Given its name—Petrified Forest National Park—of course you would expect to find one of the world’s largest concentrations of wood that has turned to stone, but did you know that this northeastern Arizona park offers much more—ancient petroglyphs, pueblo ruins, dinosaur fossils, a national historic landmark, colorfully striated rock formations—and it is the only national park to protect a part of historic Route 66. That’s a lot of claims to fame! You can drive through the park in a couple of hours and admire the scenery through the windshield, or choose a developed hiking trail or two (remember your gaiters!) and get up close and personal with the park’s colorful past.
So as not to miss any highlights, stop first at the Painted Desert Visitor Center as you enter the park from Interstate 40 and watch the 20-minute orientation movie. Or stop at the Rainbow Forest Museum if you enter the park from the south off Highway 180. Once armed with a visitor map and an understanding of this special place that became a national park in 1962, you’re set to take full advantage of the plentiful pull-offs and designated scenic stops. Don’t be surprised if the first question you are asked when inside the park is if you have any petrified wood already with you. Claim it if you do. Theft of this limited resource is taken very seriously by the park service.
Flanking the 28-mile paved park road is arid Painted Desert scenery of mostly colorful sandstone and scrub. Depending on the time of day, you’ll see deep lavenders and rich grays, reds, oranges and pinks. The hues are especially brilliant at sunset. The Teepees and Blue Mesa loop drive are some of the prettiest clay and sandstone formations in the park. The Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest are really one in the same. They have the same rock layers, plants, animals, and fossils, but the Painted Desert is a vast landscape that stretches from here to Grand Canyon National Park. Even though it’s named the Painted Desert, it is hard to believe that the ecosystem here is not officially classified as desert. It's actually one of the largest areas of intact grassland in the Southwest.
What’s even harder to believe as you look out over the seemingly barren dry terrain, is that during the Triassic Period 225 million years ago, 200-foot tall conifer trees grew along the banks of many streams and that giant amphibians, small dinosaurs, and lush ferns thrived here. Slowly but surely that tropical environment changed, but luckily much of the plant and animal life was fossilized during the process. As the stately trees fell into the swamplands, they were covered buried beneath layers of silt. Over time, chemical reactions occurred and tiny quartz crystals formed, encasing the wood and turning the trees to stone. In fact, petrified wood is so hard, you can only cut it with a diamond tipped saw!
Thanks to millions of years of erosion and changes in the earth’s pressure, the logs once again saw the light of day, but in a completely different form—colorful petrified wood. The rainbow effects do not result from the type of wood, but from the chemistry of the petrifying groundwater. Iron oxides give petrified wood its red, yellow, and orange hues. Manganese oxides produce blues, purples, and deep blacks; the original carbon produces shades of gray.
Just two miles down the road from the Painted Desert Visitor Center is the Painted Desert Inn National Historic Landmark. Built in 1924, the adobe-style structure doesn’t look like much from the outside, but it once served as a trading post and restaurant for travelers along historic Arizona Route 66. In the late 1930s, it was enlarged and extensively remodeled by the Civilian Conservation Corp, and features a blend of Spanish and Indian styles and designs. Look overhead in the Trading Post room to see hand-painted glass skylights based on ancient southwestern Indian pottery motifs, and hammered-tin chandeliers follow Mexican designs. The wall murals in the lunch room and dining room were painted in the late 1940s by Fred Kabotie, a Hopi Indian artist. The murals tie the ancestral Puebloan people of the region to the Hopi people of the 1940s and today. While Painted Desert Inn gained status as a National Historic Landmark primarily due to its architecture, the murals of Fred Kabotie made a significant impact on the nomination.
Don’t miss the park’s Puerco Pueblo ruins, where you’ll see evidence along an easy .3 mile loop trail of the Indians who lived in the area as early as A.D. 1100. Agate House at the south entrance of the park is another small pueblo you can see from a two-mile trail. Over 500 archeological sites lie scattered throughout Petrified Forest, but most are inaccessible in the backcountry. Puerco Pueblo may have been home to about 200 people and contained over 100 rooms. Archeologists say it used to be a one-story village built around a rectangular plaza. Without doors or windows in the exterior walls of the pueblo, entry into the village was by ladders over the exterior wall and across the log, brush, and mud roofs of the room blocks. Rooms around the plaza were used for storage and as living quarters. Within the plaza, three underground, rectangular kivas have been identified. It is thought that an extended drought around A.D. 1380 forced the inhabitants of Puerco to move elsewhere, leaving behind pottery fragments, stone tools, and petroglyphs (rock carvings).
In addition to the glyphs along the south end of the Puerco Ruin Trail, Newspaper Rock has an unusually dense concentration of well-preserved mysterious carvings. Newspaper Rock must be admired from a distance (spotting scopes available at the viewpoint), whereas you get a much closer view of glyphs along the Puerco Ruin Trail. Desert varnish is a dark, thin coating of iron or manganese that slowly forms on the rock surface. Petroglyphs are made by chipping through this coating to reveal the lighter rock beneath. No one knows for sure what the symbols mean. Are they calendars, depictions of daily life, directions to something, or maybe just ancient graffiti? If you visit enough petroglyph sites throughout your travels, you’ll start to see patterns emerge— some of the same dots, squiggles, footprints, handprints, animal-like figures, and more appear repeatedly so perhaps they mean the same thing no matter their location.
Crystal Forest, Giant Logs Trail, and the Long Logs Trail showcase the best and largest concentrations of petrified wood in the park. The petrification process preserved each tree a little differently, depending on the environmental conditions when it fell, so no two pieces are alike. Some of the logs look so real you’d think they were only recently cut down— the wood grain has been preserved in detail and the pieces are as symmetrical and sharp as those made by a saw blade. Other logs barely resemble wood at all, especially the prettier pieces. Some of the colors are so amazing you’d swear the logs were man-made and had never been a living tree. The Crystal Forest loop is paved and .75-mile long with interpretive signs along the way and a covered observation area. “Old Faithful” sits at the top of the Giant Logs Trail and is almost 10 feet across the base. The Giant Logs and Long Logs Trails are located at the Rainbow Forest Museum area at the very south end of the park.
If you want to take home a little petrified wood as a souvenir, be sure to buy it at the gift shop. Removal of petrified wood (or any natural or cultural object) is strictly prohibited and punishable by federal law. You’ll be reminded of this over and over again on park signs and in brochures, but for good reason. Over the years, most of the petrified wood that was originally found in this area has been damaged or stolen. So unless Mother Nature reveals more through erosion, what you see now must remain for future visitors.
In 2018, a coalition of organizations working on global health and tropical medicine around the world, including Health Action International, launched the first-ever International Snakebite Awareness Day— September 19— to raise awareness of the huge, yet mostly unrecognized, global impact of snakebite. The launch of International Snakebite Awareness Day aims to raise awareness of the huge, yet mostly unrecognized, global impact of snakebite. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that between 81,000 and 138,000 people around the world die each year from snakebite and up to 400,000 are left permanently disabled or disfigured, as a result of being bitten by venomous snakes. Snakebites kill at least 40 times more people each year than land mines and leave at least 60 times more people with severe and permanent disabilities. In the United States, an average of 7,500 people are bitten each year.
In 2017, the World Health Organization added snakebite envenoming to its list of highest priority Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) and in May this year the 71st World Health Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution calling on the governments of the world and the WHO to tackle the problem. In some countries such as Central African Republic, it takes a monumental effort to get appropriate medical care to the communities who need it the most. Whether it’s because of cost, distance, or lack of trust in western medicine, rural communities in the global majority simply do not currently receive the proper medical care after a snakebite. It is estimated that only 2% of people bitten by venomous snakes in sub-Saharan Africa have access to quality antivenom treatment.To make matters even worse, it will take years to implement the necessary steps that will bring medical care to these communities, who desperately need it today.
In the United States, snake bite victims are much luckier than in other countries because we have access to efficient medical care. Medicines known as antivenoms are the only effective treatment for snakebite. Quality anti venoms can prevent or reverse most of the effects caused by snake venom, saving lives. Until the day comes when all snakebite issues around the world have been solved, prevention is the first step in stopping this snakebite crisis. Being aware is a good thing. For example, the venom from a cottonmouth or copperhead rarely kills, although during the time spent recovering from the bite you might wish you were dead! The pain can be unbearable. Another particularly venomous species is the timber rattlesnake.
Sometimes hikers are not sure that they have been bitten. A snake fang puncture might not go all the way through your shoe or pants even if you are struck. You might feel "something" and perhaps even glimpse "something" moving away through the weeds. You may not hear a rattle. But a pair of puncture marks at the wound is definitely a sign of a venomous snake bite, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Symptoms of a bite can include redness or swelling, severe pain, nausea and vomiting, labored breathing, disturbed vision, increased salivation and sweating, and numbness or tingling in the face or limbs. The CDC says to seek medical attention immediately, to try to remember the snake's color and shape IF you see it, and to keep still and calm to slow the spread of any venom. While waiting on medical help, lie or sit down with the bite below the level of the heart, wash the bite with soap and water and cover it with a clean, dry dressing. It is not recommended to take steps such as applying a tourniquet or attempting to suck out the venom, according to the CDC.
Prevention is always the safest and easiest route to avoid being bitten by a rattlesnake, so be proactive and wear snake gaiters whenever you are working or just having fun in snake country!
Although kids heading back to school and the calendar tells us that summer is officially winding down, encounters with snakes are not. Drought conditions, triple-digit temperatures, and other factors mean you still need to be very aware of the potential to see snakes, especially if you’re enjoying the outdoors in the late evening. Pit vipers such as Copperheads, Cottonmouths, and Rattlesnakes are not necessarily more active later in the day, you just might not see them as well now that the amount of sunlight each day is getting shorter, and the light is not as bright. When out in the evenings, carry a flashlight and watch where you put your hands and feet and watch where you sit down. Also avoid walking close to bushes or crevices with large holes.
Reports of snake encounters have been particularly high in Texas and California. Texas is home to over 105 different species and subspecies of snakes; about 15 of those are potentially dangerous to humans. It seems that drought conditions, especially in the Golden State, result in an abundance of rattlesnakes. The California Fish and Wildlife Department reports that rattlers are coming up from their outback burrows and are sighted in backyards and parks much more often than ever before.
Medical experts advise that if you are bitten by a snake, forget everything you learned from old Western movies— do NOT use a tourniquet, make an incision, or try to suck out the poison. A rattlesnake bite should be taken very seriously. Call 911 immediately or get to a medical facility! The faster you can get treatment, the better the outcome. The sooner you can get medical attention the sooner they can activate the system needed to get sufficient quantities of anti-venom to treat your bite. After that, the best but the hardest thing to do is try to remain calm. Avoid getting your heart rate up, which spreads the venom throughout your body faster.
The same advice goes for pets if they are bitten. "The sooner the animal gets treatment, the more than likely it's going to survive," said a veterinarian in El Paso, Texas. “There is an antivenin available, but it’s extremely expensive. The effectiveness depends of the size of the dog and the amount of venom injected by the snake. A dose of antivenin for pets can cost more than $1,000." The cost of Crofab— the human antivenin— in some cases can cost more than $10,000!
So no matter what the calendar might be telling us, keep in mind rattlesnakes are still in full force right now. They won’t go into hibernation in most areas for two or three more months. Whenever you’re out and about in snake country, or working in wooded areas or weeds, don't take a chance — wear snake gaiters. As with many things in life, prevention is your best bet.
A trip to eastern Oregon’s John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is like visiting three parks in one. Divided into “units” — Sheep Rock, Clarno, and Painted Hills — and covering 14,000 acres, you’ll find each unit surprisingly distinct. The park itself is named for a river and not a man, but John Day was a real person who arrived in Oregon from Virginia in 1812. Mr. Day, however, is not known to have visited this area.
As the park’s name implies, fossils are the focus here, and every summer the park's paleontology staff collects, identifies, prepares, and preserves rare fossil specimens found throughout the park. Scientists also collect soil and rock samples to better understand the ancient ecosystems and climates of eastern Oregon. As you look around at today’s near desert environment, it’s hard to believe that 50 million years ago crocodiles and palm trees flourished her.
Sheep Rock Unit. The Sheep Rock Unit is named for the big horn sheep that live in the area, and a 1,100-foot high rock formation also bears the same name. The Thomas Condon Paleontology Center is the only visitor center at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, so be sure to stop here. Located on Highway 19 between the towns of Dayville and Kimberly, it’s just two miles from the junction of Highway 26 and Highway 19. Named for an Oregon minister and self-trained scientist, Thomas Condon was the first person to identify the John Day fossil basin as a world-class paleontological area. Mr. Condon began excavating fossils here in 1865, and in recognition of his scientific successes, was appointed the first Oregon State Geologist in 1872. Today, the Paleontology Center displays hundreds of fossils, and corresponding wall murals depict what some of the ancient animals must have looked like. You can also watch paleontologists working in the lab, and a hands-on area makes learning especially fun for kids.
One-quarter mile down the road from the Paleontology Center is the Cant Ranch Historical Museum. It serves as the monument headquarters and contains indoor and outdoor exhibits. James and Elizabeth Cant were Scottish immigrants who bought 700 acres in 1910, and built the house in 1917. In addition to raising four children, they raised wheat, alfalfa, and were sheep ranchers. The Cants were known to host many social events and often had house guests. The local schoolteacher even lived with the family and taught school in the third floor attic for a time. Photos and furnishings inside the house, and remnants of farm equipment outside, give you a good idea of how the Cant family lived.
Clarno Unit. To reach the Clarno Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, head 18 miles west of the town of Fossil along Oregon’s 286-mile Journey Through Time Scenic Byway. Although it’s a near-desert environment today, had you visited 44 million years ago, you would have seen a jungle-like landscape inhabited by tiny four-toed horses, huge rhino-like creatures, and crocodiles. Volcanoes would have towered in the background. The Palisades is the most striking feature in the 1,969-acre Clarno Unit and is a remnant of the ancient volcanoes. The spires were formed by volcanic mudflows called lahars. The red, buff, and beige layers are known as tuff (a rock formed of compacted volcanic fragments). The greenish rock contains celadonite, a mineral in high iron content. Each layer has a unique chemical composition and color, depending on the time of the various volcanic eruptions.
For a closer look, stop at the Clarno Palisades picnic area. Three different quarter-mile hiking trails lead from here to the base of the cliffs. To see plant and nut fossils embedded in rocks, take the Trail of the Fossils. You won’t find dinosaur fossils here, though, because this part of the country was beneath the Pacific Ocean during the time of the dinosaurs. Petrified logs are visible in the cliff face of the Clarno Arch Trail, and interpretive signs along the Geologic Time Trail denote pre-historic events of the last 50 million years. Each foot of this trail represents 37,000 years! Keep in mind that you’re in rattlesnake country. If you see a snake, just back away slowly to let them know you mean no harm. But it's best to be on the safe side and wear snake gaiters— don't take a chance!
Painted Hills Unit. Nine miles northwest of Mitchell, Oregon just off Highway 26, the aptly-named Painted Hills Unit of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is over 3,000 acres of scenic beauty. If you enjoy wildflowers— pink prairie clover, purple penstemon, yellow bells, white bitterroot, and many others—the best time to visit is late April or early May. But even if you miss peak bloom season, the vividly-hued layers of volcanic ash are amazing year-round. Contrasted by green sagebrush, the red, gold, beige, and black hummocks make for great photos, and the changing light and moisture content ensures these hills never look the same way twice.
The unique colors of the Painted Hills were formed by volcanic eruptions that sent clouds of ash over much of Central Oregon. Over time, layers of ash formed with different minerals, which led to the bands of color seen today. As the climate here changed, the layers of ash were covered by water and formed the bottom of a lakebed. After millennia, the lake eventually dried up, allowing wind and rain to erode and carve it into mounds. The black soil comes from the vegetation that once grew on the edge of the lake, and the red coloring attests to the fact that the area was once warm and humid. After exposure to air and water, the minerals in the volcanic ash oxidized and transformed into a kaleidoscope of claystone.
Although there are several trails, hikers should not walk on the Painted Hills themselves. The clay is very susceptible to erosion and damage. Stick to the boardwalk on the Painted Cove Trail, and to designated dirt trails elsewhere. Gaiters for hiking will help with the dust, but it's best to wear Snake Gaiters when wandering anywhere in Oregon's high desert areas.
Seeing that famous tower shape jutting into the northeastern Wyoming sky, you can’t help but remember the 1977 sci-fi film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. But as soon as you start hiking the trails around Devils Tower National Monument, thoughts of alien spaceships are quickly forgotten. The distinctive 867-foot monolith and surrounding scenic countryside easily capture your attention without the help of Hollywood.
Located where the pine forests of the Black Hills meet the rolling prairie grasslands and meandering Belle Fourche River, the monument’s proper name is actually Devils Tower, not Devil’s Tower (a clerical error on early governmental paperwork mistakenly omitted the apostrophe). The name was derived from the Native Americans who referred to it as "the bad god's tower." Believing that "the devil’s tower" was a better English translation, US Army Colonel Richard Dodge recorded it as such in his journal and official documents while escorting a scientific team into the Black Hills region in 1875.
Long before then, however, Northern Plains Indian tribes called their sacred worship site Mateo Teepee (Bear Lodge). Some Indian tribes prefer that the tower and the region still be called Bear Lodge, which is consistent with the legend of its creation. According to one story, a giant bear tried to attack seven girls while they were playing in the area. The girls climbed onto a rock and begged the Great Spirit for rescue from the bear. The rock then rose upward, carrying the girls to safety while the bear clawed at the sides of the rock, leaving the hundreds of deep vertical furrows that you see today.
Hollywood might lead us to believe that Devils Tower was created as a landing platform for extraterrestrials, but geologists have more plausible theories. Some think it is an eroded remnant of a laccolith, a mass of igneous rock that pushed through sedimentary rock but did not actually reach the surface and instead produced a rounded bulge. Other scientists speculate it might be the neck of a small volcano. No one has a definite answer as to how Devils Tower was exactly formed, but perhaps it’s the mystery that makes the Monument even more interesting.
Several trails take hikers up close to the unique rock formation, but the 5,000 or so hard-core climbers who scale its challenging walls each summer achieve a much loftier perspective. Wondering what it’s like at the top? The peak is covered in sagebrush and grass and provides an all-encompassing view from 5,112 feet above sea level! If you’d rather not get roped into anything yourself, just take binoculars along on the paved 1.3-mile loop Tower Trail and live a little vicariously. The mostly shaded peaceful trail encircles the base of the tower and provides good views of climbers clinging precipitously to the rock face. Interpretive exhibits and benches along the way make this a most popular trail. For those seeking a more traditional hiking experience, strap on Razer Hiking Gaiters to protect your pants and legs, and hit the 2.8-mile loop Red Beds Trail that will offer great views of the Tower and surrounding Belle Fourche River valley. Along the north boundary of the park is a 1.5-mile loop trail that follows Joyner Ridge and dips down into the draw below the ridge. One of the more scenic but less utilized trails in the park, Joyner Ridge Trail provides beautiful views of the Tower, especially around sunset. A half-mile connector trail links Joyner Ridge with Red Beds. Maps and additional hiking trail information is available at the Visitor Center.
If you like wildlife on the small side, you won’t be disappointed. A colony of lively black-tailed prairie dogs can be seen right from the main road. Their burrows are elaborate underground networks of interconnecting tunnels with multiple entrance holes, so they literally pop up all over the place! Named for their bark-like calls that sound more like high-pitched squeaks, the entertaining little prairie dogs really aren’t dogs at all. They are rodents closely related to ground squirrels and chipmunks. Wild turkeys, deer, rabbits, many species of birds, and porcupines also inhabit Devils Tower National Monument. Sorry, no little green men have been spotted since Steven Spielberg and his film crew cleared out 40+ years ago!
Devils Tower has also made history outside of the movies. In September 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt established the rock formation and surrounding 1,347 acres as America’s very first national monument. The major difference between a national park and a national monument is that a national park encompasses a large land or water area that contains a variety of resources, whereas a national monument is smaller and usually preserves just one significant resource. Although it lacks national park status, Devils Tower National Monument is no less impressive and interesting, as any of its 400,000 annual visitors will tell you. But don’t take their word for it. Plan your own encounter with the remarkable topography, history, geology, and legends of northeastern Wyoming’s most conspicuous landmark.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Devils Tower National Monument
Last year, more than 318 million people visited national parks across the U.S.A. Although that’s a huge number, it’s pretty typical as far as annual visitations go. Those massive crowds keep coming each year because of the parks’ enduring power. Parks, a.k.a. “America’s best idea,” preserve wildlife, provide vital recreation, and protect priceless scenery. The National Park System includes more than 85 million acres and includes national parks, national historical parks, national monuments, national recreation areas, national battlefields, and national seashores. There is at least one national park site in every U.S. state. And while it’s well worth a trip to each of the country’s 418 parks (60 of which are “national”), some are more popular than others. The top 10 most visited national parks in 2018 were:
As you might expect, the summer months are the busiest time of year, so if you want to avoid crowds, plan your visit for another season. And if you also want to save some money when you go, take advantage of the National Park Service’s fee-free days. Although 303 of the 418 parks don’t charge entrance fees, the other 115 charge between $5 and $35. Luckily, there are at least five opportunities to enjoy free entrance each year (reservations, camping, concessions, and other fees collected by third parties are not waived). The exact dates of the fee-free days vary, but generally they are: Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January, National Park Week in April, anniversary of the National Park Service in August, Public Lands Day in September, and Veterans Day in November. Check http://www.nps.gov for specifics.
If you’re looking for a family road trip destination, seeking solace on back-country trails (don’t forget your hiking gaiters!), want to watch wildlife, or sleep under the stars, consider visiting America’s national parks. And if you visit in the off-season, be sure to call ahead to be certain of driving conditions. Wind, rain and even snow can affect park roads and campgrounds any time of year.
Thinking of escaping to Las Vegas any time soon? While it’s fun to take in a glamorous show or two and try your luck with the one-armed bandits, after a while you’ll want an activity that won’t blow your budget. Fortunately, you’ll find it not far from Sin City—at Valley of Fire State Park. When you’re ready to strap on some light-weight hiking gaiters and get some exercise, be sure to tank up, slather on sunscreen, and head into the Mojave Desert. It’s not too far to drive, and just right for a day trip.
Once voted “Best Scenic Drive in Southern Nevada” by readers of Nevada Magazine, Interstate 15 (Valley of Fire State Park Scenic Byway) takes you 55 miles northeast of Las Vegas to Nevada’s oldest state park. Although the Strip’s neon tubes are missing here, brilliant colors are not. Shades of deep red, brown, and orange seem to glow even more vividly at sunrise and sunset, thus the name Valley of Fire. The park was dedicated in 1935, but its sandstone formations were formed some 150 million years ago from vast shifting sand dunes. The modest Visitor Center is the best place to learn more about the geology, ecology, and history of the park and the nearby region, so stop in for a brochure.
Several scenic roads wind throughout the park, each one leading to yet another unique feature— petrified logs, dramatic rock outcroppings, and ancient petroglyphs. Eroded by wind, water, and time, the Beehives and Rainbow Vista are especially impressive. The White Domes Road ends at a stately formation of sparkling white rock. Be sure to stop at Atlatl Rock to see 3,000 year-old Indian rock art up close. An atlatl, the predecessor to the modern bow and arrow, was a notched stick used to throw primitive spears. You’ll see this tool clearly depicted among the well-preserved petroglyphs. Atlatl Rock is also a nice shaded spot for a picnic.
To stretch your legs, take one of the many hiking trails that lead to even more amazing sandstone formations. Don’t miss Mouse’s Tank. Named for a renegade murder suspect who hid out here in the 1890s, Mouse’s Tank is a natural basin where rainwater collects. A scramble up the rocks provides a nice bird’s eye view, but the best part for history buffs is the numerous petroglyphs etched into the boulders that flank this half-mile sandy trail— evidence that the area has been visited for thousands of years. Keep your eyes open because chuckwallas and collared lizards often scamper out of the shady rock crevices. Snake gaiters are a good idea, too.
Getting bored with flat pavement? If so, now’s the time to change up your running routine by finding trails near your home and on your travels. Even if it’s just once a week, running off-road can stave off boredom and help you get stronger. Uneven surfaces make you engage your core and lateral stabilizing muscles. Groomed trails that are wide and mostly level make for a great introduction to running off the road. The opposite of that are narrow dirt trails with a variety of obstacles such as tree roots, rocks, sand, hills, and more. When you first start out, it’s important to avoid comparing your trail pace to your normal road-running pace. Naturally it will be slower on tougher terrain, and that’s OK. Purposely slow your pace and develop a trail tempo. Staying sprain-free is key if you want to make trail running your hobby, regular conditioning, or weekly off-day. When you’re ready to pound some terra firma instead of pavement, these helpful tips from Runner’s World and REI can help reduce the risk of injury:
Adopt good posture. Shortening your stride can make you more agile and able to react quickly to obstacles. You’ll also be able to lengthen a single stride when needed—to avoid landing on a rock or muddy patch, for example. Keep your gaze 10-15 feet ahead and scan the terrain for obstacles. Hunched shoulders put stress on your back and rob your lungs of inflation space. They are also a sign you’re too tense, so take a moment to relax them. Then hold your shoulders straight, align them with your back and lean your whole body slightly forward as you run. Keep your hands in relaxed fists. Orient your arms so they are perpendicular to your torso, rather than pumping diagonally across it. Your fist should lightly graze the side of your running shorts on each swing. Having an efficient swing motion helps you build forward and upward momentum through your entire torso, rather than relying solely on your legs. When running uphill, maintain a proud posture and pump your elbows back to propel your body forward and upward. The main thing to focus on is to lean into the ground and use your forward momentum.
Wear the right shoes. If you’re going to weave trail running into your life, it’s wise to invest in a pair of trail running shoes. They differ from road-running shoes in that they’re often beefier to handle rugged terrain but also lower profile (lower to the ground), which reduces the chance of ankle rolls with a high heel. The proper tread offers better traction on muddy, wet trails. It can also help you brake when needed on steep descents. Trail running shoes should fit snug in the heel but have room in the toe box. Once laced/tightened you should not be able to slide your foot out of the shoe.You don’t need a new pair of shoes your first time out, but eventually you will want something more substantial if you find you like trail running and plan to continue. Once you buy a pair, take care of them. After a wet or muddy run, remove the insoles, wash off the mud, and stuff with newspaper or paper towels to dry. You’ll be so glad you did this at the end of a run instead of throwing crusty, muddy shoes in the back of the closet and having to deal with them several days later.
Know the rules of the trail. Yield to other trail users (equestrian, hikers, mountain bikers). Generally, downhill runners should yield to uphill runners because the effort to stop and restart on the uphill is greater, and downhill runners often have a better angle of vision. But when in doubt, just be kind and courteous regardless of whether you’re headed up or down. Stay on marked trails and run through puddles, not around them (making the trail wider). Leave no trace, and don’t litter. Runners should yield to bikes, it's so much easier to stop and start on foot than it is on a bike.
Add appropriate accessories. Although many trails provide shaded routes, it’s still wise to wear sunscreen. Sunglasses not only block harmful rays and glare, they also protect your eyes from tree branches and bushes. Wearing a hat and bug spray will help prevent insect bites and ticks. Grabbing some trail running gaiters will keep the dirt, gravel, and briars out of your shoes that can cause hot spots and abrasions. A neck gaiter gives you a little style on the trail, and is handy for keeping the sweat out of your eyes. Bringing hydration with you on a trail run is a must! And so is food. Calories count!
Running over downed trees or through mud and sand takes some time getting used to, so it’s best to progress slowly. Tackling obstacles will get easier as your body gets stronger and more seasoned on trails. When in doubt, walk. Extend the amount of time you currently stretch, and add some additional stretches to your routine. It's important to stretch after your body is already warmed up; stretching while your muscles are cold can lead to injury. Trail running can be zen running. Give it a try and see if you don’t feel more peaceful having left behind car exhaust, noise, and other people!
Each year as the weather warms, local fire departments receive hundreds of calls for snake removals. Rattlesnakes emerge from their dens in search of the warm rays of the sun, and they can be grumpy. They seek out warm areas like driveways, pool decks and sidewalks when they are cold, and cool places like garages and wood piles when they are hot. Snakes are not bad. In fact, snakes have an important role in the ecosystem (for one, they help keep the rodent population down). However, you should call the Fire Department immediately if a rattlesnake is inside your home or in your yard. If you or your family members or pets are in immediate danger, call 9-1-1.
It is important to remember that a rattlesnake or other pit viper that is seen in the desert or other natural habitat away from urban areas does not warrant a call for removal. The number one recommendation if you see a snake while out hiking is to simply leave it alone. Snake bites can result in serious injury, or death. Hikers should never be out alone, wear sturdy boots, and stay on well-used trails as much as possible. Avoid tall grass and heavy underbrush where snakes may hide during the day. Keep your hands and feet out of areas you cannot see. Rattlesnakes can be several feet long and can strike about half their body length. Even baby rattlesnakes can possess dangerous venom as soon as they hatch.
Most snakes are not outwardly aggressive for no reason; they usually strike if they are startled. If you accidentally step too close or move a log or rock they call home and are struck, do not attempt to cut out the venom with a knife and do not try to suck out the venom either. This does not work, and can increase anxiety and create additional problems. Do not apply a tourniquet or use ice packs or heat packs. In other words, do not do what they do in the movies!
Instead, stay calm and call 9-1-1 immediately. It's the first and most crucial step to take. While you wait for emergency assistance to arrive, remove any watches, rings, or other articles of clothing or accessories that could constrict swelling. Immobilize the area of the bite and keep it lower than heart level. If possible, clean the bite area with soap and water and cover it with a clean compress or moist dressing. If you’re in a remote area without phone service, get yourself to the nearest medical facility as quickly as possible.
Of course, the easiest way to treat a snake bite is not to be bitten to begin with. Be alert of your surroundings and wear snake gaiters. When enjoying the great outdoors with your dog, never let him off the leash in areas with snake activity. Dogs are at increased risk of being bitten due to holding their nose to the ground while investigating the outdoors. Speak to your veterinarian about canine rattlesnake vaccines and what to do if your pet is bitten.
Hiking Mt. Rainier National Park
Encased in over 35 square miles of snow and ice and originally known as “Tahoma” to the Klickitat Indians, Mount Rainier is the most beautiful backdrop any national park could hope for. “The mountain is out” takes on special meaning with your very first glimpse of the 14,410-foot volcanic peak— the highest in the Cascade Mountain Range. Although Mt. Rainier National Park is a mecca for hikers, windshield tourists enjoy the views just as much from the pavement.
More than 140 miles of road loop through the park, so there’s always a waterfall, lake, or mountain vista ahead. Even if you stay at one of the park's campgrounds (reservations strongly suggested) and won't need a hotel room, stop at the National Park Inn for the view. The wide covered front porch is a good place to admire the evening alpenglow on the south face of Mount Rainier. The porch’s rustic, yet comfy chairs are made for lingering as long as you’d like. There’s also a museum, an information center, and a well-stocked store and gift shop next to the Inn.
Paradise is not only a state of mind at Mount Rainier National Park, it’s a real destination perched at the 5,400-foot elevation. The panoramas from Paradise are incredible on a clear day— the snowy summit seems close enough to touch! Historic Paradise Inn was renovated several years ago and is a definite must-see. Originally built in 1917, the rustic interior and furnishings are simplistically beautiful and huge stone fireplaces at either end of the spacious lobby make warming up on chilly day a real pleasure. The Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center is a great place to learn about the geology, glaciers, flora, and fauna— everything you need to know about Mount Rainier and the surrounding Tatoosh Mountain Range. You can also shop for gifts, eat a meal, and talk to park rangers here. To get a little closer to Nisqually Glacier or the lovely wildflower meadows surrounding Paradise, pick up a trail map or a park ranger can point the way to excellent hiking. Serious mountain climbers attempting the 8+ mile trek with 9,000 feet of elevation gain to Mount Rainier’s summit team up in Paradise, so you’ll likely see gear-laden mountaineers on their descent. If snow still covers the trails you want to explore (common even in July), snow gaiters will keep your legs warmer and drier. If the trails are dry when you visit, hiking gaiters will protect your lower legs from wet weeds, briars, and the dust.
If first-rate scenery and outdoor recreation are high on your list, you’ll definitely be headed in the right direction if you visit the nation’s fifth oldest national park. And when you do, you'll easily see why Washington is known as the Evergreen State.