Road Trip 3, Part 7: Capital Reef

My Route Thus Far:

Looking in the rear view mirror I see the wonders of Moab fading from my sight. Arches, Canyonlands and all the other wonders that come with the area checked off my to do list for this trip. Heading up 191 and then on to Interstate 70 I began to feel a bit sad looking at the relatively drab landscape before me. I had left Moab at around 5 so it was around sunset I hit highway 24 and the scenery started to liven up a bit.

Sunset on Utah 24

I reached Capital Reef in the middle of the night and unfortunately that means I missed a lot of the scenery coming in. Unfortunately for me as well that their campground, Fruita was full. Dismayed I headed down the road past Capital Reef and found a free campground in Dixie National Forest not far away. I planned to stay in Capital Reef only a day because I wasn’t sure what it was about. When I awoke the next morning and I actually arrived my plans quickly changed.

View from Grand Wash

Capital Reef is as underrated a National Park as they come. There in lies part of its charm. This park, being relatively unknown unless you’re a National Park geek, does not carry the same tourist bus full of selfie sticks and iPad photographers. Trails aren’t packed and there’s more feel of nature and solitude than you’re able to get at the Grand Canyon, Zions and Yosemites of the world. Interestingly I chose a weekend they were having a heritage event so I had the pleasure of hearing a blue grass jam session.

I got some ice cream too

At any rate it’s about more than the random concerts and solitude that make this under key park a visit. Capital Reef has a similar sandstone structure that forms other Parks in this area, their distinct slick stone being a key distinguishing feature. It’s true you will feel at home hiking at Capital Reef coming from Arches or Canyonlands, the geographic features are a wonder on to their own.

Capital Reef's distinct red sandstone cliffs/fins

A relatively new geologic feature to this region the Reef formed when the Colorado plateau started to push this mass of ancient petrified sand high into the sky exposing the beautiful red sandstone which is so iconic of this region. Born as a waterpocket fold this incredible landscape is well worth taking in with ones own two eyes.the

I decided to do a couple days worth of hiking through the park as their are several good, long and varied hikes through the park which show off its unique and gorgeous scenery. The first hike I took the challenge was a mostly strenuous 7.4 one way hike from Grand Wash to Cassidy Arch through to the Cohab Canyon via the Frying Pan Trail. It can be shortened to 5.6 miles if you can manage to hitch a ride back to the trail head or else it is a 2 mile walk down the road back to your car. I decided I could manage the distance even if I couldn’t coerce someone to drive me.

Part of the Canyon you walk through in the Grand Wash

The hike starts through the Grand Wash which is not quite a slot Canyon, but it’s a massive Canyon wash way (don’t hike here when it’s raining) that winds around a Canyon. Soaring white sandstone walls surround you. The walls of the Canyon look incredible as you navigate through the. Reaching the end of the wash you come to your first ascent, what would turn out to be a recurring theme on this hike.

Trail winding up

The hike up to Cassidy Arch is mostly uphill, giving you a view point of a large arch, get your view from there though because the hike takes you directly on top of it. While on top you get an amazing view of the Canyon you just hiked in and the other side of the end of the wash.

Cassidy Arch
View of the other side of Grand Wash and the scenic drive from Cassidy Arch

The hike through the Frying Pan 3.5 miles of the hike was a challenge. You hike down and around a large Canyon between the Grand Wash and Utah 24. It’s marked only by cairns and footprints in the sand.

Inside the Frying Pan

Hiking up and out of the Canyon was a bit of a slog, but the beautiful scenic beauty with very few other hikers out here make it worth it. Once out of the pan you’ve made it to Cohab Canyon. Then out to Utah 24. I half heatedly attempted to hitch a ride back to my car when I was picked up by a nice couple from Minnesota who I had met on the hike.

Even hiking in the road the views are great

Deposited at my car again and short on daylight I decided to take a short hike to Hickman’s Bridge, a natural bridge which only required a quick 2 mile round trip to see. The Bridge was decent and the hike similar in feature to the one I had done before, the best part was I talked to a nice couple, Carl and Paula who I had met on the previous hike. We chatted pleasantly for a while and then they were so nice they gave me a few good items they didn’t need anymore because they were headed home the next day. It’s always so awesome to meet really nice people on the road.

Hickman's Bridge

The last thing I wanted to do for the day was see the sunset… Mostly because I love sunsets and they make nice photos.  The red sand stone looks magical in the waining light of the day.

Sun setting over the park

The next day I resolved to hike Navajo Nobs, a 9 mile in and out hike up several parts of the Reef to the very top of an incredible panoramic view. The hike started from the same location as the Hickman Bridge trail but is a far more serious endeavor. The hike basically consists of four miles of climbing up the Reef and four and a half going down, with a marked Rim Overlook trail ending marking your half way point. The views from the trail are utterly spectacular.

View from Rim Overlook

Passing the end of the Rim Overlook trail there are another 2.4 miles up to the very top, my legs were burning as they carried me up and down the red slickstone rock to the very top which is a spectacular 360 degree view from the top of a large rock at the top of the Reef.

My ailing feet and the view from the top of Navajo Nobs
More panoramic view

Photosphere of the view (hope these things work):

I must say it was one of my favorite views ever and totally worth the 9 miles of hiking. Needing a bit of a rest I decided to go pick some apples. If you’re reading this and came in with no knowledge of Capital Reef you’re probably thinking to yourself “why have I been reading this so long” and, more pertinently “Jesse, you’re in the middle of Utah where in the world are you going to pick apples?”. Capital Reef happens to be the location that some hearty Mormons decided to call home in the late 19th and early 20th century. The orchards are a relic of their establishment of their home in this land.

Mmm apples

They National Park Service now maintains these trees and they encourage you to pick fruit for a nominal price and I was lucky to be there during the fruiting season for the apples.

The apples from this tree were delicious

After my fruitful expedition to the orchard was complete I knew my time in Capital Reef was growing short so I headed somewhere to watch one final sunset at the park and I was not disappointed.

Capital Reef
Sun setting over the Ridge

Capital Reef, an awesome park, great hiking, free blue grass, wonderful scenery and hell, even a place to pick apples.


Road Trip 3, Part 6: Moab, Blood Moon at Delicate Arch, Canyonlands and Dead Horse State Park

The Route Thus Far:

Moab. The dusty old mining town that borders two amazing National Parks in South Eastern Utah. The town is now a bustling community of adventure seekers, as an ideal basecamp for both Canyonlands and Arches National Park as well as countless other recreational opportunities.

Wilson Arch outside of Moab on Utah 191

My stop at Moab was my 2nd this year, I had previously been to Arches in March and hiked Devil’s Garden as well as seeing the famous Delicate Arch at Sunrise. This time my plans were a bit different. I arrived at Arches and did a little hiking around some of the windows and other less famous Arches. I knew what I wanted to see though, Delicate Arch with the Blood Moon. I was not the only one with the idea and I was joined by hordes of others who wanted to see the Arch during this very rare lunar eclipse event.  Delicate Arch is a famous, stunning thin strand of delicate perfectly perched Sandstone, seemingly impossibly framed by the beautiful Lasal Mountains in the background.

Delicate Arch
View of Delicate Arch with the Lasal Mountains

I made my way up and around the arch getting some pictures there before settling on a large ridge opposite it. I met a nice guy named Mike there and we took pictures and talked for a while. It was nice to be away from the madness at the other side of the Arch viewpoint. It ended up being the perfect night to watch the blood moon. I was able to get some interesting pictures of it. This one is my favorite.

Delicate Arch with the Moon being eclipsed

After I left Arches for the day I made way towards Canyonlands National Park and Island in the Sky. I had been to the mind boggling Needles Section of the park a few days prior. Island in the Sky is a large Mesa Top area surrounded by huge multi layered canyons. Formed by the eroding powers of the Green and Colorado Rivers which run through the park Island in the Sky has viewpoints which seem to stretch on and on forever.

View from Grand View point in Island in the Sky
View from Grand View point in Island in the Sky

I set out to explore this section of the park for the day but was greeted by an unfortunate reality–I was almost completely out of gas. I was able to see Grand View Point and Upheaval Dome, two of the more spectacular views in the park before I knew it was time to head back to Moab.

Grand View point offers spectacular views over most of the region, seemingly at the end of the planet, the drop offs reach over 1800 feet straight down to the canyon below. The views here are spectacular, the white rimmed trail winds around the white sandstone rimmed canyons and the beautifully carved canyons stretch for as far as the eye can see.

Another View from Grand View Point
Another View from Grand View Point

Upheaval Dome is a relative geologic curiosity, geologists are unsure how this massive sandstone crater formed. Deep, massive, mysterious it is a truly unique feature on this landscape. Several theories have been posited as to how it formed, namely a meteorite strike, and a vast upheaval and collapse of the land. At and rate standing at the brim of this huge crater is awe inspiring. Filled with salt and surrounded by a rugged rim, it is truly a sight to behold.

View of Upheaval Dome

Getting back in my car after my hike at Upheavel Dome I knew I was in for a challenge. As I was parking I had the dreaded “Low Fuel” light click on. I knew that meant I would be hard pressed to make it back to Moab and the nearest gas station, 40 miles away.  Luckily, I drive a Prius, I was able to hypermile effectively enough back to town getting 108 miles per gallon on the way there and was able to comfortably refuel. Perks of driving a Prius I guess.

That night I stayed at the venerable Lazy Lizard hostel on the outskirts of Moab. For 12 dollars a night it was a nice reprieve from sleeping in the outdoors for a night. It also afforded me to opportunity to stay the night in town and catch the Packers vs. Chiefs game. The Packers won in convincing fashion and it was a night to celebrate!

Unfortunately when I woke up the next morning I realized I had celebrated a bit too effectively. Feeling nowhere near 100% I spent most of the day in the Library writing and researching. I was able to make it down beautiful historic highway 128 which follows the Colorado River and a beautiful red sandstone canyon north. I stopped at Fisher Towers for the night, yet another incredible rock formation nestled in a small valley of the canyon. The rocks were beautiful and offered a great place to camp for the night.

View of Fisher Towers

The next morning I headed for the large Morning Glory Bridge just north of Moab, the bridge is technically an Arch, but it was formed by flowing water hence it being a bridge. It’s massive form is nestled in a side canyon off of 128. The Bridge itself is massive, in a veritable desert oasis full of rare desert vegetation. I was lucky enough to see some adventurous people rappelling from the edge of the Canyon which the bridge sits in.   

Morning Star Bridge
Morning Star Bridge

My next destination was again Arches National Park. I had already quite thoroughy explored this park this year, seeing Delicate Arch twice and hiking the entireity of the magical Devil’s Garden. One more challenge remained though, hiking the Firey Furnace.  A maze of Red Sand Stone fins and hidden arches consist of the backcountry and wild Firey Furnace. No trails run through this part of the park, so I booked a guided tour of the Furnace. The sites were amazing, usually Arches National Park greets you with hordes of tourists and selfie sticks. The solitude and peace inside the Firey Furnace make it one of my favorite places in Arches. Rugged terrain and tough hiking are the norm inside here. The tour offered a slew of information about the formation of the Arches within the park and the vegetation and life that lives within it’s boundaries of this high desert park.

Sandstone Fins within the Firey Furnace
Sandstone Fins within the Firey Furnace

The next day my goal was to finish seeing Canyonlands and the nearby Dead Horse State Park. Fully loaded with fuel I set out to explore the parts of Canyonlands I had missed. I woke up early in the morning to catch a famous site, the sunrise at Mesa Verde Arch. Unfortunately I wasn’t the only one with that idea and when I arrived at the arch there must’ve been some 50 people already at the arch with extravagant camera equipment set up to catch the spectacular sunrise. What a sunrise it was!

Mesa Arch at Sunrise
Mesa Arch at Sunrise

The Arch perfectly frames the distant mountains and catches the light through it’s wide mouth incredibly. The sky was lit up in various different colors that made getting up at the crack of dawn well worth it.

After I did a bit more exploring of Canyonlands I headed to Dead Horse State Park. Basically an extension of Canyonlands National Park, Dead Horse State Park offers an incredible view of the Colorado River some 2000 feet below you. The park has other amazing views of down into the Canyonlands below, offering a 4 mile canyon rim hike which takes you to several stunning overlooks. The best of which is the view at Dead Horse Point. The name comes from old Cowboys who used to wrangle wild Colts up on to this point and trap them in, at it’s narrowest the mesa top is only 30 yards across. The Cowboys would take the horses they wanted from those they caught and let the rest die of thirst. Horrible-but the reason for the name of the park.

View of the Colorado River--2000 Feet below, from Dead Horse State Park
Me, viiewing the Colorado River–2000 Feet below, from Dead Horse State Park

The view over the point is spectacular, the Colorado River winds through the canyon and into the distance. Being 2000 feet over the river makes it seem tranquil and small, but looks are deceiving. The mighty Colorado churns through the ancient sandstone here to carve an epic Canyon which gives the region it’s name.

Another View of the Colorado River Curving through the Canyon Lands

The Moab area of Utah brings some spectacular scenery. From the incredible red rock formations at Arches, to the chiseled Canyons of Canyonlands and other features of such a unique landscape make Moab and ideal destination for adventurers. I spent a good 5 days in this region and could’ve spent countless more. Parting is such sweet sorrow, but I set my sights for my next National Park, Capital Reef in remote Southern Central Utah.

Sun setting somewhere near Canyon Lands

Road Trip 3, Part 5: Enter Utah, a Land Unlike Any Other

The route thus far:

Desolate. Bleak. A seemingly endless landscape of other worldy rock formations. Southern Utah is home to one of the most unique and spectacular landscapes in the world. An area which would look more at home on Mars than on Earth. A place preserved by five National Parks and numerous other National Monuments shall forever keep this unique part of the planet wild and open to the public at large.

Sign for the Navajo Tribal Park at Monument Valley

Heading west from Mesa Verde my first stop was the legendary Monument Valley. The backdrop for so many legendary western movies, this red, barren, flat desert has many seemingly impossible red towers reach up from the desert floor, impossible pillars of stone. These giants of the desert floor were formed through millions of years of erosion from an ancient dried up sea which used to cover the area.

Monument Valley

The Earth’s ever moving crust, pushed this once near sea level area thousands of feet into the sky, part of the Colorado Plateau much of the area sits above 5000 feet in sea level. The story of this land is not a finished one, constantly changed by eroding winds, this landscape will continue to change and form dazzling formations which will continue to challenge our perceptions of how amazing nature can be.

Panoramic of Monument Valley

Heading up the road from monument valley I discovered another incredible sight I didn’t even know existed in Utah, an incredible cliff formation which forms an incredible mesa that separates the desert from the brushland of the area. The drive takes you on various switchbacks across this incredible landscape which stretches for as far as the eye can see.

View from Cedar Mesa on Utah 291

Known as the Moki Dugway the drive turns into a rugged dirt road up the side of the Cedar Mesa. The views from both the bottom and the top of the Mesa are awe inspiring. Climbing higher and higher up the Mesa gives you a great respect for just how massive these rock walls are. Winding up over 1200 feet from the floor of the massive cliffs.

View of the road on the Moki Dugway

Heading up past the Moki Dugway the landscape transforms dramatically. High above the desert floor below raises a plain full of vegitation. The wonderful Natural Bridges National Monument preserves some of this land along with three gigantic natural bridges which formed out of ancient sandstone.

Part of the Landscape at Natural Bridges National Monument
Owachomo Natural Bridge at Sunset

For a short drive and relatively small park, three spectacular Natural Bridges, Kachina, Owachomo and Sipapu are well worth the time to explore and gaze upon their grandeur. While not as well known as the other wonders in Southern Utah the Bridges stretch across vast portions of sandstone escarpments making them fascinating in their own right. Formed by flash flooding and streams these are unlike Arches which are formed by wind.

Kachina Bridge and the Surrounding Landscape

Making my way away from the Bridges, I had my sites set on a park I had been yearning to go to for some time, the incredible Canyonlands National Park.

View of the drive into Canyon Lands Needles Unit
Canyonlands Entrance Sign

Separated into several different units, Canyonlands is an expansive land of needle like spires, white sandstone rimmed canyons and other fascinating rock formations that seemingly surround you anywhere you are in the park. I set out on foot to explore this incredible area and was not disappointed by the landscape.

View of the red slickrock in Canyonlands

Climbing and traversing this land is like stepping into a time machine. Layers and layers of these rocks were formed from the same ancient sea that lent it’s hand to the other wonders in this area. The different layers each represent a different era of time in the earth, millions of years separating each layer which eventually added up to the bizarre but beautiful landscape that exists today in Cayonlands National Park.

Up close view of Needles in Canyon Lands National Park

Adventure awaits any who endeavor setting foot in this land. Climbing over slickrock, sliding through canyons and spotting distant cairns are among the things that make hiking at this Canyonlands as unique as the landscape itself. This is not your average walk through a forest, setting foot here is an unforgettable experience.

White rimmed mushroom like rocks in Canyonlands

While adventure waits the Canyonlands should not be taken lightly. I had to help lead several people out of the beautiful but long and strenuous Chester Park trail. It covers over 11 miles of incredible scenery in the wilderness with incredible panoramic views of the Needles and Canyons of this region.

One of the panoramic views from the Chesler Park Trail
Me on the Chesler Park Loop in the narrow slot canyon you hike through

There is no way to go wrong exploring this vast expanse of wild country. This part of the park, Needles, is only a third of the actual park. There are two other parts yet to explore, the more popular Island in the Sky and the less developed Maze region.

Moon rising at Canyonlands at sunset

Just scratching the surface on the incredible wonders of Utah, I have my sites set on Arches and the Island in the sky region of Canyonlands next. Until next time, the sun sets on another amazing chapter of my journey.

Third Trip, Part 4: San Juan Skyway and Mesa Verde National Park

The route thus far:

Southwest Colorado. The last frontier before my entry into Utah. The last of the Great Colorado Rockies and the entry into the vast and beautiful desert of Southern Utah. About 150 miles of scenic byway separate Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Mesa Verde. Taking the route Southwest through via the San Juan Skyway US Route 145.

San Juan Skyway Sign

The route cuts Southwest across the beautiful San Juan Mountains of Southwestern Colorado. Here, like the Mountains to the east, the trees are ablaze with beautiful color changes.

San Juan Mountains near Tulluride

Passing such cities as Tulluride and Mountain Village Grand panoramic Mountain views greet you at every Mountain pass. Some Mountains stretching over 14,000 feet challenge your car to creep up their epic slopes.

San Juan Mountains
View of the Lizard Head Wilderness

Driving through valleys with trees ablaze down towards the epic Mesa’s of South Western Colorado is an epic sight. The transition from Mountainside to desert brush land is not quick, but the differences are dramatic. From changing and mighty trees to much smaller ground clinging plants, containing their energy and in constant search of water these grounds form a harsh environment for the animals and people that call them home.

Panoramic View of Mesa Verde’s Canyon area

Up in the distance though, high above the flats, an epic Mesa, a vertiable oasis in an otherwise harsh environment, a land so fertile and life sustaining to the ancient people who lived there they named it Mesa Verde, or “green table”.

This Mesa sits high up on the country side providing a valuable defense for its former inhabitants. The marks of the Pueblo people that used to live there are remarkably well preserved and beautiful.


These relics of the past societies that lived here show at least one thing: they picked a damn good place to build a city. Many ruins are much as 2000 years. The ancient cities built into the cliff were left more around 800 years ago.

Me, with way too many straps on my body, in Balcony House
Balcony House

Photosphere of the view:

Deciding to get a closer look I went on a tour of one of the dwellings and it gets you a beautiful up close look at the dwellings. The way which they are constructed by a people who were without metals and had to make everything with stone tools. All this with relying on foot travel, as it was their only form of transportation. These were an industrious people, they made use of the land and were great farmers. They raised turkey and dogs, they were also astronomers using different tools to identify the changing of the seasons.


Mesa Verde is a park more about the culture and history of ancient Native American Cultures from a time gone by. The landscape is gorgeous and the cliff dwellings serve to stir something in the imaginations of us all.


As I was readying myself to watch the sunset at an old fire lookout tower (which is still in use) and taking in an amazing view of the surrounding area, I met a fellow road tripping warrior named Jay. He and I both have a bit of a propensity for long epic trips; he has actually been on the road since January of this year seeing all 50 states. We exchanged travel stories and ideas and even shared a camp later that night. Meeting new friends is one of the best parts of traveling, especially when viewing a magnificent sunset.


Overall Mesa Verde is a wonderful National Park that preserves both a wonderful natural landscape and part of our American heritage in spectacular fashion.

Third Trip, Part 3: Taking the Silver Thread West to the Black Canyon

Head West. The thought just makes me smile. Pushing further west on my journey means I’m getting close and closer to such American wonderlands such as Zion, The Grand Canyon and Yosemite. There’s still more to see before those parks for me here in Colorado, I had my sites set on the mighty Black Canyon on the Gunnison River. This was a park I hadn’t heard much of before my trip, the name alone makes it intriguing. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park strikes a certain feeling of power coming from such a mighty Canyon.

The route so far
The route so far

I first had to cross the mighty San Luis Mountains first. I made my journey West across the San Luis plain just outside the Great Sand Dunes, crossing a vast expanse of dusty desert to the base of the mountains.

View of the San Luis vegetation type and bonus sand dunes

Fortunately crossing these plains is a simple matter as the roads are straight and fast unlike the Mountain roads you get so accustomed to driving out here. Making my way into the valley I stopped in a town called Crede to watch the Packers game (Go Packers!). When I awoke in town the next morning I realized what a beautiful area for a city.

Right in Credes back yard

The town used to be an old mining town but now focuses mostly on tourism. I was just happy to find a place to catch the game and got some great views to go with it. Lucky me.


Pushing past Crede led to a full day of driving through varied Mountain landscapes. Highway 149 or the so called “Silver Thread” highway is a scenic by way through some of the most beautiful Mountain country in the lower 48. The changes in elevation bring everything from Aspen trees changing color, Rocky outcroppings, desert like underbrush and much more. This also used to be an old mining boom area when prospectors came here in search of gold and silver, hence the name of the Silver Thread byway.

View of : insert: Lake

Photosphere Shot:

View of the San Luis Mountains and leaf color changes

Red, orange and yellow blaze past the windshield of the car as I press West. The views of these Mountains deserve much exploration, but I grow impatient with my progress West so I press on towards the Black Canyon. Passing through the nearby Curecanti National Recreation area I grew restless and needed to get out of the car for a few hours so I turned off the road and headed for the best trail I could find: Dillon Pinnacles.

Part of the Massive Reservoir/Lake

The Pinnacles are a peculiar Rock formation, formed millions of years ago when South Central Colorado was the site of considerable volcanic activity. The formation of denser stronger rock allowed it to survive the nearby rock couldn’t and it the resulting rock formations tickle the imagination.

Part of Dillon Pinnacles
Panoramic of the Pinnacles with the Lake

Photosphere: insert photosphere!

After I had my fill of volcanic activity rocks for one night I knew my destination was close. I still could not stop myself from getting out at two more spots along the way. Stopping at the (blank dam) and the (blank dam). Both were exhibits in stunning, craggly Canyon that were but a preview of things to come.



After I diverted myself for the last time I took one final turn on the road with the sign pointing towards the Black Canyon.


The day was short though and it was too late to see anything in the park anyways so I headed towards the campground when my attention was grabbed by a spectacular sunset.

Sunset at the Black Canyon

The next morning I awoke with one thought in mind. I need to climb down into this canyon. I made my way to the first overlook before the visitors center where I would devise my route. I took my time gazing into the canyon for the first time.

View of the Black Canyon from Timochi Point

The people at the visitors center recommended the Gunnison route. The easiest or at least the most convenient way to get into the canyon.

Last chance to turn around!

The “climb” down into the canyon is more like a controlled slide to the bottom. The route is steep and poorly marked, it’s easy to lose your way on the return trip.

Chain to assist you on the non trail

The rocks shift with every movement of your feet on them. The ground unwilling to sit still, it stirs almost angrily at every compression upon its surface. Fortunately I was wise enough to bring trekking poles on the trip down, almost as a necessity to have a means by which to catch yourself if your feet slip (and they did and will).

View of the Canyon on the way down
Part of the trail, it's a little rough

I passed another man who was recording how long it took him to get down and then up, he was on 36 minutes his way up. Intrigued I wanted to see how long the rest trip down took, mind you I must’ve been around half way down at this point.

About half the time it took to get down

It took 48 minutes down where it had taken him to get up in 36. The hike down is more like a controlled fall. Trying to stop gravity from sending tumbling down the hill. Most of the way down is an exercise in balance and keeping your feet underneath you. However, your effort is rewarded– the views at the bottom do much to astound.


Staring up from the bottom of the 1800 foot Canyon makes you realize how small you really are. Here you sit as but a tiny observer in a massive powerful canyon. The Canyon is formed of incredibly hard rocks over a billion years old in some. The Gunnison upheaval over a billion years ago put these rocks here and only in the last two million years has the mighty Gunnison River been cutting into the land. The result is a sharp, steep, stunning canyon that boggles the mind.

From the bottom of the canyon

Photosphere of the bottom: insert here

Sitting in the bottom of this Valley of incredibly formed rocks is quite the experience, walking around and eating a quick lunch by the river, and having the entire area just to myself was such a calming experience.

Rocks from the bottom

The only problem is what must go down must go up, if I want to get out of the Canyon. I decided to time how long it took me to get out as well, just for hecks sake. I headed for the path again and dug in up the side of the Canyon. The way back is indeed hard to know, if not for the helpful cairns people have made it almost would’ve been impossible to know the way out.

I sure hope this is the right way!

Fortunately slipping isn’t too big a problem on the way up. The main challenge is pushing your weight up the steep, slippery rocks to get to the top. It’s a massive cardiovascular challenge, especially in this thin air. I had to stop a few times to get my bearings and let my lungs rest. I also stopped for a nice break/conversation with another hiker headed into the Canyon. As I finally reached the top of the Canyon route I checked my time:


Certainly better than what it took to hike down.

Taking a few minutes to regroup after the arduous hike, I headed down the road, South Rim road to be exact. The road passes several beautiful overlooks with stellar views of the Canyon.

Long way down, over 1800 feet
View into the Canyon
Painted Wall from the Painted Wall Overlook

Looking out over and into the Black Canyon is awe inspiring. The depth is so deep and steep the straight drop offs are cringe worthy and vertigo inducing.  The rocks spire and craggle in such shapes it’s hard to fathom such things could actually exist.


Heading to the final overlook you approach the Warner Point Trail. The trail only covers 1.75 miles round trip; I approached at sunset. The views were quite something, I arrived thinking I’d only see Canyon but I was pleasantly surprised.

View of the meadows outside the park
View of the nearby Mountains

The other scenery was icing on the cake to the already amazing Canyon that’s the star of the park. As the day drew to a close I realized I had picked the perfect sunset, I watched as the sun sank behind the horizon and ended my adventure with the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.


I listened to Alt J All of This Is Yours and Childish Gambino Because The Internet while writing this.

Third Trip, Part 2: A trip south down the Rockies, North Cone, Pike’s Peak and Great Sand Dunes National Park

South. Down the Rockies. Grand Lake, Grandby Lake, North Cone, Pike’s Peak and the Great Sand Dunes. Last we left my joinery I had just gone through the Rocky Mountains, this has been my progress through Colorado thus far:


The first stop right outside of R.M.N.P. was Grand Lake, where I was lucky to be at right when the sun was setting and I was able to catch some good pictures of it. I also got to see a double rainbow when a large raincloud that crossed directly over my head settled in a nearby field.



Just as I was watching the sun go down, I got in contact with my parents who were also in the area and met up with them for the rest of the night and we were even able to take some pictures of the stars and get dinner! What a pleasant surprise that was.


Grand Lake and Granby Lake in that area are both a treat. Grand Lake is nestled right in the mountains and is surrounded by a quaint village with wooded board walks around the entire city. Viewing the city from the Grand Lake lodge is another great way to see the Lake.


Grandby Lake is a bit further South down the highway nestled in Arapaho National Forest. It. Is. Massive. A dammed up reservoir it stretches far across the landscape and is beautifully framed by soaring mountains in the background.


Walking around the Lake you can definitely appreciate it’s magnitude. It seems to be the largest Lake in the area by far, dwarfing the other lakes and dominanting the landscape.

Further into Arapaho Forest, I decided to take a hike up by Berthoud Pass. I climbed to to the summit of North Cone, right next to what appeared to be a large winter resort. It was a long Alpine hike past the treeline where the wind could whip you without any resistance. The view from the top was spectacular, all around you see for miles, distant far off Mountain Peaks. Valleys and plains many miles off in the distance.


North Cone may not be a 14er, but it’s view is still worthy of high praise.
Click here for a photosphere of the view:

Criss crossing my way through the state, I set my next bearing for Pike’s Peak. Pike’s Peak has the distinction of being the largest Mountain in the front range of Colorado’s Rockies. At over 14,110 feet it’s massive in both width and height.


It rises from the ground, a massive mound of earth, soaring towards the highest reaches of the great Rockies. While not the tallest in the range, it is probably the most well known, for its relative prominence and grandeur. Surrounding Pike’s Peak is a National Forest by its own name, Pike’s National Forest. Inside the national forest, down a very dusty dirt road, I made camp at the rustic “The Crags” campground.


The very helpful Raiders Fan (he wanted me to know that) the hikes “to do” started right from the campground. I took his recommendation and hiked–no surprise here, the Crags hike. The hike ended up being one of my favorite hikes ever. You first hike through a large valley of craggly rocks.


You then come to an amazing Summit–with less than two miles hike in. Having this view to yourself is unfair.



Photosphere of the view:

Surrounding you is an exquisite if not eclectic group of scenery. On one side you have Pike’s Peak, on another several Alpine Lakes, on yet another you are viewing into the valley and Craggly Rocks you passed on the way in.  For miles and miles your eyes are free to scour the landscape, looking for wildlife, and just to gaze upon the vast uninterrupted wilderness in front of you. All areas belonging not to man, but to beast, a land of pure nature.


The next day, my friend Taylor, who had just recently moved to the area, met up to go on a day hike. We decided to go on a hike in the same area as the Crags. Fortunately it wasn’t quite as far up that dusty dirt road! We were able to come to the Summit of the Mountain and the view was similar to the Crags.


Photosphere of the view here:

It gives different perspective on the Alpine Lakes and lends views of the gorgeous Crags Summit. The chipmunks at the top were a bit too friendly however, also there was this disconcerting sign on the way up.

imageSuffice it to say, they wanted some of what he was having. The Summit also had Raspberries growing in it. Which I suppose is appropriate for Raspberry Mountain.

After we said our goodbyes, I stopped for hot minute at Florrisant Fossil Beds just down the road. It turned out to be a bunch of fossilized redwoods which had millions of years been and to grow in a much different climate that the area used to have. Neat.


On to my real destination. My next National Park on my tours of them. The Great Sand Dunes. Unfortunately what turned out to be around 4+ drive separated me. But what a beautiful drive it was!


arated me. But what a beautiful drive it was!

Photosphere of the view:

Heading down the road the landscape was beautiful. So unique from what I’d already seen, this area of the Rockies was… Well fast Rockier and dryer. The mountains were no longer covered by color changing leaves but now by brush and scrub plants. The San de Cristo Mountains in the distance reminded me of The Great Grand Tetons far to North.  As I drove through the sunset I was lucky to catch a picture of one at sunset.


Driving through the Mountains for what seemed like forever I finally made it to my destination and my second National Park. The Great Sand Dunes.


Immense. Barren. Seemingly Impossible. Sand Dunes, some over 800 feet in hurt height. The result of a dead lake, eroding mountains, steady wind patterns from the San Luis Mountains to the West. A seemingly impossible mixture of circumstances can’t together and created an unlikely oddity in Southern Colorado. These Dunes, visible from many miles on the horizon, sit nestled next to the San De Cristo Mountains, while the San Luis Creek which runs next to it gives it the effect of being a veritable desert oasis in an otherwise arrid region.


While 800 feet might seem a small figure when compared to the 14,000 foot peaks it is surrounded by one small hike on the Dunes changes any sort of perception of “small” anyone might have had.


Photosphere from the top:

Crossing the massive beasts of sand dunes is no easy task, every step is challenging. Walking uphill on sand, where seemingly every step is swallowed by the sand is a very laborious effort endeavor. Getting to the top of high dune is no easy task, at over 650 feet high a hike to the top can take well over an hour as there are no trails here.


As one of the few places where you can feel comfortable hiking barefoot (if you can tolerate the blazing hot sands on your ), the park and environment are truly unique in North America.

After your hike to the top, the hike down can even be a ride down. Bring a slide to the park and you can slide down the sand as if you were sledding on it.  I chose to sprint down the side of the Dunes. That seemed like a good idea until I realized the sand was very very hot.


The Great Sand Dunes. A truly fascinating landscape hidden in the Southern Colorado Mountains. The Dunes, so impactful that they reached immense heights and created a unique ecosystem unlike any else in North America.


Music listened to while writing this: Twenty One Pilots album Twenty One Pilots

Third Trip, Part 1: The Beginning, Boulder and Rocky Mountain National Park

Third. The traditional 2nd place loser. But this time so much different. This is the start of my third major American road trip this year. The biggest difference of this trip is I’ve taken the wisdom gained on my first two trips to make it even better. I spent August literally gearing up for this trip. I knew I’d want to take better pictures so I invested in a new camera.


A Nikon D3200 to be precise. In the first week of its use I’ve been very pleased with the results I’ve gotten from it though I need to invest the WiFi chip to get the pictures from it to this blog as of post time. Unfortunately all the pictures you’ll see on this post will be from my phone.

At any rate, I’d been planning this trip since the end of the first trip I’d taken, as this is more an augmentation of the first then a permutation of the second. My planned route entails criss crossing the state of Colorado to all it’s National Parks and heading through southern Utah and northern Arizona to see the 5 National Parks and the various other natural areas in between. From there I’ll hit Vegas for maybe a day or two then head up to Great Basin National Park in Northern Nevada and cross the state to Lake Tahoe. From there I’ll slice through Eastern California into Yosemite, Death Valley and down into Joshua Tree. From the I’ll go back through Arizona into it’s parks and perhaps Havasu Falls. I’ll then tour through Southern New Mexico. To finish off the trip I’ll be driving to Big Bend National Park in Southern Texas before swinging back up to Wisconsin ideally sometime before Thanksgiving, perhaps taking Route 66. I’ll be seeing over 20 National Parks. Hopefully meeting many interesting characters along the way.

Without further aduie this is the first part of the story of my 3rd great American Road Trip adventure.

Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska the three states you have to drive through to get through to get to my first stop on my trip, Colorado. Summer driving has always been one of my favorite things. Nothing gets my blood flowing like loud music, the open road and the summer wind blowing in my face. Unfortunately, until you hit the Rockies in Colorado much of the drive analogous to this.


Thus much of the first two days of the trip was spent behind the wheel. Regretfully I missed such landmarks like the World’s Largest Truck stop in Iowa (sorry Iowa, but I don’t need any votes in a Primary). I made it to the center of Nebraska in the first night of driving and it was POURING. The rain got so bad that no one but semis were going over 35 miles per hour. I half way thought we might be getting hit by a tornado at some point. Luckily I was able to safely get off the road and crash a few hours at a rest stop so that I could experience this Nebraska treasure:


Thanks Nebraska… For whatever that is. The only other thing of note on the road were a few flipped garbage trucks. My Car, the Prius of course made it to Colorado in two tanks of gas, getting around 57 miles per gallon meaning the drive only cost me around $40!

When you first see the Mountains in the distance once you’re in Colorado you’re never quite sure if your eyes are playing a trick on you. You’ve been driving for hours on end seeing nothing but an endless flat horizon, but they they appear, seemingly out of nowhere to dominate the landscape. The closer you get the more their might over the land becomes clear. These aren’t just any dingy Mountains, these are the mighty Rockies. Carved from and formed from a fiery tectonic past they rise from the North American continent to form a barrier to the gateway of a wildly sector of the Earth, the American West. A place like any other in this world, where the beasts outnumber the humans and where harsh environments exist such that not even man is able to inhabit them. There was no better place than to start my third journey out west than the Rockies.


To get into the Rockies one must first conquer the foothills. No slouch themselves, they reach upwards of 8000 feet in elevation, certainly not the epic 14,000 peaks that pepper the great state of Colorado but intimidating in their own right. No where are the Eastern Foothills of the front range more beautiful than Boulder Colorado.


Boulder, Colorado sits nestled in the foothills, a city where it’s extreme proximity to the mountains lends to it’s very identity. It’s the last human outpost before one has entered the great Rockies.


The people of Boulder are acutely in tune with nature, almost famously so. There are massive networks of trails right inside the Rockies which provide breath taking views of the city. My favorite was the ever popular hike to Royal Arch, a large stone archway sitting mid way up the foothills.


The hike is difficult, but worth the endeavor. Climbing higher and higher into the thin semi Alpine air, your lungs gasp for breath far more often than they would at sea level. Once you reach the peak though you see what all the hard work was for:


This view, which seems to stretch into infinity. Looking back, not only onto Boulder and Denver, but onto the entirety of Eastern American civilisation. This, the main physical and metaphorical delineation between East and West American, a land that carries the continental divide, is the very view of the East, from the West. Looking upon all that is behind you, you know what’s in front of you, the great and wild American West.


A short distance from Boulder, Rocky Mountain National Park, the Mountains so full of beauty and wonder it carries the distinct honor of being the National Park of the entire American Rockies. While driving towards the park from Boulder you start to notice the transition, no longer are the mountains mere presence the magnificence, but the wonderfuly pleasant and mysterious way weather other outside pressures shaped the Earth boggles the mind.


One of my favorite stops in the park was the ever popular Bear Lake area. Here, you can hike to several different glacieted lakes with incredibly carved features that, only through millions of years of natural functions was nature able to form.


Hiking about 10 miles will get you to 6 or so of the Lakes. When you get to each you are more blown away by their own unique beauty than the last.



The Bears lake area truly is one of the more amazing in the entire Rockies. Blessed with such high peaks and glacier carved cliffs it’s the stunning section of the American Rockies this side of Glacier National Park.

Sleeping off the 10+ hours of hiking the day I had done before, I experienced a truly amazing sight,a Rocky Mountain Sunrise. When I rose early in the morning I was greeted by a truly amazing site:


The sky was ablaze in colors I’d never seen before. I rushed to a nearby meadow to take a picture of the sun rising through the valley and caught a glimpse of what so many come to the Rockies to see:


Oh, then there’s Gregory, the bird I developed a very brief but meaningful friendship with:


I probably shouldn’t have fed Gregory that piece of cereal, but he was too cool to resist…


To cross through the Rocky Mountain National Park, you must pass over Trail Ridge Road, which in itself is nothing short of an engineering marvel, completed in the early 1930s, this road takes you to the top of the Rockies. It scrapes the sky and has a uniquely harsh Alpine environment.  Viewing the vast expanses from my Prius you start to realize how mighty the Rockies are.


The highway scrapes the sky with many portions over 12,000 feet in elevation you feel as if you’re on top of the world.


The effects of being at such heights are immediately evident. The air has a chill to it, the wind howls, your lungs struggle for air but most importantly your bag of chips do this:


The weather up here is unlike anything at sea level. Here thunderstorms can start at an instant and the cool air is already hard at work in September of ushering in another long harsh winter.


Here, far above the timber line, there are no trees to slow the winds, they pierce you, seemingly instantly having no obstacles. Taking the time to walk from your car to an overlook can become a dangerous task even on the most docile seeming afternoons in almost an instant. Walking up these stairs to a view of seemingly beautiful afternoon turned into a race to the car to beat a soaking rainfall.



Heading down off of the road, back past through the tree line, gives you a minute of relief, the air is thicker the wind does not chill you to the core with such ease, you are gliding downhill, into rapidly more favorable conditions for the human form to exist.



Once done with the Trail Ridge Road, the road leads to an area known as the Coyote Valley. Leaving the valley brings you to the exit of the wonderful Rocky Mountain National Park into the small town of Grand Lake. As I sat on the banks of this great, ancient lake realizing though, I was feeling sad that I’d already crossed the first major landmark of the West.  As the sun started to fall further and further towards the horizon into the West I realized that it was not a moment to be sad as this was just the first in the amazing wonders of the West. These, the beautiful Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the gateway to the wonders of the West, were the perfect start of a once in a lifetime adventure yet to come.


The Great Wild East: The Smoky’s, The Blue Ridge Parkway and Shenandoah National Park

Me with a sunset at Shenandoah National Park

Smoky Mountains appear in the distance

The Great Wild East.
Words you don’t hear very often. It is true, the East often is not thought of as a big place for wilderness or wildlife, yet if you look in the right places you can find spectacular beauty that holds it own to the other natural wonders of the world. It’s true you won’t find jagged glacier capped mountains or grizzly bears, but the Appalachian Mountains tell a story of their own. Driving through the rolling hills of Tennessee you first start to see them appear, and it looks something like this:

Little do you know what kind of a treat you are in for if you haven’t been to Appalachia before, the Smoky’s combined with the Blue Ridge Parkway (469 miles) and Shenendoah National Park (101 miles) give you over 600 miles of scenic driving to view wildlife, panoramic vistas, mountains, rivers, waterfalls and more. We made the journey through the parks in around 9 days. We camped 8 of those days, sometimes in pouring rain, other days in weather well over 90 degrees and one of the days we had intended to camp it turned out the National Park Service had previously closed the campground without updating their park literature. Aside from that minor speed bump it was a great time spent hiking, exploring, camping and living outdoors!

Smoky’s with the sun starting to set in the background

The first major hike we took was took a waterfall in the Smoky’s called “Ramsay Cascades”. We weren’t really sure what we were in for. Sure the hike guide said it was strenuous, but we didn’t realize it’d be the hardest hiking in the park. The trail is 4.4 miles into the middle of the wilderness one way. A dusty single lane dirt road leads you down a river creek bed to the parking lot where you cross the river and are hopefully prepared for 4 of the most brutal miles of hiking the Smoky’s have to offer.

View of part of the Ramsay Cascade trail.

The hike is virtually uphill the entire way and at the end it gets very rocky and well… turbulent. I enjoy hiking over craggly huge rocks but it took us a while to navigate up the trail to the waterfall. Along the way I partly thought Nicole might die of overheating and that’d be the end of our vacation. In a funny way I always thought it’d be a bear that’d eat one of us that would end our trip… Uhh where was I, we were able to overcome the obstacles of a rocky steep hike and make it to the top where our reward was a beautiful pristine waterfall cascade:

View of Ramsay Cascade

Ramsay Cascade is quite the beautiful falls, it might not be the pure uninterrupted flow that Yellowstone or Yosemite Falls offer, but it’s intricacies of water falling down from level to level make it a complex, stunning sight in person. We even got to dip into the falls to cool down, which was well worth it, the weather was somewhere over 100 degrees with the heat index that day.

Me after taking a triumphant waterfall dip.

Just making it up the hike and dipping your head into the water feels amazing, we even saw a salamander in the fall, which apparently the park is home to a ton species of.

Salamander Under the Falls

The Cascades were definitely the highlight of the Smoky’s as far as waterfalls go, the park is fairly huge though and everywhere you look there is more pristine natural beauty. The next day after a fairly rainy night (an unfortunately common theme in our time at the Smoky’s) an exhausted Nicole offered me the chance to solo hike up to one of the more popular hikes in the park, the Alum Cave trail. The trail, which starts up the side of the mountain gives you a pretty good cross section view of what the park is all about. Rivers, mountains and as the visitor center welcome video so wonderfully eloquated “quirks”. Odd beauty that is seemingly special and different from anything you can see anywhere else. The Alum Cave trail takes you right through the heart of one of those quirks, the “Arched Rock” formation.

Arched Rock in the middle of Alum Cave trail in the Smoky Mountains

Arched Rock is exactly what a sounds like, a large arched rock that sits smack dab in the middle of the trail, seemingly coming out of nowhere to form a beautiful halfway marker for the trail. You might be thinking to yourself “but wait Jesse, this is Smoky Mountain National Park, not Arches National Park,” I thought the same thing, but nevertheless the arch is in the middle of the trail.

Other side of the arch

Solo hiking always brings out the competitive nature in me. I always aspire to see how fast I can hike difficult hikes, with no one else to wait for or slow me down I push the pace to the hardest I can. I was able to make the ascent to Alum Cave, a fairly strenuous hike in less than an hour, which for being straight up hill was very good time.

Green Smoky Mountains on the hike up

The Cave itself is really more of a overhang which is cavernous, seemingly coming out of nowhere you feel dwarfed by it’s magnitude while sitting inside of it.  It makes you feel as if you are just a tiny pebble sitting under the stoop of life… or something like that.

Alum Cave
View looking out of the cave.

Overall the hike makes for a very good cross section of the different environments you’ll experience in the Smoky’s. From the beautiful river running through the beginning of the hike, to the ascent up the slopes of the mountain to the fascinating quirks of the Arch and the Cave it has something for every nature lover to enjoy.

The Smoky’s was a truly fantastic park with beautiful unique scenery everywhere you turn your head, overlooks provide fantastic views of the moutains and it’s highest point, Clingman’s Dome is the 3rd highest point east of the Mississippi.

Smoky Mountains and clouds

The views from Clingman’s are accessed through a steep .5 mile hike up to a veritable monstrosity of a concrete lookout tower.

Ugly concrete lookout tower

There used to be another wooden lookout tower, but I guess they though this thing looked better? I guess it’s become somewhat iconic, but it’s an eye sore, and you can’t even get a 360 view without looking at a big concrete pillar. At any rate it does offer you some pretty phenomenal views of the surrounding areas.

Me on the concrete monstrosity

While the Smoky’s did offer there fair share of panoramic vistas and scenic views little did I know that they would pale in comparison to the 469 mile stretch of driving ahead of us on the spectacular scenic byway known as the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Entry sign for the Blue Ridge Parkway

No stop signs, no semis, no traffic jams, just two lanes of traffic as far as the eye can see and more than enough opportunities to stop your car get out and view the beauty of scenic North Carolina and Virginia over and over again.

Early view from the Parkway just outside of Smoky Mountain National Park

Little did we know the Parkway is basically a fully featured National Park on it’s own right offering camping, hiking, visitor centers, over 100 scenic overlook opportunities and more to those who drive on it. Unfortunately our first day on the parkway was much the same as our experience was for most of Smoky’s. Rain. Rain rain and more rain. The mist ran so thick at some parts it was hard to see the road in front of you.

Oh boy, what a view!
Misty Mountains
Highest Point on the Parkway! View shrouded in mist.

Fortunately our luck took a turn for the better in the next few days. It also afforded us spectacular views of some of the most spectacular panoramic vistas I’ve ever seen. In particular, the view from Devil’s Courthouse was absolutely spectacular.

View of Devil’s Courthouse

Words cannot possibly describe the beauty and pictures cannot do it justice. For lack of justice here is a picture of part of the view:

Me with part of the view
Another part of the view

The view was seriously one of the top 5 most amazing pieces of scenic nature I had seen. Already having been to see some amazing places out west where the elevation was higher I was not expecting this, but it blew me away with how unreal it was.

Panorama of the View from Devil’s Courthouse

There were several other “wow” moments from the views on the Parkway as well. This is without even mentioning the phenomenal hiking throughout. There are various different places to camp alongside the road on the parkway and they also afford you the opportunity to experience a night outside with the parkway itself. The first place we camped at Mount Pisgah, the altitude (5000+) feet and winds at night made it very unique, but there were many opportunities like this all across the park to stop and see something truly special.

Panoramic View from the top of Craggy Gardens
Me with the view from Craggy Gardens
Blue Ridge Parkway continues to run through the Mountains

The beautiful points on this road are numerous, things such as Mount Mitchell (the highest point east of the Mississippi), Craggy Gardens, Devil’s Courthouse, Mount Pisgah, Linville Falls, Grandfather Mountain, Linn Cove Viaduct, Otter Peak and many many more sites all run on this stretch of road. I would recommend it to anyone with the time, even seeing it without Shenandoah or the Smoky’s would make for an incredible vacation.

View from the top of Mount Mitchell, highest point East of the Mississippi.
Another view from Mount Mitchell State Park
View of Lower Linville Falls
View of me with the Linn Cove Viaduct and Grandfather Mountain

Nicole and I even managed to go on a small canoeing trip at a lake right past Grandfather Mountain which almost ended in disaster. When my commands of “paddle out” didn’t work we careened full speed into a large rock (seemingly the only one on the shore of the lake). No worse for the damage though as we luckily didn’t tip the canoe and I only got a small bruise on my leg after being thrown from my seat into the canoe support beam.

View from the lake of Grandfather Mountain, pre rock collision

All in all the Blue Ridge Parkway was a glorious drive through the eastern scenic parts of Virginia and North Carolina. The only real issue we encountered was the fact that the Roanoke Campground had for some reason been closed and no one decided to update the park information about that. This resulted in a somewhat harried scramble to find a place to stay in Roanoke, VA. Fortunately we met a fairly eccentric man named Roberto from AirBnB who was able to provide us a place to stay so we did not have to spend a night in the Prius, cursing the National Park service.

View from the top of Otter Peak via the Sharp Top Trail. (Not pictured ravenous swarm of black biting bugs)
Rocky Overlook on the top of Otter Peak
At Roosters Roost on the Sharp Top Trail
View from the Roost

The next day after spending roughly 4 days and nights on the Blue Ridge we headed into Shenandoah National Park. It for all intents and purposes was set up very similarly to the Blue Ridge Parkway, just much much smaller. The park was 101 miles of road called Skyline Drive which passed over various scenic overlooks and places to camp and hike. Not to be outdone though, Shenandoah offered spectacular views of Northern Virginia.

National Park Sign entering Shenandoah National Park

On our way into the park we saw something we had been anxious to see our entire trip. A massive black bear sat directly on the side of the road, I tried to get a picture but the bear stumbled across the road and out into the forest before I could get a decent image. Our first night there we were able to find parking and set out to hike up to the top of Loft Mountain near our campground to view the sunset, and what a spectacular sunset it was.

Me with the setting sun from the top of Loft Mountain
Sun sets over the Mountains

The next day we decided to do some hiking and to our surprise, a lot of that hiking include large rock scrambling which is always a lot of fun.

Big Ole Rocks

The combination of climbing over big rocks and panoramic vistas made it quite different than the Blue Ridge, it was an adventure with a view!

View from the top of the rocks.
More rocks to scramble over, and mountains to view
Big ole’ rocks with a view from Hawksbill Mountain

To see one last sunset over these beautiful green mountains we headed for a scenic overlook. It was a fitting ending to our visit of this chain of National Parks that encompasses the Smoky Mountains,  the Blue Ridge Parkway and Shenandoah National Park. The beauty of these parks will forever be etched into my memory. The Great Wild East, something I had never thought much about being beautiful scenic and wild is alive and well. These monuments of the Appalachian Mountains are beautiful and offer stunning scenic visuals in this area that rival any natural beauty on Earth that I have seen before. As the sun fell below the horizon I smiled knowing that I had seen the parks exactly how I wanted to, and they were far more beautiful than I could ever have imagined.

Me watching one final sunset over the Appalachian Mountains

Start of a New Adventure Out East-Mammoth Cave and Nashville

Salutations from Nashville Tennesee!
My travel mate for the summer, Nicole (I know the blog is titled one guy and a Prius, sue me) and I have been busy! We’ve been to Copper Falls State Park and Apostle Islands National Lake Shore in Wisconsin and now Mammoth Cave in Kentucky and Nashville Tennessee.  This summer we are going to be taking my Prius and traveling from here (Nashville) up to the Great Smoky Mountains, through the Blue Ridge Parkway (and it’s 469 miles of uninterrupted Appalachian Mountain Wilderness) through to Shenandoah National Park from there we’ll be heading to Washington D.C. over the 4th of July (!!) and then up to New York City for a few days before heading to Boston and eventually up to Acadia National Park in Maine. We’ll finish up the trip going up through parts of Canada through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan making our trip one huge loop. These next few weeks will be full of camping and adventure in places I’ve never been before and I couldn’t be more excited.

Summer traveling can bring different challenges and opportunities. Camping is a great way to feel kinship with nature, especially in some of Americas most beautiful wilderness and in general is much easier in the warmth of summer. However, summer can bring sudden storms and heat which make it far harder to camp. A wet tent and inability to make a fire because everything is soaked is no fun. Traveling is also much more difficult with stifling summer temperatures, which since this past Saturday have been well into the 90’s with heat indexes reaching well over 100 degrees. We’ve also seen our fair share of rain already which can make camping far harder and frankly, much more gross.  The rain did come to our aid though on our first day of camping at Mammoth Cave however, as the heat bared down on with no relief in site, a sudden torrential downpour that soaked us giving us some nice relief from the stifling temperatures.

Mammoth Cave itself was a unique experience, after 8 hours of driving to Southern Kentucky and sleeping in a rest stop sitting up in my Prius we arrived and made camp that morning.  We took a 2 hour tour of the cave and saw just a glimpse of what is a truly spectacular cave system unlike any other place in the world.  The worst part about the tour was something I fear will be an all too common theme with summer traveling–crowds. Too many people made for a bit of an unruly crowd. Some on the tour were not able to appreciate the beauty of the cave, blaring loud music and asking stupid, obtuse questions to the guide, you can tell some people would rather not be there. Time will tell if this becomes an all too frequent problem. Outside of the humongous 120 person tour group the park was relatively sparsely populated. The above ground hiking trails were decidedly barren and outside of a lost camera we found (and took to the lost and found at the visitor center) few traces of other people were seen. I guess that gives you a pretty good clue as to what to do to avoid the crowds at parks–go on a hike.  Going off the beaten path and doing something seen as inconvenient is a great way to get some of the nature to yourself.

Camping was also easy to set up even though they were fully booked online as they had two camp site loops open to “walk in” (for lack of a better term) campers only.  If not for several heavy downpours which soaked everything not under a tarp (unfortunately including our fire ring and one of our camping chairs) it would’ve been perfect. Even with the rain we made due, I “went to town” on several downed logs around the site with an axe and made us a nice pile of firewood which we were able to burn through the night and cook some delicious improptu camp food on.

After another torrential downpour in the night which made for a soggy morning packing up our tent and belongings we headed down to Nashville, Tennessee. We stayed with an Air BnB host, David, who had an ADORABLE dog.

Our first night in the city was a blast, we went out for delicious spicy chicken at Hattie B’s– a bumpin’ chicken joint with a line far out the door on a Monday night!  I got the spiciest level of chicken, called “Shut the Cluck Up” because for some reason I always feel the need automatically try the hottest option of food whenever I go somewhere new.

Despite several people in line acting shocked that someone would eat something so spicy, I found it to be quite delicious and with a nice building heat, certainly something not unbearable for someone who has a decent spice tolerance. After our delicious chicken excursion we decided to see some live music, as we were in Nashville, the Music Capital of the World (or something like that). Since neither Nicole nor myself fancy Country Music in any way shape or form we decided to check out a Jazz Club in the Famous Printer’s Alley after wandering around the streets of downtown Nashville.

We stopped at a bar named “Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar” on the recommendation from several of Nicole’s friends and we were not disappointed. Shortly after arriving we were greeted with excellent soulful jazz music from the like’s of the Andy T and Nick Nixon’s Band ( Monday night also presented another unique experience as it was open mic night. We were able to see several excellent live music acts while enjoying a few Nashville area beers. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love music and beer, so I would highly recommend this bar to anyone in the Nashville area.

The next day brought us the most glorious of all days, Taco Tuesday.  What better way to celebrate Taco Tuesday in Nashville than to enjoy some delicious local tacos? Having decided what we were already going to do for lunch that day we headed into the city without much of a goal other than acquiring tacos. Nicole, loving Farmer’s Markets as much as she does, suggested we head to the downtown Farmer’s Market to check it out. When we arrived we soon found out it was probably a better thing to visit on the weekend, and it was mostly about lunch food during the week so we decided to wander around the park outside of the market in search of something to do. At this point out goal soon came to seek refuge from the 109+ degree heat Nashville was experiencing that day. Since the Bicentennial Park we were at was just a stones throw from the State Capital we decided to stop by and see what we could see there. We were pleasantly surprised by the fact that there were free tours. After ditching Nicole’s pocket knife we were able to take a fun informative tour of the state’s Capital Building where we learned not only about the history of the state, but that two dead guys are buried with the walls of the building. Weird.

After our trip the Capitol, it was time for what everyone has been waiting for all along. Taco Tuesday, we headed for Mas Tacos Por Favor in East Nashville which has been recommended to us by several of Nicole’s friends (a common theme here). We each got three delicious tacos, which made for a very satisfying Taco Tuesday. Divey taco places are the best!

After our quest for tacos had finally been fulfilled and still in need of something to do we decided to head to the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, a MASSIVE hotel and convention center complex right outside of the city. The inside of the building features a massive indoor air conditioned (!!) arboretum which we were able to meander around for several hours and escape the blistering Nashville heat.

After several hours of wandering around the extravagance of the Opryland Convention Center, we decided to head to the East side of Nashville for something so perfect on a hot day, Ice Cream. Our final stop in Nashville was to the delicious ice cream shop called Jeni’s. Though a bit pricey (6.56 with tax for three half scoops) it was a wonderfully creamy and cool way to end our time in Nashville.
Well that’s all for this blog post, I hope to be writing more of these in the coming weeks about the rest of our stops on our trip but it’s all very dependent on whether we get internet connection or not. Until next time, happy travels/summer everyone!

One Guy and a Prius

Hello there everyone. Here is my blog where I’ll be writing about my travels. Currently I’m staying at my house in West Allis as I’m home for a few weeks before I go off and travel again. During my spare time I’ve been working out a lot, seeing friends, fixing up my car and driving for Lyft. It’s a bit of an interesting things driving around a Lyft, most of my fondest memories of my first trip were the people I met along the way. Everyone asks me if I felt lonely while I was on the road by myself and my answer is always the same “You know everyone asks me that and no I wasn’t, I met a lot of great people on the road and enjoyed my solitude when I had it. Some of the pictures I took on my trip were so incredible I can hardly believe I was really at these places and how magical it all was. Connecting with nature on my own and in the companies of veritable strangers was a great liberating experience. When your existence is derived on your ability to get supplies to live and thrive not by a bank account or some job, you are just surviving. It inspired me to do days long hiking soon and find myself completely surrounded and immersed in the wild world. I’ll hopefully be updating stories and people I’ve met on my travels along with pictures on here as well. I’ve thought about tracking my exact location throughout the trip with costs as well. I’d like to start a theme about these to help other people see how easy traveling affordably can be.