national park

Badlands National Park

Ahhhh, South Dakota.  Great faces, great places.  There are four (and a half, but more on that later) BIG faces, but there is definitely at least one truly great place:  Badlands National Park.

On day 2 of driving, I made it to South Dakota and had two stops in mind:  Mount Rushmore, and Badlands National Park.  I’d not known about the latter until I did a bit of research, and it seemed like I’d be racing against the clock to get there, but I was determined to try.

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I rushed to get to the park before the sun set, and I made it at 5:05 pm…just barely enough light to drive through.  It was definitely a blessing in disguise because a) there was no one there to charge me the entry fee, and b) you seriously cannot beat the sunsets in the west.  Luckily, it’s more of a driving excursion than a hiking one, and with about an hour before it was totally dark, I put my Michael Schumacher skills to the test.

The rock formations are not as crazy as some of the other parks (I’m looking at you, Bryce Canyon), but they were just as majestic.  And with that pink/yellow/blue background slowly changing to vibrant oranges and red, you really couldn’t beat it.

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I’d been hoping to get out and walk around a bit, but unfortunately, my choices were “see the whole park” or “drive through a deserted area with no lights and who knows what kinds of critters.”  I chose to drive through, and am actually pretty damn pleased with it. Where else could I get the requisite shot of a road, heading off into the sunset?

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Eventually, I made it to the end of the Grand Tour, and was able to follow the magnificent sunset all the way out.  It’s not every day you see things like this – I was irritated I had to rush and to change my hiking plans, but this made it all worth it.

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Traveling Without Moving

In the last two months, I’ve done a bit of traveling.  And moving.  And I have to get better about posting when this stuff happens, because there was a lot of stuff in a really short amount of time, and now I am afraid I’m going to forget it…

Think of this as an interim post where I need to at least write down where I went and remember what happened….

First, I was in Jackson, Wyoming for a wedding (it was cold).

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Then, I traveled to Minnetonka, Minnesota for my first work trip (it was cold).  I have no photos of this, because I was in a hotel or an office the whole week, but trust me.  It was cold.

Finally, just two weeks ago, I took a road trip from Dallas, TX to Anacortes, WA (it was cold). I got to see Mount Rushmore, Badlands National Park, and Devil’s Tower, so suffice to say, it was a successful trip, even if it was a bit short.  I think I spent 3.5 days driving over 2700 miles.

The reason for the road trip, you ask?  I relocated to upper Washington state, halfway between Seattle and Vancouver, BC.  Yes, it’s cold here too.  And raining.

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But at least it’s pretty, and I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say when I finally cross the border into Canadia.  I wonder if I’ll run into any Hollywood people there, who are finally fulfilling their promise to leave the country should a certain someone be elected POTUS….

Life is a Highway, Part 21: Colorado National Monument

It wasn’t on my original itinerary, but it was right on my way back to Denver.  The Colorado National Monument in Fruita, CO was just a short stop off of the highway, along Rimrock drive.  While there are crazy trails down into the canyons, I had little time to do more than stop and look.  I was on my way to Grand Junction for the night, which was a must, but because I didn’t know what I’d do there besides dinner and sleep, I figured another national park wouldn’t be a bad idea.

The drive was a nice loop, and the scenery was, once again, breathtaking.

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The only minor disappointment I had was that people had told me I was going to see longhorn sheep.  To my dismay, there weren’t any critters roaming around.  As a University of Rhode Island alumna, I was just a teeeeeny bit excited to see a sheep in its natural habitat.  We are the Rhode Island Rams, after all…but no dice.

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Image from sportslogos.net

As short a stopoff as it was, it was still another reminder of the beauty in the west.  I felt a pang of sadness as I drove away, not only because my trip was almost over, but because of what I was going to be leaving behind when I returned east.

Life is a Highway, Part 18: Arches National Park

One of the awesome things about Moab is that it’s 15 minutes from Arches National Park.  Making good use of the yearly park pass, an early start into Arches meant that the crowds were smaller than they’d be at 11 am or noon…just barely.

By now, I’d hiked through five national parks (I was a veritable expert), and realized the trail difficulty indicators were a bit inflated, much like Yale grades. I figured while the distance estimates were accurate, because the “difficult” trails were not so bad, I’d be fine.  FINE, I tell you.

Staring at the map, I read the descriptions of the trails, and stared at the map:

Image from mapafisicos.com/

Image from mapafisicos.com/

My route would be to drive to all the viewpoints at the south of the map, head to Delicate Arch, the super famous one (3 miles).  Then back in the car and Devil’s Garden – hike up the right side of the loop, out to Dark Angel, and hit all the arches on the way back (7.2 miles).  If I still had any strength left, on the way out, I’d drive to the Broken Arch trailhead and hike that (3 miles), and then and hike the Windows/Turret Arch and Double Arch (1.5 miles). I realize this sounds like a lot of hiking – nearly 15 miles – but I figured I’d find out just what I was made of.

Arches are…well, arches.  So I’ll give you the highlights.

Delicate Arch was…well, anything but delicate.  Sure, it’s thinner at the top, being worn away by sands, rain, and WIND, especially, but it’s gigantic.  On one side, there’s a giant arch, and on the other, a massive canyon.  You have the best of both worlds.

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On the other side of the arch

The Devil’s Garden trail was long.  Really long.  But there were parts that were more or less flat, albeit narrow, and this is where I saw most of the awesome stuff in this park.  Flowers, little caves, places to sit and take in some shade…also, when you are hiking and you’re sort of keeping pace with another person or two (in my case, a couple in their early 50’s), it’s helpful to share information and lend a helping hand.

Along the way, there was a nearly vertical wall (seriously, it was like a 75* angle!), and while normally it’d be fine, a) if you fell, you’d fall into a gross muddy pool of water, and b) my shoulders are notorious for dislocating, so I can’t hang or be held by my arms.  Had I felt more confident, I could have perhaps run across it, but I was not feeling very Usain Bolt-ish, and so I decided to try and scramble over.  It took a little while, and some other travelers turned back, but I made it, and was wickedly delighted with myself.

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Getting out of the sun for a minute.

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Needless to say, with a VERY helping hand, lots of water, and some granola bars, I made it all the way around the trail.  7.2 miles is a lot, but add in elevation changes, crazy wind, and beating sun.  I am pretty sure I drank well over 100 oz of water in just those few hours.  It started to cool off towards the end, as rainstorms were moving in, but I was still super excited.

The Turret Arch was really something, and the rain was moving in fast, but it was worth stopping to take a look.  Even the walk back to the parking lot is really something to behold.  Of course, it’s always a bit better when the temperature doesn’t drop 25 degrees in an hour, but I couldn’t stage better clouds.

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While Bryce Canyon, Zion, and Canyonlands were spectacular, I think Arches was my favorite park.  Maybe it’s because I hiked so much more than I thought I ever could.  I learned with a bit of resilience, a little help, and some confidence, I can go so much further than I expected.  Maybe it’s because I felt like this park was jam-packed with so much more around every turn.  Or perhaps because it was the fourth (and last) park in Utah, and the last planned stop on my trip, I was ultimately more comfortable with the whole thing.  I couldn’t tell you – but what I can tell you is that I am itching to go back.  There is SO much I missed, so much more to explore, and so much more to discover about myself.

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Life is a Highway, Part 17: Canyonlands National Park

Moab is pretty cool.  No, really.  It’s a bit touristy, but it’s got some decent food, decent beer, and it’s fairly young and active.

The other nice thing is that it’s positioned close to two gorgeous national parks:  Canyonlands and Arches.  I would be spending two days there, and the first was dedicated to Canyonlands.

If you remember the story of “that dude that went hiking alone, and fell and got trapped, and he had to drink his own urine and saw his arm off and now James Franco played him in that movie that was nominated for some awards,”  well, that happened in this park.  Not that I saw the movie, but I knew this place got a lot of attention after it came out.

I was getting a bit more excited because this was going to be the first real park where I got to start the day early and hike till my heart’s content.  I chose a trail that would lead me up and around, and to a canyon rim.  And the view was totally worth it.  Of course, the first thing I noticed was the road….

IMG_20150507_131203712_HDRWhile this wasn’t a terribly strenuous hike, it was pretty hot out on ground level.  But once I got some elevation, there was a whipping wind that I thought might actually blow me off the cliff.  I managed to stand my ground, however, and ended up staring out into the great beyond.  There are a few entrances into the park (something I realized too late), and I ended up at Island in the Sky.  I planned a few trips – I have all day, might as well use it – Upheaval Dome, Whale Rock, the overlooks.

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The overlooks had, by far, the most breathtaking view.  There’s just so much to take in, and it really does look like an island in the sky.

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I explored the Upheaval Dome, a crater made from meteor impact around 170 million years ago.  The curious bit is that there are green points in the middle – there are two theories of how it was formed.  One is that it’s a salt dome, and the other is that it’s an eroded impact crater.  I like to think it’s baby mountains or something.

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I don’t have any photos of Whale Rock, and it’s because I took a lovely tumble down it.  Balancing with camera in one hand, water bottle in the other, and quickly becoming aware of an issue with the joints in my toes in my left foot (as in, with too much strenuous impact they swell to the size of kumquats and make it impossible to walk comfortably), I stumbled, fell, and was mortified.  I tore my jeans and skinned my knee so deep, it ripped through scar tissue I’ve had since 2004, it didn’t heal for almost a month, and I will probably have a scar forever.  The two Italian tourists (both a good deal older than I, and gracefully jaunting down the path) were amused at the little round Asian chick tumbling down the rocks like a tumbleweed.

Anyway, following that, I was a bit less enthused to go scrambling and running down the rocks.  What can I say – blood, torn jeans, and general embarrassment at my inability to walk properly sort of dented my confidence.  Instead, I decided to make use of my small stature and climb into places normal-sized people couldn’t fit.

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Check out my ripped jeans. I’m so rugged 😛

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The canyon rim walk to end my day here was probably one of the best, and most wonderful walks and moments of my life.  Slightly over a mile long, the views were spectacular, and because it was late in the day (6-7pm?) the sun was starting to go down, and the trail was all but deserted.  It’s interesting – I was forced to go slow because of my (still bleeding) knee, and I was able to really get up close and personal with some of the rock formations.  It’s amazing what the elements can do.  I have to admit, I didn’t notice some of the things at first, and it was only on the way back.  I guess what they say is true:  Hindsight really is 20/20.

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When I reached the end of the trail, there was a large flat rock, and I just lay down and took in the vast landscape.  It was the closest to zen meditation I’ve ever gotten, and when I finally opened my eyes, I felt very at peace.  There’s something about being out there, something about being so small, that really makes you realize what’s important and what isn’t, and in that moment, I felt very grateful and lucky.

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Life is a Highway, Part 15: X Marks the Spot

I hiked a lot on this vacation.  Like, A LOT a lot.  Eight official 3+ mile trails and over three dozen small stopoffs that were anywhere from 0.25-1 mile long.  And sometimes, when I’d turn around, I’d think, “How the F*@#&$ did I get up here?”

The truth is, navigating the trails is a not always as easy as you’d think.  Well, sure, sometimes they’re totally clear cut in front of you, and you just have to walk right on through, even if the terrain is occasionally a bit steep and rough.

IMG_20150506_145823656Other times, even when the trails are partially covered, you still know where you’re going.  You might have to pass over a tree in your path, or a moose, or even a giant puddle, but you still have a good general sense of direction. It might not be the best, or easiest route, but you can still make it to the other side.

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But sometimes, the trail directions are ambiguous.  How do you know in which direction to go?  How do you know where you’re supposed to step, as to not destroy the precious flora and fauna?  Where does the trail lead?  How much further?  Where do we go after this?  Are we there yet?

hikespeak.com

Image from hikespeak.com

Thankfully, when the road gets rocky, most trails have cairns, little markers that let you know the general direction of the hike.  They’re cute little stacks of rocks, and though I’d seen them on the beach at home, I’d never seen them used as a compass before.  Being in the desert, with high winds, sometimes they get blown over, and people generally will repair them on their way to the next one.  Good Samaritans that don’t want you to get lost, and all…

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When there’s no clearly defined route, you follow the cairns, and they lead you down the trail.  These were a saving grace along some of the desert hikes, since I had to scramble and shimmy down boulders the size of elephants, and bigger.  I’d land in sand – with nothing for as far as the eye could see – and I’d have no idea where to go next.

All of these trail markers made me think.  Hiking is a lot like life.  Sometimes your path is clear and easy, and there’s no mistaking it.  Other times, you come to a fork in the road and have no idea which way to turn.  And still other times, you have no direction at all, and could use some guidance.

Not every path is obvious, and at times, even the obvious ones are littered with obstacles blocking your way.  They are everything from inconvenient to terrifying to what seems to be impossible – but that’s when you have to remind yourself that nothing really is.  You just have to find the fortitude to move them.

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Sometimes even little obstacles in your path require a lot of strength!

And while you might have a good general idea of where you want to go, sometimes you take a wrong turn, and you end up on the edge of a cliff, looking over, wondering how you got there.  The important thing is that you remember that you can always forge a new way, or backtrack…just don’t jump!IMG_2977But most of all, these hikes, these trails are best traversed together.  When you find someone on his or her own journey, and your paths meet and become one – that’s the best part.  When your adventures become shared, and you have someone with whom to celebrate triumphs, grieve losses, and get through the tough stuff.  You hold hands, you run forward together, and you don’t look back.  And if you get lost, just look for the cairns.  They’ll show you the way.

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Life is a Highway, Part 14: Bryce Canyon National Park

I grew up near the beach.

When I was young, I’d sit at the shoreline and would make sand-dribble-castle things.  You know, take a fistful of wet sand, and let it drip out, and you’d get this sort of conical lumpy mass that was actually quite pretty when you had a bunch of them.

After the winding road out of Zion, I headed to nearby Bryce Canyon.  I hadn’t done much research aside from where it was on the map (Pro Tip: it’s close), so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but when I saw it, I was immediately transported to Narragansett Beach, circa 1993.

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Upon arrival, it was sunny and warm, but as I drove through the park, it started to set.  And yes, drove through.  You can see this entire park via car, and pulling over a few times.  There are hikes, but if you’re pressed for time (like I was), you can hit the viewpoints and drive to the next one.

Image from planetware.com

Start at the top, work your way down!   Image from planetware.com

The thing is, even when driving through, the place is huge.  Vast.  And at sunset, the different points were really something.  It’s amazing how much a landscape can change in different lighting.  Seeing the same thing from different angles can really enhance your understanding of it – which is not only meant literally, but also figuratively.

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Don’t be fooled, though.  I may have been surrounded by this absolutely majestic landscape. but I’m still me.  Look closely at the rock formations on the left of the trees.  What do they look like to you?  Because to me, they looked…..Maybe, as a result of spending nearly every weekend for the past decade with 200+ men, my mind is permanently in the gutter.  Or maybe I was just incredibly randy.  But my immediate first thought was, “Why does everything look like penises?  See?  That one’s a penis, and so is that one, and phew, it’s a good thing they aren’t really shaped like that one….”  I was not alone in my thoughts, as I overheard other hikers pointing and laughing, but I can’t say I was mature and didn’t giggle every time I got to a stopoff….

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Penis rocks or no penis rocks, Bryce Canyon was still beautiful and I cursed my poor planning for not allotting a full day in both places – Zion and Bryce – as I was really into the idea of seeing it from the ground level.  There was just so much to take in, so many interesting rock formations, (and I bet they wouldn’t be so phallic from the bottom up).

Overall, the canyons and the sunset were breathtaking, and even though my trip through was short, the drive was incredible.  When you see things that are so old, that have so much history, you’re reminded of the fact that we are indeed so small, and change, growth, and life, will always go on.

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