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 there is a Capitol Reef/Arches addendum

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Capitol Reef panorama

Clay lies still, but blood’s a rover;聽
Breath’s a ware that will not keep.聽
Up, now: when the journey’s over,
There’ll be time enough to sleep.聽

{A.E. Housman,聽Reveille聽from聽A Shropshire Lad}

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Delicate Arch hike

Six National Parks in as many days – I am holding exhaustion聽and contentment close together tonight and finding so much comfort聽in both.

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 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!

In which we took a trip to Mt. Rainier

Over Labor Day weekend we took a trip up to Mt. Rainier (pronounced Rah-neer, not “rainy-er” despite the weather situation up here). It was a gorgeous weekend, but unfortunately every other person and their brother thought it would also be a great idea to spend some time on what Seattleites affectionately call “The Mountain”.

I’ve had a slight obsession with this gorgeous volcano since I first came out to Seattle to interview. Before catching my red-eye back to Chapel Hill, Sandra Fisher and I took a walk down by Lake Washington and she pointed out what I thought were high clouds in the distance. Those clouds were really the snow capped slopes of Rainier and I was fascinated by a mountain that could be so high it had snow all year round. My beloved Appalachians in contrast only have snow in the deep of winter and the blanket is dirtied by the trees that cover their hills.

We visited probably the busiest part of the park – the Paradise area which is famous for its alpine wild flowers. Below are some pictures of our 5.4 mi loop hike.

This is my imitation of Maria in the Swiss Alps

Jeff is not as willing to reenact the opening scene of The Sound of Music

During our entire hike, the 14, 410 ft peak remained an elusive site behind clouds. The Mountain makes its own weather it’s so tall.聽Right as we were about to head out of the visitor’s center the clouds parted briefly for a look at her summit.

Despite the crowds it was nice to get out of the city for a little bit. Oh! And we saw a bear! I didn’t have a really nice picture of it, so nothing to post, but it was cool to see one. Don’t worry, we took a quick survey of the other people watching it and Jeff and I decided we could at least out run three of them.聽I was also really excited to walk on some glaciers after not getting to see any at Glacier National Park on our trip out here (that long delayed post will come soon!).