Month #4 on the Road: Camper Life Update from Colorado & Utah!

Well I’ve officially been living on the road longer than I’ve been able to endure some jobs…four months! And it’s supermoon day!

Mid-October through mid-November has been a whirlwind for me in terms of work, and I’ve been so swamped that I haven’t even glanced at my blog since the 14th of last month. My workload has made it a bit more challenging to find balance day to day and not feel stressed out while making time to explore new places. I felt so scatterbrained just trying to put this post together that these photos are totally not in sequential order at all. But they’re all from month #4, so there ya go.

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Yet Colorado and Utah have been awesome and solidified my perception that I feel more at home in the West than the East. To start blending in with the locals, I’ve also begun to assume a new identity as well. I found this name tag on a hiking trail and am ready to pull it out whenever necessary for Mormon perks.

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Places We’ve Been: Month #4

Month #4 began in Cortez, Colorado and then began moving north and west. We’ve been taking our time and spending a couple weeks in places when they seem cool enough to warrant it.

The only exception was Grand Junction. Every private campground in the area had ridiculous dog breed restrictions that forbid pit bulls, rottweilers, and dobermans. Campground reviews shared that many campground owners would scrutinize dogs and hassle owners, and we just couldn’t justify giving money to close-minded and discriminatory people like that. However, we had friends driving in to GJ from Denver and already established social plans. So the solution here was to stay at an all-breed-friendly hotel in GJ just for the weekend and take advantage of a hot tub and hot breakfast. It ended up being pretty sweet actually and really fun to hang out with the Colorado gals.

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Not just a good band, also a solid fall day out in Grand Junction.

Here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of “homes on the road”:

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Colorado National Monument at sunrise

Montrose, Colorado: Home on the Road #20

  • Highlights: Challenging hike/climb to the bottom of Black Canyon, mini golf at our campground, bike paths & off-leash dog area at city park, clothing optional hot springs at Ridgway, exploring nearby Ouray, bowling alley next to our campground, art afternoon inspired by the canyon, Halloween shopping, finding creepy animal bones along a trail
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At the bottom of Black Canyon

  • Lowlights: No recreational shops for fun edibles like I’d pleasantly gotten used to in Cortez
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Disc golf course in Montrose

Grand Junction, Colorado: Home on the Road #21

  • Highlights: Meeting up with a good friend and getting to know two new ones, taking a camper break for a hotel stay, local pumpkin patch and corn maze, freaking people out with creepy Halloween masks, scenic winery after a day of hiking, Colorado National Monument at sunrise
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Corn maze shenanigans

  • Lowlights: Breed restrictive rules that banned pit bull mixes, treacherous jeep trail that led to a failed attempt at seeing arches
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Colorado wine country outside Grand Junction

Vernal, Utah: Home on the Road #22

  • Highlights: BLM land hikes to arches, finding a Mormon name tag on the trail, petroglyphs on private ranch, Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum, real bones at Dinosaur National Monument, crazy rock formations at Fantasy Canyon
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Real dinosaur bones at Dinosaur National Monument’s Quarry House

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Otherworldly rock formations at Fantasy Canyon on BLM land outside Vernal

  • Lowlights: Almost losing Monkey when we let her off-leash and couldn’t find her
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Creepy abandoned cabin 4 miles into a BLM land hiking trail near Grand Junction

Salt Lake City, Utah: Home on the Road #23

  • Highlights: Doing city stuff for a change, awesome campground with a hot tub and good WiFi, clean & reliable public transit, bike lanes everywhere, campsite yoga, seeing bison and the creepy scenery at Antelope State Park and the Great Salt Lake, checking out neighborhoods, learning that my ancestors date back to the 1500s at the Mormon Family Search Library
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The temple we couldn’t go into because we aren’t Mormon. But everywhere else here was fair game to check out.

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It’s great living right next to good bike trails

  • Lowlights: Failed comedy show attempt, trying to figure out Utah’s complicated brewery laws (some good beer though!)
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The masterpieces from art afternoon at the Black Canyon.

Observations & Random Ramblings: Month #4

In no particular order, these are some random thoughts that came to me over the course of month #4 on the road.

With the eerie fog and desolate landscape, the Great Salt Lake is super creepy

With the eerie fog and desolate landscape, the Great Salt Lake is super creepy

  • I hate sharing bathroom space with others. This is my personal time, not a time for small talk. RV parks tend to be better with this than state park campgrounds because RV people have their own bathrooms.
  • Having crappy campground internet makes me super cranky and stressed out for work. So far, campground internet in the West has been much better than on the East Coast.
  • I’m okay with heights, but not so much with steep drop-offs. The Lizard Head trail near Telluride was rough.

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  • Colorado is a great place to be if you enjoy the occasional edible. However, Western CO is super dry (I’m looking at you, Grand Junction), so stock up when you can.
  • Cheap $2 gloves are a lifesaver for typing on a laptop with cold hands, hiking without losing grip, etc.
Crappy gloves = love

Crappy gloves = love

  • Command strips are amazing for camper storage, especially for winter coats and towels. I have about 9 hanging right now and could use a few more.
  • Interactions with strangers continue to feel burdensome and exhausting no matter where I am, and I just can’t wait for them to end about 90% of the time.
  • It’s often been too cold to do yoga outside at campsites lately, so I’ve checked out a few more local yoga classes. Some good, some bad. Unseasonably warm weather has made this easier.
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Much more treacherous than it looks, using a chain for balance

  • It’s hard on us, but Monkey has been doing well with her “practice boarding” experiences to get ready for five days without us over Christmas. We’ve gotten a good report about her on two day-boarding days and one overnight boarding trial run.
  • I wrote a short story last month but have been trying to write some travel-related poems this month. I’ve written three so far that aren’t great, but they’re something. Hoping to pair these with some photos and maps to create a travel book later on.
  • We almost lost Monkey one day while letting her off-leash in BLM land, where it’s totally allowed but she scared us half to death. We called out for her and searched for her for what seemed like an eternity before she emerged on top of the tallest hill in the area, limping a little but otherwise fine. Apparently, some legit dog training may be necessary after all.
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Monkey totally uninterested in these ridiculous rock formations at Fantasy Canyon near Vernal

  • I witnessed the exciting Cubs win for the World Series and the disheartening result of the Presidential election from a camper, tracking updates over WiFi with no TV access. These experiences would have felt a bit isolating except for social media, and for that my Facebook friends, I thank you.
  • Getting used to brewery laws in new states is confusing and frustrating.
  • Unseasonably warm weather has been awesome for us but devastating for skiers out here. Yet working outside in mid-60-degree weather in November has been awesome.
  • Mormons are nice and helpful to a fault. While visiting Temple Square, I was never approached about God or Jesus…only whether I had questions, needed a tour, or wanted to talk about architecture. Yet these persistent and overly nice interactions were incredibly draining and completely unavoidable. Seriously, what are these people on?
  • Salt Lake City has made it onto our list of possible “move to someday” destinations. We scoped out neighborhoods and have positive thoughts about Sugar House, The Avenues, and Cottonwood Heights.

Looking Ahead to Month #5

Month #5 will continue in Utah as we make our way to Moab and spend a week or two there. Thanksgiving will be spent in that area probably gorging ourselves on something delicious. But we’re on a deadline, and that’s because of Christmas. So we’ve got to make it down to Phoenix a few days before Jesus/Santa day to catch a flight back to Central Illinois. But not without spending some time at the Grand Canyon on the way down.

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Sadly, Moonshine Arch had no moonshine at the top.

Overall, I’m loving the west and the unseasonably warm weather is a much-needed relief here. However, our first chance of snow is Thursday, and I’m not looking forward to that inside these canvas walls.

We’ve still got these masks in the back of the Jeep, so if you see some freak shows lurking around in the off-season, it’s probably us. After all, Halloween is my favorite holiday and I was happy to celebrate it in a fun place with good people. Cheers!

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Freaking families out, one cheap mask at a time.

Related:

10 Amazing Tips for New Adventure in Utah (A Guest Post by Louise Brown of The Adventure Land)

As full-time camper life on the road month #2 comes to a close, we have traveled cross-country and settled in Southwest Colorado for a while. Southwest landscapes always make me feel peaceful and inspired, and aside from below-freezing overnight temperatures, this leg of the journey is off to a great start!

I recently connected with Louise Brown, the founder of The Adventure Land, an outdoor resource for travel tips, gear, and food. Since Utah is up next on our route, I asked Louise for any advice she might have to offer. This is her guest post that I hope you find useful!

10 Amazing Tips for New Adventure in Utah
(A Guest Post by Louise Brown of The Adventure Land)

Utah is one of those states that is perfect for outdoor lovers and adventure seekers. It has an alpine forest, deserts, canyons, and the Great Salt Lakes. That’s barely scratching the surface! Utah is perfect for all sorts of travelers including families, couples, friends, and solo backpackers.

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You could spend a whole year around Utah but still not scratch the surface.  Are you planning to go camping, river trekking or hiking? Maybe you want to go hiking, biking, or kayaking. Whatever it is you’re planning to do, the key for traveling Utah is to be prepared. Here are some tips for new adventure in Utah.

1. PLAN YOUR ITINERARY

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To make the most of your time and visit, an itinerary will get you a long way. You might want to plan your trip weeks or months in advance. For instance, if you plan on visiting all the National Parks, you might need at least 8 days. Each park is unique, so visiting every park is already an adventure.

You should also consider the time of the year you go. Winters are cold but serene. Spring and autumn are about the same in temperature. However, spring is a good time to see wildflowers. Summer is ideal for desserts and autumn for the foliage change. It’s all a matter of preference.

2. GAS UP

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You might go through long stretches of remote roads without any services available. Therefore, always gas up when you’re in town. Before starting the long drive, check your gas, engine, tires, etc. Bring spare tires just in case. Worst case is you’ll be stuck in the middle of nowhere and rescue won’t come as soon as you hope.

3. STORE UP ON WATER AND FOOD

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Adventuring in Utah is going to take some energy. Be good to your body by hydrating well and eating enough food. Lower your risk of getting dehydration or heatstroke. You’ll better enjoy your trip when you’re healthy and energetic.

When you’re in town, get your stock of water and food. Fortunately, some parks might have some water refill stations. You can also bring a water filter or chlorine dioxide tablets to purify water from streams, lakes, or other bodies of water.

For food, bring energy rich food like trail mix, granola bars, dried fruit, etc. For light meals, bring sandwiches, canned tuna or tuna pouches.

4. DRESS FOR THE OCCASION

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In the summer, temperatures are between 85-100 degrees Fahrenheit. Spring and Autumn are quite beautiful with temperatures between 75-85 degrees.

Wear comfortable clothes with good insulation. During summer, you can wear a shirt and pants. However, night times get chilly so bring some extra layers. You may also want to bring a rain poncho or jacket.

During the day, you might want to put on some sun protection. Sunblock, a hat, and sunglasses make a big difference.

Shoes will also greatly affect your adventure. Blisters and sores will dampen the fun. You will also want to protect your feet from thorns, animals, and hard rocks because Utah’s trails are full of surprises. Wear closed-toed, sturdy shoes with soles that can grip on rocks, mud, sand, gravel, etc. It’s also better if you test out the shoes for a few days before your adventure to see if they work for you.

At the end of the day, a pair of flip flops feels fantastic. It’s not necessary, but you can pack those if you want.

5. INFORM SOMEONE ABOUT YOUR ADVENTURE

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Whether you’re going solo, as a pair or with a group, telling someone might save you. Remember that guy from the movie, 127 hours? No one knew he was missing or where to find him. After that experience, he always left a note or told someone if he was going on an adventure.

6. CAMPING OR OVERNIGHT ADVENTURES

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Bring a light, preferably a headlamp, so your hands are free. Although the stars are so clear at night, it might not be enough to illuminate your way. That way, you’re also keeping yourself safe by not tripping on a rock or something.

Keep yourself warm. As we said earlier, nights can get chilly.

7. BRING A RESCUE AID

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You can bring along your cellphone, but be ready for it not to work in some areas. Save your battery by putting it in airplane mode. You might want to bring extra batteries or an external battery charger.

You can also bring signaling tools like a mirror and a whistle in case you need people to find you. A handy tool like a Swiss knife or a Leatherman-style tool kit to help you cut or repair things.

8. FIRST AID KIT

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This is something you wish you don’t have to use. However, having it might just save you from unnecessary infections from a small cut, or from losing blood. Let’s hope you won’t get insect bites. If you do, calamine lotion or antihistamines might do the trick to make it comfortable.

9. BRING A CAMERA
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Utah is so picturesque. Bring a camera to document your adventure and share with your friends or future visitors. After your adventure, people will ask you about it. Tell your story better with some photos.

10. PACK YOUR BACK WELL

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The way you pack can have an effect on your back, shoulders and your hike greatly. It’s best to pack light. Only bring what is necessary. That’s why it’s also important to plan your itinerary well.

Utah is one of the ultimate outdoors destinations. Rich in wildlife, geology, and scenic trails, it brings adventure to a whole new level. Follow these guidelines to help you enjoy it and to keep you safe. Your Utah adventures will be an unforgettable experience!

 

Author Bio

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Louise is the founder of TheAdventureLand, where she and her associates blog about outdoor experiences and tips & tricks that will help you have an exciting adventure. She is also a tour guide of a travel company where she learned many things about the wilderness. “Let’s pack our bags and explore the world!”

3 Unforgettable Hiking Trips near Las Cruces: Southwest Road Trip Series

While spending a month in New Mexico, my husband, new pup, and I set up camp in three different “home bases” to explore the surrounding areas: Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Las Cruces. I didn’t know much about Las Cruces before I spent a week here, but it ended up being one of the memorable parts of the entire trip. This was largely because of the unique hiking spots we got to explore that were nothing short of fascinating.

One thing that I’ll always associate with Las Cruces is the crazy high wind. Pretty much every day we were here, there were sustained 30 mph winds with 50 mph gusts that were relentless. Other things I’ll always remember about this place include finding my birthstone in the wild, hiking through a sandstorm, and learning how resilient my pup, Monkey, really is.

So for the next contribution to this Southwest Road Trip Series, these were my three most unforgettable hiking trips in the Las Cruces area.

 

1. Kilbourne Hole – Mining for Peridot Gemstones

The first hike that we went on in the Las Cruces area didn’t end up involving much actual hiking at all. Instead, it was a treasure hunt!

Kilbourne Hole is a place that you won’t find in average New Mexico guidebooks, and we only learned about it while reading about gemstones native to this region. I was skeptical about finding gemstones out in the wild, untouched by human existence in this day and age. But treasure hunts like this don’t happen every day, so we had to give it a try.

It took about an hour and a half to reach Kilbourne Hole from our campground in Las Cruces via intense off-road-style dirt paths that brought the Jeep’s speed down to about 20 mph. Pretty close to the Mexico border, this place really is in the middle of nowhere, and the 45-minutes of rocky dirt trail to get here was an adventure in itself.

IMG_4793Kilbourne Hole is a maar (i.e. a pit/depression caused by a volcanic explosion) in Doña Ana County and a remnant of a volcanic explosion that dates back an estimated 100,000 years. Today it’s a National Natural Landmark on BLM land and known for the unique minerals that surfaced after the eruption. The crater measures just 1.7 miles long by over a mile across, but it’s hundreds of feet deep.

IMG_4794Although I was skeptical about actually finding rocks worth anything, only a few minutes passed before we started seeing green and yellow gems glimmering in the sunlight. This area is open to the public and there are no regulations about removing any rocks from the site as long as you can maneuver the crazy roads to take them back to wherever you came from. IMG_2471Along the road to get here and at the crater site, I never saw a single other person or car. The only signs of life out here were a few stray cows and a desert flower or two.

After parking the car, we descended into the deep gorge pit and braced ourselves for the crazy wind blowing in all directions. This area can only be described as desolate. In fact, the landscape makes you feel like you’re in a cartoon: the same scene over and over again to mock you and make you question reality. IMG_4812But what was really fun about this adventure for me is that we actually found my August birthstone here, peridot! Some of the stones were scattered loosely, likely someone else’s scraps from a previous collection. But others were hidden deep inside unassuming dark rocks strewn about and required a good smash to reveal the shiny stuff inside. IMG_2973We brought a couple handfuls of peridot-encrusted rocks back home with us and have begun to separate the gems from the rock parts. It’s tedious, but how fun would it be to create a piece of jewelry someday with my birthstone gem that I “mined” for along the U.S.-Mexico border! IMG_2975

Science nerds out there can read more about the crustal and mantle (peridotite/olivine-bearing) xenoliths on the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources landmark page. There’s also a 7.57-mile hike that you can do around the volcanic maar sink hole that takes about 3.5 hours and takes you to different parts of the crater that has other types of rock to check out.

 

2. White Sands National Monument – A Surreal Sandstorm

When I was 15 years old and had my learner’s permit from driver’s ed, my parents and I went on a trip to the Grand Canyon. To my delight, they let me get some of my driving hours in on straight and boring roads in the Arizona desert. Little did I know that my parents set me up to drive in my very first sandstorm with plenty of those little white crosses lined along the highway to serve as reminders of the sandstorms that have come before.

The day we hiked White Sands National Monument maybe didn’t constitute a full-blown sandstorm like that one, but the powerful winds sure did make for an interesting day in the desert.

Oddly, we had to pass through border patrol just to reach the national park, which the park staff blamed on anti-drug trafficking efforts. However, the roads were paved, which was a nice change after the insanely bumpy ride to Kilbourne Hole. The visitor center and gift shop had lots of fun souvenirs if you need to stock up on friends & family gifts, so they’re worth a quick stop on your way in.

IMG_4828Hiking the white sands of New Mexico really is unlike hiking anywhere else. It’s vast, desolate, windswept, and mysterious. And since the dunes are formed by gypsum, the sand is surprisingly cool-to-the-touch, even on scorching hot days.
IMG_2493These dunes in the Tularosa Basin were explored by Native Americans, exploited by Spanish explorers in pursuit of resources, and used by the U.S. military for missile testing. They’ve really been through a lot but are in amazingly preserved condition. IMG_2509As we set on out the Alkali Flat Trail, we only encountered one other couple that was moving markedly slower than we were across the dunes. This trail is just under five miles, but surprisingly strenuous with the steep dune climbs and high winds.

It’s best climbed barefoot, and lots of water is an obvious must. I heard that you can actually rent out sandboards and sleds to glide down the dunes, which would have been a blast but we didn’t have time to try it after the hike and before the sun set. IMG_4924There’s no shade or water along this trail, or anywhere out in the dunes, but thankfully there are helpful little orange and white posts to let you know you’re on the right path. Reduced visibility and getting lost are total possibilities out here, especially in the high-winds of the spring season.IMG_4918About halfway through the hike, you’ll reach the flat section that has a really creepy vibe to it. The Alkali Flat is the dry lake-bed of Lake Otero, which filled the bottom of the Tularosa Basin during the last ice age and covered a massive1,600 square miles. IMG_4969Although she was just as covered in sand from head to toe as we were, Monkey was a really trooper and truly seemed to really enjoy the soft, cool texture for the most part. When overly excited, she “twirls” and “dances,” which escalates to the highest degree on sandy beaches and even dunes like these.IMG_4957

 

3. Organ Mountains – Baylor Pass Trail

Several years ago when I first started freelance writing full-time, I wrote some advocacy articles for the petition site, Force Change. I learned about the Organ Mountains in southern New Mexico while doing some trip research and wrote a petition to Preserve Beautiful Desert Mountain Range as a National Monument back in 2013. A little over a year later, President Obama signed a presidential proclamation that the five mountain ranges above the Chihuahuan Desert would finally have National Monument status, and therefore federal protection and managed preservation.

Well, I finally got to visit these mountains for myself and venture out on a hike that started with this ominous warning sign. One afternoon after working a half-day back at the campground in Las Cruces, we set out on the Baylor Pass Trail, which is about six miles long.

P1060708The Organ Mountains are full of Native American, New Mexican, and American history that includes Billy the Kid’s Outlaw Rock, Geronimo’s Cave, pictographs & petroglyphs, Apollo Space Mission training sites, and WWII aerial targets. Their towering peaks are even more ominous that that warning sign and create an eerie presence in the sunset.
P1060711From the trailhead, it felt like a long hike just to get to the base of the mountains, and it was a steady, moderate climb from there. I saw quite a few wildflowers and mysterious yellow berries in the shrubs along this trail, which took my mind off the rising temperatures and bright sun beating down.
P1060725This is when Monkey really proved her resilience here because I’m pretty sure she got a spider bite and was a real champ about it. She’s a very quiet dog that rarely makes a sound at anything, but I heard a tiny yelp and saw her frantically pawing at herself and starting to roll around on the ground. Then I noticed a spider on her paw and brushed it off. I can’t be sure that the spider caused the ruckus, but there was no other explanation in sight.

Monkey’s hiking pace slowed dramatically, and she would periodically sit down mid-stride, which I’ve never seen her do before. She also seemed to be limping, which was especially concerning because we still had about 1.5 miles to get back to the car. I was starting to prepare myself to carry this 44-pound pup the rest of the way and start searching for nearby animal hospitals as soon as I had internet reception again.

But somehow, she just slowly got over whatever was bothering her and got back to her old self again by the end of the hike. I was really proud of my little Monkey for being so tough and keeping up with us on all these hikes. Her life has changed so dramatically since she was picked up as a stray and lived in county animal control cage, and I can only hope that she’s enjoying all of these new adventures as much as we are.

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Well, since this wraps up my posts about my three home bases in New Mexico, my next ones will be about getting off the beaten path, doing some biking, sampling brews at local breweries, and random musings on traveling with a dog. There’s plenty more New Mexico adventures to come, which I’d better wrap up soon because the next big trip is right around the corner!

***This article was also featured as a guest post on Southwest Discoveries. Check out Hiking in New Mexico – 3 unforgettable trips to take

Seeing Santa Fe on Foot: Southwest Road Trip Series

My next post in this “Southwest Road Trip Series” is all about Santa Fe, a two-week destination that I enjoyed so much that I’ve considered moving there. There aren’t too many places that I’ve visited and thought I could see myself living for a while (Portland is another one of them).

So to get to know the city and surrounding area a bit better, we decided to spend a couple weeks at a campground in Santa Fe. Much of this time was spent on foot, hiking in the nearby parks and strolling around town with Monkey, adventure dog extraordinaire.

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Santa Fe weather was all over the place…this was taken one morning when we woke up to SNOW!

One awesome part about our home base, Ranchos de Santa Fe Campground, was that there was a half-mile wooded trail right behind the tent sites, yet still on the campground’s property. This was a great place to walk or jog Monkey first thing in the morning and as work breaks throughout the day before heading out for whatever activities we had planned.

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Dale Ball Trails

The big trail system in Santa Fe is named after Dale Ball, the lead guy who designed and constructed the trails, and our first hiking outing in the area was here. The Dale Ball Trails are a 22-mile network of trails managed by the Santa Fe Conservation Trust at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The trails here are also connected to the Atalaya Trails and Dorothy Stewart Trails.

We parked at St. John’s College and hoofed it on sidewalks to the trailhead.

P1060272We chose the route that led to Castle Rock, because well, that seems majestic enough right? The route was pretty steep and actually one of the more strenuous ones we’ve done in a while.

Oh, but the views!P1060293The approach to Castle Rock, which was an impressive exposed rock outcropping, involved scrambling up boulders and teaching Monkey the basics of rock climbing. She has a crazy amount of stamina, a severe lack of patience, and an obsession with all creatures from lizards to squirrels. But despite her little personality quirks, she proved to be a pretty solid rock climber.
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La Tierra Trails

A lesser-known hiking area lies outside the city, but apparently it’s a pretty popular spot with mountain bikers. La Tierra Trails extend over 25 miles and were formalized by Santa Fe less than a decade ago to develop a multi-use trail system northwest of the city.

We started this journey on La Cuchara Trailhead at the south, which was near a dog park we intended to visit but never actually made it to.

IMG_4588We nearly made it two miles and then had a work emergency and had to turn back to retrieve laptops from the campground and settle things. These types of emergencies don’t happen often, but when they do, unfortunately hiking has to take a backseat to the day jobs.IMG_4592This was a pretty rugged hiking area with downed dead trees and few trail markings. The trails were sandy, and my feet sunk in a bit with every step to make that 1.85 miles feel a bit more challenging than it really was.

We were all frustrated with having to turn around so soon in this remote and peaceful area, but fortunately a trip to Santa Fe Brewing Company picked our spirits back up when the work emergency had been resolved.
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Santa Fe Plaza

However, each one of our week-long (two weeks in the case of Santa Fe) area explorations include some urban hiking as well. When we first got into town, I took myself out on a solo outing to check out the downtown plaza and do some jewelry shopping.

Solo time is totally a must when you’re traveling and camping one-on-one with someone (no matter how cool they are) in a very confined space. I spent my Santa Fe solo time checking out local community/donation yoga classes at Yoga Source and wandering around town. I had read about the Native American Vendors Program of the Palace of the Governors, which is a government program that encourages artists from the nearby pueblos to “set up shop” on the plaza sidewalk to sell their treasures. I ended up buying a ring for myself and a necklace for my best friend here from a guy from Santo Domingo (a pueblo we actually visited on the way to Santa Fe), and he cut me a decent deal for buying two pieces.

IMG_2075There are tons of shops around the plaza, most of them out of budget but nice to look at anyway. I love the architecture in Santa Fe, which was surprisingly consistent in the churches, shops, restaurants, and homes in the local neighborhoods.

The Santa Fe Plaza is the central part of the city and has been the heart of downtown for over 400 years. Native American and Spanish markets are the centerpiece, and there are a lot of concerts and community events scheduled here at certain times.P1060394A lot of things appealed to me about the southwest: the laid-back atmosphere, the weather, the outdoorsy-ness, the artsy-ness, the lack of traffic, the abundance of good hair days. However, one thing left me a bit unsettled.

There were tragically few gnomes living in New Mexico…none in shops, none in front yards…nowhere.

This is my one and only gnome encounter from my month in New Mexico, which was at a Christmas shop of all places in Santa Fe’s downtown plaza. I’m convinced that it is not a Santa nor an elf, but a full-fledged gnome and an instant friend on a surprisingly cold southwestern day.
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Railyard District

Lots of cities have industrial areas that they’ve been trying to transform into the next trendy place to hang out. In Santa Fe, this is the Railyard District. The railroad has played a crucial role in Santa Fe’s history, and old-timey photographs of it were once pitched to East Coast-dwellers to entice them to come experience the Wild West.

IMG_4607The railyard was declared a blighted area in the late 1980s and started undergoing serious redevelopment. Today this area is home to a popular farmer’s market, arts and cultural organizations, shops, art galleries, and restaurants.

We visited the Railyard as a hybrid hiking/biking excursion after finishing the day’s work back at the campground. We biked to the Railyard and then locked up our bikes to check out the area on foot and venture into a few shops and indulge in some fro yo.

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Museum Campus Trails

The weather was all over the place in Santa Fe, and some days were just too cold and windy to be able to enjoy a good hike. But that’s okay because I also enjoy a good museum from time to time. The only issue was what to do with the dog because nine times out of ten, dogs and museums don’t mix.

That tenth time was the dog-friendly International UFO Museum in Roswell, New Mexico…more to come on that later!

So to solve our dog woes, my husband and I took turns going into a museum of our choice while the other walked around with Monkey. There’s a big museum complex on the outskirts of Santa Fe, so it’s easy to walk from one to the other. I decided to check out the International Museum of Folk Art, and the husband chose the Spanish Colonial Art Museum.

IMG_2083I definitely enjoyed the displays of miniatures and flamenco culture. Museums are a great place to soak up some solo time, especially if you like looking at certain things more than others or like browsing at your own pace.IMG_2097But something unexpected at the museum campus was an extensive set of hiking trails! What started as a crappy day actually turned out to be a pretty nice one. So when my museum turn was over, I took Monkey out behind the museums to do some hiking.IMG_2120The trails were pretty flat, but winding and not marked. I found it surprisingly easy to get lost (as my directionally challenged self usually does), but eventually found my way back to the Jeep before the storm clouds rolled back in.IMG_2115

Not far from Santa Fe, we also got off-the-beaten path to check out Chimayo, Ojo Caliente, and the Turquoise Trail. Details on those day trips coming soon, slowly but surely!

So is Santa Fe still in the running for a possible future residence?

Maybe. The big thing holding me back thus far is price. Santa Fe is not a cheap city to live in, or even visit for that matter. Rent is high, taxes are high, and restaurants and shops are pretty pricey too. We scoped out a bunch of Craigslist postings for houses and apartments for rent and drove around Santa Fe neighborhoods to see what they were all about. Even if you’re not super-serious about moving to a destination, this is great way to get an inside look into what a city really looks and feels like away from the tourist circuit.

But only time shall tell where the next long-term destination will be, or if they’ll even be anything permanent for a while. Life on the road is just too way much fun 🙂

Hiking around Albuquerque: Southwest Road Trip Series

So today marks day #29 of my Southwestern road trip and I’m just now getting around to my first blog post. Womp womp.

I’d almost forgotten how time-consuming it is to hold down a full-time job while exploring towns and natural sites in new places. But I must say that working in a pop-up camper is MUCH easier than seeking out pavilions, arcade rooms, and laundry rooms while tent camping.

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But to keep track of it all, we’ve been taking tons of photos and I’ve been keeping up with my trusty travel journal at least every couple days. Just this morning, my husband literally just sent me two dozen photo album links of our trip so far, so I thought it was high time to start writing about some of the awesome adventures we’ve been having so far!

This first road trip post is all about hiking around Albuquerque. After starting in Atlanta and briefly passing through Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas, Albuquerque was the first destination on our list. Hiking is a big part of our travel style, so I’m aiming to highlight the best hikes we did in each of our destinations.

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Why Albuquerque?

Well as the largest city in New Mexico, it seemed like a logical place to start a month-long exploration of the state. Besides, we’re big Breaking Bad fans and were excited to visit as many film sites as possible around town.

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Sandia Mountains

While staying in Albuquerque, one of the first hikes we did was in the Sandia Mountains. We set out on the South Crest Trail and looped around the Faulty Trail and Upper Faulty Trail. This hike kind of reminded me of hiking in Georgia with its dirt/rock terrain and lush greenery. However, this hike was definitely hillier than most Georgia State Park trails, but they didn’t have much in the way of wildflowers.

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We hiked about five miles on this route since we still weren’t exactly sure what Monkey’s hiking capacity is. At this time, she hadn’t even been with us for two months, but already I’d noticed that she does quite a bit better hiking on trails than walking around in cities. Her excitement level is more chill without all those distractions, which is totally understandable. By the way, I’m also working on a post about what to do when your dog is more social than you are, because that’s definitely the scenario here!

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Old Town Albuquerque

Of course, we also did a fair amount of “urban hiking” as well to check out Old Town Albuquerque and the downtown area. This is a cute artsy area with lots of shops and nice for an afternoon stroll.

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This is where I first got in my head that I wanted to buy myself a silver and turquoise cuff bracelet as a souvenir. Shortly after making this decision, I discovered that the ones I liked were in the $1,000 range and totally out of budget.

Throughout this trip, I proceeded to browse shops for my dream bracelet. But in the end, I decided to give up and settle for a $19.99 knock-off. Whatever, it’s still cute and I got some other awesome turquoise jewelry too that I’m planning to chat about exclusively in an upcoming post!

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But moving on from my jewelry woes, there was also a pretty interesting sculpture garden that we checked out near Old Town ABQ as well. It was outside the city’s art and history museum on the other side of a pretty large park.

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Petroglyph National Monument

But my favorite place to hike in the area was Petroglyph National Monument. I few years ago, I wrote a post about petroglyphs and pictographs after checking some out on hikes in Montana and Wyoming. And I’m still a bit fascinated about ancient rock carvings and all that.

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Related: Pictographs v. Petroglyphs v. Graffiti

The trails of choice were Rinconada Canyon and Piedras Marcadas, which were both dog-friendly. On the first of these routes, we hiked about a mile to reach the petroglyphs and then they slowly started to reveal themselves. The carvings were bit far away from the trail but still totally visible and easy to point out. Round trip, Rinconada Canyon involved about 2.2 miles of hiking.

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Then we drove about six miles up the road to Piedras Marcadas, which was oddly located right in the middle of an urban subdivision. These people’s backyards literally back right up to the petroglyph trail, which was kind of cool and kind of ridiculous at the same time.

Between the two trails though, this one was definitely the better one to scope out petroglyphs. There are lots more of them, and you can walk right up to the rocks with carvings.

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Surprisingly, there really wasn’t much graffiti out here either, which was refreshing. Piedras Marcadas was a little over two miles round-trip as well and offered lovely views of the town down below and nearby mountains.

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A Dirt Road Near Cochiti Lake

One pretty random hike that we ventured out in in the Albuquerque area was along a dirt road near Cochiti Lake. This was actually a backup hike after finding out the hard way that Tent Rocks National Monument doesn’t allow dogs.

This is in an area full of Native American pueblos. We tried to stop by one, Santa Domingo Pueblo, but it was early morning on a Sunday and nothing was open and we felt kind of awkward just lurking around.

Anyway, the national park dude at Tent Rocks recommended that we just drive down the road and pull over wherever to hike with our dog without hassle and for free. So that’s what we did.

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We parked and hiked down a paved road until we hit a barricaded dirt road and turned down on it. There was only one other couple around and quite a bit ahead of us down the trail, so we actually let Monkey off-leash for a bit. As a recovering stray, she doesn’t go too far away from us and is slowly earning our trust.

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We hiked this route until we got to a dried-up river, which seems to be a pretty common occurrence in New Mexico given the climate. The weather was absolutely perfect – sunny and 70s. From here, we moved on from Albuquerque and drove to our next destination: Santa Fe, which we quickly discovered had plenty of awesome hiking spots of its own!

Arizona Day Trips – 5 Awesome Hikes in the Southwest (A Guest Post from Mitch Stevens of Southwest Discoveries)

It’s been way too long since I’ve had a chance to update this blog about my recent adventures, but I’m happy to report that a BIG ONE is beginning TOMORROW!

If all goes as planned, I will have rounded up the husband, the dog (we recently adopted one – more to come on that soon!), and a bunch of gear by mid-morning. I’m pointing Chief the Jeep and the currently nameless pop-up camper towards New Mexico and embarking on an extended working/camping/exploring road trip to the Southwest for a wonderfully indefinite amount of time!

So I thought there was no better time than the present to share a guest post from the founder of an Tuscon, Arizona-based adventure travel company I recently connected with by the name of Mitch Stevens. Mitch is the founder and lead guide of Southwest Discoveries, and he was kind enough to share some Arizona hiking expertise with me and my readers. Whether on this upcoming trip or a future one, I hope to check out some of these awesome-sounding Southwest hikes very soon.

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Arizona Day Trips – 5 Awesome Hikes in the Southwest 
By Mitch Stevens of Southwest Discoveries

It’s a well known fact that Arizona is beautiful, often breathtakingly so. In this post, we will introduce five of the most awesome, wondrous and secluded hikes in the southwest. From the fascinating Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona to the red rock country near Sedona and the Grand Canyon, Arizona features a staggering diversity of landscapes, perfect for Arizona Day Trips and adventures. But with so many amazing places to trek, just where to you draw the line? Allow us the opportunity to present to you five of the most awesome, wondrous and secluded hikes in the southwest that are perfect destinations for your next hiking adventure.

The first of our five Day trips in Arizona offering big, uninterrupted space, plenty of cactus and southwestern flora to experience and the unspoiled splendor of one of Earth’s major ecosystems.

1. Mt. Ajo – Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

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As a trip leader and interpretive guide, Beth Krueger knows the desert. She once spent four days camped at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, surveying birds and other wildlife. While most hikers avoid summers in this part of the world, this is Beth’s favorite season. At this time of year, she can savor the fruit of the organ pipe cactus, purported to be the best tasting in the world.

Beth and I collaborated on a late winter outing at the park’s nearly pristine desert wilderness, celebrating the life and landscape of the Sonoran Desert. Our group hiked to the summit of Mt. Ajo, an incredibly beautiful trek which enabled us to experience the Sonoran Desert at it’s finest.

We marveled at magnificent organ pipe and saguaro cacti as well as a rich assortment of extraordinary plants. The preserve is a showcase for plants and creatures who have adapted to the extreme temperatures, intense sunlight, and little rainfall that characterize this southwest region. Located between Arizona’s Ajo Mountains and the Mexico border, Organ Pipe is the only place in the United States where the organ pipe cactus appears, rare in the United States but common in Mexico

A hiker can explore many sections of this international biosphere preserve where big views, uninterrupted space, lots of the namesake cactus and one of the Earth’s major ecosystems survives in almost unspoiled splendor. The monument lies next to Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, which is connected to the Barry Goldwater Air Force Range. Together, these lands represent a large, unbroken desert habitat, home to species such as the endangered Sonoran pronghorn, Quitobaquito pupfish and desert bighorn sheep.

Our group hiked one and a half miles through dense stands of giant columnar cactus to the Bull Pasture overlook. There are exceptional views in every direction. The immediate surroundings are filled with smaller peaks, canyons, and other rocks formations; and in the distance are more mountains. If winter rains are generous, this vicinity of the park erupts with dense stands of Mexican Gold Poppies and other gorgeous wildflowers.

After we left Bull Pasture, the official trail ended and the unofficial cairned route began. A series of switchbacks quickly took us up several hundred feet, and the views just kept getting better. Before long, boulders and rock formations that were part of the backdrop at the beginning were now right in front of us. After a few short, steep switchbacks with some loose footing, the route meandered alongside amazing rock outcrops, including windows, arches and a series of huge cone-like stone formations.

At this point, the awesomeness factor jumped to a whole new level. After another mile of hiking on a ridgeline with stunning views, a short but fun boulder hop landed us atop Mount Ajo, the tallest mountain in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.(http://www.nps.gov/orpi/index.htm) We scrambled a short distance on the summit and more grand views emerged.  There was a large and colorful rock slab that looked like a spaceship, covered in lime green lichen. This made for a great resting spot.

On the return hike, we completed a loop hike by taking the Estes Canyon Trail to the trail head.  Estes Canyon is spectacular for birding and has many beautiful organ pipe and saguaros. It’s a great place to observe the unique botany and ecology of this fascinating region. For a brief cyber journey of this southwestern wonderland, turn up your speakers and enjoy Organ Pipe Magic. https://youtu.be/tnMc680-TXE

 

2. Wet Beaver Creek – Paradise Found

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Arizona’s Wet Beaver Creek Wilderness is paradise found. Located on the western escarpment of the Mogollon Rim, the perennially flowing Wet Beaver Creek drains an area of 250 square miles and descends more than 5,000 feet in its 30 mile tumble to the Verde River. What makes this stream particularly appealing for hikers is that it’s a backcountry swimmer’s dream; no fewer than twenty five plunge pools (25 to 75 yards across) must be negotiated. Although a day hike at Wet Beaver Creek is very enjoyable, the entire wilderness hike can encompass a 2 or 3 day backpacking trek, an unforgettable adventure.

Wet Beaver Creek, from start to finish, crosses the divide between the Colorado Plateau to the north and the Basin and Range country to the south. If completing the entire journey, a hiker will trek from verdant ponderosa pine forest at the rim to Sonoran Desert and descend through five geological formations: Basalt, Kaibab, Toroweap, Coconino and Supai.

On a beautiful early fall day, a group of us started our day hike on the Bell Trail in the popular lower end of Wet Beaver Creek. The walk started out mellow and flat but after a mile, the scenery become increasingly colorful. Red Supai sandstone rock formations comprised the rim of the canyon and the walls steepened. We reached the famous Crack, an amazing swimming hole cut out of the Supai formation.

Continuing upstream, true adventure began. The rugged character of this riparian wilderness revealed itself as we splashed, waded and swam across huge plunge pools. The forest canopy thickened and red rock outcrops soared overhead. We swam through a huge pool which was especially charming; a balanced rock towered above us.

At our lunch spot and turn-around point, we scrambled to a remote prehistoric Indian Ruin. Wet Beaver Creek lies within the ancestral lands of the Sinagua culture and archaeologists are still investigating evidence of their prehistoric occupation at Wet Beaver Creek. The Sinagua were hunters and gatherers, utilized extensive irrigation systems and were believed to be the first to trek and swim the length of Wet Beaver Creek. Throughout the Verde Valley, Sinagua rock art and extensive ruins are abundant. Nearby Montezuma Castle National Monument and Montezuma Well are outstanding examples.

An exploration of Wet Beaver Creek is an astonishingly beautiful trek and well worth the time and effort. To view highlights of this epic adventure, turn up your speakers and enjoy this three minute video. Happy trails!
https://youtu.be/ksxI7eIpIYk


3. Finger Rock – Tucson’s Best Trek

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Superlative landscapes, beautiful sunsets, grand views and an exhilarating short climb to a lofty stone pinnacle are the drawing cards of Tucson’s Finger Rock Trail. Late fall through spring are the best times to pull off this trek.

We started early in the cool dawn air and hiked to Linda Vista Saddle, a steep and invigorating workout. In three miles we ascended over 3,000 feet and arrived at one of the few level spots along the trail. If we continued two more miles on the Finger Rock trail, we would have topped out at Kimble Peak, a worthy destination in its own right.

However, our goal today was to scale Finger Rock itself. We left the established trail and headed off to the northwest, down a gully then up a sketchy route, climbing another 1,000 feet. An hour and a half of scrambling and bushwhacking later, we were at the foot of Finger Rock, a slender pillar of lichen encrusted granitic gneiss which juts up 250 feet in spectacular fashion.

Guiding us on this perfect autumn day was Don Smith, an accomplished rock climber, caver, canyoneer, backpacker and avid adventurer. Don has been known to take lengthy sabbaticals and journey to fantastic locales such as the Yukon, Alaska and Belize. He takes folks to some remarkable places, including Tucson’s Finger Rock!
Don went first, set the anchor and belayed the rest of the group. We completed the first pitch then reached the midpoint of the climb. Don clambered up the rock, achieved the near high point of the Finger and secured the rope at strategically placed bolts. The rest of our crew, one by one, scrambled up to a high perch offering marvelous panoramas of numerous rock formations, the lofty crest of the Santa Catalina Mountains and the Tucson valley and beyond.

From there, it is a short scramble to the actual high point of Finger Rock, a precarious roost which can only accommodate one or two people. After spending about an hour enjoying the incredible spectacle, we rappelled 100 feet to the bottom of Finger Rock.

Three and a half hours later, after witnessing an awesome sunset, we all safely returned to the Finger Rock trailhead, rejuvenated after another splendid day of adventure in the mountains.

For an exciting glimpse of this astonishing trek, click on https://youtu.be/8plEYNCcxHw­. Turn up your speakers and enjoy!

 

4. Rogers Canyon – Spirits of the Past in the Superstition Wilderness

Arizona day trips - group at Rogers ruins

Most folks have hopes and dreams, some more grandiose than others. But few people are fortunate enough to realize all of their dreams. Elisha Reavis wanted to live off the land in a beautiful place far away from the hordes of humanity. He lived out his dream in a high mountain valley in Arizona’s Superstition Mountains where he farmed, grazed and tendered an orchard. Ponderosa pines graced his ranch and a beautiful clear spring-fed creek watered the fruit trees he planted. He died in 1896; his grave-site is located in a place few people will ever see. Thanks to Randy Weber, a Tucson hiker, historian and naturalist, we were one of the few.

500 years before Reavis departed, the Salado peoples were eking out a living in Rogers Canyon. So we headed left at the Rogers Canyon trail junction to observe the fascinating cliff dwellings. Gradually, the character and look of the landscape transformed from high desert grassland to riparian. Huge old sycamore trees, juniper, oak and mountain laurel appeared. As we ventured deeper into the thick of Rogers Canyon, spectacular volcanic rock formations made their appearance. Various shapes chiseled by the elements resembled a teapot, Queen Victoria’s crown and a huge boulder perched precariously high up on the canyon wall.

Finally, we arrived at the Salado cliff dwellings. These well preserved ruins, located in a huge cave above the canyon floor, were the highlight of our day. At one time, as many as 100 people lived here and there were more than 65 rooms when it was constructed over 600 years ago. Most of the ruins have all but vanished but there is still a lot to see. The view from the ruins, looking out across the canyon was fantastic, a sight to behold. The ruins are fragile and irreplaceable; the forest service asks that hikers tread lightly and respect this magnificent place.

The long and bumpy drive from Rogers Trough trailhead is almost as striking as the hike itself. To the west views of saguaro studded Byous Butte, especially at sunset, are glorious. About six miles down the road on the right, we observed a picturesque stone arch. Numerous ridges and peaks of the Superstitions as well as other sky islands in the distance were prevalent throughout the journey back to civilization.

 

5. Adventuring at Nankoweap

Nankoweap - Fred and the canyon

For hikers wanting to experience raw adventure and avoid crowds, the Nankoweap trail at the Grand Canyon is one of the most enjoyable and epic treks in the southwest. Spectacular geology and out of this world views are the calling cards of this magnificent place. Nankoweap is located at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

The trail was originally constructed by Major John Wesley Powell, the one armed civil war veteran and explorer in 1882. It was created so that Charles Doolittle Walcott, a geologist in the Powell party, could easily be able to access the canyon and study its rock layers. Powell is best known for his epic explorations down the Green and Colorado Rivers and is credited with leading the first group of men down the Colorado River in 1871, through present day Grand Canyon.

Julie Dobson, who runs a travel adventure website called Escaping the Midwest, (http://escapingthemidwest.com/2016/01/22/the-words-of-john-wesley-powell/), recently posted a few of Powell’s most famous quotes about the Grand Canyon. Powell wrote, “the elements that unite to make the Grand Canyon the most sublime spectacle in nature are multifarious and exceedlingly diverse.”

In 2015 I had the pleasure of guiding a group of adventurers down the Nankoweap Trail. The first three miles were a delightful romp through a high elevation forest of ponderosa pine, juniper and aspen. Then suddenly, the trail took on an entirely different character. The route plunged off the rim of the Grand Canyon and a long ridge-top traverse ensued. After hiking two more miles, all the while gazing at amazing far reaching views, we arrived at Marion Point. Coming into contact with the geology in this part of the Grand Canyon was incredible, rock layers reached far back into our planet’s past from 300 million to 750 million years ago.

Wonderful and unbelievable panoramas unfolded. The visible green ribbon along Nankoweap Creek was 2,500 feet below us. The forks of Nankoweap Creek extended far back toward the plateau, each separated by colorful rocky ridges and lofty buttes. The most striking of these was Mt. Hayden, a distinct and slender 400 foot Coconino sandstone spire at an elevation of over 8,000 feet. Marion Point can also be the turn around location for hikers interested in a spectacular but rigorous ten mile roundtrip day hike.

But our group’s plan was to trek further into the heart of the Grand Canyon (backpacking experience and appropriate gear are highly recommended). Our long ridge-top traverse continued. After we reached Tilted Mesa in just over two miles, the route led steeply down to Nankoweap Creek and the Colorado River. Near the river, high cliffs of Redwall Limestone and beautiful exposures of Muav Limestone and Bright Angel Shale were the dominant features. Our first view of the emerald green Colorado River in the distance was mesmerizing. Not only did we finally see the river but we heard the roar of Nankoweap Rapids, amplified by red and tan walls at Marble Canyon.

Our group camped at the Colorado, which proved to be an excellent base for exploring further afield. We trekked seven miles upstream along bubbling Nankoweap Creek and discovered intriguing places such as Mystery Falls, a set of cliff top Anasazi granaries, and a fascinating cave featuring a stream running through it.

Should the Grand Canyon be included on your bucket list? Most certainly. And the spectacular and uncrowded Nankoweap trail is one of the best ways to experience the real Grand Canyon, the raw and unspoiled grandeur of this most magnificent gorge, one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

The Antithesis of Spring Break: October at Panama City Beach

Panama City Beach is known as one of the classic spring break destinations in America. But I’m 32, married, and college is all just sort of a blur. So I planned a PCB trip for October. And it was wonderful.

Now I’m pretty low-key when it comes to accommodations and tend to pick the cheapest option that doesn’t have the words “bed bugs” highlighted in it’s online reviews. A location right next to the ocean was key to the goal of this trip: spending as much time at the beach as humanly possible.

For a mere $39 per night, I booked a room at the Catalina Court Motel in nearby Laguna Beach through one of those vacation rental sites. It’s got a total 1950s vibe and looks slightly suspicious from the outside, but there were renovation efforts going on. It certainly wasn’t anything fancy, but it was literally right across the street from the beach, which was perfect. The room (#9) also had a kitchen with a fridge, dishes, microwave, and stove. Bonus!

P1050169I’ve been writing for a living and working from “wherever” for nearly three years now, and I’ve developed a knack for snapping into “work mode” at a moment’s notice. Sure, I have my unfocused days just like anyone else. But most of the time, I can get into the zone and essentially nothing can distract me.

But although I make up my own schedule, I am still a creature of habit and routine. My beach week routine went something like this:

  • Wake up at 7-something
  • Walk to the beach to do yoga
  • Eat breakfast
  • Work in the hotel room all morning
  • Lunch
  • Take my laptop out to the beach and work there for the early-mid afternoon
  • Pack up and do something active, like SUP, biking, or running
  • Shower off my nastiness
  • Have dinner on the beach and play some guitar as the sun sets OR depending on the mood of the day, go out for dinner, adult beverages, and beach town exploration

P1050164It was a schedule that suited me just fine and really solidified my belief that a beach town would be an awesome place to live for awhile. Pier 77 was my gateway to beauty, relaxation, and peace and quiet because it was October – and no one visits here this time of year!
P1050170Stand-up paddleboarding was my favorite new outdoor activity for 2015 because we invested in an inflatable SUP that’s totally portable and considerably more affordable than the traditional type. I’d totally recommend the one that I’m carrying here, which is available on Amazon and called the “Blue Wave Sports Stingray Inflatable Stand Up Paddleboard with Paddle and Hand Pump, 10-Feet.”

P1050175The beach was literally this empty in the mornings and evenings. However, afternoons saw a few more crowds of sunbathers and families on vacation. Temperatures were in the 70s and 80s, and somehow we avoided rain almost every day.
P1050195For the very first time in life, I practiced my guitar in the wide open outdoors. I just started taking lessons for the first time in the summer, so I’m clearly not stage-ready. But there was just something incredibly peaceful and exhilarating about strumming along to the ocean waves. Still a little crowd shy, I prefer audiences of stuffed monkey.
IMG_2883I’ve been pretty good about doing daily yoga in the morning at home, but yoga on the beach in the morning is 100% superior to any type of indoor class for me. A few paddleboarders in the distance, perhaps, but no rowdy college kids or screaming babies in sight to throw off my balance.
IMG_0359But of course, my restless spirit can only sit on a beach for so long before I start going nuts. One worthwhile little evening trip was to the Grayton Beer Company, one of the few breweries in the area.

P1050157The warehouse-style brewery is only open for a few hours in the early evening on Thursdays, the day we drove over to South Walton. But the most interesting aspect of this experience was the oyster shucking operation in the parking lot. We ordered some cheese-topped oysters and gumbo from the little husband-wife team working the tent outside and played a game of bags to entertain ourselves over samplers. Appropriately, the memorable brew that stands out to me was their Franklin County Oyster Stout.

To take advantage of a perfect-weather Saturday, we biked to Destin to check out the boardwalk area. I find it amusing that all these tiny Florida towns along the way are named after California towns: Laguna Beach, Santa Monica, Seaside, Miramar Beach. The ride to Destin involved some bike lanes, trails, sidewalks, and shared traffic lanes, but it really wasn’t too bad.
IMG_0347The Destin Boardwalk is a festive and nostalgic little area full of shops, restaurants, bars, and some miniature carnival rides. There’s a marina here with lots of boats and some kayakers paddling away too.
IMG_0341On our very last day in the Florida Panhandle, we planned a final active adventure: hiking the Panama City Beach Conservation Park.
IMG_0376We initially set out on the yellow trail, which is marked as either “4 or 6 miles.” We must have missed the turn-off for the 4-mile loop, and that’s right about when the mosquitoes started attacking in full force.
IMG_2886It’s pretty rare that I don’t recommend a trail/park for hiking, but this would be one of them. The scenery was kind of nice at first, but became tedious and monotonous after awhile. The trail was straight, flat, never-ending, and packed with blood-thirsty bugs. Finally seeing the parking lot at the end of this trek was a sight for sore eyes.
IMG_2890October was an awesome time to visit the Panama City Beach area because it wasn’t packed with spring breakers, families, or snowbirds. I’m a big fan of traveling to places in the off-season to have destinations a little more to myself and not have to share. I’m an only child, so of course I’ve never been very good at sharing.

Crowds have less of an appeal to me the more I travel and the older I get. Some travel bloggers go on and on about the meaningful and inspirational interactions they have with other people when they travel. I very rarely have this experience, yet I don’t feel that I’m missing out. A little idle chit chat doesn’t make or break a trip for me, and I’ve come to enjoy the silence and reflection of finding my own way. Working for myself, without the clamor of a boss and coworkers, has made me even more introspective and self-entertained on work/travel trips, and I honestly wouldn’t want it any other way.11218894_10156323520200495_5317829905237282151_n

Oh, and this is still my favorite office set-up of all time! Hopefully, many more beach work days lie ahead in my not-so-distant future.

Adventure Travel Shop Guest Post: Hiking Ireland’s Wicklow Mountains

This summer’s European honeymoon adventure that I’ve been (slowly, but surely) writing about concluded with trip to Ireland. By this point in the journey, I was feeling pretty “citied out,” and seriously craving some peace, quiet, and green space.

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I had started feeling uninspired, indifferent and fatigued…all emotions I never expected to experience on this trip. Clearly, this was the time to trade in crowds and lines for trees and trails. So we hopped on the first bus out of Dublin one morning for Wicklow Mountains National Park, which covers part of a mountain range that extends over most of County Wicklow on the east coast of Ireland.

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Giovanna at Adventure Travel Shop was kind enough to publish a guest post I wrote to share with her readers about our much-needed time in the mountains and travel tips for pulling off a similar excursion for yourself. Check out my latest guest post, some scenic photos from the day, and Giovanna’s site here: Hiking Ireland’s Wicklow Mountains via Adventure Travel Shop!

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Everything You Need to Know About Hiking With Your Dog

As an avid hiker, writer, and dog sitter, it only seemed perfect that I write an article for DogVacay about hiking with your dog.

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I’ve learned a TON about how to prep for dog hiking trips and care on the trail while working a side gig with this company over the past year. Hiking is such a wonderful way to spend time with dogs…whether your own or someone else’s that you need to tire out to get some sleep!

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Check out my publishedpost on the DogVacay blog. Pictured here are a few of my favorite hardcore hiker pups Abby, Aro, Lily, and Emma!

http://dogvacay.com/blog/hiking-with-your-dog/

*Photos and words by Alyssa Ochs, a DogVacay Host in Atlanta, GA.

Hiking to the Tallest Waterfall in the Southeast (with a Dog): Amicalola Falls, Georgia

One of the best things that I’ve discovered about living in Georgia is that there are lots of decent hiking trails within an hour’s drive.

Before my living situation brought me to the southeast instead of the northwest, I put a high priority on living in a hiking-friendly area. Although the mountains aren’t quite as tall or the parks as vast down here, Georgia continues to surprise me in pleasant ways.

Did you know that there’s a 729-foot waterfall just 90 minutes outside downtown Atlanta?

Well there is! And I recently had the pleasure of checking it out with my fiancée and a random English Setter named Lily.

Amicalola Falls State Park is located in north central Georgia, smack dab in the middle of the Chattahoochee National Forest. Newcomers be forewarned: this is one of the most popular state parks so arrive early in the morning to beat the annoying line of cars waiting to get in the parking lot by noon. Parking costs $5 unless you have a state park pass.

The drive to get here is quite nice – it’s hilly, windy, and redneck-y. As soon as you see the gentle rolling mountains in the distance, you’ll soon forget about the perils of Atlanta traffic. Wear layers and bring a jacket because the temperature drops at least 10 degrees by the time you arrive from the city.

IMG_7889There are several different trails to choose from when you arrive at the park. Hardcore hikers (with hardcore dogs?) can venture out on the 8.5-mile route to Springer Mountain, which leads from the park to the end of the iconic Appalachian Trail.

From the visitor center, we started on the 0.6-mile Creek Trail (yellow), past the reflection pool at the base of the falls. From there, you’ll find the Appalachian Approach Trail (blue), which leads to the top of the falls. This trail is marked in blue on the map and follows the creek on a series of steep stairs.

I was dog sitting Miss Lily, a 5-year-old English Setter, through my part-time gig as a DogVacay host. She seemed like a pretty agile pup, so I figured a nice long hike would do us both some good.

IMG_7903“Amicalola” takes a few attempts to pronounce correctly and means “tumbling waters” in Cherokee. The whole park spans about 1,000 acres and is considered one of Georgia’s Seven Natural Wonders. A quick Google search informed me that these are the seven wonders…two down, five to go!

  • Amicalola Falls State Park
  • Okefenokee Swamp
  • Providence Canyon
  • Radium Springs
  • Stone Mountain
  • Tallulah Gorge
  • Warm Springs

IMG_7927This stunning waterfall reminded me of the best ones I saw while hiking through the Smokys…which I guess makes sense because they’re really not all that far from each other.

In addition to the waterfall, there’s a 56-room guest lodge, a 24-campsite campground, 14 cottages, and even a dining room with banquet facilities. This is one fancy-pants state park!

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It’s about a mile from the base of the stairs to the top of the falls, with few open areas to stop and take a break. I don’t think Lily had ever seen stairs quite like these, and considering that she has anxiety issues that warrant doggie meds, they were a bit nerve-racking for her.

But we went slow, stuck with it, and eventually reached the top! It was about 10 or 11 in the morning on a Saturday in late March, so although we were greeted by some fellow stair-climbers, the route wasn’t over-crowded.
IMG_7940Brave Lily was the only dog on those stairs that day and she did a great job sticking with it. If it would have just been my fiancée and me, we would have likely continued hiking after reaching the top to check out some of the other trails. But this was enough for our day with Lily, and I’d packed a picnic lunch to relax and enjoy the scenery and the beautiful sunny day.

Much to Lily’s relief, we didn’t have to backtrack down those steep stairs to complete our journey back to the Jeep. We took the East Ridge Trail down, which was wooded, rocky, and had a moderate down-slope. Lunch at the top had re-energized us and the air was feeling warmer with each step.

IMG_7991Just before making this little trip up north, we picked up and installed a new (to us) soft top on my Jeep, “Chief Surfs with Manatees”. What better way to enjoy the fresh (pollen-filled) southern air than with the top down and my crazy hair blowing in all directions?!

This was the first day we put the new soft top to use, and lil’ Lily seemed to love the open air as much as I did.
IMG_8005If you’re looking to grab a beer on an outdoor patio after a day of hiking (my favorite kind of reward!), head to Dahlonega (another hard-to-pronounce name) and check out the Bourbon Street Grille for a well-deserved brew and a bananas foster dessert to share.

Dahlonega is a super-cutesy and historic town that’s the site of the first major gold rush in America. Step down, California!

There’s some tourist shops to check out in the downtown square, a growler fill shop, and apparently some wineries in the area that unfortunately, I only learned about later on.

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Hiking with a dog is a relatively new thing for me; however, I’m getting better at it every time. I’ve provided dog sitting and dog boarding services for about 20 dogs now, which I’m hoping will make things go smoother one day when I have a pup of my own.

These are a few dog hike considerations that I’ve learned so far, and the list continues to grow with each trail…

  • Understand your dog’s physical limitations
  • Scope out specific trails, trail distances, and terrain beforehand
  • Call the park to make sure it’s dog friendly
  • Leave early in the morning for a slimmer chance of crowded trails and hot temperatures
  • Have a reliable leash/harness setup
  • Bring water, a water bowl, food, and poop bags
  • Bring plastic bags, paper towels, and hand sanitizer for poop messes
  • Take breaks if your dog looks like she’s struggling or turn back early if you’re reasonably worried
  • Check the pup for ticks and fleas after the hike