Category Archives: Camping

Feeling at home in Arches National Park

Next up: Arches National Park!

Previous posts:

And so it begins…to Aspen

Bear Necessities

Leaving Aspen…Good Riddance

Moving Along

No Such Thing as a Dead Horse

Day 9 of our trip, according to the itinerary. We finished up looking at Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse State Park and hit the road back towards Moab. It’s about 30 minutes to Moab, which is right near Arches National Park. We decided to make a quick coffee/gelato stop in Moab first before heading back into the wilderness. We also wanted to check email and things like that. In this day and age, it’s hard to go 3 weeks without responding to people, so at least every couple of days we needed to check in! And honestly, after a few straight days of only talking to each other, it’s nice to look at other stuff Smile We had an “incident” later where we’d asked a restaurant if they had wi-fi and the woman said, somewhat self-righteously, “no, we don’t, you’ll just have to talk to each other.” Haha, right? Except get over yourself, we’d been doing nothing but talking to each other for 3 days, and you work in a deserted tourist area where maybe people need to check in for work or just to let their friends and family know they are still alive. But I digress.

We finished up our gelato at a delightful shop that DID have wi-fi and then drove up to Arches. We needed to stop by the visitor’s center to pick up tickets for a ranger led tour we were doing the following day, and whoa, the center was packed! It was a definite change from Canyonlands and Colorado National Monument. We knew Arches was more popular (I guess the beauty is more obvious and you can see more within 10 feet of your car?) but it was still a bit of culture shock.

We had a reservation at Devil’s Garden campground, which was at the very back of the park, about a 20 mile drive, so our plan was to slowly head there while stopping and seeing what interested us. We had the whole day in the park the following day so we knew we’d get to do most of things we wanted.

IMG_5706

Since blogging about this trip has, more than ever, become entirely ridiculous and overwhelming YET I know that I will want this all down in writing to look back at in the future…I’m going to do a lot of photo sharing!

IMG_5708

Many of the rock formations are named. This was called the Three Gossips.

IMG_5717

We took a short walk to get closer to Balanced Rock. The mountains in the background are spectacular. Another thing that really struck us both was how different Arches looked than Canyonlands and Dead Horse even though they are relatively close to each other. What a crazy planet we live on!

IMG_5727

The advent of digital cameras makes this sort of ridiculousness easier. Louie, holding up Balanced Rock.IMG_5739

Seriously, what is this madness??

IMG_5745

Various arches. After checking into the campground we set up the tent and then went on a hike that left from the end of the campground. Oh, we’d hoped to buy firewood to have a fire since we hadn’t been able to for a few days, but they were out! The camp hosts were really great though and told us we could stop by their site and have a few pieces, so we did that. We also found out the campground had had lots of flash flooding the night before, just like at Dead Horse and we were warned to be aware of where we set up our tent. Apparently this was “monsoon season” and flash floods were somewhat common, though the night before had been much more than usual, and some campsites were washed away. We made sure to stake our tent carefully.

IMG_5748IMG_5751IMG_5753

Every arch had a name, but I am bad with names. I think this was Broken Arch though. We also might have seen Tapestry Arch. The hike was a little hard to figure out at first, because it was lots of cairn following, but we managed! We almost got lost at more than one point, but did I mention that it was a lovely cool day in the desert so we probably wouldn’t have died. Just kidding, we only weren’t sure which turn to take and were never too far off from being correct.IMG_5756

This is the view of our campground. Devil’s Garden Campground is one of the most beautiful National Park Campgrounds that I’ve ever seen. Our site (Site 018) was gorgeous too, even though we had trouble finding a flat spot to set up the tent.

Anyway, we finished the hike and then went to relax at our campsite and make dinner.

IMG_5759IMG_5760

We had a lovely fire and relaxed. At one point a small fox (we found out it was a kit fox) came through our campsite, just like one had at Dead Horse! This time we were sort of ready, and Louie took a short video. It was dark though, and you can’t see much. We made a lot of jokes about how the fox didn’t say anything.

We decided to try to wake up to watch the sunrise. We had an amazing view from the tent, and figured this was the time!

Even though I hadn’t slept great because the tent was more slanted than we’d realized and I kept sliding off the pad (oops) I was happy to be awake to get this picture! We also saw several deer who walked non-chalantly through the campsite. It was a beautiful site, but unfortunately we had to move to a different one for the next night (same campground) so after watching the sunrise and breakfast, it was time to pack up. As usual…

Next up: Fiery Furnace, Delicate Arch and more storms!

Nights camping: 7

Miles hiked (estimate): 37

Leaving Aspen…Good Riddance

 

I suppose I shouldn’t have a dislike of Aspen, but I do! First off, before even going, so many people said, oh, why go to Aspen? Well, we had our family reasons, but UGH after the bear attack…

And so it begins…to Aspen

Bear Necessities

Read those first!

IMG_5404

So we spent the day of the bear incident cleaning up. At first we’d thought we’d camp another night and then we realized that was crazy…the bear KNEW our car would have food and now it was even less secure. So we managed to crash at Louie’s dad’s place for a night, but frankly, we were cranky and tired and ready to leave.

The next morning we did, after loading up. We had breakfast at the Main Street Bakery, which would have been really nice except I suddenly wasn’t feeling well and ended up sitting outside on a bench for most of the meal. Altitude sickness? Definitely not morning sickness, which was what a woman at the “community table” suggested to me.

Louie and I were headed to Rocky Mountain National Park next. Yes, it was backtracking, but that’s how we did it. Don’t judge. We had a reservation for two nights at Moraine Campground, which was a different campground than we stayed at the previous year. We decided to leave Aspen via Independence Pass which is a pretty fantastic drive!

IMG_5405

Things that are truly awful: the vault toilets at the parking lot for the top of Independence Pass.

IMG_5406IMG_5409IMG_5411

I was starting to feel a bit better, but not great. Louie drove since I am terrified of mountain driving and he loves it. I won’t lie, some of our fun and excitement was gone. We were tired and stressed, we couldn’t use one of the doors of the car, and we were worried that another bear would attack the car. And now we were driving several hours back east to go somewhere that we didn’t even know if we wanted to go.

We’d been to Rocky Mountain National Park the year before and we’d figured why not return for another short visit. We’d really only have one full day there, but it seemed worth it in the planning stages. Naturally everything took longer than I planned (things to remember) but I think we were still happy, deep down Winking smile

We came into the park from the West side. The scenery was absolutely gorgeous. This was on the Trail Ridge Road, in case you are trying to recreate our trip. Oh, and I should mention, before getting to the park, we made a few stops along the way to try to get a new cooler, since the bear ruined ours. The day before we’d looked around Aspen for one, but everything was super expensive. We ended up buying a $4 styrofoam one to tide us over, figuring we’d easily find a cheaper one. That was a mistake. We saw a $350 cooler at Bed, Bath and Beyond…made the $75 cooler at the hardware store in Aspen look like a bargain! We finally found a reasonably priced one at a Target, but it was small. Oh well.

So we came in on the Trail Ridge Road from the West Side, like I started to tell you a minute ago. Most visitors enter the park on the East Side, so this was definitely the less crowded way to do it! The entrance gate was closed when we arrived so we didn’t get to flash our season pass. I guess probably we were supposed to show it somewhere but it was pretty unclear.

I wanted us to immediately get into tourist/photo taking mood, but it was hard. Louie was tired, I was tired, and we were just worried and stressed. We stopped and enjoyed the views (the Trail Ridge Road is the highest paved road in the US, I believe) but mostly we wanted to get to the campsite and possibly just go to sleep.

By 6:00 or so we got to the Moraine Campground. I’d booked us a “walk-in” site, which seemed like a good idea at the time—the description said you would have to walk a bit from your car to the campsite, which I figured gave more privacy and quiet. What we didn’t realized was that it was up a hill, not terribly private, and that there wasn’t a very convenient bear box (metal box bears can’t open for you to store your food.)

On the one hand, we had a great story. On the other hand, we didn’t want to leave any open food or scented items in the car and we were stressed. We managed to organize things and make room in a nearby bearbox, and we set up our tent, and finally relaxed a bit. Our plan was to get up very early and do a hike out of the Bear Lake Trailhead. Bear Lake is a very popular Trailhead, so we wanted to get there by 7 am or so.

So, we got up, had a quick breakfast, and got moving. People tend to get up early in campgrounds and this one was no exception. I’d slept okay, except I could hear a nearby person snoring! The privacy was not great. We were on the top of a little rocky hill, which was cool, but hard to get to the car or the bathroom!

IMG_5963

There was a rainbow shortly after we arrived though, which was very pretty.

Oh, and a raven or magpie ate one of our sandwiches! I’d packed two and put them in baggies on the table…and when we weren’t looking a bird knocked one on the ground and pecked at it! So I had to pack another, but that was okay.

We got to the parking lot at the Trailhead quite early, maybe by 6:45/7 am. It was only 1/3 to 1/2 full, but by the time we were “geared up” and got our boots on the lot was full! There is a shuttle system you can use, but it didn’t seem terribly convenient from our campground so we wanted to drive if possible. And here’s where blogging a month later (almost) makes you forget things! I recall Louie drove in his pajamas to the trailhead to save time, but I don’t remember what time we got up, nor did I make a note of it. Oh well.

I’d selected the “4 lakes loop” for our day hike. It seemed like it covered a good bit of ground that we hadn’t hiked in the past and would be a gorgeous way to spend the day. We weren’t disappointed!

We “warmed up” by walking around Bear Lake first. It was very pretty and the air was nice and cool.

IMG_5413

IMG_5414

We had to do a bit of climbing to get to Nymph Lake, but it was very pretty with all the lilies. This part of the hike was pretty crowded with people, but we knew that would be the case. We did all the add on portions of the hike too: Bear, Nymph, Dream, Emerald (had a lovely snack in a private area near Emerald lake and rested for 20 minutes or so—it was nice to avoid people for a bit!), then Lake Haiyaha-the hike up to that lake was absolutely gorgeous with amazing views! After Lake Haiyaha we went to Mills Lake which was my favorite and went to Jewel Lake too, which was a little anticlimatic. We had lunch sitting by Mills Lake and rested for awhile. Louie walked around to an island nearby but I wasn’t up for going off path. After a long rest there we headed back down, past Alberta Falls (we’d been there the year before) and then a long uphill from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead back to Bear Lake and our car, which was still there and not re-attacked by Bears!

IMG_5418

Looking down on Nymph Lake

IMG_5423

I believe this was Dream Lake

IMG_5432

And I believe this was Emerald Lake.

IMG_5443

Hiking towards Lake Haiyaha. Lots of lakes in view!

IMG_5445

Almost missed this amazing view which was just a little ways off the trail.

IMG_5450

 

IMG_5453

Mills Lake…just gorgeous.

IMG_5454

IMG_5457

Louie exploring the island—can you see him? We could hear each other talking the whole time. Alpine Lakes are seriously the best. He said there were lots of cobwebs.

Anyway, as much as I’m terrible at describing hikes (or just not in the mood Winking smile/already forgot) it was a great hike! I think it took us about 7 hours with lots of stops, and we had a great time.

We got back to the camp and just relaxed for the rest of the day. One thing we didn’t see much of was WILDLIFE. The previous year we’d seen ton, but we just didn’t see much. (of course we’d had quite a lot of evidence of wildlife, but very few sightings.)

The next morning we got up early to head out. We were heading west to Grand Junction and Colorado National Monument. In the early hours of the morning we woke up to the sound of whooping and howling—we realized it was a bunch of coyotes making a lot of racket!

Anyway, it was a nice but short visit to Rocky Mountain National Park. I think I preferred our campground the year before (Glacier Basin) but it was nice to try something new. The bathrooms were pretty dirty and the dumpsters were overflowing! We had a nice fire each night though, and Colorado is just gorgeous.

This part of the trip was emotionally difficult for me. I felt like the bear had really stolen our excitement and happiness, and we were just worried what else would go wrong. I felt tired already and that I hadn’t planned well enough (it might be true, but still, I should have been enjoying the moment!) and that I was just worried more things would go wrong. 2016 has been one thing going wrong after another…but this was a vacation! No time for complaining, time for fun! (And rolling thermarest mattresses, so much rolling of mattresses.)

Camping days: 4

Hiking miles (best estimate): 22

Bear Necessities

You know how when you’re out in the woods you hear weird noises? We were camping on our second night in Aspen, and I woke up in the middle of the night, or early in the morning, to hearing somebody throwing a bag of ice around. I couldn’t tell if it was in our campsite or not! I lay there quietly, assuming it wasn’t, because that would be super weird. There was a lot of footsteps, but no noises, no talking, and I decided not to wake Louie up because I didn’t want him making noise. I was pretty sure there wasn’t anybody in our site, who would do that? Or we were getting robbed and I didn’t want the person to notice our tent, as there were no footsteps coming near. I heard somebody rattle what sounded like our bear box (that’s a box where you are supposed to keep your food) and then all was quiet, so I went back to sleep. I had a variety of dreams of waking up and finding that somebody had set their tent up next to ours!

We were in bear country. If you camp a lot, you know exactly what I mean. It seems that every campground has different rules. In Yellowstone they made you sign something agreeing—all your food must be kept in your trunk, all your toiletries that were scented also. No food, water, or scented toiletries (i.e. toothpaste, lotion, etc) in the tent with you. You had to wash your dishes in a certain sink, and make sure that all your trash was in special bear proof trashcans.

At the Difficult campground, they gave us our own bear box. And we usually kept a clean camp, put everything away. But there were a few things: one was that there wasn’t anywhere to wash dishes—they just told us to throw our water in the woods. And that the picnic table had a sign saying to put your things in your car.

IMG_5952

Not only the bear box, but the car. The camp host had told us to use the box though…and laughed. But we had gotten “home” late and forgot to cover or move the cooler.

I woke up early, and got out of the tent to go to the toilet. I figured I’d see that everything was fine. But it wasn’t. The first thing I saw was shattered glass, and thought, OH MY GOD we’ve been robbed. And then I realized our car had been attacked by a bear.

IMG_5948

The bear pulled the top of the car door down and removed the lid of the cooler and threw it on the ground. I started freaking out and yelled for Louie to get out of the tent and come see. We were both in total shock for a bit!

After awhile we started cleaning up. I was worried about the glass at first, but it was safety glass which mean it wasn’t as sharp as window glass would be. There was ice and melted water all over the backseat and the clothes. Most of the damage was on the window though, and nothing on the upholstery, thank goodness!

IMG_5950

If you look you can see the dirty pawprint from the bear shaking this box. This is a bear box. If we had put our cooler in it we might not have had the bear attack. I do take the blame for it, but I’ll say this: I had never heard of this sort of thing happening before—I’d heard that bears would rip into soft top cars and tents, but not metal! I’d also add that the sign on the picnic table at the site says put food in the bear box or a locked car, which we did. And I’d also think that putting dishwater wherever you wanted would attract bears! So we were to blame, but there were other factors. And honestly, I think maybe people in tents shouldn’t camp at the Difficult Campground at all, and they should just say that. We found out later that another car was broken into and a “bear proof” cooler was broken into by the bear that night, and a few campers SAW the bear trying to break into their bear box.

(A google search found that a few years ago the problem at the campground was bad and they banned tents, but lifted the ban. I wonder if they told anyone after our attack?)

So here we were, at the beginning of a 3 week road trip, with a messed up car! We panicked for a few minutes, but then decided to try to do something. We had to drive into Aspen to make phone calls (nothing at the campsite available, no phone other than one for local calls which didn’t include 800 calls, and no pay phone) so we did that, carefully, and after checking with the insurance that it was allowed, Louie and I headed to a hardware store to try to fix up the window.

It ended up working really well. Louie managed to bend the metal back up, added plexiglass, and taped the whole thing with a combination of duct tape and gorilla tape. We realized pretty early that the entire door would need to be replaced, so putting tape on it wasn’t a concern.

We spent a few hours at the True Value in downtown Aspen working on it. The employees there were both really helpful and incredibly nosy too Smile Everybody kept coming out to see the car. People said that this kind of thing happened a lot (news to us, and I’ll bet to most of you) and that bears break glass doors, eat out of the trash, break into cars, etc. I ask, what is Aspen doing to help (the answer seems, very little) and I also ask, why don’t more people know about this? Honestly, we didn’t realize how bad the problem was, and we likely wouldn’t have camped. Maybe that’s why they don’t tell people? Or do they just think all towns have major bear problems? I don’t know!

I do know a few things; I won’t be camping there again, and we won’t be underestimating bears again.

We got the window fixed up though, by lunchtime (a waste of a morning, but it could have been worse!) and thankfully I’m dating an engineer who worked in remodeling and construction and knows how to make stuff work really well! And even though we wouldn’t be able to open that door for the rest of the trip, at least we didn’t have to cancel our trip.

IMG_5482

(I couldn’t find a better picture of the car, but you can see the tape here and how well we fixed it up!)

So, that’s our “best” story from the trip. Our car got attacked by a bear. Oh, and he ate the rest of a bag of Trader Joe’s peanut butter pretzels, 2 apples, half a tub of hummus (left the rest), and even a beer. There was a can of beer that had a claw mark and had been drained. (Louie has a picture I know, but I don’t have it right now. I’ll share it later if I can find it from him!).

Sigh. What a day.  But we weren’t hurt, and the upholstery wasn’t hurt, the insurance would cover it (minus the deductible) and the trip would continue!

Days camping: 2 night

Official hiking miles: 13.5

A Few days in Phoenix, Less than 24 hours in Sedona

After last summer’s big road trip, I mentioned to my sister Leslie that the annual NPS Louie and I had purchased didn’t expire until the end of this summer. She suggested we come out to Phoenix to visit, and take a few days to see the Grand Canyon. She was very generous to offer us their older car to borrow and a bunch of camping gear.

Louie had never been to the Grand Canyon. I had been but not since I was a small child (11 or so). The Grand Canyon is about 3 1/2 hours from Phoenix, which makes for a short drive though not really a day trip. Leslie, who is evidently a wonderful travel agent/itinerary builder, suggested we spend some time in Sedona on our way north, so ultimately I planned our time to have 1 night in Sedona, 2 nights at the Grand Canyon, and then home.

I like to look at the Trip Advisor Forums for advice on traveling, though Louie and I like to hike more than most members of the forums there. I’d found much of their advice last year to be excellent, with the exception of their great love of the Black Hills (it was fine, but we could have spent one night there and been happy rather than two). However, in the Sedona forums, there is at least one member who insists that you must spend 4-5 nights in Sedona in order to make it worth visiting. To me this is ridiculous. Sure, a week in Paris beats a day in Paris, but both are worth it. Maybe not the day if you fly in and out from the US for one day, but it’s a trip from another fairly nearby location, a little time is better than no time!

(I’m overwhelmed by my good fortune in being able to travel sometime, and right now I’m overwhelmed by all the beauty we saw and want to convey it to you.)

Okay, so…first we spent a few days in Phoenix hanging with my little niece Athena, and my sister and brother-in-law.

IMG_5311

We rode the carousel and the train at McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park in Scottsdale.

IMG_5316

There was a lovely shaded playground.

IMG_5342

We took selfies.

IMG_5230

And we went to the zoo.

IMG_5229

And then on Wednesday of the week, it was time for Louie and I to load up their Honda Civic (with stick shift) and head for Sedona. We piled in our clothes, cooler with food and drinks, tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, camp chairs, hiking boots and poles, stove, and more (maybe) and headed to Sedona. The drive was around 2 hours.

One big potential issue for our night in Sedona. The forecast was for rain and storms!

Sedona is known as Red Rocks Country. Once we made the turn off the interstate we started seeing evidence of this. It was so much unlike Missouri!

Our first stop was at the Sedona Visitors Center. We needed the restrooms, water, and lunch. I talked to a really helpful ranger at the desk as well. I hadn’t planned too many particular hikes for Sedona. For whatever reason, I’d found it difficult to get maps or find exact things to do so I’d figured we’d wing it…I love planning things, but as I’ve told you before, Louie enjoys winging them and being more in the moment, so I figured he’d help out with this part Winking smile The ranger asked how long we were there and when we told him, well, this afternoon and tomorrow morning, he didn’t yell at us that we hadn’t allocated enough time (we wanted to be in the Grand Canyon by mid-afternoon the next day) but instead made a few really helpful suggestions.

IMG_5354IMG_5353

We first visited the Bell Rock area, which was just north of the visitor’s center. The sky didn’t look too menacing yet so we took a short hike up and around.

IMG_5356

My mom is probably worried about all the red dirt. Back in South Carolina where I grew up she hates the red dirt that we would track into the house. It stains, and she would shout “Red Dirt Alert!” to make us stop in our tracks and remove our shoes.

IMG_5239

Hiking: fashion? Those wire trash cans filled with rocks were to mark the trail. There were lots of signs warning us to stay on the trail, which was great until we’d get to a place that was only rock and didn’t seem to have any trail markers at all. It was fun to explore though!

IMG_5242

Louie was smart and wore an orange shirt in order to blend in.IMG_5243

Here you can see the bad weather is starting to move in. We knew we weren’t terribly far from shelter though.

IMG_5247

I took this of Louie when he went up a big higher than I felt comfortable doing so. Some of the rock climbing made me fear of heights kick in. Or perhaps my fear of rock climbing.

IMG_5357

When we got back to the car, it started raining, and storming, and kept up for a bit. We decided to go to the store to pick up a few things we’d remembered that we’d forgotten (ha, good writing there!). The storms had blown threw by the time we were done (Sedona is full of shops and restaurants and places to stay, not remote at all) and we went to drive around something called Red Rocks Loop, that the ranger had recommended. It was definitely still a little rainy but not bad. We didn’t really feel like hiking though…we are tough, sure Winking smile but rain hiking is more work. The loop wasn’t that exciting, so we finished and then went to our campground.

I’d booked a night in a campground north of town called Manzanita Campground, run by the Forest Service.

IMG_5264

Our first time by the campground we missed the turn entirely, but found it the second time. There’s a steep one lane driveway down to the campground and the sites are along Oak Creek. Other than the rain and the fact that the only facilities are vault toilets, I loved it.

IMG_5359

We set out for a short hike before dinner-I’d seen there was a trailhead right across from the campground and we though we’d check it out, just for a few minutes. The rain had stopped, but it was still really wet.

IMG_5262IMG_5255IMG_5252IMG_5256

The hike went through an area that had had a fire recently. Later Peter was telling us about it, but now I can’t remember. It was recent, and it luckily didn’t spread too much further than the small area.

(This article I found seems to be about it. We were camping in the Oak Creek Canyon area.)

I wanted to get back to camp before it was too dark, so we only hiked for about 45 minutes. It was neat and we were sorry we couldn’t go further.

It was a cold night. I believe it ended up being close to 40 degrees overnight, hard to believe it was May and Arizona! (Not everywhere in Arizona is hot like Phoenix, but that’s easy to forget). In any case, we made Trader Joe’s Vegetarian Chili with some sides and enjoyed a beer by the campfire. Sort of. The fire was hard to start due to the dampness (we managed, we are used to rain here in Missouri, despite the camp host almost refusing to sell us wood) but the real problem was that the firepits were about 3 feet tall and blocked all the heat. Oh well.

I didn’t sleep that well-first night camping, cold…it was a bad combination. We got up and loaded up the car and headed further north. We decided to hike the West Fork of Oak Creek Canyon.

The ranger had recommended this hike, yes, that’s how we roll (also Leslie and Peter did, but they recommended several hikes that we didn’t get to do either). He’d said he loved it because it was unlike anything else in Sedona. At first that sounded appealing, but then we started to worry, what if it was like Missouri instead? It was lush and green, but luckily it wasn’t really like Missouri.

IMG_5277

The trail goes along the Oak Creek the whole way. It crosses the creek 13 times along the way (and then again on the way back). The creek crossings were quite a lot of fun!

IMG_5268IMG_5269IMG_5273

IMG_5274

It seemed they meant you’d have to walk down the creek for 2 3/4 miles! Maybe in some seasons it would be lower, but that just didn’t sound terribly fun to me.

IMG_5275

After finishing the hike we had a quick picnic lunch before heading north (again) towards the Grand Canyon National Park. And that’s where I’ll end today’s blog post, with the two of us in a car, drinking sparkling water, and driving north, looking forward to the next portion of our adventure.

Taum Sauk State Park

I’m exhausted right now but so happy!

I never would have thought I’d say that after a weekend of backpacking. In fact, I never thought I’d go backpacking (where you hike with all your camping gear, and then camp in the middle of nowhere) but part of being in a “new” relationship means you try new things. Louie got a bit jealous of all the people that were backpacking in the National Parks, so we decided to plan a little backpacking trip here. Nothing too fancy, and just one night. We invited a bunch of friends, and finally managed to convince two other people to go… a bunch of stressors here and there almost made us cancel on more than one occasion, but we decided to forge ahead and I’m glad we did.

We decided to hike an out-and-back from Taum Sauk State Park to Mina Sauk Falls and then a little ways along the Ozark Trail, find a nice place to camp, and then head back the next day. I had a backpack with a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, change of clothes, extra layers and rain jacket, food (lots of pbj, trail mix, and bars), 3 liters of water, various first aid stuff, water treatment, headlight, and a few other things. Louie had our stove and tent, and his own clothes, sleeping gear, and a few other things. We were with his brother Julian and our friend Jim, neither of whom had been backpacking before either. (Louie had gone once before, and a very similar trip to this one—in fact, he realized as we went along it was basically the same trip, except we camped further along). We also brought the dog, Mackenzie.

IMG_5134 IMG_5132

Mackenzie didn’t seem to realize she was being photographed. She also didn’t bring a tent, backpack, water, or ANY of those things! Silly dog made us carry her food for her too…but we figured it was worth it for the intrude warnings AND seeing her have a wonderful time in the outdoors.

The park was about 2 hours drive from St Louis, and the day ended up being cooler and a little more overcast than we thought. We started hiking around 1 pm, and took the right fork to get to Mina Sauk Falls. The “Falls” were basically non-existent, and all of the views were foggy though…but we enjoyed the scenery anyway, especially as it seemed finally autumn was here and the leaves were turning. (I would have said fall was here but with “the falls” that seemed confusing. And here I am saying fall and falls anyway…sigh…)

IMG_5137

Trying to perfect our explorer poses. (Side note, I think my waist band is too high, anybody know? Maybe that’s why my shoulders hurt so much?)

IMG_5139

I didn’t take too many pictures, because I was mostly focused on my footing!  The hike was QUITE rocky and steep, especially once we continued from Mina Sauk Falls down towards the Devil’s Tollgate (which I definitely referred to as the Devil’s Tailgate by accident on at least one occasion.) When we climbed down to the bottom of the falls area (the most difficult part of the hike) we saw a little campsite on the left. We didn’t realize there would be a variety of makeshift campsites along the route, complete with fire rings—even though it seemed that making fires wasn’t allowed, there were fire rings. We didn’t want to camp yet, so we kept going, and passed another campsite right before the Devil’s Tailgate (note: I actually typed that by accident…) which Louie suddenly remembered he had stayed at before. We were tempted, but it was really close to the trail, and we thought maybe we’d find more if we continued along.

IMG_5140

That’s the Devil’s Tollgate. Not THAT frightening, really…but really cool. This was definitely the coolest hike we’ve done in Missouri!

Finally we were getting a little impatient to stop. Our packs felt heavy (how do people do this? I suppose we overpacked/didn’t have them adjusted well? My shoulders ended up really being sore, but they do from my regular backpack too…?) and we were ready to relax and enjoy the woods. Just before we were tempted to turn back to the campsite we’d passed, we found another, even better one, with a large flat area for a few tents and a big log to sit on near a fire ring made with rocks. It was perfect! The only downside was that the creek was totally dry, but we had plenty of water with us (it wouldn’t have been so much, actually, but it wasn’t too hot so we didn’t need as much.)

By this point Mackenzie was exhausted. I think we’d been hiking between 2 1/2 and 3 hours (the same for miles, oddly)—not much in the greater scheme of things—but a long way for us backpacking newbies!

IMG_5141

We set up our tents and then looked for firewood (we were tempted by the fire ring, even though we weren’t sure it was legal, why have a fairly used ring, plus it was pretty damp all around so we felt good about a fire.)

IMG_3447

IMG_3448

Louie and I returned to the tiny orange tent for this trip since it was much lighter than the larger one we’d camped in in August.

We made boxed red beans and rice for dinner and added “textured vegetable protein” to it for extra protein/calories. We’d decided that everybody was in charge of their own snacks/lunch/breakfast and such but dinner could be one thing. After dinner we just sat around chatting and discussing gender equality and various other important manners!

Oh, and we hung up a backpack with all the leftover food. It probably wasn’t bear safe, but we figured it would keep smaller critters (and large black dogs) away from it while we slept. Louie figured out how to manage this.

IMG_5147

Notes: 1) We had definitely passed some hikers earlier in the trip, but once we set up camp we didn’t see another person until the next morning. 2) As it got dark, it got pretty scary on occasion, trying to figure out what various strange noises were! Mackenzie wasn’t sure what to think of all of this and the rest of us weren’t either 😉 but we never got too freaked out. The moon was HUGE and basically full, and kept it from being too dark. 3) We’d passed a couple that said they saw some wild boar/feral pigs (?) earlier in their hike so we were a little worried about those and, for some reason, coyotes.

We all awoke several times during the night. It rained lightly and between that and all the weird noises (mostly insects, but probably birds and snakes and raccoons too) and rustling from everybody tossing and turning, I didn’t sleep terribly well. Also not having a pillow didn’t help…but it was still fun to be outside, and we’d had a great evening hanging out and a lovely hike! So morning broke, and we got up, made coffee (instant!) and packed up, and off we went, back towards the car. The rain made everything a bit wetter, and some of the rocks we had to climb over were a bit scary, but my pack was lighter (I actually ran out of water—I’d shared a bit, and one thing we did learn was to make sure to tell any future hiking companions how MUCH water to bring—Louie and I each had 3 liters, more than anyone else) so that helped. I had a wooden walking stick for awhile too, that Jim had been using but he gave to me when I was struggling too much…next time, I am bringing my walking sticks, no matter.

We finally made it back up the top, and made a slight detour to the highest point in Missouri (we’d missed this on the day before while going down the trail.)

IMG_5150

 IMG_5153

Being very weird and pointing at the sign…

 IMG_5156

Looking a little more normal, albeit tired!

So there you have it. Approximately 5-6 miles round trip hike, quite short by my usual standards (ha!) and some parts were really technically difficult, especially for a Missouri hike. Overall I had a wonderful time and learned a lot about how to prepare for any future backpacking, though I am (unlike most people on the internet)far from an expert. I will go backpacking again, though now Louie is talking about taking an overnight bike trip somewhere…the thing is, we have a lot of good gear for hiking/backpacking already, and not great biking gear (I really need a better bike, first off, that fits me better, and we don’t have any panniers!), but that’s a worry for another day. We do plan to try to backpack another part of the Ozark Trail the next time we can both get away for an overnight and wrangle some friends with us for entertainment and company, so I’d say the trip was a success.

IMG_3462

Saw this guy when I came home, and now I’m gearing up for the workweek (Bach at the Sem!) and looking forward to October.

Camping isn’t so bad (Road Trip Part 3)

Part 1: There and Back Again

Part 2: Bouldering in Boulder

My plan of dividing the blog posts into location rather than day has meant less posts, but so much more writing in between! I might have to reevaluate my plans for the next two parks.

We left off in Boulder. Louie and I wanted to take the scenic route to Rocky Mountain National Park, so we drove from Boulder to Nederland and then took the Peak-to-Peak highway from there. It was only about 1 1/2 to 2 hours drive so we just wanted to arrive in time to set up camp before dark.

IMG_4021

Nederland was a cute but odd town. Evidently it was founded due to the mining boom, and at one time the hotels sold rooms in 8 hour intervals because they were so busy! You would sleep and THAT was it. It seemed (obviously)  less busy now, and more of a weird tourist place where people would buy coffee and ride a merry-go-round. But we filled up on 85 octave gas (took us by surprise at first but then we realized it was due to the altitude…we think…) and continued on our way. We had a plane to catch! Oh wait, no, we had a tent to set up.

The Peak-to-Peak Highway was gorgeous and scenic. I am too chicken to drive on windy mountain roads (I can but I go really slow and hate it) but Louie loves it. So we both had a great time! Once we got close to the park we pulled over at a place called Lily Lake for some views and to stretch our legs. People told us (people, so friendly and helpful!) that there were moose off to the right, so we booked it. And saw two moose, just eating in the brush next to the Lake.

IMG_4044 IMG_4042

I didn’t get great pictures of both, but you can kind of see the second one in the background there.

IMG_4049

Also, there were ducks. And mountains and a large lake.

It didn’t take too long before we got to Estes Park and then Rocky Mountain National Park. We opted to purchase the annual America the Beautiful pass which gets you into all national parks and monuments and some more stuff for a year (and it seems, not only a year, but until the end of August next summer!) for $80. I’d added up our plans, and everything on it’s own would cost $90, so we were saving.

Our reservation was for three nights at Glacier Basin Campground. Check in was easy and low key, and we found our site right off the main road. All the pine trees in the area had been cut down due to the pine beetle problem, which left GREAT views, but you had to watch carefully for the stumps which had been left. We were pretty close to the bathroom, which was nice, even though you could hear the hand dryers (no hot water or showers, but yes, hand dryers—I suppose no paper towels and less mess that way!). The bathrooms were nice and clean, and we were warned about bear safety (nutshell, put all the food and cosmetics and toiletries in your car, don’t leave trash around). We set up the tent and got started on dinner…thinking back, we did that so many times it became no big deal, but this first time was really exciting PLUS I didn’t really have the hang of anything so I was pretty stressed about how to cook and get everything done.

IMG_4050

The tent…and what a view!

IMG_4054

The stove. Looks like we were making breakfast here.

IMG_4055

My campsite outfit. I only brought one sweatshirt and one pair of sweatpants because I didn’t realize it would be absolutely freezing all the time.

Oh, right—the COLD. I knew it would be cold in Yellowstone but I wasn’t quite prepared right away, even though I should have been. We made a fire which was nice, and we had awesome cold weather sleeping bags—“mummy bags” because you look like a mummy in them, but they ended up being the greatest thing ever for me. Louie didn’t care for them as much, but I get much colder than he does anyway.

In a nutshell, I should have brought warmer slip-on shoes than flip flops but I did not.

We had two full days in Rocky Mountain National Park. Day 1 plan was: giant hike, of course! I found a hike people recommended online that left from Bear Lake and went to the Fern Lake Trailhead.

map

bear-lake-fern-lake-trailhead-elevation-profile

I probably should have considered this elevation profile a bit more. At one point, we did feel like we had been descending for most of the hike…looking at it now I see that was most definitely true.

So: Day 7: we got up early (around 6 am) in order to be ready to catch the shuttle to Bear Lake. Rocky Mountain National Park has an excellent free shuttle system within the park, but it only ran until 7 pm, and we needed to catch another shuttle at the end to get back to the campsite, and wanted to make sure we didn’t miss it! I wasn’t terribly worried as it was a 10 mile hike and that gave us nearly 12 hours—but I am a slow hiker and you just never know.

It looked like the shuttle came directly to our campground but I was mistaken and we had to walk about 1/4 mile down the road and across. Just as we reached the main road we saw our shuttle leaving…luckily they saw us too and stopped to pick us up, saving us 15 minutes plus a little more walking. We were thrilled.

They say Bear Lake Trailhead gets really crowded later in the day but at 7:30 or so we had it much to ourselves. We started out up the trail, loaded down with plenty of water, snacks, and peanut butter sandwiches. We both had walking sticks, backpacks, and of course, our cameras! From the beginning, I couldn’t get over how beautiful the hike was—points of it just didn’t even look real, as if the whole landscape were manufactured in some way.

IMG_4060 IMG_4063

Right off the bat we saw a deer (or two, I can’t recall) and of course we saw tons of chipmunks. The trail climbed a bit but wasn’t too bad, and it was just beautiful. We’d had a few layers on to begin with but I didn’t need those for long. A few hikers passed us but mostly it was pretty quiet.

IMG_4068

As we got near the turnoff for Lake Helene we noticed another trail off to the side. We followed it up for some amazing views AND a marmot, who seemed to just be posing for pictures.

IMG_4071 IMG_4076

Overall the hike was AWESOME and we had a wonderful time. We saw a variety of lakes, enjoyed amazing scenery, and thoroughly enjoyed our time outdoors. Hiking makes me feel so strong, even when I’m slow! I figure that slow hiking just means a better chance of seeing wildlife.

I wanted to post our lunchtime selfie but it’s upside down…and when I turn it it just gets distorted and stretched. Sigh.

IMG_4086

IMG_4111

So the only real downside to the hike was that the last few miles were a little boring…though I’m hardly complaining since it’s really only IN comparison to how amazing the first 7-8 miles were…and then the actual downside was the nearly 1 mile walk from the trailhead to the shuttle stop, which we must have just missed, since we waited about 25 minutes. It was nice to sit down though, and we enjoyed riding around the park on the shuttle. This particular one dropped us off right at our campground so we had a very short walk!

Downside to not having showers—getting back and having no great way to clean up. Thank goodness for wet wipes and cold water? Then it was dinner and relaxing time.

Day 8:

Today was a day I was nervous but excited about. I’d booked us with New Venture Cycling for a downhill bike ride on the Trail Ridge Road. We weren’t sure what to expect, but we knew to dress warmly and meet in Estes Park at the shop at 7:30. Naturally I wanted to allow extra time (I’m nothing if not obscenely prompt/early sometimes) so we got up around 6 am. It was pretty cold at camp, but we had no idea how cold it would be up at 11,000 feet or so, where our trip would start.

IMG_4115

The clouds were so gorgeous that morning. More clouds meant less sun and colder though…

We had a little trouble finding the shop because it was actually behind the address they gave us, but we were still plenty early. Kerry and Brandon got us fitted with bikes and helmets, and the other party arrived. Lucky for us was that we were only 5 people riding so lots of personal attention! The guides were very friendly and incredibly knowledgeable, as learned over the course of the morning.

We headed out in a large van up to Rock Cut, which is around 12,000 feet above sea level. It was VERY cold, windy, and cloudy, but amazing.

IMG_4123

You’d be able to see a lot of mountains if there weren’t so many clouds there.

IMG_4127 IMG_4128

The bike riding ended up being REALLY fun! We stopped at several overlooks on the way down so we had plenty of breaks, and honestly, I could have gone much faster than we did (though we went at a fine speed, and it was probably safer!) so it wasn’t like I was struggling to keep up. I was less scared on the bike on the road than I was in the van—that is to say, there was only one time I was scared and that was one place where the road was open on both sides—I took a deep breath and held on tight for that segment! But the road was amazing—the Trail Ridge Road is the highest continuously paved road in the US, and we learned so much from Kerry and Brandon about the park, historically and today, and about trees and wildlife. They were wonderful guides and we couldn’t recommend the tour more highly!

We had a picnic lunch near the bottom, and then continued into Estes Park by bike, so by the end of the morning we felt that we had gotten a really good overview of the park! There was one uphill bit, which was incredibly difficult for me, probably because I was pretty out of bike riding shape plus the altitude, but I made it. We stayed bundled up all the way down the road as well—it did get a little warmer by the end, but never so hot that I even wanted to take to my jacket off!

IMG_4129

IMG_4132

IMG_4148

IMG_4152

After we got back to the car we decided to do a little sightseeing in Estes Park, but the traffic was so bad that we grew tired of it pretty quickly. We enjoyed a good cup of coffee at a place called Ink and Brew, and then decided to head back into the National park and do a shorter hike.

We lucked out and found the only space in the lot at the Glacier Gorge where we headed to “The Loch.” This hike also passed Alberta Falls and was about 6 miles round trip.

IMG_4156 IMG_4166

I won’t bore you with poorly written details about the hike, but instead will just share some pictures and tell you it was amazing! I will say this about most of the places we visited on our trip, but I can’t wait to return to Rocky Mountain National Park for a longer visit in the future, or at least for another visit and to do more hiking. There were so many options and so many trails and we just barely scratched the surface.

IMG_4170

IMG_4174

Every signpost is a decision. To continue or not to continue, to turn left or to turn right. (This could be a life lesson, but I’m really just talking about hiking.) On this day we had to turn back, but another time we might be able to continue to Sky Pond and Andrews Glacier, who knows! We got back around 6:30/6:45 pm and debated heading into Estes Park to find a shower, but decided we were just too lazy.

IMG_4178

IMG_4177

IMG_4181

The Loch was gorgeous, possibly the most gorgeous lake we saw the whole time.

So we returned to the campsite for our last night in Glacier Basin Campground. The next morning we would have to leave RMNP and head to Grand Tetons, and we were sad.

In retrospect, my favorite thing about RMNP was the lack of commercialism in the park. No vendors, no lodging, just cheap camping, free shuttles, and nature. It was fantastic. Outside of the park, sure there was plenty of commercialism and lodging and food, but within the confines of the park it really felt like a getaway from all of that, and it was truly wonderful. After all, we all own the national parks, don’t we?

I hope we can get back in the next few years…we didn’t see the west side of the park at all and there are so many more hikes to do. But you’ll see, next is Wyoming, and Wyoming is pretty awesome.