Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Hiking

Kings Canyon – Gould Mine Loop Hike in Saguaro National Park

On a beautiful Arizona morning in late April we headed out from the Hampton Inn in Tucson to Saguaro National Park, to the west of the city. The plan? Complete the Kings Canyon – Gould Mine Loop hike, a distance of about 2.1 miles, as an introduction for the kids to the desert.

Although we didn’t make it out of the hotel especially early to beat the heat, it was shaping up to only be in the 80s. I’m not sure we would have attempted this during the heat of midsummer!

Pit stop at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum

Before we started the hike, we made a quick stop at the desert museum, just to use the restroom.  Even though our time here was super brief, we encountered a rattlesnake. I hadn’t seen one in years. It was right in the parking lot!

Park staff promptly snagged him. With lots of people around, he definitely needed to be re-homed.

I used the encounter to help illustrate the need for immediate obedience from the kids. The last rattlesnake story I recall involved my dad calling my two sisters away from a picnic table at Mount Diablo. A diamondback had started to coil up underneath. Thankfully, they immediately got up and left. Dad then spent the next minute chucking rocks at the reptile until it struck.

With that story fresh in their heads, we headed a bit further down the road to the Kings Canyon trailhead.

Kings Canyon Trailhead

The Kings Canyon – Gould Mine loop hike starts just a short distance down the road from the museum. The trailhead is at a small parking lot off the right side of the road. The Kings Canyon trail starts as a gentle ascent along a dry creekbed.

Although the views from the parking lot are decent, you quickly rise even more and are offered a lovely view of the desert stretching out beyond the way you came.

Unsurprisingly, the mighty saguaro are plentiful. The giant cacti are endemic to Arizona and the state of Sonora, Mexico. This multi-armed monster has to be well over 100 years old.

We stopped frequently, mainly to take in the beautiful desert around us. But also because the kids were already hot and tired.

It’s soooooo hot!

I lost count how many times I heard this during our hike. Even though our kids are native to a fairly warm climate, they have already adopted the utterly Humboldtian disposition of melting when it gets above 85°F. Except if there is a pool around. Then they’re fine. But hiking in the desert? Not a fun proposition (SEE: 3 Tips for Hiking with Kids in the Desert).

I got at least some smiles out of them. They reminisced about the hike we took with their cousins in the Redwoods. Bit different out here, isn’t it?

We reached an intersection that lacked signage, but took the trail that went in the direction I knew we needed to go to connect to the Gould Mine trail. No more than 15 minutes later we found the sign that could take us back around the hill to the parking lot.

kings canyon - gould mine loop hike

The Sonora desert is truly lovely. I’d forgotten how enchanting the U.S. southwest can be.

kings canyon saguaro national park

Even through their complaints, the kids were doing fine. We’d finished up the last of the water, but there was less than half a mile to go.

Our hike lasted maybe an hour and a quarter to complete the 2.1-mile Kings Canyon – Gould Mine loop hike in Saguaro National Park.

Ending an enjoyable desert hike

It was an enjoyable hike for me. It was warm, but certainly not hot. We kept an easygoing pace, and there were no strenuous climbs. You couldn’t ask for a better quick hike.

The kids, on the other hand, were less than thrilled. Even after seeing some cool desert flora and fauna, they wanted to get moving on down the road.

Apparently my daughter’s feet had gotten a little hot during our excursion.

Note: normally I would not have let her do this, but there was hardly another car on the road driving through the park.

Bonus: Valley View Overlook

We drove for another 15 minutes or so from the Kings Canyon trailhead until we hit a dirt road within Saguaro National Park. I had one other point I wanted to explore before hitting the freeway: the View Trail.

view trail saguaro national park

There isn’t much to the view trail. It is maybe a quarter mile, and leads you gently from a small parking lot to a vista of the valley west of Saguaro National Park. Our panorama shot hardly does it justice.

Smiles were back at this point. It was a much easier hike.

And there were a lot more towering cacti.

Due to the ease of the hike and the view, the View Trail is a bit more popular. It certainly wasn’t crowded, but we saw maybe a dozen people during the hike (versus only 1 on the Kings Canyon – Gould Mine loop trail).

Conclusion

Fast pace road trips really don’t let you linger. We enjoyed our brief hikes, first around the Kings Canyon – Gould Mine Loop and then the View Trail in Saguaro National Park. But with the morning spent, it was time to move on. We stopped for a snack in Picture Rocks and then hit the road. Onward to the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort and time in the pool!

3 Tips for Hiking with Kids in the Desert

During our time traversing the Southwest a couple weeks ago, we embarked on four different short hikes in the desert. Well…some of them you really can’t call hikes. Even in 100-degree weather, walking 400 yards or so out onto the salt flats at Badwater Basin in Death Valley still doesn’t qualify as hiking in my book.

But…it does to some. Including my kids. They weren’t ecstatic about my ideas and made their position on hiking quite clear. It took some significant coaxing and prodding to get them out of the car a couple of times. To them it was sooooo miserable that they wanted to stay in the car in 100-degree weather (yes, really).

After all my effort, I thought I’d note down a few tips in case you consider traipsing through the desert with your own brood.

Tip #1 – Reconsider the whole idea

I mean, really. You probably shouldn’t go. Unless you enjoy dragging whiny children over sand and rock for a couple hours at a time, this isn’t for you. Whether it is their supposedly hurting feet, or the fact that they didn’t bring enough water (in other words…they poured it all on the ground…or on a sibling), they will let you know.

At every moment you have to not just urge yourself onward but your children as well. It’s like they think they are going to die from a mere 90 minutes of desert exposure. Somehow the kids that were soooo happy to finally be someone warm suddenly think they are going to melt if they have to do something besides splash in the pool in 85 degrees.

Save yourself the pain and just stay home. It’ll be better for everyone involved.

Tip #2 – Bring earplugs

If you decide to go against your better judgment and still embark on this fun family outing ridiculous escapade, earplugs might be in order. It’ll prevent you from hearing the birds chirping, but you’ll also be able to enjoy the beautiful vistas in utter tranquility. Such was life at this moment in Sedona.

Ahhhh, peaceful Sedona.

But you might not need them anyway id the kids repeat themselves enough. By about the fifth time I’d heard, “I’m dying”, I had pretty much tuned it out. So I honestly don’t know if if was the fifth time or the twenty-fifth. I do know the first four times had included a quick check of each child: Blood? No. Signs of heat stroke? Negative. Out of water? Possibly, but typically not because they’re drinking it. Sweating? Yes, but that just means the cooling system is functioning properly.

Definitely no signs of dying. . Carry on.

Tip #3 – Just laugh

This was my one consolation. I finally realized how hysterically overdramatic their reactions were. Whenever I’d hear the newest reason as to why we couldn’t continue, I’d smile and keep slowly marching along. They’d always eventually follow.

I’d also chuckle when they’d use their water for things like making mud or dumping it on their heads. When they’d invariably run out, I’d happily sip my own. They’d just have to make it the last mile without refreshment.

Death Valley was the best. Although the temperature was pushing 100°F, we could literally see the car from where we’d hiked. And it wasn’t very far away. I’d had them hydrate before we got to Badwater Basin, and we each had a water bottle for our short outing. We were prepared for our excursion.

Yet it definitely wasn’t their cup of tea. This picture will forever make me giggle.

As for my own experience, I’d happily take a walk in full sun on a flat surface in a bone dry 100°F than an ascent at 80°F with any sort of humidity.

Ok…we did have *some* fun

In case you can’t tell this is mostly tongue-in-cheek, we did actually have some fun hiking in the desert. I definitely had to keep spurring the kids on at times, but it was a good experience for us overall. They don’t have quite the same appreciation of the scenic beauty of the locations we visited, but I am hopeful someday that’ll change. They’ll have to at least get used to it. Walking and hiking are two of my favorite things to do when traveling.

Of our four partial days of hiking, the kids enjoyed the red rocks of Sedona and our short trek to the waterfall at Red Rocks National Conservation Area the most. The latter hike didn’t start out all that pleasantly (as they had no idea what was at the end of the trail), but I was smugly satisfied sitting up on a boulder watching them happily toss rocks in the pool and enjoy getting close to the fall. I wish I’d had my camera out to capture the looks of horror when I finally told them we had to head back. Apparently they like the end goal of hiking, just not the process.

Would I take the kids hiking in the desert again? Absolutely. And we I would love every minute of it.

Hiking Table Rock near Medford, Oregon

Hiking is one of the primary activities to which I default when traveling. It is enjoyable, it lets you explore a new place, and it’s (nearly always) free. If a true hike isn’t available, a walk through a new city will do nearly as well.

Last weekend my brother-in-law and I took a quick vacation to southern Oregon. The first day included seeing Crater Lake, and the second day included two hikes, one of which was up Lower Table Rock near Medford.

Preparing to hike Table Rock

Our original plan was to hike Table rock mid-morning, but given the heat, we decided to swap our itinerary around. We would head out to hike near Lake of the Woods (cooler, and at a much higher altitude) during the morning. Our hike up Table Rock was then slated for the evening.

I looked up how to get to Table Rock using Google Maps. The route is pretty simple. You can get to Table Rock Road easily from the Highway 62 exit, heading north toward Crater Lake. Immediately turn left onto Biddle Road, as if you are heading to the Rogue Valley Airport. Then make a right when you intersect with Table Rock Road.

You continue on this road for a few miles before turning onto Wheeler Road, right along the base of Lower Table Rock.

hiking table rock medford

The trailhead was pretty easy to find, although I did initially blast by the turn off for Wheeler Road and had to turn around. It was still pretty warm when we arrived, but I knew things would get better as we climbed. I was *so* glad we didn’t hike Table Rock in the middle of the day!!

Hiking Table Rock

Looking up at Table Rock above us, I knew the hike was going to be moderately strenuous. The trail climbs quickly from the trailhead. There are some switchbacks, but at other times it’s simply a steep ascent. I didn’t realize how steep it was until we were heading down and I was trying not to lose my footing on the gravel path.

The lower part of the trail is through oak woodland. There were some wildflowers, although we were likely past the best of their display.

Soon we were under some larger trees, and unfortunately sheltered from the much-appreciated breeze. The switchbacks up the hill continued, and I couldn’t wait to break out on top of Table Rock.

Poison oak is abundant along the trail.  The trail is wide enough that brushing up against it shouldn’t be a concern, but definitely take note.

Top of Table Rock

A little over halfway through the hike we reached the top of Table Rock. The hard part was over. Now we just had a long stretch of flat trail that led us to the edge of the rock overlooking the Rogue Valley and Medford. The breeze at the top was also wonderful!

It took us another 15 minutes or so to reach the edge of Table Rock. The views were spectacular! Off to the east you could see the volcanic cone of Mount McLoughlin, and out to the west the Rogue Valley. Medford was in the middle, off in the distance.

We just sat and took everything in for several minutes. The temperature was now perfect, hovering in the upper 70s.

If I lived here, I’d definitely be hiking Table Rock routinely. Actually, who am I kidding? I probably wouldn’t. I hardly hike the redwoods anymore, and those are basically at my doorstep all the time.

Since my phone lacks panorama capability, I had to make do with a video. I’m desperately in need of a new smartphone so I can actually take some decent photos.

Heading down

The trip down was substantially easier than our trek up. We made our way back along the flat trail on top of Table Rock. As the sun was getting lower on the horizon, we had a little bit of fun with the shadows.

Soon enough we were heading back down the steep trail. I took a picture of Upper Table Rock before the sun dropped below the horizon completely.

It didn’t take long to reach the trailhead again. All in all, the hike was maybe 2 hours. We could have explored more of the top of Table Rock, but we had a date at Cold Stone that we couldn’t miss.

Conclusion

Hiking Table Rock should definitely be on your list if you plan to spend any time in or near Medford, Oregon. It is a great experience, and the view of the valley is gorgeous. The hike is also not very long, and easily doable in under a half day. Along with Crater Lake, the Oregon Caves, and historic Jacksonville, there is plenty to do and see in southern Oregon. Hopefully you can enjoy a trip to the area someday!

Hiking Monaco To La Turbie

High on the hill above the glitz and glamour of Monaco is the tiny town of La Turbie. Initially, it was just a name on a map, and somewhere from which I thought we could enjoy a great view of Monaco. Now I know it is a gem in it’s own right. The idea for the hike came from a blog tip.

On a beautiful July morning, we arrived at the Monaco train station at 10:00 a.m. to begin our hike. There weren’t any good signs that directed us immediately toward La Turbie, so my wife and I simply started toward the hills and away from Monaco. After winding our way up a couple streets, we came across a sign that told us we were on the right track.

la_turbie-sign_1

Found the first sign for the “Path of La Turbie”

This was exactly what I was looking for. The simple directions I had noted down included walking ‘Chemin de La Turbie’ and ‘Chemin Romain’. The middle part between the two was kinda fuzzy. But I was sure we would manage just fine.

After the sign the path began to steepen and alternate between street and pedestrian path. A couple hundred yards later we arrived at a busy road. The Chemin de La Turbie (Path of La Turbie) continued up some stairs, straight across from us. We caught our breath and waited for a break in the traffic.

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Sign pointing us up the stairs across the Route de la Moyenne Corniche

Then it was onward and upward. The view got better and better the higher we climbed. My wife and I were soon dripping sweat just a few hundred more yards up the hill, so we began to stop in every patch of shade we found that offered a view of Monaco (and some that didn’t).

la_turbie-path

The path between Chemin Romain and Chemin de Sotto Baou

The only point at which we got confused was an intersection of four different roads. There were no signs, and we had two uphill options. We look the left fork, which seemed more direct, along Chemin de Sotto Baou. Looking at Google maps later, we could have easily taken either, although it would have been a bit longer if we had taken the other fork along Chemin des Révoires.

la_turbie-sign_3

Which way to La Turbie?

Overheated and winded, we finally reached the top. The climb took about an hour, but the view from the top was entirely worth it. We headed over to the lookout point. The view is exquisite.

la_turbie-into_italy_pano

Monaco in the center right, and the coast toward Italy on the left

Just next to the lookout area is the entrance to the Trophée Auguste à La Turbie. For those who are completely hopeless in French like myself, that equates to the Augustus Trophy in La Turbie. Besides the clues that the signs had given us along the way, I really had no idea what the Trophy was, and I assumed Augustus referred to the famous Roman emperor. My latter assumption was correct. The new revelation was that a spectacular monument once existed on the site commemorating Augustus’ victories in the Maritime Alps. It has been partially restored.

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Medieval gate into old La Turbie

Instead of heading up to the monument, however, my wife and I spent some time exploring the streets of old La Turbie. The old section of town is very small, but it is incredibly interesting. The gates and a few of the buildings date from the Medieval period.

la_turbie-streets

We spent about 20 minutes wandering around before heading back to the monument. The Trophée Auguste costs €5.50 per person, but it is entirely worth it. The first stop was the overlook to get some more panoramic shots of Monaco.

la_turbie-monaco-pano

la_turbie-monaco-view

Our next stop was the tiny museum. Along the way we stumbled upon a random foosball table near the Trophy.

la_turbie-foosball

Maybe Augustus was a big fan of table soccer?

The museum was a single room. In the middle is an artist’s model of what the Trophy probably looked like when Emperor Augustus had it built to commemorate his victories in the Maritime Alps. Around the rest of the building are details on the history of the monument and details on its partial restoration in the early to mid 1900s.

la_turbie-model

The best part was getting to climb up on the Trophy itself, accompanied by a guide. Most of the monument was torn down by locals through the centuries to use as building materials for homes and fortifications, but the restoration gives a glimpse of what it may have originally looked like.

la_turbie-trophee

la_turbie-columns

After exploring the trophy, we headed back to the main road through La Turbie.

la_turbie-main_road

Lunch was in order, and we treated ourselves at the Hôtel Restaurant Napoleon, not far from the tourist info office and the old town.

la_turbie-fish_lunch

My wife had fish with veggies and potatoes, and I had pasta with smoked salmon. Everything was excellent.

la_turbie-pasta_lunch

After lunch it was time to return to Monaco. We considered returning by the way we came, but it was already later than I had anticipated, and we still wanted to see some of Monaco. The quickest way down was by bus, and we caught it at the stop just off the main road. Twenty minutes later we were back in the tiny principality and off on our next adventure.

Looking back, I am extremely glad that we stumbled upon the idea of hiking to La Turbie. It turned into one of the best days of our entire trip. If Monaco is on your list of places to visit, make sure you don’t overlook the lovely little town sitting on the hill above.