Big Bend Adventure

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When I think of adventure, I think of Big Bend National Park.

Nestled in the “big bend” on Texas’s southwest border with Mexico, Big Bend is the 7th largest national park in the contiguous United States. Despite its size, its remote location (4.5 hour drive from El Paso, 7.5 hour drive from Dallas) helps it remain a well kept secret. It sees less than 4% of the annual visitors that Great Smoky Mountains National Park does, and ranks only 40th in visitors among National Parks in the contiguous US. In other words: It’s a hidden gem.

Our visit in early 2018 was marked by a peaceful, quiet, lonely feel. Like we had finally found wilderness. Isolated enough to feel free and away-from-it-all, but developed enough to feel safe.

Even more than the feeling of escape it offers, we were struck by Big Bend’s variety and other-worldliness. 7000+ foot mountains, strong cold wind blowing around each corner. A hot, dry desert floor only a quick drive away. Animals everywhere: Coyotes and road runners, deer, birds. The one we didn’t get to see, despite warnings posted everywhere, was the mountain lion.

The views from the top of the Chisos Mountains were just magical. “Other-worldly” is really the only term I’ve found to do it justice. Especially from the mountain range’s “South Rim.” (Don’t miss the South Rim pictures/videos, about halfway through the pictures below!)

Big Bend is also known for its completely dark night skies. You can see the stars and the Milky Way like almost nowhere else. And OMG the sunsets!!!

We went in late February, and it was absolutely perfect weather. If you visit, make sure to read up on the difference between Big Bend in the winter and summer. It gets hot.

We flew through Dallas and rented a small SUV with unlimited miles (thank you Enterprise!) for the 7+ hour drive. We ended up loving the drive across Texas. Long, quiet, and very unique. High winds on the roads and what seemed like dare-devilish semi-truck driving led to a few close calls and left a confusingly high number of over-turned semis along the highway (. . . to any locals–what is that??? . . .). We stayed at a beautiful Airbnb in the awesome little city of Alpine, giving us an hour’s drive into and out of the park each morning, along big mountains and under big sky.

We spent two days at Big Bend National Park. The first day, we explored the mountains with a roughly 17-mile hike (almost 8 hours), ascending over 3000 feet. We hiked up to Emory Peak (the highest point in Big Bend at over 7800 feet), down through Boot Canyon, and then up around the South Rim with its jaw-dropping views.

The second day we drove the long Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive to the park’s southwest corner, stopping at the Mule Ears and the Lower Burro Mesa Pour-Off for some quick desert walks, and arriving at the end of the road for a hike along the Rio Grande through the Santa Elena Canyon. We finished the day with a long drive toward some breath-taking mountain ranges on the park’s southeast corner at the Rio Grande Village.

We left feeling like we could have spent another two weeks there and still not explored everywhere we wanted to explore.

Guys, if you’re looking for adventure, make the flight and/or the drive to Big Bend. You will NOT be disappointed!

Below are some highlights and pictures to share with you!

On a personal note–friends, nature is inspiring and healing and so happy. And usually we can go explore. Today, all across the world, people are experiencing some version of “shelter-in-place,” or quarantine. Nobody is going on adventurous travels, as we join in solidarity to make it through the Coronavirus Pandemic as safely as we all can. But at some point, all this is going to be over. And beautiful nature will be there for us on the other side. And the great outdoors are not hard to get to. Take a hiking adventure as soon as you can! If you need any tips, let me know! In the meantime, I hope these pictures offer you some inspiration, healing, and happy while you’re being safe at home. :)20180225_053025

(Shout out to Foundation Training for keeping us feeling good and strong on our long adventures with long flights and long drives!)

(And shout out to Lyssi, the greatest adventure buddy I could ever ask for!)

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Road into the Chisos Basin, surrounded by the Chisos Mountains
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Kicking off our ~17 mile/8 hour hike to to Emory Peak, through Boot Canyon, and around the South Rim
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The first few minutes of hiking from the Chisos Basin Visitor Center
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Casa Grande peak from the Chisos Basin
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The Pinnacles
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Hiking through high winds and crazy terrain toward Emory Peak
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Significant rock scramble up a rock wall to the top of Emory Peak
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Dizzying views from the rocky precipices of Emory Peak–not for the faint of heart
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Emory Peak, 7825 feet
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View from Emory Peak with Casa Grande on the left, Lost Mine Peak in the middle behind Toll Mountain, and Crown Mountain on the right
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Chisos Basin–incredible, other-worldly, too perfect, a green gem hidden in a desert in the middle of nowhere–I want to go back!
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Nearing the South Rim from Boot Canyon
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And the most breath-taking part of it all, the South Rim, one of the spots from all our exploring that we talk about the most as the spot we need to go see again
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Breath-taking (South Rim)
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Chisos Mountains
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Mule Ears, off the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive
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The desert along Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, with the Chisos Mountains in the distance–you can see Emory Peak (highest point) right-middle of the range farthest in the distance
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The beautiful Chihuahuan Desert
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A hot, sunny walk with views of the cliffs on Mexico’s border
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Santa Elena Canyon
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Hiking up into Santa Elena Canyon’s trail along the Rio Grande River
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Standing in Texas, just across the river from Mexico
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Mexico, from the bottom of the unique and beautiful Santa Elena Canyon
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Rio Grande
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Santa Elena Canyon hike
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Mexico and the United States
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A short desert hike from the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive on our way to the Lower Burro Mesa Pour-Off
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Back in the Chisos Basin for one last look through “The Window”

Sidewalk

Nobody actually says–or at least nobody actually gets to say–that just because you’re a “grown up” now, you have to stick to the sidewalk.

Hop up on the wall, if it’s calling your name, and teeter your way along in the sky above the sidewalk for a while.

Or abandon the sidewalk entirely and crunch through the leaves as you venture into the woods.

You are still human. There is still wonder. You are still free, child.

George Bernard Shaw - grow old because stop playing

Santa Barbara Adventure

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“What isn’t clear is why people always say ‘goes without saying,’ yet still feel compelled to say the thing that was supposed to go without saying. Doesn’t that bother you?” – Shawn Spencer, Psych

When my adventure buddy asked me if I wanted to tag along to Santa Barbara, California, where she was headed for a 3-day certification program, it was an immediate omgYES for two big reasons: a) Travel, obviously. And b) Santa Barbara is where Shawn Spencer and Burton Guster run a psychic detective agency. At least in the TV show, Psych, one of my all time favorites. Unfortunately, they didn’t film the show in Santa Barbara, and the city doesn’t even have a commemorative Psych office. Oh well. It was fun to imagine. (Santa Barbara, if you build it, the PsychOs will come.)

I thought about coming up with a full itinerary to experience all the best things I could in the three-and-a-half days we’d be there, but in the end I decided to start with absolutely zero plans, and just explore, solo, seeing where each day took me. Turns out that is an amazing way to travel. I think the word is “wander.”

Here are a few of the magical moments I got to be a part of in sunny Santa Barbara:

 

THE BEACHES

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Santa Barbara’s east beach–great spot to just sit and watch the surf–calmer than some a lot of west coast beaches.

The sandy beach itself was never crammed full of visitors on the weekend I visited and was a great place to escape for some quiet.

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A completely empty itinerary allowed me lots of time to just stop and be still and relax and reflect and just be for a while. It was deeply refreshing, helpful, inspiring. After lunch on day 2 I spent the entire afternoon letting the surf knock me over and tumble me around and then journaling and dreaming in the sun.

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On the morning of day 3, the tide had risen so far that it left long, wide (cold!!) pools toward the back of the beach.

The sound of waves rolling and crashing was mesmerizing. It was like its own meditation. It’s an amazing spot to find presence.

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I’ve never loved the beach as much as I did on this trip. I found a lot of peace, and rest, and simplicity there. Thanks for the incredible place to just be, Santa Barbara.

THE TOWN

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The town of Santa Barbara is awesome. So many great little spots, lots of little holes-in-the-wall to be discovered. And its very Spanish architecture is so unique and beautiful! There’s a great view from everywhere, it’s easy to get around, and a great place to explore on foot!

A long stretch of the east beach is bordered by a long, narrow park of grass and palm trees. In the morning, it made for a peaceful walk. In the afternoon and evening, it came alive with community! People strung hammocks between the palm trees, meditated, practiced yoga, had hula-hooping parties. It became a sunny outdoor party, all to the sound of waves crashing a short jog away. It seemed that this mile long stretch of grass was Santa Barbara’s real beach scene, which made the less crowded sand a little more welcome for travel weary introverts in need of an escape.

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There is lots of good coffee to be found in Santa Barbara, which is a newer pleasure for me. I found a dirty chai at the Santa Barbara Roasting Company (if you’re a where-coffee-comes-from fanatic, go there!), a yummy iced latte at State Street Coffee (I understand there’s usually a line out the door here, certainly was when I visited, but wonderfully close to the beach), and the adorable little macchiato pictured below at Dune Coffee Roasters, whose sunny and cozy patio was the perfect landing spot for my day 1 afternoon of finishing a school essay.

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It was a little rough trying to choose between so many delicious looking places to try, but one we found ourselves at, literally by spontaneously deciding to ditch our plans and walk down a different alley, was The Nook. The food was very good, the spot was GREAT.

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If you ever visit Santa Barbara, go walk through the old Courthouse, make sure to stop in its old courtroom with the fantastic artwork, and climb up the tower for the best views of the town. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

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With an honorable mention to the pizza we got on our last night at Lucky Penny, I have to tell you (maybe in all caps) about the best food I found in Santa Barbara. TAQUERIA EL BAJIO. Oh man oh man. I could go there every day. It seemed like a more authentic/less touristy little place, in a neighborhoody part of town. I went there for lunch on day 2, and it was so mouth-wateringly exactly-perfect that I made my adventure buddy go back with me on day 3. Fresh, yummy, juicy, and just all-together need-to-go-back. Thanks for being my taste-buds highlight of the trip, Taqueria El Bajio! I’ll be back!

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Oh man the trees.

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Walk a lot in downtown Santa Barbara if you find yourself there. The parking is plentiful, convenient, and cheap, so park your car and get trekking. Especially walk up and down State Street. Such a pretty street and so many spots to explore.

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(P.S. If you’ve ever seen Psych, they did a pretty good job of recreating the feel of Spanish-built, sunny, laid-back Santa Barbara. I intend to go back.)

THE MOUNTAINS

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So here is a treasure that it seemed most visitors miss. A short (and steep) drive from town is E Camino Cielo, a long road that runs miles from well west of Santa Barbara all the way past and on to the east. Exactly as lonely as you’d like beautiful scenery to be.

It is NOT the scariest road I’ve been on, if nerve-wracking drives are not your thing. But you do very much feel like you’ve found your way above it all.

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Yes, that’s the road you see running along the mountain. Spectacular drive.

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The variety of colors and textures was amazing.

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The 360 views were incredible. You’re in the Santa Ynez mountains looking out over the ocean, Santa Barbara, and other nearby coastal cities. Spin around and you’re looking miles and miles out over Los Padres National Forest with its massive desolate-looking mountains.

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And sunny California is sunnier-California at that elevation. The sun feels like your next door neighbor. Bring sunscreen and a hat if you’re going to make a day of it.

There are so many perfect spots to hop out and explore and just take in the views.

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Lots of bicyclers struggling up and zipping down the steep mountain roads, and lots of hang gliders taking off from the top and gliding out over the hills behind Santa Barbara.

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In the picture above you can see Santa Barbara with its renowned Stearns Wharf jutting out into the ocean. To the right of the wharf is Santa Barbara Harbor. Far in the distance you can see one of the islands of the Channel Islands National Park. I so wanted to get there. Someday!

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“Camino Cielo” translates “sky road.” Accurate.

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THE OCEAN

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Visiting on a weekend, I felt like Santa Barbara’s ocean had the ideal balance between popular and quiet. On the actual beach, and especially out on the water, it was never crowded, but you were also never felt totally out on your own. There was a carefree feel to it.

Stearns Wharf was basically a little city on a big dock. Lots of little places to stop, and a lot longer a walk than you’d expect. Lots of fishing, too. And lots and lots of wildlife. I sat and watched a little sea lion friend play around the wharf for about ten minutes.

Thank you to the Paddle Sports Center at the Santa Barbara Harbor for making one of my dreams come true! I got to kayak for a while out on the ocean and it was so beautiful and so much fun!

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If you visit, consider getting a kayak or paddle board and getting a good ways out onto the water. Sitting on the ocean surface, right down level with the water, you start to see and feel the ocean breathing. You rise and fall and rise and fall and it is so, so, so magical.

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Santa Barbara is one of my chillest memories in the world. It’s the perfect place to go without an itinerary. It’s sun and sand and waves and mountains and tacos and a beautiful town to explore.

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And as always, shout out to the world’s greatest adventure buddy. We only got little bits and pieces together down by the water and up in the mountains because she was so busy with her certification, but I’m thankful for all the little moments we got to stand together on the beach.

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“To travel is to live.” – Hans Christian Anderson

My Little Broken Buddha

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My best friend gave me a little figurine of a meditating Buddha. Its head was still on.

I meditate and I really like Buddhism. In a nutshell to me, it’s about letting go of our need for things to be just-so.

Our first big excursion to the mountains since my last concussion, a long road trip to the Canadian Rockies. . . . I was really nervous as we prepared to leave, because travel is my thing and mountains are my best friend’s happy place . . . but my concussion on our last adventure had done a number on me, and each month since then had felt hard, sad, gloomy–anything-but-adventurous.

So I brought my little Buddha along. To remind me not to hold on too tightly to my expectations for the trip. To help me know that it would be okay if everything didn’t end up being just-so. Its head was still on.

Things did NOT go just-so.

Morning, middle-of-nowhere, Saskatchewan, my adventure buddy’s wrist started hurting where a few days earlier she burned it on the stove. It started getting red and it became a small bump. By the end of the day it was a not-at-all-small bump, the entire arm too painful to use much. We checked into our Canmore hotel and after several frustrating calls to insurance we drove to the local emergency room where after a quick glance the doctor hooked her up to an IV for antibiotics.

Four visits to the emergency room in three days. Fevers, dizziness, red lines starting to spread, needles, blood draws, tubes installed in my best friend’s arm, a panicky midnight outing to find a thermometer interrupted by my phone ringing and my best friend telling me that she was now shaking so violently she could hardly hold onto anything.

Honestly, it was scary as hell. I think scarier for me than for her. It got a lot worse before it got better, and I knew that an infection going bad isn’t a thing you want to experience.

Just out of the woods, day two or three–the days became a blur of emergency room and hotel room–I hopped in the car to go pick up some groceries–completely drained of every kind of energy. I grabbed my little Buddha and held it in my palm as I drove, more for its vague feeling of comfort and familiarity than for anything else.

I hopped out of the car at the grocery store and tossed my little Buddha into the center console, and heard two things bouncing around. I picked it up. Its head was gone.

*feeling when your heart sinks but even sinkier*

I broke my little Buddha. :(

And then I sort of grinned. No sh**, may as well, everything else is broken. I guess it’s exactly appropriate that my little token of not-holding-on-too-tightly broke.

At first I thought about replacing it, but more and more it seemed perfect to me that it stay broken. Because now–every time I see it on my desk–I remember just how much holding on too tightly doesn’t work. That “broken” is only “broken” in the context of my need for things to be just-so.

 

In the 5th century BCE, a man named Siddhartha Gautama lived in what is now Nepal. His family was wealthy, but he was struck by the pain and suffering he saw in the world, so he tried being intentionally-poor instead. It didn’t “work” for him, so he embraced “the middle way”–a life of moderation: not desperately seeking ease and pleasure, but also not seeking pain and self-abasement. In all this practice, he learned a lot about life and then he taught the people around him a lot about life and then he became known as “The Buddha.”

“Dharma,” the teachings of The Buddha, have at their heart the “four noble truths.” Dukkha, Samudaya, Nirodha, and Magga. And the first three are why I love my little broken Buddha.

Dukkha: Suffering is a thing. It’s a part of life.

Samudaya: Why is suffering a thing? Because we think things are supposed to be just-so. We crave pleasure, we desperately try to control, and we hold on too tightly to what we think we want or need or love. Attachment.

“According to Buddhist psychology, most of our troubles stem from attachment to things that we mistakenly see as permanent.” ~ Dalai Lama

Nirodha: There is an antidote to suffering: Letting go of attachments, obsessive cravings, and desperate control, and living–not in a bitter past or an anxious future–but fully in the present, one day at a time. Acceptance.

 

What are you holding onto too tightly?

 

I still bring my little broken Buddha with me whenever I go out of town or when I have a big scary thing that I think needs to go just-so.

It’s a perfect reminder not to hold on too tightly.

Things break. Things hurt. Things fade.

Life is weird, and needing it to not be weird will only lead to frustration.

But life is also beautiful. And a strange and strong beauty and peace can be felt when you let go of your need for things to be just-so. . . . when you remember not to hold on too tightly.

~

“The root of suffering is attachment.” ~ The Buddha

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Free yourself from “good at”

What if you free yourself from the need to get “good at” something?

The world is full of adventure–singing, making a story, rock-climbing, poetry, cooking, improv, skiing, paddle-boarding, reading confusing scientific studies, decorating a home, building a thing, volunteering, yoga, drawing, meditating, learning a language, hiking, trying Ethiopian food, spending a weekend photographing nature . . .

I want to try writing a story this year.
. . . I don’t expect I’ll be good at it.
. . . It’s not what I want to do with my life.
. . . Nobody will read it.
. . . I’m not planning to get a skill or lesson from it.
. . . I might NEVER do it again.
I just want to DO it.

We have a tendency to NOT do beautiful/fantastic things that we’re not “good” at, OR that we don’t think we’ll GET “good” at, OR that we think we CAN’T get “good” at, OR that we just don’t CARE enough about to get “good” at.

But why not just do a thing for itself? For fun? So you can be with it? Maybe you’ll never do it again (that’s not a thing to think about).

WHAT IS A THING YOU’D REALLY LIKE TO JUST TRY OR EXPERIENCE ONCE? (If you’re already good at it, pick a different one. :P)

What if you free yourself from the need to get “good at” it? What if you just took it, lived it, embraced it, loved it, remembered it?

Seems worth it to me.

What will YOU experience this year without having to be/get “good” at it?

a few adventures I’m not technically “good at”

#justdoitanyway