Posts Filed Under: Excursion Exclusives


18 Jun

Escalante Escapades

Posted by on June 18, 2017 at 9:44 am

It was my turn to plan our anniversary outings this year. Finals week and anniversary fun don’t play well together but after the presentations and term papers were all done, Jason and I skipped town for some celebratory recreation.

Our yurt was unexpectedly spacious and swanky!

Our yurt was unexpectedly spacious and swanky!

Jason has been wistfully contemplating the merits of glamping for years. So, I decided to organize our anniversary trip around those whims. I found the perfect glamping spot and planned our excursion accordingly. We stayed at Escalante Yurts and absolutely loved it! Experiencing the best parts of camping with the ease of modern comforts was delightful. It poured the first night we were in Escalante and falling asleep to the rain hitting the canvas was as relaxing as waking the next morning to a chorus of birds. I guess Jason’s glamping fancies were not entirely groundless.

Graceful cascades aren't exactly common in the desert. That makes Lower Calf Creek Falls all the lovelier.

Graceful cascades aren’t exactly common in the desert. That makes Lower Calf Creek Falls all the lovelier.

We spent the majority of our first day in Escalante hiking to Lower Calf Creek Falls. Lower Calf Creek Falls is probably the most popular destination in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It’s a 124-foot desert waterfall that gracefully spills across colorful slickrock into a cool (cold, really) emerald pool. The six-mile out-and-back journey was easy but it still took most of our afternoon. Luckily, since we went on a weekday, this trail and its spectacular endpoint weren’t too crowded.

If only every desert had such an oasis.

If only every desert had such an oasis.

Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument hosts not just nature's creations but ancient man's as well.

Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument hosts not just nature’s creations but ancient man’s as well.

We ended the day with a stroll through the Devil’s Garden. Sandstone hoodoos and permission to climb anywhere make this the perfect playground for the curious and snap happy. We didn’t stay nearly long enough thanks to our bellyaching stomachs.

At the Devil's Garden, you can climb and explore freely.

At the Devil’s Garden, you can climb and explore freely.

The next day we passed on slotting it due to flashing dangers. The area around Escalante contains many famous slot canyons but, thanks to forecasted rain and flashflood dangers, we opted for less-flashy expeditions. Consequently, we spent the morning wandering among sleeping rainbows in Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. We hiked the Petrified Forest Trail and Trail of Sleeping Rainbows, about two miles in total. The Trail of Sleeping Rainbows is littered with petrified trees roughly 135 to 155 million years old. The motley colors of that frozen timber were unexpectedly bright and capricious.

The Devil's Garden is a rock and shot wonderland.

The Devil’s Garden is a rock and shot wonderland.

The Devil's Garden is wicked awesome!

The Devil’s Garden is wicked awesome!

After treading through stony trunks, we gambled on the weather staying good as long as it was predicted to and set out for Upper Calf Creek Falls. Calf Creek’s higher but stubbier falls don’t get the same attention or traffic as its lower cascades. The trail to its 88-foot plummet is much shorter but a lot trickier. It descends 600 feet on exposed slickrock before wandering through rocky washes. In essence, it’s not the kind of terrain a non-Neanderthal would attempt when a thunderstorm was imminent (i.e.- flashfloods, lightning) but we did. Yes, trusting the weathermen’s timing clearly does not bode well for our IQ scores. Although the path to Upper Calf Creek Falls is only about one mile each way, due to the rough topography it takes most hikers 1.5 to 2 hours to complete. We did it in one hour and 15 minutes, 45 minutes downwards and 30 minutes back up. How was our uphill faster than our downhill? Incoming lightning and showers, that’s how. The storm arrived two hours earlier than expected. As soon as we saw the first flash in the distance, we picked up our pace to an enervating scramble. Well, I set a hasty tempo and Jason had no choice but to keep up. The meteorological racket followed us as we drove home; it was 31 degrees and snowy at the top of Boulder Mountain.

The Petrified Forest is an astonishing rainbow of rock.

The Petrified Forest is an astonishing rainbow of rock.

Who knew that hundreds of millions of years could turn dead wood into a kaleidoscope of brilliant colors?

Who knew that hundreds of millions of years could turn dead wood into a kaleidoscope of brilliant colors?

We made one last stop on our return journey at Anasazi State Park Museum. There, we checked out the 900-year-old artifacts of the Coombs Site. Excavations at the Coombs Site have uncovered 97 rooms, 10 pits, and thousands of items. We enjoyed the unearthed bits and the dwelling replica visitors can walk in. That model made us feel all prehistoric and ginormous.

Upper Calf Creek Falls doesn't get the love Lower does, probably because its path requires more exertion.

Upper Calf Creek Falls doesn’t get the love Lower does, probably because its path requires more exertion.

It was a superb trip filled with all the elements of awesomeness: elegant water, scrambling stones, vivid wood, and heavenly fire. Plus, as all anniversary outings should, it came with a large helping of extraordinary husband. Camping doesn’t get any more glamorous than that.

11 May

My Southern Shrine

Posted by on May 11, 2017 at 9:42 am

There is something extraordinary about the places that evoke the remnants of childhood joy. My grandma’s house is such a place for me.

Beautiful antebellum homes can be found in unexpected places throughout the South.

Beautiful antebellum homes can be found in unexpected places throughout the South.

My grandma lives in a rural area of the South. Her small home, humble by adult standards, always thrilled me and my siblings as children. To her grandkids that house meant endless doting, plentiful food, innumerable hugs, rows of dress-up shoes- all the standard spoilings of proud and loving grandparents. We believed our grandparents were loaded, quite erroneously, because they offered us everything they had.

Bingo is a popular pastime in the South; my grandma plays it rather religiously.

Bingo is a popular pastime in the South; my grandma plays it rather religiously.

Running is not a popular pastime in the South. We ran into more rattlesnakes than runners during a 10-mile jog.

Running is not a popular pastime in the South. We ran into more rattlesnakes than runners during a 10-mile jog.

Recently, Jason and I took a trip to visit my outstanding grandma. This time, my sister and dad traveled with us. We toured the sites of my father’s youth, lost at Bingo, visited with living relatives and those no longer around, sampled Memphis barbecue, explored antebellum homes, gobbled catfish and hushpuppies, and enjoyed Easter gatherings.

We don't see our Southern relatives often so it was nice to catch up.

We don’t see our Southern relatives often so it was nice to catch up.

My grandma now suffers from some of the afflictions that get us all in the end and doesn’t have the energy she once did but visiting her still brings back a surge of memories and an onslaught of hugs. And that’s why her stout home, unremarkable to the rest of the world, will forever remain a shrine to unconditional love to me.

27 Apr

Fishy Towers and Dead Steeds

Posted by on April 27, 2017 at 11:16 pm

Due to my school schedule, we again opted to leave our bikes at home when we headed to Moab for a couple days this spring. It was sad to be cycle-less once more but, fortunately, I’m on pretty good terms with my feet.

The Titan is Fisher's tallest tower and is believed to be the largest free-standing natural tower in the United States.

The Titan is Fisher’s tallest tower and is believed to be the largest free-standing natural tower in the United States.

Our first outing was a repeat requested by Jason. We scrambled across the Fisher Towers Trail about six years ago in a darkness-induced fluster. So, Jason wanted to try it again without the runs.

Framing is a preferred photographic technique of mine but I don't often get to use 900-foot goliaths for this purpose.

Framing is a preferred photographic technique of mine but I don’t often get to use 900-foot goliaths for this purpose.

All along the Fisher Towers Trail one finds unusual beauty.

All along the Fisher Towers Trail one finds unusual beauty.

Some things never get old, even after 225 million years or multiple visits, the Fisher Towers are amongst these. The Fisher Towers are extraordinary skyscrapers made of sandstone and red mud. Their uncanny combination of uprightness and cratering makes them visually captivating. They are also enticing to rock climbers and are recognized as one of the best places to climb in the United States.

I dare you to hike through Fisher Towers without constantly gawking in wonder. It's impossible.

I dare you to hike through Fisher Towers without constantly gawking in wonder. It’s impossible.

It took us about four hours to complete this hike with a relaxing snack break at the ending overlook. With no need to hurry, those 4.4 miles passed a lot less hectically than when we squeezed them into two hours.

In Moab, striking colors blend in bewildering ways.

In Moab, striking colors blend in bewildering ways.

We jammed in one more hike after Fisher Towers, maybe because we missed the stupidity-fueled adrenaline rush of running from the dark. Parriott Mesa, a 2.8-mile trek that climbs over absurdly-steep boulder-infested hillsides, was our choice of nearly-nightfall dash.

The path to Parriott climbs abruptly through a rock field where it becomes a faint line in a jumble of stones.

The path to Parriott climbs abruptly through a rock field where it becomes a faint line in a jumble of stones.

On our way out, we got questioned by a returning hiker regarding our preparedness and abilities. He seemed enormously concerned about the approach of sundown in combination with our lethargic-looking limbs. However, he grossly underestimated the power in those wet noodles and the speed at which a stubborn girl can take on a mountain. We did the whole thing in about an hour and 40 minutes despite the 1345-foot elevation gain and rock-littered path. We made it back to our car without even needing flashlights. Darkness, you ain’t got nothing on a determined woman.

Parriott Mesa stands as a sentinel to Castle Valley.

Parriott Mesa stands as a sentinel to Castle Valley.

The sunsets in Moab are some of my favorites on the planet.

The sunsets in Moab are some of my favorites on the planet.

We decided to spend our last day in Moab 2,000 feet above the Colorado River at Dead Horse Point State Park. We walked eight miles on the East Rim Trail, West Rim Trail, and every overlook detour available. Basically, we trekked all the hiking-only paths at the park.

When you're 2,000 feet above the Colorado, your existence seems immeasurably small compared to the ages carved out in the canyons below you.

When you’re 2,000 feet above the Colorado, your existence seems immeasurably small compared to the ages carved out in the canyons below you.

The terrain around the Colorado River doesn't seem like it quite belongs on this spinning sphere.

The terrain around the Colorado River doesn’t seem like it quite belongs on this spinning sphere.

How would I rate these trails? The magnificent views are as nonstop as the drop-offs. I only shot pictures at a few spots because catching every amazing angle would have required constant snapping and stopping. (Wandering around cliffs while gazing through a lens instead of at your feet seems like a less than wonderful idea.) Since these paths go around the top of a plateau, there isn’t much vertical change along them. Hence, I would categorize them as physically easy. However, if you dread heights, their soaring setting might put you in a nearly-constant state of discomfort.

On Dead Horse Point's Rim Trails, you are almost always just a large leap or two away from a big drop.

On Dead Horse Point’s Rim Trails, you are almost always just a large leap or two away from a big drop.

Without bikes, Moab is missing a little something but I’m not complaining much. Jason and I still got to experience some of Utah’s most enthralling high rises and high places at the speed of foot.

19 Feb

Phoenix Fun

Posted by on February 19, 2017 at 11:40 pm

Jason and I are more about accumulating experiences than accumulating things (with the exception of my LEGO Minifigures collection of course). Therefore, one of the primary gifts I gave him for Christmas this year was a break from winter’s crankiness via a long weekend in Phoenix.

Although not too opulent by today's standards, the Wrigley Mansion was interesting.

Although not too opulent by today’s standards, the Wrigley Mansion was interesting.

Our first night in Phoenix we visited the Wrigley Mansion, the house that gum built. No, the bricks were not held together by Big Red but one room was completely lined with foil from the factory.

Saguaros are a classic emblem of the American Southwest.

Saguaros are a classic emblem of the American Southwest.

The next day, we hiked to the top of Camelback Mountain via the Cholla Trail. This path gains 1,253 feet in only 1.4 miles. In combination with some rocky sections where scrambling is necessary, that steepness has earned Cholla a double black diamond rating. But that grade doesn’t adequately elucidate what we saw up there that day. I’ve never come across so many timid hikers (or so many pairs of yoga pants) in my life. As a Utahan, I was shocked by the number of trekkers that were seemingly puzzled by the concept of putting one foot in front of the other or clinging to rocks like they were dangling on the edge of the Great Pit of Carkoon. Were these natives or were they tourists? And how did they not know how to walk up a hill? Double black diamond or not, this trail seemed pretty standard to us but the people we encountered on it didn’t.

Camelback's spine twisted like a stony serpent.

Camelback’s spine twisted like a stony serpent.

We spent that evening wandering around the Desert Botanical Garden. Its display of 23,000 cacti, succulents, and other desert flora was both informative and picturesque. Desert plants have always fascinated me, perhaps because I can relate to their inventive stubbornness.

The Cholla Trail was a little intense but not intense enough to account for the petrified and confused hikers we encountered.

The Cholla Trail was a little intense but not intense enough to account for the petrified and confused hikers we encountered.

Our last day in Phoenix, I requested more time out in the mid-sixties sunshine, something essential I’d be missing in Utah for a while. So, we headed to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve and trekked around the Bajada Nature Trail, Saguaro Trail, and Saguaro Loop Trail. We walked about a mile and a half while looking at educational signs and examining native spikers. It wasn’t exactly exercise but it was peaceful and pleasant.

Phoenix's mountains are sporadically spaced- a peak here, a peak there- with urban sprawl spanning the gaps in between.

Phoenix’s mountains are sporadically spaced- a peak here, a peak there- with urban sprawl spanning the gaps in between.

Strolling through the Desert Botanical Garden was Jason's favorite part of our whole trip.

Strolling through the Desert Botanical Garden was Jason’s favorite part of our whole trip.

Next, we stopped at Butterfly Wonderland, the largest butterfly conservatory in America. There, 3,000 butterflies and moths, some of them startlingly enormous, flitted around us like graceful and animated bobbins weaving a lofty tapestry. Pretty awesome!

Bristly saguaros silhouetted by a technicolored sky make for a mighty memorable sunset.

Bristly saguaros silhouetted by a technicolored sky make for a mighty memorable sunset.

We finished off the day at the Musical Instrument Museum. At that institution, we saw everything from Johnny Cash’s guitar to the first Steinway piano. Also awesome? Yes!

At Butterfly Wonderland, thousands of butterflies and moths fly freely around you.

At Butterfly Wonderland, thousands of butterflies and moths fly freely around you.

With so many winged creatures fluttering about, it was difficult to decide which way to flutter ourselves.

With so many winged creatures fluttering about, it was difficult to decide which way to flutter ourselves.

On a side note, during this trip we stayed at a resort out in the desert. It was both inconveniently located and beautifully situated. Nature seemed barely held back by its bits of development. Bunnies and birds bobbed about each morning and at dusk coyotes howled twilight serenades.

The Atlas moth is the biggest moth in the world. It's bigger than many birds and Jason's hands.

The Atlas moth is the biggest moth in the world. It’s bigger than many birds and Jason’s hands.

On a far side note, one night we tried to start a fire in our casita’s fireplace with wood provided by the resort, strange desert wood. It refused to light but then, three hours later at 1:30 AM, it set itself ablaze suddenly. Waking up to flames is not a comfortable experience.

Saguaro cacti only grow in the Sonoran Desert but they do so with zest, living hundreds of years.

Saguaro cacti only grow in the Sonoran Desert but they do so with zest, living hundreds of years.

We flew to Phoenix less than a week after our return from Yellowstone so we underwent a 100-degree temperature variation within a few days. Warmth was the point of Phoenix but I wasn’t sure what else we could fill a few days there with. Now I know, we could have filled a few more easily. Merry Christmas my love!

11 Feb

Stone Cold

Posted by on February 11, 2017 at 11:39 pm

Despite a great tragedy in Jason’s family, Jason and I made a planned trip to Yellowstone National Park with my family work out. Although there were some schedule hiccups, weather glitches, foot wrenches, and strain-induced illnesses, I’m glad we chose to make this outing happen regardless of the circumstances. The experience was perfectly contrasting; cruising around Yellowstone in winter felt as alien as hanging with my family felt familiar.

Due to all the runoff from thermal features, the Madison River doesn't freeze so wildlife congregates along its path in the winter. That was where we found these bald eagles.

Due to all the runoff from thermal features, the Madison River doesn’t freeze so wildlife congregates along its path in the winter. That was where we found these bald eagles.

Jason and I reserved a posh condo in West Yellowstone months ago for the purpose of exploring Yellowstone National Park during its most inhospitable season. We invited the hardiest of my family to join us. Via a self-selecting method, the “hardiest” ended up being my parents, sister, brother-in-law, and two nephews. The whole group, except for my parents, spent a day snowmobiling through the park; my parents opted to take a milder snowcoach.

This coyote was waiting to be served a dozy-bird breakfast burrito.

This coyote was waiting to be served a dozy-bird breakfast burrito.

Our many-layers look was stylishly completed by coveralls.

Our many-layers look was stylishly completed by coveralls.

When we headed out the morning of our snowmobile reservation, the temperature was -39 degrees F. Yes, you read that right, as in almost 40 degrees below zero. We had to wait for about an hour at the snowmobile center for the temperature to rise to about-20. Evidently, if you go snowmobiling in weather below -20 it’s a lot like an ice cream truck came into town and you’re the popsicles.

Kristen and I rented telephoto lenses so we could give wildlife a zoom.

Kristen and I rented telephoto lenses so we could give wildlife a zoom.

That a.m.’s -39 was about 30 degrees colder than I have ever been in my life. What did it feel like? It felt crunchy. Everything crackled from car doors to backpacks. Touching metal felt a lot like stabbing yourself in the hand. Sound seemed slow and muted. Oddly, other than a few weird things like that, -39 didn’t feel much different than 0. When you’re unthinkably cold, what’s 40 degrees less?

I had to remind myself that I was still on planet Earth when this scene came into view.

I had to remind myself that I was still on planet Earth when this scene came into view.

Yellowstone's bacterial mats seemed even more striking when surrounded by a blanched palette.

Yellowstone’s bacterial mats seemed even more striking when surrounded by a blanched palette.

When temperatures finally hit the balmy negative twenties, we were able to depart on our private snowmobile tour of the park. Kristen didn’t take to snowmobile operating. After an incident with a snowbank, which resulted in a sprained ankle, she wouldn’t drive above 5 MPH. I was therefore tasked with taking over the driving of her machine. I was starting to come down with a respiratory infection, one that would eventually become my worst sickness in years, so I wasn’t feeling exceptional to begin with and the mighty negatives were taking their toll but when we hit the splendor of Yellowstone all of that was forgotten.

The Lower Geyser Basin contained many marvelous fountains and pots.

The Lower Geyser Basin contained many marvelous fountains and pots.

Yellowstone looked like a misplaced land with snow-masked hillsides and meadows framed between wavy vapors and steamy rivers beaded by ice chunks. It was unreal! Since only about 1000 tourists enter the park daily during the winter, the animals are rather sociable and uninhibited while they are unpleasantly cold. (That sounds like a lot of people until you consider that over 30,000 visitors encroach on Yellowstone every day during the summer months.) We met bald eagles, coyotes, elk, and trumpeter swans. We plowed right through a herd of lethargic bison. Moving among them on a snowmobile, with nothing but frigid air between you, is quite a different experience than passing them in a car. We traveled through a valley where plumes of geothermal steam billowed toward the sky and crept along the horizon in a hazy dance full of a motion at odds with the utter stillness of the rest of the scene.

Red Spouter's name makes more sense after seeing it in the winter. In the summer, it's too dry to do any spouting.

Red Spouter’s name makes more sense after seeing it in the winter. In the summer, it’s too dry to do any spouting.

The trees near pools, pots, and geysers looked more like gritty beasts than plants.

The trees near pools, pots, and geysers looked more like gritty beasts than plants.

Did I stay warm? Shockingly, yes. Thanks to -60-degree boots, two pairs of socks, various foot warmers, a down jacket, a down coat, a thermal top, a snowboarding jacket, three layers of thermal pants of various sizes to allow for their overlay, two glove liners, mittens, two balaclavas, half a dozen handwarmers, and one hideous one-piece snowmobiling suit I stayed unexpectedly cozy. How I even moved while wearing all of that remains a mystery. I wasn’t the exception; no one in our group got cold. In fact, Miles was so comfy that he kept falling asleep on the back of Jason’s snowmobile. It was nerve-racking cruising behind them while he slid this way and that in a speedy slumber.

Even the more typical features of Yellowstone's landscape didn't look typical.

Even the more typical features of Yellowstone’s landscape didn’t look typical.

Although our trip passed too quickly, we still reserved some time at the condo for poker and conversation. It was pleasant and mellow thanks to my great family.

The only time we were assailed by other tourists was when everyone was heading out of the park for the day.

The only time we were assailed by other tourists was when everyone was heading out of the park for the day.

Spending time with my family was a delight as always.

Spending time with my family was a delight as always.

What a memorable vacation! I will never forget the astonishing scenery, chummy wildlife, crinkly cold, and family warmth. Of course, I will also never forget how sick I was afterward. The day we left, my body was so worn out and ill that I could barely move. I slept the entire way home and had a fever the whole night. Yet, oh what a trip!