Monthly Archives: May 2015

Isle Royale

[landscapephotograph description=”Sunrise, Lane Cove, Isle Royale” photo=”” photourl=””][/landscapephotograph]


A few years ago, back when I was in gradual school, there was an article in National Geographic magazine (April, 1985) about a place called Isle Royale. I had never heard of it before then, but was quite taken by the story and photographs. My friend Kent and I even talked about heading up there to go backpacking, but it never came to fruition before we graduated. Every once in awhile over the years, I’d look at a map of the Great Lakes and see Isle Royale there, think about it again and tell myself that I’ve got to get there someday.

Over the winter when I found that I’d have several days available in late May (Ačiū, mano meile!) with the opportunity for some travel and adventure I obviously started to think about heading to the southwestern deserts. Since we were planning on going to Utah in April, it just didn’t seem quite right to head back there again so soon (that’s an almost unbelievable thought for me). Somewhere out of the dark recesses of my brain crawled the memory of Isle Royal National Park and it stuck! Oh yeah!


Map of Lake Superior with Isle Royale circled (click to view a larger image)

Most people to whom I mention Isle Royale National Park have never heard of it and that’s not surprising. Isle Royale is one of the least visited national parks in the United States even though it’s not too far from many populations centers in the Midwest. The problem is that it’s an island in northern Lake Superior and your only options for getting there are your own boat, ferry service from Houghton or Copper Harbor, Michigan or Grand Portage, Minnesota, or a seaplane flight out of Houghton. The National Park Service estimates that were ~15,000 people who visited Isle Royale in 2014; there have been a little over a million visitors to Isle Royale since it was established in 1940. Just for a little contrast, Yellowstone National Park had about 3.5 million visitors in 2014, or about 9500 visitors/day, Grand Canyon hosted 4.7 million visitors last year (12,880 visitors/day), Yosemite enjoyed about 3.9 million visitors, and Gates of the Arctic National Park in Alaska welcomed just 12,700 visitors last year. Isle Royale National Park is most famous for secluded backpacking over its forty mile length, many harbors and coves for boaters, and for the dynamic population of moose and wolves on the island. Unfortunately, it’s now estimated that there are only three wolves left on Isle Royale due to a lack of genetic diversity from inbreeding, and this loss of wolves is creating a quandary for the National Park Service and others who are fretting over whether they should intervene and introduce more wolves. (I’m in the camp of let it be; wolves will eventually repopulate the island again, and this likely isn’t the first time over the past few millennia that the wolf population has crashed due to inbreeding.)

I started preparing for my solo backpacking trip in late winter by carrying a fifty pound load through the neighborhood. The first few times were tortuous, but I slowly grew stronger, a bit faster and more comfortable with the whole idea. While I’ve been on a few backpacking trips before, these trips were always with friends with whom I could share the load of food, tent, stove and so on, but that wasn’t the case this time.  I also wanted to carry my camera gear, so my load added up quickly.

Over Memorial Day weekend I was off, driving north to Houghton and its airport for my relatively quick flight to the Rock Harbor Visitor Center on the eastern end of Isle Royale. I arrived there late on Friday afternoon, had a quick orientation with the ranger, and was then off to Three Mile Campground. There, I thought that I’d be relatively alone until Amy (from Madison!) showed up with her bum knee that she had injured a day before. (Yes, Amy made it safely home and the big, bad wolves didn’t catch her.) The second day, it was a couple of hour “jaunt” to Daisy Farm Campground and a relatively warm and pleasant afternoon and evening. It seems that Amy had it a bit rougher at Daisy Farm a few days before because it snowed on her. Daisy Farm-0447On my third day, I humped it over the ridge to the other side of the island at Lane Cove when it was quite warm; the bad news is that my water filter broke when I needed it and I stumbled into Lane Cove quite parched. I spent a couple of hours boiling water after that. The last day of hiking saw some cold and rain, and I made it back to Rock Harbor, where I spent most of the afternoon in my sleeping bag, keeping warm and reading a book. All in all, it wasn’t that adventurous of a trip, but it was so nice to get away to the seclusion of Isle Royale – us introverts are into that kind of thing. From the time that I left Rock Harbor until I returned, about three days, I ran into maybe sixteen people. And, I can’t wait to do something like this again – but where?

Finally, here’s my requisite gallery – enjoy!



Another happy camper, signing off…


Posted in Isle Royale, Lake Superior Tagged , , , , , , , |

Slot Canyons

[landscapephotograph description=”Zebra Slot Canyon – beautiful!!!” photoname=”Zebra Slot” photo=”” photourl=”″][/landscapephotograph]



This post will be much shorter than my last few. Or, it may be longer – a picture is worth a thousand words, right?

Slot canyons are incredibly beautiful natural sandstone carvings. As the name implies, these are “canyons,” and they’re typically found in desert regions where there’s lots of sandstone and an occasional thunderstorm.  Over millions of years, the abrasive nature of flowing water, sand and rocks carves narrow canyons through the sandstone. A slot canyon is usually deeper than it is wide and some can be EXTREMELY narrow. Since these slot canyons are typically in desert environments they also are frequently dry and it is relatively easy to visit these vertical, inside-out sculpture gardens. Danger does exist in slot canyons. Since desert soils don’t absorb much rainwater, if there’s a rainstorm in the vicinity (or, even miles upstream in the water basin), the runoff can rip and roar through a slot canyon and pound everything in it to pemmican. When walking over sandstone, it would sometimes be possible to walk over a slot canyon and not really notice it other than you’re walking over a dark crack, although most slot canyons are at least a few feet wide at their tops.

One of the most famous slot canyons in the world is Petra, Jordan. It’s on my bucket list to visit someday. Closer to my home, there’s a slot canyon, or something close to it in the form of Pewits Nest near Baraboo, Wisconsin.

But, some of the most beautiful slot canyons are found in Arizona and Utah. I’ve been fortunate to visit several of these slot canyons and I’m always in awe and inspired by them. Each slot canyon has it’s own character, even though one slot canyon can be just a few hundred meters from another slot canyon.

One of the most accessible and visited slot canyons is Antelope Canyon just east of Page, Arizona. If you visit, there are two major choices (or, simply choose both): Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon. You can hire a Navajo guide to take you to and through the canyon of your choice, or you might be able to wander freely if you visit Lower Antelope Canyon. One of the good things about the Antelope Canyon system is that it’s very well protected and monitored for precipitation in the area. About twenty years ago, a group of tourists was exploring Lower Antelope Canyon and were caught in a flash flood, never to be seen again. Since that time, the Navajo Nation has instituted better security and limited site access to reduce the likelihood of these accidents. The first gallery below is from my most recent visit to Lower Antelope Canyon in June, 2012. Antelope Canyon is very beautiful and you won’t be disappointed with a visit there. My kids still talk about it! The colors and smooth carvings are entrancing, and it’s relatively easy to move about.

South of Escalante, Utah, in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, there are several accessible slot canyons, but it takes a little doing to get to them. They’re many miles in the wilderness, on rough gravel roads, and then there’s a mile or two or three hike to get to these slot canyons. But, the hikes are worth it (particularly if you take the shorter routes…).  We visited Spooky and Peek-a-boo Slot Canyons in one day, which are located in Upper Coyote Gulch. Spooky was VERY narrow – I barely could squeeze through in several sections and there were many visitors on the day we were there, creating traffic jams in the slot. I don’t have any good photographs from it because of how narrow and crowded it was. Nearby is a totally different looking slot canyon – Peek-a-boo. It is slightly wider and has a few arches overhead that give it quite a different feel.

A day later, we were back in the National Monument and visited Tunnel Slot Canyon and Zebra Slot Canyon; they are found to the side of Harris Wash. (If you want to find these slot canyons for yourself, just google them or check out the photographs on Google Earth; or, just write to me!). Parking for the hike to these two slots is just off of Hole in the Rock Road; however, if you’ve mismanaged your research, you also can drive to a different location in Harris Wash and then make a MUCH longer hike to them (not recommended, particularly if your family is along). Tunnel Slot is a relatively short slot canyon, narrow and dark. It’s so narrow at the top that not a whole lot of light gets down into it. Much of the light comes from the ends, which makes for some difficult photography.

About a mile northwest of Tunnel Slot is Zebra Slot. This is a narrow slot canyon and very different from Tunnel Slot – it’s open and well lit. The sidewalls show beautifully variegated sandstone layers with moqui marble inclusions. Similar to the Antelope Canyon system, it is just enthralling to be there and to think about the geology and how long it has taken to carve this fantastic place.

From here on, I’ll just let the photographs speak for themselves – enjoy.




I’m signing off…


Posted in Arizona, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, slot canyon, Utah Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

The Wave

[landscapephotograph description=”Panoramic view of The Wave in all its glory!” photoname=”The Wave” photo=”” photourl=”″][/landscapephotograph]



I’ve always been interested in science and the natural world, as well as reading. One day, likely in the mid-1970s, I opened a book and found a photograph of this amazing geological formation somewhere in the American southwest. I was mesmerized by this photograph. At that time, there wasn’t a lot of information on the location of this sandstone formation or how to get there – life before the internet. But, that image was burned into my memory.

At some later point in my life, as well as with the growth of the internet, my consciousness came back to this sandstone beauty. I found that it was called “The Wave,” and that it was somewhere in the middle of nowhere in northern Arizona. The more that I searched about The Wave, learned about it and viewed more photographs of it, it became sort of an obsession, which is typical of a nature and landscape photographer. We all have these lists of places that we must visit and photograph. The internet and various travel guides have increased awareness of The Wave to the point that obtaining a permit is even more difficult than it was ten years ago (and, yes, I’m contributing to that difficulty by writing this piece).

And, dreams do turn into realities. The dream of visiting and the result of all of this research is eventually getting to see The Wave and a host of other beautiful, natural locations. I’ve been fortunate to be able to visit “The Wave” on three different occasions.

The Wave is a natural formation of folded sandstone that used to be wind-blown sand dunes. The sand eventually was cemented into place and natural geological forces folded and eroded the sandstone into the beautiful shapes that we see today. The Wave is also a relatively small geological feature situated in an area called North Coyote Buttes that offers a great many opportunities for hiking, photography and amazement.

In a break with my usual style, I’m placing two slideshows here for your enjoyment. If you’re inclined to learn more about how to obtain a permit to visit The Wave, then by all means, keep reading! The first slideshow is from my 2013 visit, while the second slideshow is our most recent 2015 visit.






Getting to The Wave is not difficult, but it’s definitely not easy. The most difficult and frustrating part of seeing The Wave is getting a permit from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The Wave is found in an area called the Paria Canyon/Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness Area of southern Utah and northern Arizona. The Wave is also extremely fragile, as you might guess, so the BLM limits the number of daily visitors to reduce the wear and tear on this spectacular site, as well as to provide visitors an outstanding wilderness experience. While many folks like to visit large crowded cities on their vacations, it’s also nice to have remote, quiet and intimate wilderness opportunities for the rest of us.

Let’s get back to that difficult part of getting a permit. The BLM allows up to twenty people per day to visit North Coyote Buttes and The Wave. There are two ways to obtain these highly prized and difficult to procure permits. The “easier” way is to apply to the BLM’s online lottery. This way is easier because you can do it from home in front of your computer. You apply for your permits about five months in advance of when you hope to visit The Wave. For example, if you want to visit in April, then you apply during the previous December. The BLM holds a lottery on the first day of the fourth month before you’d like to visit; in my example, the lottery would be held on January 1st and you’ll be notified by email whether you received a permit or not. Through the online lottery, BLM distributes ten of the twenty permits it offers. The advantage of this system to you is that you’ll know in advance whether you’ve been extremely lucky to obtain a permit. The bad news is that for these ten daily permits, there are typically 200 or more requests for those few permits, which means that your chances of getting one of those permits is about 1% or less – yeah, not great odds. You’re permitted to request up to three different days in your lottery entry, so that might seem to increase your odds, but then, everyone gets to pick three days. I’ve also heard of some “tricks” to increase your chances of winning a permit, but the odds are still stacked against you. I’ve only known one or two people who have earned a permit through the online lottery; I’ve applied to the online lottery four or five times and never earned a permit in this way.

The other way to obtain a permit is to enter the “in-person” lottery that is now held at the BLM’s Interagency Visitor Center in Kanab, Utah. To be clear, the BLM distributes the remaining ten permits through this process and these permits are good for the following day (i.e., tomorrow, not the day of the lottery). The first time that I attempted to visit The Wave, this lottery was held at a different location (the BLM’s Paria Contact Station). My wife and I entered the lottery and didn’t receive permits, but the BLM staff kindly told us that there were still permits available to visit a similarly beautiful area known as South Coyote Buttes, so we went there. (Permits for South Coyote Buttes are now becoming increasingly difficult to obtain through the same two lotteries; the information that I’m providing for North Coyote Buttes/The Wave lotteries also apply to the South Coyote Buttes permit lotteries.) When we applied at the in-person lottery, there were maybe fifteen to twenty total people requesting permits. The second time that I planned a Utah/Arizona trip with the hope of visiting The Wave (June, 2010), I applied online for a permit (no luck) and then entered the in-person lottery. Again, there were fifteen to twenty applicants and I scored! The weather was extremely pleasant and this was truly a happy moment in my life.

On my attempt to visit The Wave in November, 2013, I applied online (again, no luck), and then entered the in-person lottery in Kanab. I again drew a permit in the lottery, but this time there must have been thirty or forty applicants, so I felt very lucky. I also savored the experience even more because I did more research about the area and found some other gems in the vicinity of The Wave, like Top Rock Arch.

My latest visit to The Wave was also the luckiest. Again, no luck with the online lottery, but that wasn’t surprising. We visited southern Utah during Spring Break, 2015. Unfortunately for us, Utah’s schools were also on spring break at the same time. Places that I had visited in the past where I was all alone were “swarming” with people (OK, in my case, swarming means that there were twenty to thirty people). We entered the in-person lottery at Kanab on two successive days, because that’s all the time that we had for visiting the area. The first day the BLM’s “lottery room” was full and overflowing. We heard that there had been requests for ~170 permits a day or two before, and the first day that we applied, there were about sixty requests applications requesting about 150 permits (you’re permitted to request up to four permits on a single lottery application, I believe). Yes, the odds were terrible and we weren’t too disappointed when we didn’t get a permit. But, it was exciting to see a mother and daughter squeal with delight when they earned their first permits after learning that this was about their tenth application to the in-person lottery! When you participate in the in-person lottery you really have to set your goals low (as in, I’ll not receive a permit) and also enjoy the good luck of others when they receive their permits.

We applied again on the following day. Our odds were slightly better, as there were “only” about forty applications for about 130 permit requests. What was interesting about this trip to the lottery is that the BLM does seem to be very strict about it’s policy of allowing one application per group of applicants. It wasn’t apparent on our first visit to the lottery, but on our second attempt the woman running the lottery was clearly reviewing the applications and she disqualified two groups of applicants who had two applications each. That meant that our odds increased – if only slightly. And, after watching one permit be awarded, then two more permits, and then two more permits, we knew that our likelihood of getting our four permits with our draw was pretty low – but we did! ELATION!

So, here’s one “trick” that I can offer for improving your odds at The Wave lottery – apply for yourself only, whether in-person or online. Plan on a solo visit. It might seem a little odd, but there are quite a few applications who are requesting multiple permits. Once the first five, six, seven permits have been awarded, then the multi-permit applications are less likely to take their permit(s) if they are lucky in the lottery. Why? Because the participants with a multi-permit application want to go as a group so that all or none can enjoy the experience. Yes, those multi-permit, in-person applications might choose to take the remaining permits and figure out how to distribute them amongst themselves, but more often it seems that they decline to take their permits – all or none. So, after those first few in-person permits have been awarded, your chances for an individual request increase because the multi-permit applicants will decline their opportunity. I know, it ‘s not a lot of solace, but it’s some. And, the same logic applies to the online lottery – if there are only three permits remaining, then an application for four permits can’t win.

After you’ve finally won the lottery celebrate and then continue your planning and preparation. And, here’s a bit of help to get you prepared before you get there. This site has quite a bit of good information on The Wave and the general area of the Colorado Plateau = TheWave.Info

With the popularity of The Wave increasing, the number of unprepared visitors is also increasing. The Wave is a wilderness area. It’s about an hour drive from either Kanab, Utah or Page, Arizona. There are basically no services nearby, once you leave these main towns. The road to The Wave, House Rock Valley Road, is rough, rutted, and rocky, and passable by most vehicles when it’s dry. If it’s wet, the clay can become quite slippery. During our last visit at the lottery, we heard one group’s amazement that you couldn’t drive right up to The Wave! No, this is a desert wilderness and you’ll need to hike and be prepared for many eventualities. In the summer of 2013, an older couple hiked to The Wave and didn’t return – it was very hot, they likely didn’t have enough water, became disoriented and died. On our way out from our visit, a family of five was walking in to visit The Wave. They had heard about while vacationing in Kanab, didn’t realize that you needed permits (or, face a $500 citation if you’re caught without one), didn’t have maps and didn’t have nearly enough water for all of them – including their three year old twins. The route to The Wave is not marked – again, it’s wilderness. Be prepared. Bring a GPS or map and compass and know how to use them. I’m not providing directions here because the BLM will give them to you or there are much better resources on the internet.

But, once you get there, you’ll be amazed with what you see. My favorite part of my most recent visit was watching my family’s reaction when they entered the main amphitheater – priceless. And, on this trip, I found Melody Arch, which was spectacular, The Alcove and the Second Wave – there’s always something to discover in this area.

I hope that you enjoy your trip when you can finally get a permit!!! Please let me know when you get to visit!!!

OK, I’m signing off…


Posted in Arizona, desert, North Coyote Buttes, panorama, The Wave, Vermillion Cliffs Tagged , , , , , , |