8/16/2016: Too brief
My time in Shenandoah was too brief. I didn’t get to spend the time in the park that I would have liked. It was also one of the parks that I had previously visited and so I didn’t feel the pressure to spend every waking hour running on the trails.
One of the things that I have learned from this trip is the balance between being outside and being with friends and family. While the pendulum definitely swung in favor of family and friends on this portion of the trip, it was definitely worth it!
8/15/2016: Another group hike
One of my mentors from college lives in Charlottesville and I have been lucky to stay connected with him and his family. While he was at work I went for a hike with his wife and two of their sons. It was a super fun hike, because I remember when their youngest, Alex, was two years old. At ten, he is incredibly different. Their middle son, Zach, is also an incredibly talented runner who I once paced for a 10k several years back. While I wasn’t teaching them anything new it was fun to share my love of the parks with some younger folks who will hopefully remember these experience and carry them on into the future.
8/14/2016: Group hike to Hawksbill
One of my favorites hikes in the park is up to Hawksbill Peak. It is incredibly easy, as it is only one mile from the parking area. The great part about it is that it takes you to the highest part of the park and gives you an incredible view of the surrounding area. The work for reward ratio is very high in favor of the reward.
I was super excited to be joined by my friends Ory, Danny, Joy, Biz, Todd, Sara and Kathleen. It is one thing to enjoy these parks by yourself, it is quite another to enjoy them with friends.
Shenandoah presented an interesting challenge for a couple of reasons, the main one being that so many friends and supporters of the trip lived in Charlottesville. I felt like as much as I wanted to visit the park I also had to see the people that had helped make it happen.
8/12/2016: Perseid meteor shower
Rumor had it that the Perseid meteor shower would be at its finest on the late night of the 11th and early morning of the 12th, I planned to be on top of Spy Rock, just a bit outside of Shenandoah National Park, but a place with a rewarding 360 degree view of the surrounding area.
The meteors were certainly good, but not as many as I was hoping for, definitely lucky that the clouds cleared up and provided a night sky that was clear.
8/11/2016: The Blue Ridge Parkway
One of my life goals has been to drive the entirety of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It goes Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Shenandoah National Park. It is a 469 miles drive and most of the speed limit on the park way is between 35 and 45 miles per hour. I finished about 100 miles the night before and thus only had about 11 hours to go before I would be in Shenandoah.
I made two pitstops, one was to watch my friend Meghan O’Leary compete in the Olympic finals of the two person sculls, in rowing. I magically got service while at the viewpoint for Mt. Jefferson. The other pit stop was for breakfast in Boone, NC. I went to a local bagel shop that totally sucked.
The parkway is one of the US Scenic Byways, and it certainly lives up to the name, there are some majestic views and overlooks along the way, almost all are worth stopping at.
8/10/2016: On top of the world
I woke up before dawn to start hiking to Mount Cammerer and arrived there without anyone else nearby. It was clear and beautiful. I enjoyed it for a bit and then hiked down to head off to the next adventure. I had been hearing a lot about Charlie’s Bunion, so I drove most of the way around the park and then made a trail run out of it and was able to get out there and back relatively quickly. I had planned to take one more hike to Chimney’s but I had already put 18-miles on my legs and it just didn’t look like I could make it happen, so I went up to Clingman’s Dome with the hope of having a good view. It was socked in again!
8/9/2016: Cades Cove
I woke up early and headed to Cades Cove on the western side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was definitely a slower day. I went to the visitor’s center, walked around for a little bit and soaked in a little bit of the slower Great Smokies views. I headed to the backcountry office for a permit so that I could be up on Mount Cammerer the following morning and made for my campsite later in the day.
I kind of like heading out for a hike at 5pm to arrive just before sunset. I get to experience a full day and then just have a little hike before bedding down for the night. I made it to the Appalachian Trail shelter and there were several thru hikers that were spending the night, I chatted with them as well as some trail crew folks who were up working on the nearby trails.
8/8/2016: Wild animals and fellow explorers
I went to take the hike that I had planned for the previous day. It was a part of the park that the rangers said was rarely frequented, they also warned that there might be wild pigs and that the trail would be hard to follow due to downed trees.
All of those things were true, I saw zero people, I ran, literally, into several wild pigs and nearly lost the trail due to some downed trees. Perhaps more frightening than the pigs and nearly lost trail was the copperhead that I saw curled up on the bridge. I was ten feet away from it and about to cross the bridge that it lay waiting on, I had stopped to take a picture of the bridge and noticed a strange pattern on the bridge, and there it was.
I left Congaree to go have lunch with some fellow National Park explorers, Project59NPS, who are trying to take their two kids to see all 59 of the National Parks. We grabbed lunch, exchanged stories and shared our love for National Parks before I had to continue my drive to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
I arrived at Great Smokies with the hope of heading up to Clingman’s Dome. It was completely socked in with fog, so I drove down the mountain a little bit and was rewarded with an epic sunset.
My plan was to go and hike for 10-15 miles with an early morning start. As I was passing the visitor’s center I noticed a sign advertising a canoe trip that was supposed to start in fifteen minutes, I asked the nearest ranger if they had any extra space on the trip. He informed me that it wasn’t likely, but that if I wanted to hang around for a little bit, they might have a space open up. Luck was on my side and I was able to hop on the trip.
The ranger and several volunteers drove the canoes and kayaks several miles down the road and we caravanned there. It was cool to be on the water, there were snakes in trees that we had to canoe under, our guide saw some gar in the water and it was just a cool way to see the park. There were signs on the trees to mark the path and some of them were ten to fifteen feet up the trees, we asked how they got there and he said they were placed there by canoe goers when the water was high and flooding!
8/6/2016: Congaree National Park
I arrived at Congaree National Park with the hopes that it would not be completely mosquito ridden, like Everglades National Park. There was a scale outside of the visitor’s center that rated the mosquito volume on a scale from 1 – All Clear to 6 – War Zone. We were luckily at a 2 – Mild, so I could camp without being devoured.
They have an elevated boardwalk that you can walk around and be about 10 feet above the swamp, I walked around on that and got my bearings of the area for my adventuring over the next several days.
8/5/2016: A day of driving
My day was spent driving. I drove to around Orlando where I found a car dealer that could give me an estimate on the damage done to the car. After that it was onward to Charleston, SC where I stayed with a buddy from my fraternity for some poker and a night out on the town.
Being in a town is so shocking, my body just isn’t used to it. It’s not used to the lights, to the staying up late. It’s all so foreign.
8/4/2016: A last hurrah in southern Florida
I spent the previous night at the condo with the parents of one of my elementary school friends, Micah. It was unreal to see and spend time with people that you haven’t seen in over twenty years. They are both retired and their son is now a pilot for Hawaiian airlines.
The rest of the day was spent driving to Ochopee, FL. Ochopee is the site of the smallest post office in the United States and I had a couple of letters that would be arriving there. I stopped in there and then made a quick pit stop on the western side of Everglades which was unexciting, before heading back to Miami to stay with a college friend, Yasir for the night. I had stopped in a Starbucks to do some work on the computer and after I had been there a little over an hour, a lady came into the store asking if anyone had a gray suburban. I did, so I walked up and she informed me that she had hit it with her car. Wonderful. Just wonderful.
8/3/2016: Dry Tortugas National Park
In what was one of my worst interactions with a person in the entire trip, I was prevented from spending the night out on Dry Tortugas. The lady on the phone told me that all the camping spots were full and that they didn’t have space to take me. As I was walking up the stairs the guy behind me told me that he had planned on camping, but had to cancel due to some family issues. I let him go in front of me in line with the hopes that I could take his camping spot. The lady behind the counter, who was the same lady that I spoke with on the phone was rude, disagreeable and frustrating to work with. She would not, under any circumstance allow me to camp, even though the guy in front of me had just cancelled his reservation.
Dry Tortugas was certainly cool, but I was there for such little time that I didn’t get to enjoy a sunrise, a sunset, or the night sky. I was pretty upset.
8/2/2016: Welcome (back) to Miami
I woke up early and headed to the visitor’s center to turn in my Junior Ranger stuff. Afterwards it was back on the ferry to St. Thomas. Traveling via ferry and cab is always interesting. Everything is so disorganized, you just have to go with the flow and lower your expectations for efficiency.
The most exciting part of the day occurred when I got on my American Airlines flight to find an article in the in-flight magazine that I had written. I knew it would be in the August issue, it was just very cool to finally see it in person!
The least exciting part of the day occurred when I got into Miami several hours late and had to drive four hours down to Key West so that I could catch the boat out to Dry Tortugas.
8/1/2016: Last full day
I spent my last full day on the island hopping from beach to beach. The beaches on St. John really are incredibly beautiful. You can see a turtle every day, and it provides some of the clearest most amazing water that I have ever seen. Due to the ease of access, it also means that you often have to deal with a lot of people as well, but I suppose that it is a small price to pay for the sheer beauty of the location.
7/31/2016: Rain, rain, go away
Rain was promised and rain was delivered. I hiked up Caneel Hill to get a good view of the overlook over Cruz Bay. It was completely socked in. Right as I got to the top of the hill it started to thunder quite heavily, as I was the highest point on the mountain I decided to hike down before figuring out if that thunder was also going to turn into lightning.
Most of the rest of the day was dedicated to making a Zion King video to invite Ellen to come to Acadia National Park to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.
7/30/2016: Waterlemon Cay and Ramshead
There was an incoming tropical depression that looked like it was going to cause some bad weather and perhaps put an end to any fun outdoor activities. Erin and I headed out to Waterlemon Cay to snorkel around the island. Waterlemon is of specific historic note, because it was not actually part of St. John, so when the local government put an end to dueling, the two parties would agree to meet at Waterlemon Cay, since it was not under control of St. John and would have their duels out there.
Afterwards, we made the trip back out to Ramshead where I could take pictures with my camera that was now emptied of photos. My plan to camp out was foiled by the bad weather, so we prepared ourselves for the incoming onslaught of rain.
7/29/2016: Sailing and mangroves
The morning started out with an impromptu sailing trip. One of Erin’s friends had some of his clients cancel on him, so he decided to make a locals only trip. We went out to Hurricane cove and went snorkeling in the mangroves. It was perhaps the coolest snorkeling that I have ever done in my entire life. Mangroves are well known as nurseries for small fish, there are places for them to hide and it is difficult for larger fish to get into that space. We swam around and then came back to the boat for some snacks and drinks before heading back into town.
I caught a taxi and spent the night at Cinnamon Bay, the only campsite on the island in the National Park. It was less than ideal as a campsite, there was a fair amount of trash and it seemed to be fairly mismanaged, I was not surprised to hear that in October they would be having a different company taking over the job.
7/28/2016: Reef Bay Trail
One of the great parts about St. John is the bus service. For you can hop on a bus and go all over the island. I hopped on and then headed for the Reef Bay Trail. I took the Reef Bay trail to the Reef Bay factory where Lady Bird Johnson once visited when she was the first lady. After that I continued to Europe Point, Lameshur Bay and made a 10-mile trek that would take me out to Ramshead. As I was hiking out to Ramshead my camera ran out of space, which sucks because I wanted to take a lot of pictures when I got up there.
I came back to beach, relaxed, hopped into the water and then decided to take the bus back to down after buying an ice cold Coca Cola classic from the local rasta man who was selling drinks and artwork.
7/27/2016: Ruins and star parties
All over the island of St. John are sugar mill ruins. One of the interesting things, though, is that there was also a ruin of a slave school that was one of the first of its kind to ever be built. Most of the sugar mills were used to make rum. It was the most efficient way to move sugar.
After exploring around the ruins for awhile we made for a star program that the National Park Service was putting on. They had two little telescopes that they closed in on Jupiter, so that you could see the rings. It was mediocre, the ranger who put together the slide show presentation was rather devastating. She hadn’t changed the presentation in 6-years. I know this, because when she opened the presentation on her computer you could see the ‘last modified on’ date.
7/26/2016: Hikes and beaches
I went for a short hike up Fish Gut, which is basically an old streambed. There isn’t a ton of wildlife on the island, so there really wasn’t too much to see. I stopped by the visitor’s center to pick up the Junior Ranger book and headed to the two nearby beaches.
Most of the day was spent traveling from Miami to St. John. I found some cheap parking from a website that contracts with local hotels to let you use their extra space as a cheaper parking option.
After flying from Miami to St. Thomas I took a cab to the Red Hook ferry where I then hopped on the ferry to head over to St. John. After landing in St. Thomas you are immediately transported to island time. Things move a little bit slower and more inefficiently.
I arrived on St. John, got off the ferry and then found the nearest watering hole where I waited for my UVA friend Erin to get off work. While sitting down I found Pokemon and talked to the people sitting next to me who had worked in their local school district as a janitor and English teacher for over 20 years.
7/24/2016: Southern Florida
Between the mosquitoes and the lack of transportation to Biscayne I spent the morning attempting to do some hikes in Everglades and was thwarted by the bugs. I motored on until I saw a water moccasin on the trail and then determined that it was time to turn my tail and head back to the car.
My only solace for the day was a stop at Robert is Here, which is a famous smoothie and fresh fruit stand. Their smoothies are the best that I have had in my entire life. I made my way for Miami, where I would be staying with a college buddy for the night before heading to USVI in the morning.
7/23/2016: Canoeing in Biscayne
My plan was to go on a canoe trip in Biscayne and then take the boat out to the Bocachita Lighthouse. Everything lined up perfectly, it would be a lot of time out on the water, but I would really get to experience the park.
The canoe trip went off flawlessly, I got some great pictures, the clouds were magnificent and it was a great time. I came back to the visitor’s center to head to the boat that would take me out to the island. They cancelled the trip because of the possibility of impending weather.
The weather never came, I walked and played Pokemon, dejectedly.
7/22/2016: Big Cypress
Due to the overwhelming mosquitoes in Everglades, I tried to find a new spot to camp. Luckily, I found a spot in Big Cypress that was not that bad at all. I spent most of the day at the Shark Valley portion of the park where you can rent a bike and ride down a 15-mile loop to see alligators and get a nice overlook of the surrounding area. One alligator hopped out on the trail as it devoured a fish less than 10 yards away from where I had been riding.
The little bugs in Everglades National Park were the worst that I have ever encountered in my entire life, ever. They were out for literal blood and they got a ton of it. I slept quite fitfully as it was also incredibly sweaty. When I finally woke up in the morning I headed to the littlegeneral store in Flamingo and was rewarded with a view of a crocodile and some manatees in the harbor. They pretty much made everything worth it.
I headed back to Biscayne, downloaded PokemonGo and did the only thing that I could do given the lack of options, I caught Pokemon.
Underwhelming is a word that too excitedly describes my experience at Biscayne National Park. The boat only went out on the weekend. You couldn’t camp out there. The one upside is that they so heavily promoted Pokemon Go that I began considering downloading it. There also was nowhere to camp so I had to drive several hours away to the tip of the Everglades to have a spot for the night.
7/19/2016: On The Road, again
I landed in Atlanta after a weekend full of wedding festivities and then began the drive that would take me down to the three Florida National Parks and my jumping off point for the US Virgin Islands and St. John. I arrived at Boca Raton to stay with a friend late in the evening on the 19th after stopping to see some friends in Tampa for a quick lunch stop.
7/13 – 7/18/2016: Weddings Abound
Another one of my friends, Layton and his fiancé Megan had their wedding planned for when I was on the trip. Layton is one of my good hiking and outdoorsy buddies, and I was in the wedding. So the schedule had to be modified and I had to go. Luckily, I still had a flight voucher from when United had overbooked one of my flights, so I was able to fly for free!
I woke up with the sun, hiked for my car and then made for Ramsey Cascades, some of the more magnificent waterfalls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I had to jog most of the way as I also had to drive an additional five hours to end the day in Atlanta.
7/11/2016: The Smokies
I arrived in the Smokies with just enough time to book a backcountry camping spot, drive there, cook dinner and hike in. There were zero people where I camped and I was quite happy. Due to the impending rain I set up both my hammock and my tent while sitting in the hammock to fiddle around on my ukulele. Unfortunately I am not very skilled and have only mastered a very lame version of the Jurassic Park theme song.
7/10/2016: Friends and Driving
As I left Charlottesville I made a pit stop in Richmond to see some of my dear friends. Since, I started the trip they had a second child. One of the true delights of this trip has been the frequency with which I have gotten to see friends from near and far. This was no different, Bernard, Elizabeth and Elizabeth’s sister Deborah and I caught up over lunch while entertaining the kids.
One of the things that I value in friendship is someone who will continually push me to grow. While this last year has been filled with incredible natural beauty, it has also been filled with confusion. I come back from the woods and hear about the Presidential options, bombings across seas and the killings of African-Americans and police officers. It’s honestly disheartening and terrifying. My year has been filled with kindness and generosity from friends and strangers. To see so much pain and violence and hate whenever I come back from camping makes my heart heavy. Spending time with friends, trying to understand, and trying to figure out how I can make the world a better place is something that I will always value.
7/8 – 7/9/2016: Difficult decisions
One of the tricky decisions I’ve had to make in this trip is whether or not to attend the weddings of friends throughout this trip. There are two major costs, time and money. If it were up to me I would always go to a wedding if it were possible. To be invited to witness a couples most special day is something that I consider to be an honor and something that I do my best to make sure that I can take part of. This was one of those moments, I was driving east and it worked out that I could stop in Charlottesville to see my friends Erik and Rachel get married. I saw friends, celebrated the wedding and left just as quickly as I could come to visit.
7/6 – 7/7/2016: Mammoth Cave National Park
Unfortunately most of the time I was at Mammoth Cave it was raining. Fortunately, a good portion of that time was spent in the came where it was pretty easy to avoid getting rained on. It was in Mammoth Cave that I also met one of the coolest rangers that I’ve met the entire trip. He was a 5th generation tour guide of Mammoth Cave and his family lived in what is now the park when it became a park!
7/4 – 7/5/2016: Bad decisions on the 4th of July
I had stayed up too late the night before watching Meru, which is incredible. My buddy, John, and I woke up early to run in the annual Peachtree 10k. I decided to do the race in my full cotton onesie. Up until mile four it seemed like a good idea. People were happy and smiling and supportive and I was laughing. Then the heat started to sink in. I had barely sweat at this point and then it was as if all of my pores decided to open up the faucets and expel all of the liquid from my body at once. What was once a dry onesie turned into a onesie that felt like it had been dunked into a swimming pool and with that I began chugging water to make sure that I did not pass out on the run.
For the first time in my life I treated myself to a spa and pedicure. I woke up early took a bath/sauna session and then went for my first pedicure in life.
Afterwards, as I was walking to my car I heard someone behind me. ‘Ma’am.’ I kept walking to my car, as I am a man and they clearly weren’t talking to me. ‘Ma’am!’ Hmm, someone must be ignoring him. ‘Excuse me, ma’am!!’ Oh wait, my hair is down. He thinks I’m a lady. I turned around to see a man with a completely embarrassed look on his face. He was attempting to help me register to vote, instead he ran away.
The rest of the day was spent driving to Atlanta, GA where I would be spending the weekend with friends.
7/2/2016: Hiking and sweating
Arkansas in early July at a place known for Hot Springs may not have been the best idea. I went for a hike in the morning, tested out the Hot Springs and then made for another hike. It was basically a day of sweating.
7/1/2016: Hot Springs
My arrival to Hot Springs National Park was less than ideal. When I got to the one and only campground it was full. There were seven campsites that were empty but had orange cones in front so that I couldn’t park in them. I parked in a picnic area next to the campground to look at my phone and figure out where I could go camp nearby.
I was parked and looking at my phone when a NPS Law Enforcement ranger turned on his lights as if to pull me over. Wonderful! Apparently I can’t park there at night. I explained to him that I was looking at my phone to find a place to camp yet he still seemed determine to run my name and license plate, which I thought was a bit aggressive.
6/26/2016 – 6/30/2016: A New Car
On my drive from Badlands National Park to Hot Springs National Park I made a quick stop at my parents house in Missouri, just north of Kansas City. I traded cars with my parents for the year and they wanted to trade again, so I emptied the entire car and repacked everything into a smaller car. What was supposed to be a two-day stop turned into a four day stop. Either way it was good to see and catch up with the family.
6/25/2016: A Nebraska Pitstop
When I lived in South Dakota I always meant to raft the Niobrara in Nebraska. The Niobrara is a part of the National Park Service and is a National Scenic River. Andrew, Lindsey and I opted to see it in the coolest way possible, by innertubing it!
6/24/2016: Notch Trail
One of the cool Instagram photos I had seen of Badlands National Park featured a large wooden ladder and I was on a quest to find that trail and hike it. I found it and it is called the Notch Trail. Definitely worth the visit when you come to Badlands.
6/23/2016: Photo Sphere
On my way through Badlands I was on a mission to take photo sphere pictures to post on Google Earth and share with other people so that they can experience the parks.
I drove to Rosebud Reservation to visit one of my old colleagues from when I taught elementary school and caught up about how the community, kids were doing. I got to take part in a traditional Lakota sweat, which was something that I used to do on a weekly basis. It was fun to go back.
I spent the night camping in the backcountry and caught a magnificent sunset.
I made my way from Rapid City to Badlands National Park. On the way out I stopped at the Wounded Knee Massacre site. I had driven by before, but in the context of visiting the parks it was striking to me that it wasn’t preserved as a site to protect and acknowledge the history.
I spent the night camping at Sheep Table Mountain that was one of the most beautiful places that I have encountered on this trip.
6/21/2016: Wild Cave Tour
Andrew and I went out to Wind Cave National Park to do the 4-hour wild cave tour and it was awesome. I have never been spelunking and I don’t know that I would do it all the time, but it was very cool to do it with a Park Ranger who knew everything super well.
6/18/2016 – 6/20/2016: Rapid City
I spent the first part of the week catching up with one of my Teach For America buddies, Andrew, and his wife Lindsey. They showed me around their new place in Rapid City and we went up to Harney Peak to hike with some of our other Teach For America friends Anne and her husband Jeremy.
6/17/2016: Cave tours
I woke up in my hammock at 6:30am fully covered in sun. It was delightful. I hiked back to the car and was met with a buffalo about 400 yards before the car. He was nervous and very not happy about my presence, so I gave him a very very very wide birth.
I went on a short hike and then hurried to the visitor’s center for the first of my two hikes into the cave. I did Garden of Eden first, went to my car for water and snacks and was back in the cave within 20-minutes on the Fairground loop. The cave is unlike most other caves I have visited. It is super dry, there are no stalactites and stalagmites, the elements are mainly popcorn and boxwork and it is magnificent.
Afterwards I went on a short hike up Wind Cave Canyon before heading up to Spearfish to meet up with some of my Teach For America friends who live in Rapid City. We got together for dinner, beers and reminiscing on times bygone.
6/16/2016: Wind Cave #48/59
We woke up to watch the sunrise at Devil’s Tower and I wanted to wait until 8am when the visitor’s center opened so that I could continue my Junior Ranger badge quest. To help facilitate the waiting I decided to take a nap on a bench on the tower trail that goes around Devil’s Tower. I got my Junior Ranger badge and we were off.
We made it to Wind Cave shortly after 11am and I hopped in line and got a ticket to the 12pm natural entrance tour of Wind Cave, which I had been on many many years prior. I was excited, because it had been so long that it would feel like a new experience. I also put myself down as an alternate for a Candlelight Tour.
I walked through, and was amazed by the boxwork and different formations. I came out hoping that someone hadn’t showed for the Candelight tour, but no dice. I watched the park video, got my Junior Ranger badge and then we headed to our campsite for a major car clean up. Trevor’s sister was driving in with a vehicle and we would be dividing for the remainder of the trip. We unloaded the car, divvied out our belongings and then waited for Jamie to arrive.
6/15/2016: Drive to Devil’s Tower
Before we left the Continental Divide and headed east, there were a couple of things that I needed to do in Grand Teton. I needed to take a picture in front of the National Park sign, I needed to finish my Junior Ranger booklet and I wanted to stop by the Chapel of Transfiguration one last time. We got it done and then got on the road, a little later than I was aiming for.
We needed to change the oil and thankfully after driving for 6-hours we were able to find a place in Casper, Wyoming. I had a rare fast food meal and was reminded just how delightful a frisco burger from Hardees can be. Afterwards we made our way to Devil’s Tower National Monument and arrived just as the sun was beginning to set.
We woke up and had coffee with Ryan and Anna and chatted about life before hitting the road. Do you work? Do you travel? How do you best combine both desires to have nice things and spend your time in cool places?
We kicked off our last trip through Yellowstone by hitting up Mammoth Hot Springs, which we had surprisingly never stopped at, the parts where it is active are incredible. I can’t imagine seeing it in the late 1800’s. Afterwards we stopped at Grand Prismatic and got some surprisingly good views from the boardwalk as the wind was kicking enough of the steam off that you could see the colors really really well. Our final Yellowstone stop was Old Faithful and the Upper Geyser basin, where I met up with four friends from UVa Blair, Leigh, Kathy and Nikki. We watched Old Faithful go and then split ways and agreed to meet up in Victor, ID where they would be staying for the night.
We drove down to Jackson where I dropped off Trevor with his high school buddy Brian. I went and met up with some friends Mariah and Liz. We had dinner, a drink and went to check out the sprinter van that Mariah’s friends were outfitting to live in. It was a sweet set up, and represented something that I wanted to strive for. Is it weird that I want to live in a van? Is it only weird because of Chris Farley’s motivational speeches about living in vans down by rivers?
Afterwards I made the drive over the pass to Victor, Idaho where I met up with Blair, Leigh, Kathy and Nikki. We watched the Hateful Eight and chatted before going to bed. It is incredibly nice and relaxing to do normal people things. Sitting in and watching a movie with friends is incredibly foreign to me. Its enjoyable, but just rarely happens in my life.
6/13/2016: There and Back Again
One of the big reasons for going up to Montana was to pick up our bicycles and some other things we had left at Alan and Fran’s house. It was also a nice happenstance that it fell on my birthday and we were able to catch a ride up Going to the Sun Road without cars!
With that being done it was back down to Yellowstone. The morning started off with failure. I wanted to get a bear claw from Polebridge Bakery and they were closed! Travesty. We made a quick stop in the park so that I could do the Junior Ranger program and then started heading to Yellowstone.
The drive was as expected, except for a stop in Bozeman to meet up with a Teach For America friend, Loy. She was working at a sweet little bar in Bozeman so we stopped in for a drink and quick dinner so that we could at least. We pulled into Yellowstone near dark and stayed with our wolf watching friends, Ryan and Anna, who we met when we were in Yellowstone in October.
6/12/2016: Back in the Saddle
Our plan for the morning was to raft on the western boarder of the park on the Flathead River. I opted not to raft. Instead I DUCKIED!!! Our friend from the Grand Canyon, Jeff, had a duckie and I was reunited with my one true love ‘duckying’ in white water. For the most part it was a clean run, I didn’t tip, or fall in. The only minor inconvenience was when I got pinned on a rock and had to put a leg out to push off of one of the rocks.
We finished our river extravaganza and then made for dinner and snacks. Jeff, Mary, Annika, Trevor and I went to dinner at the Three Forks Grill, which is owned by one of our other Grand Canyon buddies, Tim. The food was delicious and it was good to catch up with old friends. Afterwards we returned to Fran and Alan’s house where we filled in a hole with a huge pile of dirt and then retired to the house rather tired.
6/11/2016: GOING TO THE SUN ROAD!
The morning started out with being dressed and ready to bike at 8am. We would be doing something that I had had on my list since the beginning of the trip. We would be biking Going to the Sun Road in Glacier. In Alan style we each had skis, splitboards, or snowshoes attached to our bikes and backpacks so that we could get to the summit and then hike up further.
It is about a 12-mile ride uphill and it is brutal. My legs were shot after 7-miles and it was sheer force of will that took me to the top. Riding up hill with a backpack full of food, extra warm clothing and snowshoes is not the ideal way to do it. The best part is that there were no cars on the road and that we could get all the way to the top, they hadn’t yet opened the road to vehicular traffic!
On the ride down I opted to ditch the extra warm clothes and wear my ‘Purple Mountain Majesty’ onesie the entire way. I could see the joy and laughter on the faces of bikers going up the road as I descended. You cold see that it took a second for it to register in their mind that I was wearing a shiny purple jumpsuit. Once they realized it I nearly always got a chuckle or a headshake, hopefully it made their ride up just a little bit easier.
The morning started out quite early when I woke up just after 2am to see that the Milky Way was wishing me a birthday. The stars were like the candles on a sky wide birthday cake. I woke up at 430am to make it to the car by 5am to drive out to the Lamar Valley to watch the wolves. We had heard that there were wolf pups that were visible from Slough Creek. We pulled in and I immediately made for the people with large spotting scopes. The pups came out!
After that we made a quick stop in Mammoth Hot Springs so I could buy some National Park stamps and then made for West Yellowstone. My friends, Ory and Michelle, sent me some birthday gas/food money so I indulged and had an Americano and two truffles at a coffee shop in West Yellowstone and then got a massive Quizno’s chicken carbonara (my favorite). Much of the day was spent driving to Glacier National Park where we met up with our Grand Canyon crew. Our friend Susan had a cool cabin so we went ate snacks, and sat out by Lake McDonald skipping rocks and jumping in the surprisingly warm water.
6/9/2016: On the road to Yellowstone
I slept in the car, because at 3am the sky opened up and started raining. My plan to sleep on the picnic table was quickly thwarted and I ran to the car. We had to get up several hours afterwards, so it wasn’t terrible. I wanted to be at the Mormon Row historic district at sunrise (5:30am). It’s a good thing we showed up so early, because the rain started coming down after we had been there for 20-minutes.
We then left for Yellowstone to look for camping. The drive is inconceivably beautiful. You drive the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Parkway from Grand Teton to Yellowstone and it is just magical. We passed waterfalls, rivers, geysers, bison, pronghorns, elk.
We arrived at Canyon and the campground was full, so we opted for backcountry at Ice Lake. We tried to hike Washburn Mountain, but the parking lot was full. We tried to do the Fairy Falls trail to overlook Grand Prismatic, it was closed. We went to Old Faithful and the upper geyser basin, nothing was erupting for 40-minutes. Fail, fail, fail. We headed back to Mount Washburn and the 6-mile round trip hike rewarded us with epic views. We went down to go to the brink of the Upper Yellowstone Falls viewing and Artist’s Point, both places that you must see. After that it was a short to Ice Lake where we would be camping. Dinner was cooked in the parking lot, so that we didn’t have to worry about having food with us in bear country.
6/8/2016: Death Canyon and Inspiration Point
Our plan was to get up early and go hike Death Canyon with our friend from Capitol Reef, Zach. We didn’t get up early. We left closer to 10am and started on the hike at around 11am. We did 4-miles up Death Canyon to the ranger cabin and got some incredible overlook views of Phelps Lake. We jumped in the snowmelt fed river at the top and then returned to the cars.
Brian and Stephanie had to head out while Trevor, Zach and I made for Inspiration Point, near Jenny Lake. Zach had to had out early so Trevor and I continued on. I made a pit stop at Hidden Falls, which was incredible. It was absolutely roaring. The sun was shining through the mist and there was no one else there, it was ideal. Inspiration Point, was cool but not as inspiring as I was expecting.
We headed back to the car and I cooked some spaghetti, shirtless, on the back of the car. A bus full of Chinese tourists from Shanghai could not get enough of it. They came over to take pictures and stir the pasta. We did our best to communicate, but there was definitely a language barrier.
6/7/2016: Drive to Teton
The drive wasn’t too terrible it was several hours from Cheyenne to the Grand Teton’s but not a difficult drive on the relatively empty Wyoming roads. We got into the park and immediately went for a hike to String and Leigh Lake. It was a hot day and my hope was that we would catch a moose in the water. Instead we caught some storm clouds and a little bit of drizzle. I was able to make it to the far side of Leigh Lake where I found this sweet ranger patrol cabin called ‘The Jewel of the Tetons’.
Afterwards we met up with Trevor’s buddy, Brian, to go hike up Garnet Canyon. There wasn’t a lot of light left in the day so we hiked fast. About 2/3 of the way up to the canyon we saw a black bear that looked incredibly brown, foraging on some grass above the trail. He seemed completely unphased by our presence and he was a good distance away, so we continued along the way. We made it to the beginning of Garnet, snapped some photos and then had to turn around. On the hike down I heard some scrambling on a tree and looked down to see three black cubs running up a tree, uh oh…where is mama? She was just down the hill and luckily didn’t feel threatened. I talked nicely to her, thanked her for being a good mama and then we continued down the trail.
We were also pretty exhausted and it was 11pm, the only place open in Jackson was a pizza place where we scarfed down some food and then returned to Brian’s place where we crashed for the night.
6/2-6/6/2016: Wedding Festivities
One of my good college buddies was getting married in Louisville. Luckily I had a flight voucher from when I had been bumped on a flight. I had to play with the days a little bit so that I didn’t have to pay extra money, but I got it to work.
The plan was to fly from Denver to Cleveland, meet one of my other college buddies Stephen (who was just out in Rocky) drive down to his mom’s house in Hudson and then make the 4-5 hour drive to the wedding on Friday afternoon.
Stephen works for the New York Times and has long ridiculous hair. I too have long hair and an absurd beard. We walked into the art gallery for the festivities and got many looks from people who were wondering if we should be in attendance. The groom, Andy, gave us a big bear hug and three random people appeared out of nowhere to take our picture.
The wedding and reception was beautiful. It took place in a catholic church in Louisville and then we went out to their family farm for the reception. It rained right when we got there and then cleared up for a night of good food, good friends and good dancing. It is entertaining to be at a wedding and have people ask you ‘where do you live?’, quite often my response was ‘in my dad’s truck.’ I probably had a little bit too much fun with it, but it was that or talk about finance and how much ‘you have under management.’
Sunday was filled with visiting Muhammed Ali’s childhood home as he had recently passed away and driving back up to Hudson before flying out the following day.
6/1/2016: Last Day in Rocky
My last day in Rocky was much less exciting than expected. My plan was to get up early and hike up to Dream Lake for sunrise, but I was just too tired and couldn’t make it happen. I woke up, made some bacon and then made my way to Bierstadt Lake. It was much more forested and less open than the lakes from the other day, so I didn’t get to see as much.
Afterwards I made one final drive through the park before heading down to Denver where I would spend the night. It was good to see friends and have a dinner of wings but I yearned for the stars in Rocky, the animals, and the babbling brook.
5/31/2016: Moraine Park
As I drove into the park I was met with a line of cars that was fifteen to twenty minutes long. There was only one of three lanes open to enter the park. There are times when I can’t understand why the National Park Service doesn’t move into the 21st century and provide amenities that make it easier and more efficient for people to visit the park. I grabbed a campsite at Moraine Park after a couple of other further delays and then made for the Bear Lake parking lot. I stopped by Bear, Nymph, Dream and Emerald Lakes. The trail was completely snow packed, but the views were unbelievably beautiful. I made sure to take a dip in Emerald Lake and headed back to my car where I stopped at Alberta Falls before heading back to my campsite.
5/30/2016: Calypso Cascades
My aunt and uncle, Dan and Ellen, came and joined us for a hike in RMNP. We met at our campground in Olive Ridge and then made for the Wild Basin part of the park where we hiked to Calypso Cascades. It was an absolutely ideal day. The hike was marked with Steve putting me on his shoulders and running down the trail as I feared for my life and wished that we wouldn’t fall for fear of injury combined with shitty healthcare.
After the hike Steve and I did a quick trip up to Bear Lake and then made for Boulder where we met up with Rowan for coffee and dinner before driving Stephen to the airport. The stop in Boulder was a good one. We got to recap our weekend adventures and enjoy some coffee and dinner at Mountain Sun.
5/29/2016: Long’s Peak, only not really
We made for the Long’s Peak trail. The intention was not to hike all the way up to the top. There was too much snow and it was far too early in the season to be able to do that. Our plan was to make for Chasm Lake, which actually proved to be too snowy and too difficult given that we didn’t have the appropriate gear.
What we lacked in gear we made up for in the size of our posse. Tom, Sarah, Sharon, Lauren were all friends from Denver that came to join, Rowan, Stephen and myself on the hike. We hiked, slipped on the way up, slid on the way down and celebrated by petting the 6-month old Newfoundland dog, Oscar, who Tom was puppy sitting for the weekend.
We returned to our campsite where Tom and I devolved into neanderthalesque men as we broke wood with rocks so that we could have a fire for the night. We heated up some leftover stir-fry with a soy sauce, sriracha, brown sugar and peanut sauce that Rowan had made several nights prior and feasted by the fire.
5/28/2016: Trail Ridge Road
Rowan, Stephen and I started the morning by driving over Trail Ridge Road. The road crosses the Continental Divide at Milner Pass, elevation 10,758 feet, and has a maximum elevation of 12,183 feet. Needless to say the air is rather thin.
When we decided to go on a hike through the snow that featured, running, snowball throwing and penguin sliding we were quite winded. Our posse of three was possessed with a penchant for having a good time. At the top of Trail Ridge Road we were providing the masses of visitors with entertainment. We were not performing but as Stephen noticed, the conditions were perfect for running at full speed and hitting the deck to slide, penguin-like, down the hill. Piggyback rides turned into fireman’s carries that devolved into spinning around in circles and hitting the deck with dizzy participants.
We continued on the drive and made our way to Grand Lake where we saw a bull moose bulking up and sat on the dock enjoying the Colorado sun as it started to make its name known with the coming of summer.
5/27/2016: Old Friends and New Friends
I went for a hike up to Ouzel Falls in the morning. It is in the Wild Basin part of the park and is not easily accessed, luckily camping the National Park was full, so I camped in a forest service campground and was right next to Wild Basin!
The real entertainment of the day came when I left the park and made for Fort Collins, Colorado. I was born in Fort Collins in 1985. I moved to Virginia in 1999 and have only driven through one time since I left 17-years ago. It had also been 17-years since I had seen the parents of my best friend from elementary school, Drew. We became friends in 1st grade, his mom student-taught in my class in 2nd grade, we played soccer together for years, and alternating weekends were spent at each other’s houses.
Drew and I had hung out several times since I left Colorado, but I had not seen his parents since 1999. His sister, who was one year old, was graduating from high school. It was a good time to catch up and recount stories of old.
I had to leave at 10pm to pick up one of my college friends, Stephen, who flew in from New York City. After stopping at McDonald’s we made for RMNP. Our Google maps predicated arrival was 1:30am so we obviously decided to make for Moraine Park where we took nighttime photos until 3:30am before returning to our campsite where we tucked in just before the sun came up.
5/26/2016: Mountain biking at elevation
The morning started off by connecting with a UVa friend Doug. We planned to go mountain biking and luckily he had an extra mountain bike. It was my first time (ever) mountain biking and it was awesome. The elevation certainly made it difficult but the sport itself is exhilarating. The bike is able to go over rocks that I didn’t think it could make it over. You fly down the hill, bumping up and down. It was good to catch up with Doug, because in several days he is moving into a teardrop trailer and traveling across the country. He is managing to keep his job while doing it, so I am quite jealous of his set up!
The afternoon was spent in RMNP. I drove through getting my bearings, and acquired my patch and Junior Ranger booklet. I watched the cow and bull elk feeding on fields of grass as fly fisherman laid their line on the water in hopes of finding a hungry fish.
5/25/2016: There and back again, and again
I woke up in Berthoud, Colorado, which is north of Longmont, which is north of Denver. My uncle, Dan, had to go into school to teach. I got to hang out with my aunt, Ellen, before it was time for me to head into Rocky and try to track down a campsite.
Unfortunately the entire park was full for Memorial’s Day. I nabbed a first-come, first-serve spot at Olive Ridge, just outside of the park. By the time I got my tent and campsite set up I had to return to Longmont.
I had a meeting with the folks at Oskar Blues. They are working with me on a project called #BrewsForViews. The idea is simple, outdoorsy people love drinking beer. Why not work with breweries to help support our National Parks? My thought is to get breweries to donate per beer sold on the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service (August 25th, 2016) to their local National Park. Oskar Blues likes the idea, so we are going to work on ways to encourage other breweries to join in.
After my meeting with Oskar Blues I met up with a good friend Layton for dinner in Lyons, Colorado before heading up to camp at Olive Ridge. He joined me and we made smores and popcorn and talked about the finer details of life. He is getting married in July of this year, and is one of my outdoorsy friends that is consistently trying to rally people to do fun and exciting things.
5/24/2016: Exclamation point is a misnomer
The only trail that leaves from the North Rim ranger station is the North Vista Trail. It has two listed places to hike to. Exclamation Point and Green Mountain. One of the rangers on the South Rim had told me that I ‘HAD’ to hike to Exclamation Point. I rarely turn down suggestions, but getting up at 515am to beat the sun was a bit of a struggle. I made my way up the 1.5 miles to Exclamation Point. It was pretty incredible, it provided an excellent view of the canyon. The sun’s rays were just beginning to hit the canyon walls and the moon was still relatively high in the sky.
I checked the time and decided that I should just go to Green Mountain. Nobody recommended it, but why not. I could handle the extra two miles each way. I got to the top of Green Mountain and was blown away. It made Exclamation Point look like a period, or a comma. I got the sense that few people made it up that far, but I was #blessed with 360-degree views of the surrounding area and, for the first time in Black Canyon, got a sense of the scale and size of the canyon.
The rest of the day was a slurry of meeting with friends and family. I drove through Vail and stopped to have a coffee with Eva, who rafted the Grand Canyon with us and is making a go at being a professional photographer. Next came Matt and Rowan who are both UVa friends. Matt is flying out to Germany for work during the rest of my time in Colorado, so I was glad that we got to catch up. The day culminated in a dinner with two sets of aunts and uncles. It was good to be surrounded by so many family and friends in one day.
5/23/2016: Long draw
The hike out of SOB draw was as expected, brutal. It was straight up. The only benefit about going up is that you can stick down your hiking polls and get some traction. On the way down, you are simply doing your best to not face plant and tumble down the mountain.
I got to the top and went to the ranger station where some of the rangers were having some coffee, one of them was a ranger that I had met while Good Morning America was in town, and he had told me about the SOB route. He is a climbing ranger. Basically, if someone gets injured or stuck while hiking or climbing in Black Canyon it is his job to rescue them.
I ate a quick breakfast in the parking lot and then made my way to Long draw. I ran into a couple in the parking lot and learned that the husband would be going down at the same time as I was, his wife had a radio set up so that they could stay in touch. I hiked down and caught up to him. He asked if I was going to hang out at the bottom. I told him that I planned to have lunch and relax a little bit, he told me that he was carrying an extra beer if I wanted to wait for him at the bottom.
I ate my lunch, basked in the sun and journaled for two hours. Hans made it down and I learned that he had hiked down Long draw 37-years prior with his wife and several friends! I took a photo to recreate their last trip down and we talked as we drank cold Coronas. I hope that I am like him. I hope that I come back, remember and celebrate these experiences. Thank you, Hans!
5/22/2016: SOB draw
Emily and Abbie left after we had a breakfast of Emily’s homemade oatmeal. She made savory oatmeal that included curry powder, chives, dried lentils and was delicious. After we took a couple of UVA photos we parted ways. They left for Denver and I left for the North Rim of the Black Canyon. Trevor, Ben and I all agreed to hike SOB draw, which is a route on the North Rim that goes down to the river.
I got to the North Rim, packed as little as possible, and started on my way down. The Warner route was a cakewalk compared to SOB. It was steep, exposed and I was consistently trying to prevent myself from sliding on the dirt and small rocks. If that wasn’t enough of a challenge there were literal forests of poison ivy. It is completely absurd. In some places it was impossible to avoid, luckily I had been warned and wore pants and did my best to let it touch my clothes as little as possible.
The river was high enough that the path to the campsites was covered in water. I hiked a little ways back up the trail and found a moderately flat rock that could serve as a bed. I set up shop, set up my chair and alternated between journaling and reading chapters of Outlander. Trevor and Ben showed up at dusk minutes before it was almost completely dark. I ate dinner and then took my best shot at some nighttime photography. Again the roar of the river lulled me to sleep and I was reminded of my time on the Grand.
5/21/2016: A Presentation
The morning was spent hiking out of Black Canyon on the Warner Route. You gain 2,700 feet in a bit over of a mile and a half. It is absolutely brutal, it is one of the most difficult hikes that I have done on the entire trip.
I hiked out and then drove around until I caught up with some college friends, Emily and Abbie, who had made their way to Black Canyon for the weekend. We did a hiking and overlook tour of the South Rim of the Black Canyon. The views are absolutely astounding. The steepness with which the canyon drops, the mix of colors, the jaggedness of the rocks, it’s a truly indescribable place.
The evening was punctuated with a presentation at the South Rim visitor’s center. I had arranged to give a presentation about our trip. Trevor’s friend Ben had come to visit Black Canyon as well and they had the connection cord I needed to connect my computer. While we scrambled to come up with a solution I started talking to one of the people in the audience and discovered that he was the Superintendent of Black Canyon of the Gunnison. No pressure! About twenty minutes after the advertised starting time we got the necessary cord and hooked everything up so that the presentation could run as planned. It was one of the better ones that I have done and the Superintendent seemed to be genuinely interested and engaged.
5/20/2016: Drive and descend
I spent the night at friend’s house in Cortez, CO. Katie is a middle and high school music teacher in town and heard about our trip after hearing our NPR interview from our time in Arizona. She was kind enough to host us with a roof, a hot shower and some delicious balsamic chicken. She is also a runner and connected me with a running club in Durango so that I could go on a group run, which was an utter delight.
I woke up in the morning enjoyed the modern conveniences of a coffee maker and wireless Internet as I posted some blog articles about the National Park Service Centennial. Trevor’s friend Ben came to visit and we agreed to meet up in Black Canyon of the Gunnison. I headed up to Black Canyon making a pit stop in Montrose to catch some more Internet and blog posting. I timed my exit with just enough time to make it into the park, acquire a backcountry permit and descend 2,700 feet down the Warner route to the Gunnison river.
The hike down was ridiculous. It was on a route, not a trail. Basically, it means that it is entirely unmaintained. There is a path, but due to the volume of loose rock and talus it isn’t always easy to see. I descended to the roaring river and was reminded of the Grand Canyon. I set up camp, ate dinner and read, journaled and was rocked to sleep by the 5,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) sounds of the river.
5/19/2016: House tours
The morning started off with a tour of Long House. Long is one of the bigger cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde. The sophistication of these dwelling sites is truly incredible. The stones are meticulously placed and create these little villages that seem as practical today as they would have been 800-years ago.
After our Long House tour we made for the administrative offices of Mesa Verde. I would be giving an evening presentation later in the day and one of the rangers offered to take us on a tour of Cliff Palace before the talk.
Cliff Palace was closed, due to some work being done, so we were incredibly lucky to be able to make it down. We walked down to the dwelling and met the head architect of Mesa Verde. Talking to him was an absolute delight, he proceeded to enlighten us about how the stabilize a site that has been falling apart. He showed us bends in kiva walls that are the result of high visitation, he showed us how water leakage can ruin ancient kiva sites and how him and his team are attempting to mitigate this damage and provide an atmosphere that allows for visitors to see and access the site. It was a privilege to listen and learn from someone so knowledgeable in his craft.
We returned to the visitor’s center and I worked on my computer for several hours to prepare for the evening program. The seats were not overflowing with visitors, but the presentation went well and was well received. One of my friends from Durango, Todd, came up with his daughter to watch. He was the one who told me about the Great Gallery of Canyonlands and had recently returned from a 5-day trip of taking middle school students to see pictographs and petroglyphs across Utah.
5/18/2016: Not as simple as you think
We made our way back to Mesa Verde and did a slew of short stops at all of the places we missed on our first pass through. One of the most astounding structures that you can see in the park is less than ten yards away from the road.
The structure looks like nothing more than a slightly dug out piece of land. It is a reservoir and is recognized as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. It was constructed around 750AD and was used until about 1180AD. Its purpose was simple, store water. Often times, I think there is conception that the native populations are savage and uneducated. Go to this reservoir. Look at the craftsmanship, think of its use and then tell me that they were savage and uneducated. These were a sophisticated and intelligent group of people and people need to recognize that.
5/13/2016 – 5/17/2016: The Graduate
My little sister, Maria, is graduating from high school! I was 13-years old when she was born and remember going to the hospital for her birth. I can’t hold her in my arms like I used to be able, but she is still pretty cool.
When I left for college she started kindergarten, for much of her life I have only been able to come home for one or two times a year. While I do love my National Parks, I did enjoy the several days spent with family under a roof with home cooked meals. My brother, his wife, their three kids and I drove up from Colorado to Missouri. It was the first time in numerous years that all six siblings were together under the same roof. Since my brother has had kids it has been difficult to coordinate getting everyone together.
I woke up in time to make the thirty-minute hike for sunrise, which rose at 6:00am. I sat, meditatively on the rocks and let the sun wake the world. I had recently listened to a podcast where Tony Robbins was talking about his morning ritual. It begins with him jumping into a 57-degree pool and then meditating for several minutes. I didn’t have a pool, but I did have the ability to sit quietly and acknowledge and recognize all of the things that I am thankful for. It’s a good way to begin the day.
Afterwards we hiked to Petroglyph Point and then made for Durango where we met up with a UVa friend, Herb. He was a graduate engineering student at the same time as Trevor and I knew him from mutual friends. We chatted over a beer, exchanged stories and planned to reconvene in August in Acadia, as Herb is a Mainer by birth!
Our next stop was my brother’s house. I grabbed my belongings for the weekend and my sister’s graduation. Trevor drove to Denver, where he would be spending the extended weekend.
5/11/2016: Mesa tops
The morning started out with a hike to catch the sunrise, I left thirty minutes late and was hiking up the trail by the time the sun had come out, I would have to give it another go.
I came back and cooked breakfast before heading out to Weatherill Mesa where we did the loop around Badger, Two Raven, Long, and Kodak house overlooks. The weather was great, the flowers were blooming, the wild horses were roaming and the trails were relatively unpopulated.
We came back to camp and then I made for the Prater Ridge trail. It’s a seven to eight mile trail that circles a mesa top near the campground. There was nobody else on the entire trail and I enjoyed beautiful sunset views as I hiked around enjoying Mesa Verde from on top of a mesa. I went back, cooked dinner, took a shower and laid my sleeping back out on the picnic table so that I could take nighttime photos of the stars.
5/10/2016: Live from Black Canyon!
Most of the production team was on-site at 1am getting everything ready and set up for the 5am LIVE Good Morning America broadcast in NYC. The coordination and organization was incredible. The weather was not. It was rainy and windy and cold. The cameras on the North Rim of the canyon couldn’t even get a clear shot of the TJ, Tommy and Kevin. I was super impressed that they even roped up and went down.
We stayed and watched as the team tried to deal with the weather to get a good shot of the action. Mother nature, on this particular morning, was not having it. Between the rain, wind and fog it was difficult to see anything.
Due to the weather we opted to return to Mesa Verde. While we had stopped there briefly before, my sister would be graduating from high school in several days and the intention was to drive to Missouri with my brother and his family. We arrived with enough time for a sunset hike after finding dry harbor in the car after a good hour and a half rainstorm.
5/9/2016: Good Morning America
Much of our day was spent observing. We watched ABC’s Good Morning America set up their shot on the wall of Black Canyon with climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson. It was an impressive sight to see. They had massive cameras, miles of cord and a team of well-trained and hilarious engineers who were trying to put everything together.
Our roll in the entire production was rather simple. We set up our campsite and waited for the team to come over for some filming. They wanted us to cook dinner with their correspondent, TJ Holmes. I opted to make my step-mom’s guacamole recipe and then we did some fajitas with steak and veggies. They came over to film and we fed TJ and the crew as we sat around the fire and talked about National Parks. It was TJ’s first time camping. Unfortunately, the rain started in about midnight, he was up at 3:45am to film for the segment so didn’t get the best sleep of his life.
5/8/2016: Black Canyon
We left Mesa Verde in the morning after getting Dee to do a Zion King video and made for Black Canyon of the Gunnison. We got to the South Rim and were blown away by the colors and beauty of the canyon. As Colorado weather does, it went from being totally fine to hailing for five minutes and then back to totally fine.
5/7/2016: Mesa Verde
We woke up had a real person breakfast of bacon, eggs, toast and coffee (my brother has become quite the cook) and made our way for Mesa Verde
We met our friend Dee (from Big Bend) and made the an afternoon tour of Balcony House. Neither Dee nor I are good with heights and part of the tour features a 32-foot ladder made out of branches of wood. Luckily the guy in front of me was helping his four year old daughter up, so they moved very slowly and I hung out on the ladder longer than I would have liked. I embraced the moment and tried to get over my fear.
The ranger, Luann, that led our tour was awesome. She reminded us that the ancient puebloans were an intelligent group of people. Their art both in pottery and weaving indicates that they were a people that had leisure time and were talented enough at farming that they could create enough food to have free time.
5/6/2016: Get that drone out of here
There are few things worse than being in a peaceful National Park and hearing the buzz of a drone. National Parks have, thankfully, made them illegal. Even so, the previous day I had heard a guy flying his drone. I took a picture of his license plate, him picking up the drone and turned them into the ranger station the following morning.
We turned in our Junior Ranger booklets, got our badges and then made west for Mesa Verde. The plan was to sleep in the park. We got caught up with uploading photos in the Starbucks in Durango, Colorado and spent the night with my brother and his family.
5/5/2016: Back to the Dunes
We hiked out of our backcountry spot in the morning and made for the dunes, again. This time though, I had a more ambitious aim to make it to Star Dune. High Dune is about one and a half miles from the parking lot, Star Dune is an additional one and half miles further. At 750-feet it is the tallest dune in North America.
I arrived with my sled and took a ride down the dune that ended with me bailing before a hit the bottom and swallowed nearly a mouthful of sand. There was sand in my eyes, my nose, my ears, it was everywhere, and I would do it again, and again and again. I climbed back to the top, howled and then returned to my tent for dinner and some stargazing.
We hiked out in the morning and said our goodbyes and Lindsay continued east. We made a quick pit stop outside the park at Zapata falls as we heard that the views of the dunes and surrounding mountains was rather epic. Perhaps more epic than the landscape was the frozen Zapata Falls!
We returned to the park and made a quick trip up High Dune. Trevor started talking to a couple and the couple said ‘Wait, were you just in Outside Magazine?!’. Several months ago we did a short interview with a reporter from Outside, and while we heard that the magazine was out we hadn’t yet got a copy. They gave us their copy, we took some pictures with Mark and Kathy and then packed our bags for another night in the backcountry.
The sunset lit the sky on fire. It looked like a cloudy peach with pink, and purple hues surrounding it. I slept out in the hammock and watched the stars while taking pictures from my reclined position.
5/3/2016: Friends of Friends
One of my friends from college, Katie, noticed on Instagram that another one of her friends, Lindsay, was near us as she was driving from San Francisco to New York City for a new job. She connected us and we were able to meet up in Great Sand Dunes.
I am always a little nervous about meeting new people and not knowing about their outdoor camping expectations. As I texted with Lindsay I asked her if she would rather camp in the campground, or go for a night in the dunefield. She responded ‘Ooh I’m down for either!!’. The double exclamation mark made me realize that we had an experienced camper on our hands so we opted for a backcountry permit and a night in the dunefield.
We only had to hike one and a half miles into the dunes before we camped. We set up our tents and then took our sled to the top of the nearest dune hill and started careening down the dunes in onesies.
5/2/2016: Red Rocks to Sand Dunes
I woke up and made a last visit to Arches. I drove out to Tower Arch where I enjoyed solitude and a beautiful arch before making my way to the Windows pull off where there were hundreds of people.
We picked up our mail in Moab, gave the clerk our forwarding address and drove east to Colorado and Great Sand Dunes National Park. The drive into Great Sand Dunes is one of my favorite drives into any National Park. You can see the dunes from miles and miles away. You drive for twenty minutes and the dunes seem like they just keep growing and growing as you get closer. We arrived just after the sunset and enjoyed some crisp Colorado air and clear skies.
5/1/2016: To Arches
As it was Sunday we couldn’t drive as far as we would have liked. We had to pick up mail in Moab and since the post office is closed on Sunday we had to make a pit stop after driving for only two hours.
Trevor met up with one of his cousins and I escaped to the park where I hiked to Tapestry, Broken, Sand Dune and Skyline Arches. All of these hikes were super short, so they were rather well frequented by people. They were nonetheless magnificent and a reminder that you could spend forever in Arches!
4/30/2016: Hello again, Capitol Reef!
We left Kanab early and said good-bye to our Virginia friends. We made our way to Capitol Reef where we were excited to meet up with Josh and Gina for some canyoneering. Our route for the day was down Wife 3. We scrambled up, rappelled down, got wet and had a great time.
We got to the bottom and returned to Fruita where we dined on cookies and ice cream from the little bakery shop before retreating indoors as rain started coming down. We made dinner and exchanged stories the rest of the night.
4/29/2016: Zion King
I woke up and tried for a Wave permit again. There were only thirty-eight groups this time, instead of forty, so my chances were ever so slightly improved! Again, no dice.
I drove to Zion to meet the rest of the group. I parked the car, hopped on the bus and blitzed my way up Observation Point. I made it up the four miles and two thousand feet of elevation gain in just over an hour! At the top we filmed some Zion King footage where we asked others to imitate the Lion King song with our Cuyahoga Valley mascot Ollie the Otter. Most of the videos are hilarious, because they feature complete strangers attempting to sing a song that they haven’t heard in a decade.
When you live out of your car your life is often dictated by the weather, if it is beautiful outside then everything goes much smoother. If it is pouring down rain it makes everything a bit more difficult. Today was one of the more difficult days. I woke up super early to drive up to Kanab, Utah and apply for a permit to hike The Wave. The Wave is an iconic Utah landmark and draws tens of thousands of hopeful hikers who are hoping to get a permit to hike to it. I will save the long description of the lottery system for a blog post, but the short of it is this. There were forty groups apply for permits and three were awarded, we were not one of them.
I waited in Kanab for everyone to hike Antelope Canyon in Page, Arizona. The Antelope Canyon trip was rained out so they came to Kanab where we ate some wraps in a city park for lunch. Most of the group decided to go to Best Friends, which is an animal shelter. Yong and I decided to make the drive up to Bryce Canyon so that he could get a chance to see the hoodoos.
It poured the entire drive up and luckily cleared up for the time that we were hiking in the amphitheater of Bryce. We came back to Kanab and were confronted with snow, tons and tons of huge flaked snow. We got back, ate dinner and retired for the evening.
4/27/2016: Run, Forrest, Run
We woke up and hurried over to Mesa Arch for the sunrise. There was a mob of photographers with their tripods set up for the sunrise. I was glad that everyone could experience this, because I think it is a reminder that while these places are beautiful they can still be mobbed with far too many people.
The rest of the day was spent driving to Page, Arizona where we intended to watch sunset at the Horseshoe Bend in the Colorado River. One of the most photographed places of the river we were not blessed with a beautiful sunset. It was cloudy and overcast, but nonetheless beautiful!
Part of the drive took us through Monument Valley where we were able to recreate the Forrest Gump running photos. Perhaps some my favorite pictures from the trip, we were able to pretty accurately capture the moment.
4/26/2016: Delicate Arch and Fiery Furnace
We woke up to forty degrees and rainy. It is quite possibly the worst hiking weather possible. You are cold, you continue to stay cold, you are wet, and your body doesn’t have the easiest time warming up and drying out.
We extended breakfast by making tons of coffee, bacon and eggs. We dined on donuts dipped in bacon grease and motivated ourselves to get ready for hiking. The hike up to Delicate Arch was overcast, but beautiful. There are some places that, regardless of weather are enchanting. Delicate is one of those places.
After Delicate we made for the Fiery Furnace, my experience getting the permit was frustrating. The ranger heavily heavily heavily recommended against it. And wasn’t just that he recommended against it, it was that he was unhelpful and kind of a dick. Thanks for helping people experience nature, clown. One of the things that annoyed me is that they tell people to avoid social trails. Yet the park service takes a trip with twenty-five visitors every day on the same trail through the furnace. The only reason there is a social trail is because they made it, come on. All NPS annoyances aside, the trip was awesome. There were parts where we were all a little nervous and skeptical given some of the moves you had to make, but everyone stuck together and we made it!
4/25/2016: Devil’s Garden
The morning started out early for Brooks, Blair and myself. We made for Whale Rock and enjoyed watching the sun cascade across the landscape. It is very hard for me to miss a sunrise or a sunset on this trip. I hope that it is something that I carry with me for the rest of my life. There is nothing like watching the world come to live and then watching the sun go to sleep.
Our breakfast of bagels with peanut butter and nutella was made entertaining when my plate blew over and smeared my heated bagel all over the picnic table. Ugh.
We hiked in Devil’s Garden and were mesmerized by Navajo, Partition, Landscape, and Double O arches. Hiking to Landscape arch was very interesting for me. I had all of these childhood memories. One time while hiking we got caught in torrential rain and I stepped in some quicksand, my dad caught my arm as I was waist deep and plucked me out of the muck. Nearly twenty years I am scrambling around with seven of my friends and doing my best to show them some of our country’s beautiful places. There is a kind of joy that I get from seeing these places. There is a different and perhaps even more intense joy that I get from seeing others derive joy from these experiences.
The morning started out early with a run up to Navajo Knobs. I ran from our campground across the Cohab Canyon trail and then made my way up the 4.7 miles to Navajo Knobs, seeing zero people along the way. It was delightful.
We left Capitol Reef for Canyonlands where we would be meeting seven of our friends, who were flying in from Virginia to spend a week in the Utah National Parks! We drove out to an overlook and hiked out to find them enjoying the view created by the Colorado river. None of them had ever been to Utah, or ‘out west’ other than a quick trip to California. I was excited to be able to share this beautiful part of the country with them!
We hiked Upheaval Dome and then got on top of Whale Rock to enjoy some 360-degree views of the area. Dinner consisted of tacos and catching up with old friends. Cooking for nine people is a bit of a challenge, but it is far outweighed by the joy of reconnecting with friends.
After making some connections we were able to set up a trip to rappel down from Cassidy Arch. I am terrified of heights, so this entire time was entertaining for me. The drop from Cassidy was about 130 feet, we had another big drop and five more smaller drops with a couple of overhangs that allowed me to go inverted!
After our first canyoneering adventure Trevor went out for round two and I stayed in to work on my powerpoint presentation. I emailed the park in advance of our visit to do a talk about our trip. Most of my afternoon was spent deciding which photos and videos would be necessary to share. The talk started at 8:30pm at the campground amphitheater. It was cold, but about fifty people came out to listen. It went well, but I felt totally flat. I didn’t wow the crowd, it was just. It wasn’t great. I didn’t feel good about it.
4/22/2016: Capitol Reef
Today was the day where I tried to cram as much of Capitol Reef in as possible. It went a little like this. Two miles on ‘The Tanks’, four miles on the Golden Throne, four on Fremont Gorge Overlook, four on Chimney Rock, a quick stop at Goosenecks and Sunrise Point and then two on Fremont River Overlook. All things said and done it was another twenty mile day.
Afterwards we were lucky enough to snag a shower after connecting with some of the rangers in Capitol Reef. They invited us over to hang out and have a couple of drinks. It was fun to have a normal ‘Friday night’.
4/21/2016: The ‘Great Gallery’ is improperly named
One of my friends, Todd, informed me that I ‘had’ to stop at the Horseshoe Canyon unit of Canyonlands to visit the Great Gallery and the pictographs there. I added it to the list and tried to figure out how to make it happen.
The hike into the canyon and the Great Gallery starts with a seven hundred foot descent that you know will come back into the play at the very end of your hike when you are coming back. Once you make it into the wash there aren’t really signs of where the galleries are, so you end up walking on the trail with your eyes glued to the wall looking for them.
Gallery one is mind boggling it is thirty or forty feet up the wall. I skipped gallery two and planned to hit it on the way back as it was on the opposite side of where I was hiking. I skipped gallery three as well and planned to hit it on the hike back as well. I got to gallery four and saw it from the distance, at least I thought I did. I noticed some massive pictographs on the wall. Wait…I kept walking. There were more. I stopped for a photo. I walked ten more yards and realized there were yet still more. This happened several times until I resolved to put my camera away and hike up to the view point so that I could soak it all in. Some of the pictographs are eight feet tall! They are intricately designed and magnificent.
The misnamed the Great Gallery, it doesn’t capture the essence. It should be the Grand Gallery, the Grandest Gallery, or something more superlative. As are many things on this trip, it cannot be described in words. Get out there and experience it for yourself.
4/20/2016: Leaving the backcountry
There are two interesting feelings that I have when I leave the backcountry. One is that you are super excited to stuff your face with a cheeseburger, enjoy a hot shower and return to the comforts of life. The other is that interacting with people is foreign and disappointing.
I hiked back towards the Elephant Hill parking lot and started passing tons of people, ugh. For three days and three nights I had been given the opportunity to enjoy nature, peace and solitude. Just as I am hiking back towards civilization my brain starts to process the beauty and joy of the trip and then I pass a group of people. I start to think about…another group of people. I start to think…. another group of people. I start to…. another group of people. I start… another group of people. I…I can’t take it anymore. Take me back to the backcountry.
4/19/2016: Tragedy strikes, or does it?
I woke up for the sunrise and it was stunning. The sun capped the top of several needles with a incredibly bright orange light and lit up some clouds behind me. I snapped some photos with my phone and was incredible pleased with myself.
Everyone else wanted to lounge around the campsite for the morning, I wanted to get out and move. I packed up my bags and got moving as quickly as possible. I hiked the Joint Trail to our next campsite at Devil’s Pocket. On the hike I snapped some photos of the slot canyon, these cairn garden and the most amazing claret cup cactus I have seen on the trip.
At Devil’s Pocket I quickly set up my tent and left as much stuff from my bag as possible before continuing on the trail to the Colorado and Green River confluence. I hiked out to the 4x4 road and followed it briefly before hoping back on the trail that took me to Cyclone Canyon. Cyclone was perhaps my favorite part of the whole hike. You are hiking in this 75-yard wide wash that is covered in green and the walls rise up 300-400 feet on either side. I snapped photo after photo after photo.
Between all of the photos it took me a bit longer than usual to make a hike of the same distance. I finally got out to the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers and just sat reading about Evertt Ruess.
After this amazing day I went to upload my photos to my computer. For some reason 8-hours of photos from my camera were missing. Sunrise to just before the confluence. It was all gone. My only conclusion is that the pictures so beautiful, and so pristine that sharing them with the world could only have caused more destruction to those beautiful places, because more people would have wanted to visit them. So. I am without the photos, and while it makes me deeply sad, the thought that they were too beautiful makes so joyful that I don’t have them.
4/18/2016: Chesler Park and Druid Arch
We hiked out of Lost Canyon towards Chesler Park and I was unprepared for the beauty that was about to overtake my eyes. We had been hiking and on top of rocks most of the previous day, so I was prepared for more scrambling. We did our fair share of scrambling and then came out to Chesler Park.
Imagine being surrounded by rocks and then coming upon a beautiful meadow of sage. Our campground was set next to this huge rock and I was determined to find a way to the top. I crawled up the backside and had a 360 view of Chesler Park. From my vantage point I could see everything, I moved my sleeping bag from my tent to the top of the rock and enjoyed the near full moon as it lit the needles surrounding me.
On our hike to Chesler Park we made a side trip to Druid Arch, which was beautiful. The entire trip, though, was a bit overshadowed by the beauty of Chesler. It’s funny how quickly I had forgotten about the massive pool of water, and the arch that appears out of nowhere after you have been looking at one side of it for fifteen minutes without realizing that it is an arch.
4/17/2016: Lost Canyon and Peekaboo Springs
We got to the visitor’s center early to pick up our car parking passes and packed our bags for some backcountry adventuring. Hiking in Canyonlands is quite strange if you are used to your usual trail in dirt. Much of the trail is marked by cairns, which are piles of rocks. There isn’t a visible trail, because you are walking on rock, so you have to constantly look for these rock piles to direct yourself in the right direction.
Our first night would be spent in Lost Canyon. Kristen’s two other friends, Kristen and Tal joined us and we set out into the wilderness. We scrambled over rocks, hiked down ladders and walked high on rocks that gave us views of rocks for miles and miles. We made a quick side trip to Peekaboo Springs for some petroglyphs and then hiked back to our camp.
4/16/2016: National Junior Ranger Day
Today is an important day in our National Parks. One of my goals throughout this trip is to do the Junior Ranger program. As part of National Park Week they are offering free entry into the National Parks for the entire week. To celebrate National Park Week and National Junior Ranger Day I did the Junior Ranger programs in Dead Horse Point State Park, Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park.
We made a pitstop in Moab to pick up mail and catch up on Internet before heading down to The Needles section of Canyonlands National Park. We camped outside the park on some BLM land and met up with my friend Kristen, from Tucson, and her friend Andrea as we prepared for three nights and four days out in the backcountry of Canyonlands. After meeting up with Kristen for a hike when I was in Saguaro National Park in December, she bought a National Park yearly pass and was inspired to plan a backcountry trip in Canyonlands, we were lucky that our times overlapped and that we were able to meet up for the backcountry adventure.
4/15/2016: Winter Wonderland
We woke up in Escalante to rain. Our plan was to drive up the road and make a stop at Calf Creek waterfall for a quick run on our drive. The rain turned to pretty heavy snow and instead we were confronted with a wall of white flakes, instead of a waterfall. We drove past Calf Creek and made our way up and over the pass to Boulder, Utah. Where we were instructed by Megan, our ranger friend in Zion, that we had to have the best pancakes in the world at Hell’s Backbone Grill. They were fluffy, covered in whipped cinnamon butter and real maple syrup. Coming in from the cold to enjoy some delicious breakfast was an absolute delight.
The drive continued and we passed through Capitol Reef National Park on our way to Moab. James and Lauren, our airstreaming friends who met up with us in Carlsbad and Guadalupe were at Dead Horse Point State Park, which is about five miles from the Island in the Sky part of Canyonlands National Park.
While you are in Bryce Canyon you need to do the Queen’s Garden/ Navajo Loop that will take you from sunrise to sunset point. Most visitors will stop there and call their time in Bryce a successful visit. If you do that, then you have done it wrong, so very very wrong.
Queen’s Garden is stunningly beautiful and I would absolutely recommend it, but if it is the only thing you do it would be akin to going to Paris and only seeing the Eiffel Tower while skipping out on The Louvre and Notre Dame. Fairyland Loop and Peekaboo (the hike I did yesterday) are both magical. Don’t limit yourself to one beautiful hike, do more of them.
After Fairyland I made some breakfast in the parking lot at Bryce Point and then continued to Rainbow Point where I ran the eight mile Riggs Loop. I got a bit lost at the bottom when I couldn’t find one of the connecting trails, but I was #blessed with peace and solitude as I ran into zero people the entire time.
We spent the night in Escalante after catching up on internet at Ruby’s Inn in Bryce City. One of the rangers from Bryce Canyon was nice enough to let us stay at his house in Escalante so we got to have a roof over our heads and hot showers, a true luxury.
4/13/2016: Hoodoo jokes
The morning started with a hike out from our campsite. I attempted to stop by Sheep Creek to see if I could luck into a seeing a bear, as they had been frequenting the area recently. I had no such luck and hiked out. Most of my morning and afternoon was spent putting the finishing touches on my presentation.
I took a break from working on the computer and made for Peek-a-Boo trail where I ran the 5.5 mile loop. It was a necessary break from the computer work.
8pm marked my first ranger presentation! I presented at Bryce Canyon Lodge to a room of 40-50 people about 59in59. There were people of all ages and a lot of the kids asked some great questions. It was a fun way to share our trip with others. As expected, I made jokes about hoodoos. Like, what happens when a hoodoo goes to the bathroom, hoodoo doodoo.
4/12/2016: Hiking above and below Bryce Canyon’s rim
The morning started off early with a sunrise, like they usually do! I ran the eleven-mile Rim Trail from Bryce Point to Fairyland. It was much less of a run and much more of a jogging picture session. The hoodoos of Bryce are absolutely mesmerizing.
After the run/jog we stopped at Ruby’s Inn to pick up some Internet. I desperately needed to work on my ranger talk and Internet was necessary to pull the photos that I would need.
We left town to head into the backcountry. From Bryce Point I hiked ten miles on the Under-the-Rim trail to where we would be camping on the Right Fork of Swamp Creek. I ran into zero people the entire hike. It was magnificent!
4/11/2016: To Bryce Canyon we go
I woke up early to watch the sunrise from Canyon Overlook. I got out there and while the sunrise was decent, the real spectacles were the baby bighorn sheep playing on the rocks. I watched them while the sun encased more and more of the canyon walls.
We left Zion showered and freshly laundered on our way to Bryce Canyon. We briefly stopped at the visitor’s center to pick up a backcountry permit and then made for the Queen’s Garden/Navajo Loop. It is a super popular loop in Bryce. On one hand it isn’t always great to hike with hordes of people, on the other hand it is a popular loop, because it is absolutely stunning. You should do it when you visit.
Afterwards, I met one of the park rangers, Cindi for dinner. I emailed the park in advance of our visit and asked if I could do a presentation of our trip. They agreed!
We hiked out of Hop Valley early so that we could make it to the Subway hike. The weather was a little iffy for the Subway hike. It is not somewhere that you want to hike with high water. On our hike out of Hop Valley we noticed that everything was much lower than it was the previous night, so we opted to take a shot at the Subway.
You are hiking right next to the stream and are consistently crossing the ice-cold water to make it up the trail. At several points you have to walk up shallow waterfalls. We made it to the Subway, ate a quick lunch and then headed back down. About half way down it started raining. Shit. We did not want to be in a canyon crossing a river while it rained. We picked up the pace, but tried to hike smart. Luckily, the drizzle didn’t last long and we made it out safely.
We drove back to Meg’s house in Zion and caught up on showers and went through photos before John had to drive to Las Vegas to catch his flight home.
4/9/2016: Bryce and an overnight
The morning started out early with me going to the visitor’s center at 6:30am to try for a Subway permit. Subway is one of the more famous hikes in Zion. The permits are not easy to get, but after talking to the rangers on the previous day, I knew that there would be 10 available, first come first serve, the following morning.
After acquiring our permits we made for Bryce Canyon. We got there and were confronted with a wall of fog. Things got worse as snow and sleet pinged off of our windshield. Just as we lost all hope we stopped at the visitor’s center for a bathroom break. We came outside and everything cleared. We scurried over to sunrise point and took some magnificent photos before heading back to Zion.
We made for Kolb Canyon and hiked the Hop Valley trail to where we would be spending the night. After a day of rain the water was flowing high and we couldn’t safely cross the stream to our campsite and Kolb Arch. We set up our tents, ate dinner and made to leave early in the morning.
4/8/2016: The real way to see Angels Landing
We woke up at 5:30am and left for Angels Landing. We were at the start of the trail shortly after 6am. Angels Landing is smothered with hordes of people if you wait for the buses to run. With my fear of heights, I wanted to avoid that. Additionally, John lives in Chicago where people surround him, I thought it would be a good way to see Angels Landing as the only person on top.
Perhaps the coolest part of the hike is that John drove into Zion under the cloak of darkness. We hiked most of the way up Angels Landing in darkness with headlamps. Then as the sun comes out he is on top with a view of the surrounding area.
We went for a short hike out to the Temple of Sinawava, Weeping Rock and then watched the National Park Adventure IMAX film in Springdale. After the early morning we were all a little gassed.
4/7/2016: Nine Stops
Zion National Park’s bus line has nine stops. After nine stops and twenty miles of hiking I had taken four hundred and seventeen photos. I hiked the Riverside Trail, Observation Point, Hidden Canyon, Weeping Wall, Kayenta Trail, Emerald Pools, Pa’rus and Watchman. It was a full day filled with astounding views.
My dear friend, John, also arrived at 10pm. He flew in from Chicago for a weekend of hiking and exploring Zion. He got in late, and I informed him that we would be waking up at 5:30am for a sweet hike.
We did a morning hike into Red Canyon, which is between Zion and Bryce Canyon. It was beautiful! It’s crazy to think that it isn’t a National Park, which only means that Zion and Bryce will be more incredible.
We drove down to Zion and met up with Meg, a friend of a friend, who works for Zion National Park. Magical! She lives in one of the coolest places that I have yet to see in a National Park. Her house is the former house of the park superintendent, and is now used as employee housing. We hiked on the Pa’rus Trail along the river and began to get a taste of what our next couple of days would be like. Oh, and we had a salad for dinner…so many delightful things.
4/5/2016: Four Corners
Our drive took us by Four Corners monument. We stopped, begrudgingly paid the and took the usual photograph. We are such tourists.
We had to make a two-hour out of the way pit stop in Flagstaff so that we could get our cooler. We picked up a new ice holding vessel from Canyon Coolers. They are supposed to be sturdy coolers that keep ice incredibly well, it will be nice to be able to keep food cool after being without since December.
We trucked it out of Arizona to Utah where we met up with Lauren, James and their dog Bugsy just outside on Bryce Canyon on some forest service land. We were far later than planned, but they were kind enough to have some burgers and grilled veggies ready to go when we arrived.
4/1/2016 – 4/4/2016: Car problems
While in Durango, we needed to take the car in and get the front shocks replaced, we had completely blown them while we were in Death Valley National Park. Unfortunately, we also had to replace all of our breaks and the front hub. Ugh. Luckily, one of our family friends is a mechanic and could do work that I trusted. I just don’t like being caught in a place with no mode of transportation.
All that being said, it was a good place to be caught. I got to spend time with my brother and his family. He had three kids under the age of five, so it was a mad house. That being said, it was nice to be well fed and showered, so we enjoyed ourselves and the opportunity to sleep in beds for several nights.
3/31/2016: A stray sequoia
We drove from Whites City the height of New Mexico to Colorado. We stopped in Santa Fe, so that we could stop at a Firestone and get our tires rotated. While in Santa Fe, I was directed to a sequoia tree in Cornell Park. It was an absolutely beautiful tree. I noticed that it was much shorter than the sequoias that I was used to. I also noticed that it had so many beautiful branches. Unlike the other sequoias it didn’t have to deal with fire, so could grow unencumbered. It was a specimen!
We drove to Chromo, Colorado to catch up with my Aunt and Uncle. It was the first time in my life that, as an adult, I had a conversation with them. Cliff, my Uncle, used to be a smoke jumper and would fight fires. He lost a leg in an avalanche and continued flying planes to fight fires. They rafted the Grand Canyon at 100,000 cfs in 1983 and have dozens of adventurous stories from their times in Colorado and Montana. I could have stayed chatting for hours, but our compass was pointed to my brother’s house in Durango, Colorado (where we would be staying for the night).
We woke up early, hiked to the Dorgan house, stopped in Castolon, made our last mail pick up and then headed straight to Mexico!
Boquillas is an absolute must stop when you are in Big Bend National Park! Jose Falcon’s restaurant makes these delicious little tacos and you can have a Mexican Coca-Cola. I last visited Boquillas in the late 1990’s. The boarder was closed after 9/11 and didn’t reopen until three years ago. We took the boat across the river after checking in at the new boarder crossing station. There are three ways to go to town, by mule, by car, or by foot. We opted for the mule so that we could increase our methods of transportation. One of the new rules is that a person from Boquillas has to accompany you the entire way. Our guide had lived there for 50 years. He told us about how things had changed when the boarder was closed and about the huge 2008 flood. Not much had changed in the town, but they had a huge solar panel array and now had power!
We left Big Bend for good and drove to Whites City, where we had stayed while visiting Carlsbad Caverns.
3/29/2016: A very long day
The morning started off early with a hike up Casa Grande. It’s off trail, totally squirrely and absolutely magnificent! The view from the top gives you an overlook over the entire Chisos basin. He hiked down and the day moved ahead at warp speed.
We visited the Croton Spring, Sam Nail Ranch, Upper Burro Mesa trail, Homer Wilson Ranch, Lower Burro Mesa trail, Chimneys Trail and Mule Ears Springs. When all was said and done it was a 20+ mile day. After that we drove by Santa Elena Canyon nearly ran over a Western Diamondback rattlesnake and made our way to the Old Maverick Road, stopped at Luna Jacal (which you should Google) and then made for Terlingua where we stopped for beers at La Kiva and Starlight, thanks to Neel! At Starlight we met Daisy and Dee. Both from Austin, Daisy is a musician and Dee is one of her friends. Daisy would be playing in Terlingua the following two nights and what was supposed to be a stop for one drink turned into talking about adventuring for several hours. By the time we finally left, Trevor and I were both thoroughly exhausted and had to drive an hour back to our campsite.
We drove out the Old Ore Road to Ernst Tinaja, which is another must stop on my childhood trips. Ernst is a water hole in the middle of the desert. Again, I was surprised at how short the hike is, the undulating rock is beautiful and I got lost taking pictures of different rock patterns.
We had a long drive on a dirt road to Pine Canyon, our next hike. Pine Canyon seemed like a relatively simple hike. Two miles up and two miles back. I decided to run it. After about a mile I had finally gotten out of the desert and found some shade in the pine trees. I came around a bend in the trail and ran into a black bear and two cubs. Woah! Mexican Black Bears! The cubs scattered and ran up the hill, they looked a bit older. The mom walked back down the trail, panting. I snapped some photos and turned my tail and left, she looked tired and didn’t need to be bothered by humans.
3/27/2016: Waterfalls and a White Buffalo
We hiked out from the South Rim and said our good byes. Constantine, Scott, Jeremy and Mike were driving back to Austin and we were continuing our National Park shenanigans. We made our way to Cattail Falls, which is one of my favorite parts of Big Bend. I have many many childhood memories of the place and was anxious to see it as an adult. The hike was so short! Now I know why we went so often, it was one of the few hikes that you could take kids and not expect them to complain the entire time. The falls weren’t running but it was beautiful nonetheless.
We left and made our way to Marathon and the White Buffalo Bar to watch the UVa v. Syracuse game. Ugh. I don’t want to talk about how that game went.
3/26/2016: The South Rim Sunset
We started the morning waking up a little bit later than usual, due to the late night. I woke up and journaled while waiting for everyone to wake up. I thoroughly enjoy watching the world come to life. I sat and wrote, and wrote and wrote some more.
We finally got things started a bit after 10am and headed to the Big Bend Centennial Celebration at the Rio Grande Village. It featured a bunch of booths so that we could learn more about the park. Most importantly, they had free lunch. We met the superintendent of the park, who our friend Neel had emailed. She had heard of our trip and us and we chatted with her discussing our love of parks and Big Bend. We ate a delicious lunch and then made for the Chisos for our hike.
We reserved a backcountry campground in Laguna Meadoes, because everything else was full and made the 3.5-mile and mostly uphill hike to our campground. We set up our tents and then made to head for the South Rim.
It was incredible; we had expansive views of the entire area. Part of the trail was closed for Peregrine Falcon nesting, so we kept our eyes field hoping that we would see a dive-bombing bird. While we didn’t see a bird diving for food we did see a couple of peregrines fly by and hung out while we made dinner. Just before the sun started to set we headed back to our campground and caught some excellent views of the sunset. Jeremy and I started running up the trail to get a better view. How many times have you sprinted to catch a better view of the sunset, I recommend you try it!
3/25/2016: Hot Springs, UVa Hoops and Star Parties
The morning started off with a hike to Boquillas Canyon. When I was a kid there was a HUGE dune hill and I was hoping that we could slide down it on a sled. We got there and while the canyon was certainly cool, the dune hill had been eroded away. I found out later that the river was flowing at about 72 cfs (cubic feet per second) and that in 2008 there was a flood that had the river running at 40,000 cfs. That might be the cause. We moved from there to the infamous Hot Springs and took a dip for a little bit with a family reunion that was going on, we couldn’t stay long because we had to keep moving to make it to watch the UVA game.
We made a quick pit stop at Terlingua, which is a self-advertised Ghost Town that is still trying to hang out. Certainly worth the stop if you are ever in the Big Bend area. We made our way to Alpine, TX after that so that we could watch the UVa v. Iowa State game. Victory, we won!
Our last order of business was to drive up to McDonald’s Observatory for a star party. We looked at some star clusters, the Orion Nebula, Jupiter and then realized that we weren’t going to get back to our campground until 2am. The drive backto Big Bend was like a game of Frogger, there were deer and jackrabbits crossing the road frequently and Trevor managed to avoid all of them, despite a couple of close calls!
3/24/2016: Hiking in the Chisos Mountains
For our first day we in Big Bend we made the trek up to the Chisos Mountains. Big Bend I split between three pretty distinct areas, the Rio Grande Village, the Chisos Mountains and Santa Elena Canyon. We were camping at Rio Grande Village and made the forty-five minute drive to the Chisos where we hiked the Windows Trail and the Lost Mine Trail. The Window Trail takes you down this canyon and ends with a drop several hundred feet. The rock has been completely smoothed over after years and years of water wiping away at the surface.
Our next hike was up the Lost Mine Trail and we passed numerous families. It’s basically switchbacks the entire way up. We passed a group that we had seen earlier in the day. They were some older folks from Las Cruces, NM and were hiking around in Big Bend for several days. I talked to their group leader for about fifteen minutes and got some good tips for the surrounding area.
We headed back to the visitor’s center and I asked a ranger about the hike up to Casa Grande, which is off trail. I asked the ranger if you started at Lost Mine. She said, ‘maybe’. I asked if she couldn’t tell me because they didn’t want a social trail to be established. She said ‘Big Bend is a wilderness area and you can go wherever you want.’ I again asked if I could go up and if she could provide any guidance, she said ‘maybe’. UGH, worst response ever. Thanks for nothing.
We headed back to our campsite and four of my fraternity brothers from UVA, Scott, Jeremy, Mike and Constantine came in from Houston and Austin to hang out for the weekend. They got in right at sunset, so we immediately walked to the nature trail overlook. Afterwards we came back and proceeded to eat three pounds of pasta between the six of us!
3/23/2016: Arriving in Big Bend
I haven’t been to Big Bend since I was a kid, it’s probably been a bit over a decade since I have visited. Much of the day has been strange memories crawling up from the depths of my head. They experienced a fire near the Panther Junction visitor’s center, seeing the burned and charred cactus and stool was not here last time. We pulled into Rio Grande Valley campground and they started flooding in. I remembered specific campgrounds that we camped in. Running to the bathroom when I would wake up in the middle of the night and having my dad time me to see how quickly I could make it. Pairs of kids riding their bikes around the loops could have easily been my brother and I. Stopping at the general store for cooler ranch Doritos, bean dip, lime salt, and ice pops. We hiked to balanced rock and I saw a lizard in the first thirty seconds, I remember being super pumped about seeing so many of them when I was a kid. Sunset on the nature trail at Rio Grande valley campground, it’s so different now. You used to have to fight the brush to get through to the trail leading to the overlook, now it has been cleared away. I don’t like the cleared brush; it makes the hike less exciting. All in all the memories are good, it’s just strange. The hikes seemed so much longer, and with so much more complaining…on my behalf.
3/22/2016: Goodbye Guadalupe!
I woke up before dawn to make it back to the top of Guadalupe Peak for the sunrise that I thought would be happening at 8am. It happened at 7:52am, I didn’t make it so I watched from where I was. The clouds were insane! I couldn’t stop taking pictures and got down about forty-five minutes later than I meant to. After refueling at the car I went to hike the Salt Basin Overlook loop that would take me to the bottom of El Capitan. The ranger warned me that it would be windy.
It was windy. It was very windy. So windy that when I tried to take a video and talk to the camera that was three feet away you couldn’t hear me. It nearly blew me over and provided for some entertainment as it pushed me up the hills.
Afterwards we started the drive to Big Bend National Park. We stopped in Marfa for gas and then continued through Alpine and made a pit stop in Marathon to where we had learned about some free wifi and where we thought we would get some dinner. We updated some things on the website at The Gage hotel and sent out an email to our friends and followers and then were anxious to grab a bite to eat at their restaurant/bar. Kitchen closed. Ugh, cold beefaroni from a can. I suppose that is the trade off, because the moon and stars were beautiful when we got to Big Bend.
3/21/2016: On Top of Texas
We hiked down from The Bowl around sunrise and made our way down the 2,700 feet of switch back trail to arrive back at the visitor’s center. On the hike down there were these huge black beetles that kept playing dead. At first I thought one of them just fell over. Then it happened a second time, so I watched him for a second and he flipped back over and started walking again. It happened three more times with three different beetles. I asked about them at the visitor’s center, but was unable to identify what they were.
I made what I thought would be a quick trip to hike out to Douglas Springs. It was a short two-mile hike. Part of the way in I saw a lady walking off of the trail, I found out that a snake diverted her path and I hate snakes. So I hiked quickly past briefly saying hello. We kept playing leapfrog as her or I would stop to take pictures. We began talking more and it turns out that she is from North Carolina! We chatted for awhile and she told me to get in touch when we came through the Smokies.
The final hike of the day would take us up Guadalupe Peak to the highest point in Texas. Logistically the hike was actually pretty simple. 4.2 miles with 3,000 feet elevation gain. Luckily, we were camping about three miles up the trail so we could drop our packs, set up camp and hike up unburdened for the last 1.2 miles. I set my camp up in a sweet little barricaded spot and left to catch the sunset. It was magnificent. The moon came out and made for a good sideshow to the array of yellow, orange, red and pink that cascaded the sky.
3/20/2016: The Bowl
In Guadalupe Mountains National Park there is a part in the mountains called the bowl. It is a lush meadow full of wildlife, plants and trees that you wouldn’t usually find in this area of Texas. The only problem is that you have to hike up 2,700 feet to get there. We reserved a backcountry spot and I booked it up there to be done with the elevation.
As soon as I got there I put up my tent, grabbed some water and made to make the six-mile loop around The Bowl. I circled it and unfortunately the meadow was mostly yellow grass, nothing green and lush, unfortunately. I hiked to the top of Hunter Peak and caught some good cell phone service so was able to catch up with some friends via FaceTime and text very briefly before heading back to our campground.
3/19/2016: Permian Reef
Our plan for the day was for Trevor and I to head down to McKittrick Canyon to hike the Permian Reef trail. As we did that Lauren and James would go down to Carlsbad Cavern first thing to avoid the crowds and then meet us at McKittrick Canyon to hike up to The Notch.
We got to Permian Reef in the morning and it was incredibly foggy. We started hiking and the cactus and other plants were covered with ice. It looked like they had experienced some freezing rain. As I got higher there was thicker ice, it was so wild to see ice on cactus spines, it just doesn’t make sense. We got to the top of the Permian Reef trail and it was so clouded in that there was no view at all! As soon as we hiked down the clouds cleared and it turned out to be a beautiful day.
The timing was good, because I had been talking up the McKittick Canyon hike to Lauren and James. They arrived and we jogged up to The Notch, such a cool spot. I took way too many Google Earth 360 photos. We hiked down and then hurried back to our camp spot in Whites City, NM. The University of Virginia basketball team had a game against Butler and James and Lauren had a dish and a TV.
Watching UVA games is heart wrenching. They rarely put teams away and always make it far closer than it needs to be. I probably took a total of fourteen breaths during the entire game, but we won! I can’t think of the number of times that I have watched TV during this trip, it was quite strange, but also quite delightful. We said our goodbyes to Lauren and James as we each would be leaving in the morning, our hope is to meet up in Utah.
3/18/2016: The King’s Palace
We woke up early so that we could hike down from the McKittrick campground and make it to our Carlsbad Caverns tour on time. As I was hiking down I was about ten yards from the shaded visitor’s center with the sun in my eyes when, from the shadows, I heard someone say ‘Darius, is that you?’ What?! I walked into the shade, let my eyes adjust and realized my friend Nick was standing right in front of me. Nick lives in Georgia, and we had planned on meeting up with him to go camping when we were in his neck of the woods, he gave me some tips for Joshua Tree and is a geologist who I studied marine ecology with when we took a study abroad class to the Bahamas where we snorkeled for six hours a day identifying fish and coral. We chatted for a bit, agreed to meet up in Congaree and had to hop back in the car to head to Carlsbad.
The King’s Palace tour is certainly very cool if you have the opportunity. They take you to a part of the cave that used to be open to the public until they discovered that people were breaking of stalactites on a pretty consistent basis. It’s an hour and a half long, and while most of it is stories and history of the cave, you get to experience the cave in its natural state, without lights. Additionally many of the formations are incredible, including some forty-foot tall drapery formations.
As I was walking towards the parking lot to pick up some postcards I ran into some friends from Charlottesville, James and Lauren! Several days earlier I had learned that they had moved into their Airstream for several months and would be exploring the country. We had planned on connecting later that night to figure out camping and hiking, it’s always a pleasure to be surrounded by mobs of strangers and find someone that you know. I quickly forgot about the busyness surrounding Carlsbad and chatted with them before agreeing to meet up for dinner.
3/17/2016: Guadalupe Backcountry
Our plan was to go back into Carlsbad Caverns on one of the ranger guided tour of the King’s Palace. Unfortunately, all of the tours for the day were sold out, so we made reservations for the following day. Before driving down to Guadalupe for a hike I talked with a writer from Sunset magazine who is going to do a story about 59in59. It was only after our conversation ended that I learned she went to Duke. I was surprised that during tournament time she didn’t mention anything about the ACC rivalry. I suppose UVa has been doing so well recently that it slipped her mind.
We drove down to McKittrick Canyon where we would be camping for the night. Some say that McKittrick Canyon is the most beautiful part of Texas, and I don’t know that I disagree. It was pretty magnificent, it is also supposed to be even more beautiful in the fall because the maple tree’s leaves change color, which when you are hiking in the desert, has to be a sight to see. We hiked the 7.6 miles and two thousands and seven hundred feet of elevation gain up to our campground and were rewarded with some epic views.
3/16/2016: Hiking in Guadalupe
We started the morning by driving the thirty six miles to Guadalupe Mountains National Park where we went on a short nature hike at McKittrick Canyon before heading to the visitor’s center. At the visitor’s center I picked up my Junior Ranger booklet, but didn’t have time to start as we went on a short hike to Devil’s Hall. Most of the hike involves going up a wash and climbing up and over a ton of rocks. It ends when you get to a narrow canyon with some high walls.
We headed back for a brief stop at our campground before continuing on to Carlsbad, NM for dinner. We looked up options on the phone and settled on Chili’s. I can’t think of the last time that I had Chili’s it’s certainly been over a year. Afterwards we made a quick trip to Walmart for propane and a couple other essentials.
At our campground there are hot showers, so I indulged and then came back to play cribbage with everyone else. We settled for teams of two and played as we finished the rest of the pie that was left over from Pi Day.
3/15/2016: Carlsbad and their Caverns
We woke up early to leave our campground and their was no love lost given the fact that the tent fell over multiple times in the night. We made our way to Carlsbad, NM and stopped briefly at the Current Argus, where we met with a reporter to do a story about 59in59. She too was a National Park fan and had adventured around Utah, she also joked that growing up in the area means that all of your school field trips are too the nearby caverns.
Afterwards, we beelined for the caverns to meet up with my friend Adam and his wife Megan. They had come in from Minnesota for spring break and would be visiting the area. The elevators at Carlsbad Caverns are currently down, so we walked down the 750 feet to the bottom of the cave and made the loop around the Big Room before stopping for snacks and a bathroom break.
We camped just seven miles from the caverns and started to make dinner. Unfortuately, I learned that we were on our last propane tank and it was nearly empty. I learned this after I had filled a huge pot with water to make a big vat of chicken noodle soup. My only hope is that it would last long enough to cook our food. The vegetables weren’t as soft as I would have liked but the food was mostly warm.
3/14/2016: Pi Day
I left camp early to get down as quickly as possible. One of my Instagram followers, Lindsey, from Tucson said that she would be meeting us with breakfast burritos! I hiked down and met her at the visitor’s center. She too is a National Park fan and is attempting to visit sixteen parks in 2016. We chatted for a while and she told me about her adventures and exploring in the Tucson area. Trevor had a migraine the previous night, so was a bit slower coming down the trail. I said my goodbyes to Lindsey and took the breakfast burrito to Trevor before making our drive to White Sands National Monument.
Throughout the trip we have developed a friendship with this guy named Neel. His wife works with our college friend Nathan and Neel has been in touch with us throughout the trip. Sending us letters and tips for visiting Grand Canyon and Kings Canyon. Him and his family were on spring break and were going through Guadalupe Mountains NP, White Sands and Chaco Canyon. We were able to coordinate our schedules to meet them at White Sands. We arrived at White Sands and finally met in person!
After sliding down the dunes on sleds we exchanged stories about visiting parks, and enjoyed the cherry and peach pie that they had brought for Pi Day! It was fun to finally connect in person after being in touch for numerous months.
We camped in the Lincoln National Forest and had one of the worst nights of sleep in the entire trip. The wind was so strong that it blew over our tent pole twice. After fixing it twice, I decided that I had had enough and moved to sleep in the car at around 4:00am.
3/13/2016: Tanque Verde Ridge Trail
We hiked with one of my friends, Kristen, up the Tanque Verde ridge trail. It is in the eastern side of the park and takes you up this ridge that gives you a wonderful overlook over the entire town of Tucson. While we were hiking there was an airshow going on, so we could see interesting lines in the sky made by the planes. We had a backcountry permit to camp at Juniper Basin and Kristen had to work the following morning, so we said our goodbyes about half way up the trail. Most of the hike to the campground was uphill, so I just slogged on until getting to where we would set up our tents.
3/12/2016: Tucson and Saguaro
The morning started early because we had to drive 4-hours to Tucson to meet my grandparents, mom, step-dad, two cousins and their significant others for lunch. My grandpa had scheduled everything and while we had planned to drive through Sedona and swing by Walnut Canyon and Montezuma’s Castle we just didn’t have the time.
We had lunch, caught up with everyone and then headed to get the oil changed on the car before heading into Saguaro National Park. You have to pick up backcountry permits before noon, so we couldn’t camp in the backcountry and would have to wait until the following day. We went to the western side of the park, checked out the video at the visitors center and then drove amongst the saguaros and finding some incredible cactus blooms as we drove around.
We woke up early to hike back to the car during sunrise so that we could make it to Flagstaff in time to meet a UVa friend for coffee. We met up with Nathan, who created an app called Soal that allows you to make recordings, pair them with photos and share them on social media. It is a cool way to share experiences with others. It’s funny we had never met in person, just emailed back and forth. Him and his wife were on their way from the Grand Canyon to watch some spring training baseball games.
After that we headed to KNAU, which is the public radio station in Flagstaff to do a quick interview that they will hopefully air in a couple of days. It was fun to go into the studio and see how it all works, they asked us some questions about the trip, what inspired us, and what our future plans would be.
Most of the rest of the day was spent doing errands, swinging by REI to exchange day packs, picking up groceries and finally settling at my friend’s house to spend the night. Erik and Akaylah hosted me when I was last in Flagstaff with car problems. We watched the UVa v. Miami basketball game, enjoyed a delicious home cooked meal and exchanged hiking/camping stories. They have a 6-month old daughter who they are already looking to take out camping. It’s awesome to see people wanting to bring the outdoors to their children.
3/10/2016: The Petrified Forest
Petrified Forest National Park is really quite small. There are only six miles of trail, so you can hike all of the established trails in the park in one day quite easily. We drove to the visitors center, picked up a backcountry camping permit for the south end of the park and then made our way out on the one park road. We stopped at every overlook, hiked every hike and had a great time checking out everything in the park. At around 4pm we started hiking out to our campsite so that we could get there with a little bit of sunlight. We scrambled to the top of this mesa and had a beautiful 360 degree view of the surrounding badlands, definitely one of the cooler places that we have camped on the trip.
3/9/2016: Old Things
In the morning we went to catch the sunrise at Yavapai Point and it was pretty good. The changing colors on the rock were magnificent. I went to a ranger program on the history of the Grand Canyon that was really really well done, the ranger had lived and worked at the park for 38-years. The only thing that bothered me was when he talked about who discovered the Grand Canyon. He said ‘it doesn’t count if you didn’t write it down.’ He then proceeded to talk about how Garcia Lopez de Cardenas ‘discovered’ the canyon. This was a bit off, I thought. It instantly negates any people who don’t have a written language from being capable of discovering anything. When we know that native peoples ‘discovered’ the canyon up to 3,000 years earlier. It is of no consequence to simply say that Cardenas was the first European to see the canyon.
We left the Grand Canyon, after getting my Junior Ranger badge and then made it to another one of the Arizona National Parks, Petrified Forest, outside of Holbrook, AZ. It’s about a four hour drive from the rim and we got to the park just in time to pick up a backcountry permit for the park. They close Petrified Forest at sunset and the only people that can be in the park are people that have backcountry camping permits. You have to get your permit an hour before sunset, so that you can be in your camping spot (one mile from the road) by the time the sun actually sets. We left the Painted Desert Inn and made our way out into the Painted Desert where we would be camping for the night.
3/8/2016: Hoover Dam to the Grand Canyon
I woke up early for sunrise and Lake Mead just wasn’t offering any excellent views. I made the short drive to Hoover Dam. It is a monstrosity. It was actually a very sad moment for me. My memories of the Colorado River are this raging torrent of a river that is ripping through the canyon and flowing down millions of years of rocks with unconceivable power. At the Hoover Dam there is no flow it just sits, almost stagnantly. It was like watching an active friend be put in a wheel chair. They are the same person, yet they are so very different. It was difficult for me to accept.
After a quick breakfast we made the drive to the Grand Canyon to get a view of the Colorado from the rim. While beautiful it was again a huge letdown. It felt like going to watch basketball games courtside for years and years and then suddenly finding that you have tickets in the nosebleed section. You can kind of see the game, but the action is happening so far away that you yearn to be there where you can feel the energy. This combined with the fact that there were thousands of people milling around at the rim, it was almost overwhelming for me. I was constantly looking for overlooks that weren’t packed, or for short side trails where there weren’t any people.
3/5/2016-3/7/2016: A Brief Respite
Trevor had a friends wedding in New Jersey for the weekend. I stayed with my family in Missouri for the weekend and got to have some good quality time with my siblings. The days were spent lounging, playing board games and putting together a trampoline. My little brother had his 11th birthday several days before I got home so I got to celebrate a couple days afterwards with him. Other than that it was a very low key weekend and I didn’t do much other than catch up on uploading photographs and preparing blogs for the website.
I left Monday afternoon to fly back to Las Vegas to meet up with Trevor and the car. From there we drove to a campground right off of Lake Mead.
When I was younger we started many road trips to National Parks on or around March 4th. I remember this because we would be getting into the car so early that it was dark outside. As my brother and I grumbled about being tired my dad would say: ‘It’s the best day to go on a trip.’ We usually didn’t respond because we knew the answer. ‘Get it?! March forth’ my dad would say as he imitated someone walking.
Today is a special day, not just because it brings back these memories of previous trips, but also because I get to be home with my family for the weekend. While we were in Death Valley I spoke with a reporter from PBS NewsHour and they would be airing a piece about our trip. Due to the debates and other news I found out that our little segment would be happening on March 4th. I would get to watch it with my Dad!
My dad and the PBS Ken Burn’s series America’s Best Idea have been a major inspiration for this trip. I remember in 2010 when I excitedly wrote my dad an email about visiting all 58 National Parks in 58 weeks, in 2013 Obama elevated Pinnacles from a National Monument to a National Park, so the trip became 59in59. I remember ordering the Ken Burn’s special on blu-ray and buying the book. I would sit up at night watching it and feverishly writing notes about the parks.
We stood in the kitchen waiting for the segment. For me it was an absolutely classic moment. I stood in the kitchen with my dad. Judy Woodruff mispronounced my name, story of my life. And we got to see how it turned out. PBS did such a good job of editing our conversation and overlaying it with relevant photos. Judy Woodruff pronounced my name correctly and it was done. Thank you, PBS!
3/3/2016: From Dark to Light
I woke up at 4:30am feeling alive. A full eight hours is much more refreshing and sustaining than two and a half while sitting up in the car. I realized that I was up far before sunrise and journaled while I waited for the world to come alive. At 5:30am I popped out of my sleeping bag and went in search of the sunrise. It wasn’t hard to find, but I did manage to capture some photos of it right next to one of the Great Basin National Park signs. I returned to the campsite and after breakfast over the campfire we engaged in what I shall now refer to as, ‘The Ordeal’.
Trevor has a wedding in New Jersey to attend that he had planned since before the trip started in June. I had a flight voucher and booked a trip home to see my family. We both have an excess of things in the car so we began the painstaking process of determining what should stay and what should go.
Do I need three pairs of pants? Or will two suffice? Do I need the stacks of park maps and informational papers that I have accumulated, or can those stay at home for after the trip? The books I finished can go home. The dirty laundry can come home as well. What about the four tarps we have, will one work? DoI need to keep my bike helmet and biking clothes when my bike is in Montana at a friends house?
Before packing my bag I moved into reorganization mode and reconsolidated our food bin, our miscellaneous bin and several stray boxes of bags of stuff so that we had fewer floating things cluttering up the inside of the truck. We are finally honing in on the necessities and removing the excess in a way that will help us stay organized, so that we can both declutter the truck and our minds.
The Dark: We finished with ‘The Ordeal’ around noon and headed to the Visitor’s Center so that we could go on the Lehman Cave tour. The caves that I have visited before usually keep you very far away from the elements and features of the cave. This tour put you right up next to stalactites and stalagmites, there was cave popcorn and shields, which I learned are only present in about 80 of the 40,000 caves that are currently documented in the United States. At several points all of the lights were turned out so we experienced complete darkness. While there is only one tour a day in the winter they kick it up to sixteen during the summer! It is impressive, the cave tour itself is a worth a trip to Great Basin.
The Light: After the tour we hopped in the car to head south. We left Great Basin National Park, a place known for astronomy and a place that is one of the darkest and least light polluted in the lower 48. We left all of that for Las Vegas. A land of lights and extreme fluoresce. Flights, of course, are quite cheap when you are going into, or out of Las Vegas. Although it is tempting to put all of my money on red or black, I think I will skip the roulette table and only stop briefly between National Parks.
3/2/2016: Snowshoeing into the Park
We ‘camped’ in a parking lot, so I decided it was best to leave by sunrise. I turned the engine on the car at 5:30am, just two and a half hours after going to bed. We tried to drive the main park road to see if we could get some good views during the sunrise. It was closed, so we opted to return to town for breakfast at a greasy spoon. On the way down a lady waved us down from the side of the road. Her truck had died, so we gave her a quick jump before heading down to town.
There are two restaurants in Baker, Nevada. Both were closed. One was closed for the winter, the other until 10am. At 6:00am this left us with no options. We drove up to the Lehman Creek Visitor’s Center and sat in the parking lot reorganizing things until 8am when they opened.
We asked about what was available given all the snow. They rent out snowshoes for a day and recommended some good hikes, they also had tours of Lehman cave that started at 1pm daily. We opted for the snowshoes.
We hiked the 3.5 miles and two thousand feet of elevation to Wheeler Peak campground. It was covered in three feet of snow. We attempted to navigate to the Bristlecone pine grove, but the only snowshoe tracks we could find led in another direction. Without knowing exactly where we were, and having to return the shoes by 4pm we had to head back down. The entire day was like an out of body experience. I felt like a complete zombie. I was running on empty after the long drive and a mere cat nap. One step. Put the other foot in front. It was a struggle and I felt like the food I was putting my body was being immediately turned into the necessary fuel to push me forward.
We returned our snowshoes and asked about free camping. There was a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) campground about fifteen miles up the road. We arrived to find a brand new campground. We started up a fire, watched the sun go down and then I retired at 8pm after a long long day!
3/1/2016: Upward and Onward
We woke up early to check out the dunes and were able to find a couple Eureka Dunes Primrose, which is an endangered flower that can only be found on these specific dunes, we took some pictures and then hit the road. We hurried back to the Mesquite Sand Dunes for a 10am ranger walk. One of the requirements for the Junior Ranger program is to go to a ranger program and this was the only one that was close to fitting our schedule.
We hurried back to Furnace Creek so that I could pick up my Junior Ranger booklet. There was a brief stop at the Furance Creek Pool so that we could take a dip and freshen up with a shower. Even though we are in the desert it is incredibly refreshing to take a hot shower. When they only happen about once every week or less it makes them that much more enjoyable. We went to fuel up the car and ran into the ladies we had seen while hiking Mosaic Canyon. I made the mistake of asking about the University of Virginia (UVA) v. University of North Carolina (UNC) basketball game. UVa had won, but the lady whose daughter had gone to UVA attended UNC herself, whoops! We encouraged them to meet us when we come through Shenandoah in August. They encouraged us to stop at the Shoshone reservation down the road for Indian Tacos, we did and feasted on some delicious fry bread tacos.
We left and made our final Death Valley stops at Augueberry Point and the Charcoal Kilns. Augueberry is on the opposite side of Dante’s View and while part of the valley is obstructed the view is stunning. We ran into two guys, Bill and Tony, who have been coming to the park for 30 year for Tony’s birthday. They had seen several superblooms . They said that sometimes you get up to Augueberry and you can see a massive lake. Depending on when the rain hits the entire valley can be filled with water!
We left Augueberry and headed for the Charcoal Kilns, I had no idea what to expect. Would they be little stoves? They were 20-25 tall structures and were visually pretty stunning. They were only in use for three years, but it is certainly a worthwhile stop.
We got back in the car and set our coordinates for Great Basin National Park in Nevada. On the way I called my little brother who was celebrating his 11th birthday! He had a concert and I caught them while they were out at dinner. It was good to catch up, but what he doesn’t know is that I am flying home to see them this weekend!! Trevor has a friend’s wedding and I had a voucher from a year ago when I got bumped on an oversold flight. I coordinated it with my parents so that none of my little siblings know I will be coming back for the weekend. Surprise!
The drive to Great Basin was a doozy,, because we had to stop and find wifi along the way. If you look at the directions from Death Valley to Great Basin there is nothing along the way. Luckily, we were able to track down the Tonopah Brewing Company. We called ahead and were thankful to hear that they had beer, food and wifi. A worthy dinner stop. The wifi was necessary so that we could upload some photos and send them to someone who is doing a story on us, details coming soon! The only problem with this whole scenario is that it took some time to upload the photos so by the time we left Tonopah it meant that we would be arriving in Great Basin at 2:30am. We got there, I journaled for 30 minutes, curled up in my sleeping bag, in the drivers seat and fell asleep. Unlike being at sea level in Death Valley we were now at 7,000 feet elevation and it was much colder!
2/29/2016: Leap Day!
We woke up and made a breakfast of scrambled eggs and grilled potatoes before heading to Mosaic Canyon near Stovepipe Wells. The canyon walls closed in until you got to a twenty-foot dry waterfall. I was confused by the term, but it is just a drop off that would be a waterfall if there were water coming down the canyon. While on the hike we met two ladies from Virginia! One of their daughters was a 2008 University of Virginia graduate, so we talked for a bit while we hiked down the canyon.
After hiking mosaic we said our goodbyes to Dan and Emma, it was great to share the park with friends. Dan was actually one of my residents when I was an RA in college so it was wonderful to reconnect after such a long time.
We turned right to head towards the Racetrack. The Racetrack is famous, because it is the place where there are rocks that move for seemingly no reason. It wasn’t until this past year that they documented how the rocks were moving. Ice would cover the ground and then wind would move the rocks on the ice and they would skate just above the surface leaving marks of their travels. It was such a mystery, because they could see the path of the rocks, but they couldn’t identify why they were moving.
It was here that I also took my Leap Day photo. One of my friends, Juan, has an Instagram account where he takes jumping pictures. He celebrated his 100th jump several weeks ago and I wanted to celebrate with him. I donned my American flag onesie, got a good silhouette and jumped for all I was worth!
The road out to the Racetrack is only 27 miles long, but it takes between 2-3 hours, each way. It’s teeth chattering and forces you to go slow because of the extreme washboard. We left the Racetrack to make our way further north to Eureka Dunes. The dunes are 700 feet tall and the tallest in California. We arrived at 8pm after it was dark, so didn’t get to see them, and would have to wait until the morning.
2/28/2016: Flowers on Flowers on Flowers
We drove further up Warm Springs road and explored some side canyons. After two days my count for distinct wild flowers was around fifteen species. While the majority of the superbloom is the yellow ones there are pinks and whites and purples and reds to be found as well. The purples and whites are a bit more common, but on our hike down one of the side canyons I found a red Indian Paintbrush and another small red flower that hadn’t yet opened it’s petals. They were the only two red patches I found the entire time in Death Valley.
We drove out of Warm Springs to camp on Greenwater Valley Road. On the way there we kept stopping to look at fields of flowers. It was mesmerizing, majestic and unbelievable. How were there this many flowers? It’s one thing to see a blanket of flowers in a place that is green, a place where you expect them. It is quite another to see them in the middle of the desert, in the middle of the hottest place on Earth. At some point while wandering through the flowers I realized that this is the first time that a superbloom has happened in Death Valley during the social media era. In 2005, during the last superbloom, Facebook was an infant, Twitter just a twinkle in someone’s eye, and Instagram was far from being conceived. You can say what you want about social media and whether or not it is a good or bad thing, the one thing that is certain is that far more people can see and experience something like a superbloom. There are stories about the superbloom on CNN, NYTimes, Washington Post and news stations all across the country, while these stories probably would have happened in 2005, they wouldn’t have happened as quickly and they wouldn’t have gotten as much coverage as they do today when you can find hundreds and thousands of photos on social media.
2/27/2016: ALIVE Valley!
We woke up and did, apparently, what every other person in the park with a camera decided to do for sunrise. We headed to Zabriskie Point. The best part was not the sunrise. There was a little girl (she had two siblings) who was an absolute riot! She kept yelling for sister to race her. Her parents kept asking her to be quiet. When the dad was set up as the starting line and the mom the finish line, which was done by repeated yelling, her sister finally obliged and lined up next to her. On your mark, get set, go! Her sister started sprinting and she started running in slo-mo. Taking a good fifteen seconds to run the short distance between her parents.
We came back to the campsite and did a full car clean out while we waited for one of my college friends, Dan, and his fiancé, Emma, to come meet us for a weekend in the park. For those of you that don’t follow park news Death Valley is experiencing a superbloom at this very moment. About once a decade there is big rain in the fall, it is enough rain to cause a massive amount of wildflowers to bloom the following spring.
We drove south, for the flowers, and made two pit stops at Devil’s Golf Course and Badwater Basin (the lowest point in the United States). Then it was superbloom time. It was like a carpet. There were so many wildflowers, and not enough time to frolic through all of them! We made our way south an eventually turned onto Warm Springs Road for some backcountry camping. You simply pull off the road and set up your tent. All of the spots near the wildflowers were occupied, as we drove out of the wildflowers I started to get a little bummed. Shortly afterwards we went up a hill and found a spot. We were perched on a hill overlooking a field of yellow. It was magnificent to see them laid out for miles. A thin yellow blanket on an otherwise barren field, this spring it wasn’t Death Valley it was very much ALIVE.
2/26/2016: We Met a Celebrity
We woke up in the overflow campground at Sunset, near Furnace Creek. The overflow campground is a dirt parking lot. The ground is hard enough that I couldn’t get any tent stakes in the ground, so when I got out of my tent the thing actually blew over.
We stopped at the Visitor’s Center in Furnace Creek to pick up my Junior Ranger booklet and ask about the wildflowers and places to camp in the backcountry. The ranger behind the desk couldn’t have been less helpful. I asked ‘where can I find….’ He quickly responded ‘here is a map of where all the wildflowers are.’ And began looking at the next person in line. I said ‘I was actually wondering about back country camping.’ He pointed at a map and said, ‘Here,’ pointing very quickly at the map. He didn’t actually want to help. I left and tracked down another ranger, who ended up being much more insightful.
We started the day driving the Beatty Cutoff and seeing part of the superbloom. It looked like a carpet of yellow with some purple and a little bit of white sprinkled in different parts. We continued to Rhyolite, just outside the park, for a quick stop.
Much of the rest of the day was spent driving the Titus Canyon road, which is a beast of a road. The hills ranged from red to yellow, green to purple and every color in between. We eventually got to the canyon where the walls tightened up. Definitely a great drive if you have the time…and the vehicle for it.
Our last stop of the day was Dante’s View. With my running shoes laces, I threw on a jacket and took off down the trail with my camera hopping over rocks and spreading my arms to fly. Dante’s View is 5,000 above Death Valley and gives you a beautiful view of most of the valley. As I was enjoying the setting sun and taking pictures a couple walked up next to me and we shared in our awe of the scene before us.
‘Where are you from?’ I asked.
‘Mariposa, right outside of Yosemite.’ He said.
‘Have you been?’ He asked
‘I was there in October and early November.’ I said and explained 59in59
‘Well, Lee plays John Muir and has been doing it for 35-years’.’ She said
‘Wait, Lee…Lee Stetson. Were you in the Ken Burns PBS special on National Parks.’ I asked.
He chuckled (like John Muir would) and said ‘I was’
We chatted for fifteen minutes. I thanked him for his work and let him know that the Ken Burn’s ‘America’s Best Idea’ was a big inspiration for the trip.
2/25/2016: Sunrise, Waterfall and Starbucks
Sunrise was at 6:30am. It was a 45-minute drive up to the Giant Forest Museum and another 45-minute walk out to Moro Rock, so we got up at 5:00am and started driving.
I am not good with heights and while the Moro Rock hike is only about ¼ of a mile, it is one that makes me face my fears. It gets my heart pounding, but the 360-degree view up top is absolutely worth it. We hiked down and made a quick pit stop at Tunnel Log to take some pictures of a tree that cars can drive under (if they aren’t over 8’0”). I also stopped at Colonel Young tree and learned that Charles Young was the first black National Park superintendent. He and his cavalry unit of Buffalo Soldiers were assigned to the park in 1903 and they helped build some of the first roads into the park. Thank you, Colonel Young!
We drove back down our campsite and waved goodbye to the Four Guardsmen, which are four trees that you drive past when coming up the Sequoia National Park road. We got pack to our campsite and I made the 3.7 mile run up to Marble Falls before packing up the car to begin our drive down to Death Valley National Park.
Much of the day was spent at Starbucks catching up on photos and website details. I don’t think that they are aware, but Starbucks is kind of a ceremonial sponsor of the trip. We go there to refuel on caffeine and use wireless to upload many of our photos. Unfortunately, due to the amount of time that it took us to upload everything we didn’t get into Death Valley until midnight.
2/24/2016: Plans Gone Awry
Our morning started at 4:45am as I woke up to heat up some water for coffee prior to our two and a half hour drive to Kings Canyon. My plan was to get there early for an 8:30am program. The drive took two hours so we had some time to kill and got breakfast in the park, I had lemon mascarpone pancakes that were delectable. We finished breakfast and headed up to John Muir lodge for the 8:30am program, no one was there. We stopped at the visitor’s center, not open until 9:00am. We drove out to Big Stump Trail, and couldn’t find the trail due to snow. All we could find was trash; we filled several grocery bags with trash that was just sitting around the parking lot at Big Stump. King’s Canyon was not doing a good job to impress me.
At 9:00am we headed back to the Visitor’s Center to watch the park film before making our way back to John Muir Lodge for a 10:00am snowshoeing adventure. We went back to John Muir Lodge and were informed that it wouldn’t be happening because no one had registered. I had called the previous day to make a reservation, as had another guy that was waiting there as well. This day is not going well.
We left and made our way Hume Lake. On our way back we stopped at General Grant tree and did the associated trail. The scale of some of these trees is insane. Imagine taking a football field and putting it up vertically. Now look up that football field and imagine tree branches thicker than your chest 80-yards up that football field. It’s something else.
We made a quick run up to Panoramic Point, which is absolutely worth it, if you get the chance. We descended and made our way back to Big Stumps after we had asked a ranger about where the trail started. Most people don’t stop here, but it is incredible. One of our Twitter followers, Neel, mentioned it and said that we had to stop. We did, and were very thankful for it. To stand on a sequoia stump helps you acutely understand how massive these beasts are.
We drove as far down the General’s Highway as we could and then set up where we could get a good picture of the sunset. We rewarded ourselves with getting up super early by going out to dinner. We settled on pizza and then wished we had tracked down a buffet. Then, we discovered, that on Wednesday’s this pizza place has a salad bar, pizza buffet. Jackpot! We enjoyed as many pieces of pizza as possible while watching updates about the Presidential race.
2/23/2016: Unexpected Animals, Unexpected Trails
Our first day in Sequoia was a big one. I got up and ran about half a mile up Marble Falls Trail before heading down so that I could be in the Visitor’s Center when they opened. I got to the Visitor’s Center and the lady at the desk was one of the most helpful people that I have ever had the pleasure of talking to at a National Park visitor’s center. I had a lot of the things that I would like to see while in the park, she patiently walked through the list with me and told me what was opened and closed due to snow and helped me set up an itinerary for the next several days.
Unexpected Animals: It started with a hike up Middle Fork and Paradise Creek. On my way down from Middle Fork I was jogging on the road and saw a bobcat. He/she heard me and bound away off the road before I could get a good photo. I made my way down the hill and over to Paradise Creek where I ran into a ranger. He told me to check out the next streambed, as there were some cool orange newts. I was mesmerized. I took photos for 20-30 minutes trying to capture the moment. Amazing.
Unexpected Trails: Next we headed to General Sherman Tree, which is the largest by volume in the world. It is magnificently large, but the name frustrates me. Trees are known for life. General Sherman brought death and destruction, it doesn’t seem fitting. Perhaps Mother Treeresa would be better. My plan was to run the Congress Trail, visit Tharp Log and then come back on the Cresent Trail for a nice five mile loop through the big sequoias. Seven to eight miles later I was still running in circles, I was grievously lost. I knew where I was generally, but there were so many side trails and I couldn’t find the ones that I needed to be on. Throw in the fact that there was eighteen-inch snow pack and my feet were getting cold. I got back to the car 45-minutes later than planned. Our final move was to go to Moro Rock for sunset, due to my getting lost we missed the sunset by mere minutes, we will have to come back another day.
2/22/2016: The Good, The Bad, The Unknown
The Good: I woke up early to catch the sun’s first rays on the Dawn Wall of El Capitan. As I was driving around I noticed three cars with about ten photographers hop out at one of the turn-offs near El Cap. I pulled in and decided that this was a good spot. I later learned that a professional photographer was putting on a photography class for some people by taking them to different places around Yosemite. I talked to several of the participants and got some great reflection shots of El Capitan in the river.
The Bad: Before we left Yosemite, even though it was out of our way, I wanted to stop at Hetch Hetchy. It is a dam that provides water and power for millions of Californians. After the San Francisco fire in the early 1900’s it was deemed that they need a better water source. Hetch Hetchy was picked. John Muir fought, and lost. He said it was one of the most beautiful places in the world. I walked up and saw the dam and felt incredibly sad. What is the price of progress? Are we always going to be willing to pay it?
The Unknown: After leaving Yosemite we drove to Sequoia National Park. The drive was curvy and wildflower filled. The hills were covered with California poppies. We got to the one open campground at Sequoia, Potwisha, and set up our tent. The visitor’s center was closed and we didn’t know what to expect so we drove up the park road. It goes up 4,000-5,000 feet and is a rather epic road. As we drove up the sun was setting. We would pull around a turn and get an amazing view, and then half a mile up the road, it was even more intense, this continued until the sun finally disappeared behind the clouds. We drove in the dark getting glimpses of the sequoias that were around us. I can’t wait for the light!
2/21/2016: Yosemite Round 2
Every year in late February, if conditions are just right there is something magnificent that happens in Yosemite National Park. There is a waterfall, called Horsetail Waterfall. It is right next to El Capitan. Anyways, at sunset the rays of the sun hit he waterfall in such a way that it makes it look like it is on fire.
We had one chance to catch it as Yosemite was on the way down to Sequoia. We pulled into the Yosemite Valley and it was a complete zoo. There were hundreds of cars parked alongside the road with people lined up in chairs, it was 3:00pm and sunset wouldn’t happen for another two and a half hours.
We had enough time to set up our tent in Camp 4 and skipped driving to avoid the circus. We walked to what looked like a good spot and waited with the hundred or so people that were nearby. Anticipation was high. The previous night the waterfall was light up and provided some amazing colors. The sun fell, and then it set and…nothing. It changed colors a little bit, but nothing as grand as what I was hoping.
We walked back to our tent and I was feeling pretty bummed, I thought we had timed it just right to catch it, yet we missed it by a day. As we walked back to Camp 4 the moon started to rise of Half Dome. It was nearly full and made Half Dome look like a huge shadow; I called it our consolation prize. It was beautiful.
2/20/2016: Point Reyes
One of my old Residence Life supervisees, Ben, from UVa lives in San Francisco where he is doing a post-doc at Stanford (he is a smart dude). We drove out to Samuel P. Taylor State Park where we would met our other friends, Neal, Emily and their dog Ginny. We stayed around waiting for a campground and then made our way to Point Reyes National Seashore where we walked along the beach.
The beach sunset was magical. There were people fishing, dogs chasing sticks, and a guy with that huge bubble making thing. We walked the beach and chatted about life.
Afterwards we went back to camp and made aluminum foil packets of potatoes, onion and peppers with some Italian sausage. It was delicious and we went to bed well fed!
2/19/2016: Rainy Drive
We got up at around 5am to make the drive back down to San Francisco. We drove the Avenue of the Giants which is south of Redwood National Park and is a smaller road next to the main road. It takes you next to massive trees, it was raining but quite peaceful.
We got to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area to meet up with a reporter from KPIX in San Francisco so that they could do a quick piece about 59in59. We talked on camera, took some photos of the Golden Gate bridge and then hit up a coffee shop to catch up on some internet.
I dropped Trevor off at his Uncle’s house in Redwood City. His uncle has joined us for both Yosemite and Pinnacles and even got an American Flag onesie to wear with us as well! I headed into the city and had dinner with some friends from the University of Virginia.
2/18/2016: A Full Redwoods Day
We woke up early and headed to Klamath where my goal was to track down Hidden Beach. The signage wasn’t great, but I was able to find it. It was hidden and no one else was there, well named I guess. It was a good, quiet way to start the morning.
Afterwards we went to the Visitor’s Center and got the passcode we needed to visit Tall Trees Trail. It was a nice short hike that took you around a grove of massive Redwoods. During the hike there was even a tree that had a tunnel for you to talk through, definitely have never seen that before!
Afterwards we hiked to Lady Bird Johnson Grove, which is the site where Nixon dedicated a grove in honor of Lyndon B. Johnson’s wife, Lady Bird. It was a beautiful grove and we got some good shots as the trees were covered in mist.
We attempted to get to Endert’s Beach in time for low tide so that we could do some tidepooling, and were just a wee bit too late and walked the beach in a light rain.
2/17/2016: There is a Reason the Trees are So Big!
We camped at Flint Ridge, which was amazing. It was a ¼ mile hike in and was free! We woke up early and tracked down the Damnation Creek Trail. It took us from the Redwood forest down to the coast in a relatively quick amount of time. Most of the time it was overcast and near raining.
After Damnation we headed to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and hopped on the James Irvine Trail. My plan was to go out to Fern Canyon, go south on the dirt road and then come back on another trail. I got to Fern Canyon (dunked my entire body in the river) and saw an incredible brief ray of sunlight. After that it started to rain. I attempted to find my way to the Fern Canyon parking lot so that I could run back down the road. I got turned around and couldn’t find the trail, all I found was a huge herd of Roosevelt Elk. One bull was sitting there with his harem of females and I just quietly tiptoed away.
It rained most of the rest of the time that I was running back the car. In the 8-miles I had to run back to the car I had a lot of time to consider the fact that it takes a lot of water for trees to grow as big as they do here. Being rained on in Redwoods is just part of the experience.
2/16/2016: BIG TREES!
I’m back to my usual early wake up. Being that we had some extra time before the Visitor’s Center opened we tracked down a Starbucks and spent way too long there. I got everything set up to use my first Mail Chimp email. I designed it, got it exactly as I wanted it. Tested it. Check. Send. And they cancelled my account. The extra hour I had spent figuring out what I need to do to get it up and running was totally wasted, and so was an hour of the time that I could spend in Redwoods National Park.
We finally got in the park, tracked down amazing free camping in the backcountry and went for a drive through some of the groves that would also set us up for a sweet hike. Redwoods is interesting, because there is the National Park and then four California State Parks that in combination protect the big Redwoods. We hiked around massive trees that are so large that descriptions are incapable of describing their grandeur. There is only one solution, get out here and come see them.
2/15/2016: Back to the Road
I woke up early to run. I got 7.2 miles in, although there was a good amount of walking. My legs and heart are there, but my lungs just aren’t up to speed yet. I just couldn’t get enough air and had to walk so that I could recover. The South Wilderness Trail was completely secluded and a delightful way to kick off the morning.
I talked to the head enforcement ranger, who also happened to be the one I went running with on the previous day. I explained that another ranger told me to park in the spot that I used, she is going to look into it. A ticket is a stiff penalty, especially when you consider that outside of camping I am paying for the yearly parks pass.
We drove most of the way up to Redwoods National Park, but decided to camp just south of the park as it was a bit cheaper and we had plans to stay in the backcountry. We saved ourselves some money, a bit of time and camped about 45-minutes south of Redwoods, eager to kick things off the following morning.
2/14/2016: Valentine’s Day!
I went for a 9am run put on by some of the rangers. Slowly getting back into it! I came back to the campsite and it was Valentine’s Day pancakes. I opted to add bacon and bananas to mine, it is a decision that can never be regretted. They were delicious.
I headed out at 11am to get some hiking in while Trevor and Sarah waited at the campsite. Trevor’s uncle was coming to hike for part of the day. My morning was spent going to North and South Chalone Peaks. I saw condors, up close, and found the coolest outhouse I have ever seen in my life.
I ran down most of the way from North Chalone so that I could have enough time to hike High Peaks, which was an additional 5-miles tacked on to the 9.5 I had already done. I left at 4:30pm and started hiking fast. I got up to the ridge right around sunset and got to hike around the Pinnacles with condors swooping overhead as the sky turned from yellow, to orange, to red, pink and purple. Victory!
I descended quickly and just barely made it to the car without needing a headlamp, I did get a ticket. Apparently when the Ranger told me which spot to park in, they just wanted to mess with me. Ugh, Happy Valentine’s Day!
2/13/2016: Hiking in Caves
Sarah’s parents came out early in the morning to check out Pinnacles for the first time. We hiked to Balconies that features a short 0.5 mile cave. We hiked a total of 10-miles for the day, it took some time to get out to the actual caves. We got some good views of the Pinnacles, enjoyed the caves and even got to see a bunch of climbers. We weren’t sure if what we saw was a California Condor in the distance, but we were pretty sure.
We came back to the Visitor’s Center and I picked up my Junior Ranger program to start my important work and learn as much about the parks as I can put into my brain. We opted to hold off on dinner until after the Ranger program. It was about birds, which usually doesn’t really tickle my fancy. This time though, we learned about Acorn Woodpeckers, don’t you worry they are going to get a separate blog post, because they are so cool!
2/12/2016: An Early Morning and Traffic
As my body recovered I felt more and more like myself. I woke up just before 6am in complete darkness. Ready to hike. Trevor got up as well and we made moves to hike Ryan Mountain. It was a short 1-mile, 1,000-foot elevation gain mountain hike. The views on top for sunrise were phenomenal. We could see the Wonderland of Rocks to the north and to the west there was a beautiful snow covered peak. Definitely the right call for the morning.
We packed up our stuff and then made for LA. Trevor had lunch with his aunt and cousin while I went to meet up with another one of our sponsors, Runyon Canyon apparel. Tony and I ate lunch while he showed me where he does all the shirts, bandanas and everything. It was cool to see all the stuff he has going.
We left LA at the perfect time to hit ALL of the traffic. We didn’t get to Pinnacles until 9:30pm, where we met our friend Sarah. She had a fire, burgers and chips. We were saved!!
2/11/2016: A Visitor
Trevor’s cousin from LA was coming out to hike for the day. Due to my still lack of 100% I took the truck and diverged from the group. I drove to 49 Palms oasis and did a short 3-mile roundtrip hike to an oasis. On the way in I saw a helicopter evacuate a lady who had busted her knee. The heli landed on top of the mountain and took her out, it was incredible to watch that thing fly and land on such a tiny space.
Afterwards, I hiked out to Willow Hole Trail, based on the recommendation of one of my friends, Nick. As I hiked my body started to feel better. I drank water, ate food and could feel inklings of my former self starting to come back, hopefully that means no dengue.
I made a quick pit stop at Desert Queen mine and got to see some incredible mining equipment from the early 1900’s, although they stopped mining in 1960. It’s wild to see a mine in the middle of the desert, how did they get everything out here over a hundred years ago?!
The rest of the sunlight was used to try and get photos of Joshua Tree’s with the sunset in the background. It didn’t work so well, but I tried until it got dark. I went to a Ranger program about the Joshua Tree, which was well done and returned to the campsite to find Trevor and his cousin had made a feast of steak tacos, amazing!
2/10/2016: Sweat it Out
I poured sweat all night long. It was the worst. I woke up feeling like I had lost four or five pounds of liquid. The rest of my day was a haze. We made stops. I got out and hike around and took pictures. I was slowly coming to when we made a 7-mile round trip hike to an oasis. It was everything I had to walk there and back. Again, I bundled up in multiple layers and hoped to sweat all of the bad juju out of my system
2/9/2016: It Begins
I woke up and felt cold after sweating it out a bit in my sleeping bag. Feeling cold in 70-80 degree weather is not a good sign. It means that my body is burning far hotter and the comparative temperature is much colder for my skin. Bad news bears.
We ate breakfast with Dorian and then Trevor started driving to Joshua Tree. I put my head on my pillow, bundled up in a blanket and just hoped that a mosquito in either Hawai’i or American Samoa didn’t give me Dengue Fever. Most of the car ride I was in and out of sleep. We stopped at Taco Bell, Wal-Mart and then the Visitor’s Center. Every time it took me time to gather the mental and physical energy to get out of the car. I skipped on Wal-Mart because there just wasn’t anything in the tank for that type of experience.
We got to our campsite and I crawled into bed at 3pm. I only woke up to try and catch the sunset at Key’s View. After that I put on 4-layers, and a synthetic down jacket with two blankets. A banana, 40-ounces of water and some trail mix and I was ready for bed.
We met with one of our sponsors, Ridgemont Outfitters, at the Korean Friendship Bell in LA. Ridgemont makes some awesome shoes that serve as a good hybrid between being able to go on a hike and walk around downtown. They are great for me on the days where I am driving, hiking, walking through visitors centers and need something comfortable for multiple occasions. Trevor has literally worn his every day since we got them.
After meeting with Ridgemont we drove down to San Diego and met with another one of our sponsors, Tipsy Elves. They have supplied us with some incredible American Flag themed gear. Pretty much whenever you see one of us sporting the Red, White and Blue we are wearing Tipsy Elves. It was cool to see where the magic happens.
We stole some internet time and then met up with our buddy from Channel Islands, Paul, to check out a couple breweries in town before heading up to Encinitas to stay with my buddy Dorian for the night.
My plan for the morning was to wake up at 5am so that I could squeeze in a brisk 16-miles before our 3pm ferry off the island. I woke up at 6:30am. I hate waking up late, clearly I just needed extra sleep, right?
I started off on my hike and went to Smugglers Harbor, based on an Instagram suggestion. Afterwards I made pit stops at Yellowbanks and Smugglers Canyon before meeting up with Trevor at Smugglers Harbor. I was eating and making my way through the 3-liters of water I had brought with me for the hike. Still tired. Is it dehydration? Why am I not 100%. Per my usual philosophy, keep going!
We hiked out to San Pedro point, well what we thought was San Pedro point. There was no trail and it was four round trip miles of hiking up and over ravines. I thought I was at the point. Trevor was in a different place and thought that it was a point…he was probably right, but we will never know.
We hiked back to pack up our stuff and get ready for the ferry. I was wiped. Completely and totally sapped of energy. I had consumed nearly 6lbs of water, it couldn’t be dehydration, could it? Was I getting sick? Coughs and utter exhaustion. After packing my bag I had to sit and collect myself mentally before moving. Please don’t be sick, please don’t be be sick. I don’t have for this.
We landed back in Oxnard in the middle of the Super Bowl. We drove to Los Angeles, missed the entire Super Bowl and caught up with one of my friends, Holly, before heading back to Trevor’s cousin’s place to tuck in for the night. Another night on a couch and then back to the road. After a night of chills, fever, clogged nose and a pounding head, I can only hope that it’s nothing serious. Crossing my fingers.
2/6/2016: The Most Interesting Man
We hiked the 17-mile round trip to Chinese Harbor. We saw nobody on the way out. The only sign of human life, besides roads, were two surfers who were catching some waves as we came out to the beach. We enjoyed a quick lunch and then hiked the 1,800 feet back up the ridge to head back to our campsite.
On our hike back, Trevor met our new friend Paul. Paul had a mysteriously encyclopedic knowledge of the island. When we got back to our campsite, he invited us to swing by after we settled in and had dinner, I asked which campsite he was staying at. He wasn’t he was staying at the only non-park service house.
We stopped by after dinner, and our lives were enriched. The cookies, fresh fruit and tea were good. The stories from Paul’s dad about the history of the island were even better. He knew it all. His family had a sheep ranch on Santa Cruz until 1984 when they sold the land to the National Park Service so that Channel Islands could be established!!! His knowledge of this human history was incredible and it was a real treat to hear about the creation of the park, the ranch, the building of the harbor. He wrote the definitive book on the history of Santa Cruz Island, which we will be buying and reading. In life there are two types of people; those that use their knowledge and talent to impress others, and those that use these same skills to educate and share with others. We were lucky to be educated and share in the history of Santa Cruz, thank you!
2/5/2016: Channel Aw, Cute Island Foxes!
Our boat to the Channel Islands left at 9am, and we had to be there an hour early. And we hadn’t packed our stuff. We left LA at 6am after sleeping for three hours and furiously threw things out of the car as we packed for our weekend out on the islands.
The boat ride went a little like this. Whale. Dolphin. Two whales. Pod of dolphins. More whales. Pelicans. Seals. It was an animal overload. It was clear, beautiful and idyllic.
We landed on the island, lugged our stuff to the campground and were immediately confronted with the cutest animals (yes, cuter than red pandas) I have ever seen. Channel Island Foxes. OMG!! They were tiny and not afraid of people. If you only need one reason to visit Channel Islands, let them be the reason.
We set up camp, and went for a couple short hikes. I was zonked and missed the sunset as Trevor hiked out to Potato Harbor
2/4/2016: On the Road Again
We were on the road for a mere 30-minutes before making our first stop. John Muir National Historic Site was half an hour away. The stop had to be made. Trevor’s epic beard needed to meet its maker. We toured the site, finished our Junior Ranger programs and made for the road.
We made a pit stop to meet up with a like-minded friend, Kevan. He is another adventurer/explorer, we ran into each other hiking to the most northwesterly point in the continental United States near Olympic National Park. He is taking breaks between adventures to work at his job at Firestone Walker brewery, we stopped by to say hello and then made our way to Los Angeles where we stayed with Trevor’s cousin and exchanged stories into the wee hours of the morning.
2/3/2016: Repacking our Lives into a Car
After living out of our backpacks for a month it was time to return to our home, our Dodge 2500 diesel truck. Ah, home sweet home. Sarah’s parents let us catch up on showers and laundry so that we could start out clean. We took care of the basics, enjoyed a home cooked meal and prepared to launch again! Thank you to our California family, we appreciated the kindness, hospitality, warm food, hot showers and cold beverages!!
2/2/2016: A Traveling Blur
We landed in Hawai’i at 5:30am. Ugh, red-eye flights are the worst. We sat around in the airport debating if we should hop on a standby flight to California or stay in California for a night. After realizing that we would just be getting into another loop of finding a place to stay and tracking down transportation it would probably be best just to head out.
Janelle was still on the island though, and picked us up in her convertible bug so that we could enjoy one last bowl of ramen and a quick dip at the beach. I slept in the car while they enjoyed the beach and we were off on a flight again. We landed in San Jose at 10:30pm and our friend, Sarah’s dad picked us up so that we could be reunited with our truck. We had some In-N-Out and slept hard!
2/1/2016: Atop the Island
We woke up with two goals in mind. Hike to the top of the island. Catch the flight out in the evening.
We grabbed our day packs and took the bus into Pago Pago to the National Park Visitors Center and saw one of our friends, Kelsey, from snorkeling. We knew that she worked for the park and she helped get us some advice for our hike.
We hopped on a bus to Fagasa and stopped at Fagasa Pass at the top of the hill. There was the trail to Mount Alava on the right and then a rusty metal ladder to the left. Our trail was up the rusty ladder and to the left. We passed through some banana and taro plants and then got into the thick of the rainforest. At first the trail seemed quite reasonable, switchbacks here, follow the ridge there. Then we came out of the rainforest onto the ridge up towards the summit. The trail was so steep that ropes were set to assist you in climbing up. I am bad with heights, so I just went with the head down, full steam ahead, approach. We got to the top and due to all of the sweating Trevor was a touch pale, we sat in the shade, hydrated and ate our sole can of olive oil and garlic tuna as a gecko wandered up Trevors knee, onto his arm, up his arm and then onto his head, where even his grippy hands couldn’t hold onto the sweat that permeated from his hair. The view from up top was….
That’s right, indescribable. You could see the entire island. Pago Pago Bay, the airport, Coconut Point, the reefs, the roads, the rainforest. It felt like being on top of the world. It was like being Leonardo DeCaprio but knowing that the ship WOULDN’T sink and that you WOULD win an Oscar.
We hiked down, revisited the Visitor’s Center for some A/C and the opportunity to write more letters. With our letters sent we hopped back on the bus, packed our bags and made for the airport. Chances look good. We sat with our bag of McDonalds and our fingers crossed. ‘Would everyone with standby tickets please proceed to the security checkpoint?’ We’d made it! And with that we got on a plane that departed American Samoa at 11:30pm and was scheduled to land in Hawai’i at 5:30am.
1/31/2016: Sunday in American Samoa
Sunday is a very important day in American Samoa. Many people go to church and much of the island shuts down. The family we were with took us to church. The entire service was done in Samoan, so we couldn’t understand much. It was youth day, so the youth from the church got up and did a song and dance that was led by one of the family members that we were staying with. The best part was that the dance was a remix of ‘What a Night’, I suppose music transcends cultures and languages.
After the service there was a lunch and they treated us incredibly well, sitting us next to the pastor and his wife to enjoy the meal. The thanked us for coming, wished us well on our journey and truly welcomed us into their congregation. The kids were shy during lunch, but afterwards we felt like celebrities as many of them came up and asked to take pictures with us.
The rest of the day was spent, well resting. We napped, read and were able to access internet for the first time to text our family via iMessage, and post some pictures. We had plans to try and meet up with our snorkeling friends, but didn’t have a good way to get in touch with them about timing or location, so instead relaxed as much as possible.
1/30/2016: Fagatele Bay
Fagatele (pronounced Fangatele) is an incredible bay featuring a coral reef that has been a no collection zone for fisherman since 1986. This means that it is much more representative of nature, there are bigger fish, and we are more likely to see sharks.
It was about a 2-mile walk from the house that we are staying out. The family we were with tried to convince us to a take a 40-minute bus to Pago Pago (pronounced Pango Pango) and then hop on another bus to Futiga. We skipped that plan and walked the entire way. We came upon a car wash that featured an emcee calling to cars. As we walked past they offered a body wash, did they know that we hadn’t showered in nearly a week?!
We made it to the road leading to Fagatele and stopped for sodas before continuing along the way. About 100-yards down the road another palagi (pronounced palingi) or white person, passed us and offered us a ride. As a quick note, from what we could gather paligi was not a derogatory term. Ben, the white guy, mentioned he was meeting several friends to go snorkeling in Fagatele Bay. We joined the group of five, hopped in the back of the car and made our way down to the beach.
Beautiful coral, beautiful fish, several sea turtles and a small black tipped reef shark. The water was clear and we swam around enjoying the bay to ourselves for several hours. We got a ride home and realized that missing a flight on stand by isn’t always a bad thing.
1/29/2016: Standing By
The busses leave Vatia at 8 and 930am. We said our goodbyes to the family and exchanged addresses. As soon as we left the house it started pouring down rain. We got on the bus and headed for the National Park Visitors Center so that we could complete our Junior Ranger badges, Trevor and I diligently complete the crossword, word search and connect the dots to become the parks newest Junior Rangers.
Afterwards we headed to the Ocean Visitor Center and learned about Fagatele Bay, Rose Atoll and numerous other coral reefs in American Samoa. Including one that featured a 550-year old piece of coral that is thought to be the oldest of its kind in the world. We learned that Fagatele Bay has been protected since 1986 and is one of the best snorkeling spots in the world, how did we miss this?!
We made for a quick lunch, one last dip in the ocean and then set out to mail some letters before heading to the airport. We stopped at the American Embassy, McDonalds, and attempted to get wifi before checking in. The wifi didn’t work, and we couldn’t get free refills. The manager had to enter the wifi password and they straight up refused to give Trevor access.
We walked to the airport, Cole and Elizabeth walked through security while Trevor and I waited on standby. We waited. We waited and crossed our fingers. They called people. They called more people. They said it would be ‘close’ for us. They called even more people and then as they started cleaning up it was apparent that we weren’t going to make it. As we picked up our bags we asked if we could stay the night in the terminal, it’s outdoors and there isn’t any camping on the island. They said that security might question us, but that we should be all right. We sat in the chair and contemplated our options. We could attempt to walk a couple of miles down the road and hide our tents on a golf course, we could sleep in the terminal and sort things out the next morning. Then, a lady that works at the airport said hello as she was waiting for a taxi. She asked where we were from and what we were up to, we explained our situation and she invited us home with her! We suddenly had a place to stay for the night and the entire weekend as she said we could come with her family to church on Sunday, as the next flight wasn’t until Monday evening!
1/28/2016: Hiking in the Rainforest
We woke up early with plans to hike up Mount Alava, the highest mountain in the National Park. The trail was hundreds of yards away from where we were staying, so we simply walked out the front door and made our way to the trailhead. It immediately headed up, via some switchbacks. For the elevation gain it was a rather gradual trail. We made our way to the top of Alava (found out three days later, that we didn’t make the summit) and then returned to complete a short loop.
The loop took us back to the road back into Vatia and there was a short trail that led out to the point at the right side of Vatia Bay. At the bottom there were some pristine deep tide pools. We jumped in, but not before crossing a very short and precarious piece of rock. Most of the time the rock was completely normal, besides being a little wet. About once every 2-3 minutes a huge wave would blast over the rock and immediately suck back into the ocean creating a terrifying looking wave that could drag a person to a never-ending doom of being slammed against the rocks. We avoided this fate, and swam in the most perfectly temperatured natural water I have ever experienced.
We returned to our homestay for dinner and a talent show. The family showed us some traditional dances, the grandfather performed a poem, and sang the most hilarious version of ‘I’m a Little Teapot in Samoan’ and several kids performed the Whip and Nae Nae. After they were finished they notified us that it was our turn to perform, so we did the Hokey Pokey, the Electric Slide and a yoga headstand. They definitely had us beat! Afterwards we all enjoyed rocky road ice cream before heading to bed.
1/27/2016: Island Life
We woke up with plans to travel to Anu’a Island. We hopped on the 9:30am bus out of Vatia and the first song playing on the bus was none other than Coolio’s Gangstas Paradise, we rode the bus to Aua where we would transfer to the Anu’a Ferry. After waiting for a fair amount of time a taxi came by and quoted us a price. When we paid, he conveniently didn’t have change. We caught the ferry around 11:00am to Anu’a and walked around the island and spent some time snorkeling. It took us about an hour and a half to get around the island and we had to be back to the ferry by 2:00pm so that we could catch our buses back to Vatia. We didn’t really get enough time to explore the island, but it was difficult because of how hard it was to coordinate transportation.
Our bus from the ferry to Aua was not playing Gangstas Paradise but it was playing a movie full blast that featured several incredible scenes. One was a motorcycle car chase that ended when the guy in the car took a fully automatic pistol and fired it into the helmet of the motorcycler for a good 3-4 second spray. There were fights with broken beer bottles, and poorly done dubbings. The best part in all of this is that there is no other option for music or entertainment, it is just playing in the front of the bus and the driver occasionally changes the volume level depending on the frequency of gun blasts.
We made it back to Vatia and took part in some more wholesome fun as we played football with the kids. We played on a little concrete pad, with our shoes on we found ourselves sliding all over the place, the kids without shoes, were incredibly more surefooted.
1/26/2016: Welcome to the Jungle
We woke up to a breakfast of ramen, fresh papaya, sweet rolls and this crushed cacao drink that I quickly fell in love with. The papaya was picked from their front yard and was delicious.
Cole and Elizabeth (The Switchback Kids) had gotten the opportunity to swing by the visitor center and scope out some trails, so after breakfast we headed out to Pola Island and a very short trail that introduced us to the American Samoan rainforest. We were there briefly, before heading to our main attraction of the day, the Tuafanua Trail. We hiked up and over a ridge to get on the opposite side of the city Vatia, where we were staying with our host family.
The only people we saw on the trail were two bird researchers. We then decided some stepladder like steps that had ropes in place to ease your descent. We narrowly avoided stepping on the hundreds of hermit crabs that covered the trail and arrived on a rocky and secluded beach. We hiked down the beach and talked to Cole and Elizabeth about their travels as we have both hit some different parks. The beach was littered with lost sandals. It was like the Island of Misfit Toys from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. There were hundreds of sandals without a partner strewn all over the beach; we collected dozens and dozens to make a quick art installment. We planned on throwing them away and then realized we didn’t see any municipal trashcans at the trailhead.
We hiked back over the ridge and into Vatia. Our host family offered to show us their family plantation where they grow bananas, taro, papayas, coconuts, mangoes and limes. Egypt, one of the guys who just graduated from high school showed us the way. He climbed a coconut tree by using preexisting steps that had been notched with a machete and then making more on his climb up, he held the machete in his mouth and then dug it into the tree as he pulled down multiple coconuts for us to drink. After refreshing ourselves with the freshest coconut juice he showed us to a waterfall so that we could take a dip before heading back home for dinner.
1/25/2016: American Samoa Bound
We packed up our belongings and reduced our stress inducing sleeping situation by opting for beach time. We mostly sat in the sun as the break on the beach was incredibly violent. It was difficult to get in because the waves pulled so hard on your feet that they could be swept right out from under you, after making it in you were consistently fighting the water to not get pulled too far out, but to stay in deep enough water. I never understood the concept of a riptide until getting in this water and being pitched around like a rag doll.
We said our good-byes to Jessie and Janelle as they dropped us off at the airport and we made for our American Samoa flight. Getting on the flight was a bit of a fiasco, but I’ll save that for a much longer post.
Hawaiian Airlines is one of, if not the only airline that still serves food at meal times. We enjoyed our dinner and settled in for the five-hour flight.
After landing we made our way through customs and then walked out of the terminal to hundreds and hundreds of people waiting for the flight. We were out no longer than 30 seconds when two girls came up and asked if we were Trevor and Darius. I should probably mention that we planned on doing a Home Stay while at American Samoa National Park, because there is no camping. Another duo, a married duo, doing all of the National Parks (The Switchback Kids), arrived in American Samoa on the Friday flight that we didn’t make. We connected over Twitter and realized that we would be in the park at the same time and decided to team up on a home stay, so they showed our hosts our photos.
We lugged our bags to the back of our truck and then hopped into the back for a ride through the darkness. We quickly learned that American Samoans can speak English, but that it is more like a second-language to their native Samoan language. There was a bit of a language gap as we raced down the streets swerving around cars when the road was clearly marked with double yellow lines. At one point it started raining and then we descended a hill that I thought would surely blow the car engine. It did not and we arrived safely at our host’s house as they welcomed us with a hot meal and a family full of smiling faces!
1/24/2016: Define Closed
Our friend recommended a hike called Stairway to Heaven. Upon looking it up we learned that it was closed and illegal to hike, we couldn’t really get good intel because websites were rather negative about it due to a guard being stationed there, yet there were still instagram and other pictures of people who had recently done the hike. We asked our friend and they suggested going in the afternoon, as opposed to 4am when everyone else tries.
We opted for the afternoon and pulled up to the recommended trailhead, we could immediately tell that we were being watched. In addition to the No Trespassing signs the people that lived nearby were eyeing us out their windows. I hopped out of the car to talk to one of them and was met with immediate aggression and anger. I was instantly on the defensive and trying to assuage his concerns. I simply asked for a bit of history and other hiking recommendations, he seemed to calm down, but was still a bit hostile. We decided not to chance the possible fines and instead went to the botanical gardens nearby.
After a very late lunch of ramen we were left with little time before the sun went down and headed out to the touristy Waikiki to see the beach and the hordes of people. We met Trevor’s friend, Ghoku, and shared a drink and stories of times bygone.
We returned to our AirBnB and were met by the proprietor who was clearly incredibly intoxicated and simply wanted to talk and hang out with us, we just wanted to move along our way and escape the conversation. We opted to swing by a local bar to avoid the awkwardness, our plan succeeded but it did not change the frequency of Red’s gifts left throughout the yard.
1/23/2016: In Search of Accommodations
I was up early to watch the sunrise and sit on the beach with 30 other campers who had the same idea. We watched it rise and I made friends with the dozens of crabs who were digging out their holes next to me. They seemed to notice the slightest head twitch and would quickly retreat inside their holes whenever I moved.
Everyone was asleep when I got back, so I lay in my hammock for a couple of hours before things started getting moving. Most of our mornings are quite long as we sit heating up water on the fire to prepare for coffee. Our group was split on trying to find camping for cheaper than per person so we scoured AirBnB for options and found something for for two nights. I’ll come back to that later.
We left our campsite for the nearest beach where we found a turtle cleaning station that featured 5 turtles being cleaned by fish. There was a baby being protected/hidden by two adults as well as a large adult turtle with only 3 flippers.
We moved next to Ka’ena Point, based on a recommendation from an Instagram follower. You hike along a beautiful coast watching humpbacks spray and breach and then enter a bird nesting zone where we saw dozens of albatross who were practice courtship dances and sitting around. We also were lucky enough to see two Monk Seals who were simply laying in a tide pool next to the ocean.
The AirBnB was bad. We were camping in a yard, but it wasn’t just any yard. It was a yard that featured Red, a little barking and crazy Chihuahua who both ran around and shat everywhere. I won’t go into further detail other than to say I certainly regretted signing up for two nights of the same.
1/22/2016: Standing By
We woke up early, had breakfast at the Kihei Caffe and settled in at a beach for our last hour on Maui. After that we packed our stuff and made our way to the airport. Jessie and Janelle were going to check out Oahu and Trevor and I were going to almost immediately connect to American Samoa.
We landed in Oahu and learned that we would not be getting on the American Samoa flight as we were flying using buddy passes and the flight was full. The next flight wasn’t until Monday, so we prepared ourselves for a weekend on Oahu.
After arriving we were all tired and hungry. We attempted to fit ourselves and our stuff into a Volkswagen Beetle convertible and didn’t even come close, so had to upgrade to something larger. After the car shenanigans we were all tired and hungry and made our way to the nearest Honolulu ramen place. It was traditional Japanese ramen and was delicious.
After that it was time to find camping. Hawai’I is rather strict about camping and makes it incredibly difficult to get spaces. You have to reserve spots two weeks in advance, and provide your license plate. None of the offices that we called picked up their phone, even after we left messages. We opted for a private campground on the northside of Oahu called Malaekahana, there were dozens upon dozens of stray cats and some community members came by to feed them and then proceeded to name each and every one of the cats that they have been taking care of for years and years.
1/21/2016: Maui Sunsets
Today was our last day on Maui. I had planned to attempt to run to the Paliku Cabin and down the Kaupo Trail, but after realizing that it would be 18-miles and that I would have a 1-2 hour hitchhike ahead of me, I opted to stay with the group. Sometimes it is good to leave things on the list so that I can have future adventures.
We packed up, ate leftover Pad Thai and drove down to check out JAWs. It was completely different than the time before. There were almost no cars and absolutely zero surfers. No boats, no jet skis, just water.
The rest of our day was rather quiet and slow as we went to a beach just north of Kihei and sat watching the sunset. Right as it set a sailboat set itself perpendicular to us so that we had a great silhouette, Hawaiian outrigger canoes were also racing about 100-200 yards off shore so we just sat on the beach waiting for the sun to set and relaxing. It was a slow ending to our time on Maui but we got dinner and settled in at Kathleen’s house before heading out early the next morning.
1/20/2016: Just Hammocking Out and Campfire Pad Thai
We were pretty much out of supplies, so we went for a short hike in the morning and then Trevor, Jessie and Janelle went into town to catch some beach time and stock up on groceries. I opted to spend the day in my hammock. I had ambitions to go for a run. Instead I moved my tent, put up my hammock and spent the day journaling and reading.
One of our friends, Annika, from the Grand Canyon connected us with Rachel who is a Park Ranger in Haleakala. She was going to attempt to meet us for a hike but got sick and had to change plans. She came up to Hosmer to hang out and chat for a little while. She works in archaeology so it was interesting to get a Ranger’s perspective on the park.
Trevor, Jessie and Janelle decided to aim big for dinner. The plan: Campfire Pad Thai. We mixed noddles, sprouts, bok choi, green onions, peanut butter, egg, chili paste, onions and several other vegetables together in foil packets and laid them on the fire. It was DELICIOUS. There was room for improvement with the softening of the noodles, but all things told we made a rather amazing meal for cooking over the fire.
1/19/2016: A Haleakala Sunrise
We woke up at 5:30am to head up to the summit of Haleakala for the sunrise. As we left Hosmer Grove campground we noticed a huge line of cars waiting to get into the park. As we ascended the road to the summit we could see dozens and dozens of taillights ahead of us zig-zagging up the road. We arrived at the parking lot and it looked like a rock concert. There were cars and people everywhere, park employees were directing traffic and it was ridiculous. We had received a tip to hike 0.3 miles up a trail to avoid the masses of people. Next to the visitors center was a mad house and we had at least a little bit of space to move around and take pictures. The sunrise was magnificent, definitely a must see, but overplayed when compared to what we heard that it is supposed to be one of the best in the world.
The rest of our day we spent hiking in the crater and moved from what looked like Mars to some more vegetative areas. We saw some of the rare and endangered Ne Ne birds and hiked up two miles of switchbacks to get to our car.
Camping that night was a regular UVa reunion with Trevor, Jessie and myself. We added Blake, a 2005 grad living on Oahu, and Allison to round out 5 UVa grads cooking campfire food and sharing travel stories around the picnic table.
1/17/2016 and 1/18/2016: The Road to Hana
If ever you shall go to Maui you will be told that you should do the Road to Hana, and you should. Do not believe the hype that you hear, it is not terrifying or scary. Rather it is quite beautiful and there are tons of incredible beaches that you can stop at along the way. We drove to the Kipahulu section of the National Park and camped there for the night. Some highlights in terms of places that we stopped along the way in the two days were Red Sand Beach, Waimoku Falls (in the park), Venus pools, and the random fruit stands along the way. There are, of course, dozens of other stops to be made and I think that you could make a good 3-4 day trip out of the excursion if you really want to take your time.
After arriving back at Kathleen’s house we made a pit stop to prepare our stuff for our time in Haleakala. Trevor and I made Spam Masubi, which is a Hawaiian specialty. You take rice, spam and wrap it in seaweed, like sushi. It is delicious and we decided that it is also a perfect camping food. You are getting protein, carbohydrates and some of the seaweed goodness! It was our second time making it and we put together 20-rolls to carry us through our time at Haleakala. Kathleen drove us up to the Hosmer Grove campground where we met Jessie, Trevor’s college friend, and her friend Janelle. Both Jessie and Janelle work in New York City on TV shows and were taking some much needed time to avoid the New York weather while enjoying the Hawai’i. We pulled in, shared a beer over conversation, and then went to bed so that we could get up early to watch the Haleakala sunrise.
1/15/2016 and 1/16/2016: Typical Maui
Our first two days in Maui were less centered on the park as we only had transportation during the day. We went to La Perouse bay in hopes of seeing spinner dolphins, we were not as lucky as we would have hopped! We attempted to visit Iao Valley State Park, it was closed. We hiked up to The Cross, which is a classic Maui hike and then we met one of my friends from UVa, Allison and her boyfriend Nick. Nick is Australian and makes ocean themed jewelry. Think humpback whales and manta rays in silver, gold and platinum on necklaces. It is beautiful stuff and they just happened to be in Maui when we were.
The following day we headed out to JAWS which is a famous surfing spot to watch pro surfers like, Kelly Slater, surf on 30-foot waves. There were masses of people and it was incredible to watch people try and tackle such a natural behemoth. We went to Haleakala to get the basics out of the way, Junior Ranger program, park video, etc. Afterwards, Allison and Nick invited us to a free movie night at the Maui Arts and Culture Center that was featuring a ski film and a surf film. Both were incredible, but mainly it just felt good to feel like a normal person going to watch a movie with some friends on a Saturday night.
1/14/2016: Beach Day
As we had to return our rental car it didn’t make sense to drive all the way from the National Park as we would lose an entire day of exploring. Our tour the previous day put us on the west side of the island so that we could explore some beaches and snorkel. We found a spot just south of Kona and hopped in the water for the morning/early afternoon. We packed our bags, and then made for Kona Brewing to continue our luck at convincing Hawai’i breweries to support their local parks. No luck yet, but we have some emails floating out there that will hopefully kick things off.
We dropped off the car and then continued to Mokulele Air so that we could fly to Maui just after sunset and begin our Haleakala portion of the trip. Trevor’s friend from Semester at Sea, Kathleen, picked us up and gave us a place to stay so that we could both shower and do laundry. She took us to Maui Brewery and we enjoyed a little bit of civilized time as adults with clean bodies and clean clothes!
1/13/2016: Big Island Tour
We woke up and hiked back from Apua Point at a blistering pace. From there we hiked a short trail to see some petroglyphs. They were interesting, but much less exciting than expected, certainly worth seeing if you visit.
I ran the Kilauea Iki trail and passed by hordes of tourists. We picked up our Junior Ranger badges and then continued to Kapoho, on the eastern side of the island, where Trevor heard there were some good tide pools. There were huge sea cucumbers, but the water needed to be about 1-2 feet deeper as we were just barely skimming the surface to dodge coral.
We continued into Hilo for a quick lunch and a stop at Mehana Brewery to try and engage another brewery with supporting the National Parks. We intended to go to the Waipio Valley for sunset, but didn’t make it in time, so stopped at Big Island Brewhaus for a light dinner before proceeding to our campsite.
The 1st campsite was closed, as was the 2nd and the 3rd. So we slept in the car, well Trevor slept outside, but it was certainly not comfortable.
1/12/2016: The Slopes of Mauna Loa (Day 4)
We hiked the 7.5 miles down from Red Hill cabin and made a quick pit stop at Volcano to pick up more easy calories. We stopped at the visitor center to watch the thirty-minute video about Kilauea exploding in the 70’s. The video had not been updated in nearly 50 years, really? During the video I noticed a noxious smell only to realize that it was me and I hadn’t showered in four days. Whoops.After the video we got our permits from the backcountry office and headed to the Puna Coast Trail to hike out to Apua Point. The drive down was nauseating; there was a bike tour of and 3 bus loads of people who went no more than 200 yards away from the buses. Get me out of here! We proceeded to our trail and hiked the 6.6 miles to Apua Point. I got to Apua Point and decided to run the 3.1 miles to Keahou. My goal was to run 1.7 more to make it to Halape, but there just wasn’t enough time. I took a quick dip, snapped some photos and ran back from Keahou while Facetiming with my family along the way. Trevor and I enjoyed another cold dinner of sardines, hummus and pita bread before tucking in for the night.
1/11/2016: The Slopes of Mauna Loa (Day 3)
We started the morning off by hiking back to the junction that could take us to either the summit or to the bottom. We opted for the five-mile round-trip to the summit where we took some photos with our sponsor gear before preceding down. We probably took a little longer than necessary and had a bit of a leisurely lunch so were rushed the rest of the afternoon to make it to the Red Hill cabin before dark. We hiked in right when the sun was setting and got to enjoy a magnificent sunset above the Hawaiian clouds. There was no one else in the cabin, I much prefer having a lively cabin with people from other countries to meet and talk with.
1/10/2016: The Slopes of Mauna Loa (Day 2)
We woke up, not as early as I would have liked, and headed out of Red Hill cabin around 7:30am. We were up 1,000 feet at 11,000 by 9:00am. Then we were at 12,000 by 11:00am, which included a short break for water and snacks. From 12,000-13,000 we stopped for lunch at arrived at just above 13,000 at 1:45pm. Our plan was to hike to the summit, but we still had 7 miles to go if we decided to do that. Based on our drastically decreasing speed, the altitude and just moving incredibly slowly we opted to go 2 miles to the cabin and aim for the summit the next morning. We arrived at the cabin shortly after 3:00pm and promptly took a 3-hour nap. The elevation and lack of sun cover had sucked everything out of us. We napped and woke up only to eat dinner before heading back to bed. As exhausted as we were, it was nice to arrive at a cabin as opposed to being forced to set up your tent. Also, this cabin was stocked with extra sleeping bags and blankets. If a storm rolls in on the top of Mauna Loa, you can be socked in for several days, so the luxury of everything there was much more for keeping people alive if they should get stuck in a storm.
1/9/2016: The Slopes of Mauna Loa (Day 1)
We woke up for our hike, from nearly sea level, out of Ka’aha. The group from before was similarly unfriendly. Whatever. We hiked on to our car and made a quick stop at the town of Volcano to stock up on corn syrup. We were in dire need of some extra calories, so I packed my bad with some sodas and candy bars to increase my caloric intake.
We hit the trail at 1:13pm, which was definitely a lot later than was ideal, as we had been warned that it was impossible to hike after dark. We drove up to the trailhead, which was at 7,600 feet and began making our way to the Red Hill Cabin that was located at 10,035 feet. It was an incredibly strenuous hike and Trevor was not feeling good. Going from sea level to 10,035 feet is definitely a chore. We finally arrived at the cabin and found that only two beds were open as there were two Israeli guys, a German couple and then a couple from the United States. It was kind of nice to arrive to a full and cozy cabin after being exhausted. I immediately ran around taking pictures of the sunset and reveling in the 7.5 miles of insane volcano hiking from the day. Trevor almost instantly went to bed to overcome his not feeling well and I stayed up playing cards with the Israeli dudes.
1/8/2016: Camping on the Coast
We woke up to sleeping bags that were completely covered in dew. We drove the Hilina Pali road to the overlook and saw a feral cat on the way. We went to pick up a backcountry permit and landed a spot at Ka’aha. We told the ranger about the cat we had seen and he asked for Lat/Long so that they could send someone out to trap it so that it wouldn’t kill the endangered Ne Ne bird. I opted for the 10.8-mile hike to Ka’aha via the Ka’u Desert Trail and Trevor hiked the more direct 3.8 miles to where we were staying for the night. We knew that we would be encountering a large group at the site, and we came across them as soon as we arrived. We said brief hello’s when I went down to the water to take a dip. They weren’t unfriendly, but they certainly weren’t talkative. Then they came up to our campsite, as we were near the fresh water source, which was located behind the shelter. We were in a small hut and they were less than 4-feet behind us behind the shelter. They completely ignored us and proceeded to talk loudly for 30-45 minutes while filling their water. It was both annoying and inconsiderate.
1/7/2016: Hawai’i Bound
We made it on our flight to Hawai’I and were headed to the Big Island to begin our adventure at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. While we were getting ready to book our rental car, we came across another traveler who needed a ride, Jen. Jen approached us because we obviously looked like we were in need of transportation. She needed a ride to the hostel in Kona, so we offered to drive her in exchange for using her Costco card to buy groceries. We dropped Jen off and then drove through rain before arriving at Hawai’i Volcanoes. We were on our way to our campsite when we noticed a magnificent orange cloud that we deduced was reflecting the light from the Kilueau volcano! We drove back and found a great overlook of the volcano and took pictures before finally retiring to our tiny little campground.
1/6/2015: Standing By!
Our friend, Alan, from Montana and Grand Canyon hooked us up with some buddy passes to fly to Hawai’i. We had our sights set on a flight out of Oakland at 10am and were crossing our fingers that we would get space on the flight. We arrived and the flight was full, but we were the first two on the waitlist. Everyone showed up, so we did not make it to Hawai’i. Sarah’s dad picked us up from the airport and we made for In-N-Out burger for lunch. We ordered, off the secret menu, because we are cool like that and then returned to their house to repack our bags and catch some brief internet time. After that we took the BART into the city and met up with Sarah. She took us to an awesome sausage place and bar. We then went to a free concert where they were making a music video and danced like we were in Hawai’i at a National Park.
1/5/2015: Viva, Las Vegas!
I pulled into Vegas at around 1:30am. I came out of the Nevada desert and was suddenly confronted with billions and billons of lights. It was one of the strangest things. The desert is very dark and I crested some mountains and it was as if a huge billboard that said CIVILIZATION was directing me in with the florescence. We stayed a friends place, woke up the next morning and then drove straight for San Francisco. We arrived just in time for dinner at our friend Sarah’s parent’s house. They live a bit north of Oakland so we got to experience California traffic and highways which was a huge delight!
1/4/2015: Actually On The Road Again
The morning started out as any good road trip should, with me locking my keys in the car. I waited for a locksmith to come open the door and then met with the brewery for one more in person meeting before heading back to the road. After that is twelve hours of driving from Denver to Las Vegas where I would meet up with Trevor to continue the journey. The drive was long an uneventful, I crossed over mountains in Colorado and Utah. Most of it was done in darkness and my phone cut in and out of service so I wasn’t really capable of keeping in touch with anyone!
12/31/2015 – 1/3/2015: A New Year’s Wedding
My dear friends Cooper and Alison, who live in Tanzania, had a New Year’s wedding in Keystone, Colorado. Cooper is one of my good college friends and hiking buddies. He has taught me how to hike more efficiently, fallen in streams, and inspired me to tell better travel stories. Cooper and Alison brought together their friends for a smaller, but more intimate wedding. We snowshoed, we skied, we went bowling. It was a great experience because we got to spend quality time with everyone from the wedding for several days. I caught up with friends I haven’t seen in a couple months, and one’s I haven’t seen in several years. Between seeing my family, and catching up with friends it was the best way to prepare myself mentally to go back out on the road and sleep in my tent. Congratulations and thank you, my friends!
12/18/2015 – 12/30/2015: A Holiday Break
I flew from Denver to Kansas City where my dad picked me up so that I could spend Christmas with my family for the holidays. The time at home was rather uneventful. We watched The Force Awakens. I moved from sleeping in a bed to the couch, because it was more comfortable after months of being in a sleeping bag. My siblings and I played countless hours of board games, we gorged ourselves during Christmas dinner and rewatched many of the Harry Potter movies.
My siblings are growing up! The oldest is applying for college, the next one is getting her learners permit, the third one is in middle school and the fourth one is nearly out of elementary. It's crazy how quickly it is happening.
My step mom took me to Crossfit, my dad took me on his walks to hit 10,000 steps, but other than that I spent my days in the living room watching movies and spending time with my family under a warm, dry, non-tent roof. It was wonderful, but as always, good things must come to an end. I got back on a plane to Denver to continue the journey.
12/17/2015: An Idea
While in Tucson, Carl, Lee and I discussed our idea of working with breweries to help get their support in supporting National Parks. Well I emailed one of my favorite breweries and pitched the idea to them. I spent the morning driving to their headquarters and discussing the idea and how it could work. I’ll give you a hint, they did craft beer in a can before just about anyone else. They make delicious beer, in a can, and they are super supportive of the outdoors lifestyle. We agree to circle back around in the New Year to see what we can come up with, all in all it was great to get validation that it is an idea that could work!
12/16/2015: On the Road, Again
The stop to see family was all to brief. The road called me back to her clutches and I was on the road to Denver where I would be leaving my car while I visited my family for the holiday. The day was beautiful, bright blue skies and no more fighting snow storms. There was snow still over Wolf Creek pass and there was one major accident that must have happened relatively recently based on the facts that the cars had not been moved from where it occurred. The rest of the drive was rather uneventful. I arrivedin Denver at my buddy, Peter’s place and we caught up over a beer before I continued to log sleeping hours on inflatable mattresses.
12/15/2015: The Comforts of Family
The day was spent hanging out with my brother and his family. My niece and nephews are hilarious. The oldest loves the movie Pacific Rim and had to show me all of his Star Wars toys. The middle one is obsessed with penguins and showed me his stuffed animal collection. The youngest was a little shy at first, but I bribed her with clementines and gave her frog (ribbit) toys for her good graces. All in all just seeing and spending time with them is wonderful, they live so far away that I don’t get to see them bet every year or two. One of the things about this trip that has been a true blessing is the amount of time that I have gotten to spend with friends in family across the country.
12/14/2015: Petrified Forest and Chaco Canyon Fail
Petrified is a relatively small park in terms of places you can stop and things that you can do. There are seven trails to hike on, and before noon I had hiked five of them. I didn’t want to hike the other two because it was frigid and I knew that we would be returning so that Trevor could see the park. As I was leaving the park the snow was starting to fall. It was less than ideal driving conditions and I still had 4-hours to drive to make it to my brother’s house in Durango. After the car repair shenanigans, I had to move Joshua Tree until after the New Year, but was able to squeeze in a day to visit my brother, his wife, my niece and two nephews.
After driving through some windy and snowy weather I was making progress towards Durango. I had left Arizona and was in New Mexico on my way north. I noticed that if I took a 1-hour detour I could visit Chaco Canyon, a National Monument. I opted to go for it. The twenty mile dirt road there was snow covered and not great, luckily when I arrived at the visitors center they had posted a piece of paper saying that the park was closed due to a winter storm advisory and they blocked all the roads within the park. Awesome. They didn’t post it on social media, or on the park website, or anywhere really. So I drove out and continued on the road to Durango. I finally made it and was met with two excited nephews, one shy niece, my brother, his wife and a warm dinner. It was a good way to end a cold and snowy day.
12/13/2015: Coming in Late
After I left Tucson and Saguaro National Park I aimed for Petrified Forest. The park closes its gates every night and I, unfortunately, arrived 15 minutes after the time that they will let you get backcountry camping permits. I drove through the park so that I could camp outside. It was a balmy 27 degrees. I cooked some dinner and set up my tent at a free campground outside the park. I left the rainfly off of my tent, because there was so little light pollution and I wanted to see the stars. I cooked a dinner of ramen and fell asleep looking at the bright starry sky, oh yeah, and to the sound of coyotes.
12/12/2015: Back to the Wild
Before heading back to the wild there were three important things that had to be taken care of…
(1) Carl and Lee would be moving and were kind enough to leave their guest room together so that I could have a comfortable bed. I helped move and take apart furniture before leaving; the amount I moved was certainly no comparison to the hospitality they showed me.
(2) Next was the issue of temporary tattoos. Lee used to work for the largest temporary tattoo distributor in the country, who is based out of Tucson. Carl and I placed matching skulls on our forearms. I placed a butterfly on my back. Lee also made sure to stock me up with numerous sheets to let the fun continue.
(3) Breweries and Parks, while in Tucson Carl, Lee and I got to talking and came up with an idea. People who like hiking also like craft beer. What if we can combine those two joys to bring support to our National Parks. The idea would be simple, encourage breweries to donate 0-0 to their local National Park and get 1,000 or 2,000 breweries to do the same. Very quickly it becomes a great deal of money raised to support our National Parks.
12/11/2015: My First Full Day in Saguaro
I scheduled a time to meet the director of the ‘Friends of Saguaro’ 501(c)3. Many National Parks have affiliate non-profit organizations that raise money for things related to the parks. Saguaro is split into two sections, the west and east. I drove to the west side to meet and learn more about how Friends of Saguaro supports the park, a full blog post to follow at some point.
After the meeting I went, on the suggestion of my Granddad, and hiked Wasson Peak. It was not a long hike and was only a 4,000 foot peak. Saguaro cacti are such intriguing plants. They are massive and as you hike you get to see them along every stage of life. I hiked from the desert floor to the top of Wasson Peak and got a wonderful view of Tucson. It was cold and windy, so I ran back down before heading back to Carl and Lee’s house.
12/6/2015 – 12/10/2015: The Waiting Game
Carl and Lee were kind enough to let me borrow their car, but I was just a touch nervous after the car wreck and laid low for most of the week while my car was repaired.
On December 8th, I went to have lunch with my Grandmom and Granddad (Mom’s side) who live in Tucson. My Granddad gave me a small leather bound book that includes the basic details of the National Parks, including size, when they were founded, etc. He also had a framed copy of his Volunteer In Parks certificate from when he was a volunteer in Shenandoah in 1986 (a year after I was born!). He was a 5-year old boy when Shenandoah National Park was created.
On one hand it was delightful to see and spend time with my grandparents. On the other hand it made me so very sad. They are getting older, their hiking and activity levels and fallen drastically. I suppose that is life; you get to experience things in different ways as you age. You explore when you are young and then you share stories when you are older, it seems that I need to be a better listener.
12/5/2015: Picacho Peak
Picacho Peak is between Tucson and Phoenix. It is famous, because it is the site of the westernmost battle of the American Civil War. Yes, in the 1860’s there was a fight in Arizona between the Union and Confederacy. I am exaggerating a little bit because it involved something like 22 people and ended with a couple of deaths and several soldiers being captured.
We picked up sandwiches from the local grocery, stopped by to meet up with our fellow hikers and as we were pulling out got t-boned by a truck. I was on the ‘bleeding side’ of the t-bone. Luckily there was no blood, but I was shook up because I could feel the crunch of the car against my shoulder when we got hit. We did not go hiking, we went home and I layed low the rest of the day.
Carl’s wife, Lee and I went to lunch at Chipotle with their beautiful and hilarious 1-year old daughter. I realized that I hadn’t had Chipotle in nearly 6-months. It was delectable.
12/4/2015: The Drive to Tucson
I got on the road to Tucson and 20 minutes after being on the road the check engine light comes on. There was nothing to be done, it was a Friday and I just had to cross my fingers that I would make it. The engine was cranking and I just tried not to push it too hard. I rolled into my friends house, turned off the car and was thankful to be ‘home’. We ate dinner at Raisin' Canes and I felt the calmness surround my body as hot grease surrounded the fried chicken that we ate.
11/29/2015 - 12/3/2015 - Stuck in Flagstaff
After getting off of the Grand Canyon we drove to Flagstaff, Arizona to unload and sort our stuff. Trevor left on November 30th to fly back to Virginia to attend his Grandfather’s funeral. I stayed in Flagstaff. The car wouldn’t start the next morning so I had it towed to a shop to get work done Monday. An expensive fuel injection pump later and I was “on the road” again. The only problem is that the Yeti Cooler was stolen off of the back of the truck. I had to use starter fluid to start the truck and needed to drive to Tucson to my college friend, Carl’s house where I could also get the 3rd injector replaced.
One of the great parts about Flagstaff was that I got to spend the time with my friend Erik, his wife Akaylah and their 8-week old daughter. Erik and I played soccer together while we were in Charlottesville and they were unbelievably accommodating. We got to catch up, exchange hiking stories and discuss future trip prospects and suggestions in Great Sand Dunes, Rocky Mountain, Grand Teton and Glacier. It was nice to have home cooked meals and he sent me on the road with Edward Abbey’s book The Monkeywrench Gang.
11/28/2015 - Rafting the Grand Canyon
Day 19: Mile 222 Camp to Diamond Creek (Mile 225)
Our day was short, we loaded the boats and rowed the last 3 miles to Diamond Creek. We saw bighorn sheep rams butt heads, ultimately it was a bittersweet day. Many people talk about Lava Falls as being the hardest water in the entire canyon. In my opinion the hardest water is the place where you get off the canyon. Unlike Thanksgiving and birthdays, which you can count on happening every year, you don't know when you will come back to the canyon. You don't know when you will see the people you rafted with, you don't know when you will get to commune with nature in the same way. That being said, there are so many other joys that you get to reintegrate into your live. Family and friends that you haven't talked to. Thai food at Flagstaff, a soft bed in a hotel room.
11/27/2015 - Rafting the Grand Canyon
Day 18: Mile 202 Camp to Mile 222 Camp
The last full day of rafting was mostly uneventful. It included Mile 205, 209 and 217 rapids. It also included the infamous Ducky Eater rapid. By some stroke of miracle Darius stayed upright. It was a nostalgic day as we all realized that our time on the canyon was drawing to a close.
11/26/2015 - Rafting the Grand Canyon
Day 17: Thanksgiving Layover at Mile 202 Camp
After several days of hard rowing and heavy miles we had earned our 4th and final layover day. We cooked a Thanksgiving feast of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce and peach cobbler. We have so much to thankful for, and it was a wonderful way to celebrate the holiday with friends, old and new!
11/25/2015 - Rafting the Grand Canyon
Day 16: Mile 185 Camp to Mile 202 Camp
We woke up at Mile 185 camp to a river that had changed from green to chocolate milk overnight. It can only mean that the dam was releasing extra water 185 miles upstream, or that there was a rain storm up river. The entire day was spent battling strong winds. Everyone was sore, tired and ready for a break by the time we finished for the day. We saw some backpackers at mile 202 and talked to them briefly before they continued along their way.
11/24/2015 - Rafting the Grand Canyon
Day 15: Fern Glen (Mile 169) to Mile 185 Camp
The day started out with heavy nerves. Mile 180 marks Lava Falls. Lava is often considered the most difficult and exciting rapid in the entire canyon. Alan, our trip leader, flipped his boat on the rapid and was looking for a little revenge and a clean run. Alan rowed through clean (but backwards), Taylor rowed through clean, Trevor rowed through clean and Darius, well he rowed for a little while. He had to complete a kayaking tradition of drinking a beer from a shoe, for flipping.
11/23/2015 - Rafting the Grand Canyon
Day 14: Matkat Hotel (Mile 149) to Fern Glen (Mile 169)
Our day started with a ride down Upset Rapid. Upset is generally a rather simple rapid, but there is a huge hole at the bottom of the rapid that will flip a boat. Darius aimed his duckie directly at the hole, he flipped. Our next hike was Havasu, which is one of the most beautiful side hikes in the canyon. There is crystal blue water, cottonwoods and mesmerizing views. The only thing more striking was when we arrived at Fern Glen and saw 14-16 inch fish that were pale/white in color. They came out at night and several of us saw them with our headlamps while we were brushing our teeth.
11/22/2015 - Rafting the Grand Canyon
Day 13: Stone Creek (Mile 132) to Matkat Hotel (Mile 149)
Our day started with a hike up Deer Creek. After gaining several hundred feet in a matter of minutes we got to overlook an incredible slot canyon with a river several hundred feet below. After a quick lunch on the beach we continued to Matkat Canyon which was a slot canyon where you had to move up the river by bracing yourself against the walls with outstretched arms and legs.
11/21/2015 - Rafting the Grand Canyon
Day 12: Layover at Stone Creek (Mile 132)
Our day was spent sitting in the sun and charging up our solar batteries and ourselves. After warming up we settled on a 4 vs 4 Olympics competition featuring a wheelbarrow race, long jump, horseshoes, and tug-of-war. There were more events planned, but the festivities ended after Trevor sustained a tug-of-war injury. Do not wrap the rope around your hands. We finished the day with a hike up the nearby canyon to a waterfall. We settled in our lawn chairs with books and watched a fellow rafting trip pass by.
11/20/2015 - Rafting the Grand Canyon
Day 11: Garnet (Mile 115) to Stone Creek (Mile 132)
Our day was spent rafting three major rapids, Spector, Bedrock and Dubendorf. Spector flipped Darius. Bedrock is a rapid where 75% of the water is going to the left, you do not want to go left, you want to take the smaller water flow and go right, or risk being flipped. Trevor very nearly went left...but kept it right. Dubendorf (7) was a fun filled rapid that brought us to our camp where we would be having our 3rd layover day, on a big long sandy beach.
11/19/2015 - Rafting the Grand Canyon
Day 10: Schist (Mile 96) to Garnet (Mile 115)
Our day started with a run down Crystal Rapid. All of our boats moved smoothly through the rapid and Travis took 'Big Red' smoothly through the rapid and down the river. The rest of the day was spent going through The Gems, a set of rapids that includes Agate, Emerald, Ruby, Sapphire, and Turquoise. It was a fast and fun day, one that Darius spent in the water for much of the time after being reminded that the river gave him a free pass on the day before.
11/18/2015 - Rafting the Grand Canyon
Day 9: Clear Creek (Mile 84) to Schist (Mile 96)
We started the day with Zoraster rapid and then stopped at Phantom Ranch to pick up and send some letters. We dressed in our American flag gear from Tipsy Elves and earned the nickname 'Team America'. Throughout the trip you occasionally pass other groups, you usually name them for one very basic element. The group behind us, we called California, because you guessed it, they were from California.
Perhaps more exciting were the rapids after Phantom Ranch. We hit Horn (8), Granite (8) and Hermit (8). By a stroke of both luck and miracle, Darius did not fall out of the duckie. On Horn he disappeared twice in waves that were 16-18 feet tall! All of our boats made it through safely and we got to experience some of the biggest white water in the canyon!
11/17/2015 - Rafting the Grand Canyon
Day 8: Tanner (Mile 69) to Clear Creek (Mile 84)
This was our first day of big rapids. We hit Unkar (6) Nevills (6) Hance (8) Sockdolager (7) and Grapevine (7). All of our boats came through clean and upright. Darius flipped in his duckie several times, we lost count of his flips, but it was certainly more than a handfull. Luckily he was usually able to grab his duckie, turn it over and hop back in.
11/16/2015 - Rafting the Grand Canyon
Day 7: Layover at Tanner (Mile 69)
Alan, our trip leader had his 30th birthday. We hiked from our camp up 3,500 vertical feet to Cardenas butte and got some epic views of the surrounding area.
11/15/2015 - Rafting the Grand Canyon
Day 6: Kwagunt (Mile 56) to Tanner (Mile (69)
On of the most beautiful parts of the river is the confluence. It is where the blue waters of the Little Colorado River join the often brown waters of the Colorado River. Unfortunately, we experienced the opposite as the Little was brown and the Colorado was green. One of our trip mates, Tim, had a birthday so we celebrated by making dutch oven brownies and sitting around the fire.
11/14/2015 - Rafting the Grand Canyon
Day 5: Buck Farm (Mile 42) to Kwagunt (Mile 56)
We stopped at Nankoweap granaries for a hike and lunch. The granaries are one of the most photographed part of the Grand Canyon as they are over 1,000 years old! We arrived in camp below Kwagunt Rapid and Darius rode an inflatable killer whale (Shamu) through the rapid, he did not 'style' the rapid, hopefully the pictures turn out well!
11/13/2015 - Rafting the Grand Canyon
Day 4: Layover at Buck Farm (Mile 42)
We had our first layover day. Instead of loading the rafts and going further downriver we relaxed in the sun, read, caught up on journaling and took baths in the cool 43 degree water. We took a short hike up a nearby canyon and Trevor earned the nickname 'Rock Crusher' after crumbling a rock to dust in his hand as he went to climb up and over a ledge. It was the first of many of his feats of strength.
11/12/2015 - Rafting the Grand Canyon
Day 3: North Canyon (Mile 21) to Buck Farm (Mile 42)
We rafted 20 miles and encountered some classic parts of the Grand Canyon. In terms of rapids we rode the Roaring 20's. River miles 20-29 are full of small but exciting rapids. We stopped for lunch at Redwall Cavern and made a quick pit stop at Natuloid Canyon to look at ancient fossils.
11/11/2015 - Rafting the Grand Canyon
Day 2: Soap Creek (Mile 11) to North Canyon (Mile 21)
Our morning started with Soap Creek rapid (7). Rapids on the Grand Canyon are given a ranking on a 1-10 scale. Soap Creek was formally ranked as a 5 until a flash flood moved debris and increased its difficulty. People were certainly sprayed with water, and Darius rode the entire day in the duckie, which he rarely left throughout the trip.
11/10/2015 - Rafting the Grand Canyon
Launch day/Day 1: Lee's Ferry (Mile 0) to Soap Creek (Mile 11)
Our morning started early as we went on a 2-mile hike up and above Lee's Ferry. We had our mandatory talk with a Park Ranger to cover safety and rules of the canyon. We rafted 11 miles our first day and stopped just above Soap Creek Rapid. Darius opted to skip riding a boat and spent the entire day in the duckie.
The entire day was absorbed in loading the boats for our 19-day trip down the Grand Canyon. We had 3 boats, 2 kayaks and 1 duckie (inflatable kayak). We pumped up the boats, filled them with our supplies and prepared ourselves for nearly three weeks in the Grand Canyon!
The entire day was absorbed in one task. Driving from Sacramento to Flagstaff, Arizona so that we can get ready for our trip to raft the Grand Canyon. Eleven hours and one time zone later we had made it. Now we just have to pack and we will be good to go!
We woke up for our final morning in Yosemite and it was unfortunately rather uneventful. I wrote some postcards and sent them from the Yosemite post office. I also turned in my Junior Ranger packets and got 3 patches and 1 badge for all of my hard and difficult work. After that we left Yosemite for Sacramento to visit Trevor’s cousin. On the way out I stopped at the Merced Grove and got to see some sequoias before returning to civilization. We arrived in Sacramento and went to the King’s game to watch them play the Golden State Warriors. It was an incredible experience and a hilarious contrast from our life in the outdoors.
Out of the previous three days, this one was the most ambitious. I was aiming for Clouds Rest. 6,000 feet above the valley floor and 10.5 miles of hiking to get there. I rode the bus and hung out with Jim who has worked in Yosemite for 15 years!! I got to the trailhead and started hiking up, I continued doing that for 5 hours. I finally trudged through the two feet of snow at the top of Clouds Rest and had a clear 360 degree view of the surrounding area. There was no one around for the majority of my hike and I got to have a secluded and delightful Yosemite experience. I only got off track once when I started following bear tracks, instead of the human foot prints, oops.
Continuing the trend of long days. I opted for the opposite side of the valley and climbed the Upper Yosemite Falls trail again. This time, though, the mission was different. I was aiming for El Capitan. The first two miles on the El Cap trail were well tread. The last two miles I got to break trail again! On one hand it sucks, because it is slow going and you have to pay attention to make sure you don’t get lost. On the other hand, as the snow had fallen three days prior, I knew that I was the only person in the world that had come this way in three days. And that is quite a feeling. I hiked part of the way down El Cap and then turned around to head back to Yosemite Point, just past Upper Yosemite falls. I ran into Trevor, Clayton, Alex and Jenna who had all made the hike up. We chatted for a bit and then I descended like a mad man and ran down the trail, making friends with hikers I had passed on the way up.
After the bad weather I was determined to make the most of the remaining Yosemite days. I hiked up the brutal 4-mile trail to Glacier Point and directed myself towards the Pohono Trail. Pohonotakes you on a tour up Sentinel Dome, to Taft Point, Crocker Point, Stanford Point and Inspiration Point. On the way to Sentinel Dome and Taft Point I had to break the trail, which was 6-8 inches of snow. The views were incredibly rewarding, but it was a slog and I only wore my trail running shoes. After the full day of 20 miles my feet were soaked and I was ready to be back at camp. I splurged on a pizza and absolutely devoured it. Trevor’s friend from DC, Clayton, drove in with a childhood friend, Alex, and his fiancé Jenna to join us for the rest of our time in Yosemite.
The rain continued, but it was subdued and actually stopped around 11am leaving an open window for activities. I went for a run around the Valley Loop. The loop takes you from Yosemite Village to the base of El Capitan, past Bridalveil Falls, past the 4-mile trail head and then back to Curry Village in around11 miles. The sun started to come out and I got to see most of the valley and enjoy the time on quiet and unoccupied trails. We ended the night with a Ranger talk about Bears that was given by Shelton Johnson. Shelton is well known because he was featured in the Ken Burn’s special about National Parks, it was like meeting a National Park celebrity, we were totally starstruck.
The phrase ‘it rained cat’s and dogs’ is rarely necessary, or accurate. It was an insufficient way to describe the day. It started raining at night and did not let up all day. We packed up our tent and moved to Curry Village, because we heard about a cold weather rate. It included beds, wifi and was marginally more expensive than Upper Pines campground, so we splurged and sat inside using Internet all day. It was 45 degrees outside and raining so hiking around would have been a very unpleasant endeavor.
As we had missed getting to the top of Upper Yosemite Falls, Laurie and I woke up early to cruise to the top. Thankfully I am afraid of heights, so when we got to the top and saw people slacklining over the falls we stayed and watched for a bit. We hiked down and our respective friends and family packed their bags to head home. I meandered through the grasses in the Yosemite Valley soaking in the setting sun, pretending I was hanging out with John Muir and enjoying the incredible colors that cover Half Dome as the sun sets.
Laurie and I started the morning early for a 17-mile hike/run that featured 4.6 miles up to Glacier Point, we then skirted along the Panorama Trail where we stopped at Nevada Falls and Vernal Falls. We ended the route hiking down the Mist Trail, which was unfortunately not covered in Mist. We passed Trevor, his uncle and his cousin near Vernal Falls as they were on their way to Little Yosemite Valley and a night in the backcountry.
Laurie and I caravanned down to Yosemite. About 50 miles away, my check engine light came on. Luckily, Yosemite Valley has a garage. We took the car in to get checked and hiked as far up Upper Yosemite Falls as we could. The mechanics got the car in working order and we settled in for a new camp dinner favorite of spaghetti, green beans, tuna and spices. Trevor's uncle, Rob, came in from Redwood City for a weekend of camping.
After a brunch with Trevor's friend Ben, I headed towards Yosemite to meet up with a trail running friend from Virginia, Laurie. Laurie's is from Auburn, CA. After the park road into Yosemite was closed I backtracked 4 hours and stayed at Laurie's parents house. Trevor stayed with Ben in Reno and planned to meet us the following day in Yosemite
I connected with someone from a phone app called TravelStorysGPS and met for coffee to talk about possible ways to work together. Afterwards we went for a hike up to Delta Lake. It's off trail, but incredible. The lake had frozen so we got to go curling, and do ice head stands. We were in for a long night as we had to drive to Reno, Nevada. So we drank some coffee and started the long haul.
We rose early and drove over the pass to do a hike called Table Mountain. Table would give us a view of the backside of Grand Teton. We started the hike and within 5-minutes ran into a cow moose and two calves. After skirting through the woods to avoid them we continued on the trail. Several hundred yards later, Trevor spotted a huge bull moose bedded down in an copse of aspens. We continued on the trail and hiked into frost and snow. The top of table was covered and there were no views to be had. We hiked down, had huckleberry shakes, and made our way to a local hot spring for a soak.
One of Trevor's friends, Joey, is on a 32-day road trip around the United States. The timing worked so that we could meet up in Yellowstone for the day. We found a tour posted Outside Online that paired beers with Yellowstone sites. We went from Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic, Artist Paint Pots, grand canyon of the Yellowstone and Yellowstone Lake with a side stop at Mud Volcano. We ended the day driving back down to Jackson, WY to meet up with Trevor's buddy Brian for a couple of days.
Word on the street is that Old Faithful is best seen at sunrise, due to both the good lighting and also the lack of other visitors. This turns out to be true; Old Faithful did not let us down and early morning is a great time to witness the geyser's eruption. We cruised down to Grand Teton National Park, where we hiked to Taggart Lake, Phelps Lake and visited the Chapel of Transfiguration before retiring for an early morning.
A long Yellowstone day started with sunrise views over the landscape as we drove to Lamar Valley, an area reported to have wolf activity. The reports were correct! We saw a wolf pack cross the road and talked with Ranger Rick, the local wolf expert. The rest of the day was filled with visiting a myriad of hydrothermal features sprinkled around the park.
We set up an impromptu coffee meeting with the writer of a recent op-ed in the New York Times about National Parks. We'll save more on that for another day in the blog. Next stop: the world's first National Park, Yellowstone. We saw a grizzly bear eating an elk kill and watching the ensuing circus of photographers and onlookers. We weren't sure which was the bigger spectacle. Ending the day soaking in a warm river fed by hot springs at Boiling River isn't too bad.
The long drive into the night was worth it, because we woke up on the Moon! Craters of the Moon is a pretty weird spot, it's an area totally devastated by massive lava flows from long ago and still only the bravest plants eke out an existence there. Darius became a Junior Lunar Ranger! After we learned all we could about lava, we hit the road again and landed in Bozeman, MT. There we took care of some gear issues at REI and stayed with Darius' friend. Beds!
After taking care of some pressing issues in Reno, such as free hotel breakfast and an oil change for the truck, we had a long day of driving through northern Nevada and southern Idaho. Our destination: Craters of the Moon National Monument. We got in late, but saw some pretty good scenery along the way and got a good sunset over the desert hills.
Sunrise called again and we hiked up the Cinder Cone to get some good views of Lassen Peak and checked off volcano number 3 in the park. As we were wearing American flag onesies, we made friends with another hiker and continued to West Prospect Peak to hike up our 4th and final volcano in Lassen! The rest of our day was a drive to Reno, Nevada to stay with Trevor's buddy Ben for the night. Showers and laundry and a bed!!
Rain or shine we committed to hiking Lassen Peak for sunrise. 5:30am wake up and we were on the trail shortly after 6:00am. It was clear most of the way up, but a huge lenticular cloud (look it up) was sitting on top of the mountain and refused to move. It was absolutely frigid on top, so we waited for 20 minutes hoping that the cloud would move, but had to hike down due to the cold. We got down and hiked out to Bumpass Hell, which is the largest area of hydrothermal vents west of Yellowstone National Park. The rest of the day was spent visiting Burney Falls State Park, a sweet lava tube called the Subway and made our way to Butte Lake to camp for the night.
We woke up to a little bit more sun and made our way to Brokeoff Mountain. At 9,200 feet it is 1,800 feet shorter than it used to be as Mount Tahama and is the remains of a composite volcano. We got excellent views of Lassen Peak and descended back into the rain. Our plans to hike up Lassen Peak were again foiled due to weather, so we completed our junior ranger programs and hiked to King Creek Falls.
The rain started at 5:30am, so I hopped out of my hammock and hopped into the tent. We got out of bed to light rain and fog. Being that our plan was to hike 2,000 feet up volcanoes we opted to delay until the weather was more cooperative. We stopped by Sulfur Works in the parks and got some internet at the Rangers station while we ate lunch.
We drove from Chico, California to Lassen Volcanic National Park. During the drive up it was evident that we were moving into volcano country with pumice in fields everywhere. We pulled into Lassen and camped at Manzanita Lake. It was super clear so I set up my hammock to enjoy the 40 degree weather and clear skies.
Sunrise over Crater Lake. Sometimes you just have to stand up, spread your arms to the sky, shake your head and smile. Good Morning!!! We hiked up Garfield peak for our final views of the lake and then did a quick 10 mile trail run to Union Peak before driving to Chico, CA where we stayed with my aunt and her husband. Being out in the wilderness is incredible and breathtaking, but it doesn't always provide you with the warmth of family, friends and home cooked meals.
We woke up early for some sunrise photos and got on Periscope to let others enjoy the experience with us. Considering the nice weather we did our first ever full truck clean! Time lapse video coming soon! Our next move was to jump into Crater Lake. The place will take your breath away, literally. That is some cold cold water!! We hiked out and made our way to Mount Scott where we would be spending another night in the backcountry. After setting up my sleeping hammock we made for the top of Mount Scott to watch the sunset and watch stars with our new Astroscan telescope, thank you to Paul for mailing it to us in Forks!
October in Crater Lake calls for snow and 50 degree weather. Without a cloud in sight and 75 degrees we hiked the Pinnacles trail, watched woodpeckers and made our way back to the rim where we hiked along the rim trail up to Watchman's tower and enjoyed magnificently reflective views! We camped just off of the Pacific Crest Trail.
Alright, Portland, we actually have to leave this time! We drove to Crater Lake and got our first views of the magnificent scenery. The Lost Creek Campground was open for one more night, then closed for the season!
We each had quintessential Portlandia days. Trevor hit up brunch, donut shops and explored the city. I went out mushroom hunting and returned with chanterelles! Due to the drive time we stuck around in Portalnd for another night, not a bad place to hang out for a longer period of time!
We had our 2nd UVA Club event. We met with the UVA Club of Portland and talked about our trip. Thank you to Winnie, who helped coordinate and everyone else that came out! Trevor stayed with family, and I stayed with some friends.
One of the things on my list was to go out to Enchanted Valley in Olympic National Park. The problem was that it is a 13.5 mile hike, and we didn't have time to stay the night. So I did a trail marathon. 5 and some odd hours later I was back in the car and we were on our way to Portland. So much tiredness, sometimes you have to work to see beautiful things!
The morning started with a Skype session to a 3-5 grade classroom in Charlottesville, it was awesome! We returned to Olympic National Park. I got my Junior Ranger badge, we drove to Hurricane Ridge and then drove out to the Hoh Rainforest, we couldn't camp in the NP campground because of the elk rut. After a quick dinner we drove out and found a herd of 30 of them.
We woke to rain, and more rain. The hike out was wet. Wet and sandy is no way to spend life, we made our way to a the coffee shop in Forks for hot coffee and burgers before continuing to Seattle where we stayed the night with Sarah's family. We made a pit stop for some local Seattle brews and enjoyed our first taste of fall with a pumpkin chili.
I love reverse sunrises. When the sunrises in the wast if you look to the west (especially good on the Pacific coast) you will see pastel shades that are much less vivid, but equally magnificent. We hiked out to Point of Arches for some tide pooling and played with anemones, barnacles, seaweed and enjoyed a show from a Gray Whale that was only 50 yards off shore!
Our day started with a stop at the Forks Post Office where we picked up care packages from friends!! We drove to Shi Shi beach for some coastal hiking. We made a quick pit stop at Cape Flattery which is the most northwesterly point in the continental United States. The hike out to Shi Shi was pretty magnificent, he hiked on the sand as the sunset and found a beach swing where we set up camp.
Today is my Dad (and sister's) birthday. It was fitting as we picked up Sarah and drove to the Olympic National Park coast and stayed at Mora Campground where my dad was a Park Ranger. I got to share the Rialto Beach sunset just as my Dad shared the same experience with me.
Important business today. Like, showering and going to the Ranger Station. The weather was completely socked in, so we didn't stay long before heading up to Seattle where we met our friend, Sarah, from the Arctic Interagency in Coldfoot, AK and had dinner with her family. Afterwards, we caught up with one of Darius' residents from college.
Our longest day of the hike (21 miles) started at 5:45am when we woke up and saw a headlamp descending into the mist. Someone was up before us and had already hiked 4.5 miles! A runner? Indian Bar was completely socked in fog and was drizzly, we got on the trail early to get back. Then we went up 500 feet in elevation and it was completely clear. We were above the clouds and watching the sun drops its first rays on Mount Rainier. 21 miles later we were back at our car! We treated ourselves to a beer and greasy burger at the local spot. Also, for the first time in the trip we got a place to stay. It was raining, we had just hiked 93 miles and we deserved it. Did we mention that they had a hot tub?
Today was our shortest day. Abby hiked back to White River and we continued to Indian Bar. We also said good byes to a new friend who runs the Instagram account Camp Illustrated, awesome stuff. The 4.5 mile hike was punctuated with a sun bathing session on top of the shelter and ended only as the sun disappeared and we made new friends with Stephanie and Ayse. We traded teas and chocolates and shared our love of adventure.
We had to hike 12 miles by noon, so we started early. About a mile in I noticed a hiker on the trail that seemed to just be standing there. Oh wait, it's a mountain goat. We watched the graze and continued to the appropriately named Sunrise area of Rainier before meeting our friend Abby at White River Campground where she greeted us with Taco Time, pumpkin cream-cheese snickerdoodle cookies and beers!!!!! We hiked the last 4.5 miles of the day up to Summerland camp. Imagine summer, imagine camping there. A river to dip your feet and cool your beer while you gaze on open meadows and magnificent Rainier. Oh man, so much more to come on this one. Stay tuned!
The decision to hike Spray Park did not disappoint. The bright cloudless sky provided us with unreal views of Mount Rainier and we hiked across meadows where we were the first visitors of the day. I love breaking trail in the morning, there is something special about knowing that no one else has been there, even if just for a couple of hours. Spider webs are the rewards and reminders that you got the first view, at least for the day. The beauty turned into an uphill slog and we finished at Granite Creek.
Our morning took us down before another long up hill to the Eagle's Roost campground. We stopped at Mowich for a lunch and lounge under the sun. I should mention that we didn't actually do the entire Wonderland. You can choose between the Wonderland Trail and Spray Park for a 9 mile section and everyone told us that Spray Park was more beautiful, so we followed their advice.
Kent hiked out and we hiked on. Our next stop was 12 miles and 3,000 feet of elevation gain later at Golden Lakes. We took a dip in the icy waters and quickly made dinner so that we could hike back up the trail to watch the lunar eclipse over Mount Rainier. It did not disappoint.
My friend Kent joined us in the morning at Longmire where we cooked mancakes (pancakes with sausage and banana) for breakfast. We started the 93-mile Wonderland Trail. 6 nights. 7 days and endless epic views of Mount Rainier. Kent was only joining us for the first night, we hiked about 12 miles into the South Puyallup campground and enjoyed a dinner of the finest tuna, mac and rotel.
We left Seattle after a little bit of coffee, brunch and wi-fi to drive to Mount Rainier and set up our permit for the Wonderland Trail. The rangers at the back country station were awesome in helping us set up our trip, I was not awesome in driving 45 minutes the wrong way down the road while we were going to drop off some food to pick up on day 4 of our hike.
On a recommendation from a friend we hiked up to Cutthroat Pass and were rewarded with up close views of Larch trees, which are conifers that lose their leaves/needles. They look like evergreens, but are yellow. We met some people who were finishing their 5 months on the Pacific Crest Trail. We hiked down and made our way to Seattle to stay with friends for a night before heading off to Mount Rainier and the Wonderland Trail!
Trevor might kill me if I keep waking him up early and taking him on 10 mile hikes with 5,000 feet of elevation gain, but we are both alive and well at the moment. Just sore. We hiked up Sourdough Mountain for another day of 360 degree views and epic mountain fall photos.
We woke up early and ran up to Pyramid Lake and experienced fall in full effect. Red, orange, yellow, and numerous shades of green. We returned to our campsite for some Mancakes, or pancakes with bacon, banana and PROTEIN!! Our next stop was Thornton Lakes and Trapper Peak. 360 degree views of the surrounding mountains and barely a cloud in the sky.
We arrived in North Cascades right before the Visitors Center closed. We picked up our Junior Ranger program booklets and made for Colonial Creek Campground. They had recently opened the Visitors Center after it was closed due to a nearby fire. You could smell it in the air, it smelled like a campfire and there was burnt and charred wood right next to the road.
Our alarm clock in Jasper was none other than an elk bugling. If you have never seen or heard elk bugling it is pretty impressive. Here is a video from Rocky Mountain National Park to give you an idea. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TSpGd9p17n0
We continued our drive south and posted up at Nairn Falls just north of Whistler. Tomorrow we will arrive in North Cascades National Park, hopefully in the mid-afternoon!
We woke up in a provincial park in British Columbia next to a beautiful lake and made some breakfast burritos before hitting the road. We rolled into Jasper just before dark and were warned that the elk were rutting and charging people. Don't get in the way of an animal who is looking to procreate. Luckily we avoided all of these encounters.
We left Whitehorse for the beginning of our 2 day drive to Jasper National Park in Canada. On the 12 hour drive we saw 1 moose, 3 black bears, dozens of moose and 3 herds of buffalo. I had no idea that buffalo could be woodland creatures. It was a pretty incredible wildlife day until it turned to night and we were trying to avoid the elk that were often rather close to the road.
We took a ferry from Juneau back to our car in Haines, Alaska and made a short 5 hour drive to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory where we stayed at Takhini Hotsprings for the night.
We had a full day in Juneau to finish some errands. Including laundry, mailing Darius' busted backpack, catching up on email and a quick run to Cosco for bulk foods! With 4 days in the Canada ahead of us we want to make sure that we are fully stocked.
Our last day on the water was glass calm. As my step-dad was pulling in the fishing gear a humpback came out of nowhere and came with in 20 yards of the boat. The sound of the water coming out of blow hole was incredibly loud and the whale almost immediately dove and showed us its tail to disappear under the dark waves.
The weather returned to rainy and cloudy. We took the boat out of Glacier Bay and camped for another night on the boat in a small inlet. Much of the day was spent huddled inside the boat avoiding rain as my step-dad dropped some hooks in the water to catch some salmon before the season closes.
Our ride into Glacier Bay was beautiful. The sun parted the clouds and we were able to enjoy blue skies as we pulled into Bartlett Cove at Glacier Bay. We went to the ranger station, went on a walk, jumped in the water, complete the Junior Ranger program and saw an enormous humpback whale skeleton on display.
We woke up early and made our way out to Auke Bay for a ride on Darius' step-dad's boat Good News. We left Auke Bay surrounded by Bald Eagles and gulls as we made our way out to Lynn Canal and headed towards Glacier Bay. The day can best be described as rainy and cloudy, although we did see numerous humpback whales.
We had a layover day in Juneau as we got ready for our boat trip out to Glacier Bay. We stopped by Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau and got ready for our trip.
The drive from Haines Junction was filled with fog and briefly punctuated as a HUGE bull moose appeared out of nowhere and started running 25-30mph down the road. We avoided destroying ourselves and the moose, but we did get some good slo-mo video. We took a ferry rom Haines to Juneau to meet up with Darius' mom and step-dad before heading out to Glacier Bay National Park.
We drove nearly 11 hours from McCarthy to just south of Haines Junction, Yukon Territory. We woke up early and tried to move quickly so that we could make it to the Village Bakery in Haines Junction. They have unreal garlic cheese bread, they were closed for the season. While cooking dinner at Kathleen Lake Campground Darius had a stand off with a coyote that seemed to be unfazed by humans and was clearly trolling for treats.
We ran the 5 miles (each way) to Kennicott and returned later on a van to walk out onto the Root Glacier and tour around the old Kennicott Mining Company. We had a quick dinner at the Potatohead food truck which makes the most delicious fries (garlic, rosemary) that we have ever tasted.
We complete the drive into McCarthy just in time for Darius to take part in his Fantasy football draft. With people joining from California, Alaska, Chicago and Virginia it was a national reunion of Virginia alumni and friends over football.
We drove from Anchorage to the McCarthy Road en route to Wrangell St.Elias National Park round two. We had to make a pit stop at REI because Darius' backpack and tent are being sent in for warranty repairs and is in need of replacements.
Early morning Anchorage flight? Fail. We returned to the Kobuk Valley visitor center for the 3rd time. We watched another hour long movie and enjoyed a delicious pancake breakfast at the Bayside Inn. We made the evening flight and stayed in Anchorage.
Another northern lights fail. Another flight where we don't make the standby cut. We have a trip rule that if we fail at something that we have to listen to a full CD of Nickleback, is that two listens?
We woke up at 2:30am to see the northern lights. It was cloudy. We did not see them. We flew into Kobuk Valley and walked the dunes, jumped in the water and took in the beauty of an Arctic environment in late fall, the greens, yellows, oranges and reds are incredible. You will like the photos.
We were back at the airport at 5:45am. We made it to Kotzebue and we saw President Obama. As we were the only two people in Amerian flag onesies we are fairly certain that his smile and chuckle was directed our way when we drove by. #America
We were standby for our flight to Kotzebue. Darius left his leatherman in his carry-on and had to leave security, ship it home, and come back through. There were so many people flying to see the President visit that we didn't get on the flight.
Another sidelined day. We played hours of Dominion with our new Anchorage friends and spent the day catching up on email, blogging and photos.
We are a bit sidelined as we are waiting to fly out to Kotzebue for our visit to Kobuk Valley. We passed the time by going to the Alaska State Fair hoping that we could catch Garrison Keillor. It was a sold out show, so we enjoyed corn dogs instead.
Our highlights today included Trevor's fantasy football draft with friends on the east coast, a swim and shower at a local pool and a Groupon enabled dinner at a Korean/Mexican restaurant. Yes you read that right, our appetizers were egg drop soup and chips and salsa.
We stayed in Denali during the morning to watch a lunchtime presentation about wolves. It wasn't good. The best part of the day was when we were driving through Wasilla and saw a moose with her two little ones on the side of the road.
We spent the day around Denali listening to a program about Golden Eagles and hiked up Mount Healy, we got our first snow of the trip and found The Spike, the hidden and mysterious Denali bar!
After the rain soaked sleeping bags and clothes we decided to call our backcountry experience a day earlier and headed back towards the park entrance. For the first time in the trip we slept in the car, because of the continuous rain.
The day was not as dry as we had hoped. We boarded the 8am bus out of Wonder Lake and had our bus driver, Gary, drop us off at unit 9 for some back country adventures. We hiked through the rain, huddled in our tents and played cribbage.
We took the bus into Denali and got a view of 'The High One' as the weather cleared. We saw bears, moose, caribou, and dall sheep. And one elusive lynx!! We camped at Wonder Lake in the rain and hoped for a drier tomorrow.
We are alive and well! We are sitting in a Safeway in Fairbanks getting some free wi-fi after stocking up for our next adventure. We just got back from Deadhorse, AK where we jumped into the Arctic Ocean and spent several days above the Arctic Circle. The purpose of the trip was, of course, to visit Gates of the Arctic National Park. We did it, and saw some bears (some a little bit too close for comfort), along the way.
We drove from Galbraith Lake on the Dalton Highway to Manley Hot Springs. We turned in our Gates of the Arctic Junior Ranger booklets at the Arctic Interagency Visitor Center in Coldfoot.
We left Galbraith Lake early to tour Deadhorse. We took the tour, jumped in the Arctic Ocean and drove back to our campsite. Our drive was punctuated by a stop to watch two young grizzlies playing with each other.
We walked into Gates of the Arctic! Right after that we almost ran, literally, into a bear and luckily scared it off. Hearts pumping after the adrenaline rush, we walked carefully and loudly back to our car. We also saw our first wolf of the trip!!!
We left Fairbanks for the Dalton Highway and camped at Marion Creek Campground just north of Coldfoot. We briefly saw a bear, but no other major wildlife.
We drove from Anchorage to Fairbanks and stayed with our friend Catie's cousin. Her cousin is a no joke all out competitive dog musher. She will be competing in the Iditarod. It was pretty cool to see her dogs and how she interacts with them and how much they adore her.
Darius returned home for the wedding of a college friend. He was the bell ringer for the wedding and also got to see his siblings before their first day of 5th, 7th, 9th and 12th grade! Trevor stayed true to the mission and braved a Kenai Fjords boat tour in the rain and a quick jaunt out to Homer, Alaska.
We hiked up Exit Glacier to the Harding Icefield and had unbelievably beautiful weather. Mountain goats were 25 meters from the trail and we got to enjoy glacial views while lounging in the sun.
We made it out of Katmai and the Valley of 10,000 Smokes. It was an incredible landscape and we have some wonderful photos and stories. We are currently in Seward, Alaska visiting Kenai Fjords National Park. We are going up Marathon Mountain and then hiking the Harding Icefield to Exit Glacier tomorrow. We got the last of 12 campsites in Kenai Fjords and are looking forward to a dinner of pasta, kale and canned tuna. One of our friends, Lindsy, who is moving to Alaska to be a physical therapist is joining us for this part of the adventure. She brought herself, artichoke hearts, and peanut butter/chocolate delicacies, needless to say we are pretty excited!!
We started the morning in Katmai National Park. We got one last view of the momma and her cub before flying back to Anchorage. Some of our Charlottesville friends, Todd and Sara, connected us with Sara's friend from college Danielle. We not only had futons to sleep on, we got to hang out with some cool local Alaskans.
We hiked out of the Valley of 10,000 Smokes. Our rented stove ran out of gas so we passed on cold oatmeal and just started hiking. We made it back to Brooks Camp and watched a presentation about bear behavior by one of the rangers.
Our goal was to make it to Katmai Pass to look into the valley and then continue to Novarupta. The site of the largest volcanic eruption in the 20th century. The weather rolled in while we were hiking and completely soaked our gear. We had to hike fast, to both stay warm and move away from the whipping winds and rain.
We took the bus out to the Valley of the 10,000 Smokes. The first 4 miles weren't super exciting, then it was like walking out onto the moon and finding yourself surrounded by rocks of vibrant and amazing colors. The sun shone and we basked int its glory as we hiked.
We flew out to King Salmon, Alaska where we would connect via float plane to Brooks Camp. Immediately upon landing we saw a bear walking down the beach. We saw a momma and her cub and set up our tent inside the Jurassic Park like electrified fence, is it here to keep the bears out, or us in?
We are in Anchorage, Alaska restocking before we return to the wild! We spent the last 4 days in Lake Clark National Park. Our next 5 days will be spent in Katmai National Park avoiding bears.
We canoed back from Lake Kontrashibuna. Along the way we caught 3 lake trout and had ourselves a feast for lunch with plenty of leftover fish for diner. We got into Port Alsworth later than we would have preferred and opted to hike Tanalian Mountain at 6pm, hoping for a good sunset. We saw a bear and two cubs from a very safe distance and hiked so high that we were amongst dall sheep, the sunset did not disappoint, but we did hike down in the darkness.
We bushwacked up Holy Mountain. It was brutal! Alders blocked our progress at every turn, they were everywhere and they were think. We returned to camp and went fishing before dinner. Trevor pulled in a nice lake trout and we cooked it over the fire!
We took a ride on Lake Clark Air and arrived in Port Alsworth with enough time to buy fishing licenses before booking it up to Lake Kontrashibuna where we canoed out to a campsite with some Student Conservation Association (SCA) volunteers who were working on some nearby trails.
We are in Whitefish, Montana staying with some of Darius' friends, Fran and Alan. We are on the West Side of Glacier National Park so we haven't personally seen the St. Mary fire yet. We have summited peaks, gone on epic hikes through the backcountry, and dove into glacially-fed lakes. We will go mountain biking in the park before doing a final preparation for the drive up to Alaska. Does anyone know a good Alaskan bush pilot that wants to fly us places?!
We are sitting in Medora, ND to get internet access for a couple of hours while we catch up on email and attempt to post a couple of photos. We have spent the last couple of days exploring Teddy Roosevelt's North Dakota home and avoiding the buffalo and wild horses that frequent the park roads as we both drove and rode bikes around the 25 mile loop. We are headed into the back country to camp for a night and will then be heading to the North Unit of the park for another day of adventures before taking off to Montana and Glacier National Park!
Our crowdfunding effort closed recently with more success than we imagined. We launched our Rocket Hub page on Saturday, May 23rd at noon. After 6 days we raised about 48% of our ,000 goal. Now on the night before we leave Charlottesville, we ended up finishing with 114% of our funding goal all because of our incredible supporters. We can't thank you enough!
-Trevor and Darius
My dad (the dude with the beard) turns 72 this year. He introduced me to the National Parks. My childhood included Thanksgiving in Big Bend, spring breaks in Arches or Canyonlands, and summers at Olympic where he was a ranger.
My brother and I sat in the car watching Indiana Jones on a 9 inch TV. My dad and step-mom would drive the 18 hours to Big Bend. We only stopped for gas and my brother and I constantly asked 'how much longer 'till we get there?!'
This year I turn 30 and I miss those trips. The hikes, the dinners around the picnic table, the camping chairs. Out of the 59 National Parks, I have been to 17. At a rate of one per year I will be my dad's age by the time that I visit the remaining 42.
I don't want to be that old. More specifically, I don't want to be that old and experience one of our parks for the first time.
That's right. I'm going to quit my job and visit all 59 National Parks in 59 weeks. August 25th, 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, so the timing is perfect. One park per week and I will finish #59in59 by the 100th anniversary.
My dad introduced the parks to me and it's time I repaid the favor. I want you, my friends and my followers to pick a park, take some vacation and join me on my #59in59.