8/16/2016: Too briefMy time in Shenandoah was too brief. I didn’t get to spend the time in the park that I would have liked. It was also one of the parks that I had previously visited and so I didn’t feel the pressure to spend every waking hour running on the trails.One of the things that I have learned from this trip is the balance between being outside and being with friends and family. While the pendulum definitely swung in favor of family and friends on this portion of the trip, it was definitely worth it!8/15/2016: Another group hikeOne of my mentors from college lives in Charlottesville and I have been lucky to stay connected with him and his family. While he was at work I went for a hike with his wife and two of their sons. It was a super fun hike, because I remember when their youngest, Alex, was two years old. At ten, he is incredibly different. Their middle son, Zach, is also an incredibly talented runner who I once paced for a 10k several years back. While I wasn’t teaching them anything new it was fun to share my love of the parks with some younger folks who will hopefully remember these experience and carry them on into the future.8/14/2016: Group hike to HawksbillOne of my favorites hikes in the park is up to Hawksbill Peak. It is incredibly easy, as it is only one mile from the parking area. The great part about it is that it takes you to the highest part of the park and gives you an incredible view of the surrounding area. The work for reward ratio is very high in favor of the reward.I was super excited to be joined by my friends Ory, Danny, Joy, Biz, Todd, Sara and Kathleen. It is one thing to enjoy these parks by yourself, it is quite another to enjoy them with friends.8/13/2016: CharlottesvilleShenandoah presented an interesting challenge for a couple of reasons, the main one being that so many friends and supporters of the trip lived in Charlottesville. I felt like as much as I wanted to visit the park I also had to see the people that had helped make it happen.8/12/2016: Perseid meteor showerRumor had it that the Perseid meteor shower would be at its finest on the late night of the 11th and early morning of the 12th, I planned to be on top of Spy Rock, just a bit outside of Shenandoah National Park, but a place with a rewarding 360 degree view of the surrounding area.The meteors were certainly good, but not as many as I was hoping for, definitely lucky that the clouds cleared up and provided a night sky that was clear.8/11/2016: The Blue Ridge ParkwayOne of my life goals has been to drive the entirety of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It goes Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Shenandoah National Park. It is a 469 miles drive and most of the speed limit on the park way is between 35 and 45 miles per hour. I finished about 100 miles the night before and thus only had about 11 hours to go before I would be in Shenandoah.I made two pitstops, one was to watch my friend Meghan O’Leary compete in the Olympic finals of the two person sculls, in rowing. I magically got service while at the viewpoint for Mt. Jefferson. The other pit stop was for breakfast in Boone, NC. I went to a local bagel shop that totally sucked.The parkway is one of the US Scenic Byways, and it certainly lives up to the name, there are some majestic views and overlooks along the way, almost all are worth stopping at.8/10/2016: On top of the worldI woke up before dawn to start hiking to Mount Cammerer and arrived there without anyone else nearby. It was clear and beautiful. I enjoyed it for a bit and then hiked down to head off to the next adventure. I had been hearing a lot about Charlie’s Bunion, so I drove most of the way around the park and then made a trail run out of it and was able to get out there and back relatively quickly. I had planned to take one more hike to Chimney’s but I had already put 18-miles on my legs and it just didn’t look like I could make it happen, so I went up to Clingman’s Dome with the hope of having a good view. It was socked in again!8/9/2016: Cades CoveI woke up early and headed to Cades Cove on the western side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was definitely a slower day. I went to the visitor’s center, walked around for a little bit and soaked in a little bit of the slower Great Smokies views. I headed to the backcountry office for a permit so that I could be up on Mount Cammerer the following morning and made for my campsite later in the day.I kind of like heading out for a hike at 5pm to arrive just before sunset. I get to experience a full day and then just have a little hike before bedding down for the night. I made it to the Appalachian Trail shelter and there were several thru hikers that were spending the night, I chatted with them as well as some trail crew folks who were up working on the nearby trails.8/8/2016: Wild animals and fellow explorersI went to take the hike that I had planned for the previous day. It was a part of the park that the rangers said was rarely frequented, they also warned that there might be wild pigs and that the trail would be hard to follow due to downed trees.All of those things were true, I saw zero people, I ran, literally, into several wild pigs and nearly lost the trail due to some downed trees. Perhaps more frightening than the pigs and nearly lost trail was the copperhead that I saw curled up on the bridge. I was ten feet away from it and about to cross the bridge that it lay waiting on, I had stopped to take a picture of the bridge and noticed a strange pattern on the bridge, and there it was.I left Congaree to go have lunch with some fellow National Park explorers, Project59NPS, who are trying to take their two kids to see all 59 of the National Parks. We grabbed lunch, exchanged stories and shared our love for National Parks before I had to continue my drive to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.I arrived at Great Smokies with the hope of heading up to Clingman’s Dome. It was completely socked in with fog, so I drove down the mountain a little bit and was rewarded with an epic sunset.8/7/2016: FortuitousMy plan was to go and hike for 10-15 miles with an early morning start. As I was passing the visitor’s center I noticed a sign advertising a canoe trip that was supposed to start in fifteen minutes, I asked the nearest ranger if they had any extra space on the trip. He informed me that it wasn’t likely, but that if I wanted to hang around for a little bit, they might have a space open up. Luck was on my side and I was able to hop on the trip.The ranger and several volunteers drove the canoes and kayaks several miles down the road and we caravanned there. It was cool to be on the water, there were snakes in trees that we had to canoe under, our guide saw some gar in the water and it was just a cool way to see the park. There were signs on the trees to mark the path and some of them were ten to fifteen feet up the trees, we asked how they got there and he said they were placed there by canoe goers when the water was high and flooding!8/6/2016: Congaree National ParkI arrived at Congaree National Park with the hopes that it would not be completely mosquito ridden, like Everglades National Park. There was a scale outside of the visitor’s center that rated the mosquito volume on a scale from 1 – All Clear to 6 – War Zone. We were luckily at a 2 – Mild, so I could camp without being devoured.They have an elevated boardwalk that you can walk around and be about 10 feet above the swamp, I walked around on that and got my bearings of the area for my adventuring over the next several days.8/5/2016: A day of drivingMy day was spent driving. I drove to around Orlando where I found a car dealer that could give me an estimate on the damage done to the car. After that it was onward to Charleston, SC where I stayed with a buddy from my fraternity for some poker and a night out on the town.Being in a town is so shocking, my body just isn’t used to it. It’s not used to the lights, to the staying up late. It’s all so foreign.8/4/2016: A last hurrah in southern FloridaI spent the previous night at the condo with the parents of one of my elementary school friends, Micah. It was unreal to see and spend time with people that you haven’t seen in over twenty years. They are both retired and their son is now a pilot for Hawaiian airlines.The rest of the day was spent driving to Ochopee, FL. Ochopee is the site of the smallest post office in the United States and I had a couple of letters that would be arriving there. I stopped in there and then made a quick pit stop on the western side of Everglades which was unexciting, before heading back to Miami to stay with a college friend, Yasir for the night. I had stopped in a Starbucks to do some work on the computer and after I had been there a little over an hour, a lady came into the store asking if anyone had a gray suburban. I did, so I walked up and she informed me that she had hit it with her car. Wonderful. Just wonderful.8/3/2016: Dry Tortugas National ParkIn what was one of my worst interactions with a person in the entire trip, I was prevented from spending the night out on Dry Tortugas. The lady on the phone told me that all the camping spots were full and that they didn’t have space to take me. As I was walking up the stairs the guy behind me told me that he had planned on camping, but had to cancel due to some family issues. I let him go in front of me in line with the hopes that I could take his camping spot. The lady behind the counter, who was the same lady that I spoke with on the phone was rude, disagreeable and frustrating to work with. She would not, under any circumstance allow me to camp, even though the guy in front of me had just cancelled his reservation.Dry Tortugas was certainly cool, but I was there for such little time that I didn’t get to enjoy a sunrise, a sunset, or the night sky. I was pretty upset.8/2/2016: Welcome (back) to MiamiI woke up early and headed to the visitor’s center to turn in my Junior Ranger stuff. Afterwards it was back on the ferry to St. Thomas. Traveling via ferry and cab is always interesting. Everything is so disorganized, you just have to go with the flow and lower your expectations for efficiency.The most exciting part of the day occurred when I got on my American Airlines flight to find an article in the in-flight magazine that I had written. I knew it would be in the August issue, it was just very cool to finally see it in person!The least exciting part of the day occurred when I got into Miami several hours late and had to drive four hours down to Key West so that I could catch the boat out to Dry Tortugas.8/1/2016: Last full dayI spent my last full day on the island hopping from beach to beach. The beaches on St. John really are incredibly beautiful. You can see a turtle every day, and it provides some of the clearest most amazing water that I have ever seen. Due to the ease of access, it also means that you often have to deal with a lot of people as well, but I suppose that it is a small price to pay for the sheer beauty of the location.7/31/2016: Rain, rain, go awayRain was promised and rain was delivered. I hiked up Caneel Hill to get a good view of the overlook over Cruz Bay. It was completely socked in. Right as I got to the top of the hill it started to thunder quite heavily, as I was the highest point on the mountain I decided to hike down before figuring out if that thunder was also going to turn into lightning.Most of the rest of the day was dedicated to making a Zion King video to invite Ellen to come to Acadia National Park to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.7/30/2016: Waterlemon Cay and RamsheadThere was an incoming tropical depression that looked like it was going to cause some bad weather and perhaps put an end to any fun outdoor activities. Erin and I headed out to Waterlemon Cay to snorkel around the island. Waterlemon is of specific historic note, because it was not actually part of St. John, so when the local government put an end to dueling, the two parties would agree to meet at Waterlemon Cay, since it was not under control of St. John and would have their duels out there.Afterwards, we made the trip back out to Ramshead where I could take pictures with my camera that was now emptied of photos. My plan to camp out was foiled by the bad weather, so we prepared ourselves for the incoming onslaught of rain.7/29/2016: Sailing and mangrovesThe morning started out with an impromptu sailing trip. One of Erin’s friends had some of his clients cancel on him, so he decided to make a locals only trip. We went out to Hurricane cove and went snorkeling in the mangroves. It was perhaps the coolest snorkeling that I have ever done in my entire life. Mangroves are well known as nurseries for small fish, there are places for them to hide and it is difficult for larger fish to get into that space. We swam around and then came back to the boat for some snacks and drinks before heading back into town.I caught a taxi and spent the night at Cinnamon Bay, the only campsite on the island in the National Park. It was less than ideal as a campsite, there was a fair amount of trash and it seemed to be fairly mismanaged, I was not surprised to hear that in October they would be having a different company taking over the job.7/28/2016: Reef Bay TrailOne of the great parts about St. John is the bus service. For $1 you can hop on a bus and go all over the island. I hopped on and then headed for the Reef Bay Trail. I took the Reef Bay trail to the Reef Bay factory where Lady Bird Johnson once visited when she was the first lady. After that I continued to Europe Point, Lameshur Bay and made a 10-mile trek that would take me out to Ramshead. As I was hiking out to Ramshead my camera ran out of space, which sucks because I wanted to take a lot of pictures when I got up there.I came back to beach, relaxed, hopped into the water and then decided to take the bus back to down after buying an ice cold Coca Cola classic from the local rasta man who was selling drinks and artwork.7/27/2016: Ruins and star partiesAll over the island of St. John are sugar mill ruins. One of the interesting things, though, is that there was also a ruin of a slave school that was one of the first of its kind to ever be built. Most of the sugar mills were used to make rum. It was the most efficient way to move sugar.After exploring around the ruins for awhile we made for a star program that the National Park Service was putting on. They had two little telescopes that they closed in on Jupiter, so that you could see the rings. It was mediocre, the ranger who put together the slide show presentation was rather devastating. She hadn’t changed the presentation in 6-years. I know this, because when she opened the presentation on her computer you could see the ‘last modified on’ date.7/26/2016: Hikes and beachesI went for a short hike up Fish Gut, which is basically an old streambed. There isn’t a ton of wildlife on the island, so there really wasn’t too much to see. I stopped by the visitor’s center to pick up the Junior Ranger book and headed to the two nearby beaches.7/25/2016: USVIMost of the day was spent traveling from Miami to St. John. I found some cheap parking from a website that contracts with local hotels to let you use their extra space as a cheaper parking option.After flying from Miami to St. Thomas I took a cab to the Red Hook ferry where I then hopped on the ferry to head over to St. John. After landing in St. Thomas you are immediately transported to island time. Things move a little bit slower and more inefficiently.
I arrived on St. John, got off the ferry and then found the nearest watering hole where I waited for my UVA friend Erin to get off work. While sitting down I found Pokemon and talked to the people sitting next to me who had worked in their local school district as a janitor and English teacher for over 20 years.7/24/2016: Southern FloridaBetween the mosquitoes and the lack of transportation to Biscayne I spent the morning attempting to do some hikes in Everglades and was thwarted by the bugs. I motored on until I saw a water moccasin on the trail and then determined that it was time to turn my tail and head back to the car.My only solace for the day was a stop at Robert is Here, which is a famous smoothie and fresh fruit stand. Their smoothies are the best that I have had in my entire life. I made my way for Miami, where I would be staying with a college buddy for the night before heading to USVI in the morning.7/23/2016: Canoeing in BiscayneMy plan was to go on a canoe trip in Biscayne and then take the boat out to the Bocachita Lighthouse. Everything lined up perfectly, it would be a lot of time out on the water, but I would really get to experience the park.The canoe trip went off flawlessly, I got some great pictures, the clouds were magnificent and it was a great time. I came back to the visitor’s center to head to the boat that would take me out to the island. They cancelled the trip because of the possibility of impending weather.The weather never came, I walked and played Pokemon, dejectedly.7/22/2016: Big CypressDue to the overwhelming mosquitoes in Everglades, I tried to find a new spot to camp. Luckily, I found a spot in Big Cypress that was not that bad at all. I spent most of the day at the Shark Valley portion of the park where you can rent a bike and ride down a 15-mile loop to see alligators and get a nice overlook of the surrounding area. One alligator hopped out on the trail as it devoured a fish less than 10 yards away from where I had been riding.7/21/2016: MosquitoesThe little bugs in Everglades National Park were the worst that I have ever encountered in my entire life, ever. They were out for literal blood and they got a ton of it. I slept quite fitfully as it was also incredibly sweaty. When I finally woke up in the morning I headed to the littlegeneral store in Flamingo and was rewarded with a view of a crocodile and some manatees in the harbor. They pretty much made everything worth it.I headed back to Biscayne, downloaded PokemonGo and did the only thing that I could do given the lack of options, I caught Pokemon.7/20/2016: BiscayneUnderwhelming is a word that too excitedly describes my experience at Biscayne National Park. The boat only went out on the weekend. You couldn’t camp out there. The one upside is that they so heavily promoted Pokemon Go that I began considering downloading it. There also was nowhere to camp so I had to drive several hours away to the tip of the Everglades to have a spot for the night.7/19/2016: On The Road, againI landed in Atlanta after a weekend full of wedding festivities and then began the drive that would take me down to the three Florida National Parks and my jumping off point for the US Virgin Islands and St. John. I arrived at Boca Raton to stay with a friend late in the evening on the 19th after stopping to see some friends in Tampa for a quick lunch stop.7/13 – 7/18/2016: Weddings AboundAnother one of my friends, Layton and his fiancé Megan had their wedding planned for when I was on the trip. Layton is one of my good hiking and outdoorsy buddies, and I was in the wedding. So the schedule had to be modified and I had to go. Luckily, I still had a flight voucher from when United had overbooked one of my flights, so I was able to fly for free!7/12/2016: WaterfallsI woke up with the sun, hiked for my car and then made for Ramsey Cascades, some of the more magnificent waterfalls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I had to jog most of the way as I also had to drive an additional five hours to end the day in Atlanta.7/11/2016: The SmokiesI arrived in the Smokies with just enough time to book a backcountry camping spot, drive there, cook dinner and hike in. There were zero people where I camped and I was quite happy. Due to the impending rain I set up both my hammock and my tent while sitting in the hammock to fiddle around on my ukulele. Unfortunately I am not very skilled and have only mastered a very lame version of the Jurassic Park theme song.7/10/2016: Friends and DrivingAs I left Charlottesville I made a pit stop in Richmond to see some of my dear friends. Since, I started the trip they had a second child. One of the true delights of this trip has been the frequency with which I have gotten to see friends from near and far. This was no different, Bernard, Elizabeth and Elizabeth’s sister Deborah and I caught up over lunch while entertaining the kids.One of the things that I value in friendship is someone who will continually push me to grow. While this last year has been filled with incredible natural beauty, it has also been filled with confusion. I come back from the woods and hear about the Presidential options, bombings across seas and the killings of African-Americans and police officers. It’s honestly disheartening and terrifying. My year has been filled with kindness and generosity from friends and strangers. To see so much pain and violence and hate whenever I come back from camping makes my heart heavy. Spending time with friends, trying to understand, and trying to figure out how I can make the world a better place is something that I will always value.7/8 – 7/9/2016: Difficult decisionsOne of the tricky decisions I’ve had to make in this trip is whether or not to attend the weddings of friends throughout this trip. There are two major costs, time and money. If it were up to me I would always go to a wedding if it were possible. To be invited to witness a couples most special day is something that I consider to be an honor and something that I do my best to make sure that I can take part of. This was one of those moments, I was driving east and it worked out that I could stop in Charlottesville to see my friends Erik and Rachel get married. I saw friends, celebrated the wedding and left just as quickly as I could come to visit.7/6 – 7/7/2016: Mammoth Cave National ParkUnfortunately most of the time I was at Mammoth Cave it was raining. Fortunately, a good portion of that time was spent in the came where it was pretty easy to avoid getting rained on. It was in Mammoth Cave that I also met one of the coolest rangers that I’ve met the entire trip. He was a 5th generation tour guide of Mammoth Cave and his family lived in what is now the park when it became a park!7/4 – 7/5/2016: Bad decisions on the 4th of JulyI had stayed up too late the night before watching Meru, which is incredible. My buddy, John, and I woke up early to run in the annual Peachtree 10k. I decided to do the race in my full cotton onesie. Up until mile four it seemed like a good idea. People were happy and smiling and supportive and I was laughing. Then the heat started to sink in. I had barely sweat at this point and then it was as if all of my pores decided to open up the faucets and expel all of the liquid from my body at once. What was once a dry onesie turned into a onesie that felt like it had been dunked into a swimming pool and with that I began chugging water to make sure that I did not pass out on the run.7/3/2016: PedicuredFor the first time in my life I treated myself to a spa and pedicure. I woke up early took a bath/sauna session and then went for my first pedicure in life.Afterwards, as I was walking to my car I heard someone behind me. ‘Ma’am.’ I kept walking to my car, as I am a man and they clearly weren’t talking to me. ‘Ma’am!’ Hmm, someone must be ignoring him. ‘Excuse me, ma’am!!’ Oh wait, my hair is down. He thinks I’m a lady. I turned around to see a man with a completely embarrassed look on his face. He was attempting to help me register to vote, instead he ran away.The rest of the day was spent driving to Atlanta, GA where I would be spending the weekend with friends.7/2/2016: Hiking and sweatingArkansas in early July at a place known for Hot Springs may not have been the best idea. I went for a hike in the morning, tested out the Hot Springs and then made for another hike. It was basically a day of sweating.7/1/2016: Hot SpringsMy arrival to Hot Springs National Park was less than ideal. When I got to the one and only campground it was full. There were seven campsites that were empty but had orange cones in front so that I couldn’t park in them. I parked in a picnic area next to the campground to look at my phone and figure out where I could go camp nearby.I was parked and looking at my phone when a NPS Law Enforcement ranger turned on his lights as if to pull me over. Wonderful! Apparently I can’t park there at night. I explained to him that I was looking at my phone to find a place to camp yet he still seemed determine to run my name and license plate, which I thought was a bit aggressive.
6/26/2016 – 6/30/2016: A New CarOn my drive from Badlands National Park to Hot Springs National Park I made a quick stop at my parents house in Missouri, just north of Kansas City. I traded cars with my parents for the year and they wanted to trade again, so I emptied the entire car and repacked everything into a smaller car. What was supposed to be a two-day stop turned into a four day stop. Either way it was good to see and catch up with the family.6/25/2016: A Nebraska PitstopWhen I lived in South Dakota I always meant to raft the Niobrara in Nebraska. The Niobrara is a part of the National Park Service and is a National Scenic River. Andrew, Lindsey and I opted to see it in the coolest way possible, by innertubing it!6/24/2016: Notch TrailOne of the cool Instagram photos I had seen of Badlands National Park featured a large wooden ladder and I was on a quest to find that trail and hike it. I found it and it is called the Notch Trail. Definitely worth the visit when you come to Badlands.6/23/2016: Photo SphereOn my way through Badlands I was on a mission to take photo sphere pictures to post on Google Earth and share with other people so that they can experience the parks.I drove to Rosebud Reservation to visit one of my old colleagues from when I taught elementary school and caught up about how the community, kids were doing. I got to take part in a traditional Lakota sweat, which was something that I used to do on a weekly basis. It was fun to go back.I spent the night camping in the backcountry and caught a magnificent sunset.6/22/2016: BadlandsI made my way from Rapid City to Badlands National Park. On the way out I stopped at the Wounded Knee Massacre site. I had driven by before, but in the context of visiting the parks it was striking to me that it wasn’t preserved as a site to protect and acknowledge the history.I spent the night camping at Sheep Table Mountain that was one of the most beautiful places that I have encountered on this trip.6/21/2016: Wild Cave TourAndrew and I went out to Wind Cave National Park to do the 4-hour wild cave tour and it was awesome. I have never been spelunking and I don’t know that I would do it all the time, but it was very cool to do it with a Park Ranger who knew everything super well.6/18/2016 – 6/20/2016: Rapid CityI spent the first part of the week catching up with one of my Teach For America buddies, Andrew, and his wife Lindsey. They showed me around their new place in Rapid City and we went up to Harney Peak to hike with some of our other Teach For America friends Anne and her husband Jeremy.
6/17/2016: Cave toursI woke up in my hammock at 6:30am fully covered in sun. It was delightful. I hiked back to the car and was met with a buffalo about 400 yards before the car. He was nervous and very not happy about my presence, so I gave him a very very very wide birth.I went on a short hike and then hurried to the visitor’s center for the first of my two hikes into the cave. I did Garden of Eden first, went to my car for water and snacks and was back in the cave within 20-minutes on the Fairground loop. The cave is unlike most other caves I have visited. It is super dry, there are no stalactites and stalagmites, the elements are mainly popcorn and boxwork and it is magnificent.Afterwards I went on a short hike up Wind Cave Canyon before heading up to Spearfish to meet up with some of my Teach For America friends who live in Rapid City. We got together for dinner, beers and reminiscing on times bygone.6/16/2016: Wind Cave #48/59We woke up to watch the sunrise at Devil’s Tower and I wanted to wait until 8am when the visitor’s center opened so that I could continue my Junior Ranger badge quest. To help facilitate the waiting I decided to take a nap on a bench on the tower trail that goes around Devil’s Tower. I got my Junior Ranger badge and we were off.We made it to Wind Cave shortly after 11am and I hopped in line and got a ticket to the 12pm natural entrance tour of Wind Cave, which I had been on many many years prior. I was excited, because it had been so long that it would feel like a new experience. I also put myself down as an alternate for a Candlelight Tour.I walked through, and was amazed by the boxwork and different formations. I came out hoping that someone hadn’t showed for the Candelight tour, but no dice. I watched the park video, got my Junior Ranger badge and then we headed to our campsite for a major car clean up. Trevor’s sister was driving in with a vehicle and we would be dividing for the remainder of the trip. We unloaded the car, divvied out our belongings and then waited for Jamie to arrive.6/15/2016: Drive to Devil’s TowerBefore we left the Continental Divide and headed east, there were a couple of things that I needed to do in Grand Teton. I needed to take a picture in front of the National Park sign, I needed to finish my Junior Ranger booklet and I wanted to stop by the Chapel of Transfiguration one last time. We got it done and then got on the road, a little later than I was aiming for.We needed to change the oil and thankfully after driving for 6-hours we were able to find a place in Casper, Wyoming. I had a rare fast food meal and was reminded just how delightful a frisco burger from Hardees can be. Afterwards we made our way to Devil’s Tower National Monument and arrived just as the sun was beginning to set.6/14/2016: FriendsWe woke up and had coffee with Ryan and Anna and chatted about life before hitting the road. Do you work? Do you travel? How do you best combine both desires to have nice things and spend your time in cool places?We kicked off our last trip through Yellowstone by hitting up Mammoth Hot Springs, which we had surprisingly never stopped at, the parts where it is active are incredible. I can’t imagine seeing it in the late 1800’s. Afterwards we stopped at Grand Prismatic and got some surprisingly good views from the boardwalk as the wind was kicking enough of the steam off that you could see the colors really really well. Our final Yellowstone stop was Old Faithful and the Upper Geyser basin, where I met up with four friends from UVa Blair, Leigh, Kathy and Nikki. We watched Old Faithful go and then split ways and agreed to meet up in Victor, ID where they would be staying for the night.We drove down to Jackson where I dropped off Trevor with his high school buddy Brian. I went and met up with some friends Mariah and Liz. We had dinner, a drink and went to check out the sprinter van that Mariah’s friends were outfitting to live in. It was a sweet set up, and represented something that I wanted to strive for. Is it weird that I want to live in a van? Is it only weird because of Chris Farley’s motivational speeches about living in vans down by rivers?Afterwards I made the drive over the pass to Victor, Idaho where I met up with Blair, Leigh, Kathy and Nikki. We watched the Hateful Eight and chatted before going to bed. It is incredibly nice and relaxing to do normal people things. Sitting in and watching a movie with friends is incredibly foreign to me. Its enjoyable, but just rarely happens in my life.6/13/2016: There and Back AgainOne of the big reasons for going up to Montana was to pick up our bicycles and some other things we had left at Alan and Fran’s house. It was also a nice happenstance that it fell on my birthday and we were able to catch a ride up Going to the Sun Road without cars!With that being done it was back down to Yellowstone. The morning started off with failure. I wanted to get a bear claw from Polebridge Bakery and they were closed! Travesty. We made a quick stop in the park so that I could do the Junior Ranger program and then started heading to Yellowstone.The drive was as expected, except for a stop in Bozeman to meet up with a Teach For America friend, Loy. She was working at a sweet little bar in Bozeman so we stopped in for a drink and quick dinner so that we could at least. We pulled into Yellowstone near dark and stayed with our wolf watching friends, Ryan and Anna, who we met when we were in Yellowstone in October.6/12/2016: Back in the SaddleOur plan for the morning was to raft on the western boarder of the park on the Flathead River. I opted not to raft. Instead I DUCKIED!!! Our friend from the Grand Canyon, Jeff, had a duckie and I was reunited with my one true love ‘duckying’ in white water. For the most part it was a clean run, I didn’t tip, or fall in. The only minor inconvenience was when I got pinned on a rock and had to put a leg out to push off of one of the rocks.We finished our river extravaganza and then made for dinner and snacks. Jeff, Mary, Annika, Trevor and I went to dinner at the Three Forks Grill, which is owned by one of our other Grand Canyon buddies, Tim. The food was delicious and it was good to catch up with old friends. Afterwards we returned to Fran and Alan’s house where we filled in a hole with a huge pile of dirt and then retired to the house rather tired.6/11/2016: GOING TO THE SUN ROAD!The morning started out with being dressed and ready to bike at 8am. We would be doing something that I had had on my list since the beginning of the trip. We would be biking Going to the Sun Road in Glacier. In Alan style we each had skis, splitboards, or snowshoes attached to our bikes and backpacks so that we could get to the summit and then hike up further.It is about a 12-mile ride uphill and it is brutal. My legs were shot after 7-miles and it was sheer force of will that took me to the top. Riding up hill with a backpack full of food, extra warm clothing and snowshoes is not the ideal way to do it. The best part is that there were no cars on the road and that we could get all the way to the top, they hadn’t yet opened the road to vehicular traffic!On the ride down I opted to ditch the extra warm clothes and wear my ‘Purple Mountain Majesty’ onesie the entire way. I could see the joy and laughter on the faces of bikers going up the road as I descended. You cold see that it took a second for it to register in their mind that I was wearing a shiny purple jumpsuit. Once they realized it I nearly always got a chuckle or a headshake, hopefully it made their ride up just a little bit easier.6/10/2016: Birthday!The morning started out quite early when I woke up just after 2am to see that the Milky Way was wishing me a birthday. The stars were like the candles on a sky wide birthday cake. I woke up at 430am to make it to the car by 5am to drive out to the Lamar Valley to watch the wolves. We had heard that there were wolf pups that were visible from Slough Creek. We pulled in and I immediately made for the people with large spotting scopes. The pups came out!After that we made a quick stop in Mammoth Hot Springs so I could buy some National Park stamps and then made for West Yellowstone. My friends, Ory and Michelle, sent me some birthday gas/food money so I indulged and had an Americano and two truffles at a coffee shop in West Yellowstone and then got a massive Quizno’s chicken carbonara (my favorite). Much of the day was spent driving to Glacier National Park where we met up with our Grand Canyon crew. Our friend Susan had a cool cabin so we went ate snacks, and sat out by Lake McDonald skipping rocks and jumping in the surprisingly warm water.6/9/2016: On the road to YellowstoneI slept in the car, because at 3am the sky opened up and started raining. My plan to sleep on the picnic table was quickly thwarted and I ran to the car. We had to get up several hours afterwards, so it wasn’t terrible. I wanted to be at the Mormon Row historic district at sunrise (5:30am). It’s a good thing we showed up so early, because the rain started coming down after we had been there for 20-minutes.
We then left for Yellowstone to look for camping. The drive is inconceivably beautiful. You drive the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Parkway from Grand Teton to Yellowstone and it is just magical. We passed waterfalls, rivers, geysers, bison, pronghorns, elk.We arrived at Canyon and the campground was full, so we opted for backcountry at Ice Lake. We tried to hike Washburn Mountain, but the parking lot was full. We tried to do the Fairy Falls trail to overlook Grand Prismatic, it was closed. We went to Old Faithful and the upper geyser basin, nothing was erupting for 40-minutes. Fail, fail, fail. We headed back to Mount Washburn and the 6-mile round trip hike rewarded us with epic views. We went down to go to the brink of the Upper Yellowstone Falls viewing and Artist’s Point, both places that you must see. After that it was a short to Ice Lake where we would be camping. Dinner was cooked in the parking lot, so that we didn’t have to worry about having food with us in bear country.6/8/2016: Death Canyon and Inspiration PointOur plan was to get up early and go hike Death Canyon with our friend from Capitol Reef, Zach. We didn’t get up early. We left closer to 10am and started on the hike at around 11am. We did 4-miles up Death Canyon to the ranger cabin and got some incredible overlook views of Phelps Lake. We jumped in the snowmelt fed river at the top and then returned to the cars.Brian and Stephanie had to head out while Trevor, Zach and I made for Inspiration Point, near Jenny Lake. Zach had to had out early so Trevor and I continued on. I made a pit stop at Hidden Falls, which was incredible. It was absolutely roaring. The sun was shining through the mist and there was no one else there, it was ideal. Inspiration Point, was cool but not as inspiring as I was expecting.We headed back to the car and I cooked some spaghetti, shirtless, on the back of the car. A bus full of Chinese tourists from Shanghai could not get enough of it. They came over to take pictures and stir the pasta. We did our best to communicate, but there was definitely a language barrier.6/7/2016: Drive to TetonThe drive wasn’t too terrible it was several hours from Cheyenne to the Grand Teton’s but not a difficult drive on the relatively empty Wyoming roads. We got into the park and immediately went for a hike to String and Leigh Lake. It was a hot day and my hope was that we would catch a moose in the water. Instead we caught some storm clouds and a little bit of drizzle. I was able to make it to the far side of Leigh Lake where I found this sweet ranger patrol cabin called ‘The Jewel of the Tetons’.Afterwards we met up with Trevor’s buddy, Brian, to go hike up Garnet Canyon. There wasn’t a lot of light left in the day so we hiked fast. About 2/3 of the way up to the canyon we saw a black bear that looked incredibly brown, foraging on some grass above the trail. He seemed completely unphased by our presence and he was a good distance away, so we continued along the way. We made it to the beginning of Garnet, snapped some photos and then had to turn around. On the hike down I heard some scrambling on a tree and looked down to see three black cubs running up a tree, uh oh…where is mama? She was just down the hill and luckily didn’t feel threatened. I talked nicely to her, thanked her for being a good mama and then we continued down the trail.We were also pretty exhausted and it was 11pm, the only place open in Jackson was a pizza place where we scarfed down some food and then returned to Brian’s place where we crashed for the night.6/2-6/6/2016: Wedding FestivitiesOne of my good college buddies was getting married in Louisville. Luckily I had a flight voucher from when I had been bumped on a flight. I had to play with the days a little bit so that I didn’t have to pay extra money, but I got it to work.The plan was to fly from Denver to Cleveland, meet one of my other college buddies Stephen (who was just out in Rocky) drive down to his mom’s house in Hudson and then make the 4-5 hour drive to the wedding on Friday afternoon.Stephen works for the New York Times and has long ridiculous hair. I too have long hair and an absurd beard. We walked into the art gallery for the festivities and got many looks from people who were wondering if we should be in attendance. The groom, Andy, gave us a big bear hug and three random people appeared out of nowhere to take our picture.The wedding and reception was beautiful. It took place in a catholic church in Louisville and then we went out to their family farm for the reception. It rained right when we got there and then cleared up for a night of good food, good friends and good dancing. It is entertaining to be at a wedding and have people ask you ‘where do you live?’, quite often my response was ‘in my dad’s truck.’ I probably had a little bit too much fun with it, but it was that or talk about finance and how much ‘you have under management.’Sunday was filled with visiting Muhammed Ali’s childhood home as he had recently passed away and driving back up to Hudson before flying out the following day.6/1/2016: Last Day in RockyMy last day in Rocky was much less exciting than expected. My plan was to get up early and hike up to Dream Lake for sunrise, but I was just too tired and couldn’t make it happen. I woke up, made some bacon and then made my way to Bierstadt Lake. It was much more forested and less open than the lakes from the other day, so I didn’t get to see as much.Afterwards I made one final drive through the park before heading down to Denver where I would spend the night. It was good to see friends and have a dinner of wings but I yearned for the stars in Rocky, the animals, and the babbling brook.
5/31/2016: Moraine ParkAs I drove into the park I was met with a line of cars that was fifteen to twenty minutes long. There was only one of three lanes open to enter the park. There are times when I can’t understand why the National Park Service doesn’t move into the 21st century and provide amenities that make it easier and more efficient for people to visit the park. I grabbed a campsite at Moraine Park after a couple of other further delays and then made for the Bear Lake parking lot. I stopped by Bear, Nymph, Dream and Emerald Lakes. The trail was completely snow packed, but the views were unbelievably beautiful. I made sure to take a dip in Emerald Lake and headed back to my car where I stopped at Alberta Falls before heading back to my campsite.
5/30/2016: Calypso CascadesMy aunt and uncle, Dan and Ellen, came and joined us for a hike in RMNP. We met at our campground in Olive Ridge and then made for the Wild Basin part of the park where we hiked to Calypso Cascades. It was an absolutely ideal day. The hike was marked with Steve putting me on his shoulders and running down the trail as I feared for my life and wished that we wouldn’t fall for fear of injury combined with shitty healthcare.After the hike Steve and I did a quick trip up to Bear Lake and then made for Boulder where we met up with Rowan for coffee and dinner before driving Stephen to the airport. The stop in Boulder was a good one. We got to recap our weekend adventures and enjoy some coffee and dinner at Mountain Sun.5/29/2016: Long’s Peak, only not reallyWe made for the Long’s Peak trail. The intention was not to hike all the way up to the top. There was too much snow and it was far too early in the season to be able to do that. Our plan was to make for Chasm Lake, which actually proved to be too snowy and too difficult given that we didn’t have the appropriate gear.What we lacked in gear we made up for in the size of our posse. Tom, Sarah, Sharon, Lauren were all friends from Denver that came to join, Rowan, Stephen and myself on the hike. We hiked, slipped on the way up, slid on the way down and celebrated by petting the 6-month old Newfoundland dog, Oscar, who Tom was puppy sitting for the weekend.We returned to our campsite where Tom and I devolved into neanderthalesque men as we broke wood with rocks so that we could have a fire for the night. We heated up some leftover stir-fry with a soy sauce, sriracha, brown sugar and peanut sauce that Rowan had made several nights prior and feasted by the fire.5/28/2016: Trail Ridge RoadRowan, Stephen and I started the morning by driving over Trail Ridge Road. The road crosses the Continental Divide at Milner Pass, elevation 10,758 feet, and has a maximum elevation of 12,183 feet. Needless to say the air is rather thin.When we decided to go on a hike through the snow that featured, running, snowball throwing and penguin sliding we were quite winded. Our posse of three was possessed with a penchant for having a good time. At the top of Trail Ridge Road we were providing the masses of visitors with entertainment. We were not performing but as Stephen noticed, the conditions were perfect for running at full speed and hitting the deck to slide, penguin-like, down the hill. Piggyback rides turned into fireman’s carries that devolved into spinning around in circles and hitting the deck with dizzy participants.We continued on the drive and made our way to Grand Lake where we saw a bull moose bulking up and sat on the dock enjoying the Colorado sun as it started to make its name known with the coming of summer.5/27/2016: Old Friends and New FriendsI went for a hike up to Ouzel Falls in the morning. It is in the Wild Basin part of the park and is not easily accessed, luckily camping the National Park was full, so I camped in a forest service campground and was right next to Wild Basin!The real entertainment of the day came when I left the park and made for Fort Collins, Colorado. I was born in Fort Collins in 1985. I moved to Virginia in 1999 and have only driven through one time since I left 17-years ago. It had also been 17-years since I had seen the parents of my best friend from elementary school, Drew. We became friends in 1st grade, his mom student-taught in my class in 2nd grade, we played soccer together for years, and alternating weekends were spent at each other’s houses.Drew and I had hung out several times since I left Colorado, but I had not seen his parents since 1999. His sister, who was one year old, was graduating from high school. It was a good time to catch up and recount stories of old.I had to leave at 10pm to pick up one of my college friends, Stephen, who flew in from New York City. After stopping at McDonald’s we made for RMNP. Our Google maps predicated arrival was 1:30am so we obviously decided to make for Moraine Park where we took nighttime photos until 3:30am before returning to our campsite where we tucked in just before the sun came up.5/26/2016: Mountain biking at elevationThe morning started off by connecting with a UVa friend Doug. We planned to go mountain biking and luckily he had an extra mountain bike. It was my first time (ever) mountain biking and it was awesome. The elevation certainly made it difficult but the sport itself is exhilarating. The bike is able to go over rocks that I didn’t think it could make it over. You fly down the hill, bumping up and down. It was good to catch up with Doug, because in several days he is moving into a teardrop trailer and traveling across the country. He is managing to keep his job while doing it, so I am quite jealous of his set up!The afternoon was spent in RMNP. I drove through getting my bearings, and acquired my patch and Junior Ranger booklet. I watched the cow and bull elk feeding on fields of grass as fly fisherman laid their line on the water in hopes of finding a hungry fish.5/25/2016: There and back again, and againI woke up in Berthoud, Colorado, which is north of Longmont, which is north of Denver. My uncle, Dan, had to go into school to teach. I got to hang out with my aunt, Ellen, before it was time for me to head into Rocky and try to track down a campsite.Unfortunately the entire park was full for Memorial’s Day. I nabbed a first-come, first-serve spot at Olive Ridge, just outside of the park. By the time I got my tent and campsite set up I had to return to Longmont.I had a meeting with the folks at Oskar Blues. They are working with me on a project called #BrewsForViews. The idea is simple, outdoorsy people love drinking beer. Why not work with breweries to help support our National Parks? My thought is to get breweries to donate $1 per beer sold on the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service (August 25th, 2016) to their local National Park. Oskar Blues likes the idea, so we are going to work on ways to encourage other breweries to join in.After my meeting with Oskar Blues I met up with a good friend Layton for dinner in Lyons, Colorado before heading up to camp at Olive Ridge. He joined me and we made smores and popcorn and talked about the finer details of life. He is getting married in July of this year, and is one of my outdoorsy friends that is consistently trying to rally people to do fun and exciting things.5/24/2016: Exclamation point is a misnomerThe only trail that leaves from the North Rim ranger station is the North Vista Trail. It has two listed places to hike to. Exclamation Point and Green Mountain. One of the rangers on the South Rim had told me that I ‘HAD’ to hike to Exclamation Point. I rarely turn down suggestions, but getting up at 515am to beat the sun was a bit of a struggle. I made my way up the 1.5 miles to Exclamation Point. It was pretty incredible, it provided an excellent view of the canyon. The sun’s rays were just beginning to hit the canyon walls and the moon was still relatively high in the sky.I checked the time and decided that I should just go to Green Mountain. Nobody recommended it, but why not. I could handle the extra two miles each way. I got to the top of Green Mountain and was blown away. It made Exclamation Point look like a period, or a comma. I got the sense that few people made it up that far, but I was #blessed with 360-degree views of the surrounding area and, for the first time in Black Canyon, got a sense of the scale and size of the canyon.The rest of the day was a slurry of meeting with friends and family. I drove through Vail and stopped to have a coffee with Eva, who rafted the Grand Canyon with us and is making a go at being a professional photographer. Next came Matt and Rowan who are both UVa friends. Matt is flying out to Germany for work during the rest of my time in Colorado, so I was glad that we got to catch up. The day culminated in a dinner with two sets of aunts and uncles. It was good to be surrounded by so many family and friends in one day.5/23/2016: Long drawThe hike out of SOB draw was as expected, brutal. It was straight up. The only benefit about going up is that you can stick down your hiking polls and get some traction. On the way down, you are simply doing your best to not face plant and tumble down the mountain.I got to the top and went to the ranger station where some of the rangers were having some coffee, one of them was a ranger that I had met while Good Morning America was in town, and he had told me about the SOB route. He is a climbing ranger. Basically, if someone gets injured or stuck while hiking or climbing in Black Canyon it is his job to rescue them.I ate a quick breakfast in the parking lot and then made my way to Long draw. I ran into a couple in the parking lot and learned that the husband would be going down at the same time as I was, his wife had a radio set up so that they could stay in touch. I hiked down and caught up to him. He asked if I was going to hang out at the bottom. I told him that I planned to have lunch and relax a little bit, he told me that he was carrying an extra beer if I wanted to wait for him at the bottom.I ate my lunch, basked in the sun and journaled for two hours. Hans made it down and I learned that he had hiked down Long draw 37-years prior with his wife and several friends! I took a photo to recreate their last trip down and we talked as we drank cold Coronas. I hope that I am like him. I hope that I come back, remember and celebrate these experiences. Thank you, Hans!5/22/2016: SOB drawEmily and Abbie left after we had a breakfast of Emily’s homemade oatmeal. She made savory oatmeal that included curry powder, chives, dried lentils and was delicious. After we took a couple of UVA photos we parted ways. They left for Denver and I left for the North Rim of the Black Canyon. Trevor, Ben and I all agreed to hike SOB draw, which is a route on the North Rim that goes down to the river.I got to the North Rim, packed as little as possible, and started on my way down. The Warner route was a cakewalk compared to SOB. It was steep, exposed and I was consistently trying to prevent myself from sliding on the dirt and small rocks. If that wasn’t enough of a challenge there were literal forests of poison ivy. It is completely absurd. In some places it was impossible to avoid, luckily I had been warned and wore pants and did my best to let it touch my clothes as little as possible.The river was high enough that the path to the campsites was covered in water. I hiked a little ways back up the trail and found a moderately flat rock that could serve as a bed. I set up shop, set up my chair and alternated between journaling and reading chapters of Outlander. Trevor and Ben showed up at dusk minutes before it was almost completely dark. I ate dinner and then took my best shot at some nighttime photography. Again the roar of the river lulled me to sleep and I was reminded of my time on the Grand.5/21/2016: A PresentationThe morning was spent hiking out of Black Canyon on the Warner Route. You gain 2,700 feet in a bit over of a mile and a half. It is absolutely brutal, it is one of the most difficult hikes that I have done on the entire trip.I hiked out and then drove around until I caught up with some college friends, Emily and Abbie, who had made their way to Black Canyon for the weekend. We did a hiking and overlook tour of the South Rim of the Black Canyon. The views are absolutely astounding. The steepness with which the canyon drops, the mix of colors, the jaggedness of the rocks, it’s a truly indescribable place.The evening was punctuated with a presentation at the South Rim visitor’s center. I had arranged to give a presentation about our trip. Trevor’s friend Ben had come to visit Black Canyon as well and they had the connection cord I needed to connect my computer. While we scrambled to come up with a solution I started talking to one of the people in the audience and discovered that he was the Superintendent of Black Canyon of the Gunnison. No pressure! About twenty minutes after the advertised starting time we got the necessary cord and hooked everything up so that the presentation could run as planned. It was one of the better ones that I have done and the Superintendent seemed to be genuinely interested and engaged.5/20/2016: Drive and descendI spent the night at friend’s house in Cortez, CO. Katie is a middle and high school music teacher in town and heard about our trip after hearing our NPR interview from our time in Arizona. She was kind enough to host us with a roof, a hot shower and some delicious balsamic chicken. She is also a runner and connected me with a running club in Durango so that I could go on a group run, which was an utter delight.I woke up in the morning enjoyed the modern conveniences of a coffee maker and wireless Internet as I posted some blog articles about the National Park Service Centennial. Trevor’s friend Ben came to visit and we agreed to meet up in Black Canyon of the Gunnison. I headed up to Black Canyon making a pit stop in Montrose to catch some more Internet and blog posting. I timed my exit with just enough time to make it into the park, acquire a backcountry permit and descend 2,700 feet down the Warner route to the Gunnison river.The hike down was ridiculous. It was on a route, not a trail. Basically, it means that it is entirely unmaintained. There is a path, but due to the volume of loose rock and talus it isn’t always easy to see. I descended to the roaring river and was reminded of the Grand Canyon. I set up camp, ate dinner and read, journaled and was rocked to sleep by the 5,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) sounds of the river.5/19/2016: House toursThe morning started off with a tour of Long House. Long is one of the bigger cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde. The sophistication of these dwelling sites is truly incredible. The stones are meticulously placed and create these little villages that seem as practical today as they would have been 800-years ago.After our Long House tour we made for the administrative offices of Mesa Verde. I would be giving an evening presentation later in the day and one of the rangers offered to take us on a tour of Cliff Palace before the talk.Cliff Palace was closed, due to some work being done, so we were incredibly lucky to be able to make it down. We walked down to the dwelling and met the head architect of Mesa Verde. Talking to him was an absolute delight, he proceeded to enlighten us about how the stabilize a site that has been falling apart. He showed us bends in kiva walls that are the result of high visitation, he showed us how water leakage can ruin ancient kiva sites and how him and his team are attempting to mitigate this damage and provide an atmosphere that allows for visitors to see and access the site. It was a privilege to listen and learn from someone so knowledgeable in his craft.We returned to the visitor’s center and I worked on my computer for several hours to prepare for the evening program. The seats were not overflowing with visitors, but the presentation went well and was well received. One of my friends from Durango, Todd, came up with his daughter to watch. He was the one who told me about the Great Gallery of Canyonlands and had recently returned from a 5-day trip of taking middle school students to see pictographs and petroglyphs across Utah.5/18/2016: Not as simple as you thinkWe made our way back to Mesa Verde and did a slew of short stops at all of the places we missed on our first pass through. One of the most astounding structures that you can see in the park is less than ten yards away from the road.The structure looks like nothing more than a slightly dug out piece of land. It is a reservoir and is recognized as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. It was constructed around 750AD and was used until about 1180AD. Its purpose was simple, store water. Often times, I think there is conception that the native populations are savage and uneducated. Go to this reservoir. Look at the craftsmanship, think of its use and then tell me that they were savage and uneducated. These were a sophisticated and intelligent group of people and people need to recognize that.5/13/2016 – 5/17/2016: The GraduateMy little sister, Maria, is graduating from high school! I was 13-years old when she was born and remember going to the hospital for her birth. I can’t hold her in my arms like I used to be able, but she is still pretty cool.When I left for college she started kindergarten, for much of her life I have only been able to come home for one or two times a year. While I do love my National Parks, I did enjoy the several days spent with family under a roof with home cooked meals. My brother, his wife, their three kids and I drove up from Colorado to Missouri. It was the first time in numerous years that all six siblings were together under the same roof. Since my brother has had kids it has been difficult to coordinate getting everyone together.5/12/2016: DurangoI woke up in time to make the thirty-minute hike for sunrise, which rose at 6:00am. I sat, meditatively on the rocks and let the sun wake the world. I had recently listened to a podcast where Tony Robbins was talking about his morning ritual. It begins with him jumping into a 57-degree pool and then meditating for several minutes. I didn’t have a pool, but I did have the ability to sit quietly and acknowledge and recognize all of the things that I am thankful for. It’s a good way to begin the day.Afterwards we hiked to Petroglyph Point and then made for Durango where we met up with a UVa friend, Herb. He was a graduate engineering student at the same time as Trevor and I knew him from mutual friends. We chatted over a beer, exchanged stories and planned to reconvene in August in Acadia, as Herb is a Mainer by birth!Our next stop was my brother’s house. I grabbed my belongings for the weekend and my sister’s graduation. Trevor drove to Denver, where he would be spending the extended weekend.5/11/2016: Mesa topsThe morning started out with a hike to catch the sunrise, I left thirty minutes late and was hiking up the trail by the time the sun had come out, I would have to give it another go.I came back and cooked breakfast before heading out to Weatherill Mesa where we did the loop around Badger, Two Raven, Long, and Kodak house overlooks. The weather was great, the flowers were blooming, the wild horses were roaming and the trails were relatively unpopulated.We came back to camp and then I made for the Prater Ridge trail. It’s a seven to eight mile trail that circles a mesa top near the campground. There was nobody else on the entire trail and I enjoyed beautiful sunset views as I hiked around enjoying Mesa Verde from on top of a mesa. I went back, cooked dinner, took a shower and laid my sleeping back out on the picnic table so that I could take nighttime photos of the stars.5/10/2016: Live from Black Canyon!Most of the production team was on-site at 1am getting everything ready and set up for the 5am LIVE Good Morning America broadcast in NYC. The coordination and organization was incredible. The weather was not. It was rainy and windy and cold. The cameras on the North Rim of the canyon couldn’t even get a clear shot of the TJ, Tommy and Kevin. I was super impressed that they even roped up and went down.We stayed and watched as the team tried to deal with the weather to get a good shot of the action. Mother nature, on this particular morning, was not having it. Between the rain, wind and fog it was difficult to see anything.Due to the weather we opted to return to Mesa Verde. While we had stopped there briefly before, my sister would be graduating from high school in several days and the intention was to drive to Missouri with my brother and his family. We arrived with enough time for a sunset hike after finding dry harbor in the car after a good hour and a half rainstorm.5/9/2016: Good Morning AmericaMuch of our day was spent observing. We watched ABC’s Good Morning America set up their shot on the wall of Black Canyon with climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson. It was an impressive sight to see. They had massive cameras, miles of cord and a team of well-trained and hilarious engineers who were trying to put everything together.Our roll in the entire production was rather simple. We set up our campsite and waited for the team to come over for some filming. They wanted us to cook dinner with their correspondent, TJ Holmes. I opted to make my step-mom’s guacamole recipe and then we did some fajitas with steak and veggies. They came over to film and we fed TJ and the crew as we sat around the fire and talked about National Parks. It was TJ’s first time camping. Unfortunately, the rain started in about midnight, he was up at 3:45am to film for the segment so didn’t get the best sleep of his life.
5/8/2016: Black CanyonWe left Mesa Verde in the morning after getting Dee to do a Zion King video and made for Black Canyon of the Gunnison. We got to the South Rim and were blown away by the colors and beauty of the canyon. As Colorado weather does, it went from being totally fine to hailing for five minutes and then back to totally fine.5/7/2016: Mesa VerdeWe woke up had a real person breakfast of bacon, eggs, toast and coffee (my brother has become quite the cook) and made our way for Mesa VerdeWe met our friend Dee (from Big Bend) and made the an afternoon tour of Balcony House. Neither Dee nor I are good with heights and part of the tour features a 32-foot ladder made out of branches of wood. Luckily the guy in front of me was helping his four year old daughter up, so they moved very slowly and I hung out on the ladder longer than I would have liked. I embraced the moment and tried to get over my fear.The ranger, Luann, that led our tour was awesome. She reminded us that the ancient puebloans were an intelligent group of people. Their art both in pottery and weaving indicates that they were a people that had leisure time and were talented enough at farming that they could create enough food to have free time.5/6/2016: Get that drone out of hereThere are few things worse than being in a peaceful National Park and hearing the buzz of a drone. National Parks have, thankfully, made them illegal. Even so, the previous day I had heard a guy flying his drone. I took a picture of his license plate, him picking up the drone and turned them into the ranger station the following morning.We turned in our Junior Ranger booklets, got our badges and then made west for Mesa Verde. The plan was to sleep in the park. We got caught up with uploading photos in the Starbucks in Durango, Colorado and spent the night with my brother and his family.5/5/2016: Back to the DunesWe hiked out of our backcountry spot in the morning and made for the dunes, again. This time though, I had a more ambitious aim to make it to Star Dune. High Dune is about one and a half miles from the parking lot, Star Dune is an additional one and half miles further. At 750-feet it is the tallest dune in North America.I arrived with my sled and took a ride down the dune that ended with me bailing before a hit the bottom and swallowed nearly a mouthful of sand. There was sand in my eyes, my nose, my ears, it was everywhere, and I would do it again, and again and again. I climbed back to the top, howled and then returned to my tent for dinner and some stargazing.5/4/2016: RecognizedWe hiked out in the morning and said our goodbyes and Lindsay continued east. We made a quick pit stop outside the park at Zapata falls as we heard that the views of the dunes and surrounding mountains was rather epic. Perhaps more epic than the landscape was the frozen Zapata Falls!We returned to the park and made a quick trip up High Dune. Trevor started talking to a couple and the couple said ‘Wait, were you just in Outside Magazine?!’. Several months ago we did a short interview with a reporter from Outside, and while we heard that the magazine was out we hadn’t yet got a copy. They gave us their copy, we took some pictures with Mark and Kathy and then packed our bags for another night in the backcountry.The sunset lit the sky on fire. It looked like a cloudy peach with pink, and purple hues surrounding it. I slept out in the hammock and watched the stars while taking pictures from my reclined position.5/3/2016: Friends of FriendsOne of my friends from college, Katie, noticed on Instagram that another one of her friends, Lindsay, was near us as she was driving from San Francisco to New York City for a new job. She connected us and we were able to meet up in Great Sand Dunes.I am always a little nervous about meeting new people and not knowing about their outdoor camping expectations. As I texted with Lindsay I asked her if she would rather camp in the campground, or go for a night in the dunefield. She responded ‘Ooh I’m down for either!!’. The double exclamation mark made me realize that we had an experienced camper on our hands so we opted for a backcountry permit and a night in the dunefield.We only had to hike one and a half miles into the dunes before we camped. We set up our tents and then took our sled to the top of the nearest dune hill and started careening down the dunes in onesies.5/2/2016: Red Rocks to Sand DunesI woke up and made a last visit to Arches. I drove out to Tower Arch where I enjoyed solitude and a beautiful arch before making my way to the Windows pull off where there were hundreds of people.We picked up our mail in Moab, gave the clerk our forwarding address and drove east to Colorado and Great Sand Dunes National Park. The drive into Great Sand Dunes is one of my favorite drives into any National Park. You can see the dunes from miles and miles away. You drive for twenty minutes and the dunes seem like they just keep growing and growing as you get closer. We arrived just after the sunset and enjoyed some crisp Colorado air and clear skies.5/1/2016: To ArchesAs it was Sunday we couldn’t drive as far as we would have liked. We had to pick up mail in Moab and since the post office is closed on Sunday we had to make a pit stop after driving for only two hours.Trevor met up with one of his cousins and I escaped to the park where I hiked to Tapestry, Broken, Sand Dune and Skyline Arches. All of these hikes were super short, so they were rather well frequented by people. They were nonetheless magnificent and a reminder that you could spend forever in Arches!4/30/2016: Hello again, Capitol Reef!We left Kanab early and said good-bye to our Virginia friends. We made our way to Capitol Reef where we were excited to meet up with Josh and Gina for some canyoneering. Our route for the day was down Wife 3. We scrambled up, rappelled down, got wet and had a great time.We got to the bottom and returned to Fruita where we dined on cookies and ice cream from the little bakery shop before retreating indoors as rain started coming down. We made dinner and exchanged stories the rest of the night.4/29/2016: Zion KingI woke up and tried for a Wave permit again. There were only thirty-eight groups this time, instead of forty, so my chances were ever so slightly improved! Again, no dice.I drove to Zion to meet the rest of the group. I parked the car, hopped on the bus and blitzed my way up Observation Point. I made it up the four miles and two thousand feet of elevation gain in just over an hour! At the top we filmed some Zion King footage where we asked others to imitate the Lion King song with our Cuyahoga Valley mascot Ollie the Otter. Most of the videos are hilarious, because they feature complete strangers attempting to sing a song that they haven’t heard in a decade.4/28/2016: WeatherWhen you live out of your car your life is often dictated by the weather, if it is beautiful outside then everything goes much smoother. If it is pouring down rain it makes everything a bit more difficult. Today was one of the more difficult days. I woke up super early to drive up to Kanab, Utah and apply for a permit to hike The Wave. The Wave is an iconic Utah landmark and draws tens of thousands of hopeful hikers who are hoping to get a permit to hike to it. I will save the long description of the lottery system for a blog post, but the short of it is this. There were forty groups apply for permits and three were awarded, we were not one of them.I waited in Kanab for everyone to hike Antelope Canyon in Page, Arizona. The Antelope Canyon trip was rained out so they came to Kanab where we ate some wraps in a city park for lunch. Most of the group decided to go to Best Friends, which is an animal shelter. Yong and I decided to make the drive up to Bryce Canyon so that he could get a chance to see the hoodoos.It poured the entire drive up and luckily cleared up for the time that we were hiking in the amphitheater of Bryce. We came back to Kanab and were confronted with snow, tons and tons of huge flaked snow. We got back, ate dinner and retired for the evening.4/27/2016: Run, Forrest, RunWe woke up and hurried over to Mesa Arch for the sunrise. There was a mob of photographers with their tripods set up for the sunrise. I was glad that everyone could experience this, because I think it is a reminder that while these places are beautiful they can still be mobbed with far too many people.The rest of the day was spent driving to Page, Arizona where we intended to watch sunset at the Horseshoe Bend in the Colorado River. One of the most photographed places of the river we were not blessed with a beautiful sunset. It was cloudy and overcast, but nonetheless beautiful!Part of the drive took us through Monument Valley where we were able to recreate the Forrest Gump running photos. Perhaps some my favorite pictures from the trip, we were able to pretty accurately capture the moment.4/26/2016: Delicate Arch and Fiery FurnaceWe woke up to forty degrees and rainy. It is quite possibly the worst hiking weather possible. You are cold, you continue to stay cold, you are wet, and your body doesn’t have the easiest time warming up and drying out.We extended breakfast by making tons of coffee, bacon and eggs. We dined on donuts dipped in bacon grease and motivated ourselves to get ready for hiking. The hike up to Delicate Arch was overcast, but beautiful. There are some places that, regardless of weather are enchanting. Delicate is one of those places.After Delicate we made for the Fiery Furnace, my experience getting the permit was frustrating. The ranger heavily heavily heavily recommended against it. And wasn’t just that he recommended against it, it was that he was unhelpful and kind of a dick. Thanks for helping people experience nature, clown. One of the things that annoyed me is that they tell people to avoid social trails. Yet the park service takes a trip with twenty-five visitors every day on the same trail through the furnace. The only reason there is a social trail is because they made it, come on. All NPS annoyances aside, the trip was awesome. There were parts where we were all a little nervous and skeptical given some of the moves you had to make, but everyone stuck together and we made it!4/25/2016: Devil’s GardenThe morning started out early for Brooks, Blair and myself. We made for Whale Rock and enjoyed watching the sun cascade across the landscape. It is very hard for me to miss a sunrise or a sunset on this trip. I hope that it is something that I carry with me for the rest of my life. There is nothing like watching the world come to live and then watching the sun go to sleep.Our breakfast of bagels with peanut butter and nutella was made entertaining when my plate blew over and smeared my heated bagel all over the picnic table. Ugh.We hiked in Devil’s Garden and were mesmerized by Navajo, Partition, Landscape, and Double O arches. Hiking to Landscape arch was very interesting for me. I had all of these childhood memories. One time while hiking we got caught in torrential rain and I stepped in some quicksand, my dad caught my arm as I was waist deep and plucked me out of the muck. Nearly twenty years I am scrambling around with seven of my friends and doing my best to show them some of our country’s beautiful places. There is a kind of joy that I get from seeing these places. There is a different and perhaps even more intense joy that I get from seeing others derive joy from these experiences.4/24/2016: FriendsThe morning started out early with a run up to Navajo Knobs. I ran from our campground across the Cohab Canyon trail and then made my way up the 4.7 miles to Navajo Knobs, seeing zero people along the way. It was delightful.We left Capitol Reef for Canyonlands where we would be meeting seven of our friends, who were flying in from Virginia to spend a week in the Utah National Parks! We drove out to an overlook and hiked out to find them enjoying the view created by the Colorado river. None of them had ever been to Utah, or ‘out west’ other than a quick trip to California. I was excited to be able to share this beautiful part of the country with them!We hiked Upheaval Dome and then got on top of Whale Rock to enjoy some 360-degree views of the area. Dinner consisted of tacos and catching up with old friends. Cooking for nine people is a bit of a challenge, but it is far outweighed by the joy of reconnecting with friends.4/23/2016: CanyoneeringAfter making some connections we were able to set up a trip to rappel down from Cassidy Arch. I am terrified of heights, so this entire time was entertaining for me. The drop from Cassidy was about 130 feet, we had another big drop and five more smaller drops with a couple of overhangs that allowed me to go inverted!After our first canyoneering adventure Trevor went out for round two and I stayed in to work on my powerpoint presentation. I emailed the park in advance of our visit to do a talk about our trip. Most of my afternoon was spent deciding which photos and videos would be necessary to share. The talk started at 8:30pm at the campground amphitheater. It was cold, but about fifty people came out to listen. It went well, but I felt totally flat. I didn’t wow the crowd, it was just. It wasn’t great. I didn’t feel good about it.4/22/2016: Capitol ReefToday was the day where I tried to cram as much of Capitol Reef in as possible. It went a little like this. Two miles on ‘The Tanks’, four miles on the Golden Throne, four on Fremont Gorge Overlook, four on Chimney Rock, a quick stop at Goosenecks and Sunrise Point and then two on Fremont River Overlook. All things said and done it was another twenty mile day.Afterwards we were lucky enough to snag a shower after connecting with some of the rangers in Capitol Reef. They invited us over to hang out and have a couple of drinks. It was fun to have a normal ‘Friday night’.4/21/2016: The ‘Great Gallery’ is improperly namedOne of my friends, Todd, informed me that I ‘had’ to stop at the Horseshoe Canyon unit of Canyonlands to visit the Great Gallery and the pictographs there. I added it to the list and tried to figure out how to make it happen.The hike into the canyon and the Great Gallery starts with a seven hundred foot descent that you know will come back into the play at the very end of your hike when you are coming back. Once you make it into the wash there aren’t really signs of where the galleries are, so you end up walking on the trail with your eyes glued to the wall looking for them.Gallery one is mind boggling it is thirty or forty feet up the wall. I skipped gallery two and planned to hit it on the way back as it was on the opposite side of where I was hiking. I skipped gallery three as well and planned to hit it on the hike back as well. I got to gallery four and saw it from the distance, at least I thought I did. I noticed some massive pictographs on the wall. Wait…I kept walking. There were more. I stopped for a photo. I walked ten more yards and realized there were yet still more. This happened several times until I resolved to put my camera away and hike up to the view point so that I could soak it all in. Some of the pictographs are eight feet tall! They are intricately designed and magnificent.The misnamed the Great Gallery, it doesn’t capture the essence. It should be the Grand Gallery, the Grandest Gallery, or something more superlative. As are many things on this trip, it cannot be described in words. Get out there and experience it for yourself.4/20/2016: Leaving the backcountryThere are two interesting feelings that I have when I leave the backcountry. One is that you are super excited to stuff your face with a cheeseburger, enjoy a hot shower and return to the comforts of life. The other is that interacting with people is foreign and disappointing.I hiked back towards the Elephant Hill parking lot and started passing tons of people, ugh. For three days and three nights I had been given the opportunity to enjoy nature, peace and solitude. Just as I am hiking back towards civilization my brain starts to process the beauty and joy of the trip and then I pass a group of people. I start to think about…another group of people. I start to think…. another group of people. I start to…. another group of people. I start… another group of people. I…I can’t take it anymore. Take me back to the backcountry.4/19/2016: Tragedy strikes, or does it?I woke up for the sunrise and it was stunning. The sun capped the top of several needles with a incredibly bright orange light and lit up some clouds behind me. I snapped some photos with my phone and was incredible pleased with myself.Everyone else wanted to lounge around the campsite for the morning, I wanted to get out and move. I packed up my bags and got moving as quickly as possible. I hiked the Joint Trail to our next campsite at Devil’s Pocket. On the hike I snapped some photos of the slot canyon, these cairn garden and the most amazing claret cup cactus I have seen on the trip.At Devil’s Pocket I quickly set up my tent and left as much stuff from my bag as possible before continuing on the trail to the Colorado and Green River confluence. I hiked out to the 4x4 road and followed it briefly before hoping back on the trail that took me to Cyclone Canyon. Cyclone was perhaps my favorite part of the whole hike. You are hiking in this 75-yard wide wash that is covered in green and the walls rise up 300-400 feet on either side. I snapped photo after photo after photo.Between all of the photos it took me a bit longer than usual to make a hike of the same distance. I finally got out to the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers and just sat reading about Evertt Ruess.
After this amazing day I went to upload my photos to my computer. For some reason 8-hours of photos from my camera were missing. Sunrise to just before the confluence. It was all gone. My only conclusion is that the pictures so beautiful, and so pristine that sharing them with the world could only have caused more destruction to those beautiful places, because more people would have wanted to visit them. So. I am without the photos, and while it makes me deeply sad, the thought that they were too beautiful makes so joyful that I don’t have them.4/18/2016: Chesler Park and Druid ArchWe hiked out of Lost Canyon towards Chesler Park and I was unprepared for the beauty that was about to overtake my eyes. We had been hiking and on top of rocks most of the previous day, so I was prepared for more scrambling. We did our fair share of scrambling and then came out to Chesler Park.Imagine being surrounded by rocks and then coming upon a beautiful meadow of sage. Our campground was set next to this huge rock and I was determined to find a way to the top. I crawled up the backside and had a 360 view of Chesler Park. From my vantage point I could see everything, I moved my sleeping bag from my tent to the top of the rock and enjoyed the near full moon as it lit the needles surrounding me.On our hike to Chesler Park we made a side trip to Druid Arch, which was beautiful. The entire trip, though, was a bit overshadowed by the beauty of Chesler. It’s funny how quickly I had forgotten about the massive pool of water, and the arch that appears out of nowhere after you have been looking at one side of it for fifteen minutes without realizing that it is an arch.4/17/2016: Lost Canyon and Peekaboo SpringsWe got to the visitor’s center early to pick up our car parking passes and packed our bags for some backcountry adventuring. Hiking in Canyonlands is quite strange if you are used to your usual trail in dirt. Much of the trail is marked by cairns, which are piles of rocks. There isn’t a visible trail, because you are walking on rock, so you have to constantly look for these rock piles to direct yourself in the right direction.Our first night would be spent in Lost Canyon. Kristen’s two other friends, Kristen and Tal joined us and we set out into the wilderness. We scrambled over rocks, hiked down ladders and walked high on rocks that gave us views of rocks for miles and miles. We made a quick side trip to Peekaboo Springs for some petroglyphs and then hiked back to our camp.4/16/2016: National Junior Ranger DayToday is an important day in our National Parks. One of my goals throughout this trip is to do the Junior Ranger program. As part of National Park Week they are offering free entry into the National Parks for the entire week. To celebrate National Park Week and National Junior Ranger Day I did the Junior Ranger programs in Dead Horse Point State Park, Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park.We made a pitstop in Moab to pick up mail and catch up on Internet before heading down to The Needles section of Canyonlands National Park. We camped outside the park on some BLM land and met up with my friend Kristen, from Tucson, and her friend Andrea as we prepared for three nights and four days out in the backcountry of Canyonlands. After meeting up with Kristen for a hike when I was in Saguaro National Park in December, she bought a National Park yearly pass and was inspired to plan a backcountry trip in Canyonlands, we were lucky that our times overlapped and that we were able to meet up for the backcountry adventure.4/15/2016: Winter WonderlandWe woke up in Escalante to rain. Our plan was to drive up the road and make a stop at Calf Creek waterfall for a quick run on our drive. The rain turned to pretty heavy snow and instead we were confronted with a wall of white flakes, instead of a waterfall. We drove past Calf Creek and made our way up and over the pass to Boulder, Utah. Where we were instructed by Megan, our ranger friend in Zion, that we had to have the best pancakes in the world at Hell’s Backbone Grill. They were fluffy, covered in whipped cinnamon butter and real maple syrup. Coming in from the cold to enjoy some delicious breakfast was an absolute delight.The drive continued and we passed through Capitol Reef National Park on our way to Moab. James and Lauren, our airstreaming friends who met up with us in Carlsbad and Guadalupe were at Dead Horse Point State Park, which is about five miles from the Island in the Sky part of Canyonlands National Park.4/14/2016: FairylandWhile you are in Bryce Canyon you need to do the Queen’s Garden/ Navajo Loop that will take you from sunrise to sunset point. Most visitors will stop there and call their time in Bryce a successful visit. If you do that, then you have done it wrong, so very very wrong.Queen’s Garden is stunningly beautiful and I would absolutely recommend it, but if it is the only thing you do it would be akin to going to Paris and only seeing the Eiffel Tower while skipping out on The Louvre and Notre Dame. Fairyland Loop and Peekaboo (the hike I did yesterday) are both magical. Don’t limit yourself to one beautiful hike, do more of them.After Fairyland I made some breakfast in the parking lot at Bryce Point and then continued to Rainbow Point where I ran the eight mile Riggs Loop. I got a bit lost at the bottom when I couldn’t find one of the connecting trails, but I was #blessed with peace and solitude as I ran into zero people the entire time.We spent the night in Escalante after catching up on internet at Ruby’s Inn in Bryce City. One of the rangers from Bryce Canyon was nice enough to let us stay at his house in Escalante so we got to have a roof over our heads and hot showers, a true luxury.
4/13/2016: Hoodoo jokesThe morning started with a hike out from our campsite. I attempted to stop by Sheep Creek to see if I could luck into a seeing a bear, as they had been frequenting the area recently. I had no such luck and hiked out. Most of my morning and afternoon was spent putting the finishing touches on my presentation.I took a break from working on the computer and made for Peek-a-Boo trail where I ran the 5.5 mile loop. It was a necessary break from the computer work.8pm marked my first ranger presentation! I presented at Bryce Canyon Lodge to a room of 40-50 people about 59in59. There were people of all ages and a lot of the kids asked some great questions. It was a fun way to share our trip with others. As expected, I made jokes about hoodoos. Like, what happens when a hoodoo goes to the bathroom, hoodoo doodoo.4/12/2016: Hiking above and below Bryce Canyon’s rimThe morning started off early with a sunrise, like they usually do! I ran the eleven-mile Rim Trail from Bryce Point to Fairyland. It was much less of a run and much more of a jogging picture session. The hoodoos of Bryce are absolutely mesmerizing.After the run/jog we stopped at Ruby’s Inn to pick up some Internet. I desperately needed to work on my ranger talk and Internet was necessary to pull the photos that I would need.We left town to head into the backcountry. From Bryce Point I hiked ten miles on the Under-the-Rim trail to where we would be camping on the Right Fork of Swamp Creek. I ran into zero people the entire hike. It was magnificent!4/11/2016: To Bryce Canyon we goI woke up early to watch the sunrise from Canyon Overlook. I got out there and while the sunrise was decent, the real spectacles were the baby bighorn sheep playing on the rocks. I watched them while the sun encased more and more of the canyon walls.We left Zion showered and freshly laundered on our way to Bryce Canyon. We briefly stopped at the visitor’s center to pick up a backcountry permit and then made for the Queen’s Garden/Navajo Loop. It is a super popular loop in Bryce. On one hand it isn’t always great to hike with hordes of people, on the other hand it is a popular loop, because it is absolutely stunning. You should do it when you visit.Afterwards, I met one of the park rangers, Cindi for dinner. I emailed the park in advance of our visit and asked if I could do a presentation of our trip. They agreed!4/10/2016: SubwayWe hiked out of Hop Valley early so that we could make it to the Subway hike. The weather was a little iffy for the Subway hike. It is not somewhere that you want to hike with high water. On our hike out of Hop Valley we noticed that everything was much lower than it was the previous night, so we opted to take a shot at the Subway.You are hiking right next to the stream and are consistently crossing the ice-cold water to make it up the trail. At several points you have to walk up shallow waterfalls. We made it to the Subway, ate a quick lunch and then headed back down. About half way down it started raining. Shit. We did not want to be in a canyon crossing a river while it rained. We picked up the pace, but tried to hike smart. Luckily, the drizzle didn’t last long and we made it out safely.We drove back to Meg’s house in Zion and caught up on showers and went through photos before John had to drive to Las Vegas to catch his flight home.4/9/2016: Bryce and an overnightThe morning started out early with me going to the visitor’s center at 6:30am to try for a Subway permit. Subway is one of the more famous hikes in Zion. The permits are not easy to get, but after talking to the rangers on the previous day, I knew that there would be 10 available, first come first serve, the following morning.After acquiring our permits we made for Bryce Canyon. We got there and were confronted with a wall of fog. Things got worse as snow and sleet pinged off of our windshield. Just as we lost all hope we stopped at the visitor’s center for a bathroom break. We came outside and everything cleared. We scurried over to sunrise point and took some magnificent photos before heading back to Zion.We made for Kolb Canyon and hiked the Hop Valley trail to where we would be spending the night. After a day of rain the water was flowing high and we couldn’t safely cross the stream to our campsite and Kolb Arch. We set up our tents, ate dinner and made to leave early in the morning.4/8/2016: The real way to see Angels LandingWe woke up at 5:30am and left for Angels Landing. We were at the start of the trail shortly after 6am. Angels Landing is smothered with hordes of people if you wait for the buses to run. With my fear of heights, I wanted to avoid that. Additionally, John lives in Chicago where people surround him, I thought it would be a good way to see Angels Landing as the only person on top.Perhaps the coolest part of the hike is that John drove into Zion under the cloak of darkness. We hiked most of the way up Angels Landing in darkness with headlamps. Then as the sun comes out he is on top with a view of the surrounding area.We went for a short hike out to the Temple of Sinawava, Weeping Rock and then watched the National Park Adventure IMAX film in Springdale. After the early morning we were all a little gassed.4/7/2016: Nine StopsZion National Park’s bus line has nine stops. After nine stops and twenty miles of hiking I had taken four hundred and seventeen photos. I hiked the Riverside Trail, Observation Point, Hidden Canyon, Weeping Wall, Kayenta Trail, Emerald Pools, Pa’rus and Watchman. It was a full day filled with astounding views.My dear friend, John, also arrived at 10pm. He flew in from Chicago for a weekend of hiking and exploring Zion. He got in late, and I informed him that we would be waking up at 5:30am for a sweet hike.4/6/2016: Zion!We did a morning hike into Red Canyon, which is between Zion and Bryce Canyon. It was beautiful! It’s crazy to think that it isn’t a National Park, which only means that Zion and Bryce will be more incredible.We drove down to Zion and met up with Meg, a friend of a friend, who works for Zion National Park. Magical! She lives in one of the coolest places that I have yet to see in a National Park. Her house is the former house of the park superintendent, and is now used as employee housing. We hiked on the Pa’rus Trail along the river and began to get a taste of what our next couple of days would be like. Oh, and we had a salad for dinner…so many delightful things.4/5/2016: Four CornersOur drive took us by Four Corners monument. We stopped, begrudgingly paid the $5 and took the usual photograph. We are such tourists.We had to make a two-hour out of the way pit stop in Flagstaff so that we could get our cooler. We picked up a new ice holding vessel from Canyon Coolers. They are supposed to be sturdy coolers that keep ice incredibly well, it will be nice to be able to keep food cool after being without since December.We trucked it out of Arizona to Utah where we met up with Lauren, James and their dog Bugsy just outside on Bryce Canyon on some forest service land. We were far later than planned, but they were kind enough to have some burgers and grilled veggies ready to go when we arrived.4/1/2016 – 4/4/2016: Car problemsWhile in Durango, we needed to take the car in and get the front shocks replaced, we had completely blown them while we were in Death Valley National Park. Unfortunately, we also had to replace all of our breaks and the front hub. Ugh. Luckily, one of our family friends is a mechanic and could do work that I trusted. I just don’t like being caught in a place with no mode of transportation.All that being said, it was a good place to be caught. I got to spend time with my brother and his family. He had three kids under the age of five, so it was a mad house. That being said, it was nice to be well fed and showered, so we enjoyed ourselves and the opportunity to sleep in beds for several nights.
3/31/2016: A stray sequoiaWe drove from Whites City the height of New Mexico to Colorado. We stopped in Santa Fe, so that we could stop at a Firestone and get our tires rotated. While in Santa Fe, I was directed to a sequoia tree in Cornell Park. It was an absolutely beautiful tree. I noticed that it was much shorter than the sequoias that I was used to. I also noticed that it had so many beautiful branches. Unlike the other sequoias it didn’t have to deal with fire, so could grow unencumbered. It was a specimen!We drove to Chromo, Colorado to catch up with my Aunt and Uncle. It was the first time in my life that, as an adult, I had a conversation with them. Cliff, my Uncle, used to be a smoke jumper and would fight fires. He lost a leg in an avalanche and continued flying planes to fight fires. They rafted the Grand Canyon at 100,000 cfs in 1983 and have dozens of adventurous stories from their times in Colorado and Montana. I could have stayed chatting for hours, but our compass was pointed to my brother’s house in Durango, Colorado (where we would be staying for the night).3/30/2016: Mexico!We woke up early, hiked to the Dorgan house, stopped in Castolon, made our last mail pick up and then headed straight to Mexico!Boquillas is an absolute must stop when you are in Big Bend National Park! Jose Falcon’s restaurant makes these delicious little tacos and you can have a Mexican Coca-Cola. I last visited Boquillas in the late 1990’s. The boarder was closed after 9/11 and didn’t reopen until three years ago. We took the boat across the river after checking in at the new boarder crossing station. There are three ways to go to town, by mule, by car, or by foot. We opted for the mule so that we could increase our methods of transportation. One of the new rules is that a person from Boquillas has to accompany you the entire way. Our guide had lived there for 50 years. He told us about how things had changed when the boarder was closed and about the huge 2008 flood. Not much had changed in the town, but they had a huge solar panel array and now had power!We left Big Bend for good and drove to Whites City, where we had stayed while visiting Carlsbad Caverns.3/29/2016: A very long dayThe morning started off early with a hike up Casa Grande. It’s off trail, totally squirrely and absolutely magnificent! The view from the top gives you an overlook over the entire Chisos basin. He hiked down and the day moved ahead at warp speed.We visited the Croton Spring, Sam Nail Ranch, Upper Burro Mesa trail, Homer Wilson Ranch, Lower Burro Mesa trail, Chimneys Trail and Mule Ears Springs. When all was said and done it was a 20+ mile day. After that we drove by Santa Elena Canyon nearly ran over a Western Diamondback rattlesnake and made our way to the Old Maverick Road, stopped at Luna Jacal (which you should Google) and then made for Terlingua where we stopped for beers at La Kiva and Starlight, thanks to Neel! At Starlight we met Daisy and Dee. Both from Austin, Daisy is a musician and Dee is one of her friends. Daisy would be playing in Terlingua the following two nights and what was supposed to be a stop for one drink turned into talking about adventuring for several hours. By the time we finally left, Trevor and I were both thoroughly exhausted and had to drive an hour back to our campsite.3/28/2016: Surprise!We drove out the Old Ore Road to Ernst Tinaja, which is another must stop on my childhood trips. Ernst is a water hole in the middle of the desert. Again, I was surprised at how short the hike is, the undulating rock is beautiful and I got lost taking pictures of different rock patterns.We had a long drive on a dirt road to Pine Canyon, our next hike. Pine Canyon seemed like a relatively simple hike. Two miles up and two miles back. I decided to run it. After about a mile I had finally gotten out of the desert and found some shade in the pine trees. I came around a bend in the trail and ran into a black bear and two cubs. Woah! Mexican Black Bears! The cubs scattered and ran up the hill, they looked a bit older. The mom walked back down the trail, panting. I snapped some photos and turned my tail and left, she looked tired and didn’t need to be bothered by humans.3/27/2016: Waterfalls and a White BuffaloWe hiked out from the South Rim and said our good byes. Constantine, Scott, Jeremy and Mike were driving back to Austin and we were continuing our National Park shenanigans. We made our way to Cattail Falls, which is one of my favorite parts of Big Bend. I have many many childhood memories of the place and was anxious to see it as an adult. The hike was so short! Now I know why we went so often, it was one of the few hikes that you could take kids and not expect them to complain the entire time. The falls weren’t running but it was beautiful nonetheless.We left and made our way to Marathon and the White Buffalo Bar to watch the UVa v. Syracuse game. Ugh. I don’t want to talk about how that game went. 3/26/2016: The South Rim SunsetWe started the morning waking up a little bit later than usual, due to the late night. I woke up and journaled while waiting for everyone to wake up. I thoroughly enjoy watching the world come to life. I sat and wrote, and wrote and wrote some more.We finally got things started a bit after 10am and headed to the Big Bend Centennial Celebration at the Rio Grande Village. It featured a bunch of booths so that we could learn more about the park. Most importantly, they had free lunch. We met the superintendent of the park, who our friend Neel had emailed. She had heard of our trip and us and we chatted with her discussing our love of parks and Big Bend. We ate a delicious lunch and then made for the Chisos for our hike.We reserved a backcountry campground in Laguna Meadoes, because everything else was full and made the 3.5-mile and mostly uphill hike to our campground. We set up our tents and then made to head for the South Rim.It was incredible; we had expansive views of the entire area. Part of the trail was closed for Peregrine Falcon nesting, so we kept our eyes field hoping that we would see a dive-bombing bird. While we didn’t see a bird diving for food we did see a couple of peregrines fly by and hung out while we made dinner. Just before the sun started to set we headed back to our campground and caught some excellent views of the sunset. Jeremy and I started running up the trail to get a better view. How many times have you sprinted to catch a better view of the sunset, I recommend you try it!3/25/2016: Hot Springs, UVa Hoops and Star PartiesThe morning started off with a hike to Boquillas Canyon. When I was a kid there was a HUGE dune hill and I was hoping that we could slide down it on a sled. We got there and while the canyon was certainly cool, the dune hill had been eroded away. I found out later that the river was flowing at about 72 cfs (cubic feet per second) and that in 2008 there was a flood that had the river running at 40,000 cfs. That might be the cause. We moved from there to the infamous Hot Springs and took a dip for a little bit with a family reunion that was going on, we couldn’t stay long because we had to keep moving to make it to watch the UVA game.We made a quick pit stop at Terlingua, which is a self-advertised Ghost Town that is still trying to hang out. Certainly worth the stop if you are ever in the Big Bend area. We made our way to Alpine, TX after that so that we could watch the UVa v. Iowa State game. Victory, we won!Our last order of business was to drive up to McDonald’s Observatory for a star party. We looked at some star clusters, the Orion Nebula, Jupiter and then realized that we weren’t going to get back to our campground until 2am. The drive backto Big Bend was like a game of Frogger, there were deer and jackrabbits crossing the road frequently and Trevor managed to avoid all of them, despite a couple of close calls!3/24/2016: Hiking in the Chisos MountainsFor our first day we in Big Bend we made the trek up to the Chisos Mountains. Big Bend I split between three pretty distinct areas, the Rio Grande Village, the Chisos Mountains and Santa Elena Canyon. We were camping at Rio Grande Village and made the forty-five minute drive to the Chisos where we hiked the Windows Trail and the Lost Mine Trail. The Window Trail takes you down this canyon and ends with a drop several hundred feet. The rock has been completely smoothed over after years and years of water wiping away at the surface.Our next hike was up the Lost Mine Trail and we passed numerous families. It’s basically switchbacks the entire way up. We passed a group that we had seen earlier in the day. They were some older folks from Las Cruces, NM and were hiking around in Big Bend for several days. I talked to their group leader for about fifteen minutes and got some good tips for the surrounding area.We headed back to the visitor’s center and I asked a ranger about the hike up to Casa Grande, which is off trail. I asked the ranger if you started at Lost Mine. She said, ‘maybe’. I asked if she couldn’t tell me because they didn’t want a social trail to be established. She said ‘Big Bend is a wilderness area and you can go wherever you want.’ I again asked if I could go up and if she could provide any guidance, she said ‘maybe’. UGH, worst response ever. Thanks for nothing.We headed back to our campsite and four of my fraternity brothers from UVA, Scott, Jeremy, Mike and Constantine came in from Houston and Austin to hang out for the weekend. They got in right at sunset, so we immediately walked to the nature trail overlook. Afterwards we came back and proceeded to eat three pounds of pasta between the six of us! 3/23/2016: Arriving in Big BendI haven’t been to Big Bend since I was a kid, it’s probably been a bit over a decade since I have visited. Much of the day has been strange memories crawling up from the depths of my head. They experienced a fire near the Panther Junction visitor’s center, seeing the burned and charred cactus and stool was not here last time. We pulled into Rio Grande Valley campground and they started flooding in. I remembered specific campgrounds that we camped in. Running to the bathroom when I would wake up in the middle of the night and having my dad time me to see how quickly I could make it. Pairs of kids riding their bikes around the loops could have easily been my brother and I. Stopping at the general store for cooler ranch Doritos, bean dip, lime salt, and ice pops. We hiked to balanced rock and I saw a lizard in the first thirty seconds, I remember being super pumped about seeing so many of them when I was a kid. Sunset on the nature trail at Rio Grande valley campground, it’s so different now. You used to have to fight the brush to get through to the trail leading to the overlook, now it has been cleared away. I don’t like the cleared brush; it makes the hike less exciting. All in all the memories are good, it’s just strange. The hikes seemed so much longer, and with so much more complaining…on my behalf.3/22/2016: Goodbye Guadalupe!I woke up before dawn to make it back to the top of Guadalupe Peak for the sunrise that I thought would be happening at 8am. It happened at 7:52am, I didn’t make it so I watched from where I was. The clouds were insane! I couldn’t stop taking pictures and got down about forty-five minutes later than I meant to. After refueling at the car I went to hike the Salt Basin Overlook loop that would take me to the bottom of El Capitan. The ranger warned me that it would be windy.It was windy. It was very windy. So windy that when I tried to take a video and talk to the camera that was three feet away you couldn’t hear me. It nearly blew me over and provided for some entertainment as it pushed me up the hills.Afterwards we started the drive to Big Bend National Park. We stopped in Marfa for gas and then continued through Alpine and made a pit stop in Marathon to where we had learned about some free wifi and where we thought we would get some dinner. We updated some things on the website at The Gage hotel and sent out an email to our friends and followers and then were anxious to grab a bite to eat at their restaurant/bar. Kitchen closed. Ugh, cold beefaroni from a can. I suppose that is the trade off, because the moon and stars were beautiful when we got to Big Bend.3/21/2016: On Top of TexasWe hiked down from The Bowl around sunrise and made our way down the 2,700 feet of switch back trail to arrive back at the visitor’s center. On the hike down there were these huge black beetles that kept playing dead. At first I thought one of them just fell over. Then it happened a second time, so I watched him for a second and he flipped back over and started walking again. It happened three more times with three different beetles. I asked about them at the visitor’s center, but was unable to identify what they were.I made what I thought would be a quick trip to hike out to Douglas Springs. It was a short two-mile hike. Part of the way in I saw a lady walking off of the trail, I found out that a snake diverted her path and I hate snakes. So I hiked quickly past briefly saying hello. We kept playing leapfrog as her or I would stop to take pictures. We began talking more and it turns out that she is from North Carolina! We chatted for awhile and she told me to get in touch when we came through the Smokies.The final hike of the day would take us up Guadalupe Peak to the highest point in Texas. Logistically the hike was actually pretty simple. 4.2 miles with 3,000 feet elevation gain. Luckily, we were camping about three miles up the trail so we could drop our packs, set up camp and hike up unburdened for the last 1.2 miles. I set my camp up in a sweet little barricaded spot and left to catch the sunset. It was magnificent. The moon came out and made for a good sideshow to the array of yellow, orange, red and pink that cascaded the sky.3/20/2016: The BowlIn Guadalupe Mountains National Park there is a part in the mountains called the bowl. It is a lush meadow full of wildlife, plants and trees that you wouldn’t usually find in this area of Texas. The only problem is that you have to hike up 2,700 feet to get there. We reserved a backcountry spot and I booked it up there to be done with the elevation.As soon as I got there I put up my tent, grabbed some water and made to make the six-mile loop around The Bowl. I circled it and unfortunately the meadow was mostly yellow grass, nothing green and lush, unfortunately. I hiked to the top of Hunter Peak and caught some good cell phone service so was able to catch up with some friends via FaceTime and text very briefly before heading back to our campground.3/19/2016: Permian ReefOur plan for the day was for Trevor and I to head down to McKittrick Canyon to hike the Permian Reef trail. As we did that Lauren and James would go down to Carlsbad Cavern first thing to avoid the crowds and then meet us at McKittrick Canyon to hike up to The Notch.We got to Permian Reef in the morning and it was incredibly foggy. We started hiking and the cactus and other plants were covered with ice. It looked like they had experienced some freezing rain. As I got higher there was thicker ice, it was so wild to see ice on cactus spines, it just doesn’t make sense. We got to the top of the Permian Reef trail and it was so clouded in that there was no view at all! As soon as we hiked down the clouds cleared and it turned out to be a beautiful day.The timing was good, because I had been talking up the McKittick Canyon hike to Lauren and James. They arrived and we jogged up to The Notch, such a cool spot. I took way too many Google Earth 360 photos. We hiked down and then hurried back to our camp spot in Whites City, NM. The University of Virginia basketball team had a game against Butler and James and Lauren had a dish and a TV.Watching UVA games is heart wrenching. They rarely put teams away and always make it far closer than it needs to be. I probably took a total of fourteen breaths during the entire game, but we won! I can’t think of the number of times that I have watched TV during this trip, it was quite strange, but also quite delightful. We said our goodbyes to Lauren and James as we each would be leaving in the morning, our hope is to meet up in Utah.3/18/2016: The King’s PalaceWe woke up early so that we could hike down from the McKittrick campground and make it to our Carlsbad Caverns tour on time. As I was hiking down I was about ten yards from the shaded visitor’s center with the sun in my eyes when, from the shadows, I heard someone say ‘Darius, is that you?’ What?! I walked into the shade, let my eyes adjust and realized my friend Nick was standing right in front of me. Nick lives in Georgia, and we had planned on meeting up with him to go camping when we were in his neck of the woods, he gave me some tips for Joshua Tree and is a geologist who I studied marine ecology with when we took a study abroad class to the Bahamas where we snorkeled for six hours a day identifying fish and coral. We chatted for a bit, agreed to meet up in Congaree and had to hop back in the car to head to Carlsbad.The King’s Palace tour is certainly very cool if you have the opportunity. They take you to a part of the cave that used to be open to the public until they discovered that people were breaking of stalactites on a pretty consistent basis. It’s an hour and a half long, and while most of it is stories and history of the cave, you get to experience the cave in its natural state, without lights. Additionally many of the formations are incredible, including some forty-foot tall drapery formations.As I was walking towards the parking lot to pick up some postcards I ran into some friends from Charlottesville, James and Lauren! Several days earlier I had learned that they had moved into their Airstream for several months and would be exploring the country. We had planned on connecting later that night to figure out camping and hiking, it’s always a pleasure to be surrounded by mobs of strangers and find someone that you know. I quickly forgot about the busyness surrounding Carlsbad and chatted with them before agreeing to meet up for dinner.3/17/2016: Guadalupe BackcountryOur plan was to go back into Carlsbad Caverns on one of the ranger guided tour of the King’s Palace. Unfortunately, all of the tours for the day were sold out, so we made reservations for the following day. Before driving down to Guadalupe for a hike I talked with a writer from Sunset magazine who is going to do a story about 59in59. It was only after our conversation ended that I learned she went to Duke. I was surprised that during tournament time she didn’t mention anything about the ACC rivalry. I suppose UVa has been doing so well recently that it slipped her mind.We drove down to McKittrick Canyon where we would be camping for the night. Some say that McKittrick Canyon is the most beautiful part of Texas, and I don’t know that I disagree. It was pretty magnificent, it is also supposed to be even more beautiful in the fall because the maple tree’s leaves change color, which when you are hiking in the desert, has to be a sight to see. We hiked the 7.6 miles and two thousands and seven hundred feet of elevation gain up to our campground and were rewarded with some epic views.3/16/2016: Hiking in GuadalupeWe started the morning by driving the thirty six miles to Guadalupe Mountains National Park where we went on a short nature hike at McKittrick Canyon before heading to the visitor’s center. At the visitor’s center I picked up my Junior Ranger booklet, but didn’t have time to start as we went on a short hike to Devil’s Hall. Most of the hike involves going up a wash and climbing up and over a ton of rocks. It ends when you get to a narrow canyon with some high walls.We headed back for a brief stop at our campground before continuing on to Carlsbad, NM for dinner. We looked up options on the phone and settled on Chili’s. I can’t think of the last time that I had Chili’s it’s certainly been over a year. Afterwards we made a quick trip to Walmart for propane and a couple other essentials.At our campground there are hot showers, so I indulged and then came back to play cribbage with everyone else. We settled for teams of two and played as we finished the rest of the pie that was left over from Pi Day.3/15/2016: Carlsbad and their CavernsWe woke up early to leave our campground and their was no love lost given the fact that the tent fell over multiple times in the night. We made our way to Carlsbad, NM and stopped briefly at the Current Argus, where we met with a reporter to do a story about 59in59. She too was a National Park fan and had adventured around Utah, she also joked that growing up in the area means that all of your school field trips are too the nearby caverns.Afterwards, we beelined for the caverns to meet up with my friend Adam and his wife Megan. They had come in from Minnesota for spring break and would be visiting the area. The elevators at Carlsbad Caverns are currently down, so we walked down the 750 feet to the bottom of the cave and made the loop around the Big Room before stopping for snacks and a bathroom break.We camped just seven miles from the caverns and started to make dinner. Unfortuately, I learned that we were on our last propane tank and it was nearly empty. I learned this after I had filled a huge pot with water to make a big vat of chicken noodle soup. My only hope is that it would last long enough to cook our food. The vegetables weren’t as soft as I would have liked but the food was mostly warm.3/14/2016: Pi DayI left camp early to get down as quickly as possible. One of my Instagram followers, Lindsey, from Tucson said that she would be meeting us with breakfast burritos! I hiked down and met her at the visitor’s center. She too is a National Park fan and is attempting to visit sixteen parks in 2016. We chatted for a while and she told me about her adventures and exploring in the Tucson area. Trevor had a migraine the previous night, so was a bit slower coming down the trail. I said my goodbyes to Lindsey and took the breakfast burrito to Trevor before making our drive to White Sands National Monument.Throughout the trip we have developed a friendship with this guy named Neel. His wife works with our college friend Nathan and Neel has been in touch with us throughout the trip. Sending us letters and tips for visiting Grand Canyon and Kings Canyon. Him and his family were on spring break and were going through Guadalupe Mountains NP, White Sands and Chaco Canyon. We were able to coordinate our schedules to meet them at White Sands. We arrived at White Sands and finally met in person!After sliding down the dunes on sleds we exchanged stories about visiting parks, and enjoyed the cherry and peach pie that they had brought for Pi Day! It was fun to finally connect in person after being in touch for numerous months.We camped in the Lincoln National Forest and had one of the worst nights of sleep in the entire trip. The wind was so strong that it blew over our tent pole twice. After fixing it twice, I decided that I had had enough and moved to sleep in the car at around 4:00am.3/13/2016: Tanque Verde Ridge TrailWe hiked with one of my friends, Kristen, up the Tanque Verde ridge trail. It is in the eastern side of the park and takes you up this ridge that gives you a wonderful overlook over the entire town of Tucson. While we were hiking there was an airshow going on, so we could see interesting lines in the sky made by the planes. We had a backcountry permit to camp at Juniper Basin and Kristen had to work the following morning, so we said our goodbyes about half way up the trail. Most of the hike to the campground was uphill, so I just slogged on until getting to where we would set up our tents.3/12/2016: Tucson and SaguaroThe morning started early because we had to drive 4-hours to Tucson to meet my grandparents, mom, step-dad, two cousins and their significant others for lunch. My grandpa had scheduled everything and while we had planned to drive through Sedona and swing by Walnut Canyon and Montezuma’s Castle we just didn’t have the time.We had lunch, caught up with everyone and then headed to get the oil changed on the car before heading into Saguaro National Park. You have to pick up backcountry permits before noon, so we couldn’t camp in the backcountry and would have to wait until the following day. We went to the western side of the park, checked out the video at the visitors center and then drove amongst the saguaros and finding some incredible cactus blooms as we drove around.3/11/2016: FlagstaffWe woke up early to hike back to the car during sunrise so that we could make it to Flagstaff in time to meet a UVa friend for coffee. We met up with Nathan, who created an app called Soal that allows you to make recordings, pair them with photos and share them on social media. It is a cool way to share experiences with others. It’s funny we had never met in person, just emailed back and forth. Him and his wife were on their way from the Grand Canyon to watch some spring training baseball games.After that we headed to KNAU, which is the public radio station in Flagstaff to do a quick interview that they will hopefully air in a couple of days. It was fun to go into the studio and see how it all works, they asked us some questions about the trip, what inspired us, and what our future plans would be.Most of the rest of the day was spent doing errands, swinging by REI to exchange day packs, picking up groceries and finally settling at my friend’s house to spend the night. Erik and Akaylah hosted me when I was last in Flagstaff with car problems. We watched the UVa v. Miami basketball game, enjoyed a delicious home cooked meal and exchanged hiking/camping stories. They have a 6-month old daughter who they are already looking to take out camping. It’s awesome to see people wanting to bring the outdoors to their children.3/10/2016: The Petrified ForestPetrified Forest National Park is really quite small. There are only six miles of trail, so you can hike all of the established trails in the park in one day quite easily. We drove to the visitors center, picked up a backcountry camping permit for the south end of the park and then made our way out on the one park road. We stopped at every overlook, hiked every hike and had a great time checking out everything in the park. At around 4pm we started hiking out to our campsite so that we could get there with a little bit of sunlight. We scrambled to the top of this mesa and had a beautiful 360 degree view of the surrounding badlands, definitely one of the cooler places that we have camped on the trip.3/9/2016: Old ThingsIn the morning we went to catch the sunrise at Yavapai Point and it was pretty good. The changing colors on the rock were magnificent. I went to a ranger program on the history of the Grand Canyon that was really really well done, the ranger had lived and worked at the park for 38-years. The only thing that bothered me was when he talked about who discovered the Grand Canyon. He said ‘it doesn’t count if you didn’t write it down.’ He then proceeded to talk about how Garcia Lopez de Cardenas ‘discovered’ the canyon. This was a bit off, I thought. It instantly negates any people who don’t have a written language from being capable of discovering anything. When we know that native peoples ‘discovered’ the canyon up to 3,000 years earlier. It is of no consequence to simply say that Cardenas was the first European to see the canyon.We left the Grand Canyon, after getting my Junior Ranger badge and then made it to another one of the Arizona National Parks, Petrified Forest, outside of Holbrook, AZ. It’s about a four hour drive from the rim and we got to the park just in time to pick up a backcountry permit for the park. They close Petrified Forest at sunset and the only people that can be in the park are people that have backcountry camping permits. You have to get your permit an hour before sunset, so that you can be in your camping spot (one mile from the road) by the time the sun actually sets. We left the Painted Desert Inn and made our way out into the Painted Desert where we would be camping for the night.3/8/2016: Hoover Dam to the Grand CanyonI woke up early for sunrise and Lake Mead just wasn’t offering any excellent views. I made the short drive to Hoover Dam. It is a monstrosity. It was actually a very sad moment for me. My memories of the Colorado River are this raging torrent of a river that is ripping through the canyon and flowing down millions of years of rocks with unconceivable power. At the Hoover Dam there is no flow it just sits, almost stagnantly. It was like watching an active friend be put in a wheel chair. They are the same person, yet they are so very different. It was difficult for me to accept.After a quick breakfast we made the drive to the Grand Canyon to get a view of the Colorado from the rim. While beautiful it was again a huge letdown. It felt like going to watch basketball games courtside for years and years and then suddenly finding that you have tickets in the nosebleed section. You can kind of see the game, but the action is happening so far away that you yearn to be there where you can feel the energy. This combined with the fact that there were thousands of people milling around at the rim, it was almost overwhelming for me. I was constantly looking for overlooks that weren’t packed, or for short side trails where there weren’t any people.3/5/2016-3/7/2016: A Brief RespiteTrevor had a friends wedding in New Jersey for the weekend. I stayed with my family in Missouri for the weekend and got to have some good quality time with my siblings. The days were spent lounging, playing board games and putting together a trampoline. My little brother had his 11th birthday several days before I got home so I got to celebrate a couple days afterwards with him. Other than that it was a very low key weekend and I didn’t do much other than catch up on uploading photographs and preparing blogs for the website.I left Monday afternoon to fly back to Las Vegas to meet up with Trevor and the car. From there we drove to a campground right off of Lake Mead.
3/4/2016: ClassicWhen I was younger we started many road trips to National Parks on or around March 4th. I remember this because we would be getting into the car so early that it was dark outside. As my brother and I grumbled about being tired my dad would say: ‘It’s the best day to go on a trip.’ We usually didn’t respond because we knew the answer. ‘Get it?! March forth’ my dad would say as he imitated someone walking.Today is a special day, not just because it brings back these memories of previous trips, but also because I get to be home with my family for the weekend. While we were in Death Valley I spoke with a reporter from PBS NewsHour and they would be airing a piece about our trip. Due to the debates and other news I found out that our little segment would be happening on March 4th. I would get to watch it with my Dad!My dad and the PBS Ken Burn’s series America’s Best Idea have been a major inspiration for this trip. I remember in 2010 when I excitedly wrote my dad an email about visiting all 58 National Parks in 58 weeks, in 2013 Obama elevated Pinnacles from a National Monument to a National Park, so the trip became 59in59. I remember ordering the Ken Burn’s special on blu-ray and buying the book. I would sit up at night watching it and feverishly writing notes about the parks.
We stood in the kitchen waiting for the segment. For me it was an absolutely classic moment. I stood in the kitchen with my dad. Judy Woodruff mispronounced my name, story of my life. And we got to see how it turned out. PBS did such a good job of editing our conversation and overlaying it with relevant photos. Judy Woodruff pronounced my name correctly and it was done. Thank you, PBS!
Click here to watch the 59in59 segment on PBS NewsHour
3/3/2016: From Dark to LightI woke up at 4:30am feeling alive. A full eight hours is much more refreshing and sustaining than two and a half while sitting up in the car. I realized that I was up far before sunrise and journaled while I waited for the world to come alive. At 5:30am I popped out of my sleeping bag and went in search of the sunrise. It wasn’t hard to find, but I did manage to capture some photos of it right next to one of the Great Basin National Park signs. I returned to the campsite and after breakfast over the campfire we engaged in what I shall now refer to as, ‘The Ordeal’.Trevor has a wedding in New Jersey to attend that he had planned since before the trip started in June. I had a flight voucher and booked a trip home to see my family. We both have an excess of things in the car so we began the painstaking process of determining what should stay and what should go.Do I need three pairs of pants? Or will two suffice? Do I need the stacks of park maps and informational papers that I have accumulated, or can those stay at home for after the trip? The books I finished can go home. The dirty laundry can come home as well. What about the four tarps we have, will one work? DoI need to keep my bike helmet and biking clothes when my bike is in Montana at a friends house?Before packing my bag I moved into reorganization mode and reconsolidated our food bin, our miscellaneous bin and several stray boxes of bags of stuff so that we had fewer floating things cluttering up the inside of the truck. We are finally honing in on the necessities and removing the excess in a way that will help us stay organized, so that we can both declutter the truck and our minds.The Dark: We finished with ‘The Ordeal’ around noon and headed to the Visitor’s Center so that we could go on the Lehman Cave tour. The caves that I have visited before usually keep you very far away from the elements and features of the cave. This tour put you right up next to stalactites and stalagmites, there was cave popcorn and shields, which I learned are only present in about 80 of the 40,000 caves that are currently documented in the United States. At several points all of the lights were turned out so we experienced complete darkness. While there is only one tour a day in the winter they kick it up to sixteen during the summer! It is impressive, the cave tour itself is a worth a trip to Great Basin.The Light: After the tour we hopped in the car to head south. We left Great Basin National Park, a place known for astronomy and a place that is one of the darkest and least light polluted in the lower 48. We left all of that for Las Vegas. A land of lights and extreme fluoresce. Flights, of course, are quite cheap when you are going into, or out of Las Vegas. Although it is tempting to put all of my money on red or black, I think I will skip the roulette table and only stop briefly between National Parks.3/2/2016: Snowshoeing into the ParkWe ‘camped’ in a parking lot, so I decided it was best to leave by sunrise. I turned the engine on the car at 5:30am, just two and a half hours after going to bed. We tried to drive the main park road to see if we could get some good views during the sunrise. It was closed, so we opted to return to town for breakfast at a greasy spoon. On the way down a lady waved us down from the side of the road. Her truck had died, so we gave her a quick jump before heading down to town.There are two restaurants in Baker, Nevada. Both were closed. One was closed for the winter, the other until 10am. At 6:00am this left us with no options. We drove up to the Lehman Creek Visitor’s Center and sat in the parking lot reorganizing things until 8am when they opened.We asked about what was available given all the snow. They rent out snowshoes for $2 a day and recommended some good hikes, they also had tours of Lehman cave that started at 1pm daily. We opted for the snowshoes.We hiked the 3.5 miles and two thousand feet of elevation to Wheeler Peak campground. It was covered in three feet of snow. We attempted to navigate to the Bristlecone pine grove, but the only snowshoe tracks we could find led in another direction. Without knowing exactly where we were, and having to return the shoes by 4pm we had to head back down. The entire day was like an out of body experience. I felt like a complete zombie. I was running on empty after the long drive and a mere cat nap. One step. Put the other foot in front. It was a struggle and I felt like the food I was putting my body was being immediately turned into the necessary fuel to push me forward.We returned our snowshoes and asked about free camping. There was a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) campground about fifteen miles up the road. We arrived to find a brand new campground. We started up a fire, watched the sun go down and then I retired at 8pm after a long long day!3/1/2016: Upward and OnwardWe woke up early to check out the dunes and were able to find a couple Eureka Dunes Primrose, which is an endangered flower that can only be found on these specific dunes, we took some pictures and then hit the road. We hurried back to the Mesquite Sand Dunes for a 10am ranger walk. One of the requirements for the Junior Ranger program is to go to a ranger program and this was the only one that was close to fitting our schedule.We hurried back to Furnace Creek so that I could pick up my Junior Ranger booklet. There was a brief stop at the Furance Creek Pool so that we could take a dip and freshen up with a shower. Even though we are in the desert it is incredibly refreshing to take a hot shower. When they only happen about once every week or less it makes them that much more enjoyable. We went to fuel up the car and ran into the ladies we had seen while hiking Mosaic Canyon. I made the mistake of asking about the University of Virginia (UVA) v. University of North Carolina (UNC) basketball game. UVa had won, but the lady whose daughter had gone to UVA attended UNC herself, whoops! We encouraged them to meet us when we come through Shenandoah in August. They encouraged us to stop at the Shoshone reservation down the road for Indian Tacos, we did and feasted on some delicious fry bread tacos.We left and made our final Death Valley stops at Augueberry Point and the Charcoal Kilns. Augueberry is on the opposite side of Dante’s View and while part of the valley is obstructed the view is stunning. We ran into two guys, Bill and Tony, who have been coming to the park for 30 year for Tony’s birthday. They had seen several superblooms . They said that sometimes you get up to Augueberry and you can see a massive lake. Depending on when the rain hits the entire valley can be filled with water!We left Augueberry and headed for the Charcoal Kilns, I had no idea what to expect. Would they be little stoves? They were 20-25 tall structures and were visually pretty stunning. They were only in use for three years, but it is certainly a worthwhile stop.We got back in the car and set our coordinates for Great Basin National Park in Nevada. On the way I called my little brother who was celebrating his 11th birthday! He had a concert and I caught them while they were out at dinner. It was good to catch up, but what he doesn’t know is that I am flying home to see them this weekend!! Trevor has a friend’s wedding and I had a voucher from a year ago when I got bumped on an oversold flight. I coordinated it with my parents so that none of my little siblings know I will be coming back for the weekend. Surprise!The drive to Great Basin was a doozy,, because we had to stop and find wifi along the way. If you look at the directions from Death Valley to Great Basin there is nothing along the way. Luckily, we were able to track down the Tonopah Brewing Company. We called ahead and were thankful to hear that they had beer, food and wifi. A worthy dinner stop. The wifi was necessary so that we could upload some photos and send them to someone who is doing a story on us, details coming soon! The only problem with this whole scenario is that it took some time to upload the photos so by the time we left Tonopah it meant that we would be arriving in Great Basin at 2:30am. We got there, I journaled for 30 minutes, curled up in my sleeping bag, in the drivers seat and fell asleep. Unlike being at sea level in Death Valley we were now at 7,000 feet elevation and it was much colder!2/29/2016: Leap Day!We woke up and made a breakfast of scrambled eggs and grilled potatoes before heading to Mosaic Canyon near Stovepipe Wells. The canyon walls closed in until you got to a twenty-foot dry waterfall. I was confused by the term, but it is just a drop off that would be a waterfall if there were water coming down the canyon. While on the hike we met two ladies from Virginia! One of their daughters was a 2008 University of Virginia graduate, so we talked for a bit while we hiked down the canyon.After hiking mosaic we said our goodbyes to Dan and Emma, it was great to share the park with friends. Dan was actually one of my residents when I was an RA in college so it was wonderful to reconnect after such a long time.We turned right to head towards the Racetrack. The Racetrack is famous, because it is the place where there are rocks that move for seemingly no reason. It wasn’t until this past year that they documented how the rocks were moving. Ice would cover the ground and then wind would move the rocks on the ice and they would skate just above the surface leaving marks of their travels. It was such a mystery, because they could see the path of the rocks, but they couldn’t identify why they were moving.It was here that I also took my Leap Day photo. One of my friends, Juan, has an Instagram account where he takes jumping pictures. He celebrated his 100th jump several weeks ago and I wanted to celebrate with him. I donned my American flag onesie, got a good silhouette and jumped for all I was worth!The road out to the Racetrack is only 27 miles long, but it takes between 2-3 hours, each way. It’s teeth chattering and forces you to go slow because of the extreme washboard. We left the Racetrack to make our way further north to Eureka Dunes. The dunes are 700 feet tall and the tallest in California. We arrived at 8pm after it was dark, so didn’t get to see them, and would have to wait until the morning.2/28/2016: Flowers on Flowers on FlowersWe drove further up Warm Springs road and explored some side canyons. After two days my count for distinct wild flowers was around fifteen species. While the majority of the superbloom is the yellow ones there are pinks and whites and purples and reds to be found as well. The purples and whites are a bit more common, but on our hike down one of the side canyons I found a red Indian Paintbrush and another small red flower that hadn’t yet opened it’s petals. They were the only two red patches I found the entire time in Death Valley.We drove out of Warm Springs to camp on Greenwater Valley Road. On the way there we kept stopping to look at fields of flowers. It was mesmerizing, majestic and unbelievable. How were there this many flowers? It’s one thing to see a blanket of flowers in a place that is green, a place where you expect them. It is quite another to see them in the middle of the desert, in the middle of the hottest place on Earth. At some point while wandering through the flowers I realized that this is the first time that a superbloom has happened in Death Valley during the social media era. In 2005, during the last superbloom, Facebook was an infant, Twitter just a twinkle in someone’s eye, and Instagram was far from being conceived. You can say what you want about social media and whether or not it is a good or bad thing, the one thing that is certain is that far more people can see and experience something like a superbloom. There are stories about the superbloom on CNN, NYTimes, Washington Post and news stations all across the country, while these stories probably would have happened in 2005, they wouldn’t have happened as quickly and they wouldn’t have gotten as much coverage as they do today when you can find hundreds and thousands of photos on social media.2/27/2016: ALIVE Valley!We woke up and did, apparently, what every other person in the park with a camera decided to do for sunrise. We headed to Zabriskie Point. The best part was not the sunrise. There was a little girl (she had two siblings) who was an absolute riot! She kept yelling for sister to race her. Her parents kept asking her to be quiet. When the dad was set up as the starting line and the mom the finish line, which was done by repeated yelling, her sister finally obliged and lined up next to her. On your mark, get set, go! Her sister started sprinting and she started running in slo-mo. Taking a good fifteen seconds to run the short distance between her parents.We came back to the campsite and did a full car clean out while we waited for one of my college friends, Dan, and his fiancé, Emma, to come meet us for a weekend in the park. For those of you that don’t follow park news Death Valley is experiencing a superbloom at this very moment. About once a decade there is big rain in the fall, it is enough rain to cause a massive amount of wildflowers to bloom the following spring.We drove south, for the flowers, and made two pit stops at Devil’s Golf Course and Badwater Basin (the lowest point in the United States). Then it was superbloom time. It was like a carpet. There were so many wildflowers, and not enough time to frolic through all of them! We made our way south an eventually turned onto Warm Springs Road for some backcountry camping. You simply pull off the road and set up your tent. All of the spots near the wildflowers were occupied, as we drove out of the wildflowers I started to get a little bummed. Shortly afterwards we went up a hill and found a spot. We were perched on a hill overlooking a field of yellow. It was magnificent to see them laid out for miles. A thin yellow blanket on an otherwise barren field, this spring it wasn’t Death Valley it was very much ALIVE.2/26/2016: We Met a CelebrityWe woke up in the overflow campground at Sunset, near Furnace Creek. The overflow campground is a dirt parking lot. The ground is hard enough that I couldn’t get any tent stakes in the ground, so when I got out of my tent the thing actually blew over.We stopped at the Visitor’s Center in Furnace Creek to pick up my Junior Ranger booklet and ask about the wildflowers and places to camp in the backcountry. The ranger behind the desk couldn’t have been less helpful. I asked ‘where can I find….’ He quickly responded ‘here is a map of where all the wildflowers are.’ And began looking at the next person in line. I said ‘I was actually wondering about back country camping.’ He pointed at a map and said, ‘Here,’ pointing very quickly at the map. He didn’t actually want to help. I left and tracked down another ranger, who ended up being much more insightful.We started the day driving the Beatty Cutoff and seeing part of the superbloom. It looked like a carpet of yellow with some purple and a little bit of white sprinkled in different parts. We continued to Rhyolite, just outside the park, for a quick stop.Much of the rest of the day was spent driving the Titus Canyon road, which is a beast of a road. The hills ranged from red to yellow, green to purple and every color in between. We eventually got to the canyon where the walls tightened up. Definitely a great drive if you have the time…and the vehicle for it.Our last stop of the day was Dante’s View. With my running shoes laces, I threw on a jacket and took off down the trail with my camera hopping over rocks and spreading my arms to fly. Dante’s View is 5,000 above Death Valley and gives you a beautiful view of most of the valley. As I was enjoying the setting sun and taking pictures a couple walked up next to me and we shared in our awe of the scene before us.‘Where are you from?’ I asked.‘Mariposa, right outside of Yosemite.’ He said.‘Have you been?’ He asked‘I was there in October and early November.’ I said and explained 59in59‘Well, Lee plays John Muir and has been doing it for 35-years’.’ She said‘Wait, Lee…Lee Stetson. Were you in the Ken Burns PBS special on National Parks.’ I asked.He chuckled (like John Muir would) and said ‘I was’We chatted for fifteen minutes. I thanked him for his work and let him know that the Ken Burn’s ‘America’s Best Idea’ was a big inspiration for the trip.2/25/2016: Sunrise, Waterfall and StarbucksSunrise was at 6:30am. It was a 45-minute drive up to the Giant Forest Museum and another 45-minute walk out to Moro Rock, so we got up at 5:00am and started driving.I am not good with heights and while the Moro Rock hike is only about ¼ of a mile, it is one that makes me face my fears. It gets my heart pounding, but the 360-degree view up top is absolutely worth it. We hiked down and made a quick pit stop at Tunnel Log to take some pictures of a tree that cars can drive under (if they aren’t over 8’0”). I also stopped at Colonel Young tree and learned that Charles Young was the first black National Park superintendent. He and his cavalry unit of Buffalo Soldiers were assigned to the park in 1903 and they helped build some of the first roads into the park. Thank you, Colonel Young!We drove back down our campsite and waved goodbye to the Four Guardsmen, which are four trees that you drive past when coming up the Sequoia National Park road. We got pack to our campsite and I made the 3.7 mile run up to Marble Falls before packing up the car to begin our drive down to Death Valley National Park.Much of the day was spent at Starbucks catching up on photos and website details. I don’t think that they are aware, but Starbucks is kind of a ceremonial sponsor of the trip. We go there to refuel on caffeine and use wireless to upload many of our photos. Unfortunately, due to the amount of time that it took us to upload everything we didn’t get into Death Valley until midnight.2/24/2016: Plans Gone AwryOur morning started at 4:45am as I woke up to heat up some water for coffee prior to our two and a half hour drive to Kings Canyon. My plan was to get there early for an 8:30am program. The drive took two hours so we had some time to kill and got breakfast in the park, I had lemon mascarpone pancakes that were delectable. We finished breakfast and headed up to John Muir lodge for the 8:30am program, no one was there. We stopped at the visitor’s center, not open until 9:00am. We drove out to Big Stump Trail, and couldn’t find the trail due to snow. All we could find was trash; we filled several grocery bags with trash that was just sitting around the parking lot at Big Stump. King’s Canyon was not doing a good job to impress me.
At 9:00am we headed back to the Visitor’s Center to watch the park film before making our way back to John Muir Lodge for a 10:00am snowshoeing adventure. We went back to John Muir Lodge and were informed that it wouldn’t be happening because no one had registered. I had called the previous day to make a reservation, as had another guy that was waiting there as well. This day is not going well.We left and made our way Hume Lake. On our way back we stopped at General Grant tree and did the associated trail. The scale of some of these trees is insane. Imagine taking a football field and putting it up vertically. Now look up that football field and imagine tree branches thicker than your chest 80-yards up that football field. It’s something else.We made a quick run up to Panoramic Point, which is absolutely worth it, if you get the chance. We descended and made our way back to Big Stumps after we had asked a ranger about where the trail started. Most people don’t stop here, but it is incredible. One of our Twitter followers, Neel, mentioned it and said that we had to stop. We did, and were very thankful for it. To stand on a sequoia stump helps you acutely understand how massive these beasts are.
We drove as far down the General’s Highway as we could and then set up where we could get a good picture of the sunset. We rewarded ourselves with getting up super early by going out to dinner. We settled on pizza and then wished we had tracked down a buffet. Then, we discovered, that on Wednesday’s this pizza place has a salad bar, pizza buffet. Jackpot! We enjoyed as many pieces of pizza as possible while watching updates about the Presidential race.
2/23/2016: Unexpected Animals, Unexpected TrailsOur first day in Sequoia was a big one. I got up and ran about half a mile up Marble Falls Trail before heading down so that I could be in the Visitor’s Center when they opened. I got to the Visitor’s Center and the lady at the desk was one of the most helpful people that I have ever had the pleasure of talking to at a National Park visitor’s center. I had a lot of the things that I would like to see while in the park, she patiently walked through the list with me and told me what was opened and closed due to snow and helped me set up an itinerary for the next several days.Unexpected Animals: It started with a hike up Middle Fork and Paradise Creek. On my way down from Middle Fork I was jogging on the road and saw a bobcat. He/she heard me and bound away off the road before I could get a good photo. I made my way down the hill and over to Paradise Creek where I ran into a ranger. He told me to check out the next streambed, as there were some cool orange newts. I was mesmerized. I took photos for 20-30 minutes trying to capture the moment. Amazing.Unexpected Trails: Next we headed to General Sherman Tree, which is the largest by volume in the world. It is magnificently large, but the name frustrates me. Trees are known for life. General Sherman brought death and destruction, it doesn’t seem fitting. Perhaps Mother Treeresa would be better. My plan was to run the Congress Trail, visit Tharp Log and then come back on the Cresent Trail for a nice five mile loop through the big sequoias. Seven to eight miles later I was still running in circles, I was grievously lost. I knew where I was generally, but there were so many side trails and I couldn’t find the ones that I needed to be on. Throw in the fact that there was eighteen-inch snow pack and my feet were getting cold. I got back to the car 45-minutes later than planned. Our final move was to go to Moro Rock for sunset, due to my getting lost we missed the sunset by mere minutes, we will have to come back another day.2/22/2016: The Good, The Bad, The UnknownThe Good: I woke up early to catch the sun’s first rays on the Dawn Wall of El Capitan. As I was driving around I noticed three cars with about ten photographers hop out at one of the turn-offs near El Cap. I pulled in and decided that this was a good spot. I later learned that a professional photographer was putting on a photography class for some people by taking them to different places around Yosemite. I talked to several of the participants and got some great reflection shots of El Capitan in the river.The Bad: Before we left Yosemite, even though it was out of our way, I wanted to stop at Hetch Hetchy. It is a dam that provides water and power for millions of Californians. After the San Francisco fire in the early 1900’s it was deemed that they need a better water source. Hetch Hetchy was picked. John Muir fought, and lost. He said it was one of the most beautiful places in the world. I walked up and saw the dam and felt incredibly sad. What is the price of progress? Are we always going to be willing to pay it?The Unknown: After leaving Yosemite we drove to Sequoia National Park. The drive was curvy and wildflower filled. The hills were covered with California poppies. We got to the one open campground at Sequoia, Potwisha, and set up our tent. The visitor’s center was closed and we didn’t know what to expect so we drove up the park road. It goes up 4,000-5,000 feet and is a rather epic road. As we drove up the sun was setting. We would pull around a turn and get an amazing view, and then half a mile up the road, it was even more intense, this continued until the sun finally disappeared behind the clouds. We drove in the dark getting glimpses of the sequoias that were around us. I can’t wait for the light!2/21/2016: Yosemite Round 2Every year in late February, if conditions are just right there is something magnificent that happens in Yosemite National Park. There is a waterfall, called Horsetail Waterfall. It is right next to El Capitan. Anyways, at sunset the rays of the sun hit he waterfall in such a way that it makes it look like it is on fire.We had one chance to catch it as Yosemite was on the way down to Sequoia. We pulled into the Yosemite Valley and it was a complete zoo. There were hundreds of cars parked alongside the road with people lined up in chairs, it was 3:00pm and sunset wouldn’t happen for another two and a half hours.We had enough time to set up our tent in Camp 4 and skipped driving to avoid the circus. We walked to what looked like a good spot and waited with the hundred or so people that were nearby. Anticipation was high. The previous night the waterfall was light up and provided some amazing colors. The sun fell, and then it set and…nothing. It changed colors a little bit, but nothing as grand as what I was hoping.We walked back to our tent and I was feeling pretty bummed, I thought we had timed it just right to catch it, yet we missed it by a day. As we walked back to Camp 4 the moon started to rise of Half Dome. It was nearly full and made Half Dome look like a huge shadow; I called it our consolation prize. It was beautiful.2/20/2016: Point ReyesOne of my old Residence Life supervisees, Ben, from UVa lives in San Francisco where he is doing a post-doc at Stanford (he is a smart dude). We drove out to Samuel P. Taylor State Park where we would met our other friends, Neal, Emily and their dog Ginny. We stayed around waiting for a campground and then made our way to Point Reyes National Seashore where we walked along the beach.The beach sunset was magical. There were people fishing, dogs chasing sticks, and a guy with that huge bubble making thing. We walked the beach and chatted about life.Afterwards we went back to camp and made aluminum foil packets of potatoes, onion and peppers with some Italian sausage. It was delicious and we went to bed well fed!2/19/2016: Rainy DriveWe got up at around 5am to make the drive back down to San Francisco. We drove the Avenue of the Giants which is south of Redwood National Park and is a smaller road next to the main road. It takes you next to massive trees, it was raining but quite peaceful.We got to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area to meet up with a reporter from KPIX in San Francisco so that they could do a quick piece about 59in59. We talked on camera, took some photos of the Golden Gate bridge and then hit up a coffee shop to catch up on some internet.I dropped Trevor off at his Uncle’s house in Redwood City. His uncle has joined us for both Yosemite and Pinnacles and even got an American Flag onesie to wear with us as well! I headed into the city and had dinner with some friends from the University of Virginia.2/18/2016: A Full Redwoods DayWe woke up early and headed to Klamath where my goal was to track down Hidden Beach. The signage wasn’t great, but I was able to find it. It was hidden and no one else was there, well named I guess. It was a good, quiet way to start the morning.Afterwards we went to the Visitor’s Center and got the passcode we needed to visit Tall Trees Trail. It was a nice short hike that took you around a grove of massive Redwoods. During the hike there was even a tree that had a tunnel for you to talk through, definitely have never seen that before!Afterwards we hiked to Lady Bird Johnson Grove, which is the site where Nixon dedicated a grove in honor of Lyndon B. Johnson’s wife, Lady Bird. It was a beautiful grove and we got some good shots as the trees were covered in mist.We attempted to get to Endert’s Beach in time for low tide so that we could do some tidepooling, and were just a wee bit too late and walked the beach in a light rain. 2/17/2016: There is a Reason the Trees are So Big!We camped at Flint Ridge, which was amazing. It was a ¼ mile hike in and was free! We woke up early and tracked down the Damnation Creek Trail. It took us from the Redwood forest down to the coast in a relatively quick amount of time. Most of the time it was overcast and near raining.After Damnation we headed to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and hopped on the James Irvine Trail. My plan was to go out to Fern Canyon, go south on the dirt road and then come back on another trail. I got to Fern Canyon (dunked my entire body in the river) and saw an incredible brief ray of sunlight. After that it started to rain. I attempted to find my way to the Fern Canyon parking lot so that I could run back down the road. I got turned around and couldn’t find the trail, all I found was a huge herd of Roosevelt Elk. One bull was sitting there with his harem of females and I just quietly tiptoed away.It rained most of the rest of the time that I was running back the car. In the 8-miles I had to run back to the car I had a lot of time to consider the fact that it takes a lot of water for trees to grow as big as they do here. Being rained on in Redwoods is just part of the experience.
2/16/2016: BIG TREES!
I’m back to my usual early wake up. Being that we had some extra time before the Visitor’s Center opened we tracked down a Starbucks and spent way too long there. I got everything set up to use my first Mail Chimp email. I designed it, got it exactly as I wanted it. Tested it. Check. Send. And they cancelled my account. The extra hour I had spent figuring out what I need to do to get it up and running was totally wasted, and so was an hour of the time that I could spend in Redwoods National Park.
We finally got in the park, tracked down amazing free camping in the backcountry and went for a drive through some of the groves that would also set us up for a sweet hike. Redwoods is interesting, because there is the National Park and then four California State Parks that in combination protect the big Redwoods. We hiked around massive trees that are so large that descriptions are incapable of describing their grandeur. There is only one solution, get out here and come see them.
2/15/2016: Back to the Road
I woke up early to run. I got 7.2 miles in, although there was a good amount of walking. My legs and heart are there, but my lungs just aren’t up to speed yet. I just couldn’t get enough air and had to walk so that I could recover. The South Wilderness Trail was completely secluded and a delightful way to kick off the morning.
I talked to the head enforcement ranger, who also happened to be the one I went running with on the previous day. I explained that another ranger told me to park in the spot that I used, she is going to look into it. A $75 ticket is a stiff penalty, especially when you consider that outside of camping I am paying $80 for the yearly parks pass.
We drove most of the way up to Redwoods National Park, but decided to camp just south of the park as it was a bit cheaper and we had plans to stay in the backcountry. We saved ourselves some money, a bit of time and camped about 45-minutes south of Redwoods, eager to kick things off the following morning.
2/14/2016: Valentine’s Day!
I went for a 9am run put on by some of the rangers. Slowly getting back into it! I came back to the campsite and it was Valentine’s Day pancakes. I opted to add bacon and bananas to mine, it is a decision that can never be regretted. They were delicious.
I headed out at 11am to get some hiking in while Trevor and Sarah waited at the campsite. Trevor’s uncle was coming to hike for part of the day. My morning was spent going to North and South Chalone Peaks. I saw condors, up close, and found the coolest outhouse I have ever seen in my life.
I ran down most of the way from North Chalone so that I could have enough time to hike High Peaks, which was an additional 5-miles tacked on to the 9.5 I had already done. I left at 4:30pm and started hiking fast. I got up to the ridge right around sunset and got to hike around the Pinnacles with condors swooping overhead as the sky turned from yellow, to orange, to red, pink and purple. Victory!
I descended quickly and just barely made it to the car without needing a headlamp, I did get a ticket. Apparently when the Ranger told me which spot to park in, they just wanted to mess with me. Ugh, Happy Valentine’s Day!2/13/2016: Hiking in Caves
Sarah’s parents came out early in the morning to check out Pinnacles for the first time. We hiked to Balconies that features a short 0.5 mile cave. We hiked a total of 10-miles for the day, it took some time to get out to the actual caves. We got some good views of the Pinnacles, enjoyed the caves and even got to see a bunch of climbers. We weren’t sure if what we saw was a California Condor in the distance, but we were pretty sure.
We came back to the Visitor’s Center and I picked up my Junior Ranger program to start my important work and learn as much about the parks as I can put into my brain. We opted to hold off on dinner until after the Ranger program. It was about birds, which usually doesn’t really tickle my fancy. This time though, we learned about Acorn Woodpeckers, don’t you worry they are going to get a separate blog post, because they are so cool!
2/12/2016: An Early Morning and Traffic
As my body recovered I felt more and more like myself. I woke up just before 6am in complete darkness. Ready to hike. Trevor got up as well and we made moves to hike Ryan Mountain. It was a short 1-mile, 1,000-foot elevation gain mountain hike. The views on top for sunrise were phenomenal. We could see the Wonderland of Rocks to the north and to the west there was a beautiful snow covered peak. Definitely the right call for the morning.
We packed up our stuff and then made for LA. Trevor had lunch with his aunt and cousin while I went to meet up with another one of our sponsors, Runyon Canyon apparel. Tony and I ate lunch while he showed me where he does all the shirts, bandanas and everything. It was cool to see all the stuff he has going.
We left LA at the perfect time to hit ALL of the traffic. We didn’t get to Pinnacles until 9:30pm, where we met our friend Sarah. She had a fire, burgers and chips. We were saved!!
2/11/2016: A Visitor
Trevor’s cousin from LA was coming out to hike for the day. Due to my still lack of 100% I took the truck and diverged from the group. I drove to 49 Palms oasis and did a short 3-mile roundtrip hike to an oasis. On the way in I saw a helicopter evacuate a lady who had busted her knee. The heli landed on top of the mountain and took her out, it was incredible to watch that thing fly and land on such a tiny space.
Afterwards, I hiked out to Willow Hole Trail, based on the recommendation of one of my friends, Nick. As I hiked my body started to feel better. I drank water, ate food and could feel inklings of my former self starting to come back, hopefully that means no dengue.
I made a quick pit stop at Desert Queen mine and got to see some incredible mining equipment from the early 1900’s, although they stopped mining in 1960. It’s wild to see a mine in the middle of the desert, how did they get everything out here over a hundred years ago?!
The rest of the sunlight was used to try and get photos of Joshua Tree’s with the sunset in the background. It didn’t work so well, but I tried until it got dark. I went to a Ranger program about the Joshua Tree, which was well done and returned to the campsite to find Trevor and his cousin had made a feast of steak tacos, amazing!
2/10/2016: Sweat it OutI poured sweat all night long. It was the worst. I woke up feeling like I had lost four or five pounds of liquid. The rest of my day was a haze. We made stops. I got out and hike around and took pictures. I was slowly coming to when we made a 7-mile round trip hike to an oasis. It was everything I had to walk there and back. Again, I bundled up in multiple layers and hoped to sweat all of the bad juju out of my system2/9/2016: It Begins
I woke up and felt cold after sweating it out a bit in my sleeping bag. Feeling cold in 70-80 degree weather is not a good sign. It means that my body is burning far hotter and the comparative temperature is much colder for my skin. Bad news bears.
We ate breakfast with Dorian and then Trevor started driving to Joshua Tree. I put my head on my pillow, bundled up in a blanket and just hoped that a mosquito in either Hawai’i or American Samoa didn’t give me Dengue Fever. Most of the car ride I was in and out of sleep. We stopped at Taco Bell, Wal-Mart and then the Visitor’s Center. Every time it took me time to gather the mental and physical energy to get out of the car. I skipped on Wal-Mart because there just wasn’t anything in the tank for that type of experience.We got to our campsite and I crawled into bed at 3pm. I only woke up to try and catch the sunset at Key’s View. After that I put on 4-layers, and a synthetic down jacket with two blankets. A banana, 40-ounces of water and some trail mix and I was ready for bed.
We met with one of our sponsors, Ridgemont Outfitters, at the Korean Friendship Bell in LA. Ridgemont makes some awesome shoes that serve as a good hybrid between being able to go on a hike and walk around downtown. They are great for me on the days where I am driving, hiking, walking through visitors centers and need something comfortable for multiple occasions. Trevor has literally worn his every day since we got them.
After meeting with Ridgemont we drove down to San Diego and met with another one of our sponsors, Tipsy Elves. They have supplied us with some incredible American Flag themed gear. Pretty much whenever you see one of us sporting the Red, White and Blue we are wearing Tipsy Elves. It was cool to see where the magic happens.
We stole some internet time and then met up with our buddy from Channel Islands, Paul, to check out a couple breweries in town before heading up to Encinitas to stay with my buddy Dorian for the night.