Road Trippin’ – Part 5

Day 12:

A long day of driving was made much easier by sharing it with Hippie.  Now that he had joined me for part of my trip, I was happy to have a co-pilot and get to put my feet up for part of the trip!

We left Denver and our ultra-clean Airbnb fairly early and headed north and west again, this time into Wyoming.  Finally, a state I hadn’t set foot in!

Wyoming in early summer is beautiful.  It’s a hard landscape, with wide open hills covered in coarse grass and flowers.  Antelope truly do play across the landscape, and cattle dot the valleys and ridges. In some places, there are glittering lakes with barren verges crusted in salt and mineral deposits.  In others, great, white sheets of salts and minerals shine in the sun.  Big Sky Country it is, indeed, even as you climb higher into the mountains.  It is beautiful, but unforgiving. It’s hard to imagine how settlers found their way safely across this land.IMG_2656

 

As we headed toward our camping destination in Grand Teton National Park, the sky grew dark and wind whipped my little car around on the road like a soap bubble in the breeze. We struggled against that hard, blowing wind for a couple of hours, stopping in the tiny hamlet of Jeffrey City (pop. 51) for a late lunch to take a break from the beating.

By the time we reached Dubois, about an hour down the mountain from the park, we started to have doubts.  The wind was a steady 20mph, with gusts even higher, the temperature was dropping, the clouds had started to drop a drizzle of rain and ice, and poor Hippie was starting to feel sick.  A quick consultation with a weather app showed us below freezing temps and a strong possibility of snow higher up.  We weren’t prepared to pitch a tent in that weather, and decided to stop in Dubois to spend the night in a hotel.  Very glad we did.  Hippie started running a fever in the night, and it was clear a stomach virus had taken hold. Plus, it was freezing cold and blowing hard all night and well into the next day.

Day 13

Hippie slept in while I puttered around the hotel room and the small village of Dubois.  He had run a fever all night, and the weather wasn’t going to clear for another 24 hours, so staying another night in the hotel seemed wise.  We spent the afternoon wandering around Dubois, first enjoying the truly interesting Dubois Museum, then popping into the surprising number of art galleries and shops in the two-block downtown area.

The museum gave a great overview of the area’s geology, flora and fauna, and history. From the Sheepeater Shoshone tribe of native Americans to the early settlers to the rail-road-tie hewing residents of the early 1900’s, everyone seemed to be represented and honored, and the small exhibits were interesting indeed.

Interesting or not, Dubois proper offered only about half a day’s worth of things to do, and by the end of the day I was ready to get on the road.

Day 14

With Hippie feeling better and a sky filled with sunshine (if not warm temperatures), we set off through the Teton range toward Grand Teton National Park… only to pass right through it’s beautiful scenery and on to Yellowstone.  We already had reservations at Yellowstone for the next day, and pitching a tent for one night without really having time to hike or see the park in Grand Teton seemed like a waste of effort.

As we drove, we both marveled at the deep snow in the mountain passes, made deeper by the previous two days. We oooh’d and ahhh’d over the white-blanketed fields and ice-crusted ponds.  We stopped and threw snowballs.  We shivered and ran back to the car. We drove from one end of Grand Teton to the other, amazed at the high mountains, sharp crags, green valleys, occasional elk, and bright flowers, then went straight into Yellowstone.  Where there were green valleys, occasional elk, bright flowers, and snow-pack still several feet deep beneath the trees and anywhere else shady. IMG_2714

Road Trippin’ – part 4

Day 9

On this blustery, blowy morning, it was time to pack up and move on.  It took far longer than I wanted to pack up my gear, because the wind was gusting 15mph or better, making it nearly impossible to fold up the tent neatly.  I managed, after much cursing and struggling, and was on the road by 11.

I hadn’t had a lot of time in Estes Park the evening before, so I decided to stop at some of the spots I’d missed, take a few photos, and have a leisurely stroll around town before heading to Denver.

IMG_2586I definitely love Estes Park.  It’s a little place, maybe 5000 residents, but it’s quaint, artsy, and friendly, with a swift river running through the heart of it and more ice cream shops per city block than you can shake a stick at.  Yay!IMG_2593

After leaving Estes Park behind, I took the 2 hour drive to Denver.  It’s a big city, and I’m not really a “city” kind of girl most of the time.  However, my visit happened to coincide with the visit of one of my longest-held, most beloved friends, so my first evening in the city was spent in laughter and a little booze.

Day 10-11

IMG_2606I picked my boyfriend up at the airport late Saturday morning, and we had a lazy weekend of food and micro-breweries, highlighted by catching Wonder Woman at the theater, and visiting the fascinating Buffalo Bill museum just outside of town.

Denver is still just a big city, and not one that called me into it’s embrace, but I do have to appreciate the number of delicious restaurants and creative little breweries to be found.  I can recommend Dad & Dudes in Aurora as my fave!

Road Trippin’ – part 3

Day 5:

I woke early, eager to get going.  I was packed and out of my Zapata Falls campsite by 8am, headed back down the rough Zapata road one last time.  Whew!

On to Rocky Mountain National Park.

IMG_2235It was mostly a driving day, but I took it easy and stopped to take a few pictures along the way.  I wasn’t impressed passing through Denver on the interstate, but Boulder was lovely and Estes Park is delightfully quaint, if touristy. Even with a few stops, I had my tent up in time to make it back down to the local library.  My computer battery was nearly dead, and I hadn’t had wi-fi in days.  Gotta make theselovely posts somehow!

Also, I saw elk.  ELK!!!!  I think I may like it here.IMG_2258

Day 6:

Still struggling a bit with the altitude, I took it slow and easy in the morning, sleeping in a bit, cooking breakfast, reading in the sunshine.  Not until after noon did I get my hiking shoes on and hop a shuttle to my first Rocky Mountain hiking trail. It was probably a good thing, all things considered.  As the shuttle bus climbed the road, clouds rolled in on the mountain top, and thunder started to roll.

Just as I stepped off the bus at the Bear Lake trail head, lightning flashed and rain started to fall.  Wind. Thunder. Pouring rain. Dropping temperature.  And then more hail than I have ever seen before in my entire life. People who had been on trail began streaming back toward the bus stop shelter, hunkered down against the cold, wet, and ice, some prepared with rain gear and long sleeves, some not at all.  Together we crowded in under the shelter, warmer from body heat and steaming from warm breath and wet clothes alike, to wait out the storm.  Pea sized chunks of hail covered the sidewalk, piled in cracks, and slushed off the roof in great, wet fist-fulls.

IMG_2288After about 45 minutes, the waves of storm seemed past, and I headed off.  Bear Lake was gorgeous, and cold.  Steam rose from the water, snow-pack still covered about half of the trail, and water from the recent storm dripped and ran everywhere.  Still, in spite of the snow, green abounded.

IMG_2292After the half-mile loop around the lake, I headed down mountain following the Glacier Gorge trail.

3.5 miles of muddy trail, stream crossings, towering pines and aspens, flowers, birds, and slowly warming air.  The farther I went, the less snow-pack there was, and the easier the hiking got.  The upper reaches were, by far, more beautiful though.

Day 6

IMG_2394I woke up to a gray, chilly day, still not loving the altitude or the off-and-on nose bleed that kept plaguing me.  But I’d learned a lesson the day before: hike earlier rather than later, as thunder storms roll in around 2 every day.

I started a little ways up mountain, where I’d left the trail the afternoon before, and hiked down to my camp site.  Pretty but not as lovely as the higher elevations, and the gray day seemed to keep most of the animals out of sight.

 

After lunch and a relaxing hour of reading at my campsite, I hopped another shuttle and picked up a trail near the Moraine Park area, and spent another few hours hiking the hills and forests.

Day 7

The sun rose bright and warm, and I headed out after breakfast, planning a short hike around Moraine Park before heading into town to check out Estes Park.  I’d seen a ton of cute shops and restaurants when I’d passed through before, and I wanted a little civilization after several days of camping.

IMG_2553What started as a short, flat, 2-mile hike ended up a 6-mile trek around, up, and then back.  I couldn’t help it, though.  About the time the trail forked and I should have headed around the meadow of Moraine Park, I saw elk in the distance.  I was pretty sure it was a mama and babies, and I couldn’t turn away.  So, up I went.

 

It was a grueling climb, but so very worth it.  I found my elk, and then some.  A whole herd, enjoying the lush grass and cooling waters of the upper meadows, frolicking in the lake, chasing geese for fun, and lounging in the sun.

And then there were flirtatious chipmunks and more birds than I could count.

I didn’t make it into Estes Park until dinner time, but I didn’t care.

 

Road Trippin’- part 2

Day4:

I’m glad I picked Great Sand Dunes as my first stop.  It wasn’t one that had been on my bucket list.  I’m a Florida girl… Sand dunes?  Meh. But I’d heard it was “one to see” so I figured what the hell.

I’m glad I did.  If I’d been somewhere I really wanted to explore, I’d have been terribly disappointed.  I slept poorly, and woke up with the kind of headache I’d normally call a migraine, a fierce thirst, no appetite, muzzy-headed, and feeling unusually lethargic.  It was a struggle to do much of anything energetic, my heart raced just doing yoga, and I felt like I couldn’t get a good breath.  A little research told me my first thought was correct: Mild Altitude Sickness.

At around 9000 feet, I was far above the altitude I’m used to, and I was feeling it.  So I did what the articles I read said, light activity, lots of water, breathe deeply, take some ibuprofen, wait it out but don’t just sleep.  Great Sand Dunes was perfect for that.

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Folks from the area come here like we go to the beach.  Coolers, flip-flops, sun tan lotion, umbrellas, bathing suits, and radios.  Kids bring boogie boards in hopes of catching deep IMG_2207enough water in the creek to zip down a way. There are kites and dogs and little old ladies in sunhats.  I didn’t look out of place at all as I ambled up the creek, enjoying the sunshine and cool water, then eventually planted my butt in the moist sand and stretched out to soak up a little mountain sunshine. IMG_2208

Later in the afternoon, once I’d eaten a little lunch and cooled off, I headed up the trail IMG_2213from my campsite to the Zapata Falls.  The hike was rocky and mostly up, but the incline was slight, and I stopped to catch my breath and let my poor, racing heart figure out that there really was enough oxygen in the air.  20 yards from the stream, the temperature dropped drastically, and I realized I had goose bumps.

IMG_2218That water was COLD!  Too cold, honestly, for me to be able to take the “easy” up-the-creek walk to the actual falls. I tried the rock wall route, but realized half way that the rock and air were so cold my fingers were going numb… which guaranteed I’d fall into the creek, or worse.  50 degree water is not my cup of tea, so I turned back, and spent a little while just sitting and enjoying the sound of a rushing mountain stream.

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I slept better, and woke up with much less of a headache the next morning.  I’d still be taking it easy for a day or two, but I knew I was acclimating.

 

Road Trippin’, part 1

I managed to spend almost my whole summer break in Colombia last year, and didn’t post once… I have failed as a writing wanderer. But I’ll try to make up for it.

This summer break, I’m taking a 6-week, 6500+ mile road trip west to see as much as I can of America’s tightest cluster of national parks (before they get sold off).  I’m using a combination of camping and Airbnb stays, so it should be quite the adventure.  I’ll try to post every few days, with the choicest of my photos.

Day 1:

I took very few pictures on my first day of driving.  The reality is, if you’re on the interstate or highway, driving across the South is abysmally boring. It’s an endless vista of orange earth; gently rolling green hills; farmed fields; roadside forests of pine, scrub oak, & sweet gum with the occasional blossoming magnolia or mimosa for interest; lily-pad filled ponds; and periodic cypressy swamps. You may get a giggle at a kudzu covered road shoulder, a tiny thrill at the I-10 tunnel in Mobile, or a brief sense of history crossing the Mississippi, but beyond that, there’s not much to see if you’re from ’round here. Back roads and country lanes are ever so much more intereIMG_2108sting, but much slower.  I wanted to get west as quickly as I could, having driven across the South countless times, so I hopped on I-10 as far as Mobile, worked my way up and over on some state highways to I-20, and ended up just outside of Texarkana, Arkansas.  It was a long, dull, gray day of driving, made longer by persistent rain and a number of traffic-choking accidents. 12 hours became 14.  Still, I arrived at my first Airbnb stop, and was happy to unwind to the sound of frogs in the nearby lake.

Day 2:

After a brief stroll around the property at my oIMG_2112vernight Airbnb, and a peaceful turn around Holly’s beautiful meditation labyrinth, I got on the road.

Another long, rainy, dreary day of driving. This time mostly through a bit of Texas, and all of Oklahoma- which I discovered is the all road construction, no movement state.  Still, even in the downpour, I began to see interesting things. Most especially, wind turbines… I can’t explain it, but they make me happy in a way most things probably shouldn’t.

Then it happened.  It does every time I travel, but I can’t remember it happening so quickly.

I fell in love.

My stomach swooped, my heart swelled, I was covered in chills, my eyes filled with tears. I was present, right here, right now. Time stopped in a moment of crystalline clarity, I saw everything at once, and nothing but this moment of intense presence mattered. It was sunset on the southern Plains, just outside of Buffalo, Oklahoma, shortly after the rains cleared up, and I fell in love with this trip. Joy, complete and entire. Pure, unadulterated joy.

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This, folks, is why I travel.

Sunset on the Plains is breathtaking. It seems to last forever, and the grass absolutely glows.  There was no way I could adequately capture it on camera, but I tried.  The light lingered long after the sun went down, and I crossed into Kansas with a sky in some of the most incredible colors I’ve ever seen.

Day 3:  Love, love, loving the prairie!  It is almost magical. There are birds EIMG_2146VERYWHERE, the sky goes on into infinity, and at night the grass is alive with fireflies, as far as you can see.IMG_2154

It was a third, long day of driving, but after prairie came – suddenly on the horizon, appearing out IMG_2181of the distant haze – mountains. Snow capped, bald topped, peaked in pines… mountains.  And at last, around 4 local time, I arrived in Great Sand Dunes. IMG_2182

Finding camping was a challenge.  I couldn’t book ahead because the reservable sites were taken, but I was hoping to find at tent space at a nearby private campground.  Alas, that too was full, but the helpful rangers suggested I head up (and I do mean up –  the whole rough, rocky way) to Zapata Falls, where they thought there should be sites.  Even there, the campground was full, but the host said, “You’re not the only one” and pointed me to the No Camping day use area, where a number of other folks had already set up for the weekend. I felt a little weird about all the No Camping signs, but when in Rome…

And so, I set up for the next two days.IMG_2183

Shiny, New Year

2016.

A new year.

Finally.

2015 was, without question, the worst year of my life.  I managed to keep it together.  I didn’t hurt myself (though I wanted to) or anybody else.  I got up and went to work; I held onto my relationships and wasn’t a complete bitch to the people I love.  I made it work.  I survived.  But it was the worst, saddest, angriest, most heartbreaking year of my life. My mama’s illness shattered me, and her death only made me realize how broken I already was. I didn’t sleep for weeks and felt, day after day, like I simply couldn’t breathe.  I realized I have no idea what I want for myself, now that I can think about myself again.

But it’s a new year.

The memory is never going to be gone, but I have let the pain pass over me and through me and I can move on.

So, in this new year, I am going to start thinking about what I want for myself now.  I’m going to start trying looking for healing, joy, and fulfillment again.  I’m going to fight to get back on the road this blog started with: the road to finding what brings me bliss, to fueling my passions, to chasing my dreams.

To that end, I am pledging to blog, at least once a month, about something that makes me happy. A trip I’ve taken, something I’ve written, or any other thing that has recently brought me joy.  Starting today.

Today I am going to be thankful for my love of the outdoors, the resources I have for enjoying it, and the amazing people I get to enjoy it with.

IMG_20151009_135915116In October, on my first vacation in 2 years, I went camping at Ochlockonee River State Park, not far from home.  I loaded the kayak, the camping gear, and myself, and off I went.  3 days of sleeping in a tent, paddling local rivers, cooking outdoors, hiking, and enjoying the animals.

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Rare white squirrel, which we see often in our area.

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The Steinhatchee falls (photo by my good friend Jana)

In November, the weekend after Thanksgiving, some of my favorite people and I loaded the kayaks, caravanned for nearly 2 hours south, and paddled down the

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My sweetheart & his tie-dyed kaykak.

Steinhatchee river, on one of the prettiest, warmest days we had the entire fall.  It was delightful, and I was reminded how blessed I am to have people I love who love the same things I do and enjoy sharing those things with me.

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There’s no such thing as a bad day on the river.

Across the Veil

Slip on across the veil, sweet soul,

She grew up with the circus wintering in her back yard.

She grew up with the circus wintering in her back yard.

It’s an adventure waiting to be;

There are mountains to climb, rivers

To swim, yet wilder vistas to see,

New people to meet, and life renewed,

While this life has been drunk to its leas.

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Slip on across the veil, sweet soul,

There are loved ones waiting for you.

Your race is run, your work is done,

There’s nothing vital here left to do.

Beyond now are arms, open wide,

Just longing to embrace you anew.

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Slip on across the veil, sweet soul,

Prepare, as well, a safe place for me;

She was one of the most sweetly playful people I've ever known.

She was one of the most sweetly playful people I’ve ever known.

I’ll catch you on the other side

Just an eye-blink and there I will be

When that day comes, rejoicing, we’ll

Be together for eternity.

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Slip on the cross the veil, sweet soul,

There is nothing for which you should fear.

You’re already loved by those there,

And will be ever remembered here.

Many eager hearts await you;

Go rest now; your path onward lies clear.

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Slip on across the veil, sweet soul,

Worry not for those you leave behind;

We are strong, smart, and united,

We’ve learned to be good and to be kind

Together, so we will move on,

Be well, and keep you ever in mind.

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So slip on now across the veil.


I wrote the poem above as I sat, Sunday night, keeping vigil at my mother’s bedside.  Not because I wanted her to leave, but because I was watching her slip away and wanted her to know that she was allowed.  She took her last breath late Monday afternoon as I held the nub of her long-ago-amputated arm, watched over by many of those who loved her best.  While my heart is crushed tonight, hers is at rest.  Wherever she landed, on the other side of death, she’s certainly chasing bubbles and laughing in the eternal sunshine.  She is whole, and the disease which stole her ability to speak and think is nothing more than a hazy memory.

Bye, Mama.  I hope the stories we tell of you as the years pass on are even half as wonderful as you were in real life.  You were the light that guided me and the heart that held me up.  My world will never be the same without you in it, and I already miss you more than I have words to express.

She loved a good reason to dress up, and I think I got my love of costume parties, in part, from her.

She loved a good reason to dress up, and I think I got my love of costume parties, in part, from her.

She could be pensive, and she often didn't share her feelings well.

She could be pensive, and she often didn’t share her feelings well.

Beyond all else, she happily fueled my love of traveling as much as she possibly could.

Beyond all else, she happily fueled my love of traveling as much as she possibly could.