High (Slightly Dangerous) Places

20180813_085216 1

It was slow-going. For each step that I took, I slid down half of a pace. The loose rubble crunched under my hiking boots, and I was glad that I had worn such sturdy shoes to traipse across the rugged, winding terrain. I felt the heat acutely, both from the sun shining down overhead and the steam coming from the black piles of rock in front of me. Every time I looked up, I was in awe.

I was hiking an active volcano.

20180813_083022 1
On the way up: two other volcanoes (Fuego and Acatenango) in the distance.

No, I’m not crazy – this is a popular activity in Guatemala, as the country has over 37 volcanoes, three of which have erupted in the past couple of years. I was told that the hike would be 5ish miles there and back. Piece of cake, right? Perhaps, except I didn’t take into account that I would be at elevation. Pacaya Volcano stands at over 8,000 feet above sea level. I was huffing and puffing, my pulse beating rapidly with each step I took. Edwin, the guide-slash-park-rancher, practically skipped upwards, looking back with a flashy grin every so often to check on the slow American.

20180813_090612_001 1
Partway up!

I was glad that the scenery was absolutely gorgeous; it gave me an excuse to regularly stop and snap photos. The luscious green of the surrounding countryside juxtaposed nicely with the black ashy volcanic rock. I’m not quite sure what came to mind when I envisioned Guatemala before this trip, but I was overwhelmingly surprised at all of the mountainous landscape, covered with immaculate shades of green.

20180813_101407 1

A couple of wild dogs trailed me the whole way up, hoping for a handout. One bounded ahead, and I realized that I had arrived – or at least as far up as I could safely go.

It was incredible.

The steam from the volcano came at regular intervals, and the whole eastern side was on fire. I expected a viscous lava flow, like Hollywood has taught me to believe, yet it was more like a huge scree field of campfire coals. As rocks tumbled – small and large – glimpses of red could be spotted. In fact, there was a rock pile right close to me that looked like the remnants of an epic bonfire.

And then marshmallows started to get passed around.

I was literally toasting fluffy sugar balls on top of an active volcano. The weariness of the hike behind, I rested and enjoyed this unique experience. The sky was blue, fluffy white clouds mixing with steam from within Earth’s crust. The breeze helped cool down my over-heated body, and my muscles relaxed with each breath of smokey air. I was happy to be exploring a wild place so out of the norm from anything I’ve done before.

My marshmallow caught on fire, and I didn’t even care.

It still tasted delicious.

20180813_080910 120180813_101034 1

Advertisements

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.

20170828_085141 1
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.

20170828_131617 1
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.

20170829_101250 1
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

20170828_085414

Cairns

A Throwback Tale

20161010_110418 1
Peekaboo Trail

Cairn. I rolled the word around in my head, almost like a chant, matching pace with the sound of my feet hitting the slick rock. Canyonlands National Park in Utah was an adventurer’s dream. I was taking a much-needed break from Arches, the tourist trap only 45 minutes to the northeast. After being run into by one too many inconsiderate photographers, I was looking for some good hiking trails off the beaten path.

The visitor’s center was tiny, showcasing some of the local flora and fauna as well as the particular geology of the park. The list of trails was comprehensive; many were long and remote, boasting miles of solitude surrounded by canyons.

The Peekaboo trail caught my interest; it was an approachable 10 miles and rewarded you with a “peek” at the end of some ancient petroglyphs. I loaded up my pack, double-knotted my hikers, and went on my way.

The sun was hot, but not fierce, and my mind began to wander as it normally does during my long walks. After thinking of something meaningless for a couple minutes – let’s say food trucks – I stopped to take stock of my surroundings. I was off trail… or was I? In forested parks, the trails are well-marked by packed dirt and handy signs every junction. Here in the Utah desert, however, cairns were the beacon guiding the way towards the final destination.

They were also easy to miss.

I soon realized that constant vigilance would need to replace my usual daydreaming m.o. while I hiked. My initial irritation at this concept surprised me. Was I so arrogant that I couldn’t stand to actual pay attention and “work” to find my way? Certainly not.

I plodded on.

For those unaccustomed to the ways of hiking, cairns are piles of rock that vary in size from 6 inches tall to taller than a human. On the Peekaboo trail, the cairns were good-sized, meaning most of them were about a foot tall and easy to spot. It amazed me that someone had taken the time to gather rocks and stack them on top of each other, basically erecting a sign that read “follow me – stray ye not from the path”.

20161006_151106
Hunting for cairns in all the right places

So I followed. I put aside my random thoughts about penguins, Lisa Frank, and the invention of soda, and decided to actually pay attention. I eagerly looked for the next marker, confident that some well-meaning and intelligent park ranger would not lead me astray with these cairns.

In the end, the petroglyphs were interesting, yet it was the hike itself that was most memorable. Following piles of rocks for 5 miles in and back felt akin to being guided on an epic treasure quest. Here’s the part where I could throw in some deep metaphor about people in my life who have guided my way, leading me along my quest for discovery.

But no, this is purely about rocks.

I promise.

 

And the Award Goes To… (Part II)

Every park that I’ve been to is special in it’s own way. The diversity found within the natural areas of our country is truly astounding.

That being said, some parks piqued my interest a little more than others.

Introducing my favorites…

(1) Best Hiking: Redwood Forest

jelly beans 1
Tall trees, lush greenery, coastal views peeking through the trees… can’t get much better than this.

(2) Best Desert Park: Joshua Tree

calendar
Everything about this place captivated me. The rocks were unique, the sky was gorgeous, and the wildflowers were in full bloom.

(3) Best Lil’ Town: Bar Harbor (outside of Acadia National Park)

20170605_145814
An overlook in Acadia with Bar Harbor nestled neatly off in the distance. This town boasted excellent lobster, fun shops, and an overall non-touristy feel.

(4) Best Exploration: Channel Islands

20170411_120849
This piece of paradise was chock-full of fun places to discover. There were rocky coasts, sea caves, and historical ranches.

(5) Best Views: Glacier

20170526_134602 1
Those mountains. That sky. *sigh*

(6) Most Isolated: Isle Royale

20170602_122538
In the middle of Lake Superior. I commuted 3-hours via ferry to experience this wonderful wilderness.

(7) Best Waterfalls: Yosemite

20170420_101804
One of the many waterfalls in the Valley. The heavy winter snow resulted in a tremendous amount of falling water.

(8) Best Forests: Sequoia

20170416_090957 1
I enjoyed walking through forests full of these giants. The crisp spring air and snow-clad floor made the atmosphere peaceful and fresh.

(9) Best Pure Fun: Lassen Volcanic

20170427_114204
Snowshoeing and looking at geothermals was a grand ol’ time.

(10) Best Overall: Olympic

20170517_140433 1
Beaches, forests, mountains, and more!

Letters from the Road

Dear Other Drivers,

Please kindly remember that when you want to switch lanes, it is common courtesy to be going faster or at least matching the speed of the car you are cutting in front of. Also make note that my stopping distance is double what you think it is; Clarence the MyPod is quite hefty which takes a toll on my ability to decelerate.

Sincerely,

Frustrated

 

Dear State of Virginia,

Your choice of state park names is somewhat comical. “Hungry Mother State Park”… really? Sure, the legend surrounding it makes sense in a mysterious sort of way, but it drove me crazy for over 100 miles on I-81 until I could safely Google such strange nomenclature.

Yours,

A Puzzled Citizen

 

Dear State of Arkansas,

Please fix all the potholes on your highways and interstates.* They’re large enough to swallow a small child whole.

All the best,

Rattled

texas 1
*Do you see how Texas has relatively smooth highways?

Dear Chicken-Who-Made-Me-Sick,

You gave me food poisoning and delayed my journey. You should be ashamed of yourself. Making me be sick for hours at a rest station was a real low-blow.

Regrettably,

A Convalescent

 

Dear Commerce Industry,

Could you kindly come up with a chain of restaurants/hotels/gas stations that begins with the letter “X”? Playing the alphabet game has become very difficult. Thank goodness for Quality Inn and Zaxby’s.

Regards,

A Bored Driver

Petrified Forest Recap

20161029_152809

Length of Stay:

  • 3 days, 3 nights

High:

  • Painted Desert Inn lantern tour
  • Investigating an ancient petraglyph calendar which perfectly aligns with the summer solstice
20161030_144001
Nice landscape, nice sky!

Low:

  • Falling down a soft rock strata during one of my back country expedition

Favorite Hike:

  • Agate House
20161029_150845
Agate House – an ancient dwelling made from petrified wood

Favorite Treat:

  • Sopapilla (a Mexican deep-fried pastry)

Stony Wood and a Haunted Inn

20161030_145420

Petrified Forest national park is chock-full of fossilized wood. Based on the pictures I’d seen, I figured that there may be a couple of key places where one might be able to see this mineral-permeated organic matter. After all, how much “rock-wood” can actually be found in an arid desert-like environment?

Apparently a lot.

Thanks to plate tectonics, this area of Arizona used to be near the equator, resulting in a lush, rain forest environment. These trees got buried under layers of sediment, became saturated with minerals, and turned to stone. (This all took many, many years, of course). There are big chunks that can be found at the Long Log section, and smaller multi-colored pieces that are strewn all about the Crystal Forest.

20161030_145433
Crystal Forest

It’s pretty. It’s unique. It’s science!

I also had a chance to tour the Painted Desert Inn, an old traveler’s rest stop that now serves as a museum. In the spirit of Halloween, we took the entire tour in the dark. Using only glow sticks to light our way, the ranger told stories and tall tales about a myriad of suspicious and creepy behavior that happened in the old inn. Spoiler alert: someone actually did die there. We entered the basement through a locked door – a place where park visitor’s are only allowed to go once a year. The floor creaked and the dumbwaiter was super eerie.

Was it truly haunted? The park rangers and volunteers seem to think so.

Was it semi-historical and fun? You bet!