Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Looking Back

Now that we are back home from our month long trip in the van we have A LOT of time to think back on our journey.

•First, it is important to state that we did not bring a GPS on this trip. We used a National Geographic Adventure Edition Road Atlas. Yes, Mike has a GPS on his phone. We did use it to find odd things like a laundromat or local Planet Fitness. We used the atlas for 99.9% of navigation and planning. This was one of the best choices we made.

•I realized in the final week of our trip that I don’t need anything that is in my apartment right now. I can live without it all, and have done so for a month.

•The best souvenirs are photos and memories (and stickers, according to Mike). With that said, you don’t need to photograph everything. I took a lot of photos in some places, and never took my camera out of my bag at others. The only souvenirs I bought were small thank-you gifts for those who helped me while I was away and small things for the kids to hopefully inspire them to explore when they can. I also got myself a t-shirt and earrings.

•As much as I love food, you don’t need much to live on. A good chunk of our meals were oatmeal, eggs, PB&J, or Ramen Noodles. With that said, I can’t tell you how awesome a salad bar sounds right now.

•It is so important to find at least one person whose adventurous spirit overlaps with yours. If I didn’t have Mike I don’t know whether I would have taken this trip. We are both not satisfied with the standard timeline and guidelines for life. We have dreams of our own that involve being free to roam and explore. The choices we make every day, both big and small, are made with this in mind. We were able to fulfill a dream together, and it has been a beautiful experience. We are closer now than we have ever been, and *insert mushy line here*!

•You should always do the things you’ll later on wish you had done. Conversely, don’t do things you’ll later on wish you hadn’t done. Some have heard me say this before. It is something I have given as advice, and something I use to help myself make decisions, like my decision to pull the trigger on this trip. You will have very little, if any, regret in life if you follow this.

-13° In a Coleman Sleeping Bag

Now that we are heading back towards home we only have one stop planned: the ultra-liberal Boulder, CO. As soon as the day turned to night on our drive through Colorado the snow began to fall. The roads were steep ad treacherous as the roads passed over the summits of mountains up to 10,000 feet above sea level and 18 wheelers pulled over to honor tire chain laws. DJs on the radio were reporting temperatures in the single digits for the evening. I stopped for gas and came out of the gas station to find Mike in the driver’s seat… what a relief! We spent a good amount of time on the highway still and eventually had to take a less maintained road north towards Boulder. This road was barely plowed, hilly, and winding. We took it super slow and things were fine until we hit ice on a sharp right bend. Mike stayed calm, but couldn’t keep the van straight. We spun, Mike corrected, we slid into a guardrail, Mike corrected, we slid off the road, Mike corrected.
The damage isn't bad, thank God!
We were in the middle of nowhere in a bitter cold snowstorm in Colorado. We had to keep driving. Luckily we had no more incidents, but as soon as we saw a town we decided to get off the road 30 miles from Boulder before our luck ran out. There is so much more at stake when your vehicle is your home and you have no other way to cover the 2,000+ miles home. We parked outside of a Best Western, bundled up, and went to bed. We cuddled all night for warmth and kept our heads under our bedding, but it wasn’t enough. We were COLD!! We stayed huddled in our literally frozen bed until the coffee shop across the street opened at 7am. In the coffee shop a pot belly stove was roaring and the shop was super toasty. While warming up by the stove we heard the girl at the counter tell another customer that it was -13° when she got to work that morning. -13°!!!!! That means it was even colder than that at the coldest time of the night. We had a good laugh over sleeping OUTSIDE of a hotel in -13° weather and decided we would stay IN a hotel that night.

We drove the rest of the way to Boulder that morning, did some shopping, and spent a couple hours at a local climbing gym called The Spot. We decided we really liked Boulder and would like to go back during positive temperatures to enjoy the vibe and the mountains there.


It’s Tuesday, November 11th and we have rolled into our last national park for this trip, Arches National Park in Utah.

There is no overnight parking at Arches unless you have a backcountry permit, so we got ourselves a permit with no intention of stepping foot in the backcountry of the desert where there are no trails or water sources. Instead we hiked/ran a trail out to the famous Delicate Arch for sunset.

Later we hit a cool outdoor store and restaurant in Moab and slept at the trailhead where we would have hiked into the backcountry. The next day we took the drive through the park to Devil’s Garden Trailhead to checkout a handful more of the couple thousand arches that can be found at this park.
Landscape Arch
The trail to these arches was mostly paved until you reach the part of the loop that is called a “primitive” trail which is apparently code for “unpaved”. It was an oddly cold and terribly windy day, but there was much solitude on the primitive trail and was a nice end to our 2014 tour of America’s national parks. Time to start heading east L.

Fees Waived with Annual Pass:

Carlsbad Caverns National Park $20
Petrified Forest National Park $10
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument $10
Wupatki National Monument $10
Grand Canyon National Park $25
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area $15
Zion National Park $25

Arches National Park $10


On November 10th we hit Zion National Park in Utah. This was another park that we entered after dark so we could not see its beauty until the next day. We talked with a ranger at the Visitor Center to get information on trails and bouldering. We decided to do the strenuous and treacherous Angel’s Landing hike followed by Emerald Pools. The landscape at Zion was interesting with both cactus and tall leafy trees. The mountains were towering, rocky, and seemed impossible to summit.

Angel’s Landing was a paved and steady trail with many switchbacks at first, then the luxurious flat trail disappears into a very steep and exposed rocky trail with heavy chains installed to aid hikers to the crowded summit.

While we were enjoying the views Mike made friends with a hyperactive Chipmunk who was difficult to photograph, but I got him!

Our afternoon hike to Emerald Pools was a disappointing sandy hike to some muddy pools. We realized it was not the hike we thought it was. Oh well! The hike was a short 3 miles so we were back at the van early enough to get in some roadside bouldering.

Fees Waived with Annual Pass:

Carlsbad Caverns National Park $20
Petrified Forest National Park $10
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument $10
Wupatki National Monument $10
Grand Canyon National Park $25
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area $15

Zion National Park $25

Monday, November 17, 2014

What happens in Vegas...

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, which is great because we hated it. No, we did not lose a lot of money. We felt like the city was a dirty money pit with people constantly bothering you about what your evening plans are. There were even middle-aged women flicking porno ads at us. NEVER going back.
pretending to have fun
Luckily, just outside Vegas is Red Rock Canyon with some prime sandstone climbing. We spent 2 days climbing, including a multipitch trad climb with a super sketchy walk off.

Fees Waived with Annual Pass:

Carlsbad Caverns National Park $20
Petrified Forest National Park $10
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument $10
Wupatki National Monument $10
Grand Canyon National Park $25
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area $15

The Grand Canyon!!!!!

We finished at the Wapatki ruins at sunset and continued straight on through Navaho Nation Indian Reservation into Grand Canyon National Park!! It was completely dark when we drove through the gates so I hadn’t got a glimpse of the canyon yet. We found a place to park, cooked some Ramen Noodles and went to bed. It turned out we were in for our coldest night yet in the van. The rim of the Grand Canyon is at over 7,000 feet above sea level and we woke up in the morning to find our memory foam pillows and mattresses had actually frozen solid and there was ice on all of the windows. Awful!! Mike is the greatest man I could ask for and got out of bed to make us breakfast then we ventured to find the backcountry office. The Grand Canyon is rumored to be very difficult to get permits for. Luckily, while we were not in the off-season, we were not in the busy season and got the permits we wanted with no problems at all. We were scheduled to take a 3 day and 2 night backcountry hike starting the following morning. We spent our first day at the canyon packing our bags and checking out some viewpoints.

The enormity of the Grand Canyon is incomprehensible. It is so large and complex that it actually looks fake. I don’t really even know how to describe it!
makes no sense
We were very impressed with the park itself. It has a full grocery store with gear shop, restaurants, and lodging to appeal to all types of travelers. The best part is all of the prices are very reasonable, and entry into the park gets you free shuttle bus service to viewpoints and trailheads. While making our way around the park we saw several elk AND it started snowing.

It was an awesome but strange day!
We were up early the following day to catch the shuttle bus from the backcountry office to the South Kaibab trailhead to start our adventure, but not before I weighed my pack… 27 lbs! It was pretty chilly for most of the 9+ miles, about a mile descent into the canyon, to the Bright Angel Campground where we were spending our first night.
down jackets in the desert
We passed several mule parties on our way down the popular trail. We admired their strength, but felt sadness for their existence.

The views constantly changed as we made our way towards the Colorado River, and thankfully the temperature increased to about 70 in the sun.

The Bright Angel Campground was shockingly modern with running water, flush toilets, soap and mirrors in the bathroom. The sites lined a Colorado River tributary and were very well maintained.

We got to camp earlier than expected so we soaked up the sun barefoot at the Colorado where we spotted a fox in the brush. The rest of the evening was uneventful at the campground so we turned in early to wake up just as late as we usually do haha!
The second day of our trek took us on the Bright Angel Trail 4+ miles, about a 1,000 foot ascent, to the Indian Garden Campground where we would spend our second night. The miles passed quickly and we found ourselves at camp by noon. We relaxed for a short while to eat lunch, replace fluids, and set up our tent on the site we chose.

We set out that afternoon for a 3 mile round-trip day hike to Plateau Point. This hike was a shadeless desert hike to some awesome panoramic views from the inside of the canyon.

We spent about an hour there soaking up the landscape and talking with a British couple about travel. Back at the campsite we passed the evening playing cards and perusing books provided by the ranger, cooked more Ramen Noodles and were asleep early again.
Sunset at Indian Garden Campground
We got an earlier start than usual on our 3rd and final day in the canyon. We had 4,000 feet of elevation to gain over 4+ miles that day. Our earlier start meant less humans were on the trail that morning before us and wildlife lingered. We saw a single gaunt looking mule deer, family of deer,

and a ram.

The hike out, while relatively short, felt difficult. I was drained, but I made it!

Fees Waived with Annual Pass:

Carlsbad Caverns National Park $20
Petrified Forest National Park $10
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument $10
Wapatki National Monument $10

Grand Canyon National Park $25

Not Too Late

We had loosely planned to be at the Grand Canyon by November 1st, and it was already November 2nd so we decided to make the most of the day and hit Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and Wupatki National Monument after our half day at Petrified Forest. Sunset Crater is a perfect example of why the Department of the Interior does not allow people to enter all parts of national lands. Decades ago in the 60’s people were encouraged to climb Sunset Crater and were even given certificates of completion for doing so. What no one knew at that time was that the dormant volcano’s sandy surface was delicate and impressionable. The result is waist deep trenches still visible today marking the paths taken to summit the volcano in the 60’s. Even though Sunset Crater is permanently scarred, I still believe it should be open to visitors who wish to experience the volcano up close, perhaps by a limited number of permits. It is currently closed.

When you travel through Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument you eventually reach Wupatki National Monument.

This monument is a series of pueblos once inhabited by Native Americans hundreds of years ago.

Although these particular structures have been long since abandoned Native American families still lived on and worked the land until the mid to late 20th century until they were eventually all run off the land. Some were even still living on the land until the 90’s. Inside the visitor center the history between the Natives and the US government is documented and displayed. One Native is quoted for still wanting to go back to her family’s land. I believe this information is provided to visitors for transparency, but what I don’t understand is why this land is not given back. It seems as though it is not too late.

Fees Waived with Annual Pass:

Carlsbad Caverns National Park $20
Petrified Forest National Park $10
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument $10

Wupatki National Monument $10

Petrified Forest

We drove late into the night after Carlsbad Caverns through New Mexico to cover as much ground as possible towards Arizona. Our first stop in Arizona was the Petrified Forest, but it had been a while since we’d hit the shower so we decided to find a campground, clean up, and relax for the day. I was excited to be able to actually set up a campsite outside of the van and spread out. Little did I know that much of Arizona is wide open, treeless, and incredibly windy. We did get to relax at our campsite and had showers, but the relentless wind kept us holed up in the van. Two out of three ain’t bad, right?
The following day we hit the Petrified Forest, free to us with our Annual Pass, to explore the mummified trees from millions of years ago. The large logs and fragments were surprisingly colorful and plentiful.

There were fields full of these rock-like artifacts, and even more being uncovered by the whipping wind.

We were also surprised to find that one of the walking paths in the park lead through scenic badlands.

I always thought badlands were a specific area in the Dakotas(?), but they are actually a type of land formation that can be found all around the world. There are also many other petrified forests around the world.
Driving through this beautiful National Park made me appreciate the park system, but seeing all of the areas of the park that I could not enter and explore frustrated me. This was a feeling I got at Mammoth Caves as well. There are hundreds, and possibly thousands, of acres of National Park and National Forest land that is preserved yet not accessible for seemingly no reason. Perhaps I’m more curious than most who simply drive through our preserved lands and take photos from the paved overlooks. To each their own, but I know there is so much more to see and experience as your feet get closer to America’s breathtaking landscapes.

Fees Waived with Annual Pass:

Carlsbad Caverns National Park $20
Petrified Forest National Park $10

That's a Great Price!!

It’s Halloween and we are making our way out of the Texas oilfields to New Mexico. It seemed like as soon as we hit the state border the oilfields ended. It was just as desolate and wide, though. One thing that’s strange, and for me unsettling, is how vastly open it is out west. It is so flat and devoid of any plant life taller than a couple feet that you can see across the land as far as your eyes will allow. The sunset isn’t restricted to one cardinal direction on the horizon, but it is panoramic as there are no land formations, trees, or buildings to interrupt your view of the sky’s colors. I’ve never felt so small!!
Our only planned stop in New Mexico was Carlsbad Caverns National Park. It was much like Mammoth Caves (they are the same rock and formed the same way), but Carlsbad Caverns were very large underground spectacles and Mammoth Caves are hundreds of miles of mostly narrow caves.

We got to the caverns in the late afternoon so we only had time for one self-guided tour, but one awesome thing we learned about was The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass. This pass, also known as the Annual Pass, gets you into all national parks at no charge and gets you discounts at other properties under the Department of the Interior for one year. The pass costs $80 and Mike and I can be “co-owners”. Now we own 2 things together, which is very cute. Carlsbad Caverns alone would have been $20 for us to enter, and once we hit the national parks in Utah we are sure to exceed the $80 cost of the pass.
We decided we didn’t want to stick around until the next day to do the other tour since we had already seen Mammoth Caves so we got back into the van to drive through New Mexico into Arizona. On our drive out of the park through the mountains afforded us some glimpses of mountain goats!

Fees Waived with Annual Pass:

Carlsbad Caverns National Park $20

Lush Green Desert??

We headed southwest from the Smokies toward central Texas. Let me tell you what a long terrible drive that was! Texas is, by far, the worst state to drive through. Before we hit Austin we drove by miles and miles and MILES of ranches. The first dozen were cool to see how life is in Texas, then the rest was just dragging and painful. We hit Austin at about 6pm on October 29th. It was a cool city with interesting stores and really strong Long Island Iced Teas. We walked through the city a bit and had dinner then took the short drive west to Milton Reimer’s Ranch State Park in Dripping Springs. The park was beautiful and well maintained with new facilities. What we went there for was some climbing. There is a lush green canyon in the desert park full of climbs. We found our way in and walked through flower bushes completely full of bees to find some short but fun limestone climbing. We weren’t completely thrilled with the climbing, but the climbing canyon was an awesome place to observe nature. Mike’s favorite was a black squirrel.
We also saw huge butterflies, geckos, and many kinds of birds in the pond outside of the canyon. On our trek out we came across a cave that I wanted to explore. Unfortunately it was only about 30 feet deep.

After we left the canyon we headed to Hamilton Pool, which was on the other side of the park.

We were overheated from climbing and hiking around in the desert so the frigid spring water felt amazing! At the pool we also saw a water snake. I forget what kind it was, but the ranger said it was harmless.
That night we stopped to do laundry and finish the recharge process with Ramen and Gatorade then set out for another full day of awful Texas driving, but this time through oilfields literally as far as the eye can see. We did not see any animals in those hundreds of miles, and we wondered what the land would be good for after it has been fully exploited. The speed limit was 75 there on a single lane highway without a median. I found it pretty terrifying to drive there with 18 wheelers tailgating you for going 73 mph.

Texas and Milton Reimer’s Ranch State Park were cool, but I don’t see us going back there.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Not Weighed Down

As soon as we got off the Ramsey Cascade trail on Monday we drove straight over to Newfound Gap to pack up for Icewater Springs Shelter and Charlie’s Bunion.  There was no time to waste, we were burning daylight! We had 2.7 miles to hike to the shelter, it was 3:45pm, and a casual/good hiking pace is one mile per hour. Luckily our muscles were primed from all of our other hikes we had taken so far on this road trip, and we made it to the shelter in 1.5 hours. We ended up having plenty of time to cook, collect firewood, and meet our shelter-mates all before the sunset.
Our new friends were 4 guys from Michigan who were on a guyz hiking trip. A couple of them had been to the Smokies before, and a couple were new to backpacking. They were quite a trip! While Mike and I cooked and split a Mountain House meal, these guys were cooking steaks and potatoes and sipping drinks! They were going all out, and it was awesome. I still would prefer Ramen Noodles and freeze dried meals to carrying the weight they had on their backs, but the steaks were proof you don’t have to sacrifice everything for the sake of pack weight as long as you’re willing to carry it. Their heavy blocks of cheese and fudge told me they were willing.

Mike and I and the Michigan boyz hung out and talked until about 8 or 9 when an Appalachian Trail section hiker from the Carolinas going by the name of Easy E came strolling in. He was an easy going and polite guy who was on the trail to meditate over some personal life changes. The fellas from Michigan shared a steak and beer with him, and we all listened and asked questions about his travels.

We were just getting ready to settle into our sleeping bags when an odd group of four, including a girl who seemed about 11 years old, walked into the shelter. One guy had a red fanny pack and sat there eating Cheetos without speaking while an older man smoked cigarettes and told stories about being a truck driver and bears. He seemed to like being the center of the conversation, which was good because we were all dozing off as he babbled about college football. No one saw them go to bed or leave, but in the morning there was no trace of them.

Mike and I, the Michigan boys, and Easy E made up stories about what happened with the odd group while we made breakfast and cleaned up on Tuesday morning. Mike and I were packed up first so we said our goodbyes and headed to Charlie’s Bunion without our packs since we had to pass back through the shelter on the way to the van. The view from the bunion was panoramic as promised and was a perfect way to bid the Smokies adieu.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Ramsey Cascades

So in the morning of Monday the 27th of October we set out to see Ramsey Cascade. We knew it was a less traveled waterfall trail so treaded lightly to avoid warning animals of our presence. We weren’t on the trail more than 30 minutes when we heard a rustling off the trail to our right. We turned in time to see a black bear’s furry bum towards us wiggling as he ran away from us. It was so cool!!! We kept our voices and steps as quiet as we could for the rest of our hike, but we didn’t see any more bears. The trail did afford us some other sights, though. The trail itself had character.

A relatively large portion of the trees in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are original growth, meaning the trees you see are not regrown after fire, logging, etc. Because of this you can see some enormous trees.

We reached the waterfall after a couple hours and we were glad we took the ranger’s advice.

The waterfall was very tall, very beautiful, and very slippery. While Mike was setting up a timed shot for us on his camera I slipped on a rock and landed on my butt. Luckily he didn’t get a shot of my spill! An older couple showed up at the cascades after we got our photo so they missed my show too.

On the way back down the trail there were a lot more hikers, AND we saw an awesome tree climbing snake. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Something's in the Woods!!

The day after we completed Clingman’s Dome we took a rest day to walk around the tourist city Gatlinburg, get some backcountry permits, and veg out at the Sugarland Visitor Center. I checked out the park gift shop and got a good chuckle out if the description on the back of a Clingman’s Dome postcard. It said its height and the fact that it’s the highest point on the Appalachian Trail, and then it said it’s “a strenuous ½ mile walk from the parking lot”. I’m sure the drive is real tough too!
The ranger in the backcountry office suggested we hike out to Ramsey Cascade.  It’s an 8 mile round-trip trail to the best waterfall in the most visited National Park in America, according to our backcountry friend, so decided to go with his suggestion on top of hiking the Appalachian Trail in the opposite direction from Newfound Gap to Charlie’s Bunion via Icewater Springs Shelter. To cover the miles we planned to do the cascades first then do the 2.7 miles to the shelter on Monday, make the 1.7 mile walk to Charlie’s Bunion on Tuesday morning, then hike on out to the van and kiss the Smokes goodbye.

After the vehicle traffic cleared on Sunday afternoon we left our leisure time behind at the visitor center to make camp for the evening at the Ramsey Cascade trailhead. The unpaved road to the trailhead was narrow but pretty with views of the lower falls and wooden bridges. The parking area at the end of the road was empty save for a woman coming off the trail taking selfies with her smartphone clipped at the end of a stick. It was hilarious because a.) she owns a selfie stick b.) is not 13 years old and c.) she had someone with her who I presume could take photos of her without using a 3 foot long pole.

After the evening’s entertainment Mike cooked us some Ramen Noodles with canned chicken with green beans on the side, complimented by brewskies, and served riverside on a TV tray table outside the back of our van. <3

After dinner we turned in to finish watching Inconvenient Truth with the always lovable Al Gore and then somehow became paranoid of all sounds again. Perhaps Al left us feeling too unsettled with the world. We heard things tapping the van, a couple steps outside, and I felt panic as I realized I hadn’t relieved myself for the night. A person can’t go to bed with a full bladder! I kept looking out the van windows into the pitch darkness to look for lights and movement, and as my eyes adjusted to the lack of light I realized that if someone was out there they may not have a light since their eyes will adjust just like mine did. I told Mike my thoughts and we decided I would pee outside the door with all lights on and Mike keeping watch. I made it back to the van without incident, of course, because no one is lurking around this trailhead that is 5 miles off the main road and that is rarely camped at. There are plenty of better places to find a murder victim. None of this rational thought stopped us from freaking out when a truck came down to turn around in the lot which is the only open area along the narrow road, or when Mike got up in the night to pee then ran back into the van screaming like a girl “something’s out there!! I heard foot steps in the woods!!”

I guess the entertainment didn’t end when the selfie stick rolled out.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

MISSION: Ninja Camp

We left Mammoth Cave National Park on Friday, October 24th heading southeast to The Great Smoky Mountains! It was a pretty long drive, but it had some unexpected sights! Apparently on the way to the Smokies are 2 towns with (what I imagine to be) Vegas-style life and lights. We drove straight through Dollywood, then Gatlinburg, TN. Before those two towns, though, I must mention, we had some amazing BBQ at Parton’s Smoking Butz BBQ. I had no idea what town we were in, but what I do know is that I wanted a burger that had more beef than bread and that’s exactly what I got (plus bacon). Mike had some finger lickin’ ribs. We were both very happy.

Back to Gatlinburg… this town is so built up with Ripley’s, restaurants, shopping etc. and it goes right up to the very edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Once in the park we drove about 15 miles in to Newfound Gap parking lot and made camp in our van for the night. We were woken early by dozens of cars driving into park. We soon learned that Newfound Gap is a very popular spot to watch the sun rise in the Smokies. People were looking in the van and we had to close all of the curtains. Could they not tell that we were trying to sleep?? Puhlease.

We had decided that we would take the round-trip 15.8 mile journey along the Appalachian Trail to Clingman’s Dome.

The trail was very well maintained and over the long miles we only saw 8 people until we ran into a large group about a quarter mile from the end of our hike concerned about altitude sickness at 5,000 feet. I think someone was nervous! On top of Clingman’s Dome at 6,643 feet was much less lonesome than the trail, and not in a good way. There is a paved road to the summit so there were dozens of tourists taking photos. The view from the summit was layered with mountains and fog and was quite a feast for our eyes.

The mileage took all it could from me, but I made it back to the car to complete my longest day hike yet!

We were beat when we got to the car and wanted food and a shower real bad. We got a list of campgrounds that let people shower for a fee, but they were pricey so we hit the grocery store to resupply and started driving out of Gatlinburg to find a place to park for the night. I came across a campground that wasn’t on the shower list so I figured we would see what their rates were. No one was in the pitch black office and the gate was open so Mike suggested we ninja camp. I selected a site, we cooked and ate, then set the alarm for early so we could roll out before the office opened in the morning. The campground was still super quiet at 6am so I had myself a leisurely 10 minute shower for 50 cents and drove out the gates with Mike still asleep in the back. Ninja camp mission: COMPLETE.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Sal Hollow

Before we took our cave tour at Mammoth Cave National Park we noticed a station for backcountry permits, and figured why the heck not? We got a trail map and chose a back country campsite and that was that! Little did we know we were in for a strange adventure.

Our tour ended after 4pm so we decided we’d sleep in the van at the trailhead and hike out the next morning. As we we’re driving through the park checking out wild deer grazing on the side of the road, unfazed by cars and humans, and just taking in the views of the dense wooded land suddenly the road ended going right into a river! I slammed on the breaks and Mike realized there was a small ferry taking cars across. Somehow this was very exciting, and also baffling that they didn’t just build a bridge instead of manning a ferry for like 15 hours a day. I’ll admit I don’t know a thing about bridge construction.

We made it to our trail head parking lot to find this area is heavily used for horseback riding. There were piles of evidence everywhere. We slept well in the van that night and got a late start the next day since it was only 5 miles to our campsite, Sal Hollow. We started in and found out that this park is possibly the flattest National Park in America. It was a nice walk with sights of more deer and forest landscapes, and the sound of acorns falling from trees frequently.

We made it to our campsite in 2 hours which included a detour to the Miles-Davis cemetery, a centuries old graveyard. We thought the graveyard was pretty cool at first because of its age and remoteness, then realized it was full of the resting places for many children and babies of the Miles-Davis family. I knew that infant/child mortality at the time was nothing like it is now, but this family seemed to have suffered a lot if loss.

We made it to Sal Hollow at around noon and wondered what on earth we were going to do for all of the hours until dark. We decided to make an epic campfire starting with magnesium and flint, so we started gathering wood. It is really hard (or we don’t know what we’re doing) to start a fire with magnesium and flint so we eventually gave up and used a lighter. We’ve lit a fire that way before and it literally took hours haha!

Later on we went to collect more wood and Mike came across a bear’s scratching tree about 100 yards from our camp.

This was not a good sign! By this time it was too late to hike out and changing campsites wasn’t an option so we ate dinner, strung up our food in a tree and went to bed when all of our wood was burned. As soon as we got into our sleeping bags panic set in. Suddenly the dropping acorns sounded like footprints, and Mike swore he heard the sound of scratching on that tree he saw. We were frozen. My heart was beating hard and my mind was racing. It’s dangerous to hike at night, but surely we couldn’t stay there! After Mike unfroze he explained that he has never been more aware of his place on the food chain.

Eventually Mike fell asleep and I was still panicking. I decided we couldn’t leave and I couldn’t stay sane laying there terrified all night so I assumed the fetal position, stuck my finger in my war that wasn’t muffled by my jacket I was using for a pillow and fell asleep too. I slept better than I expected even though I woke every hour or two to check the time and to hear a pack of coyotes howling and barking 3 times. Overall the park got quieter as the night passed. When day broke we packed up and had breakfast quickly then took the same 5 mile route out instead of the 7 mile route we had originally planned. 5 miles of super flat trail is plenty!
The creepy hike out.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Other Side of Kentucky

After our couple days of climbing we headed west in Kentucky to Mammoth Cave National Park. The route there took us through many beautiful farm towns and the city of Lexington. It was interesting to see the difference between farms in eastern vs. western Kentucky. What we saw in the eastern part of the state was the “poor American farmer”, and the farms in the western counties were beautiful sweeping fields of green, hundreds of cows and horses, and a very large and beautiful home overlooking it all. Does one farmer work harder than another?

Not only did we notice the farms, but we also took a road that overlooked what seemed to be a canyon or gorge. There was nowhere to pull over to check it out on the narrow road, but it seemed like a place that could be explored for weeks. I’ll have to look up the name of this area.
Lexington was a very nice city as well. Very clean, and there seemed to be a lot to do there. We didn’t stop even though all of the bourbon distilleries wanted us to.

After a tour of Kentucky we finally made it to Mammoth Cave National Park. It’s a very large park with very nice visitors’ center. We signed up for a short tour of the limestone caves. What I really wanted to do was the 4 hour full value tour, but to Mike’s relief the tour was only offered on the weekend and it was Wednesday. Caves and what can be lurrking and crawling in them are one thing that creep him out. The one we did was called Domes and Dripstones and showed off some tall openings in the cave and stalactites and stalagmites.
(no flash photography allowed)
We also saw a fossil and creepy huge cave spiders. I really wanted to explore more, but they don’t just let you go in there and start spelunking whenever you feel like it. We did learn a lot though, and the next time I’m in western Kentucky I’ll be stopping in for my 4 hour expedition!