Category Archives: Day Hike

Hyner View State Park

After spending Saturday hiking in the Sproul State Forest, we packed up our camp at Hyner Run State Park and took the short drive up the mountain to Hyner View State Park.

The park is small, containing just a small parking area, a few picnic tables, a pit toilet and one amazing vista. The vista looks out over the largest state forest in Pennsylvania, the Sproul State Forest. You can also see the West Branch Susquehanna River both coming and going past the village of Hyner, PA.

The vista is impressive and we lingered here for close to an hour taking photos and looking out over the view.

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Sproul State Forest: Round Island Run

After years of having scheduling conflicts, I was finally able to make to the Keystone Trails Association’s Prowl the Sproul event in north central Pennsylvania. I passed on the opportunity to camp with the KTA at the Western Clinton  Sportsman Association, having my friends Bennett and Julia with me, who intended on doing some fishing in the area. We instead camped at nearby Hyner Run State Park.

After the approximately four hour drive up to the area, we arrived to Hyner View in the mid afternoon. With the rest of the campground full of RVs and campers, it was funny to arrive in my tiny Hyundai packed to the brim with three days worth of gear. We were some of the few in the campground actually sleeping in tents and the ranger commented something about us “roughing it.” I never considered car camping to be roughing it really.

We set up our camp and cooked up a quick lunch on my camp stove. Hyner Run State Park is completely surrounded by the Sproul State Forest and a few trails run right through the park. We decided to do a short hike along Hyner Run toward wear it hooks up with the Donut Hole Trail north of the park.

The stream was pretty and ran fairly shallow as we followed a path alongside the creek. A fisherman with a fly rod said he had some success pulling trout from the stream during the day. We turned around after a mile or so as the trail we were on continued uphill. We made our way back downstream past the entrance of the park. The stream continued to tumble over rocks and we enjoyed our short walk.

I woke early on Saturday to a cool morning and a little bit of drizzle. I packed up a quick lunch, grabbed a cliff bar for breakfast and took the short 2 mile drive down to the Western Clinton Sportsman Association. I checked in with the KTA and signed up for the hike I was planning on doing. Hikers that were camping at the WCSA mingled and prepared for their own hikes while finishing breakfast.

There were to be six of us for the hike to Round Island Falls in a remote section of the Sproul, an hour from where we were. Venerable Pennsylvania hiker Jeff Mitchell was leading this hike and I was lucky enough to drive out to the trailhead with him. I’ve been a big fan of Jeff’s since purchasing his book, Hiking the Endless Mountains , a few years back. The book is a fantastic guide to that area of PA and has led me to some of my favorite hiking spots over the last few years. We were joined by Nicole, a hiker from near Pittsburgh who herself had a good list of PA trails that she’d covered. We swapped stories as Jeff’s Subura chugged down the gravel roads of the Sproul, past the small towns of Renovo and Keating.

We arrived at a small parking lot off of Jerry Ridge Rd, about a mile before the road dead ends. Paul, Vickie, and Joyce rounded out our group and arrived in a separate car just behind us. We hiked down the road under grey skies and light drizzle. Morning fog drifted from over the West Branch of the Susquehanna River and the Sinnemahoning Creek. We arrived at the end of the road, where a short side trail led us out to a beautiful vista over the Sinnemahoning Creek Valley.  We stopped shortly to take pictures and enjoy the view of low clouds drifting through the mountains.

View over the Sinnamahoning Creek Valley
View over the Sinnemahoning Creek Valley

Turning back the way we came, we walked a short while and another side trail led to another vista. We stopped quickly for more photos.

Sinnemahoning Creek View
Clouds in the valley
Clouds in the valley

Another short walk along Jerry Ridge Rd back toward the cars led us to the Jacob’s Hollow Trail. The trail is unblazed, but a wooden sign along the road showcased the trail head. We turned here and started to make our way toward the stream the trail is named for. Along the way we passed a huge garter snake just off the trail. It was the largest one I’d ever seen, close to 2.5 feet in length. Jeff had seen the snake the day before in the same spot.

We reached Jacob’s Hollow, a small stream that had a number of small cascades and moss covered rocks.  The trail crossed the stream and descended more steeply as we made our way toward Round Island Run. This area was very scenic but was only a taste of what was yet to come.

Mossy rocks of Jacob's Hollow
Mossy rocks of Jacob’s Hollow
Jacob's Hollow cascade
Jacob’s Hollow cascade
Beautiful greens
Beautiful greens

We reached the confluence of Jacob’s Hollow and Round Island Run in a beautiful spot. We stopped for lunch at a small pool with a cascade and surrounded by rhododendron. One of the members of our group commented that she could have sat there all day, and we all had to agree.

Not a bad spot for lunch
Not a bad spot for lunch
The crew chows down
The crew chows down

We certainly could have stayed at our lunch spot longer, but there was still plenty left to see. We turned right to follow the Round Island Run Trail.  This was another exceptionally beautiful trail, with the run gurgling off to our right and blooming rhododendron to our left.

Round Island Trail
Round Island Trail

We moved through more beautiful sections of the trail when all of a sudden Jeff stopped short while right in front of me.  He turned to the group and pointed toward the ground, where about 5 feet in front of us a black phase timber rattle snake lay coiled right in the middle of the trail.

Timber Rattlesnake
Timber Rattlesnake

Jeff poked the brush in front of him, but the snake was unconcerned with us. It seemed sedentary on a cool, drizzly day and didn’t rattle or hiss at all. Jeff hiked around the snake through the brush and as I went to do the same, it slithered off in the other direction down the hill.

The trail continued to impress and we made our way along the run. The stream had a number of small cascades and there was so much blooming rhododendron.

Round Island Run
Round Island Run
Rhododendron
Rhododendron
In bloom
In bloom
Waterslide
Waterslide

Already impressed with our hike so far, there was yet another highlight to reach further on. We continued along the Round Island Trail as it rose gradually through forest. A side trail arrived on our left and led us to Round Island Run Falls. The falls was beautiful, a bridal veil falls that tumbled over two tiers. There was a small campsite and a side trail allowed us all to sneak behind the top tier of the falls.

Round Island Run Falls
Round Island Run Falls
Me, behind the falls
Me, behind the falls
Meta
Meta

We took the short walk back to the main trail and continued for a short while longer. We reached a side trail on the right side about 1/4 mile from the falls. We took this trail as it moved up the hillside away from the run.

Climbing away from the run
Climbing away from the run

We reached a plateau after a short climb and continued along the unblazed trail as it cut through a beautiful forest complete with many ferns. The trail was difficult to follow and was faint as it made its way through the ferns. Jeff lost the trail hiking the other way the day before, and I could see how that it would be easy to do. After a mile or so of making our way through the forest, the trail reached Jerry Ridge Rd again. The car was a short walk away.

Fern forest
Fern forest

We started to make our way back toward the WCSA. We stopped along Keating Mountain Rd where there was a short trail that led to another partial view.

Partial View
Partial View

We also got a good laugh on the drive back through Keating, which is a village with just a handful of houses along a gravel road, where a sign in front of one of the houses said “Caution Nudist Crossing, Slow Down.” We saw no nudists though.

Nudist Crossing
Nudist Crossing

The car ride back to WCSA was quiet as we all let our minds linger in the Sproul a little bit longer.

Loyalsock State Forest: Scar Run

On Memorial Day, my friend Mike and I were able to return to one of our favorite areas: the Loyalsock State Forest. Having previously hiked along Ketchum Run, we wanted to explore nearby Scar Run, which we had heard had some impressive waterfalls.

We parked off of Coal Mine Rd, near where the Worlds End Trail crosses the road. We descended on the Worlds End Trail through a forest of Pine trees to a place where the trail hooked up with an old grade. The grade hugged a deer fence while parallelling Scar Run near its headwaters.

The trail ascended gradually through the forest as Scar Run gurgled off to our left.  After a 1/2 mile or so, the trail bent away from the run. We continued straight to stay along Scar Run as the hillside started to rise near the North Branch Scar Run. We eventually reached the North Branch Scar Run and bushwhacked down the stream toward the main branch of Scar Run.

There was an impressive 10 foot falls as we grew closer to the main branch of Scar Run.  The falls sprayed into a shallow pool and then over a small waterslide.

10 ft falls on North Branch Scar Run

Just downstream, the two branches of Scar Run come together in an amazing place. The north branch tumbles over three tiers and what looks to be 60 feet or so to flow into the main branch. The main branch cascades almost continually for close to 30 feet just before the confluence.


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North Branch Scar Run at the confluence
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Scar Run at the confluence

We spent some time taking pictures and taking in the scenery in the middle of the confluence of the runs. It is a very beautiful place and we found it to be the highlight of the day.

We continued our bushwhack down Scar Run. We mostly stayed on the left side of the stream, occasionally having to rock hop in the stream itself.

We soon reached another small waterfall. This falls was about 8 feet high and the stream carved an impressive chasm before tumbling into a shallow pool. We were able to grab a few photos before being attacked by mosquitoes (who were present for most of the hike, but at their worst while we were in the stream).

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Long exposure

Stinging nettle was also prevalent in the grassy areas around the stream.  Mike and I both let out a few f-bombs as we got stung repeatedly.

We continued downstream, eventually hooking up with an old grade on the right side of the stream. We passed another 10 foot high waterfall that tumbled into a nice pool and then proceeded through a cool waterslide.

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10 foot high falls
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Falls with a waterslide

We reached one last falls, where the stream tumbled over a smooth rock face in two separate  spots. PA 87 could be seen and heard now and two hunting cabins came into view. The stream continues under the road, but we turned around here.

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Last falls on Scar Run

The red blazed Scar Run Trail links up with the road here and we planned to take that back to Coal Mine Road. The trail stays close to the run for the first 1/5 mile or so, but quickly starts to ascend the hillside and move away from the stream.

After about a mile or so, the trail reaches a power line swath. It is here that we lost our way temporarily and became a bit frustrated. According to our map and the GPS coordinates we had, the trail crosses the swath and continues on the other side. The swath itself was very overgrown with high grass and sticky mud. We walked to the other side of the swath and saw no sign of the red blazed trail. We walked down and then up the swath looking for a blaze for a good 30 minutes, all the while being attacked by mosquitoes, being stung by thorn bushes, and almost having our boots sucked off by deep mud.

Eventually we gave up trying to find the trail and decided just to bushwhack up the hill toward Coal Mine Rd. Within 45 seconds of making the decision to head into the woods, we saw a faded red blaze and found the Scar Run Trail again as it continued to ascend away from the creek. The best guess I have about what happens with the Scar Run Trail at the powerline swath is that it continues up the swath for a short period before turning left.

We continued along the trail as it gradually ascended along an old forest road. In places the trail was wide and flat, and other times it became overgrown and choked with ferns and high grass.

After another 1.5 miles or so, we reached the top of the gorge and walked along a flat section of the trail before reaching Coal Mine Rd at a gate. We made a left onto the road and walked the mile or so back to our car.

We took a short drive to High Knob as the sun started to set. We had the vista to ourselves for a short while and we enjoyed the expansive view.

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Views at High Knob

My Scar Run souvenirs:

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Lackawanna State Forest: Panther Hill, Painter Creek, and Panther Creek

I was able to do three really fantastic hikes in the northern part of the Lackawanna State Forest over the month of April. I’d previously hiked the Pinchot Trail and spent time exploring the area around Choke Creek and its falls in the southern part of the forest. But we’d never explored the fairly newly acquired lands in the northern part of the forest.

My friend Mike and his dog Dutch joined me for all three hikes. Our friend Darin and his dog Alice joined us on our second trip.

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Dutch
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Alice

I’ve wanted to explore Painter and Panther Creeks since reading about Jeff Mitchell’s adventures there in this post.  There was supposedly some good views to climb to on Panther Hill and we expected the streams to be swollen with spring runoff.

On our first hike, we parked on Aston Mountain Road where it intersects with Spring Brook. Spring Brook was flowing swiftly and a short trail allowed us to walk right beside it for a little while. We arrived at the confluence of Spring Brook and Panther Run, a very beautiful spot. The water was turquoise as the streams came together in a series of rapids.

Spring Brook
Spring Brook

We bushwhacked up the hill and reached a state forest parking lot (where we actually intended to park). We descended through the forest on a trail, always bearing left wear the trail split, moving closer to Panther Creek again.

We reached the creek near the confluence of Panther and Painter Creeks. The stream was swollen and hard to cross where the trail looked to cross the creek. We walked up Painter Run a 1/4 mile where we scurried across a fallen tree branch.

From here, we knew we wanted to start to scale the hill to our east. I’m not sure if the mountain is officially Panther Hill at this point, but we climbed. There were grades we came across here and there as we made our way up. We eventually reached a level that seemed one level short of the top. The terrain got rocky here and we had to continue to the south to find a place where we could ascend.

We reached what seemed to be the top of the mountain. There was a big rock bald and a stunted forest. There were limited views over the valley forged by Panther Creek. We headed back north a little ways to more limited views.

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Toward the “top” of Panther Hill

We wanted to head further south to see if there were more views, but we were a little short on time and still wanted to see if we could find our way to some falls on Panther Creek.

We started to descend back down the mountain, taking a fairly straightforward route straight down where we could. We eventually reached Panther Creek again where it curled around a bend and tumbled over rapids.

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Panther Creek
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Panther Creek

We turned right to follow Panther Creek downstream. It tumbled over more rapids and cascades, occasionally passing through beautiful hemlock forests.

We eventually crossed the stream above a nice, tiered waterfall. We were able to get down the first tier of the waterfall along the side of the stream. But the bottom proved to be harder and we were forced to backtrack and go around by climbing the bank. I imagine when the creek is not flowing so high, you could walk right down the falls. We backtracked to the base of the falls for pictures and to enjoy the view.

Long exposure on the top tier of Panther Creek Falls
Panther Creek Falls

From the falls, we headed back up the bank and continued to walk downstream. About 1/4 mile from the falls, we hooked up with a grade that looped back toward Painter Creek and eventually reached it just above the confluence of Painter and Panther Creeks, a place we crossed earlier in the day.

We crossed the creek. It was running high, and was about 1-1.5 feet deep where the trail crossed. My feet had stayed relatively dry to this point, but did not after that. We made our way away from the creek and back to the game commission parking lot.

Crossing Painter Creek at the confluence of Panther Creek

We bushwhacked back down to Spring Brook from the parking lot. When we arrived back at the trail, we found a fairly disconcerting site along Spring Brook. A small campfire was lit within a fire ring, but there was not a soul in sight.  We waited a few minutes to see if anyone would return to the fire, but they did not. We threw what was left of the two burning logs into the creek and threw some water on the hot coals.

We came across a few vernal ponds as we made our way back to our car. A local reptile enthusiast filled us in on the spring frog orgy that was happening in the small ponds around the creeks.

On our second hike in the area, we parked in the game commission lot and bushwhacked almost all the way to the end of Painter Creek. It is a beautiful run and was still running swiftly with snowmelt. (The nearby Nesbitt Reservoir was still frozen on our first hike in the first week of April, but was totally melted on our subsequent trips. )

Painter Creek has no falls, but many small cascades and was really a treat to hike. There were many small hemlock forests along the run, a few containing beautiful campsites.

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Painter Creek

On our final trip to the area, we parked along Pittson Rd and hiked the Pinchot Trail to where it meets up with the newly created Watres Trail, about a mile from the road. We walked along the Watres Trail for a short while. The headwaters of Painter Creek are actually on private land, so we just made our way along the Watres Trail until we were clear of the private land. We then made our way back down to Painter Creek, bushwhacking to the place where we stopped on our previous hike.

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Campsite and Hemlocks on Painter Creek

The southern part of Painter Creek was as beautiful as the northern part, as we passed more cascades and hemlock forests. We bushwhacked up the back of the creek, back to the Watres Trail, which we took back to the Pinchot Trail, and returned to our car.

We took the short drive to the Pine Hill Overlook, which contains a viewing platform featuring 360 degree views of the surrounding areas. We tried to linger through the entire sunset, but a cold breeze forced us back to our car a little before the sun was completely down.

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Pine Hill Overlook and views

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I thoroughly enjoyed our hikes in this area. Painter and Panther Creeks are both beautiful small streams. The falls on Panther Creek were impressive in high water. I hope to return to this area in the fall when we can look for more views on top of Panther Hill during peak foliage.

 

Big Pocono State Park

Despite knowing we might run into some lingering snow from the unrelenting winter, Stubbs and I headed north to Big Pocono State Park in Monroe County, PA for a short day hike.

We parked off of Railroad Rd at the parking area known as Riday’s Gate. I’ve done this hike a few times and have never seen more than one car at this parking area.

The first 1.5-2 miles of the trail is along an old railroad grade. Even though the trail is steady uphill, the gradient is easy and the hiking was pretty fast. We did reach a 1/4 mile or so where the trail became part of the runoff of the mountain. We declared this new trail stream/hybrid a strail (stream + trail).

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Strail

We reached the intersection of the North and South Trails where there is a register. We signed in and I found the page from when I was there in October. That day was in the low 70s with beautiful sunshine and near peak foliage. This day in late March was grey with highs around 35.

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Trail register from October.

We decided to take the North Trail up to the top of the mountain. A decision I question knowing what I do now. After the split, the North Trail moves through a beautiful area where cliffs grow on both sides. We’d hiked this way in the winter a few years ago and found traces of snow in this area. Today we found snow 6-8 inches.

Snow and cliffs
Snow and cliffs

The trail continues on and gradually makes it way up the mountain on old railroad grades. As we gained elevation, the snow grew deeper. At some points, drifts along the trail measured well over a foot and probably close to 18 inches. We were gracious that someone had previously hiked our route in snowshoes. We were forced to trace those steps on steep sections. My friend’s dog failed to see why we were struggling.

The North Trail eventually butts right up to one of the ski slopes of Camelback Mountain. We paused and caught our breath as skiers and snowboarders coasted past on early spring snow.

One last push up a steep trail with icy snow granted us the amazing views from the top of Camelback Mountain. There is a picnic area on the top of the mountain that you can drive to during warmer months. But the seasonal road to the top was closed and we had the peak all to ourselves.

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View to the north

We stopped for a short while at a picnic table that looks north over the Poconos. The view was nice, despite the grey skies and stiff wind. Interpretive signs warned that the mountain had a healthy rattlesnake population (which I do not doubt) but we laughed thinking of the snakes still warm in their dens.

We continued on and made our way to the top of the mountain, where 360 degree views greeted us. The sky was a light, indifferent grey and it even flurried for a few moments. We stopped at a bench with a nice view to the west of the mountain to have a snack. But it was a quick break when the wind picked up and blew regularly at what felt like 30-40 mph. My friend and I had both broken a sweat on the last steep inclines to get the top and the cold wind went straight through the both of us. We did not linger longer than to finish our snacks and snap a few pictures.

View from the top
View from the top

We made our way back to the trail from the parking area and started to slowly descend the mountain. With my friend having to be home early for a previous commitment, we were short on time and skipped the hike on the Indian Trail to the beautiful view that looks east toward the Delaware Water Gap.

The South Trail was almost a completely different experience than the North Trail. The path had clearly seen considerable more sun and was more or less free of snow. We moved quickly down the mountain, going probably close to twice the speed as we ascended.

We reached a low point along the trail where a pond had formed and then frozen over. The ice was still relatively thick, despite the obvious sunlight the pond had seen.

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We reached the intersection we passed earlier with the register. The slow downhill along the occasionally wet railroad grade followed. The sun tried to make an appearance as the day wore on, but was stunted by low clouds.

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We did about 6 miles in the end, with the North Trail feeling about twice as difficult as the South Trail. I’ve hiked this area a handful of times and have seen a grand total of three people on the railroad grade that leads to the “official” trail system of Big Pocono State Park. While the areas on the top of the mountain are usually crowded during warm months, the trails leading to the top are fairly deserted.

A Day in the Mojave National Preserve

I took the 90 minute drive back to the Mojave National Preserve from Twentynine Palms on Wednesday. The views along Amboy Road were not as spectacular as Tuesday, as it was a little hazier. But I was still able to snap a few nice pictures along the remote desert road, mostly as I got closer to the Mojave.

Amboy Road
Amboy Road

Lava Tube

My first stop would be the Lava Tube in the northwest portion of the Preserve. The rangers that I talked to the day before assured me that I would be the only one to visit the Lava Tube on that Tuesday, as it is not the most accessible place within the Mojave. Taking Kelbaker Rd out of Kelso Depot, I used my handheld GPS unit to locate Aiken Mine Road, the dirt road that would take me through the lava flows. I did not see a single other car driving on Kelbaker Road, in either direction.

Aiken Mine Road was dusty and there were some deep pockets of loose dirt, and I was glad to have a four wheel drive vehicle.  Large cinder cones appeared on both sides of the road as a cloud of dust kicked up behind me. I saw a lonely horse corral, more just an old wooden fence and a small fire ring. Aiken Mine Rd curved to the right and a smaller one way dirt road moved straight. I stayed straight and arrived at the end of the road a short time later, a small open area with a room for a few cars.

Cinder cones and lava flows
Cinder cones and lava flows

I stopped the car and stepped out into astounding silence. This was true desert solitude. I grabbed my pack and put on my boots. I closed up the car and started to walk along a rough patch of road. Up ahead, a curious jackrabbit watched me for a while before disappearing into the roadside brush. I reached a small metal sign next to cairn, pointing me to the lava tube. A few hundred feet later, I reached the top of the tube. Another jackrabbit watched me from nearby, seemingly unconcerned as he chewed on some grass.

A ladder led into the darkness of the lava tube. I looked around me, turning all 360 degrees. Not a sound. I couldn’t be sure, but most likely not another person within 10, 20, 30 miles of me. And I was about to climb a ladder into the unknown. I dropped my trekking poles at the top, took a deep breath, and climbed down. I climbed into the cave even further as I sang to myself to calm my nerves. I ducked and moved through a narrow passage, about 10 feet long, arriving eventually into a brightly lit room.

Lava tube
Lava tube

Two holes in the ceiling allowed the late morning light into the room. It was beautiful and I walked around and took photos for a few minutes. I think the light in the latter parts of the day would have been prettier, but it was still lovely.

 

I climbed out and noticed a large chuckwalla sitting on the edge of one of the openings of the tube. He sat still long enough for me to grab one picture, and then scurried into the darkness and out of sight.

Chuckwalla

I walked back to the car and and took a deep breath. I was glad that I had made the trek and climbed down, but also glad that there would be no more remote caves today.

Cinder Cone
Cinder Cone

Cinder Cone

I drove back out on Aiken Mine Road, stopping a few times to take pictures of the huge cinder cones. I reached Kelbaker Road again and turned left to head back toward Kelso. I stopped at Kelso Depot and used the restroom and snacked on some trail mix and fruit. The visitors center was closed and only a few cars came and went, looking at the map and using the restroom.

Kelbaker Road
Kelbaker Road, looking toward the Marl Mountains

Teutonia Peak

The sky started to cloud over a little bit as I made my way toward my destination, Teutonia Peak. I made my way down Kelso-Cima Road, the Mid Hills to my right, with the New York Mountains above them. Trains tracks and the Kelso Wash paralleled the road. A  handful of cars passed going the other way and a little bit of drizzle fell on my windshield. The weather had called for some clouds, but no rain. I watched around me nervously as the sky became grayer and rain in the desert can change things quite quickly.

I arrived at a split in the road in the ghost town of Cima. Morning Star Mine Road continued to the right but I made a slight left to take Cima Road. Cima Road cuts through the largest forest of Joshua Trees in the world. The Ivanpah Mountains rose in the distance on right side. The scenery was dramatic for someone on their first visit to the area.

I arrived at the trailhead for Teutonia Peak and was relieved to see two cars in the parking lot. The rangers I had talked to the day before had assured me it was one of the most popular hikes in the park and often received visitors, even on weekdays in the winter. Hiking by myself, I was content to run into a few others on the trail.

I filled up my water bottle and strapped on my bag and walked over to the map and interpretive sign at the trailhead. As I read, the owners of the two other cars appeared off the trail. Two groups of European tourists. They waved and said a polite hello and disappeared down the road. I wouldn’t be seeing anyone else on this hike.

Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree

The trail does not feature blazes but is obvious as it winds through the forest of joshua trees. The skies continued to be grey, but it just drizzled every once in a while, nothing worse. A worn out dirt road led off to the right to the sight of the former Teutonia Mine.

The trail was flat but I took my time taking in the sight of so many joshua trees. The grade eventually increased as I started to climb up toward the peak. I was almost at the top and stopped to take some pictures. And even only 2/3 the way to the top, there was plenty to take in. Cima Dome and the Ivanpah Mountains including Kessler Peak were both visible. Cima Road was obvious and I could see my car about a mile away. Even stopped for 20 minutes, I saw one car head up the road.

Cima Dome
Cima Dome
Ivanpah Mountains and the joshua tree forest
Ivanpah Mountains and the joshua tree forest
View from Teutonia Peak
View from Teutonia Peak, New York Mountains in the distance
Self portrait
Self portrait

While moving around taking some photos, I backed into a small cactus, an experience I do not recommend. I sat on a rock for a few minutes pulling needles out of my legs.

The trail continued uphill a little further and weighed heading on or just turning back. I was a little tired and for the first time felt a little bit intimidated by the landscape. The wind picked up a little bit, and I had to put my hoodie on for the first time on the trip.  The solitude bothered me for really the only time on the trip standing there. I had tried to convince a few friends to take this last minute trip with me, but was unsuccessful. It was there I wished that any one of them could be standing there with me.

It was moving into the later hours of the afternoon and I assumed that there would be no one coming up the trail behind me on that day. The trail started to head over some really rocky sections, nothing I couldn’t handle or hadn’t experienced 10 times worse in Pennsylvania, but enough to not make me want to keep climbing.

Big boulders and a lone joshua tree
Big boulders and a lone joshua tree

I turned around and started to head back to the car. The thoughts of my next destination were already starting to infiltrate my head. I walked back through the joshua trees, taking some more photos but moving a little bit quicker than I had on the way up.

Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree
Kessler Peak
Kessler Peak

I arrived back at the car and dumped my bag in the back and flicked on the stereo. I turned the volume up and listened to a mix that my friend Damian had made me for the trip. I sipped my Gatorade and ate an entire Trader Joe’s Salty Chocolate Carmel bar – easily the best candy bar that they make.

The grey clouds were starting to be pushed out by lighter white ones from the west. I tore off down Cima Road again, ready for the hike I had been looking forward to the most, the Kelso Sand Dunes. I raced past the town of Cima again, but immediately slammed the brakes and stopped in the middle of the road. I flipped the car into reverse and peeled out and spun back into the parking lot in Cima. (I’d normally never drive like that, but I felt confident that there was no one around.) I wandered around the abandoned buildings of Cima, particularly enamored with the old Union Pacific Train Station.

Cima California
Abandon Union Pacific Building, Cima California

I got back in the car and spun the wheels and kicked up a ton of dust in the parking lot. What are rental cars and dusty desert parking lots for? I flew down Kelso Cima Road again, cruising past Kelso Depot and turning on to Kelbaker Road. The Kelso Sand Dunes rose in the distance to my right. I turned right onto Kelso Sand Dunes Road and was shocked to catch up to another vehicle making its way up the road.

Kelso Sand Dunes

I reached the parking lot and parked next to the car that had been in front of me. Two women emerged and I was happy to see that one of them was the ranger that I had talked to yesterday. Her name was Linda and she was hiking with her friend, also named Linda. Ranger Linda was from Washington State and was actually employed at Mount Rainer National Park. She was on a three month temporary transfer to the Mojave National Preserve.

We set off down the trail toward the sand dunes and I asked if it would be okay if we hiked together for a while. I explained it had been since the morning that I had had an actual conversation with someone. And that conversation was just with the guy at the shop where I had grabbed breakfast in Twentynine Palms. They were happy to have me tag along and we continued on together.

It was great to have a ranger to hike with. She pointed out the tracks in the sands of the various insects as well as reptiles that lived in the sand dunes. She also knew all about the various plants that we came across, noting that they had just a little rain in the week before, turning a number of plants that had been brown to green.

Footprints in the sand
Footprints in the sand

There was no official trail once we reached the actual sand dunes. There were obvious tracks from others that had hiked up. Many people took one or two paths up, but footprints led off in every direction. We set our sights on the highest sand dune.

The grey clouds and had completely cleared from over our heads but still lingered to our east. Above us, fluffy white clouds dotted blue sky and the sun broke out to our west. As we climbed higher, the views became more dramatic. The late afternoon sun shone on the sand dunes, lighting them in gold. The jagged mountains to our south, the Granite Mountains, looked more impressive from a higher elevation. Shadows from the clouds drifted across the Providence Mountains to our east. Ranger Linda pointed out the opening to the Mitchell Caverns, which are temporarily closed.

Shadows over the Providence Mountains
Shadows over the Providence Mountains
The largest sand dune, our destination
The largest sand dune, our destination

We reached the ridge of the sand dunes after about 1.5 miles of walking. Slow walking at that, hiking uphill in sand is not something that can be done quickly I don’t think. We sat down and looked out over the views.

The Granite and Providence Mountains were still visible, but two new additions to the sights were also now visible, the Devil’s Playground and Kelso Mountains. Sand dunes stretched as far as we could see looking north/northeast. Linda pointed northeast and said that on clearer days, you could see all the way to to the dry Soda Lake and the town of Zzyzx. The peaks of Old Dad Mountain and Kelso Peak could be seen in the distance.

There was a slightly larger dune to the right of where we stood. I gave Linda my good camera and asked her to take my picture when I climbed to the top.

Climbing to the top
Climbing to the top

We lingered a little bit longer as the sun started to set to our west. Linda speculated whether we would get a “fiery sunset” or if the clouds would be too high. We started to head back downhill toward the cars.

The Kelso Dunes, and many other sand dunes around the world, are known for the booming noise that they make when large amounts of sand are pushed down hill. We all ran and jumped a little while as we headed down, and got a low rumble from the dunes.

Low sun on the dunes
Low sun on the dunes
Granite Mountains
Granite Mountains
Providence Mountains
Providence Mountains

We chatted about past hiking and the places that we had been. The Lindas had never been to Pennsylvania and I assured them we had plenty to see and a lot of great hiking.

We reached the cars as the sun was pretty low in the sky. We would not be getting a fiery sunset tonight, but it was still very pretty as the light started to fade. I thanked my new friends for letting me tag along and we headed down the road together.

Sunset

Sunset
Sunset

We turned on Kelbaker Road. The light grew dim and I drove with the windows down, letting the breeze into the car. I honked as the Lindas pulled into Kelso Depot and I continued on Kelso-Cima Road. The last light lingered to the west for a long time as I sped along the deserted roads of the Preserve, turning on Morning Star Mine Road and then Ivanpah Road. I pulled over to the shoulder a mile or so short of Nipton Road. I turned off the car and the headlights and was impressed with the darkness. The lights of Primm and Las Vegas were visible in the distance. The sky was dark and the last sunlight clung onto the dark sky to my right.

I started the car and sped back toward civilization.

Loyalsock State Forest: Fern Rock Nature Trail and Ketchum Run

This will probably always be the hike that I remember more for the car breaking down on the turnpike on the way home. But a few hour detour in Lehighton did nothing to diminish the experience of our trek through the Loyalsock.

We started our hike from the parking lot along High Knob Rd where it meets World’s End Road. (High Knob Rd is closed to traffic in the winter, but the parking lot is accessible.) About 2 inches of soft, crunchy snow covered the ground. The weather was pretty mild for January in PA, almost 30 degrees. It was the Monday of MLK Day and there were no other cars in the lot and we saw no one all day.

We set out on the Fern Rock Nature Trail and soon crossed over the east branch of Ketchum Run. The creek gurgled under the bridge and snow and ice covered the banks. It was quite serene.

After about a mile of hiking, we reached beautiful Ketchum Run.  Thick ice covered the banks but the stream flowed quietly through the forest. We turned right and followed the stream north, still along the FRNT.

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Ketchum Run
Ketchum Run

We met up with a cross cross country ski trail for a few minutes before reaching a red blazed bridle trail. This trail crosses Ketchum Run and eventually meets up with the Loyalsock Trail. The trail crossing was impossible, with a layer of ice covering the entire stream. In some places, the stream tunneled under the snow, completely out of sight.

We continued along the bank of Ketchum Run. There is no official trail that follows the run, but a path through the woods is fairly obvious. We soon reached a 10 foot high waterfall. When we were here in the summer, you could hike all the way into the run and right up to the falls. Today, we were forced to take pictures from further away, as thick ice blanketed the falls.

Frozen falls

Further down the run, we came to the top of a 20 ft falls. The top of the falls was completely frozen over. We climbed down to the bottom. Large icicles encased flowing water at the base of the falls.

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More frozen falls

The Loyalsock Trail is only a short walk from the second waterfall and we hiked on to that spot. There is a nice campsite here, though it looked as if it had been some time since its last use.

From here, we retraced our steps (easy to do when yours are the only ones visible in the snow!) back to the FRNT. We took the north side of the trail on the return trip. The east branch of Ketchum Run flowed quietly nearby for the final mile.

Untouched cross country ski trail
Untouched cross country ski trail
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East Branch Ketchum Run

There was only one visible set of footprints in the snow outside of ours along the FRNT. We saw numerous animal prints though, including deer, what appeared to be hare, and even bobcat tracks near Ketchum Run.

My friend’s car is back running. He was even so kind as to supply the videos seen here. Check out his photography.