Rocky Mountain Moments

My rather impromptu Colorado visit landed me in Rocky Mountain National Park once again, a few days shy from a year after my first go-round. Back then, I trod eagerly through many sections of the park, exploring multiple lakes, ecosystems, and wildlife via a wide variety of hiking trails. As I once again stood within the alpine climate – 12,000 feet above sea level – I took deep breaths and let the happy memories of the previous year rush in.

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Two cuties in the Rockies (Kate and I)

Heading down the east side of the mountain range, my friend and I had one main agenda: hike trails with water. This turned out to be a rather easy goal, since so many streams, rivers, and waterfalls undulate throughout the park.

Day 1 was a hefty 8-mile hike to Fern Lake, passing by some gorgeous cascading rivers and a not-too-shabby waterfall on the way.

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Pretty and peaceful Fern Lake

Day 2, after more camping, boasted one of the best waterfalls in the park: Ouzel Falls. While only 5 miles round-trip, my poor feet were screaming to be let out of my hiking boots. A lazy summer in flip-flops had apparently spoiled them to laborious trekking.

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Ouzel Falls

While my life has taken on a rather consistent rhythm now that I’m back home and off the road, I appreciate the fact that I can still have miniature adventures in the outdoors. Life’s too short to stay indoors. 🙂

“A pilgrim is a wanderer with a purpose.” – Peace Pilgrim

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A Mile High (and more) Once Again

I couldn’t resist fitting in one more outdoor trip before heading back into full time teaching. All 47 parks had been successfully checked off the list, but I jumped at the opportunity to revisit the Rockies. Re-branded as the Park Pilgrim*, I hopped on a plane sans Clarence, ready to have some rugged adventures with a Denverite friend.

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The Colorado River at Radium Springs (I had to scramble down to reach the natural “hot tub”)

First stop: a primitive hot spring located pretty much in the middle of nowhere. I took a hefty 2-mile hike down to an rocky outcropping where natural hot spring water mixes with the Colorado River. I was not aware that this was a popular stopping point for rafting trips until I heard jubilant shouting halfway down the mountainside. There were a few too many people for my liking, but it was fun watching people awkwardly cliff dive from 40 feet up.

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Pretty sunset during the drive to Timber Creek campsite

During my first go-round in Rocky Mountain National Park, I didn’t spend any time on the west side. Nestled neatly in between mountains, the gorgeous night sky made the cold camping experience worth it. I felt snug in my friend’s little tent, but I have to admit I pined for Clarence the teardrop trailer most of the night. Bugling elk lulled me into a fitful sleep; I awoke in the morning to a small herd gently chomping on foliage within 15 feet of my tent.

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Getting an early start to the day

And there was still more to come…

* Explorer of wild places and natural spaces

 

Botanic Day Adventure

I studied the plant. It looked simple enough – full glossy leaves splayed open with a thin but sturdy stalk running along the length. I peeked closely, searching for the pod-like fruit, knowing full-well that I was staring at the most toxic plant in the world.

The Castor Oil Plant was just one of the truly interesting things I saw at the United States Botanic Gardens. I was expecting pretty flowers and lots of color, but not so much intriguing vegetation with unique stories.

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Just hanging out (in the heat) in a rose garden

I wandered around the Conservatory, taking in the beauty and diversity of the flora. The World Deserts room brought back fond memories of my time in the Southwest. I marveled at the cactuses, saying hello to old friends that I had encountered during my miles of desert hiking. The Mediterranean room was crisp and refreshing, reminiscent of my visit to the southern coast of California.

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Cactus gathering

The Garden Court featured commerce plants – cacao, bananas, citrus, cotton, and many others. I enjoyed reading each placard, soaking up the information about each unique tree or stalk. When I joined up with a tour, my curiosity about economy-based plants was satiated; lots of questions = lots of answers!

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This endangered plant is nicknamed Cabbage On A Stick.

The heat finally started to get to me, so I ate a sushi burrito for lunch and hopped on the metro to go home.

Day adventures can be fun and I still get to sleep in a real bed in a real house.

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Don’t know what these are called, but they’re quite nice-looking. 🙂

Sugarloaf Mountain

Nothing quite beats climbing on real rock. While I thoroughly enjoy my local rock climbing gym, gripping raw granite while puzzling my way up a cliff face is a whole other type of adventure.

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Taking a break and scrambling around off-rope

During my year of travels, I only climbed a handful of times. Getting back into climbing shape has been a gradual process, so Sugarloaf Mountain in Maryland seemed like the perfect place. This local crag is short-ish (35 feet?) with easy routes and a simple approach. It was supposed to be hot, so Lauren, my climbing buddy, and I headed out early to avoid the heat.

On the hike to our spot, we passed a wild raspberry bush. I couldn’t help but pause for a little taste. They were cool, tart, and delicious – one of nature’s little surprises.

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The next couple of hours passed along quickly; time was eclipsed by the flaking of rope, placement of gear, and the motion of scurrying up the rock. There is something so beautifully methodical about climbing outside. At the same time, the climbs I did at Sugarloaf felt so natural and rhythmic. I let myself relax, happy for the shade provided by the tree cover.

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Look at all those fabulous cracks.

I was reluctant to leave, but knew that the high heat of the day was fast approaching. This trip rekindled by love for outdoor trad climbing. Over the past year, I’ve put in quite a few miles hiking in the wilderness – over 320 to be exact. Now, I feel like it’s time I put in some vertical miles. There’s simply so much rock to conquer!

Beach Respite

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Corolla sunrise

Beaches are beautiful. I’ve spent a lot of time on the coast this past year. From snorkeling with the fishes in Dry Tortugas to exploring tide pools in Olympic, the ocean is a magical place.

That’s why my trip to the Outer Banks in North Carolina came at an opportune time. Nothing beats the post-trip blahs like a gorgeous landscape and sunshine. As I floated on my back, cocooned by the salty Atlantic water, I closed my eyes and relaxed like a little star fish. There’s something incredible about letting all your senses be lost in a natural space. Three pelicans jolted me out of my revelry, swooping down nearby to pick up an early lunch from the sea.

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A couple days later and a couple shades more tan, I was pretty darn happy. The freckles littering my arms were a pleasant reminder of my time on the beach. If I close my eyes, I can still recall the scent of the delicious salty air…

* sigh *

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And the Winner Is… (Part II)

Congratulations KENT! 

On our most recent contest, you guessed that I had stayed in 110 places during my trip, which is pretty darn close to the actual answer, 100. I zoomed around quite a bit in my little teardrop, but also frequently hunkered down for a couple nights in one spot.

Kent, leave me a comment on this post with your email (I won’t publish it), so I can get in contact with you regarding your grand prize.

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Settling In…

Just a reminder, tomorrow is the last day to post your guess to the contest. Winner will be announced on Saturday!

A year ago today I embarked on an epic adventure. It was a journey full of spontaneous surprises and life lessons that have left me questing after more outdoor experiences.

For the first time I have a stationary “home”. I went from a 24 square foot teardrop trailer to a spacious 430 square foot apartment. My first morning in my new place felt odd. I had become so used to rehitching Clarence at first light and getting a head start on the day. It felt glorious, yet peculiar, to sleep in until 8 am.

And then I realized that I would be sleeping in the same location for quite some time.

It made me a little sad; I had such a great time wandering from place to place. I think the feeling of contentment will come gradually, as I furnish my new home and get used to stationary living.

Some things haven’t changed, though.

I still ate breakfast with my SporKnife, my one and only utensil on the road.

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I literally used this twice (or more) a day

I still spent some time noticing green things. Although my lodging square footage has increased, my natural square footage has dwindled to a mid-sized backyard.

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Not quite as grand an the Sequoias or Redwoods, but these trees will do quite nicely.

And I still have that sense of wonder – looking for the beauty in every precise moment and in every small thing.

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I like this space; it’s beautiful in its own way…