Tag: national parks

Off the Beaten Path

Off the Beaten Path

Yesterday, four of us got together to hike in the national park. It wasn’t a usual hike for any of us because we explored an area that wasn’t a marked trail; it was an old roadbed. Before anyone loses their minds about how dangerous this was, let me share our gear configuration and hiking credentials: three of the four of us had Garmin In-Reach Mini’s, all of us had GPS apps on our smartphones and knew how to use them, all of us are very familiar with the area with over half our group being born here and growing up here, we were following a river and could see the main highway through the park consistently, and we are all experienced hikers. 

We followed an old roadbed that one of our group had seen, after a snowfall, from the main park road. Part of it was semi-maintained due to the power line that ran beside it; however, once the power line cut across the woods and over the paved road to a picnic area, the old roadbed was filled with downed trees, dog hobble patches, and small brush. It is still ‘maintained,’ but only by the elk and deer that use it. It was actually quite easy to see the roadbed as it was cut into the mountains, it was just challenging to navigate at times. 

Along the way we explored historical areas where homesites existed prior to the formation of the park. There were broken jars and bottles, tin wash tubs, enameled pots, parts of old vehicles scattered around the sites but there were also old foundations covered in moss and fascinating evidence of prior homesteads.

Perhaps the most interesting and beautiful finds were spring heads that were noted with stacked rocks. One in particular was absolutely lovely. There was evidence of a human-created run of stacked rocks lining the waterway from the spring. 

All through the national park there are clues to locations of old homesteads with particular vegetation that isn’t native including shrubs and flowers. This makes locating the sites easy. It’s important to not disturb or remove anything from the sites as they are historical and therefore protected by the park. But exploring these areas can be done without changing them or harming them and it’s quite fascinating.

The woman leading the hike is a former employee of the park, so she gave us a depth of experience, knowledge, and wisdom that made our exploration safer. I certainly wouldn’t recommend anyone do this kind of hike anywhere in the park unless they have significant knowledge of the area, maps, safety equipment, and a lot of hiking experience. Two retired park rangers have told me stories of rescuing people that had no clue where they were or anything about the area but kept moving further away from marked trails, some of which ended well and others, not so much. 

Our adventure reminded me of blue-lining in the park. I do this while fly fishing and it’s quite amazing to follow the creeks, leaving the trail at times, to follow the blue lines on the map rather than marked trails. Again, the key to success is having the knowledge of where the trail is, where the creek leads, and the safety equipment to make it work. And of course, knowing my physical ability, knowing the water level, weather, rain prediction, and how to get help if needed.

This isn’t written with the intention of getting anyone to go off the beaten path to explore historical sites or to follow a creek away from a trail; it is written to encourage people to get out of ruts in life, to explore new things and places, not only in Nature but within themselves. Be willing to try new things, learn new things, find ways to expand the known by touching the unknown. And doing it safely and with concern for their own and others well-being. 

Another unexpected part of our adventure was the snow, sleet, sunshine and general minute-by-minute changing weather. Due to high elevation snow, the main road through the park was closed. We couldn’t shuttle one of our vehicles to the exit point so we had to walk back to our point of origin. Since the park road was closed, we had an incredible adventure of a quiet, vehicle-free five mile walk back down the road. That, in itself, was amazing fun. So, after our off-the-beaten-path adventure, we walked down Highway 441 as snow and sleet bounced off our faces and an empty roadway, free of the usual speeding cars and trucks with burning brakes.

It was an epic day.