Michael Lanza

A view from the John Muir Trail of Half Dome, Liberty Cap, and Nevada Fall in Yosemite National Park.

The Magic of Hiking to Yosemite’s Waterfalls

By Michael Lanza

My seven-year-old daughter, Alex, is engaged in some heavy intellectual lifting. I can tell by the way she stares quietly, her brow knitted in thought, at Upper Yosemite Falls. We’ve hiked for 90 minutes up a thousand vertical feet of hot, dusty trail above Yosemite Valley to stand below this curtain of water that plunges a sheer 1,430 feet off a cliff, ripping through the air with a sound like fighter jets buzzing us.

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Woman and two young children backpacking the West Rim Trail in Zion National Park.

Pilgrimage Across Zion: Traversing a park of Otherworldly Scenery

By Michael Lanza

At the Lee Pass Trailhead in the northwest corner of southern Utah’s Zion National Park, a strong, chilling wind blasts us with air that feels more Canadian Rockies than canyon country. It’s noon on the first day of October, and while the air temperature hovers around 50° F here at just over 6,000 feet, and the sun beams down warmly from a bulletproof blue sky, we’re dressed in pants and fleece jackets.

It’s not quite what I’d expected after tracking Zion’s weather for the past week from home: Up until a few days ago, the highs were hitting the 80s up here and topping 90° F in Zion Canyon, about 2,000 feet lower than this rim. But it’s hard to worry much about wind when you’re staring at an extended forecast for sunshine and the kind of scenery greeting us at the trailhead. Fanned out before us like a royal flush of diamonds is an array of 700-foot, red and orange cliffs forming one end of the finger-like Kolob Canyons. The red hues contrast starkly against the strip of greenery tracing the stream channel in the canyon bottom and the yellow in some leaves still clinging to trees.

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Trail Running Across Marin: Four Days, 42 Miles, Inn-to-Inn

By Michael Lanza

“You have to embrace the hills.”

That subtly foreshadowing line from an e-mail my running partner today, Janet Bowman, sent me a few days ago leaps to mind, as we struggle to run up a trail pitched at the angle of an Olympic ski jump. Perspiration streams off my head like a hard rain as, rapid-fire, I gasp for air and release loud bursts of breath—this even though we’re only moving at a pace that might be described as a determined shuffle. Just minutes into a 9.5-mile trail run across the rugged hills of Northern California’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA)—one that will carry us up and down 2,300 vertical feet—I’m wondering how many anaerobic-threshold moments lie ahead.

And I’ve only gone less than a mile.

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Hikers on Blahnukur peak, near Landmannalaugar in Iceland's Central Highlands.

Earth, Wind, and Fire: A Journey to the Planet’s Beginnings in Iceland

By Michael Lanza

The land is on fire.

Actually, the land appears to be smoldering, stoked by some persistent furnace just beneath the surface. Which is essentially true.

Steam from hot springs and other geothermal features issues from scores of points from here to the horizon. Mud pots bubble and burp, and the color of volcanic activity is everywhere—paint-can spills of ochre, pink, gold, plum, brown, rust, and honey against a backdrop of purple pumice and electric-lime moss. An old, hardened lava flow pours down one mountainside in a jumbled train wreck of razor-sharp black rhyolite. Barren peaks extend ridges like the arms of starfish. Chattering streams carry the runoff from July snowfields smeared across the highlands. Scudding clouds stampede overhead, constantly rearranging the dappled sunlight splashing over the landscape.

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