Trying not to enjoy the view along the Apache Trail

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Apache Trail. (c) 2017 J.S.Reinitz

From the Phoenix-Mesa area, there are two ways to reach the secluded cliff dwellings that are the Tonto National Monument. There is the counterclockwise route, cutting south of Superstition Mountain on Highway 60, an easy going, paved road that passes through Miami, darts west just before the mining town of Globe on Highway 188 and reaches the caves in 78 miles. 

Safe and sound.

But getting a real feel for the land means taking the northern route on Highway 88, known as the Apache Trail. While the 40-mile trail is shorter, the going is slower, and you might as well a century away.

Just past the tourist stop of Torrilla Flat, the pavement gives way to parched dirt road that winds along the cliffs and gullies carved by the Salt River and its tributaries over eons. The sometimes single-lane path is known for narrowing at curves, creating a bottleneck between a cactus-infested cliff wall for traffic on one side and thereat of a tragic plunge for traffic on the other. Some recreational vehicle rental companies prohibit their customers from exploring this road in their behemoths.

Don’t get me wrong. There are some level, low-altitude straightaways with no danger of rolling down a rocky cliff. These portions are usually marked with flash flood warning signs.

The trail had been a Native American path and old stagecoach route that was shored up in the early 1900s to transport supplies to dam projects along the Salt, according to relatives, Wiki and local tourism websites.

We opted to take the Apache Trail on our return trip from the cliff ruins partly because I wanted to stop at Tortilla Flat, but mostly because I had forgotten how slow and arduous the journey is — especially on the return route. Driving to the Tonto National Monument on the Apache Trail you get the wall side of the road, driving back you get the plummet side.

Sure, the view was spectacular. At least that’s what my passengers told me. The sights shouldn’t be enjoyed by the person behind the steering wheel, at least not for very long.

We did meet an oncoming, full-size, pull-behind travel trailer dragged by a heavy duty pickup that had a gigantic stainless steel gas grill in the backbox. We pulled over, inching toward the ledge so he could have enough room to pass.

Trip shot: Walking under waterfalls

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Middle North Falls, Silver Falls State Park, Oregon

Silver Falls State Park has 10 waterfalls tucked into a lush 9,000-acre rainforest in north central Oregon. Three of the more spectacular falls are accessible by car. South Falls, North Falls and Winter Falls all have their own designated parking lots. To get to the remaining seven, you have to hoof it down dirt trails, up hills, over creeks and past cliffs. Ten waterfalls in a seven-mile loop. The cool part: You get to walk behind some of them.

My 13-year-old son and I stuffed granola bars and rain gear into our hydration packs and took off counterclockwise down the path, keeping a good pace to be mindful of our non-hiking companions who planned to mill around the main South Falls complex with its lodge snack bar and gift shop (cool purchase: trail map on a micro fiber lens cloth). I handed my son an orienteering compass and the paper map so he could practice his navigation skills. To shave off two miles and three falls, we took a shortcut at Winter Falls. So, seven waterfalls in about five miles.


Drake Falls, apparently a 27-foot drop

The first one we came to was Winter, which was unimpressive at the time, only a slight trickle. It was summer, so perhaps Winter Falls is more of a winter waterfalls. From there we darted north, crossed the north fork of Silver Creek and followed it downstream to Middle North Falls. Again, this wasn’t at full flow but had more water falling compared to Winter. We took the side path behind the falls, taking in a little of the spray and ending up under a cave-like overhang on the other side.

Back on the main path, we passed Drake, Lower North and Double Falls, skirting some cliffs and a viewing deck. After crossing the north fork again and waiting out a short bottleneck of hikers (some in flipflops), we followed the creek for another mile before we made a miscalculation at the confluence with the south fork where the trail split.

On paper, the Maple Ridge Trail is only one mile, compared to the 1.3 mile west branch of the Canyon Trail, with both trails ending at the trailhead. Again considering the non-hiking folk who were into hour two of milling around, we opted for the shorter Maple route. Which turned out to be uphill, and uphill, and uphill some more. Switchback after switchback. Figuring in the time to make the elevation gain and the rest breaks, the Maple trail probably took as long as the longer Canyon trail, but the Canyon trail probably had a better view.

From there, the hike ended at the centerpiece South Falls, which also boasts a walking path underneath.

More on Silver Falls from Oregon State Parks.


Video: Marsh kayaking

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(C)2016 J.S.Reinitz

Rivers around here have been a bit too harsh as of late. A massive storm unleashed flash flooding with creeks and streams overrunning their banks, covering roads and washing away cars, cattle, towns.

Amidst the devastation, I happened across a few unscheduled hours. And the one thing I wanted to do was take the kayak out. Luckily, there are a few lakes nearby that weren’t troubled by the downpours.
At one, I skimmed across the main pool and maneuvered into a backwater marsh where I cut through sometimes thick vegetation and floated past partially submerged trees to follow a small army of Canada geese.

Photos: Sunset ride on Cedar River

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Sunset on the Cedar River. (c)2016 J.S.Reinitz

Sunset on the Cedar River. (c)2016 J.S.Reinitz

You can’t let the heat keep you down, no matter how oppressive.

Ninety-something degrees with ninety-something humidity.

In the end you have to fill up the CamelBak with ice water, abandon the air conditioning and wade out into the thick air. Climb onto the bike and pedal, don’t worry about sweating. You are going to sweat and get winded.

Take the familiar route, up one side of the river and down the other. Ease into the rush of wind as you dart down the trail.

Because, in the end, you might forget the heat and humidity, but you won’t forget the sunset.

Photos: Abandoned cement tumblers

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Some people call them junk in the woods, but for me the abandoned cement tumblers are pieces of history.

I marched the kids and two of their friends out to the site a few weeks ago as spring was fighting to take hold. The tumblers were a great place to take a break, have some snacks and let the kids climb around and jump from one to the other.

The slightly rusty cylinders are relics from the days when the nature preserve was gravel and sand pits for a cement operation. The pits have since become lakes, and trees and vegetation have reclaimed the land. 


Urban kayaking

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Editor’s note: This entry is a little out of season. I finally got around to writing about a fall kayaking trip. Currently, it is 19 degrees Fahrenheit outside with 10 inches of freshly fallen snow.

I couldn’t help exploring the narrow tributary that flowed into the stream I was paddling. It was a shallow arm, and the banks were covered with thick vegetation. Holding the double-bladed kayak paddle horizontal, I could almost touch both sides.
This was definitely something I wanted to investigate.

As I made my way up the gentle, claustrophobic flow, I spooked a raft of ducks, which took flight. Further up, I had to duck under low, overhanging branches while rowing. Sometimes, reaching to the silty bottom and poling was required to move forward.

Eventually, the surrounding brush cleared, and I reached the source — a large concrete storm drain set in a flood control dike. 

Such is the fare of ubran kayaking.

The short trip had started on the Cedar River by the boathouse. I darted upstream, keenly aware of the dam downriver, and cut across the to the creek, which bisected the grounds of mile-long tractor plant. It meandered under a major road and then a busy highway with the roar of traffic spilling over from the bridges above. The cement bridge supports and undercarriage were decorated with the latest spray paint had to offer. Occasionally, I’d pass a partially submerged cement monolith of unknown origin or shredded lawn furniture on the banks next to a collection of drained beer cans, signs of someone’s secluded fishing spot in the middle of the city.

With my free time running out, I landed under another bridge and found what that I thought was hard-packed dirt was actually soft mud that started to envelop my sandals. Freeing myself from the muck, I turned back and started heading back to the boathouse.

Rail signal in the forest

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What happens when I find an old railroad signal platform in the woods?

If it’s not too rusty, I’m going climb it.

The weathered pole, complete with light housing, blended in with the trees, hiding until we were right next to it.

The fact it had a ladder made the decision to climb a no brainer, at least for me. My 8-year-old daughter took one look at the structure and decided to remain on the ground. Smart girl there.

From the looks of the elevation and the straightness, the path we had been following used to be a train track, and we had been seeing rotting wooden utility poles mixed in with the trees at regular intervals.

The narrow ladder proved to be sturdier than I expected, as was the top landing and thin guard rail. Sturdy stuff. They don’t make things like this any more. Neglected for decades and still strong as ever. The light housing opened like a mailbox, all of the internal wiring was gone, replaced by an abandoned bird’s nest.


Caves and waterfalls

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We spent last weekend exploring caves and waterfalls. And caves at the top of waterfalls, which meant climbing the waterfalls to get to the caves.

Which is how I ended up slipping and breaking a big toe. Not that it slowed me down much. In fact, here’s a list of things you can do on a broken toe before beginning to suspect the toe is broken:

— Climb back down a waterfall.

— Climb up the waterfall again.

— Climb part way down the waterfall trying to figure out where the kids wandered off to.

— Climb back up when realizing the kids are climbing up.

— Explore the tall, shallow cave at the top of the waterfall that starts with an icy spring.
— Climb down the waterfall. Keep in mind this is a Midwest waterfall, more like a stream running down a steep, rocky hill, and not a huge, roaring down a sheer cliff waterfall.
— Explore the ice cave. The ice cave was about half a mile away and offers some shade and natural air conditioning. The deeper reaches appear to have been closed off for now.
— Drive 90 minutes home.
— Get a weeks worth of groceries.

Happy returns

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(c) 2015 J.S.Reinitz

(c) 2015 J.S.Reinitz

The important thing about throwing a boomerang is the angle of takeoff. Throw high but not too high, and keep in mind it usually travels in a circle, and it will arch around and come in on you left, almost striking you if it’s a good throw.

My first introduction to the boomerang came in high school when my mom bought one at a sporting goods store. It was the classic angle made of easy-to-find red plastic. I hurled it around for a few summers before losing it on a trip to a lake in Minnesota.

Recently, I picked up a modern design, a rubbery triangle with swept points, also in easy-to-find red. I imagine the soft material is to limit damage to people and property.

During trips to the park, I’ve been honing my technique. There was a spectacular throw that landed about five feet from the launch and a few where I jumped to the side to avoid being hit as it returned, but most of the time it grounds before completing the loop.

Today, my son learned that trees can interfere with good boomerang technique. Particularly a tall tree with a straight trunk that repels any climbing effort and leafy branches that can catch and keep airborne objects. My wife found a slice of toy cake, like part of a kitchen playset, in the park, so we took turns whipping the plastic cake (chocolate topped with a strawberry) at the boomerang stuck in the tree. After awhile, we gave up.

Later, my daughter and I returned and fashioned a crude grapple out of a length of low-grade paracord and a steel bolt. I spent the next 20 minutes practicing my grapple-tossing technique. A group of live-action role players pretended not to notice that I was doing anything odd lassoing the tree, and I pretended not to notice that they were doing anything odd beating each other about the head with foam swords.

Another guy came up and offered to go home and get his climbing gear and told me how he lost a model rocket in the same park. I declined the climbing gear, whatever that entailed, and shortly after he walked off, the grapple caught the correct branch and held. I grabbed the cord and pulled hard to shake the branch, and the boomerang fell to earth.

Video: Paddleboarding With Sharks


It’s a little too late for Shark Week, but I wanted to share this video. The best parts come when he dips the camera underwater, the first time of which is 25 seconds in. It was shot in June off of Huntington Beach, California.

Gator Hike, in comic form

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We took the kids on a short hike at Lake Apopka. A boardwalk trail leads from the Oakland Nature Preserve, past ferns, palms and Spanish-moss laden trees to the lake. Our 12-year-old son spotted three baby alligators swimming around by the dock.

Kiln ruins

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It’s not often that I have to caution my son to rein in some feat of potentially dangerous exploration. He’s usually a pretty safe 12 year old. Sure, there are plenty of times I chime in when he’s about to undertake something dangerous in the name of stupidity, but usually he’s smart when it comes to taking chances.

That’s where I found myself last week as he was about to top the roof of the remnents of an old bee hive kiln that was left almost forgotten in a forest. Nothing says “come closer” than a crumbling building in the woods, and nothing says “climb me” like an ancient iron ladder.

We discovered the ruins during a hot day of fossil hunting when we decided to take shelter from the sun and headed for a copse of trees on the edge of the open pit quarry we had been exploring. Seeking thicker folliage cover, we followed a small path deeper into the trees, past piles of discarded drainage tile shards and a mangled bicycle frame until we noticed the buildings peeking through the vegitation.

When my son mounted the ladder, which was part of the kiln’s outer wall, I was ok with climbing to the safe-looking catwalk that ringed the structure. I figured, if it gave out, it was a short distance to the ground below. But a fall from the roof would mean a longer drop and include crumbling brick debris. After a short debate, he took my advice, and we walked the catwalk without incident.

There had originally been 16 of the two-story domed kilns, lined up in rows on the outskirts of the small river town. At its peak, the plant quarried rock and baked brick and tile. I couldn’t determine when it shut down, but the local county government got the land in 1991 and turned it into a park, allowing fossil hunting in the Devonian-era sediment. Collecting is easy because layers didn’t turn to hard stone.

All that remains of the brick operation are four beehive kilns — three in good shape with some apparent effforts at preservation or possibly restoration, and the fourth a litte further back, deeper into the trees and covered in plant life.

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