#NatureWritingChallenge - The Underrated Part of Oklahoma

NWC - Season 2, Week 6.jpg

“An underrated experience at a national park, refuge, or national forest.”

Season 2, Week 6

October 18, 2018

Join us on Twitter with the hashtag #NatureWritingChallenge to discuss and share the topic Thursday at 8:30 CST. This post was created in one hour specifically for this challenge.


When people in Texas speak fondly of Oklahoma, it’s usually about the gorgeous scenery of the eastern edge of the state. While that area is all great and beautiful, I found a little piece of heaven on the southwest side called Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. Wichita Mountains is a US Fish and Wildlife Service managed piece of property that is a refuge for bison, wild turkey, and elk.

I was browsing through the blog of a cool local hiker/trail runner and saw his review and recent visit and knew I needed to head up there myself. It was only about three hours away, a perfect little Sunday drive, and offered some varying terrain according to his post and the research I did. So, I picked a Sunday at the end of April and set out to explore.

The drive out of Texas always feels like it takes forever and the drive out of Texas into southwestern Oklahoma truly feels like you’ve gone nowhere. The plus side, I saw some bison on the way in, just hanging out, so that was cool. I mean, I half expected to see bison but was still pleasantly surprised. I made a mental note that I’ll have to come back for a weekend to explore the place.

I made my way over the cattle guards and on to the road that winds through the refuge east to west almost in the middle of it all. The road starts out in a field with a lake to the south and eventually becomes lined with small trees as the hills begin. There are several turnouts and roads leading to various picnic spots and trails, with the final one for me being the road that lead to the north trialhead for the Charon’s Garden trail.

The trails I planned to hike were within the Wichita Mountains Wilderness area which is an 8600 acre area within the refuge designed to remain as wild as possible. Charon’s Garden trail is one of two designated trails in the wilderness and one I attempted to complete. The moment I parked and walked to the other parking lot, I laughed and realized I could have parked closer.

The flow of a stream, the wind through the leaves, and the general lack of people were all very noticeable right away once I got to the actual trailhead. The sun was behind the rocks, and remained that way for the first part of my hike. The trails went through forests, across dried up streams, and through boulder fields.

I was on the Charon’s Garden trail, almost to the boulder field where I gave up and turned back, and I saw it… a maple leaf. I was overjoyed, projected to an emotional high - over a leaf. You see, dear friends, I miss trees. I miss big beautiful trees. I see them, on occasion, but not often enough. Anyway, with the maples came a trickling stream and a boulder field. I have zero experience with big rocks, so I didn’t really mess around on them being I was alone and inexperienced.

Heading back, I was determined to find another trail to salvage the day. Crab Eyes trail was an unmaintained, unofficial trail that shared the same beginning as Charon’s Garden on the north end. So, I thought I’d check it out. The trail was marked by homemade signs that had little crabs on them which I found charming and hilarious. The website for the refuge does say there are trail like these and it is okay to use them, so I didn’t feel bad. I’m glad I did, too, because it was the highlight of the day aside from the maple trees. Such an unexpected trail, crossing streams and a lot of little ups and downs over boulders and ridges. Endless views and rocks for days - including the crab eyes for which the trail was named. (see bottom of this post for a photo I made to really highlight the crab eyes)

Overall, I only saw about 10% of the refuge but was so impressed I have it on my list for a fall return and hopefully again in the late spring. There is so much left to see, so many more boulders to actually tackle, and miles of trails left to hike. An unexpected gem in the middle of nowhere, Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge delivers on variety and nature.

I wrote about this for my 52 Hike Challenge (it was #16 for this year)… check it out!

 I tried my best in Paint to illustrate the crab eyes….

I tried my best in Paint to illustrate the crab eyes….

#NatureWritingChallenge - A memorable animal encounter on public lands

NWC - Season 2, Week 5.jpg

“A memorable animal encounter on public lands”

SEASON 2, WEEK 5

October 11, 2018

Join us on Twitter with the hashtag #NatureWritingChallenge to discuss and share the topic Thursday at 8:30 CST. This post was created in one hour specifically for this challenge.


I wasn’t going to write an essay this week. I had no motivation because I don’t have but a few animal encounter stories to tell. I told my favorite, and most memorable, last season and you can read about it here. I thought about this topic all week and a few things came to mind:

  1. I don’t go wildlife watching often enough

  2. I haven’t been to many places with true wildlife

  3. Maybe I need to travel more?

I was just about to forego the writing and just share the old topic when I got a message from Douglas Scott asking me to host the chat for this week. So, I’m here, in real time, one hour before the chat piecing together another memorable animal encounter that nearly slipped my mind.

It was August 2014 in Rocky Mountain National Park. It was my first time visiting, though I had driven through Colorado several times. The motive for the trip from Texas to Colorado was to help a friend move into a new place near Fort Collins and then leave her and head west into Rocky Mountain National Park.

I entered the park on a sunny morning. Viewpoints were stopped at, pictures were taken. A lake was encountered in all of the mountain glory. I have a lot of trouble with the details of this trip, but I believe it was Lake Irene. The day continued on as the views leveled off and camp was set up at the Stillwater Campground on Lake Granby. A nap was had and then an adventure towards Steamboat Springs happened, with a turnaround way before getting there. The night was illuminated by a bright moon and it made for an awesome scene over the lake, which was visible from the tent. I do remember how amazing that detail was, so there is that.

Another amazing aspect I recall was waking up and wanting to go back up into the mountains/park and along the way seeing elk grazing in valley meadow. What a sight. Those elk stopped me in my tracks, and I had to pull over and just sit there a minute. It was the perfect morning - the sun was just coming up, the grass was a brilliant green, the elk majestic as all hell, and not many people around at all. It was a moment to just feel alive but also feel very insignificant in the best way. It was the only time I’ve stopped to see elk, really, and one of the only animal encounters I’ve had on public lands. I guess it’s time to get out more!

#NatureWritingChallenge - The Past 15 Years

NWC - Season 2, Week 4.jpg

“How my public lands experience changed in the last 15 years”

Season 2, Week 4

October 4, 2018

Join us on Twitter with the hashtag #NatureWritingChallenge to discuss and share the topic Thursday at 8:30 CST. This post was created in one hour specifically for this challenge.


Fifteen years ago it was 2003 and I was in my first year of college at Grand Valley State University near Grand Rapids, Michigan. At that point on a “national level,” I had only been to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and parts of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. I had only been out of the state a handful of times, mostly to Ontario, where I visited several provincial parks. Public land use for me was very localized until 2008.

As I’m writing this, I always jump to “national level” public land but there is so much at the local level that I almost overlooked all of the wonderful places I had been. Michigan has some of the best state parks I’ve seen, some of the finest state and national forests around, and plenty of county parks to fill any gaps. Near my college, we had university property along a river with miles of trails and down the road another county park that had a similar setup. On any given day, I could be found on the coast of Lake Michigan at the beach or on the dunes. My friends and I would hop in one of our cars and head west to the lake as often as we could during any season. There were several great state parks that offered a varying degree of the outdoor experience.

P1030142.JPG

In 2006 I changed my major to Natural Resource Management and took a few courses in wildlife management and ecology. I had several projects that forced me out of the classroom and into the woods. I went to a national forest to help clear a trail, I surveyed state park camping sites, and assisted with trail building. I took a job, as my internship, as a seasonal park ranger with the City of Wyoming, a suburb of Grand Rapids. I patrolled the city parks with a partner for four summers. I removed graffiti, walked the trails, cleaned up trash, and learned that public spaces in the city can be worth exploring. Being a seasonal park ranger, in an urban area, was not ideal in my grand scheme of natural resource management, but it certainly helped me appreciate the tedious work that goes unnoticed by park patrons that I’m sure government employees across the agencies deal with daily.

Fast forward to 2007 when I embark on a spring break road trip that would forever change my perspective on life. As mentioned, I hadn’t been out of Michigan much and this trip took me across the Midwest directly to the Rocky Mountains. While no major national public lands were visited on this trip, I saw what was out there and where they were from the freeways. The 2007 trip got me looking at maps and learning about the big parks. I had spent 20+ years before not really caring much about national public lands because I was low income, in a state without many spots, and in a state hundreds of miles away. The trip led more trips, endless trips actually, and lit a burning desire to see the land that belonged to all citizens.

IMG_2362.JPG

In 2008, after almost seeing a handful of public land hot spots in 2007, I took another trip that included plans to see Redwood National & State Parks as well as Death Valley National Park. Along the way, I saw plenty of state and local parks along the Pacific Coast as well as a few national forests. The west is best, and I loved it so much, I went back in 2009, 2010, and 2011.

They say you don’t realize what you had until it is gone, and I feel that way about Michigan’s natural beauty since moving to Texas in 2011. I took advantage of a lot when I was there, but there are endless places to see and I have a lot on the list of public lands I wish I had visited. Since being in Texas, I’ve had more opportunities to enjoy life due to a little bit of job security, so I’ve used that to explore public lands even more. I now have the means to visit public land locations in other states and I take full advantage when I can. Dallas-Fort Worth is a big airport that offers affordable flights to many great places that allow me to plan a trip, see multiple public land locations, and get home all in a long weekend and for very few dollars in the grand scheme of life.

I’m not quite public lands obsessed, but my desire to explore them has greatly increased in the past seven years. With more exploration comes more knowledge which has taught me the value of the land and what it takes to preserve them for future generations. Fifteen years ago I had no idea people didn’t like public lands nor did I know the constant battle in place to protect and designate these treasured places. I had no idea how these lands tied into Indigenous culture nor did I know much about the history of any specific act or designated parcel. I’m so thankful to know people who have so much knowledge about public lands and are willing to share. I’m thankful to have a better understanding of how challenging it can be to find a balance with public lands - in management, designation, visitation, and preservation. I’m proud to say I’m part of the current public lands conversation and I can only hope that as other people become aware and involved they are too. Public lands involvement has changed my life, steered my path for what I want in life, and influenced almost every non-family visit vacation plan I make. If you can get out there, get out there - to your city park, state park, national park, national forest, state forest, whatever! Go find the land that belongs to all of us and enjoy it within your legal rights!

#NatureWritingChallenge - A Person Who Inspired Your Love For Public Lands

NWC - Season 2, Week 3.jpg

“A Person Who Inspired Your Love For Public Lands”

Season 2, Week 3

September 27, 2018

Join us on Twitter with the hashtag #NatureWritingChallenge to discuss and share the topic Thursday at 8:30 CST. This post was created in one hour specifically for this challenge.


Of all the road trips, camping trips, and vacations, I’d have to say seeing public lands became a big part of them in 2008. My best friend Kevin, the guy from all of my road trip stories, really inspired my love for and promoted public lands the most out of anyone I knew back then. We started to incorporate visiting public lands in our road trips and eventually made it our mission to make various National Parks our main destination.

Today, we don’t get out as much together as we did back in college, but I think we both still love public lands and what they stand for as much or more than before. Our last big trip before both of us settled into life was leaving Houston on a whim and driving to Saguaro National Park just to see it really quickly because we had to be back the next day. The thrill of the road trip plus a destination to see cool cacti was all we needed. Since then, I know he’s taken his family on a couple of trips that included various National Parks and public lands to which they all seem to have enjoyed.

I’ve taken trips since then to visit many National Forests, Parks, and Monuments. I live for it now, and it’s easy to say it started back with a simple road trip in 2008 that included Redwood National & State Parks as well as Death Valley.

We are lucky, and when possible, can travel together to his family cabin in Northern Minnesota which is surrounded by National Forests and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Northern Minnesota is a REAL TREAT and if you get the chance, get up there and experience that solitude and untouched beauty.

It’s one thing to sit and read about the land set aside for us, but visiting various places and putting it all together makes it truly sink in. My buddy Kevin may have encouraged and inspired my initial love for public lands, but it is the online outdoor community that inspired my desire to continue to protect, expand, and care for them. One beautiful thing about the internet and social networking is the ability to connect with people to share knowledge and promote an end game that we can all get behind. I am forever grateful for the online outdoor community, some of whom I get to meet in person, for our shared love of all things public lands.

#NatureWritingChallenge - Favorite Place to Introduce People to Public Lands

NWC - Season 2, Week 2.jpg

“Favorite Place to Introduce People to Public Lands”

Season 2, Week 2

September 20, 2018

Join us on Twitter with the hashtag #NatureWritingChallenge to discuss and share the topic Thursday at 8:30 CST. This post was created in one hour specifically for this challenge.


I’ve never had to think too hard about which piece of public land was my favorite to introduce to someone because I’m usually just so glad someone wants to go at all. My experience with public lands beyond state parks isn’t much, and I don’t know many people that are too adventurous, but I’m always willing to go anywhere anyone is up for visiting. I’ve had the joy of showing my other half Arches and then showing it to my best friend five years later. My friend Kevin and I have taken friends to Death Valley and seeing other people enjoy it as much as we did was wonderful. But, nothing has made me more excited than showing my best friend and other half Redwood National and State Parks in California. I originally visited the majestic Redwoods in spring of 2008 and long to go back as often as possible.

Each visit to the Redwoods, be it a state or national park, has been absolutely magical. From our first drive through in 2008 to my the most recent in 2017, which I’ve discussed [here], [here], [here], and [here]. I love the Redwoods, and with limited exposure to public lands thus far, I’d say it’s in my top three for favorite destinations. But, this isn’t about that. I’m excited just thinking about taking people to the Redwoods for the first time. Many people have heard of the big trees on the west coast, but few that I know have actually visited them. Expectations for what they look like are set from textbooks or internet photos, but seeing them in person usually blows them out of the water.

Redwood National and State Parks cover a LOT of ground. I’m talking, hours of driving and days of hiking to see it all. So, I can’t say that I’m an expert or that I’ve even visited every special place, but that makes it even more amazing to revisit. I’ve been to several of the main places, and that’s usually how it started when introducing my BFF and other half to the vastness that is the Redwoods. We’d hit up a popular spot and do the drive through the Avenue of the Giants. Each time, though, we’d try something else. From the Big Tree area we ventured off into the woods or from near Prairie Creek we headed over to Lost Man Creek. I’ve hiked the same trail, 9 years apart, but didn’t even know it so it felt brand new to me.

There is more to the Redwoods than just the big trees and ferns. There are wild rivers running through, old dirt roads that take the long way, and so many smaller trees that are just as beautiful. There are plenty of tourist attractions and a few gift shops as well as several small towns with stores and restaurants. One can feel very small and alone or completely part of the tourist crowd, it’s a choice that can even mean having the best of both worlds.

If you can get to Northern California, go to the Redwoods. Go on a weekday, go on a weekend, go for several days. Just. Go. You will likely not regret it unless you HATE trees, endless green leaves, ferns, dampness, fog, or the freshest smells of your life.

#NatureWritingChallenge - Favorite Morning on Public Lands

NWC - Season 2, Week 1.jpg

“Your Favorite Morning on Public Lands”

Season 2, Week 1

September 13, 2018

Join us on Twitter with the hashtag #NatureWritingChallenge to discuss and share the topic Thursday at 8:30 CST. This post was created in one hour specifically for this challenge.


I have a number of memorable mornings on public lands, but nothing quite like the morning I experienced a few weeks ago at Arches National Park. I’ve referenced the hike to Delicate Arch in my Hike 28 post, but I plan to visit why this was so magical for me and my range of feelings before, during, and after.

It was mid-August in Utah so we were expecting warm temperatures and moderate to heavy crowds in Arches National Park the weekend we were there. Our plan was to see as much of the park as we could in the day and a half we had, as well as what we could see at Canyonlands or the surrounding areas. I pitched the idea of starting a hike in the dark, very early in the morning, to Delicate Arch and my best friend Molly was totally on board because she’s just that kind of friend. I hadn’t hiked to Delicate Arch since 2010, and I didn’t really remember much from the hike except there was a ledge and then you were at the arch. Oh, I do remember Delicate Arch being much bigger in person, which shouldn’t be a surprise but was for me again on this visit.

A quick back track… We arrived via plane in Salt Lake City on Friday afternoon, from our home cities, and drove down to Moab Friday evening. We ate and drank at the Moab Brewery and then found our Airbnb just outside of town. Our plan was to wake up at 4, head to the Delicate Arch trail and hike up for the sunrise. We entered Arches about 4:15 AM Saturday and noticed some rain. The rain seemed to get more intense as we drove through, but we parked at the trailhead anyway and waited until about 5 AM. There were a few other people waiting it out, and eventually the rain let up as the light started to increase. People from a car that had came in and parked next to us headed out on the trail. We were not feeling as ambitious, as the sky wasn’t clear and we didn’t really want to end up wet for the whole day, so we headed back towards the entrance. The radar came up as cell data returned and we felt the right choice as the rain showers weren’t done for the immediate future. We had breakfast at the Moab Diner and decided to just enjoy the park all day and try again the next morning.

20180819_210049-ANIMATION.gif

Sunday morning came and we were determined to make this happen. The weather was dry, the air was mild, and the parking lot was mostly empty. We were excited, this was happening! We strapped our headlamps on and ensured we had what we needed in my backpack, and hit the trail. I had downloaded the topographic map to my phone as well as had a screenshot of it, per the advice of Jenny the Trailhead. Luckily, thankfully, we didn’t really need the map. Since 2010, they had installed signs (though, if they were there in 2010 they were not in my pictures or memory) the whole way up. I had mixed feelings about the signs, still do, but they were helpful and steered us in the right direction when I was accidentally steering us in the wrong direction. I have a lot to learn about maps and directions, despite having a love for maps and directions.

The first portion of the journey was a well manicured, well built hiking trail that took us up a series of switchbacks to the open rock face that we’d continue onward and upward next. Being out there, under the stars in the early morning was pure bliss. Hiking in the dark was a new and exciting treat for both of us and something I want to incorporate into my rotation more often. Having an “unknown” factor due to limited sight and not remember the trail from eight years ago really heightened any excitement level.

As we scrambled over the (what I assumed) to be red rocks, we made it to the next portion on the journey and it was a little confusing for a second. The area, though mostly level, dipped through a low area and then quickly turned right to ascend towards Delicate Arch. I got confused and led us a bit off course but Molly corrected us and got us back on track. The morning light was getting brighter and we had reached the point where headlamps were not necessary any more. The excitement of the darkness was gone and replaced with the excitement of being nearly there. I was sweating buckets at this point, but it was worth it so far.

The final dash was an incline along a rock wall, essentially a ledge, that ended with our first view of Delicate Arch. The ledge was probably the easiest part, for me, and one of my favorites because I thoroughly enjoy walking on the edge of something. My heart was racing, my shirt was sweaty, and my mind was thrilled at the ledge and first sight of the arch ahead. We were one of the first few groups up there, second or third, and had our choice of spots to watch the sun rise in the distance. The sky was hazy, from what I assume was wildfire smoke out west, and the sunrise was quite unique because of that. More people made their way up, but it never felt too crowded. Some people may have lingered too long in front of the Arch or made dangerous choices, but everything seemed fine overall. When we got up to relocate, away from the main “entrance” for hikers, I fell. For a moment I thought I was going to die. It was a cartoon style fall, feet out from under me, nearly kicking Molly in the head, and I blacked out for just a second as my back hit the ground. My head was safe, and I had fallen into an area that wouldn’t have allowed for rolling off the cliff. I was embarrassed, but okay, and off we went to get a better seat and a closer look.

This whole morning had been a dream, and we had just started our day. After the sun was up and the people count multiplied exponentially, we decided to head down. Seeing the trail for the first time in real light was weird and wonderful. The views we missed and the little sights along the way were impressive and spectacular. Seeing your path and footing really helped as we descended the rock face, which was pinkish red, and getting to the car as the parking lot was filling up made us feel victorious in a way. We conquered this trail, had this experience, and it was only breakfast time for most. At the parking lot, we passed people who noticed Molly’s Western Michigan University shirt. We stopped to chat and learned they were also from Michigan and about to hike up to the arch. We recalled our experience, gave some pointers, and made sure they had water.

I left Arches feeling accomplished and inspired. I knew I could do the hike, but actually doing it and experiencing it made all the difference. Hiking under the stars and seeing that first light in an amazing setting was phenomenal and something I’ll never forget. If you’re going to Delicate Arch, I highly suggest doing it in the morning to avoid the head and avoid the crowds. People are fine, it’s expected, but why not see it before they arrive if you have the ability and time? One final thing… if you go up to Delicate Arch, OR ANYWHERE ON PUBLIC LANDS, leave no trace. Pack out your trash - this includes orange peels and sunflower seed shells. There were SO MANY seed shells up at the Arch. For more information on how to enjoy nature without destroying it, visit the Leave No Trace (LNT) website.

#NatureWritingChallenge - I Didn't Even Know the Desert Could Do This!

Topic: A day of surprising wildflowers on America's Public Lands

As with every #NatureWritingChallenge, this post was created, edited, and uploaded within an hour.

Who knew the desert could bloom, and why didn't you tell me!?

It was 2008 and my two great friends and I were on a road trip to see the west.  I've talked about these road trips in numerous blog posts, but they're an important part of my love for public lands and road trips.  We had taken a trip in 2007 and stopped at a few cool places, but wanted more out of this year so we planned some major stops.  We started in the Pacific Northwest and made our way down the coast through the Redwoods and over to Sequoia/Kings Canyon and on to Death Valley.

None of us had been to Death Valley, nor the other places on the list, so this was a first-time experience for us all.  We entered the park, with views of mountains and started descending.  The views on the way in were as if we had been transported to another planet.  It went from giant trees to desert with snow capped mountains in the background so quickly.  We stopped early on to take some photos and so my friend could check out the dirt - he was a geology major and is now a geologist.  From there we went down to sea level, and of course stopped for a picture.  From there we kept going down, with plans to stop at the historical sites along the way to Badwater Basin.  As we stopped to take it all in, we realized we were in the midst of a desert bloom (or whatever we called it in 2008).

In my current state of being, I know what a desert bloom is.  I see all of the photos from the California desert and high desert areas in other states all spring long.  Back then, before even researching a road trip destination too much, I had absolutely NO IDEA what a desert bloom was or that it could even happen at this level.  We had stumbled upon, what I now realize, a brief window in time when people plan for and take vacation time to see what Mother Nature can do with colors in the desert.  It was gorgeous!  Yellow flowers across the desert, with snow capped mountains in the background.  Simply amazing and unexpected.  I look back at the photos, trying to remember what I was thinking and can only imagine it wasn't much.  I'm not sure in 2008 we appreciated it as I would today, but I know it caught our eye and offered a nice experience nonetheless.  I can't say the photos we took in 2008 do it any justice, but it was very windy and we didn't quite try too hard.

Nowadays, I look forward to the time I'll be able to make a trip to the desert when the flowers are blooming and hope to do it soon.  Enjoy these photos from the surprising and unexpected desert bloom of 2008 in Death Valley National Park.  May you find some flowers this spring, wherever you are!

#NatureWritingChallenge - A big day in Big Bend

Topic: One last look back at a favorite winter's moment on America's Public Lands

Location: Big Bend National Park - Texas

Date: January 2014

One of the great things about living in Texas can be the lack of a traditional winter with the snow and ice of the north or mountains.  I grew up in Michigan, with lake effect blizzards, winter snow, and plenty of cold weather.  While I miss the snow, I have mostly adjusted to the mild winters I now enjoy in Texas - it can be the best time of year to be outside.

Back in 2014, my other half and one of our best friends embarked on a quick trip to Big Bend National Park.  The drive from where we lived at the time was about 8 hours and that is through some of the flattest, most boring parts of Texas that exist.  We left our house early, in the dark, with temperatures hovering near 20 degree and arrived to the park with sunshine and slightly warmer air.  It was perfect.  Sunshine, amazing views along the drive in, and only a few people in the campground - we were off to a good start.

We did a little hike of the Lost Mine Trail and then went to finish setting up camp.  We pitched the tent, made some food, watched the sky turn pink, and waited for our friend to arrive - she had to work a half day.  It was dark by the time she came, but it was really just in time to see the stars.  The night sky was insane!  There were more stars in sight than I ever though I'd be able to see.  We enjoyed staring up, quietly and drifted off to sleep.

As morning light broke, we learned we had visitors.  As we peeked out of the tent, we saw deer in every direction eating the grass at the campsites.  Once people began to stir, the deer moved to less populated areas and empty campsites but were undeterred overall.  We made breakfast and prepared for the day of adventure.  We needed to see most of the park in one day, as we had to leave the next morning.  The park is huge, and knowing what I do now, I realize trying to see the whole place in one day is a bit silly.  We were blissfully unaware of how long it would take and had no real idea of what was out there to explore.  We followed signs, took scenic turnouts, and it seemed to work out well.  We saw a variety of landscapes and learned about the history of the park, which was the best we could do looking back.

A highlight of the long day was getting to Santa Elana Canyon in time to see the sun setting on the Rio Grande.  We'd walked along the Rio Grande in the Rio Grande Village area but seeing the views from the Santa Elena Canyon Overlook trail was spectacular.  Our day of driving went from one end of the park to the other, effectively using every minute of daylight available.  We returned to camp in the dark, tired, and ready for bed.

The trip was quick and left us wanting more.  I learned about the desert and was able to see how diverse the landscape of Texas can be - in one single park.

 

**This post was created in 1-hour fro the Nature Writing Challenge on Twitter.

#NatureWritingChallenge - The Lone Bison and the Army of Spiders

Tonight's topic: A memorable animal encounter on America's Public Lands

On our way to Fern Cave

I'll start this story by saying I do not have any photos of the situation, as we were scrambling to keep ourselves and the dog safe in avoiding the lone bison out for a stroll on the hiking trail.  It was the end of September, the perfect time of year to be camping in Texas, and my other half, dog, and I were out at Caprock Canyons State Park in the panhandle of Texas.  Caprock Canyons is known around the state because of the bison herd they have roaming the park.  We had adventured to this park in the spring, the other acceptable time of year to camp in Texas.  In the spring, we became acquainted with the bison and the layout of the park, but didn't see everything.  Our late September visit was set in motion for one main reason - to hike to Fern Cave.  Fern Cave is in the northwest corner of the park and is a cavern with ferns growing wild due to the natural runoff and the coolness provided from the rocks.  It was just over two miles back to the cave, so we took our time as the scenery was beautiful with red rocks mixed and green bushes thriving along the creek.

Fern Cave!

We arrived at Fern Cave in the late afternoon, with an expected return time to the campsite being around sundown.  As we exited the cave, which had a narrow passage way in and out, we passed a couple and made the usual friendly greeting.  We were hiking back the way we came, towards the trailhead and passed two women who were enjoying a snack that we had passed on our way in the cave.  The sun was beginning to dim in the distance, with light fading and the golden hour upon us.  We walked about a mile or mile and a half, I can't be certain, and there he was - the lone bison.  In the middle of the hiking path, there was a younger male bison separated from his herd hanging out.  He was rolling around, scratching the ground, and seemed to be dancing as though no one was watching.  He didn't see us, so we back tracked to put a safe distance between us - he wasn't going anywhere.

The view from the path...one of the last photos before stumbling on the lone bison

The main goal was to get back to camp alive and unharmed, so we had to be smart.  We looked at the brush on either side of the trail, thick with grass and thorny mesquite plants.  To the left, we had a valley and an abundance of mesquite, to the right was mostly grass and low mesquite bushes and in plain sight of the bison.  The two women had caught up so us and we caught them up on what was going on.  They said they heard that there was a bison on loose from the ranger as they checked in to the park, but didn't know exactly where - good to know, now.  We brainstormed and attempted a few trials at passing far enough away from the bison.  One try led us into bushes too thick and one to a valley too deep and treacherous.  At one point, the lone bison veered a little off course and we thought we'd get by on the trail but that didn't last long.  We thought we could distract him in the bush, but that didn't seem to work either.  Eventually, we had to just bite the bullet and go through those bushes that were too thick the first time and put some distance between us and the creature.  We made it far enough around him and eventually returned to the trail.  Hearts racing, legs scratched up, we were safe and back on track with only an hour delay.  The sun had set by now, the sky was purple, and we still had a couple of miles to go until we made it back to the campsite.

The walk back grew darker and darker with each footstep forward and then I remembered that I always keep a headlamp in my day pack!  Who knew that being prepared for everything would come in handy? The answer, everyone who suggests being prepared.  The headlamp leads to the other part of this story.  Once we made it to the main road that leads to the campsite, my headlamp was catching what looked like hundreds of diamonds in the darkness off the road.  Upon further inspection, they were spiders.  HUNDREDS of spiders had us surrounded - the entire way to the tent including around our cement pad where we had to take our shoes off and eat our late meal.  It can be assumed the spiders were harmless grass spiders, but we weren't sure at the time of that and still aren't completely convinced.

These encounters were firm, yet appropriate, reminders that animals have the right of way when you're in their home.  We had respect for that bison, and gave him the space he required to live his life.  The lone bison dictated our moves and we had little choice in the matter.  The spiders were just hanging out, as they do, because they live there.  We were guests on their turf and sometimes we need to be reminded of that simple fact.  I hope that lone bison found his herd and I hope he keeps on dancing like no one is watching.

Home free - safely around the lone bison

*This post was created in 1 hour for the Nature Writing Challenge found on twitter using the hashtag "naturewritingchallenge"

#NatureWritingChallenge - Off the beaten path (for me)

Today's topic:

"A memorable day off the beaten path on America's Public Lands"

This post was created in one hour for #NatureWritingChallenge hosted by Douglas Scott on Twitter.

I'm not sure how to approach the topic of "off the beaten" path without immediately thinking of my most recent trip to various public lands on the Olympic Peninsula in the great state of Washington.  Many of the places I visited had well worn paths that could probably use a break, but there were a few special places that seemed a bit less visited and allowed visitors like me to fully unwind and fully appreciate our Public Lands.

Many people visit the Storm King Ranger Station at Olympic National Park.  I'd be willing to bet that many people visit Marymere Falls, which is ranger station adjacent, as well as hike the Mt. Storm King trail.  I don't have statistics, but the Marymere Falls trail was well used and was easy to follow, even up the hills to the waterfall viewing.  Mt. Storm King, while abrupt with elevation was also well used until the "end of maintained trail" marker near the top.  I made it to that marker and thought I was on top of the world. Then, I saw a faint path that went past the sign and looked at my map to see what was up.  I'm not experienced with any hills over 700 feet, let alone a mountain, but I assumed people continue on and climb to the top to get a better view.  A quick internet search led me to numerous photos from the top and my newfound desire to get up there to see what all the fuss was all about.  I started inching past the tree with the "end of trail" sign on it, plotting my path and making sure I could safely climb back down.  I moved 20 feet, stopped and admired the view, moved another 20 feet and did this until I just didn't feel safe anymore.  It was still earlier in the morning, there was no one around, and I had an almost top of the mountain to myself.  I saw Lake Crescent in the distance, a rainbow through the clouds, and mountains covered in trees. 

Despite not being able to go all the way to the top, I felt accomplished.  I have never climbed that much in elevation in that short of a distance, I've never had views like I did from there, and I certainly haven't haven't felt ice pelt me in the face while staring at a rainbow.  I'm not the most physically fit person, so it was a personal victory for me to get up there without quitting.  I was overwhelmed with emotion, in a good way, and I had a few tears while laughing and catching my breath.  I didn't feel unsafe, stressed, or upset about anything.  I felt free, happy, accomplished, and motivated.  I sat there for a long time, staring out and up and taking in every moment as if it were the last thing I'd ever see.  If I wasn't already in love with the area and park, my heart would have melted right there on that ridge.  I was smiling ear to ear the entire journey down to the trailhead.

The mountain may have boosted my confidence and lifted my spirits, but the beach helped me truly let go of anything weighing me down.  I drove out to Ozette and hiked the Ozette Loop on a coastal portion of the Olympic National Park the next day.  The boardwalk and path to the ocean, through what felt like a temperate jungle, were well worn and beautifully maintained but once you hit the beach, it is just you and that ocean.  Sure, there were a few tide pools, rocks, and fallen timber, but for the most part it's just you and the ocean.  While walking from Point Alava to Sand Point, I ran into one small group of people and a few birds.  There was no path on the beach, just sand.  You walk along, alone for the most part, listening to the waves crash on the rocks.  The sensation of being free, following only a coastline, and being in one of the most pristine places on west coast was enough to make my head float.  I was gone, my thoughts were gone, and I was free.  I walked along, staring into the tide pools, hopping over logs, and dodging whatever seaweed stayed behind on land after high tide.  The three miles from point to point was a moment of zen or clarity or whatever you want to call it.

Olympic National Park rejuvenated my soul and assured me that I can do the things I want in life - like climbing mountains.  I have spent more time on the beaten path, but those little moments off have really allowed me to experience raw feelings and be at peace with myself more than any trail has in the past.  I'm forever grateful for our Public Lands and will continue to seek the places off the beaten path.

#NatureWritingChallenge - The Power of Water at Devil's Churn

15 March 2018 Topic:  “A memorable moment witnessing the power of water in our Public Lands.”

I've been moving and organizing, so I've missed enough evening chats and writing prompts in the past few weeks that I'm going to do this one anyway, after the scheduled time with the same rules applying.

As soon as I saw the topic, I knew what I was going to write about.  Devil's Churn, on the Oregon Coast, is a narrow inlet carved into the rocks that makes the wave crash like I've never seen before.  I first visited Devil's Churn in 2008, on a whim with some buddies on our annual spring break road trip.  We were looking at the map, yes a paper map, and saw this place called Devil's Churn and had to check it out because of the name alone.  The path down to the water starts from a small parking lot and winds down through the coastal trees to the rocky coastline.  Once you're out of the trees, you're standing at the edge of the Pacific Ocean with giant rocks all around and huge sprays of water coming at you.

The actual inlet that is Devil's Churn is a bit wider than a human is tall at points, carved into the cliffs, and slippery as hell along the edges.  We climbed on the those wet rocks, keeping our balance the best we could, getting closer and closer to the edge which satisfied our curiosity.  We had never seen anything like this before.  We were all from Michigan, with the greatest of lakes, but nothing like Devil's Churn.  We stood on the edge, just out of reach of the majority of the spray, and watched the waves crash for at least 30 minutes.  We explored all around following the rocks out to some sandy areas and getting an even better view of the ocean near the mouth of the inlet.  The waves just kept crashing, relentlessly, captivating our attention each time.  Crash! Trickle. Water churned around, slapping the edges but not crashing.  CRASH! Another wave came in.  Repeat.  To witness the power of the ocean for the first time, for us, was a mind bending experience.

Devil's Churn is one of those special places for me, being one of the first places I've witnessed the power of the Pacific Ocean.  The following year, I was on another spring break road trip and we happened to be going up the coast and just had to stop at Devil's Churn.  One person I was with was there the year prior, but we felt we had to show our newcomer the power of this place.  The day wasn't as sunny or mild, but the power of the water remained the same - maybe more powerful with the excessive winds and added rain.

The third, and most recent, time I decided to detour and visit Devil's Churn was in 2013 on a late summer road trip.  I was with my other half and we had planned an Oregon Coast scenic tour.  We stopped at many beaches and viewpoints, but I made sure we stopped at Devil's Churn.  It was a rainy, gray, and cool day along the coast but that didn't stop us.  We parked, took the path down and I shared the power of water with yet another person important to me.  We walked down, inspected the crevice, and enjoyed the foggy beach views.  We watched the water churn and crash and admired the waves while trying to keep our balance on the slippery rocks.

It's been five years since I've visited the Oregon Coast, and Devil's Churn.  I think about the coast often, the power of the water crashing into the rocky cliffs, the trees, and the fog.  I can still smell the air from those visits and it only adds to the longing I feel to return.  As time moved forward, I learned about other great spots along that coast and realized we were only miles from other magnificent and powerful water features such as Thor's Well or Cape Perpetua.  I hope to get back to see Devil's Churn again as well as the other gems along the Oregon Coast.

 

 

*This was created in 1 hour for the Nature Writing Challenge hosted by Douglas Scott on twitter at #NatureWritingChallenge.

#NatureWritingChallenge - The trees are bigger in California

0810171446.jpg

It was just last summer when I first entered Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.  My other half and I were driving from Oregon to Texas and we decided to stop at a few National Parks along the way.  We had visited Redwoods the year before, but went through there again because, how can you not?  From the west coast, we took the long way to I-5 and headed south towards Sequoia and Kings Canyon.  Back in 2008 my buddies and I had skirted around through Sequoia National Forest, but opted to devote our time to Death Valley.

As you leave Sacramento and continue south, it's a pretty boring ride until you get to the Sequoia National Forest.  Once you climb the mountains, the views of the valleys become clear and the trees start to get taller.  This was the first National Park that I entered and needed to buy an annual pass, as we had let ours expire, and also the first I've ever waiting in line to enter.  After speaking with a nice woman about the park, we were on our way to the big trees.  We had a limited amount of time and needed to keep on schedule.

The first big, famous tree was saw was the General Grant.  The Redwoods always amaze me, but these trees are a little different.  They're huge and in sunshine, without the mist of the west coast or lush green undergrowth.  These trees have bulbous trunks and roots that bulge way out.  They survive fire, wind, and other disasters and continue on because that's their purpose - to carry on.

We left General Grant for General Sherman.  The drive between the two areas is quite an adventure along a winding mountain road.  The views over the edge, the big trees, and the curves keep your attention for the entire way.  Once at General Sherman, we descended with the crowds to the featured giant.  Again, walking among the giants made me feel small in the best way.

0811171143_HDR.jpg

Leaving the park was just as spectacular as entering.  The trip down the mountain was exciting as every turn gave way to a new view of the mountains or valley.  The trees got smaller, but that humble feeling from walking with the giants lasted for a while.

0811171144-EFFECTS.jpg
0811171345_HDR.jpg
0811171344_HDR.jpg

This post was created in 1 hour for the #NatureWritingChallenge.  Check it out on Twitter with the hashtag and feel free to join in!

 

*This post is short and sweet and may or may not make sense due to NyQuil and a debilitating cough/cold.

#NatureWritingChallenge - Badwater Basin: 282 Feet Below Sea Level

"A memorable sign on Public Lands" - This post was created for the #naturewritingchallenge in one hour.

I was thinking back to all the signs on public lands - there have been a lot and I'm kind of obsessed with documenting my travels with them.  I started to look through my archives, trying to find that most memorable sign.  Then, I thought, maybe it's not a photo of a sign but maybe one of those many epiphanies I've had in my life.  I've had many moments on Public Lands that have brought great clarity to my brain, but not really any major signs in life.  So, I'm going to stick to the physical and share one of my most memorable and favorite signs.  The year was 2008, my two good buddies and I had just visited the Redwoods and were moving on through California to Death Valley National Park.  I had researched the Redwoods, as mentioned in the post from last week, but I really knew NOTHING about Death Valley prior to visiting.  We arrived midday, sun shining, wind blasting, and the desert blooming.  We were in shock, coming from moss covered redwoods to giant sequoias to the desert - the hottest, lowest place in the USA.

I can remember the start of our drive through the park - we were truly obsessed with the signs because we were in love with the road trip.  Signs were the way we navigated - old school, before smartphones and navigation systems in the dash.  We were in our rented car, driving through the desert and we see the sign to turn right in a mile for Death Valley.  Eventually, we get to to the Death Valley welcome sign and enter the park, feeling accomplished.  We were using Microsoft Streets and Trips, but signs were our guiding visual element.  If I went out there right now and reenacted this scenario, with my Google Maps built in to my device, I'm not sure I'd have been as observant of the signs and markers.  As I write this I'm having an "ah-ah" moment about how I've become so much less observant in current times and maybe I need to slow it down when I'm out and about.  I still notice signs, but I don't obsess over them the way we did before Google Maps and that fresh road trip spirit of the late 2000s.

IMG_1526.JPG
IMG_1591.JPG

As we meandered through the park, we stopped at various tourist stops to take it in and take pictures.  We stopped to take a photo of the sign proclaiming we were at sea level and moved on to see the how borax was mined and transformed and then on to see the desert in bloom.  We made our way to the Devil’s Golf Course, to the Furnace Creek Visitors Center, and then to Badwater Basin.  When I think of my first trip to Death Valley, I think of Badwater Basin and posing with the sign that says I was 282 feet below sea level.  Of all the places we saw, other than maybe the desert in bloom which only seems significant now that I know people flock to see it, Badwater stands out.  The white salt flats, the salty pools of water, the view through the valley, and the sign that said I was there.  Death Valley and Redwoods were the first two big parks I experienced in my life - and they were a day a part.  Sure the trees are unforgettable, in fact I daydream about them often, but being in the hottest and lowest place in the USA is also quite memorable and I have a photo with a sign to prove it.

Two years after this visit, I was able to get back.  This time, I knew a little about what to expect when visiting Death Valley.  We entered from the east this time, made our way to places I didn't even know existed the first time, I didn't see any bloom in the desert, and I sure did go back to Badwater and stand next to that sign again.  Going back, I was genuinely excited to see this place again and to take a photo in front of the sign.  Sure, I got to see the valley from Dante's View, hike through one of the side canyons, and see the painted desert hills of the Artist's Drive, but that sign at Badwater was a constant and will be any time I visit in the future.  Signs come and go, they change, and they can be metaphorical.  Maybe this one sign is just a physical sign, but it's representative of my first desert adventure, inspired me to check out more desert destinations, and beckons me to return to see it and the ever changing Badwater Basin.

IMG_0178.JPG

#NatureWritingChallenge - West Coast or Bust

"A moment when you felt small compared to the grandeur of our public lands"

The year was 2008.  Two of my best friends and I had set out on a spring break road trip based on the success of our first one in 2007.  We were almost done with college and wanting to see a little bit more of the country before it was too late and we had full-time jobs.  Road trips in 2008 involved using a laptop in the backseat to navigate with a Microsoft Streets & Trips GPS attachment stuck to the window.  Road trips in 2008 were in a rental car because none of our cars would make it more than six hours before blowing something.  We set out, headed from Grand Rapids, MI to the west coast, with a few minor stops along the way.  This trip was designed and planned to maximize our stops along the route; the previous year we unintentionally avoided too many natural wonders and tourist stops because we just didn't have a plan.

The trip had many "first experiences" such as the first time seeing the Pacific Ocean, a city as big as Seattle, the Redwood trees, San Francisco, sequoia trees, Death Valley, Las Vegas, and St. Louis.  Pike Place Market was an enriching experience, the Oregon coast was breathtaking, Las Vegas glittered, but the redwoods were shockingly beautiful.  I had seen photos, read books, and researched them, but I had absolutely no idea the emotional impact they would have on me when I wrapped my arms around one and stared up the trunk.

As cliche as it may sound, the Redwoods made me feel small in the best way.  I can vividly remember leaping out of the car and running over to a redwood along the road and just standing there in shock as I tried to wrap my head around the size of that tree.  The trees of the Oregon Coast were gorgeous, wild, and large in scale to some we had in Michigan but fell out of memory once I saw the vast beauty of a mighty redwood.

We walked to the "Big Tree" and took photos, as tourists do, and stood in awe.  We drove through the Avenue of the Giants, stopped at a few trails and shops, and were on our way in just a few hours.  We did the classic "drive through a tree" Redwoods activity and posed in front of a 1000 year old log.  For those few hours, I forgot about the spats we had in the car for days prior, forgot my responsibilities, forgot where I was from, and I became fully present.  For the first time in my life, I felt small but so alive at the same time.  These trees are some of the largest living organisms on the planet and we get the luxury of walking through their forest home and breathing their fresh air.  I've had the privilege to visit the Redwoods several times since 2008 and every time feels a bit like the first time.  I still feel small and alive, I'm still swept away from reality, and I'm still in shock of how these trees can exist.

This was created in 1hr for the #naturewritingchallenge

#NatureWritingChallenge - A Little Snow Never Stopped Us

10398487_625914325735_8199202_n.jpg

All we wanted to do was explore some public lands, but various storms along the way made the journey a bit more complicated!  This story isn't exactly a stormy day in a National Park or on our Public Lands, but it's an overall experience I'll never forget. Back in 2009, my buddy and I rented a car to travel from Michigan to various public lands in the west.  We had reserved a large sedan, which was cheap and had enough room, but our plans were foiled and we were stuck with a Chevy HHR.  The HHR is a tiny wagon and the first part of the "storm" that was the spring break road trip of 2009.  We started off a little rough, but we were not deterred.  We packed that HHR to the brim with supplies and gear and set off towards Sacramento with a few stops planned along the way.

10398487_625914520345_6463935_n.jpg

We were cruising along with our first stop planned to be Arches National Park in Utah.  We get all the way to Denver without an issue, tour the city quickly in the early morning on a Saturday, and continue west toward the Rockies.  We hit a blizzard around Vail and see cars in the ditches, had zero visibility, and didn't have rental car insurance.  Everything was fine, we kept going because what was the point of turning around halfway through a blizzard?  We had plans to stop at scenic turnouts, but this icy roads had us white knuckled all the way through the mountains, leaving little room for extra adventure.  Eventually, we reached the western slope, found dry ground, and thanked mother nature for having mercy on us.  We set back out towards Arches in hopes for some better weather.

Arches is a beautiful place, any time of year.  We camped, hiked, and enjoyed every bit of daylight we could.  Camp had a great view, but nothing beats the views from the various day hikes.  A big benefit of going in the end of February/first week of March is that no one is there!  That night, after hiking all day and already being quite chilled, we crawled into our sleeping bags and listened to the wind toss our tent around.  The temperature had dropped to 11 degrees Fahrenheit, with strong winds all night.   I slept in my clothes plus winter jacket, gloves, and hat.  After a windy and cold night like that, coffee and sunshine were the most welcome things of the morning.

Leaving Arches, we set off to drive through Monument Valley, through Grand Staircase Escalante, with a final camping destination along the loneliest road - US 50.  We stopped at a BLM spot, Petroglyphs Interpretive site in the and set up our tent next to some snow.  There was no storm at this portion of our journey, but it was still cold.  We left the next day and headed west on US-50 toward California.  Once through Nevada, we hit the Tahoe National Forest on I-80, through the mountains, and another snow storm threatened our rental car.  We finally made it to Sacramento, despite the blizzard, and in plenty of time to pick our other friend up from the airport.

Our journey continued north, hitting another rain storm in Redding, California and mixed precipitation on our way to Eureka through the mountains.  We drove through the Redwoods, up the coast, detoured to Portland and Seattle, and went to Cape Flattery with sunny weather on our side.  We had major rain in the Hoh Rainforest, but nothing else the entire trip back to Michigan, minus some mild snow in the Midwest.

We may have avoided storms while being out on the trails or at the campsite, but we endured some severe weather to get to the places we love.  When you save money, make a plan, and set out to see something beautiful you don't let things like blizzards and rain storms get in the way.  We made this trip the best adventure we could, despite anything Mother Nature could throw at us.

This post was created in one hour for the #NatureWritingChallenge.

#NatureWritingChallenge - Lost Man Creek

Lost Man Creek is one of those spots I didn't plan on visiting but was instantly grateful for finding when exploring Redwood National and State Parks. I was traveling with my other half, a summer road trip to see the Redwoods, and we did not have a lot of plans set in stone other than our hotel in Arcata, California. The plan was to venture south one day, to see the sights around the Avenue of the Giants and then a couple of days north with no destinations in mind. One morning after coffee, the car was pointed north on the 101 and the exploring began. First stop was the Prairie Creek Visitor Center area to make a plan. We checked our Google Maps, searched for places online, and Lost Man Creek came up. We had nothing to lose, so we went.

Following the signs, we turned down the road that led to the parking lot. The road was narrow, dirt, and flanked by moss-covered trees. The parking lot was empty, which was a nice surprise, so we parked and headed toward the moss-covered picnic table. I can’t recall if there was a sign that had a functional map, but we followed what appeared to be an old road along the Lost Man Creek into the woods.

img_20160603_0959011449863277290928225.jpg

First things first, we posed with several large trees because that’s what you do in the Redwoods. After the photos, we admired how quiet it was in regards to the outside world. It was far enough from the 101, or there were enough trees, that it seemed like it was in the middle of nowhere. I can remember just standing in a patch of sunlight coming in through mossy branches and listening to the creek trickle by. We went back, further and further, finding more solitude as we walked. With the solitude came endless ferns, a few white iris flowers, and honeysuckle. The ground was a brilliant green as far as you could see, with the creek barely visible along the trail.

img_44915349706972221305184.jpg

This creek in this park, at this moment in time, holds a significance to me because it was a moment of complete freedom. It was relaxing yet fun, an easy hike yet beautiful, and accessible without the crowds. The time spent along Lost Man Creek was an ideal moment on public lands. To this day, I have wallpapers on my work PC of this specific place to remind me to calm down, take a moment, and find some peace when things get stressful. I can’t wait to get back, hike a bit further, and enjoy it all over again in a new way someday.

This post was created in one hour for the #naturewritingchallenge

**Editing done after the hour due to technical issues.

#NatureWritingChallenge - Winter Tour: National Parks of Utah

*This post was written in one hour for the first #NatureWritingChallenge.

 

25190_746728553055_5881621_n.jpg

The most memorable travel moments I have tend to revolve around National Parks.  Winter in Utah's National Parks is something I will never forget.  It was March of 2010 and my best bud and I were on our last leg of a ten day trip encompassing Death Valley, Arches, (what's now) Bears Ears, Bryce Canyon, and Zion with Las Vegas as our home base.  We had just left Arches, found our hotel in Monticello, Utah for the night, and the snow started to blanket the ground.  We woke up, another foot of snow had fallen overnight, and our original plans of going to the Grand Canyon were looking dim due to closed roads and more snow for the south rim so we opted for a more clear route to Bryce Canyon.  The route to Bryce was paved with over a foot of snow and we apparently drove through one of the most dangerous roads in Utah which is now encompassed in Bears Ears on Utah 261 called the Moki Dugway.  At the time, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into as we didn't really have smartphones or much information for the trip.

 

It took all day to get to Bryce Canyon, but we arrived and checked in to the Bryce Canyon Lodge.  It was night, but we wanted to drive to the parts of the park that were open to do some stargazing.  The crisp snow and clear sky is something I'll never forget.  We drove out to the parking lot at Inspiration Point and let our eyes adjust to the pure darkness of the park.  After some stargazing in one of the darkest skies in the country, we went back to the hotel to enjoy some time in the hot tub.  It was freezing, snow was blowing and drifting, but the hot tub was open and it was one of the most amazing feelings in the world.  We had a few drinks, watched the snow blow across the iced-over pool, and planned our attack for the next day.  After a good sleep, we went back to Inspiration Point and walked through the deep snow along the edge to Upper Inspiration Point.  This was our first time seeing Bryce Canyon in person and seeing the hoodoos covered in snow was magical.  When you look out and over the edge and see a vast valley of hoodoos with snowdrifts in between, you just lose yourself for a minute or two.  We got back to the rental car and drove up to Bryce Point to get another view of bright pinkish orange hoodoos poking through fresh snow.

 

25190_746723962255_4809357_n.jpg
25190_746723992195_1307939_n.jpg

We didn't spend a lot of time at Bryce Canyon, but it was one of the most memorable trips of my life to a National Park.  We had been to Death Valley and Arches earlier in the week and experienced new views and hikes at each of them, but nothing like snow covered hoodoos.  Our next stop was Zion which also had fresh snow and the hike there on the Emerald Pools Trail was nothing less than beautiful.  We hiked to Emerald Pools and the Upper Emerald Pool.  The waterfalls were unlike anything we'd seen, and the Upper Emerald Pool had fresh snow to add to the scenic beauty.  I had been camping on BLM land in the winter the year prior, and been to various national forest land in the winter but nothing compared to the beauty of Utah's National parks with a blanket of snow.

 

#NatureWritingChallenge - A quest to see the sunset at Bryce Canyon National Park

20170819_201550.jpg

The trip happened in late August, but the idea started months before.  The year 2017 started with a new challenge - hike every week for the entire year.  The hiking started locally in Dallas, Texas near home base and would branch out occasionally as variety was needed.  Some would call it a travel bug, others just an itch for adventure, either way a bigger, more spectacular trip was needed to satiate the outdoor cravings.  The search for flights began and included many great destinations such as Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Denver, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, and others cities near scenic public lands with great hiking.  The search for the perfect flight continued over the span of a few weeks and the destinations were whittled away as prices increased, departures didn't work, or arrivals were too late.  Vacation days were thin, sick days needed to be saved just in case, and work was about to ramp up to the busy season anyway so the flight and timing had to be just right.  One day, it clicked and a flight to Salt Lake City was perfectly timed with an arrival on Friday night and a departure late on Sunday for a reasonable price from Dallas.  The flight was not purchased, but was tracked and discussed for another few weeks.  The price increased and it seemed hope for an adventure would be lost.  The disappointment was accepted and the promise of other, future trips was made internally as the tracking of the flight prices was canceled.  Fast forward about two weeks, the urge to adventure still burning, prices were checked again.  With much surprise, and delight, it was discovered that the price was back to what it was on the very first search.  Second guesses weren't allowed, the flight was booked and it was written in permanent marker on the calendar in the office.  News was shared with a dear friend, and it was decided the spontaneity of this trip was to their liking and they also booked a flight from their airport to meet up for the ambitious weekend adventure.

Trip planning commenced, and there were 100 things to fit in to less than 48 full hours in Utah.  Having visited Utah in the past, there were things that were only enjoyed briefly that deserved a revisit.  Arches, an obvious attraction, had been thoroughly investigated so it was off the list.  Zion would be a bit too far south, as would Bears Ears for this trip.  So, a route was planned from Salt Lake City through Capitol Reef National Park to Devil's Backbone and back out to Bryce Canyon National Park for the Saturday portion.  It was a lot of miles to cover in one day and proved to be a real challenge to visit everything.  The main objective of the trip was obviously to hike, with a side aspiration to see the sunset over Bryce Canyon and sunrise at Cedar Breaks.  Hiking in Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Cedar Breaks was determined to be the most important with any other hikes being a welcomed addition.  A short hike in Capitol Reef in the morning sun led to driving miles with scenic views of storms on the horizon to the arrival at Bryce Canyon in the late afternoon.  The road to Rainbow Point, the end of the park, was longer than anticipated with many necessary stops to admire the views.  Once to the point, a hike on the Bristlecone Loop was taken while the sun was still pretty high in the sky.  Making the drive back to the entrance, the plan was to hike at Inspiration Point for the sunset.  Stops at a few small loops such as Natural Bridge and Piracy Point along the way allowed the sun to sink down a bit more and the views to be taken in a bit longer.  The arrival at Bryce Point prompted a race to the edge to peer out at the darkening hoodoos, as the sun was suddenly almost gone.  A quick drive to Inspiration point led to a view of the cherry red sunset in the distant clouds as it faded away.  The mission was complete, the sunset was viewed in Bryce Canyon National Park and it added more magic to the hoodoo views than could have been expected.

 

This post was written in one hour for the first #NatureWritingChallenge.

 

0819171957d_HDR.jpg