from the cabin window

After World War I, beef prices dropped a lot, and many ranchers were no longer able to make a living. Cunningham and his neighbors proposed a petition for the federal government to purchase the valley’s ranches for inclusion with the new Grand Teton National Park.  He wasn’t successful.  Luckily John D. Rockefeller had fallen in love with the area, and he created the Snake River Land Company to purchase private land and donate it to the park.  Rockefeller ultimately purchased and donated 32,000 acres in the Jackson Hole valley, including Cunningham’s ranch.

To get a close up view of the ranch, you just have to walk a short, flat trail.  The entire loop is 0.3 mile, if you want to explore all the areas where there were once outbuildings, but the remaining cabin is the only structure that remains.  The day that I visited there was a herd of horses on the other side of the fence, so I went to say hello to them too.  They looked so beautiful with their stunning mountain backdrop!

This view! Horses and Mountains!

 

Horses near the Cunningham cabin

 

A juvenile mountain bluebird at the Cunningham cabin

 

This cabin is well worth a quick visit!

That evening in Jackson, Wyoming, we had dinner at King Sushi.  The food was fantastic!  The kids at the next table whose parents were paying no attention to the fact that they were kicking me – not so fantastic!  We also wandered around downtown Jackson for a bit, getting photos at the famous elk antler arch on the main square (each corner of the square has an arch).  We also poked around in some shops, and found lots and lots of taxidermy animals.  The dressed up critters!

 

 

Just. So. Much. Wow

 

Costs and Fees: $30 per vehicle at Grand Teton National Park (free with a National Parks Pass).  Many areas of Grand Teton do not require you to pay the fee.

Distance for the Day: Cody, WY – Jackson, WY (3 hrs, 58 min, 177 miles)

Hotel for the night: Motel 6 – Jackson, WY

 

Grand Teton NP History

Grand Teton National Park is one of the 10 most visited National Parks in the United States – approximately 3,270,076 people visit each year (2016 stats). It is about 310,000 acres, and it is located 10 miles (16 km) south of Yellowstone National Park, in Wyoming.  The park protects the major peaks of the 40-mile-long Teton Mountain Range, along with parts of the Jackson Hole valley.  On February 26, 1929, President Calvin Coolidge established the park.

Human habitation within the park boundary goes back about 11,000 years, when hunter-gatherer Paleo-Indians used the land in the summer for food and supplies. In the early 19th century, when white men first arrived, the Shoshone tribes lived there.  It was popular with fur traders between 1810 and 1840, because of the beavers that lived in the rivers there (before they were almost trapped to extinction of course).  Grand Teton National Park is named for Grand Teton, which is the tallest mountain in the Teton Range at 13,775 feet.  The mountains were named by fur trappers coming through the area, who called them les trois tétons (the three teats), and of course it stuck, and we Americanized the name.

The first view of the Teton Mountains

Geologically, the rocks in the park are some of the oldest in the United States; dated at 2.7 billion years.  The Teton range has several glaciers too, and the park contains the upper main stem of the Snake River, which flows north, and eventually flows into the Columbia River.

The area was isolated for so long that the ecosystem is much better protected than some other areas of the U.S., so some of the same species have been found there since prehistoric times.  Animal species that are found there include bison, moose, elk, mule deer, marmot, pika, Grizzly bear, black bear, osprey, coyote, cutthroat trout, beavers and river otters.  The Teton range is also home to the threatened whitebark pine tree.

Grand Teton National Park is really an outdoor-person’s paradise.  There are over 200 miles of hiking trails, many of them back-country trails.  There are over 1,000 car camping sites.  A paved trail through the park provides easy access to the valley areas by bike or roller blades.  You can boat or float the rivers, fish, mountain climb, and cross country ski or snow shoe in the winter.  There is enough to keep you busy for awhile…

The park has also preserved a lot of the history from the days when homesteaders lived in the valley and built ranches and small communities.  There are several historic buildings throughout the park that you can visit.

Mom Sign Posing

We spent two days there, and we did and saw a lot in those two days!  I will tell you more about my visit coming up!

 

West 2016: Buffalo Bill Center of the West

Day 10, Sunday, August 14, 2016

It’s not everyday that one man gets a huge museum dedicated to him, but the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, in Cody, Wyoming is just that.  Here you can learn everything you want to know about Buffalo Bill.

Museum Entrance

Buffalo Bill was born William Frederick Cody in 1846, in Iowa.  His father died when he was only 11, and as the legend goes, he took work as a Pony Express rider and made a daring, physically challenging ride of 322 miles without a break (although the horses were switched out).  But the truth is, it never happened.  Bill was in school when the Pony Express was operating and never worked for them.  He did in fact ride for a messenger service, but he only transported messages a distance of three miles.  Bill did serve in the Civil War, after having been in some trouble leading up to it, and then gained his fame as a bison hunter after the war.  He worked for the Kansas Pacific Railroad, killing bison to provide food for the men who were working their way across the west building the rail line.  He was apparently a very good shot and killed an awful lot of bison.

He was also extremely good at promoting himself.  He told his stories, and was apparently a very likable guy, so people wanted to listen to him.  He started his Wild West Show – it ran in various versions for over 30 years, from 1883 to 1916, and it traveled the U.S. and even in Europe.  He was able to get famous Native Americans to participate, including Sitting Bull and Standing Bear, as well as horsemen from around the world.  There were trick riders and sharpshooters, and other types of cowboys, Indians, and Buffalo soldiers.  The show had it all…

The museum details all of this, as well as his personal trials, family life and death in 1917.  It is very well done.

Buffalo Bill Portrait

Of course, the museum is really five in one, with the Draper Natural History Museum, the Whitney Western Art Museum, the Cody Firearms Museum and the Plains Indian Museum, in addition to the Buffalo Bill Museum.  There is also a research library.  You could spend several days there, and still not feel like you saw it all.

We spent a solid half day in the museum, and tried to see what we could.  We visited on the last day that we were headed into Yellowstone National Park, traveling that afternoon down through Grand Teton National Park to stay two nights in Jackson, Wyoming.  My mom had an advantage, as she had visited before on a previous trip.

I really liked that the Natural History Museum indicated where their mounted animals had come from (sadly, lots of them had been killed by cars).  The Western Art Museum had some really amazing pieces, and I enjoyed the reproduction art studio of Frederic Remington.

If you have a chance, it is well worth the $19 price of admission; be sure to allow plenty of time.