naturewritingchallenge

#NatureWritingChallenge - A memorable insect encounter on public lands

A memorable insect encounter on public lands.

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 was searching for a place to hike that wasn’t one of the tired, old regular places in the DFW metro area. I decided that the trip four hours north and east to the Ouachita National Forest would be a good choice for that day of September. There was a scenic byway and plenty of trails so I figured I’d get an early start and and hike as the sun rose over through hills. I was aware the hike could encounter snakes, spiders, and other insects but what I’d find was pleasantly surprising.

The day was starting off right with plenty of sun and a nice breeze. I started off on the trail, dodging the usual spider webs as the first person out, and it just did not end. The spider webs were THICK - both in web intricacy and quantity. My memory of this hike was one of annoyance; how dare those spiders try and stop me from those gorgeous hilly trails?

I’m not sure my pictures from the day do the size of the spiders and their webs any justice, but here they are:

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Spiders were commonplace for hikes around Texas and the surrounding states but seeing a real live walking stick was a treat. I was paying close attention to the branches at the point of discovery because I didn’t want to disrupt a spider or get one on my body. I looked over against the yellowing leaves and saw the stick move and the move some more and then it finally clicked - it was a bug! The walking stick was a pleasant surprise encounter and one I did not fear. The creature didn’t really move that much, beyond the little bit to cause notice, so I snapped a few pictures and went on my way pretty excited to see something new.

Since then I’ve had many encounters with various spiders, scorpions, and other bugs but nothing nearly as unique and interesting as the walking stick from Oklahoma.

#NatureWritingChallenge - A memorable plant on public lands

A memorable or favorite plant, large or small, found on public lands.

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.

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At first thought, I wanted to write about the huge trees along the west coast that I love so much. But, after a little more digging, I decided to focus on something that surprised me and really made me smile on one of my trips to (YES, You guessed it) the Olympic Peninsula. Western Skunk Cabbage, Lysichiton americanus, is a yellow flowering plant often found in the swamps of the moist northwestern forests. These yellow delights were a surprise for me, as I didn’t really plan ahead by reading about the plants of the Olympic Peninsula.

By the time I laid eyes on one of these plants, I had already been hiking around for an entire day. I had seen some pretty pink flowers, a variety of trees and mosses, and several types of ferns. Expectations were met, and exceeded, with plant life. Little did I know what was coming - in the form of skunk cabbage. I started my trek out to the coast on the Ozette Triangle (Loop) trail and crossed the bridge. If you read last week, this is probably my favorite trail I’ve experienced on public lands. I wasn’t far along the trail, which was mostly a boardwalk, and I noticed these yellow “lily-looking” flowers in the swampy areas.

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I saw a few skunk cabbage plants and moved along, feeling pleased to see something new. Every little patch of swamp, I saw more and more. They were everywhere! The yellow flower was the perfect compliment to the varying hues of green in the forest and a stark contrast to the black mud and tannin rich water. I walked on, made it to the coast, and then saw more of them on my way back to the parking lot. I made a Twitter post once back at my motel for the night and I’m pretty sure @Publiclandlvr was the one to clarify what it was for me.

I had one more day on the peninsula, and it was suggest that I visit the Quinault region. I went on the south side, through the little tourist area and then made my way to east end around the lake. I saw beautiful trees and moss, some new trees, and a few more flowers. I decided to take a walk on the Maple Glade Rain Forest Trail. I’m so glad I did, because the water flowing through the swamp and the moss covered broadleaf (leafless) maples was stunning on that misty, foggy day. I did the small loop, already elated at the first sound only to be energized even more seeing the beautiful dots of skunk cabbage among the most brilliant green plants I’ve EVER seen in person. The pictures from that day DO do it justice, because you can see the gorgeous yellow dots and the brilliancy that is the green. What a treat.

Skunk cabbage apparently has an odor, to attract certain pollinators, but I didn’t smell it. Maybe I was high on the ocean air or the misty rain forest smells, but it didn’t hit me. I know the hearty yellow flower isn’t the most IMPRESSIVE plan on public lands, by any means, but it sure is a delight among the rest and something that I have fond memories of seeing for the first time last year on my first real hiking trip to Olympic National Park. I enjoyed every plant I saw on my trip, but I’ll always be excited to visit in the spring and look for good ole skunk cabbage.

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#NatureWritingChallenge - Dear Public Lands, I love you! - Me

I had no idea what to write about, but here it goes...
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A moment of love witnessed, experienced, or shared on public lands…


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I thought long and hard about this topic, but I wasn’t getting anywhere at all. I have never witnessed a proposal or even much affection between two people on any public lands. But, then it clicked! I have witnessed one act that truly warms my heart, countless times… When someone picks up trash, regardless of who’s it is, and throws it in the proper receptacle. There is nothing more wonderful than people who LOVE public lands and this is one example of a simple way to show it.

Other great acts of love I’ve witnessed, firsthand, are people who stay on the designated path or trail on our public lands. In all honesty, I have wandered off in the past but have learned so much and do my best nowadays. A vital way to show love for the plants and soils is by leaving them undisturbed! I’d have to say the people who stay on the path outweigh the ones who disregard it altogether, and there is always room to grow and learn!

Have you ever witnessed a trail building outing or participated in one? Until you’ve watched people sweat it out by removing invasive species or done something similar yourself, you won’t know what love for public lands truly is. Have you called or sent a letter to your government representative? Yet another act of love for public lands that has inspired real change!

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It’s heartbreaking to see people who supposedly love public lands deface them or break the rules designed to protect them. I see far more people follow the rules and love the land than those who don’t and to me that is love. Spreading the values of Leave No Trace as well as restating the rules to people who may be a little off course is true love.

The current administration has typically pushed forward legislation to minimize or physically degrade public lands but a recent bill to expand and protect was an act of love, if not with ulterior motives, but love nonetheless. The fact that the tone of this administration and 45 is generally negative in regards to public lands has a silver lining and that is people coming together to share their love for them on a grand scale. True love is putting differences aside to come together to preserve culture, flora, fauna, and other treasures that should and do belong to everyone.

Today, I raise my glass to those who love public lands and show it every single chance they get. Here’s to every time you picked up that trash or contacted your rep. Here’s to all the times you’ll/we’ll have to do this in the future. Here’s to the future of these glorious places. Here’s to working through the heartbreak of the shortcomings and pushing forward for the greater good. Here’s to you, public land lovers!

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#NatureWritingChallenge - History Schmistory...

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“What is your favorite National Park history? Any cool stories to share, buildings you enjoy, or historical wonders you enjoy?”

2019 - Topic 4

January 31, 2019

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.


History isn’t my jam.

I’m not a big history fan, generally speaking, but I am not closed off to learning about specific topics if they come about. What I really mean to say is that I do not seek out historical texts or books, but will read through something quick and easy to digest. I do enjoy learning about culture, archaeology, and geology which all explore history in different interesting ways.

Big trees are old.

One group of historical figures I couldn’t live without are the big trees of the west coast. The redwoods, giant sequoias, and various other large and old trees are some of my favorite living organisms in the world. I first saw these big trees back in 2008 and have been in love with them since then. These trees age gracefully and are a vital part of the ecosystem and region as a whole. What would life be like without big trees? These specific types of trees aside, I grew up with very old maples in the front yard and super old apple trees in the orchard. Trees can teach us how to adapt and thrive, even in the worst conditions over 2000 years.

That arch didn’t form overnight.

I’m not sure how many years it took Delicate Arch to come to the present state, but thank goodness it did. Have you been to Delicate Arch, up close and personal? I have and it was insane. To think erosion did that, over so many years is crazy. This iconic rock formation is a piece of history to me. When I went to Arches, I learned about the history of the park, the history tied to the geology, and the history of the people who inhabited the land.

Speechless at the Grand Canyon.

The first time I saw the Grand Canyon was October 12, 2011. I was driving back with a friend from Las Vegas and we stopped at the North Rim and I was awestruck. When my dear friend Ashley and I visited the South Rim in 2013, I was awestruck again. When I visited with my other half and dear friend Nikki in 2015, it was amazing in a new way as it was dusted with snow in places. The Grand Canyon is old. Think of the years it took for the Colorado River to cut through the earth and form that giant hole. Think of the people who live and lived there long before we stand on the paved path at the edge admiring. What a place, rich in history and culture.

History may not be my “thing” but I am willing to embrace it on a case by case basis. Learning about these great trees or geologic formations is a form of history appreciation in my book.

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#NatureWritingChallenge - The World Melts Away

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“A moment of place on public lands that took you away from all of your worries and stresses.”

2019 - Topic 3

January 24, 2019

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.


Every trail, every time.

I’d be lying if I said that every time I go hiking, I am relieved of some stress or find peace in some way. There are some days, some trails, and some environments that just don’t do it for me. It’s completely personal and I know it is likely dependent on my head space of the day. If I’m at my local park, which has a freeway nearby, I’m often there just to bang out a hike and not escape from reality. The trails are great, the terrain fun, and there are some parts that are more secluded than others but overall it’s not much of an escape. If i go to this local haunt with a mildly bad attitude or a need to relax and escape, it’s not going to happen because my brain will focus on the billion park patrons and seventy billion cars flying by over yonder on the freeway. Every trail has a purpose for both my physical needs and my mental needs and after a few years, I have them all figured out. When I need to fully escape, collect my thoughts, and feel the world disappear I head to the west.

Texas has red rocks and canyons.

I can’t always afford to fly to the Pacific Northwest, where I find peace on every adventure, so I drive to the state parks in West Texas. I’m fortunate to have a good car and a job that allows me to get out of the city and escape into the horizon. I recently visited Palo Duro Canyon State Park - the Grand Canyon of Texas. This place has red rocks and blue skies and is only five and a half hours away. I was in a sort of “blah” mood recently, so I drove out there and spent 10 miles alone with myself and quickly focused on my immediate surroundings. I was watching the light dance around the canyon - bouncing off the little hoodoos and red rock walls. I watched the clouds drift through the sky and got to breathe in that crisp winter air with hints of juniper. My phone and watch were in airplane mode, only there to track my path and take photos. I had disconnected and it felt amazing. These trails were not free from other people, but the one I chose was mostly empty compared to other popular spots. I stopped often, because my hikes aren’t about speed, and I would take in the view and write a little note about my thoughts or what I observed. I stopped to take a closer look at the rocks, the plants, and the birds. I’m not saying Palo Duro Canyon is my ultimate spot, but it is one place I know I can go in the dead of winter and be somewhat alone with myself allowing a true escape.

My ultimate escape.

If I had to pick a place where I felt 100% free from any weight or stress it would be the Olympic Peninsula. I’m not going to pinpoint one spot because I spent a solo weekend all over last March and it was the absolute best solo trip I’ve taken to date. I love to meet up with people, be shown around, and socialize but there is just something about a solo trip that really stuck with me. When I flew to Seattle in March, I expected a rainy weekend of hiking and was ready for it. I didn’t have any plans to meet up with anyone and didn’t have any intention of doing so. My first stop was the Mt. Storm King trail. My phone was mostly out of service and I had it with me for photos - a trend you’ll see. I hiked, alone, without really seeing anyone along the way. The area, the trail, and the experience was new to me. I had nothing better to do than focus on my feet, the sky, the trees, the birds, and the breathtaking views. When I get lost in the trees, figuratively, the world begins to melt away. My financial woes, my family woes, my minor modern world problems all fade to the background, or away completely. When I’m hiking in the northwest I find a new perspective because I’m removed from my world and placed in a new one. When I hiked the Ozette Loop I hadn’t had phone service since the day before early on. I was truly removed from the world and it was the best. I set out on another new and exciting adventure through the trees to the coast. I had no worries, no problems, and no issues during those hours. I stopped to take as many photos as my heart desired, I stopped to really take in the swamp, and then I stopped dead in my tracks when I heard the waves and smelled the sea air. The only things on my brain during that hike were related to the moment I was in at the time. What a treat, right? The northwest, and specifically the Olympic Peninsula, has always been a favorite but from that weekend forward it is where I go (physically and mentally) to relax my brain.

I hope you can find some peace in nature this year, this month, and/or this week. Go find your happy place!

#NatureWritingChallenge - Protection for #PublicLands during a #GovernmentShutdown

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“How do we ensure the protection our public lands need is given during a government shutdown? How should they be maintained?”

2019 - Topic 2

January 17, 2019

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.


“How do we maintain and protect without any funding? We’ve been doing it for years…”

Shut it down.

I’m a supporter of shutting down public lands with gates as soon as the government shuts down. If we can’t pay rangers and employees to keep it safe and clean, I can’t imagine the general public will do well unsupervised. Don’t believe me? Google news stories about Joshua Tree or Yosemite, two of the most visited parks in the country and see what comes up. Go ahead, I have a minute… I’m sure the articles weren’t all pleasant. The reality of a shutdown is that there aren’t law enforcement agents and employees monitoring these special places thus leaving them wide open to all kinds of behavior. Sure, the people and the bad behavior happen while the government is open, but there are people there to address them. If a state governments want to chip in some cash for operating expenses, I’m all about keeping them open if some form of funding is available to ensure employees get paid and park operations can be covered.

Explore alternative locations.

If your favorite public land spot is closed, there’s probably some alternatives to check out. State Parks are open during a federal shutdown and can offer gorgeous trails and camping. If you’re looking for hiking that you’d normally find within the gates of the parks, check out state or national forests. County and city parks are another great alternative and are probably even closer to home. Plans may be ruined and alternatives may not be exactly nearby, but remember that people are going without paychecks and some are even working without them.

Educate the masses.

We must press on with education. We must start young with education. Every opportunity we get, we need to spread the words of Leave No Trace and other outdoor ethics based pieces of wisdom. We need to speak to the ways of the people who still call this land home, despite government boundaries. We need to respect the land and cultures as well as educate the general public on the importance of the preservation surrounding the Indigenous people of this continent. There is always something to learn and no time like the present to learn it.

More help.

It’s time to volunteer and donate as able. Public lands need all the help they can get, shutdown or not. Pledge your time and money to these places you want to see throughout your life and for future generations. Offer to build trails, clean up public lands, and educate the public through various programs. Always keep them clean, but always pick up other trash if able to do so. We’re all in this together. If we come together for the common good, we can achieve great things. Find that special organization building the parks up and help them reach their funding goal or find a way to help raise money for them if you can’t spare the cash. I’m going to try my best to be a part of the solution by helping more when possible and I urge you to do the same.

Another annual pass.

Maybe the fee is already too high for the annual pass? Maybe it’s not high enough? The debate over park entrance fees and the annual pass will never end. What we do know, it all goes to a good cause regardless of the way you pay it. Always pay your public land fees - even (especially) during a shutdown. Buy that annual pass, gift it to your outdoor friends if you can and they can’t. We have to support our public lands, shutdown or not.

#NatureWritingChallenge - The Year Ahead

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“Experiences you hope to have on public lands in 2019”

2019 - Topic 1

January 10, 2019

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.


“What are you looking forward to this year on public lands?”

More Hikes

Generally speaking, I didn’t hike as much as I would have liked last year. I’d like to use that as fuel to find even more public land hiking spots to explore. I have favorites that I’d like to visit again, but there are so many I haven’t even set foot on. I have several National Forests under 6 hours from home, so I’ll start with those as weekend adventure. From there, I’ll start finding more public land sites in cities I can fly to for cheap or on my way to another destination. I have high hopes of a summer road trip that involves many public lands from Texas to Oregon and back.

More Weekend Warrior Adventures

Speaking to the previous topic of more hikes, I plan to go hard on the weekends hiking as much as my schedule allows. I plan to hike once, but if I can fit a whole day of hiking in or multiple locations, I’m going to do it as often as I can.  I want to do more public land camping during 2019 weekends as well. This will hopefully include national and state public lands.

Education

I want to learn as much as I can this year. That’s a vague goal, so I’ll get specific. One, I want to learn about the history of the land - the people who were there first, how they lived, and the culture in general. What can we learn from them and how can we exist together without continuing to crush their culture? Two, I think the first item will lead me to wanting to learn more about the geological formations of public lands. Third, I plan to make note of plants and animals I see to identify and learn how they support the ecosystem. I am not uneducated on these topics, I just feel they deserve more of my time and that my time would be better spent on them in lieu of television or movies.

More Help

Trails need building, trash needs removing, and organizations need volunteers. I plan to devote more time to helping public lands stay beautiful. I intend to join trail cleanups and maintenance events locally, as well as out of town. I will continue to search for trash on my usual walks and hikes and make an effort to talk to people if they are violating the rules. I renewed my membership with Leave No Trace and I encourage you to join and support them if it is in your budget. I plan to support other conservation organizations throughout the year, as money is available in my budget.

Another Annual Pass

As a household, we purchase an America the Beautiful Pass every year. Whether or not we “get our money out of it” or not, I buy one. Even if I go once, I feel I’m getting a good bang for my buck. Knowing these places exist for me is simply enough.

Specific Experiences

  • Olympic National Park - I’d like to visit for the third year in a row and hike a new trail.

  • Mount Rainier National Park - I want to hike the Skyline Trail at the very least

  • Crater Lake National Park - A visit, even if just a scenic drive (Who am I kidding, I want to hike too)

  • Muir Woods National Monument - I’d like to see this place as well as others in the area

  • Lassen Volcanic National Park - I want to hike here, but would settle for a scenic drive as part of a bigger road trip

  • Columbia River Gorge - Hopeful to visit a few trails that have reopened since the fire

  • Big Thicket National Preserve - explore, since it’s not far

  • Various State Parks in Texas/Oklahoma/Arkansas - the easiest weekend warrior option

  • Hot Springs National Park - it’s close and I’m curious

  • Ouachita National Forest - A revisit because I didn’t get far last time

  • Arizona - TBD, just want to visit the desert and meet some people

  • Run a whole trail - nothing too extensive or long, but one whole trail in full

There are plenty of even more specific places and activities I’d like to do, but this is a general idea to lay it out for 2019. I want to generate less waste and visit public lands more efficiently both for the earth and my budget. I’m going to continue to document, track, and promote my adventures on public lands. I want to continue to share the knowledge I gain and promote a balanced experience for all people.

#NatureWritingChallenge - My Best Moment on #PublicLands in 2018

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“My Best Moment on #PublicLands in 2018”

SEASON 2, WEEK 14

December 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.


The second I saw this topic, I knew instantly I wanted to talk about my trip in the spring to the Olympic Peninsula. I know, I’ve talked at great length about the Olympic Peninsula and Mount Rainier, but I can’t get them out of my head and I could go on and on about them forever. I feel the same way about the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, the Redwood Forests, and Death Valley. But, in 2018, I visited the Olympic Peninsula twice and the first time was truly breathtaking and memorable in such a positive way.

I started 2018 with hiking and adventure goals. Though I’ve fallen short of what I was hoping for, the few trips I did take were more memorable than I could have imagined. I planned a spring solo trip to the northwest because I had been all over in 2017 and felt I needed to live up to those memories. I’m glad I planned the trip and tried to live up to the trips of 2017, because the trip to the Olympic Peninsula out shined the majority of them all.

I got a cheap flight for Easter weekend and had the Friday off from work, so what better weekend to head to the Northwest? I flew in on a Thursday night, around midnight, and drove to the Mt. Storm King Ranger Station. I had originally planned to park at the gate to Staircase and walk in, since the road was still closed, but As I had a last minute suggestion to hike Mt. Storm King and wanted to take it. I did a quick change at the restroom, and hiked to Marymere Falls. I was determined to enjoy some spring waterfalls, and this beauty did not disappoint. From there I hiked back to the giant rock at the base of the Mt. Storm King trail and headed up. I’m so glad I followed the advice and got to see Lake Crescent from above. What a treat. Being from Texas, the trail was a bit steep, but worth every ounce of sweat.

From Mt. Storm King, I headed west to Sol Duc Falls. It wasn’t too busy and there was still snow in the woods, so that was magical. From there I went to my little cabin I had reserved up near the the Ozette Ranger Station. The Lost Resort was home for a night and the cabin was more than adequate and very quiet. I had a good sleep and woke up to hike the Ozette Loop or Ozette Triangle. This loop trail was one of the highlights of my year, let alone this long weekend. I went from wet forests to open coastal prairie to the beach and back. Everything was so green and lively and muddy, the fresh smells of the ocean and the musty forest were everything I could have wanted during a weekend on the Olympic Peninsula. I made a quick stop at the Hoh Rain Forest area and did a few laps through the mossy trees. After my hike, I made my way down to Forks to eat and get a motel room. I settled in and then took a little drive to Rialto Beach to watch the sun sink into the Pacific. What. A. Day.

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I woke up, rested and ready for the rainy day ahead. I had plans to maybe hike to Second Beach, but I didn’t want to get too muddy before heading to the airport so I settled on just visited Ruby Beach as planned. Settled, as if it was “less than” is not what I meant at all because Ruby Beach is beyond beautiful. The rain and fog made the beach beyond memorable. I left there and had a nice breakfast at the Kalaloch Lodge before heading back to the city. From there, I made the trek back to Seattle to visit the flagship REI before catching a movie and heading to the airport.

This long weekend was quick, packed full of green scenery, and a period of time I’ll cherish forever. This trip left me wanting more, and so I made the trek back in October to experience the fall and see even more. I’ve been obsessed with the Pacific Northwest since I visited in 2008 and the second an opportunity arises to move up there, I’m gone.

#NatureWritingChallenge - A Memorable Rainy Day on Public Lands


“A Memorable Rainy Day on Public Lands”

SEASON 2, WEEK 12

November 29, 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.


April 1, 2018

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It was the final day of my long weekend in the Pacific Northwest. I had hiked the Ozette Triangle, visited Mt. Storm King and wanted a little more Olympic National Park before heading to my flight in Seattle.

I had spent Saturday night in Forks, after visiting Rialto Beach and spending time in the Hoh area so it was a great starting off point for this rainy day ahead. I put on my rain coat, checked out of the motel, and headed towards Ruby Beach. The rain was off and on, but when I got to the beach trail it was ON. It was sideways rain, but I was determined to enjoy Ruby Beach. I had visited Ruby Beach years before, and needed to revisit it. I was glad to see that you still have to climb over tons of fallen trees to get to the beach. It was gray and wet and completely perfect.

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From Ruby Beach, I went to the Kalaloch Lodge to grab breakfast. I had breakfast with a view of the ocean, the gray sky, and a bloody mary. It wasn’t very busy and I felt quite relaxed between my stops for the day. From the lodge, I made my way out to the Quinault area. I did a little hike just past the lodge, on the Wrights Canyon trail, in kind of a misty haze. I didn’t go very far before turning around, just so I knew I had enough time to see everything I wanted to see. From that trailhead, I moved east around the lake.

I stopped to take an obligatory photo with Bunch Falls and continued on to the Maple Glade trail which was one of the highlights of the entire weekend. The forest was the greenest green and the rain was light but prevalent with added drops that collected in the canopy. The skunk cabbage was prominent, the water was flowing, and the trail was magical.

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From Maple Glade, I finished the trek along the north side of Lake Quinault and back to the main road. The rain was picking back up, and the drive back towards Seattle was hit or miss with showers. I stopped at a rest area with the biggest trees I’d ever seen at a rest stop, it downpoured, and I continued onward to the REI downtown.

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The Pacific Northwest is my favorite place to be no matter the weather. Rain is expected, and every time I’ve visited I’ve been ready for it. I went in the spring and I got spring. The weather was cool, wet, windy, and completely perfect. I’d take a rainy day in Washington over a sunny day in Texas any day of the week.

#NatureWritingChallenge - A moment I am thankful for on public lands

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“A Moment I am Thankful for on Public Lands”

SEASON 2, WEEK 11

November 23, 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.


Since it’s Thanksgiving, I’m going to keep this short. One of the moments I’m most thankful for on public lands happened in October when I was visiting the gorgeous state of Washington. I had just parted ways with my new friend at Mount Rainier and was looking for something to do before going back to the airport so I headed west back to the Olympic Peninsula. I crossed a neat bridge called the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and made my way up to another cool bridge called the Hood Canal Floating Bridge. From there I drove to the Mt. Walker Viewpoint and there it was, the moment I’m forever thankful for… I walked from the parking lot to the viewpoint and saw Mount Rainier in the distance, peeking through the clouds. I remember seeing it, thinking to myself that I knew that mountain, and then reading the sign and just laughing. I was giddy with delight, really, to think I had been so close hours before was insane and wonderful all at once. I went from the South Lookout to the North, saw the amazing range of mountains, and then went back to the South to get more looks at Mount Rainier. There is just something about that place, it’s got a hold over me.

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Mt. Walker was a fun drive, a nice quiet place to see some views, and a great places to do a cleanup before heading a few miles up the road to Finnriver Farm & Cidery. I finished the night with the same mountains as I saw from up on high. Probably the second most memorable moment in recent memory. The whole day, really, was a moment. From waking up and seeing Mount Rainier at sunrise to meandering through the park all day, and then making may way back over to the Olympic Peninsula. WHAT A GREAT WAY TO SPEND A DAY.

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#NatureWritingChallenge - Reasons to #OptOutside this Black Friday. @REI

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“Reasons to #OptOutside this Black Friday”

SEASON 2, WEEK 10

November 15, 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.


This week’s topic is one I instantly loved upon reading. As someone who spent years working black Friday and seeing it get earlier every year, I’m so pleased retailers are FINALLY coming around to closing both Thursday and Friday to encourage people to get out of the stores and into life. REI focuses on opting to get outside with their #OptOutside campaign, I couldn’t be more excited to share why I will be opting outside and encouraging you to do the same.

Be Thankful

If you’re not working Thanksgiving or Friday, be thankful. So many people are stuck indoors or performing services and will not even have the option to Opt Outside. As someone who worked in retail forever, it was always a fun and tiring time to work Thursday night into Friday. The store managers really try to make it fun, and often bring in food, but it’s still not being home with family or out on the trail. I’m beyond thankful now that I do not have to work Thursday or Friday, and I will be damned if I am going to waste it indoors at a store to get a deal on something I do not really need.

Finances and Stuff

Do you really need that new TV? Is your old TV broken? I’m speaking from experience here, you don’t. I bought a black Friday TV once and it was completely unnecessary because it was on sale months later for the same price. Anything worth having and anything you need will be bought when it’s right. Do you need to literally push through people or wait in line to get the best deal on something that is engineered to be replaced in a few years? Aren’t there enough other deal days, and generally lower prices online regularly, anyway? I know it’s a very personal choice, but I’ve made the choice to say screw the bullshit sales and hello to my family and the local trails.

The Benefits of Nature

#OptOutside for YOU. DO IT FOR YOU. Be selfish. If you want to do it, just do it. It’s good for your health. It’s good for your spirit. There are studies underway to prove nature is good for your mental health and we know exercise is good, so get out there for YOU. I will be doing it for my mental health and for my physical health. Some family get together stress people out, use that as your reason to #OptOutside to clear your head.

Educational

I learn so much being outside - if it’s not on a sign or informational packet - it’s on my phone when I google a topic in my car at the trailhead. I learn so much about how things work, which plants are edible, which animals live where, and so on. The outdoors encourages education. Furthermore, I run into people who know much more than I do and thus learn from them. I learn from my online outdoor community too, which is how I even know about the #OptOutside idea.

#OptOutside to educate and encourage others to get outside too. Use your knowledge, if you have it, to educate and encourage others. Be the change you wish to see in the outdoor world. If you want to have better stewards of the land, we have to educate and encourage.

It’s for Everyone

You don’t need money (or a lot of money), fancy outdoor clothes, or to travel very far to #OptOutside. Anyone can get out there and enjoy the trails. Sure, scenic destinations sound great and the pictures in the marketing suggest mountains and stuff, but the local trails will do. I don’t have the time or money to head to a mountain or super scenic area, so I’ll be heading to a local state park or city park. The trail doesn’t have to be dirt to #OptOutside either, you can hit up your local paved nature true. Don’t let stereotypes or false expectations fool you into thinking you need to do one certain thing to #OptOutside.

In Conclusion

I’d rather fight the crowds on a popular trail than the crowds at Best Buy for a cheap ass TV. #OptOutside for you health and the health of our public lands. Get out there and love life, love time spent with friends or strangers, and enjoy some fresh air. #OptOutside for your reasons and yours alone. I hope more companies give their employees days off to get out with their families and into the outdoors. Happy trails.

#NatureWritingChallenge - Stranger danger! (just kidding)

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“A Memorable encounter with a stranger on public lands”

SEASON 2, WEEK 9

November 8, 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 can’t pinpoint one conversation with a stranger. I’m not always so good at reaching out to fellow public land users and being my normal outgoing self. I’m always friendly in that I say hello to people along the trails and will definitely engage in conversation if someone else starts one. If I’m headed a National Park, odds are I’m with someone and become even less outgoing because we’re focused on our time together. All in all, I think this topic of discussion has inspired to me to make it a point, or objective, to be more outgoing and take the time to have the random chat with other public land lovers.

I have a series of moments I do remember, that were brief, that I’ll share.

Arches - After hiking up to Delicate Arch, we were making our way back to the car and had a chat with a family from Michigan that noticed my friend’s shirt that had our alma mater displayed. I’ve had many conversations with people in Arches, actually, but nothing too lengthy overall. Always brief, but always friendly. I talked to a guy about taking morning photos, talked to an old couple about all of the places they’ve visited, and talked to people who saw my shirt (usually something about Michigan) and made an initial comment.

Clothing related - I have had more interactions based on the hat, shirt, or jacket I am wearing. I wear a LOT of Michigan gear, in fact it’s probably annoying to many at this point, but I love being from there and it is certainly one of the most recognizable states. I LOVE meeting people from Michigan, learning about their experiences there, and ultimately if they love it or not. I’ve been called out to from across a parking lot and stopped on a busy sidewalk. I love it.

Time related - I love being asked “what time did you start today?” when I’m coming back from an in/out trail as swarms of people are headed out. I’m an early starter, and I LOVE watching all of the people head in as I head out because I not-so-secretly love being asked how the trail was. I always love to give an opinion and try to read what type of hiker the person is, without being judgmental in a negative light. I love to give little tidbits to look for and point out great spots to take it all in. I love to share about any animals I’ve seen or flowery meadows. I love it.

I’ve had excellent chats with rangers at the various parks and monuments in the US, but I don’t count those because that’s more their job. I have had endless chats with hotel and campground staff, but again, it’s their job to engage. I generally don’t mind taking time to chat, and I would love to do it more often. So, if you see me out here, ask how the trail was!

#NatureWritingChallenge - Public Lands Wish List

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“YOUR PUBLIC LANDS WISH LIST”

SEASON 2, WEEK 8

November 1, 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.


Public lands are funded by the people which is why we all are entitled to enjoy them. Funded by the people is a broad concept but really just means taxes, private donations, and fees come together to pay the bills.

I’m going to address the things I’d love to see in public lands but may not make sense to everyone or may not be financially feasible.

Streamlined Management

I’d like to see all of our public lands managed in a more efficient manner. I envision one agency, under the Department of Interior, with various branches. Have a branch for the National Parks & Monuments, have a branch for the grazing lands, and have a branch for the forests. I know don’t know enough about it all, but I just imagine a more harmonious and streamlined management of all the lands we know and love. With streamlined management could come a streamlined leadership and staff. Not a reduction in number, but people all on the same team able to work together even easier.

Proper Funding

Simply put, we need to have our public lands made a priority and a budget fulfilled to address all of the back and future maintenance necessary for modern crowds. We need to pay our park rangers, park workers, and all people who manage/work the lands a fair wage. We need to invest in science and research and fully fund studies involving our public lands.

Transportation/Accessibility

Public lands are becoming popular, and really have always been popular. When I was at Mount Rainier a couple of weekends ago I was reading about the first car that came into the park and how modern cars flooded in and it was chaos. So many parks are overrun by the visitors that parking lots are full early on in the morning. Shuttles have popped up at a few locations, and seem to be alright, but more could be done.

More shuttles at more parks, more transportation from major (or nearby) cities with direct routes to public lands. More options for people that may have few options to get out to public lands. More urban public lands would be a great way to introduce even more people to how great they are and what they have to offer. More people that respect and know them means more future stewards.

Public lands need funding but they also need specific funding to be more ADA friendly. While it’s clear not every location can be accessed by everyone, many main places can be modified to allow more people of all abilities to see some of the best vistas on our public lands.

Education/Appreciation

My wish list focuses on inclusion, funding, and streamlining. There are endless other needs, but these are the stepping stones for so much more. With more funding and more accessibility, more education can happen and people can become more aware of how important these places are to our nation and the tribes of humans that hold them sacred to this day. We must teach the history of the land to ensure people respect where it came from and how important it is to so many to this day.

We can’t have it all, right now anyway, so we need to keep fighting the good fight. We need to keep visiting, keep buying annual passes, keep respecting the land, and keep voting for people who make public lands a priority.

#NatureWritingChallenge - A memorable animal encounter on public lands

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“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

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“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.

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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.

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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

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“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

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“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

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“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.

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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 - 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.