I am an adventure girl who loves hiking and the great outdoors! I love the mountains and exploring the wilderness. I like to blog about travel, road trips, photography, vanlife, and hiking. I encourage others to respect nature and Leave No Trace!
This Sunday, April 22nd, we set out to hike our first two of the 46 Adirondack High Peaks. Steve and I hiked the 48 New Hampshire 4,000 footers over the past few years when we lived in Boston, so now that we are in upstate New York, this seemed like the perfect list to tackle next.
Since this has been a long winter, we were hesitant to start climbing mountains this early in the season. However, I’ve been feeling restless from many months without the great outdoors, so we went for it. I had been reading trail reports and facebook posts to try and figure out what the trails would be like. Some people said snowshoes were needed. Some people said not to hike without crampons and an ice axe. I was a bit nervous. However, microspikes and trekking poles turned out to be enough for a solid hike up the mountains. The trail was icy on the way up and slushy on the way down.
I will share some of the details and statistics from our hike. Some of the information is based on the AllTrails app data and may not be perfectly accurate.
Time started: 9:45am
Time Ended: 1:45pm
Total Time: 4 hours
Total Distance: 5.7 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,297 feet
We started at the Cascade Mountain Trailhead on route 73 between Lake Placid and Keene. There were a few small parking lots right along the main road. I assume this probably gets quite full during the summer months!
We took the Cascade Mountain Trail and then at the junction we took the Porter Mountain Trail to hit the summit of Porter first. This ascent took 2 hours. The summit of Porter had some lovely views of mountains in one direction and beautiful snow covered trees in the other direction. There was only one other couple up there and we took our time enjoying the quiet and the beauty around us. We then hiked down to the junction and then up to the summit of Cascade. This took another 45 minutes including taking photos and having snacks at the top of Porter. We spent some time alone on top of Cascade enjoying the incredible 360 degree mountain views.
After 15 or so minutes at the top, we made our way down. The descent to the car from Porter took less than an hour. We passed a lot of inexperienced and unprepared hikers on the trail. Make sure to do your research when hiking in early spring! Microspikes and poles were needed for a safe day on the mountain.
This was a beautiful hike and a great introduction to the Adirondack High Peaks. Even though the ice was a bit slippery and slowed us down a bit, the scenery was incredible. We also didn’t face any crowds or bugs, which was a plus! I can’t wait to hike more high peaks! 2 down, 44 to go!
Steve and I have been lucky enough to visit Oregon several times and explore some of the beautiful hiking trails and viewpoints throughout the state. Oregon has some of the most beautiful waterfalls, gorgeous beach scenery, desert adventures, and wonderful mountain views in this country. There are so many things I could write about, but I narrowed it down to 13 of my favorite things we’ve seen and done in Oregon.
1. Abiqua Falls – It was a very rough road to get to the parking lot of this waterfall. We drove a high clearance, 4WD truck and it still felt like the car might be destroyed. It was a short hike on a rugged, steep, and slippery trail. When we arrived, the waterfall was absolutely breathtaking as the late afternoon sun rays poured through the trees to light up a magical scene.
2. WahclellaFalls – This is an amazing waterfall located in the Columbia River Gorge. It is a relatively easy 2.4 mile round trip hike in a beautiful, lush forest. The waterfall itself is powerful and covers you in refreshing mist if you get too close!
3. Trillium Lake and Lost Lake – These are two great spots to view Mount Hood. We camped at both of these lakes during our van trip and really enjoyed the stunning views. Lost Lake was very crowded on a summer weekend. If you go for a day trip, make sure to arrive early to claim one of the lakefront day use spots. Trillium Lake was a bit more rustic and much more calm and peaceful.
Here is a photo of the Milky Way over Lost Lake taken by my talented husband Steve Walasavage.
4. Punch Bowl Falls – The 3.8 mile round trip hike to this waterfall is a stunning walk through an incredibly beautiful northwestern forest. When we went, it was drizzling and the hills were draped in thick fog. There is an awesome view of the falls from above and then another after you climb down to the bottom. I really loved this hike!
Punch Bowl Falls from above
Punch Bowl Falls from the bottom
5. Samuel H. Boardman State Park – This is a beautiful stretch of the rugged Oregon coast with stunning views and precarious hikes. I wrote more about Samuel H Boardman State Park in this blog post!
6. Toketee Falls – This was a very quick 0.8 mile round trip hike. It leads to a viewing platform with an amazing view of the falls. The waterfall is stunning and the basalt columns give it a really unique look!
7. Tamolitch Blue Pool – We woke up early to make the 2.1 mile hike to the Blue Pool (4.2 miles round trip). The hike was easy and beautiful, weaving through lovely forest scenes and crossing perfect rivers. When we arrived, the view of this dazzling blue pool completely blew me away! There were only a handful of people there when we arrived and we scrambled down the steep slope to the edge of the pool. After some trepidation, we dove in. It was some of the coldest water I’ve ever felt! But the rush of being in such a beautiful place and the refreshing jolt of jumping in made this an unforgettable experience. On our hike back to the car, hundreds of hikers were coming in and the parking lot was completely full. Be sure to get up early to do this hike. It’s worth it!
8. Multnomah Falls – This is one of the most accessible and beautiful waterfalls I’ve ever been to. It can be crowded with tourists and gets very busy, but the scenery is breathtaking and it is definitely worth a visit if you are ever in the Columbia River Gorge! (Photo by Steve Walasavage)
9. The Painted Hills – Most of the time we’ve spent in Oregon was at the coast, in the woods, or exploring waterfalls. However, there are some really beautiful desert areas. A few years ago we drove out to the Painted Hills in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. The unique sand hills and rainbow of colors were really incredible! Watch out for rattlesnakes if you visit this spot.
10. Tamanawas Falls – This was a very pretty waterfall on a relatively easy trail (3.6 miles round trip). We didn’t have much time to spend at this waterfall, but enjoyed the hike and the lovely view of the falls!
11. Rowena Crest – This is a beautiful lookout over an incredible winding road. It’s straight out of a car commercial (in fact they were filming a car commercial the day we were there!) We also went in April when the wild flowers were unbelievable.
12. Susan Creek Falls – Unfortunately this waterfall was swarming with mosquitoes when we visited this spring. However, it was still a gorgeous hike and I would love to back in a different season!
13. Crater Lake – This is one of the first national parks I ever visited! The lake was formed by a volcano that collapsed around 7,700 years ago. It is also the deepest lake in the United States at 1,949 feet deep! We only spent one afternoon there, but I’d love to go back to explore and do some hiking!
What are your favorite spots in Oregon? Have you been to any of the locations listed in this blog? Do you have recommendations of places to visit in Oregon that aren’t in this post? Let me know in the comments or on Instagram (@carrieoutdoors).
I hope you enjoyed my blog post about advice for traveling to Norway! If you missed it, the link is here: Norway Travel Advice.
In this blog post, I will share with you my favorite things that Steve and I saw and did in the southern part of Norway! Next week I will do a similar post about northern Norway. To be clear, Steve and I went to Norway with the goal of hiking and seeing natural beauty, so my list doesn’t include any museums, restaurants, or city attractions. I am sure there are plenty of those, but we chose to focus on the great outdoors!
So let me start with a quick overview of our trip. We flew in and out of Oslo and rented a car for the full three weeks. We drove west to the fjord areas in the south, then drove north all the way to the Lofoten Islands and Senja, and then back south to the fjords and back to Oslo.
Before the trip, we made a custom google map with pins for each hike or attraction that we wanted to see. I highly recommend doing this before taking a big trip! It helped us plan our route and made sure we didn’t miss anything. We even color coded the pins (yellow = cities, tan = beaches, green = hikes, etc). If you want any tips or have questions on creating a custom map or traveling to Norway, feel free to email me (email@example.com) or message me on Instagram (@carrieoutdoors). Here is a screenshot of our Norway travel map:
Alright, now time for our favorite parts of the trip! This includes hikes and viewpoints. I tried to put them in order starting with the best spots, but there was no science that went into the rankings. Everything we saw and did in Norway was AMAZING, so ranking them was tough! #1: Trolltunga
It was a 13.6 mile roundtrip hike. We did it in one day and it took around 10 hours including a lot of stopping for photos. Though we didn’t camp, we saw a bunch of tents near the end of the trail.
We started this hike at 5am and were so glad we did. When we got to the destination, there were only a handful of people there and we had plenty of chances to take photos. On our way back to the car, we passed hundreds of people heading in. I have heard stories of people waiting in a line for HOURS for a photo! If you go, go early!
If you walk out onto Trolltunga, be VERY careful. I heard that someone fell a few years ago.
It was a 7 mile roundtrip hike to this incredible boulder that is stuck between two rock walls and hovering thousands of feet above the fjord below. The hike included a lot of ups and downs, was very exposed, and had some steep and slippery rocks. Wear good hiking boots and bring sunscreen if you do this hike!
Go early! It was very crowded at the rock and there was a long line forming by the time we got there in the middle of the afternoon.
Be very safe and careful if you decide to step onto the rock. I had someone hold my hand because I was so terrified.
#3: Preikestolen (aka Pulpit Rock)
This was a much easier hike than the first two hikes on this list at only 5 miles roundtrip without much elevation gain. We hiked up to the top on the same day that we did the Kjerag hike.
We brought our tent and camped up at the top (we set up our tent far from the edge). There were only ten or so other campers who spent the night, which is amazing considering I have see photos with hundreds of people up there! We woke up early and scrambled up above the rock to watch the sunrise over the fjord below. It was absolutely incredible.
PLEASE leave no trace when you visit (or during any hike)! There was a lot of trash and food left along the trail and even on the Pulpit Rock itself. Don’t forget: even banana peels and apple cores need to be packed out!
This might not make most Norway top ten lists, but it was one of the most beautiful spots we visited on our trip. It is a short, flat hike to a peaceful glacial lake. We went in the rain and were treated to a beautiful foggy scene with perfect reflections!
This is not a hike, but the drive up the hairpin switchbacks is just as exhilarating! There are several viewpoint platforms at the top to enjoy these incredible views.
This is a beautiful ridge hike with gorgeous views of mountains and two brilliant blue lakes.
There are three options for doing this hike. You can hike there and back, hike to the end and take a ferry back, or take a ferry to the end and hike back. We chose the last option. We took the ferry ride down the lake to Memurubu and then did the four mile hike back.
The hike was pretty tough but the views were breathtaking. Be sure to arrive early because the ferries sell out quickly!
This is not a hike, but a beautiful glacial lake that you can drive to.
We could only stay for a little while but we were able to sip delicious coffee at an adorable cafe and take a handful of photos by the dazzling turquoise water.
This is another beautiful ridge hike in Norway. To do this hike, you can hike there and back or take a bus to the end of the hike and hike back, which is what we did. If you choose this option, be sure to book your bus ticket ahead of time and don’t be late!
This hike had stunning views of the valley below and included some tough spots for hiking.
This is not a hike but an adorable fjord town that you can drive to!
We stayed at the campground, enjoyed beers and burgers at the charming restaurant, took walks along the misty fjord, and watched base jumpers soar down from the cliffs above.
This is a beautiful fjord with an adorable town! It was packed with tourists but was stunning nonetheless.
We stopped at some of the viewpoints and took a boat tour through the fjord to see the beautiful waterfalls.
We had some unbelievably delicious pizza in town!
Stay tuned for the next blog post which will describe my favorite viewpoints and hikes in central and northern Norway! As always, you can find more of my photos and stories on Instagram (@carrieoutdoors).
Do you have wanderlust? Do you loving hiking, beautiful vistas, and a mix of mountains, lakes, and the ocean? Have you ever thought about traveling to Norway?
Steve and I spent our honeymoon driving, hiking, and camping around Norway. It turned out to be one of the most incredible places I have ever been. I get asked all the time about my recommendations for the best things to do and how to experience Norway. After writing multiple versions of the same email to different people, I figured I might as well pull all of my thoughts together into some blog posts! Since we spent three whole weeks in Norway, I won’t go into the details of each day of our trip, but I will instead share the highlights and some tips and tricks that we learned. This blog post will focus on advice and the next post will highlight our favorite hikes and viewpoints from the trip.
Here are some photos of us from the trip. Notice the huge variety in landscapes! From misty fjords, to white sand beaches, to dramatic mountaintops, to turquoise lakes, there is a never ending supply of natural beauty in Norway.
Our Kind of Honeymoon
Steve and I could never go on a typical honeymoon. All-inclusive resorts have never really been our thing. We knew that our honeymoon would have to involve camping, hiking, and breathtaking views. We were looking for adventure! We had both been drooling over photos of Norway for quite some time and it seemed just epic enough for a honeymoon. We had to wait from our September wedding until my summer break in July to go, which gave us plenty of time to extensively plan every moment of an unbelievable three week trip! We drew most of our inspiration from Instagram. I had saved dozens of amazing photos and created a google map full of pins…there were enough hikes to keep us busy for several years! We spent time researching, reading blogs, and eventually narrowed down our itinerary to a reasonable amount of activities for three weeks (though in reality we still ended up skipping a handful of things due to exhaustion!)
We learned so much during our planning process and on the trip itself. Here are some pieces of advice and tips and tricks for planning a trip to Norway!
1. Norway is not cheap. Okay, that’s an understatement. Norway is EXPENSIVE. It is one of the most expensive countries in the world. Food is expensive, drinks are expensive, and gas is very expensive. I want to say this first because if you’re a budget traveler like me, you really have to do your planning to make Norway an affordable trip. To do this we did a LOT of camping (read tip #2 for more details about camping in Norway). We also saved money by trying to avoid eating at restaurants. We brought our small camp stove and bought fuel when we arrived to make coffee and hot meals. We had a lot of granola bar meals, peanut butter sandwiches, and trail mix. Sadly, the food we did eat at restaurants was really delicious, especially the pizza, which made it all the more difficult to stay on budget.
2. You can pretty much camp anywhere for free. One wonderful thing about Norway is their law known as “allemannsretten” or freedom to roam, which essentially says that you can camp on public lands for free. We made use of this rule, and pulled over to camp on the side of the road in some beautiful areas. We did free camping on the beaches, on high mountain passes, and rocky areas alongside the fjords. This is such a huge contrast to our recent van travels in the United States where we had to check and double check where we parked for the night to make sure we didn’t get a ticket or a fine. Before you visit Norway, be sure to do your research to stay up-to-dates on their current camping laws! Here are some photos from random places we camped for free:
3. Plan your ferry rides in advance. If you plan on exploring the Lofoten islands or any coastal island areas, which I highly recommend, be sure to plan your ferry schedules ahead of time. For example, we really wanted to hike Rodoy, but the ferry only ran a few times and days of the week, so it ended up not fitting in our schedule. If we had known this ahead of time, we could have planned accordingly. There were also a few times when we just barely missed a ferry and ended up having to wait upwards of an hour for the next one. Also understand that ferries cost money, which can add up after a while. To get to some islands, it can take two or three ferries each way! Here are some photos from our ferry rides:
4. Prepare for some wild driving. Norway is famous for its unbelievable winding switchback roads like Trollstigen and Lysevegen. The main roads near big cities were fine, but the mountain passes and the descents down to the fjords were narrow, steep, and downright scary! There were times I was sure only one vehicle could fit on the road, and yet somehow we just barely squeaked past another car! I was tempted to slow down on the hairpin turns and narrow, foggy roads, but the locals in giant trucks were happy to slam on the gas and speed on through. Thankfully Steve took the wheel on most of those mountain passes. Here are some screenshots of roads in Norway:
Here is a photo I took of the famous Trollstigen road:
5. Bring layers and prepare for all types of weather. When we visited in July, the weather was typically in the 50s and 60s. It was perfect hiking weather, but got pretty chilly in the evenings and at high elevations. It even snowed on some of the high mountain passes! Bring a coat, gloves, and a hat…even in the summer!
6. Avoid crowds if you can. Some of the most beautiful spots in Norway are, as you might expect, incredibly popular. Even some of the long and challenging hikes were swarming with tourists! I highly recommend waking up early to visit the popular spots at sunrise, or go in the evening and plan to camp overnight to avoid crowds. We started our Trolltunga hike at 5am. When we arrived, only a handful of people were there and we were able to spend plenty of time walking out onto the precipice and taking photos. We had heard stories of people waiting in line for hours for their turn, and we were so glad we went early! Sunrise hikes can also lead to some stunning views! I had seen photos of hundreds of people up at Preikestolen, so we decided to camp up there. Only about 10 other people spent the night, and we practically had the whole place to ourselves at sunrise. Here are some photos from famous spots early in the morning, before the tourists showed up. I hope you’re not afraid of heights!
7. Prepare for a lot of driving. You could probably hit a handful of the best spots in Norway without too much driving and without leaving the southern part of the country. However, some of the most beautiful scenery and hidden gems were in the northern region. We ended up doing a ton of driving in order to make it to the Lofoten islands and Senja. While these areas had incredible hiking and scenery, I am not sure I would have done all of that extra driving if I were only in Norway for 1 or 2 weeks. This photo was from the remote northern islands:
8. Don’t plan on doing laundry. We learned the hard way that laundromats really aren’t a thing in Norway. Since we were there three weeks, we planned on doing laundry a few times (especially with all of the hiking we were doing). Laundromats were almost nonexistent and we ended up begging a hostel to let us use their laundry machines.
9. There are sheep everywhere. Watch out for sheep!
10. Bring your camera and extra batteries. Norway has some of the most incredible scenery you could imagine. I found myself snapping photos constantly! Stay tuned for my next blog post with details and photos of my favorite spots in Norway!
After leaving the desert, Steve and I were excited to embark on our next leg of this adventure: California! We made our way toward San Diego and first headed to a town called Ocean Beach, where Steve lived for a year back in his twenties. He was so excited to show me all of his old favorite spots and reminisce about his epic year when he lived 30 steps away from the beach! We spent a few days in this area eating delicious fish tacos, watching incredible sunsets, walking the Ocean Beach pier, and tasting some awesome beers. It certainly wasn’t a very budget-friendly portion of the trip but we had just come from weeks of free camping and cooking to make this work.
We did so many things in this area so I will just mention a few highlights.
La Jolla Cove was a really awesome spot. The beach and surrounding rocks were covered with harbor seals. They were all laying around and at first I thought they were dead! But if you keep watching, one would wiggle its flippers, flop around on the beach, or do some adorable snorting. I had so much fun watching the seals and could have spent hours there!
Torrey Pines was a fantastic spot for sunset! I loved being up on the cliffs and being able to see the ocean from high above (something that is not easy to find on the East Coast!) We were lucky to have a handful of incredible sunsets during our first few days on the coast.
We had a great time exploring Balboa Park in San Diego. We strolled through the beautiful Spreckels Organ Pavilion, looked at lovely flowers in the Botanical Building, and enjoyed the many beautiful walking paths throughout the park.
We checked out Cabrillo National Monument, a beautiful park with incredible ocean views, an historic lighthouse, and tide pools that we unfortunately arrived too late to check out (they closed at 4:30).
Sunset Cliffs was a beautiful area! We walked along the shore and enjoyed the lovely views of the brilliant blue water and were mesmerized by the waves crashing on the shore. When we were there, the tide was too high to check out the sea cave, so we will have to return some day!
There are so many wonderful breweries in this area! We definitely broke our one-brewery-per-state rule. Oops. (A friend recommended that we should adopt an electoral college type system for number of breweries per state, I should look into that…) Some delicious breweries that we tried were Pizza Port, Karl Strauss, OB Brewery, Belching Beaver, and Kilowatt. I tasted some awesome West coast IPAs, refreshing sours, and rich dark porters.
After leaving Ocean Beach (“OB”) we stopped in Pacific Beach (“PB”) for a day. This town had a similar feel to Ocean Beach but with a bit more of a party vibe. We tried Poke for the first time, which was delicious, and Steve caught up with an old friend from his high school days.
After about a week in the San Diego vicinity, we headed inland to spend a few days with friends in Temecula. We really enjoyed having time to recharge in their lovely home and get our fill of delicious home cooked food, a comfortable bed, and many hot showers. They were incredibly kind and generous hosts and were happy to put up with us for a almost a week! The downtown section of Temecula has a fun old western vibe and a surprisingly delicious Cuban restaurant! We also visited a lovely winery and tasted delicious wines with an awesome view of the California countryside.
Steve and I made a day trip to Laguna Beach to check out some spots along the ocean that we had seen during our research. We first stopped at Victoria Beach to check out the famous castle turret and tide pools and to fly the drone. The tide wasn’t high enough for the tide pool to fill with water, but it was still a really neat place. Next we made our way over to Thousand Steps Beach. I’m not sure exactly how many steps it took to get to the beach, but it certainly felt like a thousand! We wanted to explore the sea cave and the tide pools but sadly the tide was too high at that point so we couldn’t go. I was pretty bummed as we were walking back toward the “thousand steps” back up to the street, when Steve suddenly noticed a whale out in the ocean! Apparently this area sees a good number of whales as they migrate through, and it was so wonderful to see a whale in the wild (and not on a whale watch boat ride)!
Our next stop was Dana Point where we spent a long weekend with our Temecula friends. This is a very lovely, quiet, and low-key town compared to the busier nearby towns like Laguna Beach. The condo had an incredible view of the ocean in the distance and we had a blast exploring the area! Our friends took us to their favorite beaches, nature trails, and lookout points.
We also made a side trip to Balboa Island to try the frozen bananas made famous in the TV show Arrested Development. “There’s always money in the banana stand!”
After a really lovely week with amazing friends, it was time to hit the road again. I scheduled a quick trip back to my hometown for Mother’s Day weekend from the Las Vegas airport so we took the few days before my flight to check out some spots we had missed in the desert. We made a very quick afternoon trip into LA to grab lunch with my cousin and his girlfriend who work as a screenwriters and movie producers in Hollywood, and then we made our way back to the desert. My next blog post will go through our adventures near the Salton Sea, so stay tuned!
People are always advising us to: “live in the moment”. This is a beautiful sentiment and sounds like something we should all strive to do when traveling or exploring the outdoors. But what I rarely see included with these statements is advice on how to actually do it! I guess people would say to put away your phones and the cameras, which I think can help you be more focused on your surroundings, but is that all that needs to be done to truly “live in the moment”?
Maybe for some of you, it is easy and obvious. But for me, it was never easy. I certainly have always loved to see something beautiful, to be present, to enjoy myself. But I won’t lie to you – my mind is usually wandering. What will we be eating for dinner, when are we climbing down this mountain, I wonder what’s happening on Facebook, what’s going on with that latest political scandal, do I have new Instagram followers, what are we doing tomorrow… Even if my phone and camera were hidden away, I still didn’t feel like I was truly living in the moment but instead was planning my next move, worrying about something, or just letting random thoughts into my head and thus mentally checking out from the experience.
Enjoying the pastel
Steve poking the fire
So how do you truly “live in the moment”?
I’ve actually been working on answering this question over the last few months since being on the road. I have been working at making a conscious effort to live in the moment. I’d like to take a moment to explain some of the methods I have been trying, in case you’d like to try it yourself. Chances are, plenty of you already do these things either consciously or subconsciously, but perhaps some of you don’t and maybe this could help you!
So here is what I do. When I find myself with a moment to pause in a beautiful location like at a sunset or at the summit of a mountain, I make a pointed, conscious, and purposeful effort to think about what all of my senses are experiencing in that moment. I push away thoughts about dinner, social media, photography, politics, and plans for the future and focus on what is happening right here and right now. I usually do this for about 5-10 minutes, depending on the situation and I try to step away from other people briefly so that I can focus.
To begin with, I pause to look. I make note of not only what is right in front of me, but also ask myself what are all of the details of the scene, what is the source of light and how bright is it, and where are the shadows. I make the effort to look in every direction, taking in what is to my left, right, behind me, below me, and above me.
Then I pause to listen. What are the loud obvious sounds and what are the quiet subtle noises that you might not notice. This can be tricky when in a popular place surrounded by a lot of people. In these situations, I usually don’t focus much on listening and instead focus on the other senses.
Then I pause to feel. What is the temperature like? Is there a light breeze or strong wind or is it completely still? Am I on soft ground, jagged rocks, a flat surface? Is it humid or dry? Am I feeling sore, tired, or full of energy?
Then I pause to smell. Is it earthy, floral, or a salty sea smell? Are there subtle hidden smells, like maybe a hint of a campfire somewhere off in the distance? Is there a sulfur or mineral smell, such as at hot springs?
If applicable, I pause to taste. I may not have anything to taste, but occasionally if I am sipping coffee in the morning or a beer by the campfire, I make a mental note of those.
Me on the sand dune, photo by Steve!
Hiking the Navajo Loop Trail
Beautiful Lower Calf Creek Falls
Delicate Arch at sunset
View from our Cabela’s tent
Now I know most of us do all of these things all of the time in all degrees of magnitude. But what I’ve been working on, which I guess you might think is pretty corny, is to narrate each of these senses in my head, as if I were narrating an overly descriptive book. And I have to tell you, it has actually been really wonderful. I find that I notice more of my surroundings and feel in tune with the moment and the experience. When I do this, the scene actually becomes more complex and more beautiful. I also find that I remember details of the event much better afterward than previously when I was just looking and taking photographs. This process, like meditation, helps to push away all other worries or thoughts that may be floating around in my head and truly allows me to be present and focused on the current moment.
Below I am going to give two examples of times I have done this and what I experienced. What you are reading is a close replica of what I was narrating in my head in those exact moments. As you can see, I remember a LOT of details about each scene, and I believe this is a direct result of doing this exercise.
Before you continue I just want to offer a disclaimer: I teach math and physics and am a very science-minded person, not a poetic author or writer, so please bear with me!
Moment #1: Sunset in San Elijo, California
I pause to look. The colors are beautiful. I can see every shade of red, purple, pink, magenta, maroon, fuschia, orange, yellow. Just as I get a sense of the scene in front of me, I realize that the view is constantly changing as the sun slowly sinks and then drips below the horizon like a droplet of water falling out of a faucet. The clouds are moving and shifting in a smooth but very slow manner, continuously changing size and shape creating a new and unique scene every few seconds. The waves roll toward the shore in irregular intervals. Some are smooth rolling bumps, carrying energy from the depths of the ocean to the sandy beaches. Others build, fold over, and crash, creating a small explosion of ocean spray and mist. Looking left, right, and behind me I see puffy pink clouds like cotton candy floating on a darkening greyish-blue background. There are tall, thin palm trees swaying in the breeze. I see people gazing at the sunset, petting their dogs, holding hands with their children and loved ones. A group of pelicans flies across the kaleidoscope sky in formation and couple of lizards skitter among the rocks in a garden behind me.
I pause to listen. The most obvious sound is the waves crashing and the undertow noisily pulling water back out to sea. I hear the wind rustling leaves in the bushes nearby and the palm trees above. I hear a child giggle, footsteps of joggers on the sidewalk, murmurs of quiet conversation. I try to listen for the footsteps of the lizards of the flapping of birds’ wings, but the crashing waves are too loud and drown out these tiny noises.
I pause to feel. The warmth from the spring day lingers in the humid air but there is a cool breeze blowing from the ocean. My loose locks of hair are blowing in the wind and occasionally tickle my neck and face. The beach is soft under my feet and grains of sand feel rough on my sandal-covered toes.
I pause to smell. There is a salty, and mildly fishy smell in the air. It is a familiar smell that brings waves of nostalgia from past trips to the beach and childhood family vacations to the coast.
I pause to taste. There is nothing to taste at the moment, but there is the anticipation of the pizza we will eat once the sun has finally set and the skies turn dark and gray.
I pause to look. There is a brilliant fire before me. The embers are glowing and sparkling with a deep hue of orange. The flames are a dazzling yellow with a pale blue edges where the fire meets the charred logs. The fire is constantly moving, growing and shrinking, and changing directions as the wind shifts. I move my gaze upward to see the tall pines reaching up toward the night sky, which is speckled with millions of stars. I stop to remember that while the sky looks two dimensional, it is really three dimensional. Those stars are huge, burning, glowing objects nowhere near us and nowhere near each other. This begins to overwhelm my mind to think about so I look back down and around me. In all directions I see more and more trees of varying heights and widths spread throughout the forest around me. I peek at our van behind me, with the bouncing flames of the campfire reflecting off of its shiny silver paint.
I pause to listen. We are deep in the forest so silence around us is heavy. The fire crackles and occasionally sputters as it burns through log after log. Every so often there is a small crack of a twig somewhere off in the forest or a skittering sound of some small animal making moves in the night.
I pause to feel. The night has grown chilly and I am bundled up in my favorite fleece blanket. The fire is warm on my face and hot on my hands as I poke and prod the flames with a stick. When the wind changes directions, the smoke burns and stings my eyes a bit, as I wait for the breeze to blow the flames in another direction.
I pause to smell. The smell of campfires is one of my favorite scents. I don’t quite know how to describe it except that it is a deep, heavy, smokey smell. I am reminded how each place I visit has its own unique campfire smell due to the native trees. In this case, we are smelling the sweet scents of Juniper and Ponderosa Pine.
I pause to taste. I take a sip of hot cocoa and taste the delicious and rich chocolatey flavor as it warms my tongue, mouth, and throat.
Hopefully it is clear how doing this exercise helps me to feel, experience, and live in the moment. It is almost like a meditation. Each time I do this, I expose the complexity of beauty and wonder that exist in a single moment in space and time. I don’t do this exercise every day or every time there is a beautiful scene. But I will say that each time I have done this has enhanced the beauty of the experience and helped me remember it crisply and clearly in the days and weeks after. I look at the photo and and transported back to the moment, and can remember the experience vividly. I advise you to give this exercise a try next time you are somewhere incredible and you want to “live in the moment”. It’s not just about simply putting the electronics away, but is about experiencing something fully and purposefully.
Sunset (photo by Steve)
Morning view from the van
A highly recommended slot canyon
So now I will ask you. How do you “live in the moment”? How do you fully immerse yourself in an experience? Are you someone who does all of the things I have written here automatically? Do you have other methods or strategies? I would love to hear them and try them out! Let me know by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or on Instagram (@carrieoutdoors).
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!
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.
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.
Mountains near Salt Lake City
Beautiful views on our drive
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!
The map at the trail head
Tree lined trail
The lovely hot springs
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.
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.
This sign rocks!
More geology fun
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.
Watch out for falling rocks!
The start of the trail
Beautiful desert rocks
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.
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!
Entering Calf Creek
Look closely for the three figures near the bottom
Info on the petroglyphs!
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!
The lush hike!
So much green grass!
Admiring the waterfall
Beautiful Lower Calf Creek Falls
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.
Natural rock sculptures
Me admiring the arch
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.
Steve signing in
The sandy wash leading to the slot canyons
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.
Admiring the beautiful canyon walls
Steve squeezing through a tight space
So many great photos!
Incredible rock formations
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!
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.
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.
Hurricane Wash trailhead
The sandy trail
Steve documenting one of the small canyons
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.
Beautiful green grass and trees
The cool, flowing river
A great campsite!
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.
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.
Walking barefoot through the river
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!