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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Tips on Preparing for a Road Trip

I am currently planning my next two trips (hints: one goes up a “north shore” and the other goes to 3-5 more parks), and gearing up for my next career which may start in a few months in Louisiana or at the end of the summer in Ohio. In my free time I’ve been rereading my blog and getting emotional about my pictures and memories from this winter. There’s nothing like a sunset over Canyonlands National Park to make you cry! And I’ve also been debating about writing a book full of tips and stories, but have decided to wait on that. I know the next few years of my life will be full of exploring and travel, and I will have much more wisdom to share then. So I’ve decided to share my tips with all of you guys for free instead, yay!

Since traveling and road tripping season is coming up, I am going to give you guys all the advice I can – from packing your bags to spending a day at Yosemite, I’m going to spill all. To kick us off, here are my tips on preparing for a road trip:

1. Get your maps and itineraries ready (and share them!)

Being safe while traveling is all about your preparedness. It is essential to have more than one kind of map to follow. I know most people use an app on their phone (I prefer the Google Maps app, as you can download offline instructions too!), but it’s important to have a print copy available in case something happens to your technology. I always carry an atlas with me (currently just of the US and Canada, but eventually it will be of the world), and also print off my accommodation itineraries as well as a paper copy of the directions my phone will tell me. ALSO if you are traveling solo, give your mom, your BFF, your spouse, somebody who isn’t going on this trip with you (preferably the person you will be checking in with) a copy of your entire trip itinerary.

If you are traveling alone, make sure you let someone know what you’re doing and when you expect to end your day. Then call or text them to let them know when you arrive. Have an emergency plan in place for what they should do if you do not check in, like waiting an hour and calling the local authorities.

2. Pack the right gear

Things you should have in your car for a road trip include:

-Atlas          -Car Wipes (for the spills that will happen)          -Wet Wipes (for your sticky fingers after you eat the whole bag of Sour Patch kids)          -A Basic Tool Kit                        -Basic Car Care Supplies (like everything needed for changing a tire, an extra quart of oil, windshield washer fluid, sand if you may encounter snow, an emergency road flare/light, etc.)          -First Aid Kit          -Umbrella or Rain Gear          -Snow Gear (if you’re going somewhere they may be snow) and Snow Chains          -Extra gallon(s) of Water          -Nonperishable Food for Emergencies          -Pillow and Blanket (in case you have to sleep in your car in an emergency)

Things you should pack in general:

-Toiletries (when you’re in the small town with one store, you will kick yourself for having to pay $7 for shaving razors instead of bringing the cheap ones you had at home) -Clothes for All Weather          -Extra Clothes (especially socks and underwear)           -A Good Pair of Walking Shoes          -Two Phone Chargers: one being a car charger           -Food/Snacks and Water          -A Camera (or clear enough space on your phone for lots of pictures)          -Extra Sunglasses (because you will scratch or break a pair when you only have one)          -Sunscreen/Hat

3. Do Your Research

Know enough about where you’re going or what you’re doing in order to be safe there. If you’re going into the wilderness, know which animals or weather you may encounter and learn how to handle an attack or emergency. If you’re going to a big city, know which neighborhoods are safe and what things are worth seeing. If you’re staying in or driving through the middle of nowhere, know where you can stop for gas and purchase your necessities.

4. Book Where You’re Staying

Before going on my winter of road trips, I didn’t plan ahead for much. I’m a very spontaneous and free-spirited person, and the structure of having to check in somewhere on a certain day in a certain time frame was the opposite of all my soul stands for. BUT, my wallet was very thankful I didn’t have to search for last minute accommodations, and I always had a place to rest my head. (You can find more budget-friendly tips in my previous blog post: https://elisabeththeadventurer.wordpress.com/2017/02/06/how-i-can-afford-to-travel-and-how-you-can-too/) Plus I was able to plan my day around daylight hours, knowing how many hours it would take me to get from one place to another. Now I plan ahead for all my trips, and really enjoy doing so, which leads us to…..

5. Make a Plan (then print it out)

As I said, I never considered myself to be a planner before this trip (many friends and family can attest to that!), but for my personal safety I forced myself to make one for my first road trip. I used this super duper handy website: Furkot.com, where I punched in all of the places I wanted to go, and it literally made the best route between all of them for me! It even told me how long it would take to drive between places, and suggested when I should stop to rest based off of my driving preferences. I got to do the fun part of planning and it did the rest. It was also super easy to customize and organize, and made it so fun that I’ve used the website two more times since then. Then I printed the map and directions out, one copy for myself and one for my check-in contact (my mom). So easy, and so fun.

6. Alert Your Bank/Credit Card Company

Many financial institutions have identity theft protection that alerts you or freezes your cards when they see irregular activity, or charges from a state/country you usually aren’t in. Call your bank, credit union, or credit card company and let them know where you’re traveling and when.

7. Have Extra Money With/Saved

Anything can happen on a trip. A broken bone or fuel line can quickly cost you a couple hundred dollars you weren’t expecting to fork out. Make sure you have at least a couple hundred dollars you don’t plan on spending as an emergency fund so you don’t have to end your trip early because of finances.

Road trips are awesome, and being prepared for anything will help you enjoy your trip to the fullest. Stay tuned or subscribe for more tips!

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The Canyonlands sunset picture I’m currently sobbing over

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Furkot made planning my trip easy and fun

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Since I was doing a lot of hiking on my trip, I also had to prepare my hiking pack

 

 

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.

“Only Angels Hike Here” or Something Like That – Hiking Angels Landing

I’m alive! I didn’t become the 9th person to die on this hike (#8 was just the other day sadly). As much as I’d like to say Angels Landing was named that because only angels like me hike there, but it’s actually because it is so high up that only angels could land there. When I hit the trail around 9am, there weren’t too many people on it yet by Zion standards. Keeping a quick pace on the first stretch, I quickly reached the famous and dreaded Walter’s Wiggles, a series of 20 tightly stacked, steep switchbacks. The trail went from gradual elevation gain to intense like that (*snaps fingers*)! I sweat out every toxin in my body over this stretch, happy to reach the top. It was a great leg and butt workout though, so I can’t complain too much. Plus I chatted with a few different people on the way up. Hikers are so friendly, my favorite type of people.

When I reached the top of the Wiggles, I came to what I thought was the end of the trail. How anticlimactic! Buuuut it actually continued further around a bend, as I was only at Scout Lookout, where many people choose to stop instead of taking the knee-weakening route up to Angels Landing. After taking a breather, I continued on to the fun part of the trail: the last 0.50 mile stretch to the summit. This part of the trail is very steep and narrow, only 4 feet wide at some parts with steep 1 mile deep drops on either side. But at least you have chains to hold onto for dear life! Going up was exhausting, requiring the use of every muscle in my body and intense focus. I do absolutely love rock scrambling though, so I enjoyed choosing where to best put my hands and feet so I don’t die.

If you haven’t done a hike like this before, you may not be familiar with hiking etiquette. On the narrow parts of the trails people or groups will take turns stepping safely to the side to let people going the other direction pass. Thankfully the group I was traveling with to the top was courteous, and taking turns let us all catch our breath and muster up strength for the next stretch. However I did encounter a few people who only had their destination in mind, compromising the safety of everyone else to squeeze past to get ahead. Friends, don’t be like them. Our kindergarten teachers taught us to take turns for a reason.

After the last set of chains, I emerged VICTORIOUS! Hanging out at the top of Angels Landing were about 30 souls like mine, congratulating each other and taking in the views. Even with the buzz of excited chatter, it was so zen and peaceful. Getting to the top of this hike wasn’t like a mountain climb where you scream and raise your arms. Instead you breathe a sigh of relief and smile at the beauty surrounding you, maybe because you’re too dang tired to scream. I found my own corner to lay down and stare at the open sky, looking for angels. I asked a nice gal to take my picture, and did the same for her and her friends. They were on spring break, and traveled to Utah to hike Zion and Bryce Canyon. What an awesome trip for them to do while still in school! I wish I had been like that in college.

Twenty minutes of hanging out on the top, and it was time to begin the descent. On the way up you aren’t very aware of how high up you are because you’re so focused on your hands and feet. The way down however, is a whole different story. Not only can you see the steep drops on either side of the trail, but gravity is also trying to help you slide down. How nice. That being said, the route down was much easier physically than the way up, and I thought it was all pretty fun. I stopped at Scout Landing to eat my tuna and crackers, and then continued down the Wiggles. When you’re on normal paths going down, I don’t believe in fighting gravity too much. I like to jog on down slopes because going slow is extremely hard on your joints, especially your knees.

After jogging down all 20 switchbacks, I reached the canyon between the mountain and the rest of the switchbacks/trail down. I stopped to listen to a beautiful singing bird, and took a step and felt incredible pain. My first thought (because the last few days have been kind of rough, plus it really, really hurt!) was that I tore something. I didn’t know what that thing would be (now I think it was possibly a really bad and weirdly placed shin splint), but I couldn’t walk. I stopped to massage it out, took a few more steps and stopped again. I still had 1.5 miles down the canyon to hike, and I was NOT going to be one of those people who gets hurt and has to get taken out by helicopter, so I evaluated my situation. I could sit on my butt and scoot down the entire thing if I had to. I decided to tightly tie my sweatshirt around my upper thigh to keep everything compressed (I had a knee injury in high school and a thigh sleeve helped the pain), and that took away enough of the pain that I could hobble my way down. I successfully limped for about a quarter mile before stopping to stretch my leg again, and by that time the spasm or whatever it was subsided. I cautiously continued on, eventually going with gravity to the end of the trail, and never feeling that pain again.

After riding the shuttle back to my car, I did the 2 hour drive over to Bryce, Utah – my home for the next few days. I will be hiking Bryce Canyon tomorrow, although I heard not many trails are open due to snow. Even though it was 70 degrees here today, snow still stays because of the altitude. I got here early enough that I could catch the sunset at Bryce Point in Bryce Canyon. Now I’ll rest up, and hit the trails again tomorrow. I love Utah and its weird landscape.

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Angels Landing, Trail Goes All the Way Up

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Chains on the Narrow Trail

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View from the Landing

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Scenic Route to Bryce

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Scenic Route to Bryce

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Bryce Canyon

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What Time Is It on Mars?

Daylight Savings is hard. Changing time zones is hard. Put those things together and you get one sleepy traveler who has to sleep in late when she should be hiking, and doesn’t completely screw the lid on her water pack before putting it in her hiking backpack. I spent the day at Zion National Park with a dripping wet back and butt from a soaked pack, as it was too late by the time I realized my mistake. Sleepy issues aside, I’m on the road again! And in Utah again, which is pretty much Mars with all the red rock.

Zion National Park is the #1 park in the United States, so I was expecting the crowds I encountered today. Also it’s spring break season, so I had the pleasure of sharing trails with goofy college kids who kept me well entertained. My favorite one was a guy ahead of me who would say, “Go (insert state or sport team here)! Yeah!” every time he saw someone wearing a shirt repping their favorite team. He said, and I quote, “It’s funny everyone thinks I’m a fan too, but really I just like sports. Go sports!”

My hiking today revolved around Zion Canyon, which is accessible by shuttle. Each stop has a different point of interest with both short and long hikes available. I did quite a few different hikes, totaling 9.5 miles. I started with the Court of the Patriarchs, which wasn’t really a hike at all, but a viewpoint. The Court of the Patriarchs are three sandstone peaks named after men from the Bible (Abraham, Issac, and Jacob) because of how magnificent they look. Next I headed to the Upper Emerald Pools, a few miles with some steep climbs that lead to a few waterfalls and pools. This trailhead splits with the West Rim Trail that leads to Angels Landing (a popular strenuous and dangerous hike) and I was very tempted to hop on it, but chose to save that for tomorrow morning as the trail gets very busy during the day. I said hi to around 50 people because solo-travel makes you insanely friendly, and a cute little 4 year old showed me his rock collection.

Next I headed over to Weeping Rock, an area of the canyon where water seeps out and rains down the side. The hike was labeled as 0.50 miles round trip and steep. I started on what I thought was that trail, headed up steep switchbacks winding up the canyon side. After about a MILE of switchbacks, I came to the conclusion I was definitely on the wrong trail and headed back down. It was a great warm up for the hike tomorrow at least! And there was a fantastic view of Big Bend, a U-shaped bend in the Virgin River. When I walked over to the Weeping Rock, I was greeted by the spray and drops of water from the waterfall above. Even with the 20 college girls taking turns posing for pictures everywhere, I was able to find a cozy corner of the rail to sit on and soak in the view and cool spray.

My last stop of the day was the entrance to the Narrows. The Narrows are on my list of places to visit with others, as it is a hike through the Virgin River where there is no trail and you have to wade and swim. Unfortunately for everyone else who were planning on doing it today, the water level is much too high and it is closed. The hike to the entrance was relaxing and offered great views along the river. I decided to head back to my hotel after, as I hit all of the major sights (minus Angels Landing) and hikes. Zion is smaller than I expected, although there are lesser visited parts in the far corners of the property. I love the landscape though, as I swear Utah is a chunk of Mars. The rocks were white, pink, and red, with hanging gardens and pine trees growing from them.

The drive back to my hotel was quite scenic as well. I have yet to encounter a part of Southern Utah I don’t like. Maybe a possible state of residence in the future… I’m staying in Kanab, the land of Little Hollywood. Old Westerns used to be filmed here, including Gunsmoke, The Lone Ranger, and Death Valley Days. The sets are open and free to check out, but pretty much the entire city closes by 5pm (during off-peak-season) so I missed checking them out. Instead I walked to a nearby memorial park and grabbed a panini and cookie dough malt from The Soda Shop, yum! Now I’m resting up, took some cold medicine (sore throat and fever, yuck), and will hopefully go to bed soon even though my body thinks it’s 6pm pre-daylight savings time (LA time). Angels Landing tomorrow, and then off to the next park…Bryce Canyon!

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Weeping gardens

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Big Bend

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Court of the Patriarchs

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Lunch of Champions