Utah and a Bit of Nevada

Hello again!

Last time I wrote an update on our travels we were having some amazing adventures in Utah and this blog post will complete our tour of the Southwest. I didn’t expect that we would spend so much time in this Utah, but there are just so many amazing things to see and do!

 

Bryce Canyon

After the lovely solitude of our hikes in Escalante, we made our way to the much more popular and busy Bryce Canyon. This is a spectacular place and the incredible rock structures and hoodoos were even more amazing in person than in the many photos I’ve seen. We enjoyed a sunset and sunrise overlooking the canyon and hiked the Navajo Trail and Queens Garden Loop. It was a spectacular experience to hike through the hoodoos and realize how huge they really are. In the spirit of being honest in this blog, I will say that for us, this was not a relaxed stroll in the park. On this hike Steve and I (after drinking large amounts of coffee that we brewed at the picnic tables near the trailhead) both had to pee really badly. There were many signs saying not to walk off the trail as well as tons of people and wide open spaces. Not ideal circumstances for a quick pee in the woods. This meant we had to hold it in until we reached the end of the trail, causing the hike to be quite rushed and uncomfortable. Nevertheless, the scenery was magnificent and hiking down into the canyon is certainly an experience that I would recommend to anyone visiting Bryce Canyon.

As expected, there were a lot of people at Bryce. Tour bus after tour bus came by and unloaded hundreds of visitors. I am so glad that we found some wonderful dispersed campsites in a forest just minutes from the park entrance. The sites were spaced out and very peaceful, surrounded by tall pine trees, which we really appreciated. We set up a hammock, made a roaring fire, and enjoyed an evening of cooking, reading,  blog writing, and photo editing.

The next day we stopped by the Bryce Canyon Lodge which is a really charming and rustic spot that is definitely worth checking out. We browsed the amazing crafts and products we didn’t want to spend money on and relaxed on the couches by the fireplace. 

We then drove all the way to the highest point of the park and stopped at the many beautiful viewpoints along the way.  It was incredibly cool to see dark green pine trees sprinkled among the pointy orange hoodoos and lingering patches of pure white snow.  My favorite spot was the natural bridge!

 

 

Tuba City, AZ

I’m sure we could have stayed at Bryce for weeks, but the west coast was beckoning us so we moved on. Just another place to return to some day! Our next stop was to visit an old friend of mine from high school and her husband who live in Tuba City, AZ. We spent a really wonderful couple of days in this small town on Navajo land. They both teach on the reservation and it was amazing to get an insight into life in this area and learn about the region. They told us stories about different celebrations and traditions and gave us a picture of what life is like on the reservation. They cooked us some incredible meals and we were able to catch up on washing dishes and laundry and also got to hang out with some awesome cats! 

We also got the chance to explore some incredible ruins and canyon areas with amazing rock structures and stunning views. Thankfully our friends had a 4WD truck and knowledge of the area! I don’t think we would have found these hidden gems on our own or even been able to drive the bumpy, dirt roads to get to them! It was really fantastic to be alone in this beautiful areas with deep canyons, multicolored hoodoos, and striated rock structures of all shapes and sizes. There is really something to be said for getting off the beaten path and exploring local treasures! I won’t go into the details of the specific places we visited, as I’d love to help keep these spots pristine and untouched, but feel free to send me a direct message if you want some more information.

 

Coral Pink Sand Dunes

After a wonderful few days in Tuba City, we drove to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes. The dunes lived up to their name and were a brilliant shade of coral pink. The wind was strong and blew sand in our eyes, noses, and mouths which was frustrating. However, the wind also blew away footprints and left the dunes looking smooth and untouched. We wandered around the dunes and climbed a few of them, avoiding the dune buggies that were for some (dangerous) reason allowed to zip around in the same area as walkers.

 

Zion National Park

We then made our way to Zion National Park. We have been to this amazing park before, but wanted to hit a few spots that we missed the first time around. We entered the park on a Friday afternoon, aiming to check out the visitor center and plan our hikes. When we got there, the parking lot was completely full and tons of cars were circling looking for spots. The park was so crowded! We decided we didn’t want to wait, or take the shuttle from Springdale, so we headed to Kanarra Creek to hike the lesser known slot canyon to Kanarraville Falls.

This was a really neat hike along a river, but there were many river crossings and the water was seriously COLD this time of year. My feet quickly went numb in my water shoes and it was like walking with huge ice blocks instead of feet, hoping that each step was steady enough for me not to trip and twist my ankle. The slot canyon itself was pretty awesome with beautiful, high, twisting walls. Unfortunately, the canyon is filled with the river of freezing cold water with only a few scattered rocks for relief, so my feet kept getting colder and number. The famous spot in the canyon is a log fashioned into a ladder next to a waterfall of rushing water. I have seen slot canyons and I have seen waterfalls, but this was my first time seeing a waterfall in a slot canyon! This was a truly unique spot! After getting our fill of the beautiful scene and taking some photos, we rushed back to the warmth of the car and dry socks. If you ever do this hike in spring, I highly suggest you wear wetsuit socks or tall waterproof rubber boot to protect your feet from the bitter cold waters.

 

I suddenly realized that it was the night of the peak of the Lyrid meteor shower so we made our way to the famous bridge in Zion that overlooks the Virgin River and the Watchman. Steve spent the night taking photos and chatting with other night photographers while I sat in a camp chair bundled in blankets watching the meteor shower. It wasn’t the most spectacular one I’ve seen, but being in the incredible darkness of Zion surrounded by sheer rock cliffs and the rushing river below was quite magical! I saw around 40 meteors in a couple hours before heading back to the van for a few hours is of sleep. Check out Steve’s amazing shot of the Milky Way (and one Lyrid meteor) over the Watchman:

IMG_20170423_094231_205
Photo by @walasavagephoto

 

Valley of Fire State Park

After the beautiful Zion National Park, we continued driving toward the west coast, making a brief stop in Nevada. We stopped for the day at Valley of Fire State Park. This is a beautiful area full of dazzling red rocks and wondrous geological formations. It’s a lovely gem in the middle of a pretty uninteresting and bland stretch of desert in southern Nevada. We did the very quick hike to Elephant Rock, which as you may have guessed, looks like an elephant!

We then drove over to the Fire Wave. The previous week, we tried and failed two times to get permits to hike The Wave near Kanab, UT. We entered the lottery with around 100 other people for only 10 spots, and were not successful. As a consolation prize, we decided to hike the Fire Wave instead. It was a very hot hike, in fact there were signs telling us not to hike due to the heat! However, it was a pretty short hike for us and we carried plenty of water and dressed properly (covered with lightweight, long-sleeve shirts and hats). The hike had some lovely wildflowers and gigantic red rocks that offered a tiny bit of shade, but not much.

Eventually we reached the Fire Wave itself. Much less impressive than The Wave, this spot still was quite beautiful. Layer upon layer of all shades of pink, red, and brown rock make up this striped geological wonder. We stopped for a bit to drink water, take some photos, and enjoy the peaceful moment with only a handful of other hikers. We even saw a few big horned sheep off in the distance!

After the hike to the Fire Wave, we drove the incredible winding roads through the Valley of Fire. The roads may actually be my favorite part of this park. They feel like a rollercoaster of ups-and-downs and sharp curves, surrounded by beautiful rocks of many colors and full of holes like swiss cheese. We sought out a specific spot that I had seen on one of my favorite Instagram accounts (@ryanresatka) and were not disappointed by the view!

111
View through the Valley of Fire

 

Boulder City

That evening, we decided to stay in the historic town of Boulder City because it offered the cheapest motel near Las Vegas and we needed to freshen up after the sweaty and sandy desert hikes. This ended up being an unexpectedly cute town with a coastal feel and a surprisingly vibrant evening atmosphere. This was where people lived who were building the Hoover Dam and they tried to build a town despite harsh conditions in the desert. There were a lot of statues and historic monuments scattered throughout the town. We went to a nice brewery called Boulder Dam Brewing Co. and tasted their delicious unfiltered beers while enjoying live music and some really pleasant desert temperatures. We ended up staying at a pretty shabby motel, but a bed is a bed, right?

 

Mojave Camping

The next morning we considered a tour of the Hoover Dam, but the prices were a bit too steep for our taste so we continued driving. That night we used https://freecampsites.net/ to help locate a free campsite on some BLM land in the Mojave desert. We ended up at an incredible little dispersed campsite right off of the road, and found ourselves to be the only ones there. There were beautiful views of mountain layers in the distance, a fire pit, and a lovely rock pile providing us a fun little playground and a bit of shade before the sun went down. We enjoyed a stellar sunset full of puffy pink clouds. It just goes to show that sometimes you don’t need to pay a lot of money for an incredible camping experience. That is, as long as you don’t mind peeing in the wild and possibly pooping in a hole.

 

As amazing as the desert has been for us, we have recently been craving the sea breezes and have been feeling the pull of the wild Pacific Ocean. I know there is so much that we missed in the Southwest and there are a million reasons to come back, but for now we are in San Diego and will slowly work our way north along the coast into the PNW and eventually the Canadian Rockies. Let me know if you live along our route or plan on traveling there in the coming months! As always, your travel and hiking recommendations are amazing – so keep them coming! (Email: carrieoutdoors1@gmail.com, Instagram: @carrieoutdoors)

Advertisements

Earth Day Thoughts

Hi friends!

So if you don’t know me, let me start off this post by saying that I’ve never really been the type of person to obsess over issues like conservation, recycling, or saving the planet. I’ve always loved the outdoors and have done my best to be a good citizen of this earth, but I also never really made it a point to talk about it, advocate, or become very engaged in conservation efforts.

But something has changed since starting our travels in February. Since I now spend most of my time in nature, I have a whole new perspective on how people treat this planet. I have to say that over the past few months I have been appalled at how some people treat the outdoors. I want to believe that people are good. I have so many wonderful friends and family members and meet incredible people every day either on the road or through social media. There are so many amazing people in this world who are considerate, kind, and respectful! However, I can’t stop myself from seeing how some people treat the wilderness with indifference and disrespect. I really don’t know if they are being malicious or are just completely oblivious. I try to see the best in others, but I have seen so many things that completely frustrate me.

IMG_6569
Our beautiful planet! (Dead Horse Point State Park)

I have been talking in generalities, but I want to point out a handful of specific examples that I have witnessed just in the past 2.5 months to show exactly what I mean.

  • In Arches National Park I witnessed many children and adults walking and running off the trails, trampling all over delicate plants and rock formations, despite a multitude of signs saying to stay on the established trails.
  • Also in Arches National Park, right near the signs talking about how the dark crusty sections of dirt are actually cryptobiotic soil aka “living soil” and not to step on it, I saw several distinct footprints in the dark crust described in the signs.
  • In Canyonlands National Park, right near the sign saying not to walk on the arches, we witnessed someone walk across Mesa Arch.
  • In the Dixie National Forest where we were camping near Bryce Canyon we found a huge trash bag in the woods full of a deflated air mattress and multiple empty vodka and beer bottles.
  • In Santa Fe National Forest (and almost every wild campsite we have stayed in) there have been an excessive number of bottle caps and cigarette butts strewn about the forest floor.
  • We often find “bathrooms” in the forest or just off of a trail where people leave piles of dirty toilet paper.
  • In Kaibab National Forest, we found a firepit full of empty plastic cups and wrappers from a fast food restaurant as well as tons of shotgun shells lying about.
  • At the trailhead for Diamond Fork/Fifth Water Hot Springs (where there were many clear signs that there is no trash pickup so don’t leave any trash) we found piles and piles of garbage including an entire crushed bottle of Sweet Baby Rays BBQ Sauce in the parking lot and empty coffee cups and a partially eaten quiche in the bathroom.
  • On many hikes, including several in Arches National Park, we have seen orange peels and apple cores dropped directly on the trail or right on the side of the trail.
  • At Bryce National Canyon, we saw rotten bananas right along side the beautiful canyon.
  • At the remote and beautiful Spooky slot canyon, we saw obnoxious messages written on or scratched into the textured, delicate sandy walls.

At each park, hiking trail, and campsite we visit, Steve and I make a point to spend time picking up other peoples’ trash. It’s annoying. It’s gross. But I can’t walk by garbage in the beautiful outdoors and not do something. I know that accidents happen from time to time. You reach into your pack to pull out a granola bar, and a loose tissue floats out without you noticing. It happens. But what we are seeing is much more prevalent and blatant.

 

Picking up trash is pretty easy (albeit kind of disgusting) but what else can I do to help out? Should I speak up to those people walking off the trail, trampling wildlife, or watching their children run through cryptobiotic soil? I haven’t really worked up the courage to speak to others, not wanting to come across as rude, but more and more I am feeling like maybe it is my place to say something. If not me, then who? This beautiful and delicate landscape will only remain beautiful if we treat it right. I am trying to learn more about proper wilderness etiquette and Leave No Trace, hoping that increased knowledge and confidence will help guide me in how I should react when I see something wrong.

 

As Earth Day approaches, I am sure there will be many efforts to remind us to take care of nature and be kind to Mother Earth. For the first time in my life, I feel truly invested in this. The wilderness is my home right now, and I can’t stand watching other people trash it. I know that platforms like Instagram popularize beautiful places and drives large numbers of people to once secret or lesser-known spots. While getting more people outdoors can be a great thing, it can quickly turn terrible when people are leaving trash, adding graffiti, or destroying wildlife in these areas. Therefore I am hoping to use my voice on social media to help promote good outdoor habits and a respectful mindset toward nature to help avoid some of the horrible scenes I have found in the wild.

So what I am asking of all of you is:

  • “Pack in, pack out” and “leave no trace”. This includes food that you bring with you (even fruit!) and toilet paper.
  • Stay on the trails! Try to minimize your impact, especially in parks with delicate vegetation, soil, and rock formations.
  • Read and follow the signs! Park rangers and staff are smart and educated people – trust that if they thought something was worthy of a sign, then you should read it and follow it!

 

I hope everyone has an amazing Earth Month/Week/Day and I hope you are able to enjoy some of the beautiful nature out there!

To keep up the inspiration, feel free to email (carrieoutdoors1@gmail.com) or DM me (@carrieoutdoors) some photos or stories of you respecting this earth or ways that you have worked to make this planet more clean and beautiful! Whether it’s picking up trash, walking on trails, or being less wasteful, I’d love to feature some of your pictures or words on my Instagram stories!

Here are some great resources to learn about more ways to Leave No Trace and respect our planet!

More Utah Adventures

Hello!!

Quick wuestion: what have I never done in the wilderness up until a few days ago?! The answer: poop in the wild! Hahaha! Somehow I’ve always avoided this, despite all of the hiking I’ve done which has included several multi-day backpacking trips. I’ve always stumbled upon a pit toilet at the right moment, that is, until this week. We were camping out on some back roads in the desert and the nearest toilet was just too far away, so I walked my obligatory 200 feet from the campsite, dug a 6 inch hole, and the rest is history. My streak has been broken!

IMG_7300
Digging my 6 inch hole

Okay now back to the less gross and more exciting part of our adventures! The last few weeks we’ve still been exploring Utah! We still have more to see and explore in Utah, but I didn’t want a super long blog post. Here is Utah part 2 of 3.

 

Salt Lake City

After leaving our long stay in Moab, and dealing with some van troubles and repairs, we made our way to Salt Lake City. We checked out the salt flats but were underwhelmed with the lighting at sunset and also had to drive through a snowstorm to get there! The salt flats were flooded, which was kind of neat, but I liked them better the last time we visited when they were dry and we were able to walk out on them.  We also visited the town of Wendover briefly, but there’s not really anything there besides casinos.

IMG_6783
Wendover Will

Back in SLC, we had a lovely meetup with @wayfaring.girl, an awesome instagrammer from Utah whom you should definitely check out! We didn’t do too much photography or hiking in the immediate area, but the views of the mountains covered in snow were a really nice break from the desert views we had been seeing for days.

 

Hot Springs

From Salt Lake City we took a short drive to check out the Diamond Fork/Fifth Water Hot Springs. We actually had tried to go on Friday but there were so many people there (the parking lot was full and there were tons of loud teens enjoying their spring break) so we decided to try again for Sunday evening. We lucked out and there were only a handful of people there on our second try. It was a 5-mile roundtrip hike to the hot springs, full of a lot of small hills, and it took us around 45 minutes to reach the springs. It is a gorgeous area with a rushing river and several hot spring pools of brilliant shades of blue and green. There is a sulfur smell in the air, which sounds gross but was more of a calming smell than a foul one. The geothermal scents filled me with nostalgia for our trip to Iceland a few years back!

We chose to soak in the two pools closest to the trailhead. The lower pool was warm but not too hot and the upper pool was a mix of hot and cold water. I couldn’t decide which one I liked better, so I kept switching! We heard from others that the springs across the river were much hotter, but by that time we were settled in and didn’t want to put our bags back on and hike further. It was quite chilly out! We enjoyed a very relaxing soak in the hot springs as the sun set and and the moon rose. A few people came and went, but overall it was very peaceful and quiet. We hiked out under the full moon, back to the comfort of our van! 

As always, before visiting hot springs be sure to do your research. Make sure you are going to legitimate springs with safe water (some hot springs are NOT suitable for swimming and have dangerous acidity). Check the water temperature before you go in, read and follow ALL posted signs, and be careful not to put your head under the water due to the possibility of deadly amoeba in the hot water. Also, make sure to leave no trace and pack out EVERYTHING that you pack in, including food and toilet paper. Also be sure to follow rules about going to the bathroom – you don’t want to be close to the water if you have to go.

17880143_724679151072768_8546125507967653349_o
Photo by @walasavagephoto

 

Capitol Reef National Park

We then made our way over to Capitol Reef National Park. The park was actually much more crowded than I was expecting from a not-so-popular national park in the middle of the week. We enjoyed learning about the awesome geological history of this park and all of the different rock layers and formations.

We drove around the park and ended up doing the quick and easy 2-mile roundtrip hike to Hickman Bridge, an incredible natural bridge in the desert. Though there was so much more to see in this park, the weather wasn’t great and we decided only to spend one day at Capitol Reef.

 

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

From Capitol Reef we drove to the Escalante National Monument area. I honestly didn’t know what to expect from this lesser known park. We had wanted to try to hike to Reflection Canyon, since I have been drooling over photos of this epic viewpoint for months. Unfortunately, we were told we needed a 4WD vehicle to access the trailhead and that there is no actual trail and the viewpoint can only be reached by map and compass. Sadly, our van is 2WD and we simply weren’t prepared for the hike. I was pretty bummed, but I guess this just gives us a reason to come back some day! While at the visitor center we asked about a few other spots, and were told they were much more accessible so we decided to check them out.

img_7118.jpg
Escalante is excellent!

 

 

Lower Calf Creek Falls

After seeing a photo on @brianjohnsadventure‘s Instagram account of Lower Calf Creek Falls, Steve and I knew we had to go there. The desert has been wearing on us, as we are used to hiking among evergreens and mountain forests, so the lush green river area looked so refreshing! This is a pretty easy 6-mile roundtrip hike and took us about an hour to get to the falls and the entire trip took us around 3 hours, including stopping for lunch and tons of photos at the falls. We used the interpretive guide book and took turns reading from it along our hike. I’m glad we did this or we might have missed some of the interesting geological features or the red petroglyphs along one of the rock walls!

The falls themselves were quite nice, offering a shady spot with a light mist to cool down from the desert heat. Similar to Havasupai, this was a mini oasis hidden in the hot, dry desert. A handful of people swam in the pool below the falls, but the water was a bit too chilly for us! Overall this was a lovely hike and I’d highly recommend it!

 

Devil’s Garden

On our drive out to the next few hikes (Spooky, Peek-a-boo, and Coyote Gulch) we had to drive down a very rough road called Hole-in-the-Rock Road. Don’t try driving to these hikes without a high clearance vehicle! Steve was kind enough to do most of the driving, as the washboard roads made our van rattle so hard I thought it might fall to pieces on the road. We made a brief stop at Devil’s Garden, a very easy and short hike to some otherworldly rock formations.

 

Spooky and Peek-A-Boo Slot Canyons

We then drove down a very wild and bumpy side road to the Dry Fork Trailhead to hike to two narrow slot canyons. The hike started with a descent down some steep rocks and a hike along a sandy wash in the baking desert sun to get to the entrance to the slot canyon. 

We started with Spooky. The canyon was dark and cool with textured walls, and the most notable feature of this slot canyon is that it is extremely narrow! The guidebook said it is only 10 inches wide in some areas. We could barely fit through at some spots and hand to take off our backpacks and walk sideways! I wouldn’t recommend this hike if you are at all claustrophobic. Even though they call this an easy hike, I found that the climbs up and down were not a piece of cake and definitely required some maneuvering and strength.  The tight twists and turns inside the canyon were incredibly beautiful and I would argue this was a better experience than we had at Antelope Canyon a few years ago because at Spooky Canyon we didn’t have to use a tour guide and we were able to hike and take photos at our own pace.

We then walked over to hike through Peek-A-Boo Canyon. About halfway through this slot canyon, we heard voices from above the canyon walls. Three young women whom we had passed in Spooky were lost and asking us which canyon this was. We decided to scramble out of Peek-A-Boo and help the ladies find their way back to the parking lot. By that time the sun was setting so we decided not to return to finish Peek-A-Boo, but I suppose this is yet another reason to come back someday!

20170413_174207
Slot canyon selfie

 

Coyote Gulch and Jacob Hamblin Arch

We spent a lovely night at a dispersed campsite with no one around us, except some cows, and had the aforementioned poop-in-hole experience. The next morning we woke up early and continued driving down the bumpy dirt road to the Hurricane Wash trail head. From there we took the 12-mile roundtrip hike to Coyote Gulch with the goal of reaching Jacob Hamblin Arch. We had a lot of trouble finding information online about the best routes for this arch and thankfully someone at the Escalante Visitor Center was able to give us advice on the easiest route.

img_7309.jpg
Our friendly cow neighbors

Most people do this hike as an overnight but we just went for the day hike. We started the hike at 9am and were back at the car at 5pm. That’s my kind of 9-to-5! The hike was mostly through a sandy wash, and it was pretty tough hiking through the deep, soft sand. Eventually we got to some narrower canyons (the shade was much appreciated!) and a small trickle of a river appeared. 

As we kept hiking, the river grew wider and deeper and the plants grew more lush and green. We saw some incredible wildflowers along the route!

After several hours of hiking, we reached Coyote Gulch, a verdant oasis of dramatically high canyon walls, bright green trees, and an ankle-deep river winding swiftly through the canyon. The views were breathtaking, and the curved canyon walls were too large to really be captured by camera (even with the wide angle lens!). We hiked along a few curves of the river and finally reached our destination: Jacob Hamblin Arch. This arch was gigantic, surrounded by fallen rocks and framed by more towering and curved canyon walls. We stopped for a bit to take photos and eat lunch, chatting with a friendly hiker we met on the trail.

I really tried to soak in the experience, since I knew none of the photos would do this place justice. There was an earthy smell, cool breezes through the canyon, the falling of cotton-like wisps that looked like snow, the rippling of flowing water, the sounds of ravens above, the echoing of every little noise bouncing off of the canyon walls. The best part of this hike was the solitude. Compared to the crowds of hikers and tourists we have been seeing almost everywhere, we only saw a handful of people in Coyote Gulch and most of the time we were alone.

IMG_1621
Jacob Hamblin Arch

My one big piece of advice that I will give to anyone who does this hike is to bring water shoes! Since our online research didn’t turn up too much information, I had no idea there would be so many stream crossings. Eventually Steve and I just took off our boots and walked through the river with bare feet. While this felt pretty amazing, water shoes or secure sandals would have been much better for the rocky sections.

 

All right, that’s all for now! I can’t believe how much we are seeing every day;  it’s hard to keep up with this blog! Next we are headed to Bryce Canyon, Zion, and the Arizona border for more hiking and adventures! Let me know what we shouldn’t miss in the area!

Colorado and Utah

Hello again!

After an amazing time in New Mexico, we headed to Colorado and Utah! The snow covered peaks and chilly desert mornings have provided some of the best scenery and memories from the trip so far!

 

Blanca Vista and UFO Watchtower

We decided to begin our tour of Colorado with Great Sand Dunes National Park. The drive to Alamosa, CO from Taos, NM was magnificent. Almost as soon as you cross the border into Colorado, the 14,000-foot snow covered peaks pop into view. We stopped at Blanca Vista Park to enjoy some stunning mountain reflections in the still water.  

We arrived in the Alamosa area in the evening and decided to spend the night at the hilarious and quirky UFO Watchtower Campground (see the excellent website here: http://www.ufowatchtower.com ). Once we spotted this alien-themed attraction, we knew we had to stay there. Apparently there had been several UFO sightings in the area, so the woman who owns the land built an observation tower to watch for UFOs and then turned it into a campground. There was only one other group camping, so we were nearly alone in the desert surrounded by mountains and twinkling stars. We saw no UFOs, but we did enjoy all of the alien paraphernalia and the vortex garden where guests leave tokens to absorb the energy flowing from the earth.   

Great Sand Dunes (kind of)

In the morning, we took the short drive to Great Sand Dune National Park. As we drove in, I was really excited about the huge dunes (much larger than White Sands in New Mexico) and the backdrop of beautiful, snow-capped mountains. We arrived midday and after checking out the visitor center, I decided that we should hang out in the van in the afternoon and hike during sunset in order to maximize the beauty of the scenery (I had read many places that the shadows on the dunes look incredible during golden hour). We checked the hourly weather forecast and it looked pretty nice for sunset: partly cloudy and cool.

We hopped into the back of the van for some organizing and photo editing, but when we emerged from the van in the late afternoon, we were faced with ominous clouds covering the sky and bitter cold winds. I decided to take another look at the weather forecast and now was seeing a Winter Storm Watch and a huge, growing blue and green blob over much of Colorado on the radar. Never again will I trust an hourly forecast! After reading more about the impending storm and talks of yet another large snow storm developing for the following week, we decided that this was not our time to see Colorado. While I am sad to skip such a beautiful state and will miss seeing a handful of friends that I was so excited to visit, it will have to wait for another time.

IMG_5431.PNG

Monument Valley and Goosenecks

After deciding to run away from Colorado and the snowstorms, we took off for Utah. We took a route that included a steep, winding mountain pass. The van was not happy with our choice of roads, and I was very glad that the snow hadn’t begun! We decided to head toward Monument Valley and were excited to learn that there were two consecutive nights available at the View Campground.

On our way to Monument Valley, we passed a sign for Four Corners. Not even realizing we were so close, we decided to take a quick ten minute detour to check it out. For $10 we saw the famous landmark where Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico meet. We took some photos and spent maybe 15 minutes there. I’m still not sure it was worth the money, but I am very glad we were there during the off season because the line was very short (but you could see that the lines must be very long in the summer!)

We made it to Monument Valley just in time for sunset. It is a stunning area and the View Campground truly lived up to its name with an incredible view of the three famous structures: East and West Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte. We spent the next two days exploring the area and enjoying the desert views at sunset, sunrise, and by starlight. If you’ve ever seen the show Westworld (which I highly recommend), this scenery should look very familiar!

After two nights we were sad to leave this beautiful place but we were also excited to see what other gems lay before us in Utah. We stopped for some photos at the famous spot on route 163 near the mile 13 marker and enjoyed the last views of the valley.

IMG_0338-Edit-2
Forrest Gump fans: does this look familiar?

We then made our way toward Moab, stopping briefly for lunch at Goosenecks State Park near Mexican Hat, UT. While they aren’t easy to photograph, the Goosenecks are a real geological wonder. The deep and winding chasm was formed by the meandering of the San Juan River several million years ago.

Moab, Arches, and Canyonlands

We then reached Moab, UT where we ended up staying for an entire week, the longest we’ve remained any one place since visiting family in South Carolina. We spent the week exploring Arches National Park, Canyonlands, and some of the beautiful areas around Moab. We had been to Arches before on a previous trip, but we still enjoyed it the second time around! The arches are such incredible geological formations that never cease to amaze me.

We enjoyed the short walk to Double Arch and the Windows as well as the narrow canyon hike to Sand Dune Arch. There were crowds of people in the park (we went on a Saturday during Utah’s spring break) which made it a little difficult to photograph the arches and to enjoy them in peace and quiet, but we made the most of it. We made the 3-mile roundtrip hike to Delicate Arch (30 minutes each way) at sunset. The sunset glow lit up the arch in a brilliant orange color as well as the cloud covered mountains in the distance behind it. Though the stream of people taking turns to get their picture taken under the arch was a bit distracting, the overall experience was lovely.

We also spent some time in Canyonlands, a park we skipped on our previous trip to the area. This is a beautiful and sprawling park with many viewpoints and hikes. We enjoyed the Grand View Point and took a short hike to see the different views. We also made sure to visit Mesa Arch at sunrise, which was actually a bit disappointing. For some reason, having seen beautiful photos of this arch at sunrise, I thought it was in some remote area in the desert and that it would be a peaceful and special place for sunrise. When we arrived at the arch, there was already a line of photographers with tripods standing directly in front of the arch, blocking the view for everyone else. We gently elbowed our way into a spot so that we could actually see the view. When the sun finally rose, it was an incredibly beautiful scene as the sun lit up the bottom of the arch in a beautiful golden glow. While it was not the serene and special sunrise I was expecting, it was still a sight worth waking up for. I now know to arrive well before sunrise if I want to do this again in the future and to bring hand warmers! I imagine that in the height of summer, the crowd would probably be even worse!

IMG_6341 (2)
The crowd in front of Mesa Arch
IMG_1028
Sunrise at Mesa Arch

Dead Horse Point State Park was another highly recommended spot in the Moab area. Since it was a state park, rather than a national park, it was not covered under our annual pass. The entrance fee was $15 and we almost skipped this park. I am glad we chose to go! The deep canyon bathed in the glow of sunset was one of the best views of the trip so far!

4C7DBCA9-B03A-4AC9-865E-265ABFD6C6A1

After a recommendation from a Moab local, we decided to hike to Corona Arch, which is not part of either of the national parks. This was an easy and lovely 3-mile round trip hike (around 30 minutes each way) to the massive stone arch. We had heard stories of people rappelling and creating a giant swing from this arch in the past, but after a death a few years ago, rope activities are prohibited. We did see someone walking on the arch, which definitely spooked me!

 

We are continuing through Utah for the next few weeks and I am so excited to see some more national parks and do more beautiful desert hiking! Please keep your recommendations coming, you all have the best suggestions!

Van Life Playlist

Hi friends!

So this wouldn’t be a proper travel blog if I didn’t share my top road trip songs, right? A few weeks ago I asked for song ideas on Instagram and since then I have done a bunch of research and listened to a ton of songs to find my top picks. I also found some great ideas from other awesome travel blogs (such as A Girl and Her VanThe Planet DWorld of Wanderlust, and Travel Fearlessly to name a few!)

Here is the list of my top five vanlife/roadtrip songs with a quick explanation and a sample of lyrics from each song. I have also included a list of honorable mentions that almost made the list. My criteria for choosing the songs were how much I enjoy listening to the song on the road and also how much the lyrics reflect my own personal vanlife adventures. I also tried to pick some less popular songs, since many of the lists I found had the same handful of popular songs over and over again. I hope you enjoy! Feel free to comment with any songs you think I missed!

 

  1. Old Crow Medicine Show – Wagon Wheel

So I realize that this song is more about hitchhiking south down the east coast, rather than living in a van, but this song just has a road trip feel to it and always puts me in a great mood! Plus the lyrics about running away from the New England cold really hit close to home!

I’m running from the cold up in New England
I was born to be a fiddler in an old time string band
My baby plays a guitar, I pick a banjo now
Oh, north country winters keep a-getting me and
I lost my money playing poker so I had to up and leave
But I ain’t turning back to living that old life no more

 

 

  1. Lord Huron – Ends of the Earth

Lord Huron has some of the best lyrics out there for travelers and nature lovers! I love this song so much and it is perfect for driving along back roads on a rainy, foggy day. As Steve and I travel around, we often talk about what it would have been like to explore these lands before everything was developed and commercialized, which is reflected in the lyrics of this song.

Oh, there’s a river that winds on forever
I’m gonna see where it leads
Oh, there’s a mountain that no man has mounted
I’m gonna stand on the peak
Out there’s a land that time don’t command
Wanna be the first to arrive
No time for ponderin’ why I’m-a wanderin’
Not while we’re both still alive
To the ends of the earth, would you follow me
There’s a world that was meant for our eyes to see
To the ends of the earth, would you follow me
If you will have a say my goodbyes to me

 

  1. Dixie Chicks – The Long Way Around

While this song is clearly about three women driving around in an RV, the lyrics still ring true for our vanlife adventures. And while I don’t normally listen to country music, the tune of this song is perfect for driving long stretches of desert highways when the sun is shining bright. We love to take the long way around!

I hit the highway in a pink RV with stars on the ceiling
Lived like a gypsy
Six strong hands on the steering wheel
I’ve been a long time gone now
Maybe someday, someday I’m gonna settle down
But I’ve always found my way somehow
By taking the long way
Taking the long way around
Taking the long way
Taking the long way around

 

 

  1. Trampled by Turtles – School Bus Driver

I am a huge fan of Trampled by Turtles, and their bluegrass feel and singable tunes are perfect for a road trip! If you’ve never listened to TBT, I highly recommend the albums “Stars and Satellites” and “Palomino”. This song, from one of their earlier albums, has lyrics that really match our vanlife adventures (though a school bus sounds way more spacious than our van!).

Well I wanna be a school bus driver
And drive all over the world
And if you would like
Well you could ride with me
And we could live on the road
We’d cruise by the banks
Of rivers deep and wide
Never have to think
About space or time

We could have our home
Out up in the hills
Never have to pay
No dues or bills

 

  1. Keller Williams – Blazeabago 

This song is number one on my list because the lyrics are just so perfectly accurate for living on the road in a large van! I can’t tell you how many times we have been driving up steep mountain roads at our slow speed and have been passed, honked, and cursed at by angry drivers wanting to go faster. While we don’t “pop the top” in our van, we can just stop and sleep in the back of then van whenever we need to!

Top speed is 30 as we cruise the pass
Feelin’ kinda dirty as I see the bug wavin’ on the windshield glass
Angry mountain folk blow on by, flippin’ the bird
But I’m goin’ as fast as I can
Angry mountain folk blow on by with a mean word
We even get passed by a wild game herd
And the man says “Where do you come from, son?”
But I says “Right out back
Wherever I stop and pop the top, that’s where it’s at.”
Up and down, round and round
Back and forth, to and fro
You ask me where I come from son
I live in the blazeabago

 

Honorable mentions (some awesome road trip songs that didn’t make my top five list!)

  • Willie Nelson – On the Road Again
  • Johnny Cash – I’ve Been Everywhere
  • Tom Cochrane – Life is a Highway
  • John Denver – Take Me Home Country Roads
  • Bon Iver – Holocene
  • Dixie Chicks – Wide Open Spaces
  • The Head and the Heart – Rivers and Roads
  • America – Horse With No Name
  • Mumford and Sons – Hopeless Wanderer
  • Steve Miller Band – Rock’n Me
  • Modest Mouse – Interstate 8
  • Eagles – Take It Easy
  • The Allman Brothers Band – Midnight Rider
  • The Lumineers – Sleep on the Floor
  • Cake – The Distance
  • Neil Young – Unknown Legend
  • Of Monsters and Men – From Finner

 

Thanks for reading and thanks to all of you who have given me suggestions! I’m sure I missed some amazing road trip songs, so feel free to leave more ideas in the comments here or on Instagram (@carrieoutdoors) and I can always edit this post to add new songs! Stay tuned for more adventures from Utah!

New Mexico Adventures

Hi again!

So after leaving Arizona, we spent some time in the beautiful state of New Mexico. We saw some awesome natural beauty and ate some delicious and spicy foods. In this post I will run through some of the highlights of our trip through New Mexico!

 

Carlsbad Caverns

Our tour of New Mexico began with a day wandering through Carlsbad Caverns. While I prefer to be above ground and in wide open spaces, Steve has been wanting to explore these caves since childhood, so we knew we couldn’t miss them! The rock formations were incredible and the history and geology behind the caverns were really enjoyable to learn about.

Unfortunately, the experience of walking through Carlsbad Caverns left much to be desired. It felt more like tourist trap than a natural wonder. The first thing we noticed was that there was a cafe and gift shop built inside the cave right when you enter.  Also, many of the rock structures were lit up with electric lights, which had long wires and extension cords clearly visible. While it was nice to be able to see the intricate geological formations lit up, I would have preferred to see them by lantern or flashlight. The electric lights and cords made the whole experience feel a bit less authentic.

IMG_4076
The electric lights

The other downside to our visit were the massive crowds. We tried to take many photos, but large families and streams of visitors would pass by frequently, interrupting our shots. I imagined that inside the cave would feel eerie and spooky, but you really didn’t get more than a few seconds of silence before it was interrupted by yelling voices or cries. One caveat is that we only stayed one day and only saw the general cave area called the Big Room and did not stay for the smaller guided tours, since they were all full when we arrived. I imagine that these tours, since they are limited in numbers and explore deeper into the cave, would be a much more pleasant and natural experience. So my recommendation for Carlsbad Caverns is that you call ahead and book a small guided tour rather than just walking through the Big Room.

 

Roswell, NM

Oops, I said that I was going to be brief! I’ll try harder this time. Our next big stop in New Mexico was the famous town of Roswell. This was another place Steve had always dreamed of going since childhood so we couldn’t miss it. First of all, there are aliens everywhere: on signs, billboards, and store fronts.

Our one and only stop in Roswell was the International UFO Museum. This was a pretty extensive museum with tons of anecdotes, history, artwork, and photography relating to aliens and UFOs. The main focus of the museum, of course, is the supposed UFO crash landing outside of Roswell, NM. The exhibit covered the testimonies, legal documents, old newspaper clippings, and photographs from the supposed government cover-up of the UFO landing. I won’t get into more details, you will just have to visit and decide for yourself if you believe.

 

White Sands National Monument

After Roswell, we made our way over to White Sands National Monument. We stopped at the visitor center to ask about sleeping options in the area, and we were told that one of the ten backcountry camping permits had just been cancelled by someone who could no longer spend the night, so we jumped at the chance to camp among the dunes. We took our permit and drove down the road a few miles to the trailhead, where we followed the “trail” to our “campsite”. The “trail” is just a series of thin signposts spread out in the sand that you must follow. The “campsite” is just a signpost with the site number on it and text that says that you must camp within five feet of the post. We had site #1 and it was less than a mile walk from the parking lot, so the hike was not too terrible (though walking in sand is a little harder than walking on solid ground!).

Compared to other national parks and monuments that we have visited, White Sands had some pretty strict rules about spending the night. We were told that we must be at our campsite by sunset and that we were not to leave our site all night. At around 9pm, a park ranger with a bullhorn was calling for any stray hikers without camping permits to come back to their cars and leave the park immediately. They really meant business!  When we asked the ranger about taking night photos, she reluctantly said we could climb the dune next to our campsite, but not to wander away. I thought that maybe the rangers were worried that hikers would wander too far and get lost in the dunes, but a few weeks later at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, we noted that the park was open 24 hours and there were no warnings or attempts to stop people from hiking at night, so that theory doesn’t fit.  I think the real reason why they were so strict at White Sands is because that area is also used for military missile testing! We even received a pamphlet upon arrival showing photos of missiles with the warning not to touch any mysterious debris and to report them immediately to a park staff member!

missiles

Anyway, camping in the sand dunes was certainly a unique experience. After we arrived at our site, we watched a lovely pastel sunset over the dunes and enjoyed the peace and serenity of being one of only ten groups out in the dunes (in stark contrast to the hundreds of people swarming and sledding down the dunes earlier in the afternoon). It was a very chilly night of camping and we heard some strange growling and skittering noises in the night that we never identified, but the stars were dazzling over the sand dunes and the sunrise the next morning was mellow and beautiful.

Oh, and in case you were wondering how you go to the bathroom when you are not allowed to leave your designated campsite, the official rules are to pee on the sand and cover it up with a fresh layer of sand (yes, I felt like a cat doing this), and for going number two, you are supposed to walk 100 feet from campsite/trail and dig a 3-6 inch hole. Thankfully, I didn’t have to worry about the latter!

IMG_4305
Our “campsite”

The next day at White Sands we had a really wonderful and spontaneous visit from my cousins (one of whom was at the Fort Bliss military base in El Paso waiting to be deployed overseas and the other who was visiting). We spent the morning hiking the Alkali Flat trail, where we finally saw some untouched sand dunes that weren’t covered in thousands of footprints and sledding trails. I really enjoyed walking barefoot in the dunes. The sand is made of gypsum, which is extremely soft and also doesn’t get hot, even in summer in the desert sun. After wandering through the dunes, we stopped in Las Cruces for a delicious authentic New Mexican lunch and said farewell to my dear cousins.

IMG_4395
Cousin Meetup!

 

The Very Large Array (VLA)

Steve and I are both total science geeks (we were both Physics majors in college) so we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to check out the Very Large Array. About an hour off of the main highway near Socorro, New Mexico, in the middle of the desert, you find an incredible center of science and discovery! There are 27 giant movable radio antennae arranged in a Y-shape (which can be spread out or compacted together) that receive radio waves from deep space. We put our phones in airplane mode, so as to not interfere with the incoming signals, and took the self guided tour. We learned about all of the incredible astronomical discoveries made with help from data captured from the VLA and were able to walk up to one of the working dishes to examine it up close. For science nerds, this is a must-see location in New Mexico!

 

Albuquerque, NM

We continued north through the state and had a lovely visit with one of Steve’s friends in Albuquerque. He brought us to an exceptional spot for a delicious (and spicy!) dinner at El Patio (I had incredible Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas) and then to a fantastic brewery,  Bosque Brewing Co., where Steve and I sampled a little of everything!

 

San Antonio Hot Springs

We then departed Albuquerque and continued north to the Jemez Springs area to spend the day at the highly recommended San Antonio Hot Springs. It was a five-mile hike each way, since the road was closed for the winter, to the beautiful and secluded hot springs. The water was crystal clear with a comfortably hot temperature. There was a fountain of hot spring water constantly pouring into the top pool and successively cooler pools moving down the hillside. It was a perfect spot for a relaxing soak! This is a clothing-optional hot spring, we quickly discovered, and full of really wonderful people all enjoying the peace and quiet of being tucked away in the forest. We spent a few hours at the hot spring and then made the five-mile hike back to our car and continued on to the Santa Fe area.

As always, before visiting hot springs be sure to do your research. Make sure you are going to legitimate springs with safe water (some hot springs are NOT suitable for swimming and have dangerous acidity). Check the water temperature before you go in, read and follow ALL posted signs, and be careful not to put your head under the water due to the possibility of deadly amoeba in the hot water. Also, make sure to leave no trace and pack out EVERYTHING that you pack in, including food and toilet paper. Also be sure to follow rules about going to the bathroom – you don’t want to be close to the water if you have to go.

 

Bandelier National Monument

We spent a day exploring Bandelier National Monument, a beautiful area full of pueblo ruins and spectacular cave dwellings. We did a self guided tour, stopping along the way to read from the guide book about each of the unique structures we were seeing. We climbed ladders to peek into caves found in the porous walls of volcanic rock, searched the rock faces for pictographs and petroglyphs, and tried to imagine what life must have been like hundreds of years ago in this river canyon.

We also continued an extra half mile to climb 140 feet of ladders to Alcove House. This was a cool spot, but it was a bit tricky climbing single file ladders with people trying to get both up and down while also dealing with strong gusts of winds blowing sand and dust into our eyes and mouths. The kiva at the top along with views from the giant cave were pretty incredible.

 

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks 

Our final adventure in New Mexico was the highly recommended Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. This was a very unique area with otherworldly volcanic rock formations and a winding, narrow slot canyon. We made the hike to the top and enjoyed the many unique views along the away. It was a slow process of hiking and trying to take photographs, as many other visitors were also trying to get through the narrow canyons. Overall this was a very interesting and beautiful place that I highly recommend.

 

Taos, NM and hidden hot springs

Before leaving New Mexico we stopped in the small city of Taos. We did not really enjoy this area and we found that it was not very friendly toward van dwellers. For example, there was a sign in the local McDonald’s saying that brushing teeth and changing clothes were not allowed. I would post a photo of this sign, but I got yelled at since apparently photography was prohibited in the McDonald’s (there was also a sign about this). We also got yelled at by someone at the rest area near the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge for trying to make coffee at a picnic table and for dusting out some dirt from the van onto the pavement.

We tried to make the most of our visit to Taos by enjoying a spontaneous Pink Floyd cover band and some yummy tacos and beers at the Taos Mesa Brewing. We also had a strange adventure to some hidden local hot springs, which required precariously parking on a back forest road and walking through deep mud to a now-closed hot springs resort just past private property. After a day in this area, we were quite ready to leave and move on to new states and new adventures.

 

We are now in Utah and I can’t wait to share these new adventures with you all! Please let me know if you have any recommendations of what to see and do in Utah! (You can do that by commenting on this blog post, emailing me at carrieoutdoors1@gmail.com, or DMing me on Instagram  @carrieoutdoors).

IMG_5084
Top of the Tent Rocks hike

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more “thoughts from the road” coming soon!