In which we round out the National Parks tour with Rocky Mountain and Wind Cave

Whew – we made it to Minneapolis! Since our stuff does not get here until next Monday we’ve been camping out in the living room and exploring our little neighborhood before work starts next week. To round out our National Park tour:

On Monday we left Boulder and headed to nearby Rocky Mountain National Park:

7th National Park and it's its 100th anniversary!

7th National Park and it’s its 100th anniversary!

The park has great vistas across meadows to the Rockies beyond.

The park has great vistas across meadows to the Rockies beyond.

Since it's so close to a major metropolitan area and summer is the high season we were stuck behind a lot of cars.

Since it’s so close to a major metropolitan area and summer is the high season we were stuck behind a lot of cars.

Our only stop was to Bear Lake, which turned out to be more nature trail than hike. The parking lot was full when we got there and we only ended up grabbing a spot because they opened up some later ones as we were leaving - talk about lucky!

Our only stop was to Bear Lake, which turned out to be more nature trail than hike. The parking lot was full when we got there and we only ended up grabbing a spot because they opened up some later ones as we were leaving – talk about lucky!

We didn't see any bears :(

We didn’t see any bears 馃槮

Lovely conifers

Lovely conifers

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Reminds me of higher elevation version of Cades Cove in the Smokies

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Since the park was so crowded, we decided to see if we could make it to Wind Cave the same day and cut the next day’s driving to Minneapolis down.

Forgot we needed to get through Wyoming to get to South Dakota - so here we are picking up a bonus state: #7!

Forgot we needed to get through Wyoming to get to South Dakota – so here we are picking up a bonus state: #7!

Starting in Wyoming and continuing through South Dakota we kept running into motorcycles, both of the individual and gang variety. It came to a massive slowdown in Custer and we creeped along through the sea of them at 5 mph. Apparently the world-famous Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was happening in two days and we were caught up in the beginning of it.

State #8

State #8

And done: National Park #8

And done: National Park #8!

Most of Wind Cave National Park, is as you could probably guess, in a cave. There is a lot of the park aboveground however and it preserves vast swaths of natural grasslands:

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We looked, but did not see any bison.

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The cave part is only accessible by a ranger led tour and we were fortunate to catch one of the last ones of the day:

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Our only option was the Natural Entrance Tour which is the usual one. Other tours explore slightly different areas of the cave or use only candles like early explorers.

Our only option was the Natural Entrance Tour which is the usual one. Other tours explore slightly different areas of the cave or use only candles like early explorers.

Golden ticket

Golden ticket – no selfie sticks!

Stairs down into the cave.

Stairs down into the cave. It’s a good tour – well lit, easy to walk.

Taking pictures in a cave is weird. Bare with me on these next few.

Taking pictures in a cave is weird. Bare with me on these next few.

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Wind Cave is the 6th longest cave in the world and the densest maze-type cave (measured by passages per cubic mile).

Our tour had about 30 people on it and the ranger was great about telling stories of the cave's earliest explorers.

Our tour had about 30 people on it and the ranger was great about telling stories of the cave’s earliest explorers.

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Those rocky lines are known as boxwork formations. 95% of the world’s known boxwork is in this cave.

It was the first cave to be designated a national park in the world.

It was the first cave to be designated a national park in the world.

My cave photography sucks.

My cave photography sucks.

The flash makes it better

The flash makes it better

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More boxwork.

The cave responds to barometric pressure and so

The cave responds to barometric pressure and so “breathes” with whatever the weather is doing outside. Hence the Wind part of the name.

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After learning聽out about the Sturgis rally and finding no hotels under $500 left in southwest South Dakota, we made the decision聽to drive as far as we could towards Minnesota after the tour. It made for a long day, but we grabbed the last room between Rapid City and Sioux Falls in Oacoma, SD (and shared it still with plenty of motorcyclists):

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643 miles, 3 states, 2 parks, and 1 motorcycle rally

We understandably slept in the next morning and made it to Minneapolis聽in the early evening (another 6 hours away):

Hard to get a shot of this sign as it was past the exit ramp of a rest area.

Hard to get a shot of this sign as it was past the exit ramp of a rest area.

I hope to do a re-cap of our adventures, just in case anyone else is stupid crazy enough to try this. For now, we’re settling into our new home and awaiting the arrival of our things.

In which we visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Black Canyon of the Gunnison聽is an obscure National Park, tucked into the corner of Colorado and overshadowed by聽it’s famous Utah and other Coloradan brethren (I’m looking at you, Mesa Verde). After visiting today, I can say that it does not get enough recognition as a cool place to visit. The hiking here is limited to the the north and south rims, unless you’re an amazing athlete and can risk the scary descent down the sheer cliff faces. We opted to not risk death, but would love to train to be able to one day hike聽the inner canyon.

6th National Park!

6th National Park!

First view - gorgeous! The Gunnison River that carves the canyon averaged a drop of 34 ft per mile. By comparisons, the Grand Canyon's Colorado drops 7.5 per mile.

First view – gorgeous! The Gunnison River that carves the canyon averaged a drop of 34ft per mile. By comparison, the Grand Canyon’s Colorado drops 7.5ft per mile.

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We kept a healthy distance between us and the rim.

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A swift current and large quantity of sediment has helped the Gunnison River carve this impressive scar in the earth.

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It is called Black Canyon because some parts are so deep they only receive 33 minutes of sunlight each day.

As close as I dared.

As close as I dared.

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The painted wall made of so many layers of sedimentary rock.

Juniper tree shaped by the wind.

Juniper tree shaped by the wind.

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Mesas surrounding the canyon.

Sunset point

Sunset point

My biggest fear

My biggest fear

We misjudged this hike and did it in sandals - should have used our hiking boots that were in the car, but survived anyway.

We misjudged this hike and did it in sandals – should have used our hiking boots that were in the car, but survived anyway.

View from Warner Point

View from Warner Point

We only had time for the scenic drive of the South Rim at this park, but the hiking here requires something outside our skill level. One day we’ll be fit enough to try a descent into the inner canyon where the easiest route requires climbing down 80 ft of chain.

The rest of the day was spent traversing Colorado and the Rockies:

Glaciated peaks.

Glaciated peaks.

We ran into our first traffic jam of the trip an hour outside Colorado – probably people returning to the city after their weekend vacations in the mountains. It was surreal to be surrounded by so many creeping cars after having seen so few聽for the past week, but we made it through and were rewarded by a delightful and delicious dinner at Jax Fish House in Boulder聽(we enjoyed the oysters, lobster roll, crab cake and s’mores dessert). I have always wanted to see Boulder since my dad brought me a hat from there in 4th grade and the town lived up to expectations. One day we’ll have more time to spend in this little mountain, college town.聽The IronMan Triathlon was in full swing in the area聽and聽all the hotels were booked, so we ended the night here in Longmont, a few minutes away. On to our final few destinations tomorrow!

369 miles today (with an hour backed up in traffic) - respectable.

369 miles today (with an hour backed up in traffic) – respectable.

In which we visit Capitol Reef and Arches National Parks

This trip reminds me of an eight-course meal at a fancy restaurant. You don’t get a large portion of each dish, but you get enough to peak your interest, enough to taste its聽subtle nuance, and enough to want more.

We started the morning off at Capitol Reef National Park. Since I had trouble finding much information on this obscure park we settled for the scenic drive portion and were not disappointed in the views:

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National Park #4!

Another outtake. I was struggling before coffee.

Another outtake. I was struggling before coffee. Also excuse the fog – I had cleaned my filter with a solvent and replaced it before realizing it wasn’t fully dry. Fortunately fixed this before taking the rest of the day’s pictures. But it’s kinda dreamy, isn’t it?

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Unbelievable rock faces in stunning red and browns punctuated with green.

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Rising in a slanted direction into the distance.

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We stopped by a restored early Mormon settlement and bought cherry pie, cinnamon rolls and coffee from the general store. The national park service maintains the orchards early pioneers planted and it remains the largest fruit tree area maintained by NPS.

We stopped by a restored early Mormon settlement and bought cherry pie, cinnamon rolls and coffee from the general store. The national park service maintains the historic orchards early pioneers planted and it remains the largest fruit tree area maintained by them. You can even pick fruit in season for a nominal fee. The cinnamon rolls were perfect. The coffee made by Mormons, not so great.

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Jeep is still going strong!

Jeep is still going strong!

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Loved these sedimentary rock formations

Grand Wash canyon. We headed the flash flood warnings not to enter when a storm was imminent.

Grand Wash canyon. We heeded the flash flood warnings not to enter when a storm was imminent (also we were on a time crunch).

Grand Wash

Grand Wash – Called a wash because it was not a stream or creek or river yet. Not until it rains. Signs of road damage could be seen all along the drive from previous flash floods.

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The red color was spectacular - I couldn't get enough.

The red color was spectacular – I couldn’t get enough.

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For only having the morning to explore, the scenic drive was perfect.

For only having the morning to explore, the scenic drive was perfect and because we started early, we had it mostly to ourselves.

We stopped and saw some early petroglyphs - these reminded me of the stickers people put on the back of their vans.

We stopped and saw some early petroglyphs – these reminded me of the stickers people put on the back of their vans.

Capitol Dome from which Capitol Reef takes its name. It's supposed to resemble the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

The white Capitol Dome towering above the Fremont River. This is from which Capitol Reef takes its name as it’s supposed to resemble the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

We headed out of the park towards Arches and kept being greeted by awesome canyon and rock formation views. It seemed otherworldly:

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We stopped for聽iced tea and directions at a聽gas station carved into the rock:

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And finally made it to Moab, UT where we grabbed lunch at the Moab Brewery:

Jeff had the Dead Horse Amber and I had the Moab Especial - both helped wash down chicken sandwiches.

Jeff had the Dead Horse Amber and I had the Moab Especial – both helped wash down delicious chicken sandwiches.

Today was ambitious: I had planned two parks in one day! But at the last minute I almost added a third. I didn’t realize Canyonlands was so close to Arches – they’re 20 miles apart which is a minute speck聽in national park distance terms. I really didn’t even know until we hit the exit for Arches and it said “One Exit: Two National Parks” and my heart immediately sank. What is wrong with me?! This whole trip was carefully mapped out, researched,聽planned. It was tight already. I spent lunch going over our itinerary – do we stay the night here and try to do both? Do we nix another one in favor of Canyonlands? And do we try to squeeze this one in without any preparation? Do we just drive to the gate, get the map and leave to say we’d done it?

In the end, I let it be. This trip is already pushing the quantity limit of quality. Not that we could just nix four parks and spend two days exploring聽each instead – it’s a lot of distance to cover聽and our stops are聽spaced so that we can achieve聽that distance. If we had driven straight to Minneapolis from Seattle it would have been 24 hours of driving. Our current concocted plan works out to around 52, so it would not have allowed extra time to linger. We need to be there on time so we can get settled and Jeff can work. No, I had to let this trip be what it is: a marathon taste-test. We’ll be back.

National Park #5

National Park #5!

Driving in past the Three Gossips - perhaps my favorite name for a rock formation.

Driving in past the Three Gossips – perhaps my favorite name for a rock formation.

And the gorgeous scenery continues.

And the gorgeous scenery continues.

Right before we saw the sign for what this was, I commented to Jeff that the rock appeared to be balancing on top of the other one. I should be a formation namer: it's called Balancing Rock.

Right before we saw the sign for what this was, I commented to Jeff that the rock appeared to be balancing on top of the other one. I should be a formation namer: it’s called Balancing Rock.

Like I alluded to earlier: I’ve carefully planned our experiences in most of the parks. Fern Canyon in Redwoods, Bumpass Hell in Lassen,聽visiting the bristlecone pines in Great Basin, etc. Each excursion was chosen to represent the character of the park and give us the maximum effect in our limited time. That’s why I ultimately couldn’t just add Canyonlands – I had no idea what to do there. A quick glance said there would be too many cool things, so I let it go. We’ll save it for another time. As for Arches, I picked the famous Delicate Arch (which also happens to be currently gracing the Utah license plate):

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It was hot - 97 degrees. Rangers at the beginning on the trail checked to see that we had adequate water (we did).

It was hot – 97 degrees. Rangers at the beginning on the trail checked to see that we had adequate water (we did).

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Queen of the world!

Queen of the world!

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I am adding this to the growing collection of pictures of my boots in different environs. I’ve had these since sixth grade.

Stone piles marked the trail in some areas.

Stone piles marked the trail in some areas.

Almost at the top

Almost at the top

Worth the climb!

Worth the climb!

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Delicate Arch!

Going back down was so much easier.

Going back down was so much easier.

We detoured to see a few more petroglyphs. These, like the previous ones, were carved by the mysterious Fremont people before they disappeared from the record.

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I would love to come back and see the 2,473 other arches we didn’t see, but, the sun was high and we needed to move on.

State #6!

State #6!

We checked for places to stay near our next stop, Black Canyon, but came up empty. Our original plan to camp along the way has been聽thwarted by the tiredness we’ve been feeling as a result of the long drives with no AC. We’re not the twenty year old explorers we used to be.

The closest place we could find was an hour and a half away in Grand Junction, CO, so we’re bunkered down here for the night. I’m beginning to believe we might actually make this crazy itinerary of eight parks, eight states in eight days, work.

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An easy 261 miles today, but we completed two parks, so I’ll take it.

In which we visited Great Basin National Park

Great Basin National Park lies about an hour east of Ely, NV. I wasn’t sure exactly what this basin was before we found the visitor’s center, but it now know it describes the depression between the Sierra Nevada and Wastach mountains (amongst other geographical things) and looks like this (thanks Wikipedia!):

GB-Definition-Map

(and thanks Great Basin visitor’s center!). This national park not only preserves important landmarks, it also celebrates the unique culture of this desolately beautiful place.

If anyone wonders how we get photos of the two of us - I have a remote for my Nikon D3300. Sometimes it works great. Sometimes you get silly outtakes like this one.

If anyone wonders how we get photos of the two of us – I have a remote for my Nikon D3300. Sometimes it works great. Sometimes you get silly outtakes like this one.

Never mind the previous outtake. This is the real sign at the entrance to the park.

National Park #3! Never mind the previous outtake – that was the visitor’s center. This is the real sign at the entrance to the park. Wheeler Peak is in the background.

I wasn’t planning on hiking in this park, but the main thing I came to see required a short, out-and-back jaunt.

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Bristlecone pines are the longest living non-clonal organisms on Earth and this park is home to several rare groves of them. They can live up to 5,000 years!! You have to specify non-clonal because there is a group of聽quaking aspens in Utah that is聽believed to be over 80,000 years old – though the individual trees are only 130 years or so.

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Even when they die, the trees are so hardy that they can last another 1,000 years in the same spot without rotting.

Hiking up to the grove - we wore plenty of sunscreen since the sun was out and we were above 10,000 feet!

Hiking up to the grove – we wore plenty of sunscreen since the sun was out and we were above 10,000 feet!

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At 1.6 miles past the trailhead there was a lovely exhibit teaching you about different trees in the grove.

At 1.6 miles past the trailhead there was a lovely exhibit teaching you about different trees in the grove.

Many had great informative plaques like this one. Hard to believe that some of these trees are contemporaries of the pyramids of Egypt.

Many had great informative plaques like this one. Hard to believe that some of these trees are contemporaries of the pyramids of Egypt.

Jeff pointing out the living part of this tree.

Jeff pointing out the living part of this tree.

View of Wheeler peak from the grove.

View of Wheeler peak (highest summit in the Snake Range: 13,065 ft) from the grove.

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I know they look dead – but I promise they are not. Many had green needles sprouting from their branches that just get lost in these photos.

Beautiful, smooth bark

Beautiful patterns in the smooth bark

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Thankful that someone will indulge my not-so-inner biology nerd.

On the way down we made a small detour to Teresa Lake (in honor of you, Aunt T!):

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Beautiful little alpine lake.

Beautiful little alpine lake.

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It was an unplanned, but lovely 3.2 mile hike. I would definitely love to come back and do more glacier hikes and explore the Lehman Caves. After this we headed down Wheeler Peak, on to Utah:

View of Wheeler Peak

View of Wheeler Peak

State #5!

State #5!

This stretch of road began a long series of beautiful views. I'm convinced there isn't a bad site in Utah.

This stretch of road began a long series of beautiful views. I’m convinced there isn’t a bad site in Utah.

Great Salt Flat in the distance

Great Salt Flat in the distance – you can follow this all the way to the Great Salt Lake

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More Utah through the front windshield

Look at the scenery behind Jeff - it's just breathtaking.

Look at the scenery behind Jeff – it’s just breathtaking.

Better view of that exact spot. This road trip is mostly about seeing national parks, but it has the lovely residual side effect of taking us through some of the prettiest, most unique places in the US.

Better view of that exact spot. This road trip is mostly about seeing national parks, but it has the lovely residual side effect of taking us through some of the prettiest, most remote places in the US.

Our first glimpse of Rim Rock, right outside Capitol Reef National Park and our home for the night.

Our first glimpse of Rim Rock, right outside Capitol Reef National Park and our home for the night.

It looks like we're driving into a painting. Just amazing!

It looks like we’re driving into a painting. Just amazing!

I wasn’t sure what Capitol Reef was going to be like and with this preview聽I can’t wait to see it tomorrow. We’re settled in for the night in Torrey with Mexican food in our bellies and wi-fi for our devices.

301 miles

Short driving day: 301 miles

In which we visited Lassen and drove the loneliest highway in America

Remember when I signed off the last post about it being a good night? Bad news: we discovered while rummaging for some lost contact solution (turns out we left it in the hotel in Crescent City) that our boat battery had tipped and spilled all over the back of the Jeep. Good news: baking soda neutralizes the sulfuric acid. Bad news: everything closes after 9pm in Chester, CA so we couldn’t do anything. Good news: The grocery store opens early for the fishermen. We spent the morning scrubbing and neutralizing what we could.

Here’s hoping that the bottom of the Jeep doesn’t fall out anytime soon! Also figured out I’ve developed shingles (am I 80??) – but that is a story for another day. First – on to Lassen!

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National park #2

Lassen Volcanic National Park聽is like聽Glacier and Yellowstone had a baby. The peaks reach the sky, but the area is bubbling with geothermal activity. It’s the southern most part of the Cascade Range and its Volcano, Lassen Peak, last erupted 100 years ago. Give that our time was short, we chose to do the Bumpass Hell trail, one because of the name and two, because it gave great views of Lassen’s mountains and showed off the beauty of the Tehama caldera. It’s funny moniker comes from serious incident. Kendall Vanhook Bumpass, a local miner聽who was聽exploring the area, broke through the thin mud crust and scalded his leg badly resulting in its eventual amputation. Yikes. thumb_DSC_0695_1024 thumb_DSC_0666_1024

These beautiful purple wildflowers were in bloom along the trail.

These beautiful purple wildflowers were in bloom along the trail.

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I love the color the sulpher, thermophilic algae makes the water.

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Good reason to use the boardwalks (also a federal law).

Good reason to use the boardwalks.

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About 16 acres of hot springs, fumaroles (steam vents) and boiling mud pots

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Beautiful mud and algae above the boiling mud pots. Pictures don’t quite do it justice.

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Our hike didn’t take as long as planned, so we drove around a bit more of the park to take in the scenery:

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View of Brokeoff Mountain

In front of Lassen Peak

In front of Lassen Peak

View to the Cascades beyond

View to the Cascades beyond – this reminds me of the Appalachians聽outside Asheville.

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The is the highest point on the highest road in the Cascades

We had a long drive before us, so we headed out. I would definitely come back to Lassen again (and hike the Cinder Cone and Lassen Peak!). On the road again:

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Somewhere in California

Crossed the border and drove through Reno - it made me miss all the Burners who would fly in through here to go to Burning Man soon. Our route took us no where near the Black Rock Desert, which was probably for the best. It would make me miss it too much.

Crossed the border and drove through Reno – it made me miss all the Burners who would fly in through here to go to Burning Man soon. Our route took us no where near the Black Rock Desert, which was probably for the best. It would make me miss it too much.

Once through Reno we started driving on Nevada Highway 50. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was named聽“The Loneliest Road in America”聽by Life magazine in 1986. I get why: we crossed long stretches of desert valleys punctuated by desolate mountain ranges with little to no sign of civilization for close to sever hours. It was long and hot and I’m very thankful we had a car to do it in (despite its lack of air conditioning) because this is the route the Pony Express took and I can only imagine how hard it was for them.

Beautiful, but lonely.

Beautiful, but lonely.

Desert valley stretch. Note all the bugs we've accumulated.

Desert valley stretch. Note all the bugs we’ve accumulated.

Eventually we pulled into Ely, NV, the biggest settlement we’d seen since leaving Reno. It’s a little modern segment of the聽Wild West: advertisements for roping lessons, casino-hotels galore with stuffed rattlesnakes decorating the lobby, steakhouses and blackjack dealers smoking cigarettes they bought out of a vending machine.

Downtown Ely, NV

Downtown Ely, NV

We stayed in a hotel-casino that was built on the site of the old jail – so naturally it was called the Jailhouse:

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497 miles

497 miles

Long day, but we survived and we’re getting there – on to Great Basin next!

In which we visited the Redwoods

Redwood National Park encompasses a narrow band of land along the northern California coastline. The national park (established 1968) is combined with several state parks (Jedediah Smith, Prairie Creek, and Del Norte Coast) and together they protect almost 50% of known redwood trees.thumb_DSC_0584_1024 We started the morning escaping driving out of Crescent City, south along the coast on Highway 101. The 101 hugs the Pacific Ocean聽from LA to the Olympic Peninsula and has always been something I’ve wanted to drive. Viewpoints like this confirmed my suspicions on how gorgeous it would be: thumb_DSC_0588_1024

Dipping my feet in to say goodbye to the Pacific Ocean.

Dipping my feet in to say goodbye to the Pacific Ocean.

We also had the chance to fulfill one of my lifelong dreams: driving through a redwood. Yes, I know this sounds weird, but in some elementary school textbook there is a picture showing a car driving through a tree聽(probably this one)聽to illustrate just how gigantic redwoods are and I had to do it. There are actually three trees near (but not in) the park that you can drive through – we chose the聽Tour Thru Tree聽(silly lawyers can’t let them say “drive-thru” for liability reasons) for no other reason other than it was close to our itinerary.

They have quite a nice racket: Entrance is $5 and there is little to no maintenance on the thing.

They have quite a nice racket: Entrance is $5 and there is little to no maintenance on the thing.

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This is an approximately 750 year old living redwood. The tunnel was carved out in 1976, carefully avoiding the critical life sustaining parts.

Jeff drove, I took pictures. You can really get out once you're in it.

Jeff drove, I took pictures (you can’t really get out once you’re in it). So many milestones for the Jeep this week!

After this detour we zipped back into the park and drove through majestic groves of redwoods. It’s easy to spot which ones they are – their ashy grey trunks draw your eye upwards and they tower over every other tree; they are the tallest on Earth. Sequoias may have more volume and be more round, but they don’t scrap the sky like these giants:

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They won’t fit completely in my camera frame – I took this picture lying on the ground.

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Meandering through the giants

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We had most of the drive to ourselves which was nice so I could go slow and crane my head through the window to look up.

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There was a sign that said this was Big Tree – so we pulled off to see it. She seems just as large as a lot of other ones, but with a sign she must be special. Estimated age: 1500 years. Height: 304 feet. Diameter: 21.6 feet. Circumference: 66 feet.

thumb_DSC_0635_1024 Our itinerary did not leave much time for lingering, though this is a national park I’d love to revisit. We continued on to Fern Canyon in the southern (and Prairie Creek controlled) section or the park. Since it’s not technically part of the National Parks System we had to pay an $8 day use fee, and although it was a quick jaunt,聽it was worth it.

Our little trek took us about three-quaters of a mile.

Our little trek took us about three-quaters of a mile.

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Possibly my favorite picture from today.

Possibly my favorite picture from today.

After that we headed out, we made a brief stop in聽Arcata, CA for a delicious lunch at the Kebab Cafe (get the gyro itself or gyro burger – so good!!). If you didn’t know, California is in the midst of a terrible drought聽and I felt like were were driving through kindling as we drove Hwy 299 through聽the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. It’s less a “forest” and more a lot of dried trees, cracking brush and dirt that look ready to ignite any second. It was also hot as blazes out there:

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We haven’t seen 100 degrees since before we moved to Seattle.

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OMG and then it got even hotter! We eventually reached 112 before the sun went down and gave us some sweet, sweet relief. Between us we have two bachelor’s (from a top ten university), a law degree, a dental degree and two master’s degrees- why again are we driving an unairconditioned Jeep across the US in July?!?

When we were in Arcata we called ahead to Chester, CA and got the last room at the Cedar Lodge Motel.聽We’re planning on camping at some point, but Jeff needed the internet for work this evening. The folks who run this Motel and RV Park are so nice, our聽room is clean and we’re very close to Lassen for our second national park of the trip. We were also given a complimentary newspaper detailing the local fishing report – adorable. Fun fact about Chester: Chuck Norris’s wife is from here and they have a house nearby. Tonight is good: Lake Almanor is steps away with a refreshing breeze, we have sandwiches from the local hippy market packed for tomorrow’s hike and I’m just really thankful聽there’s no foghorn.

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Today’s trek encompassed聽almost the entire width of California – 314 miles

We’re off to hike in Lassen tomorrow and then if we stick to the itinerary will be in Ely, NV tomorrow evening. Having internet each night has been nice, but not sure if we’ll get as lucky from here on out.

In which we go on our Graduation-moon, Part II: West Maui

The day before we left I picked up a couple of books for Jeff to read on the beach at our local used book store. On a whim I threw an old copy of聽Maui Revealed聽into my basket as well. We had never used a guidebook before, but I’m so glad we did. It took us off the beaten path to see some remote, breathtaking sites – we will definitely be using guidebooks for our future trips! One caveat – try to pick up an up to date book. Our morning trip to go snorkeling off of La Perouse Bay in an area called the Aquarium and Fish Bowl that were described in our 2008 text were thwarted because the area was now off limits. Oh well. We headed back to the car and decided to explore West Maui instead.

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Exploring the lava fields

After lunch at聽Aloha Mixed Plate聽in Lahaina, we headed north on Hwy 30 to just before it became the one-lane 340. Following the directions to look for the yellow fence (now painted green) through a pineapple field (now grown over) – we found one of our favorite sites in Maui: The two-tiered pools at Honoloa and we had them all to ourselves.

Hiking down

Hiking down

Overhead shot of the pools - the lower one connects to the ocean, the upper one is filled by crashing waves.

Overhead shot of the pools – the lower one connects to the ocean, the upper one is filled by crashing waves.

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Exploring the pools

Exploring the pools

We found cool fish!

We found cool fish!

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Loving my Hawaiian themed sunglasses from Target.

These tiny fish liked to jump from pool to pool.

These tiny fish liked to jump from pool to pool.

From the pools we headed down the road a little to see the Mushroom Shaped Rock and explore the lava blanketed coastline. thumb_DSC_0366_1024

If you showed me this picture and asked me where in the world it might be, I would say Ireland or somewhere like that - not a tropical paradise. It was amazing to see all the diversity Maui had to offer.

If you showed me this picture and asked me where in the world it might be, I would say Ireland or somewhere like that – not a tropical paradise. It was amazing to see all the diversity Maui had to offer.

Mushroom shaped rock. The red deposits in the lava are from when the island was relatively young.

Mushroom shaped rock. The red deposits in the lava are from when the island was relatively young.

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View to the north and west of the Mushroom Shaped rock

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Lava Arch

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We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring little coves and tide pools in the lava and had the entire hike to ourselves. We almost made it down all the way to the Olivine pools – we could see them and hear people at them, but were cut off by a deep cove.

Since we were so far from Lahaina and on the map it looked closer to take the tiny winding road from Kahaluloa to Kahului, so we kept going in a clock-wise direction around West Maui. The road was very tiny! One lane. For both cars. With a lot of blind turns cut into the cliff side. This would turn out to be a reoccurring theme on the island. {Kahakuloa is marked as large on the map, but in actuality it is a tiny hamlet.聽A tiny hamlet with delicious banana bread that we bought to support the local church. Bake sale food is the best!}

Our day's wanderings - no wonder we put some miles on the Rogue

Our day’s wanderings – no wonder we put some miles on the Rogue

In which we took a day trip to Mount Rainier

You know you’re going to miss a place when you can go on a random Thursday afternoon road trip with your awesome neighbors to say goodbye to your favorite mountain.

It started off cloudy

It started off cloudy

We stopped at the Box Canyon on the way - it was such a steep and narrow drop that a picture doesn't adequately encompass it.

We stopped at the Box Canyon on the way – it was such a steep and narrow drop that a picture doesn’t adequately encompass it.

We hiked the short Grove of the Patriarchs that we think should be renamed - or at least get us our own Matriarch Grove.

We hiked the short Grove of the Patriarchs that we think should be renamed – or at least get us our own Matriarch Grove.

The trail was short, but full of giants.

The trail was short, but full of giants.

And required crossing a cool bridge.

And required crossing a cool bridge.

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There were plenty of photos taken, but none do it complete justice.

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Anna's water bottle to commemorate her first time at Mount Rainier matches mine.

Anna’s water bottle to commemorate her first time at Mount Rainier matches mine.

The largest trees had a built walkway around them.

The largest trees had a built walkway around them.

You couldn't help but look UP.

You couldn’t help but look UP.

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Giants.

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So lucky.

Is this real life? Is this Thursday?

Is this real life? Is this Thursday?

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When we emerged from the forest we caught our first glimpse of the Mountain. She had been obscured by clouds all day.

When we emerged from the forest we caught our first glimpse of the Mountain. She had been obscured by clouds all day.

See?! She is SO BIG!

See?! She is SO BIG!

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I have amazing friends

I have amazing friends

After stopping at all the view points, we popped into the Paradise Visitor’s Center. Seattle may be getting ready to slide into the sea in the coming Big Earthquake, but we’re safe if Rainier erupts:

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The clouds obscured the summit before we were done - so we headed home.

The clouds obscured the summit before we were done – so we headed home.

I will miss this Mountain and all her beauty. I will miss my dear friends. I will miss all of this so much. But how lucky am I that I have so much good to miss?

I will miss this Mountain and all her beauty. I will miss my dear friends. I will miss all of this so much. But how lucky am I that I have so many amazing things to miss?

In which we go on our Graduation-moon, Part I: Haleakala

Jeff and I decided to take a celebratory trip after graduation. Twenty-three grades, four degrees and two certificates now under my belt; we both needed a vacation. Since we are currently “so close” to Hawaii and neither of us had been it was an easy choice. Picking the island was a little harder – but we narrowed it down to Maui or the Big Island in part because they both have national parks. Maui won out and I’m so glad we picked it – we had an incredible time!

Po'olenalena Beach

Po’olenalena Beach

The first day on the island we picked up our 2015 Nissan Rogue (thank you Priceline for letting me bid on an incredible deal – having an SUV was a fun luxury) and drove to our VRBO condo in Kihei. The Rogue聽was brand new – only 520 miles on it. We would double that amount on our adventures. Most of the rest of the first day was spent sleeping, which was much needed after the hustle that was finishing residency and my final graduation. The second day we explored our nearby beaches (Kama’ole I, Po’olenalena, Makena Landing and Big Beach), snorkeled in among the reefs (and saw sea turtles!) and ate the best lobster of my life at Mama’s Beach House. It was so good we went back for the only other reservation available during our time there and we both ordered it again! My Aunt Teresa and Uncle Larry would be proud of us – we toasted with Cakebread chardonnay – from one of their favorite vineyards.

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Wednesday we woke late and had a lazy brunch at Chez Meme in Kihei after seeing the line for the other popular breakfast spot,聽Kihei Caffe, was going to be an hour long. It was a great choice – they had delicious mimosas and french toast and a couple of freshly baked pastries ended up coming home with us for later.

After relaxing on our beach, we drove to Pai’a and picked up a picnic lunch and dinner from the Hana Picnic Lunch Company聽and began the winding, foggy drive up the volcano.Most of the drive was in thick clouds – so much so that the car in front of us just gave up and stopped driving in the middle of the road. They insisted on waving me around by way of聽the oncoming lane – a scary proposition considering it was so hazy I couldn’t see the front of their car, but we made it. The road snaked through the Maui high country, then into deep coniferous forests and then out into fields that looked like Scottish moors. We finally聽emerged from the soup聽into a landscape that looked more like the moon than a tropical island:

Emerging

Emerging

At the top we ate our lunch sitting on聽beach chairs in the parking lot and took in the visitor’s center. You could see over into Science City聽where national space observatories and secret Air Force tracking facilities are housed.

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The road into Science City. The pale blue ocean is separated from the sky by a thin line of clouds on the horizon.

At the observatory

At the observatory

After lunch we started on the first of many hikes that we’d take on our visit here: Keonehe’ehe’e, 聽or as we called it, Sliding Sands Trail down into the crater of the Haleakala volcano.

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You can see some of the cinder cones in the right of this picture. Each one marks a different eruption.

While it looks warm the temperatures hovered in the mid-70s since we were聽10,000 feet above sea level. Every step you take going down this trail makes you acutely aware that you will have to come back up the other way soon enough. We marked our progress by time – one hour down in order to give ourselves two hours to return. We were pleasantly surprised it only took us an hour and a half to climb out though.

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Clouds rising off the western shores of Maui and cooling as they reached us. It felt so good.

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Like walking on the moon

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I don’t even care if this picture is聽sappy. We needed this vacation! We’re done! We made it!

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You can take the girl out of the South.. but you can’t keep her from hiking in a skirt.

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Stepping off the trail damages sensitive roots of endangered plants and wrecks the fragile ecosystem

These are 'ahinahina plants - also known as Haleakala silversword. They are found here and no where else on earth.

These are ‘ahinahina plants – also known as Haleakala silversword. They are found here and no where else on Earth.

Their Hawaiian name means

Their Hawaiian name means “grey grey” – the closest word the ancient Polynesians had considering they had never seen silver metal. They are only found at elevations above 6,900 ft on this island and came close to extinction due to cattle grazing and people taking them for聽ornamental purposes.

They are like salmon - they bloom once in their 15 - 40 year life spans, and then they die.

We were lucky enough to see one in flower – they bloom once in their 15 – 40 year life spans, spread their seeds, and then they die.

Overlooking the crater on the way back up.

Overlooking the crater on the way back up.

After hiking we hung out around the summit waiting for聽twilight.

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Feeling on top of the world.

Feeling on top of the world. This is looking towards the north – strange to think there is nothing but water until you reach Alaska.

Sunrise and sunset on Haleakala have taken on a mythical聽event status for Maui tourists. Most people (in the throws of jet lag, I’m convinced) rise at ungodly hours, drive up that windy road in the dark and watch the golden light rise from the ocean. Many then bike down afterwards. Neither rising early on our vacation, nor hurdling down the side of a 10,000 ft mountain, white-knuckled and potentially ruining my newly-earned career that needs fully functioning hands,聽appealed to us, so sunset it was:

Moon rise over the observatory.

Moon rise over the observatory.

Everyone gathered for the sunset. Bonus for being crepuscular later - less people to share the summit with.

Everyone gathered for the sunset. Bonus for being crepuscular later – less people to share the summit with.

Another spin around done.

Another spin done.

I loved how it bathed the volcano with it's last rays.

I loved how it bathed the volcano with it’s last rays.

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Changed into warmer clothes for the plunging temperatures.

Going, going...

Going, going…

...and gone.

…and gone.

I became mildly obsessed with taking pictures of the tiny people聽silhouetted by the setting sun on the rim of the crater. It just looked so cool:

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As the last bits of light settled out of view we retreated to the Rogue to rest and eat our picnic dinner while it got really good and dark. I wanted to try to take pictures of the stars since we were in one of the best places on Earth to see them. Unfortunately a brilliant full moon wrecked our plans to see the Milky Way, but it was cool nonetheless:

Too many lights

Too many lights

Kahului from above. While the full moon ruined plans for some spectacular stargazing we did see Jupiter and Venus at their closest point in the sky in 2,000 years. Some think that the last time they were so close together was the inspiration for the Star of Bethlehem.

The town of Kahului from above. While the full moon ruined plans for some spectacular stargazing we did see Jupiter and Venus at their closest point in the sky in 2,000 years (upper left corner – the big dot is Venus, the smaller one to the right, Jupiter). Some think that the last time they were so close together was the inspiration for the Star of Bethlehem.

Despite the full moon, it's easy to see why you would put an observatory up here - it's so far from light and air pollution you feel as if you could reach up and graze the sky with your fingers.

Despite the full moon, it’s easy to see why you would put an observatory up here – it’s so far from light and air pollution you feel as if you could reach up and graze the sky with your fingers.

We ended our full day crawling slowly back down the mountain, listening to the Rolling Stones and Jimmy Buffet and planning our next adventure on the island.

In which I glamp with the neighbors

Glamping is the portmanteau of glamorous camping. And my new favorite thing, or at least the RV version of it. Until now I’ve always experienced the outdoors under the thin cloth of a tent, but after tasting the civilization in the wilderness that is wine, cheese, Trader Joe’s appetizers, an actual mattress and a heated, dry place to sleep, glamping might be my new thing. This past weekend I went with my friend-neighbors Anna and Mary out to the Sol Duc area of Olympic National Park聽– an absolutely gorgeous corner of Washington state. Even the drive out was breathtaking:

Crescent Lake

Crescent Lake

Fog lifting briefly off the road

Fog lifting briefly off the road

Gary the Mann took our picture by the side of the road.

Gary the Mann took our picture by the side of the road.

The next morning after setting up camp we decided to make an easy hike up to the Sol Duc Falls. We started in a light mist that progressed to heavier rain.

Starting out

Starting out

And then, was that snow? And then, omg snow! So much of it!

Covering the trailhead in a winter wonderland.

Covering the trailhead in a winter wonderland.

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What do you get when you mix a rain forest with snow? A mossy, cold wonderland:

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The falls were fairly close to the trail head – good thing, because we were cold and wet at this point:

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Overlooking the water

Opposite side of the falls

Opposite side of the falls

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Close up of the falls

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So cold – let’s go to the hot springs!

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Bridge over the river

Lunch was sandwiches complemented by bacon jerky and prosecco eaten under a 1938 shelter built by the CCC - galloping at its finest.

Lunch was sandwiches complemented by bacon jerky and prosecco eaten under a 1938 shelter built by the CCC – glamping聽at its finest.

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I wish I could show you how large this forest feels. The greenery is overpowering聽and my neck was constantly looking too far up to grasp it all. It overwhelms you what tiny, tiny creatures we are in this forest; how small we are on this planet:

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Mary and Anna

Anna and I

Anna and I

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You can tell you're almost back to the springs by the sulfur smell in the air

You can tell you’re almost back to the springs by the sulfur smell in the air

After our hike we spent some time in the hot springs that Sol Duc is famous for. I never quite got a picture since I did not want to take my camera, but here is a picture from聽the website:

The large pool in the background was 53oF (cold!!!), the smaller ones closer were in the between 98oF and 103oF.

The large pool in the background was 53oF (cold!!!), the smaller ones closer were in the between 98oF and 103oF. It was fun to soak while it snowed and then jump in between to get the circulation going.

All too soon we had to get home.

Kingston-Edmonds ferry.

Kingston-Edmonds ferry.

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When you wave goodbye to the mountains off the back of the ferry – the fact that you’ve had to travel over land and sea to get there combined with their perpetual misty cloak, makes the Olympics seem like a forbidden land unlike any other.

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Here’s to many more adventures with these two!