My Summer on Lake Superior – The North and South Shores, and No Moose

Time manages to sneak by without people noticing. Some days I am very aware of how slowly my world is moving, and other days I realize months have passed with the bat of an eye. It seems like just the other day I went moose-hunting, but in reality it has been months. Before I let time escape again, I’m going to catch up on some of my summer highlights. Then I can start fresh with stories from my next short adventure out west…back to my favorite city in a week!

Sometime after my first trip to Grand Marais, my friend and I went back up there for another quick weekend. We rented an adorable tiny-house overlooking Lake Superior (through Airbnb of course), and managed to make a fire! This was quite an accomplishment because neither my friend nor I have ever built one ourselves before, which we realized with a conversation that happened in the car an hour away from where we would be building one. Even though we built a huge fire a caveman would have been in awe over, it wasn’t enough to keep the monster mosquitos from attempting to eat us alive. The mosquitos in Grand Marais are no joke, and are relentless – chasing us into the house for the night. We enjoyed conversation and laying under the skylight in the loft bed, testing our constellation knowledge.

After our peaceful evening and sleep, we spent the morning sipping coffee on the deck. Eventually we made our way into the city and explored “Artist’s Point,” or a tombolo, which is a point of land where a sand spit connects the mainland to an island offshore (according to the sign by the trail). My friend and I walked the edges of small cliffs, coffee in hand, testing our balance with Lake Superior a few lengths below us. Eventually we checked out the lighthouse, local shopping, and grabbed a bite to eat. I seriously love everything about Grand Marais – except the mosquitos and how cold it gets…..everything else though! Another super cool thing about this little port town, is that they see moose on a regular basis, sometimes strolling through town.

My friend and I really, really wanted to see a Minnesota moose, so we hit the hot spot for moose sightings: the Gunflint Trail. Now, all this time of hearing about this trail, I legitimately thought it was a hiking trail between Canada and Grand Marais. It’s not. It’s actually a scenic byway that used to be a trail, but it does have a few hiking trails branching off of it. One of which is named “Moose Viewing Trail.” Did we stop there because we were almost certain we would see a moose there? In the words of the Northern Minnesotans, “you betcha!” Did we see a moose there? No. Sadly not. We drove the entire trail, ending up 4 miles away from Canada, without seeing a moose. We did see a bear cub, an eerie abandoned car in the woods, and at least one hundred freshly hatched toads, and still had a spectacular time driving through the woods of the north.

On the way back to Duluth/Superior, we stopped by Iona’s Beach, the pink beach of Lake Superior. This beach is made up entirely of pink rocks that make a bell-like tinkling sound when the waves lift them up. This beach isn’t far from the Black Beach of Silver Bay, where the sand is actually a dark grey color – another cool beach to check out. I’m surprised the North Shore of Lake Superior hasn’t been added to the list of “totally Instagramable destinations.” The port cities are beautiful, the beaches are diverse and scenic, and the landscape is so unique. I can’t wait until I retire there for a summer to write my book (in 20 years).

My most recent trip was exploring a small part of the South Shore of Lake Superior. A couple girlfriends and I took off to Bayfield, Wisconsin for a nice, sunny Sunday-funday. We traveled to Cornucopia, WI first for shopping and fish-dip (which tasted way better than it sounds). Cornucopia is a teeny unincorporated town with a cool harbor full of boats, stores, and a fishery. There are even some very old fishing boats on display by the beach, great for boat-nerds! After we ate our fill of crackers and fish on the beach (and after Lake Superior hit us with a wave), we headed to Bayfield. Bayfield is the South Shore’s equivalent to Grand Marais. It’s a really cute and small port city with some shopping and dining. The highlight of Bayfield is that it is the “gateway to the Apostle Islands,” a series of islands famous for their cliffs and sea caves. We didn’t explore the islands since we took the trip on a whim, but I’ve been to Madeline Island once and absolutely loved it.

The South Shore of Lake Superior is very different from the North Shore. The beaches are sandy and grassy, although there are some steep cliffs in parts. I have yet to explore the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, but I hear it’s absolutely worth the trip.

I have one more post before I’m all caught up from this fun and busy summer. Fall is proving to be just as exciting, although a few of my adventure buddies are headed out for their next job assignments. I’m still unsure of how long I’ll be “Up North”/home, but I’ll continue to make the best of the time I have here.

Bayfield, WI

Cornucopia, WI

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My Summer on Lake Superior: Hiking Eagle Mountain

July was a whirlwind month full of celebrations and adventures. I kicked off the month by going up the North Shore to Grand Marais, MN for my birthday (a week late). I stayed at my first hostel ever, and I DIDN’T DIE! I absolutely LOVED it actually. I don’t know why I was nervous – hostels are full of people like me who are out traveling and exploring on their own.

The hostel is called The Hungry Hippie Hostel, and can be booked online or through Airbnb. It is relatively new and quite charming. I planned on going to bed early since I would be waking up at 4:30am to go hike Eagle Mountain in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA), but found myself enjoying company and conversation for hours. I exchanged contact information with a few before calling it a night, and am so delighted to have more new friends across the nation.

The BWCA is a span of national land that goes from Northern Minnesota into Canada, with thick forest, series of lakes and swamps, and very few people. It’s required to get a permit to hike into it (that you literally sign up for at the trailhead), and to take a canoe trip through it like most people do (more difficult to acquire a permit). I chose to hike to Eagle Mountain because it is the highest point in Minnesota, at 2,301 feet tall.

My hike to the mountain was the most peace I’ve experienced since moving home. Since I hit the trail early, it was just me, the animals, and the mosquitos. LOTS of mosquitos. I literally had to jog some of the way there to escape the hoards that followed me through the woods. I was really hoping to see a moose, but the most wildlife I saw was a giant toad who sat on my shoulder for a couple dozen steps. The hike was very, very water logged thanks to the weeks of storms we had prior, with some areas that required a detour through the woods off the path to avoid soaking my socks. The entire roundtrip was about 7 miles, part of it rocky, part of it underwater, and part of it up the mountainside.

Eagle Mountain was once again, more of a hill than a mountain, but had a beautiful view and was more challenging than my Oberg Mountain hike. I sat in the silence of the wilderness for about a half hour before heading back. The mountain overlooked the BWAC, and there wasn’t a human being in sight. At one point I had to pee, and went to find a good spot (because there aren’t porta-potties in the wilderness), and found the tail of an unfortunate squirrel instead. I had been marveling at the wolf prints all hike, halfway hoping I would see one. The spookiness of the animal remains and aloneness on the mountain made me ready to pack up and head back.

Once I got down the mountain, I encountered the first person I’d see that day. This guy was mid-seventies and hiking all the “high points” of each state, with 47 states already done (and he hadn’t started doing that until ten years ago, in his sixties). We chatted for about 20 minutes about his adventures, including his almost attempt at hiking Everest. Eventually we parted ways with well-wishes, feeling like we may cross paths again sometime. I passed about 8 more people on the way back to my car, so my timing was perfect. I used to never get up early, but it’s totally worth it when there’s hiking and traveling involved.

After the hike I headed to the actual city of Grand Marais, an adorable little port town on Lake Superior. I grabbed some coffee from the Java Moose, and sat on the rocky beach taking in the sights, mildly exhausted from the hike (BTW, it was only 11am). I did a little shopping, finding a travel journal I should have bought a year ago. I spent a little more time at the beach, listening to an amazing guitarist/singer echo over the water. I wrapped up my birthday trip early and headed home to celebrate family graduations – a perfect end to a perfect day.

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The unfortunate animal tail

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My Summer on Lake Superior – Part One

Oh where oh where has the summer gone? Actually, where was it in the first place? Summers “up north” are never the long and hot ones I’d like to enjoy, but they typically consist of more than a week-worth of perfect weather. Of course I haven’t let the rain put a “damper” on my adventures – ha! The past few months have been filled with exploration of the North Shore of Lake Superior and my summer home of Duluth, Minnesota.

To kick off the summer in June, my boyfriend and I headed up to Tofte, MN (about an hour and a half north of Duluth) to hike Oberg Mountain. Now, the mountains of Northern Minnesota are more like tall, wooded hills, but still pretty cool to see. On the way north, we stopped by Split Rock Lighthouse – the most iconic lighthouse on Lake Superior. What makes this lighthouse so special is the fact that it is high atop a cliff along the jagged shoreline of one of the mightiest lakes in the world. We were fortunate enough to be there when it was foggy, making for some awesome photos. One valuable lesson I’ve learned in my travels is that you need to embrace the weather you’re given and find the silver lining.

After wandering around the hiking trails and touring the inside of the lighthouse, we headed to Oberg Mountain which is a hike that boasts of a spectacular view and steep climb. Spectacular panorama view of Lake Superior was spot on – steep/challenging hike…not so much. Although it was a lovely 3ish mile round trip hike with come fun cliff edges to toe, it was no feat and can be easily done by most people. It’s a spot I would love to return to in the fall when the leaves change.

The drive up north and watching the landscape change to a thick, coniferous forest with few residents sparked my curiosity to explore further towards the border later in the summer. If you make it up to Duluth, MN you need to continue north up the shore to witness the natural beauty “up north.”

The rest of June consisted of catching up with friends and experiencing the best Duluth has to offer. I attended a lawn party on the Duluth hillside and met some wonderful people one day/night, and somehow ended up swimming in the harbor at night with them – the scenic city of Duluth serving as a backdrop. I partied at “the Tents” after Grandma’s Marathon (a Boston Marathon qualifier race) with a past work BFF like I totally had ran the marathon…I didn’t. I had a sweet house in East Duluth on the hillside (Duluth is like a smaller, fresh water San Francisco) overlooking Lake Superior, and explored within 4 miles by foot with the boyfriend. I lived by Chester Creek, a beautiful creek/park in the center of East Duluth that has plenty of hiking trails surrounding it. We chose to explore underneath the bridges/roads, even walking through a tunnel.

I still have plenty more to catch up on, which will come hopefully in the next few days instead of the next few months. Life has been insanely busy, and when I feel exhausted and like I need a break, I remind myself that in a few short months my next adventure will start. That adventure may be for work or for play, but either way it’ll take me away from home again. Until then I’ll keep working my butt off, spending as much time with the wonderful people in my life as possible. Let’s cross our fingers for a couple more nice days of summer, and a clear day for the solar eclipse!

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Zen Garden at Enger Tower

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Midnight Swim

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Split Rock Lighthouse

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Hiking Trail at Split Rock

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Oberg Mountain in Tofte, MN

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Grandma’s Marathon 5K

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My Adventure Boyfriend

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Chester Creek Park

Bighorn Sheep, Bison, and the Badlands

My heart is happy. After 2 months of (mostly) being home, mom and I took off towards the West. South Dakota is like Utah; When you tell people they should visit there, they scrunch up their nose because of their misconception of the state. South Dakota is awesome! The drive across I-90 isn’t the most exciting, but it beats out Iowa and Nebraska for sure. The highlights of South Dakota are mostly located just off the freeway: Falls Park in Sioux Falls, the Corn Palace in Mitchell, Chamberlain, the Badlands, Wall Drug, Rapids City, Custer State Park, Mount Rushmore, and Crazy Horse. There are a few more awesome things to see in South Dakota, but those are all the ones mom and I packed into our 3.5 day weekend.

Before I tell you about all our fun adventures, you must know one thing: my mom is a wonderful travel partner. I love flying solo on my trips, but this was one that was definitely more enjoyable with her by my side. We shared so many laughs and swapped stories, plus talked about our lives and current events. She kept a good pace while hiking, and we were fearless together when exploring. After how awesome this trip was, I’m sure we will be road tripping together annually.

Our fun began Thursday when we drove to Mitchell, SD. The next morning we drove to the Corn Palace just to check out the outside and take a picture with the corn husk. We did the tour of it on a family trip in 2010, and although it’s fun, seeing it once is probably enough. We stopped in Mitchell on the trip home to grab an almond latte from the Cornerstone Coffee House-Deli (which was the BEST almond latte ever) because of a suggestion by my BFF. Once we hit the road Friday morning, we stopped after a short time of driving to check out the Chamberlain rest stop that now has a beautiful statue of Sacajawea. It has a nice visitor center and informative displays, and some nice walking trails for those who need to stretch their legs.

A few hours later we reached the Badlands exit, stopping at the Prairie Dog Village to feed peanuts to the adorable little prairie dogs that live there (probably because they get fed peanuts all the time) and are studied by a wildlife group. When we reached the first lookout point in Badlands National Park, we stopped for pictures and I ventured off trail to see how far out I could walk onto the rocks. It had obviously been raining and we learned pretty quickly these are not rocks – they are clay. A few inches of clay coated the bottoms of our shoes, and the “rocks” were too slippery to safely walk out on. Onward we went, to explore the cracks and crevices of the Badlands.

The rest of our day consisted of a handful of hikes, the most notable being the Notch Trail. This was the one hike we for sure planned on doing, as it has a ladder you have to hike/climb up to get to the top of the “canyon.” We hiked the trail and reached it fairly quickly, as the entire hike is 1.5 miles round trip. When we got there, my mom and I looked at the ladder, looked at each other, and said, “This is it?” The ladder wasn’t very tall or difficult at all, but it did make for some fun pictures. We took turns going up and down it to snap a few photos, and then continued our hike at the top. The trail was pretty cool, winding along the ledge of the canyon (with non-terrifying drop-offs of probably 30ish feet), and eventually bringing us to the edge of one part of the Badlands, where there was an impressive view and breathtaking drop-offs. We explored the ledges a bit before doubling back to the ladder. By then it was raining, and a chilly 45-50 degrees – a good time to be warming up in the car.

As we rounded a bend in the scenic road through the park, we saw a few vehicles stopped and a photographer on the road with the camera. I was driving my mom’s new vehicle at this time, and slowed down to see what they were all looking at. As I slowed down, a bighorn sheep came out of the ditch right in front of the bumper! “OH (insert 4 letter word that starts with an S here)!” I said, slamming on the brakes. The sheep took his time meandering in front of the vehicle, as mom and I laughed and took videos and pictures. We got out of the vehicle to check out the rest of the herd, and continued on our way after. We went on a few more walks/hikes through the Badlands, amazed at the vibrant colors and contrasts in some areas. We were not expecting to find trees and grass mixed in with the rocks. Perks of visiting in the spring, I’m sure!

On our way out of the park, we encountered a herd of badlands sheep, which look like less furry mountain goats. One of those decided to walk in front of the vehicle too, but I was ready this time. We ended our day in Wall Drug, the best tourist town in America, eating a bison burger and shopping. My family has a contagious love of Wall, SD, because of the old west feel/displays, roaring dinosaur, delicious fudge, and jackalope (the real SD state animal – look it up). We originally planned on exploring the Badlands for two days, but it’s not a very large park and only needs one day to check out. We did stop there again on our way out of town Sunday to see what it looked like in the sun though. With our extra day, we decided to head to the best state park ever….Custer!

Custer State Park is vast, gorgeous, and full of wildlife. The highlight of our trip were the wild burros who stuck their heads in the vehicle to eat the apples we had with us, and lick the side of the auto as we drove by. Back in the 50s the park had mule rides, and when they stopped the program they released the mules into the park – resulting in the friendly herd of wild burros you find there today. We also stalked (from a safe distance) a bachelor herd of bison just a short hike away from the road, and encountered a few other herds/single bison through the park.

Another wildlife highlight was during a hike through the prairie my mom and I went on. We stopped for lunch and as we were eating, a herd of pronghorn antelope came over a hill and started walking towards us. Most of the herd passed us about 60 feet away, but two very curious ones came about 25 feet away and stared at us staring at them. It was a very cool experience and reminder of the peace that can exist between animal and person. After doing the wildlife loop, mom and I continued on Needles Highway, a famous white-knuckle scenic drive. We took in the scenery, views, and avoided collisions with drivers who take the teeny turns too wide. Oh the fun! Our favorite hike on Needles was Sylvan Lake, which apparently is a big deal in the movie National Treasure 2. We liked it because of the awesome rock formations surrounding the lake. A must-see place for any traveler!

After Custer, we went to Crazy Horse Memorial, where we learned about the history and meaning of the memorial and the surrounding facilities. Crazy Horse will be the largest sculpture in the world (even larger than the pyramids) and is currently being carved into a mountain in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The nearby neighbor of Crazy Horse is Mount Rushmore, so we stopped over there too. We’ve been to both of them already on past trips across the country with the family, but it was fun visiting them again, especially to see the progress of Crazy Horse.

We packed a ton into our few days in South Dakota, and we took our time getting back home. Our final South Dakota stop was at Falls Park in Sioux Falls, and we walked the trails around the beautiful set of falls the area is famous for. Our mother-daughter road trip was a huge success, and mom and I both felt very peaceful and centered after spending so much time in nature. Now my mom says the same things I say about needing to hike the parks instead of just viewing them roadside. Seriously you guys, take a hike, you won’t regret it….unless you get too close to a buffalo and get ran over. Keep your distance.

I’m not sure what my next adventure will be, but I’ll probably be on another one in a few weeks. Work starts soon and there won’t be much time for anything else for a while, so I need to travel while I can. Thanks for reading, and go enjoy the world, maybe even South Dakota!18697863_10213416871279699_753410448_o18697569_10213416871239698_1082573936_o18742597_10213416871359701_2070374612_o18698603_10213416871319700_87857533_o

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Crazy Horse Memorial

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Falls Park

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Needles Highway

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Sylvan Lake

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Sylvan Lake

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Pronghorn Antelope

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Burro

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Badlands Sheep

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Notch Trail

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One of the Wall Drug Dinos

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Chamberlain Rest Stop – Sacajawea

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Corn Palace

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Sleepy in Superior

Remember when I was talking about adjusting to the time change and how hard it is? Somehow my body has nooooo idea where I am, as I’ve been ready for bed by 6pm (Central Time) and sleeping by 10. A few weeks ago that would’ve been 3/4pm and 7/8pm in LA! So I feel fairly old and boring after falling asleep so early, but I never did anything at night really any how. The wonderful thing about being an outdoors lover is you go out in daylight hours and tire yourself out, so an early bedtime is normal. See, I’m normal! Okay, now that I got that out of the way…

My time home has been extremely eventful – not so much with exciting hikes and new places – but still, eventful. Every single day I’ve had the pleasure of going on local walks or hikes with my family, friends, and their kids and dogs. I purchased my very first Minnesota State Park sticker after hiking a little in Jay Cooke State Park with my friend. Jay Cooke is an absolute gem, a beautiful riverside park with gushing water and ancient glacial rocks. I look forward to exploring the trails there, as well as the many unique parks located “up the north shore” of Lake Superior.

Most of my walks and hikes have revolved around Pattison State Park. I’m so lucky to have this park only a few miles from where I grew up, and as one of my past places of work. This park is so amazing because of the two sets of falls it harbors. The first is the astounding 165 foot giant, Big Manitou Falls. This winding waterfall is only two feet shy of being the same height of the Niagara Falls, and is also a beautiful fall to observe. The second set of falls is the Little Manitou Falls, twin waterfalls that can be accessed easily by a parking lot, or from a few lovely hikes. Mom and I did a long hike to Pattison’s backpacking campsites and the longest ski trail the other day. We had quite a bit of fun looking at the variety of giant trees and noticing the deer tracks and furry wolf poop (guessing they also noticed the deer tracks).

Random side note: even though I’ve been back home for a few weeks now, I still get excited when I see a Wisconsin license plate. NEWSFLASH, they’re everywhere! Other things I’m trying to get used to include: the one consistent northern accent among everyone, only seeing two or three different races in a day, trees and water are everywhere, and how annoying the weather is. There are great things about living in this exact location like the thick forests and beautiful shorelines, but I find it difficult to avoid the things I do not enjoy here. That being said, summer is around the corner and the area will liven more to my liking soon. AAAANNNNDDD I accepted a new job that moves to different states in the US a few times a year, and I’m excited to start that new journey in August.

Until then I will be enjoying time with family and friends, exploring every inch of my homeland, planning and taking more trips (duh!), and enjoying the first summer I’m not working my butt off since I started working seven years ago!!! That gets three exclamation points because I never thought I would be so lucky to have copious amounts of time to go camping and join fellow travelers in the fair weather season. ANOTHER SIDE NOTE: My phone logs my steps (when I have it on and with me), and during my last road trip I hiked 40 miles. If I’m ever really bored one of these days I will calculate my hiking distance through the entire winter vacation, but it totals somewhere close to 200 miles. I’m trying to keep the same pace here, because I have my sights set on the Pacific Crest Trail sometime soon. Maybe I’ll hike some of it this summer, or maybe wait a year or two to do the 6 month hike up the entire trail. Decisions, decisions…at least we all know one thing about my future – adventure awaits!

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Canal Park in Duluth, MN

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Duluth Entry

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Big Manitou Falls at Pattison State Park

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Little Manitou Falls at Pattison State Park

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Iconic Buffalo on Highway 35 North, Esko, MN

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Jay Cooke State Park

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U-Bend in Black River at Pattison State Park

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Grow through obstacles, like this fungi

My Next Adventure

I made it! Home, that is. The past few days have been filled with lots of love visiting with family and helping out with whatever I can. I love my small community in LA, but I missed my large network of people in Wisconsin/Minnesota. My second day back actually had an impromptu mini-roadtrip to Tomah, Wisconsin, to visit my older brother (with my younger brother in tow). We even snuck in a cool hike up a bluff! Yay Wisconsin! I am sure my time home will be filled with mini-roadtrips across my home states, maybe even to Canada since it’s only a few hours away. I have to try a little harder to seek out adventure in the Midwest than I did going across the West, but there are plenty of places I haven’t seen and trails I haven’t hiked!

Now that my trip is over, I can talk about the changes in my life. For those who don’t know, I was on a temporary layoff over the winter which is why I was able to travel and take so much time off. The day before my trip I received news that my layoff was no longer temporary, and that I would have to find a new direction in life. Honestly this news was freeing. I absolutely loved what I did, but this trip has awoken a new side to me that has trouble committing to being home for a long period of time (long being 8-10 months to me). I’m all about the universe sending signs and pointing you in the direction you are or aren’t supposed to go, and this was definitely one of those.

So now my next grand adventure will be……(drum roll please)……..anywhere! I’m super excited to be looking into new careers in new places or areas I traveled to out West, and love the uncertainty of my future. One thing I’ve learned in my short 23 years on this earth, is that you have to embrace change and enjoy it. A stagnant life may seem appealing, but getting too comfortable with what you do or where you’re at can be dangerous. Change forces us to grow and learn new things, and no matter your age, you should always be a student of this world.

So stay tuned, because no one knows where I’ll go next! Including me! Until then, I’ll update with my hiking and exploring of the Midwest. There are some pretty awesome things to do here too, especially “Up North.” I will also be sharing some of my tips for traveling on a budget and solo. AND I may currently be working on a book that could help you in your adventures someday, more to come on that soon. Thanks for sharing in my explorations this winter, and I hope you share in my future endeavors as well!

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Mill Bluff State Park

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North Country Moss

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Magnet Collection from the Roadtrip

No One Likes Iowa After Colorado

As someone who feels compelled to move every 4 months and travel every few weeks, it’s difficult to call anywhere home. EXCEPT my parents’ house, where I always seem to end up at before my next grand adventure. The saying “Home is where the heart is” rings true. My heart floats with the wind and I go chasing it across the continent, but it always finds its way home. Currently I’m in Iowa, and if you have followed my blog since the beginning, you’d know my heart is not in Iowa. There doesn’t seem to be much here, actually.

This morning I left the Rocky Mountains. There was a beautiful sunrise, draping the mountain tops in pink. I skipped writing a post yesterday to spend more time relaxing in the outdoors. The mountain air was incredible to breathe in, and I felt like I was flushing out all the toxins of living in the LA city air with each exhale. Yesterday morning I was planning on doing a 12 mile round trip hike to a high elevation pond. After about a half mile of trekking through the snow and gaining elevation, I began to feel sick. To get to this part of the park you have to go a few thousand feet above the elevation elsewhere, so adding another 1000 feet of elevation change in a half hour is a lot. I have gotten headaches after my first night sleeping somewhere with a high elevation, but have never gotten sick during an elevation change. As I was hiking up the snowy trail, my head and neck started hurting and I got dizzy quickly. I tried to fight through it for a bit, but concluded that this hike wasn’t for me. It wasn’t fun anyways, since it was cold and icy. Plus the pond I was going to would probably be frozen and nothing much to look at. I stopped at a waterfall many people were specifically hiking to see. It was an 8 inch hole with a teeny bit of water coming out. Okay, time to find another place to hike.

I went to the nearby Sprague Lake, a very easy and scenic 1 mile hike. This lake was only partially frozen, and had geese and ducks calling it home. Next I drove to a meadow, hiking a few miles alongside a small stream. Eventually I realized I was on the elk trail (big surprise!) and made my way over to the human trail. On the way I found a mud pit where a herd must’ve recently been. I admired how large and deep their hoof prints were. Next I drove to a different trailhead, and explored the mountain base off the trail. I intentionally followed a deer/elk trail, looking at where they slept, ate, drank, and pooped. After exploring a bit, I decided to go back to town and walk around Lake Estes. The Rockies were a joy to explore, but I would definitely enjoy them more when the snow is mostly gone. As I was leaving, storm clouds rolled in and I could see snow up in the mountains. While I was walking around Lake Estes in Estes Park, the wind started howling, blowing the clouds my way. Instead of doing the 3.8 mile hike around the entire thing I did 2.5, turning around when the wind became menacing. All in all, I ended up doing 10 miles for the day.

Today I hit the road early, ending in Council Bluffs, IA. The drive across Nebraska went surprisingly quick, although the drive home seems to always fly by after vacation. I’m dreading the boring drive through Iowa and Southern/Central Minnesota tomorrow, as I’ve seen enough open plains and farm fields for a lifetime. Someday I’ll explore Iowa and find a love for it. Someday. My next blog post will be from home sweet home, in Up North Wisconsin.

If a Tree Falls in the Forest…

If you’ve been to Colorado, chances are you’ve seen elk. No matter how many times I see them, I’m still amazed at these cow/horse-like deer creatures. I was hoping I would see one while hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park today, but I didn’t. Instead, I stepped out of my hotel room and was shocked to see part of a herd (about 8) gathered outside, around my car and the playground. They continued to eat, a few came closer to peer up at me (I was on the second floor). I tossed them some raisins and one of them had a stare down with me. Eventually I made it to my car (the elk didn’t move, but they didn’t mind) and I set off to get my all-important pizza dinner. On the way I saw a male with a huuuuge rack. As I slowed down to take a picture, he started walking towards my car, passing about 5 inches behind it. I’ve been watching them all night, as they are all over the hotel area.

As you can see, I’m enjoying my time in Colorado so far! I’m staying in Estes Park, a touristy town right outside the entrance to the national park. I arrived earlier than expected and was able to get a few hikes in. A wonderful park ranger recommended a few hikes for today and tomorrow that would get me away from the crowds because of how challenging they are. The Rocky Mountain National Park is almost as busy as Zion, yay spring break season! Today I hiked about 6 miles, hiking up a mountain side to a river, on a snow covered and closed road, and on a deer trail to a vibrant creek. The landscape was amazing: flowing water, variety of stones, tall pine trees, soaring peaks, and grassy meadows.

During my hike up the mountain I veered off trail to check out the view. I snapped some photos, accidentally dropping my phone off a giant rock. I watched as it bounced off one rock onto another, onto another, stopping about 30 feet away. Now, I don’t have a case or screen protector on it because they both broke (I live an active lifestyle, okay!), so I was nervous to pick it up. Much to my surprise, aside from a tiny piece of glass missing from a drop in Death Valley, there wasn’t even a scratch! This is when I plug the Samsung Galaxy S7 Active. I bought this phone with hiking and falling in mind, as it is supposed to be one of the toughest on the market. It has gone above and beyond my expectations, surviving falls that would shatter any other screen. Seriously, perfect for me.

Anyhow, I recovered the phone and turned to continue my hike upwards. Right as I stepped down, a tree fell about 100 feet away in the direction I was headed. We still don’t know if a tree falls in a forest and there’s no one to hear it, if it makes a sound, because I heard that and I almost jumped out of my skin. That, my friends, is called a sign. Mother Nature told me to get back on the trail or risk getting hit by a tree, so back to the trail I went. The rest of the hike was lovely, and I abandoned the trail again to walk alongside the river. It was quite peaceful and a wonderful place to look for cool rocks.

I love this area already, especially since it’s covered in elk. Although Estes Park is 7500 feet above sea level, it is still nice and warm at about 60-75 degrees during the day. The further I hiked up the mountain the cooler it got, and the more snow there was (there’s no snow in Estes Park). It’s a fun climate since it can change a lot just by hiking. Tomorrow I’ll do many more miles of hiking in the park, more stories to come!

Scenic Drive in Pastel Land

Utah is so weird. Seriously, so weird. I took the scenic route 12 & 24 to the I-70, stumbling upon Capitol Reef National Park and continuing on toward Colorado. After the park I felt like I drove into a retro-Instagram filter. Utah turned into this weird pastel land where real colors don’t exist, just the baby/light versions of them. And I love it, this weirdo state.

My journey today started back on the east bound scenic 12, passing my stops from yesterday. The landscape quickly changed from the red and orange rock to gray, white, and pink. The drive was quite scenic (duh, scenic highway), and I pulled over quite a few times for photos. Eventually the drive climbed to a mountain peak of 10,000 feet up where there were beautiful pines and plenty of snow. After I emerged from winter, I stumbled upon Capitol Reef National Park! I felt like I unlocked a hidden map in a video game, as I didn’t realize it was on the way to the interstate. I was quite happy to stop to explore a bit, walking a little, driving another scenic road, and checking out petroglyphs. Capitol Reef is almost as vibrant as Bryce Canyon, this time with a lot of pink mixed into the rocks.

The rest of the drive involved taking in the pastel landscape and watching the environment change as I drove into Colorado. I even saw the strange Buttes, quite a sight. Tonight I’ll rest up and plan my time in the Rockies. Can’t wait for more hiking and another national park!

Utah, Drive 10 Miles Either Direction for Change

Bryce Canyon National Park is the albino Mexican Salamander (look it up) of national parks: super strange and not-of-this-world, but also very intriguing and interesting. It’s so orange and the Hoodoos (strange rock formations) looked alien. My hike this morning began at Sunrise Point and ended at Sunset Point, taking the Queens Garden Trail and the Navajo Trail through the canyon. The hike was about 3 miles (plus another mile back to my car) and had magnificent views above and inside Bryce Canyon, including the rock formations of Queen Victoria (striking resemblance!) and Thor’s Hammer.

When I reached Sunset Point, I sat on top of a sturdy and short fence about 30 feet from the edge of the canyon to sip my water. Now, there are no signs saying you can’t sit on the fence and it was also an extremely safe place to sit or else I wouldn’t have chosen there. However, that didn’t stop a park ranger a bit away guiding a tour from telling me to get off the fence. It took everything in me not to laugh or point out there was no reason I shouldn’t be allowed to sit there, as his voice was IDENTICAL to Zach Galifianakas in The Campaign and he said, “Oh dear, get off the fence! You absolutely should not be sitting up there. Oh my…sitting on the fence…” I reminded myself he probably tells people to get off the fence at dangerous parts of the park all the time and is just trying to do his job, so I was able to bite my tongue and comply. I really do have a high respect for park rangers as some of my favorite people are rangers, so I’ll give this guy the benefit of the doubt and assume I caught him on an off day. I left after the hike, as this park is fairly small and many trails are closed due to snow.

Next I headed on the Scenic Highway 12 towards Escalante to check out the different landscape close to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The drive was gorgeous and I pulled over many times to snap some photos. I eventually found myself at Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, doing a few miles of hiking past large pieces of petrified wood that are millions of years old. After the hike I grabbed a bite to eat, stopped on the side of the road to observe a Pronghorn Antelope, and walked around Red Canyon to check out the vibrant red rock and landscape. Butch Cassidy (infamous old western villain/gang leader) used to roam the canyon with his gang of thieves in the late 1800s. It was easy to image them riding horses through the dry riverbed with the red rock towering around them.

Not too much to report today aside from my 7 miles of hiking and exploring. Tonight I will go back into Bryce Canyon to check out the night sky, and will try to sleep early so I can take off early in the morning. Tomorrow is another one of my favorite states….Colorado! Utah always amazes me with its diversity. You don’t have to drive far to encounter a completely different landscape, and there’s never a shortage of places to explore.