Western States Adventure

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Well hey friends. :) It’s a weird year, and I’m guessing I’m not the only one who is missing more adventurous days. So if it helps, join me on a little virtual road trip to the West Coast and some other gorgeous destinations that direction.

In fall 2017, Lyssi and I did our first real big outdoorsy adventure, along with our bestie/sister Brie. Since that first thrilling and confidence-building journey, adventuring in the great outdoors has become a regular part of our lives. I hope you’ll do it, too. :)

So come along to Arizona, California, Oregon, Nevada, and Utah!

(Click on a picture in the mosaics to scroll through them full size.)

ARIZONA DRIVE

After an afternoon flight into Phoenix, we hopped in our rental and just started chasing the sunset west. Desert in the dark, California road signs warning of high winds, and, eventually, sprawling lights and speeding cars as we descended toward Palm Springs. One thing we didn’t really grasp ahead of time was the significance of “fire season” out west. A midnight drive through Los Angeles, a few detours for roads closed due to wildfires somewhere in town. When we hopped on the highway heading north, we saw orange blazes all over the hills in front and to the side. It was . . . strange. Heading north from Los Angeles in the dark was quite the way to whet our mountains-appetite, with steep winding ascents for miles. After a long night of driving and a couple hours at a rest stop, we passed through Sacramento and made the long drive up to Portland. Near the Oregon border, we drove up into green, green mountains and stopped to explore Lake Shasta. Around there, we began to realize the “haze” and “fog” we’d been seeing all day was just smoke from wildfires burning all over Oregon and northern Cali. Even closed in our car, it stung our eyes. Our second morning in Portland our car was covered in ash.

NESKOWIN OREGON & THE GHOST FOREST

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After a winding drive through woods of cedar trees, under a starry early-morning sky, we arrived in Neskowin at dawn. Walking out onto the beach to the sound of crashing waves was magical. We could hardly see around us, the mist was so heavy. As the mist rose and the tide slowly came in, a hundred ancient tree stumps covered in marine treasures sank slowly into the ocean. The “Ghost Forest.”

OREGON COAST DRIVE

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A smoky but incredible drive down the Oregon coast. Each bend in the road was incredible.

CALIFORNIA REDWOODS IN JEDEDIAH SMITH REDWOODS STATE PARK

Towering redwoods that remind humans of their relative smallness and just how young we really are.

SECRET BEACH NEAR BROOKINGS OREGON

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So this was a little treasure some research uncovered before our trip. It’s not really a beach, it’s the ocean crashing on the rocks in a little cove. It’s just that when the tide goes all the way out, there’s a spot where you can pull off to the shoulder of the road and venture down to a “Secret Beach.” It did not disappoint. More wonder in this little spot than just about anywhere I’ve seen.

CENTRAL OREGON

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Oregon wasn’t exactly what we expected. I didn’t realize it had literally everything. Deserts, giant cliffs, mountains, forests, lakes, rivers, ocean, and even painted hills. And then these massive rolling grassy plains that I didn’t expect to be as breathtaking as they were. They came right after a drive through a massive, mountainous forest with a stop at Mount Hood–a forest that made me feel like I had found Home.

SMITH ROCK STATE PARK OREGON

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Smith Rock State Park is one of the most other-worldly, shockingly epic places I’ve been or even seen in my life. In the middle of not-too-mountainous central Oregon, a short drive from where we stayed in the adorable city of Bend, Smith Rock’s giant volcanic ash formations rise hundreds of feet straight out of the ground, offering views for miles around and some pretty spectacular and spectacularly-nerve-wracking hikes. We did the aptly named Misery Ridge route. Our views were a little faded with smoke from the wildfires that knocked all the forest, river, and hot springs hikes off our itinerary. But it was still incredible. Honestly, the smokiness just made it feel more enchanting. A highlight of Smith Rock is Monkey Face, a 350-foot narrow rock tower that rock climbers frequent. If you find yourself in Oregon, I can’t stress enough: Smith Rock. Incredible.

CLIFF JUMPING AT STEELHEAD FALLS

If you like cliff jumping, waterfalls, or both, Steelhead Falls near in Terrebonne is an awesome spot. Seemed like a fairly private spot. Easy hike. Absolutely gorgeous and a lot of fun.

PAINTED HILLS IN JOHN DAY FOSSIL BEDS

What can I say about the drives across Oregon?? . . . by the end of it, we had all but decided to move there. Anywhere in Oregon. It was all so beautiful! We drove from Bend straight down to Utah, and a good chunk of the first day we spent driving through John Day Fossil Beds (wow) and stopping for a while in the Painted Hills. It was like visiting another planet.

NEVADA DRIVE

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I did not expect the long, desolate drive across Nevada to be one of the best parts of our adventure. It. Was. Awesome. It started with a sign in south Oregon that said, if I remember correctly, “No Gas for 130 miles.” We were truly in the middle of nowhere. The occasional car would whiz by at 100mph, which meant that drivers didn’t have nearly as much time for passing in the opposite lane as they expected, and we were run off the road once by an oncoming truck. Once we got into Nevada, we drove for hours and hours on a long, straight highway lined with desert and ranches and Native American reservation towns and rows of mountains maybe 10 miles away on both sides. It was majestic.

Top five coolest life moments, for sure–doing 90 alone in the Nevada desert, we suddenly heard–I should say felt–this deafening BANG! Our car shook. What the hell just happened?!? We spun our heads looking for whatever just did that and saw a fighter jet that looked like it couldn’t be more than a hundred or so feet overhead. A second later, another bang shook the car and another fighter jet flew low overhead. It was one of the most exciting and thrilling and special moments ever. I bet the pilots get a kick out of doing that.

When darkness fell, we turned onto US-50, which is called “The Loneliest Road in America,” and for good reason. Vulnerable might be the word to describe that chunk of the adventure. I think we saw just one vehicle between dusk and midnight. But we also saw more jackrabbits and coyotes and deer than I’ve seen in my life. It was also like driving through a blizzard of bugs, unfortunately. And the strangest thing was that we seemed to be climbing. The air was starting to get very cold and sort of thin. Eventually the road began twisting and turning as we rapidly ascended. Eventually we made it to Ely where we turned in for the night.

Our drive the next morning was a bit of a shock. Turns out the steep twisty roads we’d driven in the dark were bordered by steep hills and drop offs, and we’d climbed thousands of feet into mountains we didn’t really know were there. Our daylight drive back down the mountains was a little slower and more cautious with no guardrails, and sort of thrilling to realize just what sort of scary drive we’d made the night before. 100% I would take another trip just to drive all around the state of Nevada.

ZION NATIONAL PARK

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Zion was indescribable. Our first legit mountain hike as outdoorsy adventurers–4 miles up, 4 miles down, 2000+ ft of elevation gain, through slot canyons and along winding and gusty precipices–took us to Observation Point and its mind-bending views. This little spot was one of the biggest perspective-giving places I’ve been in my life. Shortly after we got home, I wrote a little about why. Here you go: Observation Point, Zion National Park

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The next day we did Angel’s Landing. Have you done Angel’s Landing? If you have, you know what I mean when I say I have never been more sure we were going to die. But what an incredible and beautiful experience. Once in a lifetime. Long, steep switchbacks up to a lookout. What I saw when we reached the lookout literally made me sit down half-paralyzed. It took me a few real minutes to decide to go for it. All I could envision was watching one of my best friends slip. The next half-mile felt like an eternity, following a narrow ridge with 1000+ ft drop-offs on either side. Steep, slanted, sandy slabs where you hold for dear life onto chains. Stepping a little closer to the edge while you say a prayer, so another group of hikers can pass. Deciding which hiker holds the chain and which hiker just tries to keep their balance. Oh. My. Goodness. It was worth it and I want to do it again, but maybe without friends along to worry about or traffic to dodge. The summit of Angel’s Landing is spectacular.

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Our last big Zion hike was Canyon Overlook Trail, another kind of beauty.

Go. To. Zion. 100%.

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CLIFF DWELLERS ARIZONA

After we crossed from Utah into Arizona, we found a little spot to explore called Cliff Dwellers.

GRAND CANYON

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Just a way-too-brief stop at the Grand Canyon on my birthday.

SEDONA ARIZONA

If you ever go to Phoenix or the Grand Canyon, make the trip to Sedona. You’ve probably heard of it. It is so beautiful. Also, drive this route: 89A between Flagstaff and Sedona. You will not be disappointed! It’s gorgeous enough in itself, but our drive was especially beautiful as we wound back and forth in and out of sunshine and rainstorms.

ARIZONA DRIVE

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We kicked off our road trip with a long drive straight west from Phoenix through flat, hot, dry desert. And then we ended our trip coming back into Phoenix from the north, a much, much different drive. A long gradual descent of about 8000 ft. Mountains all around and big open sky. Our ~4-5000-mile adventure brought us just about every imaginable view. Thrills, hidden gems, climbs, lonely night skies, and dizzying heights. We saw a lot of world in a week and a half.

Remember, friends, that adventure is therapeutic and nature is healing and exploring the world opens doors you didn’t know existed. And sometimes it’s just an unusually long but surprisingly affordable road trip away.

Go adventure!

Love to you, fellow adventurers! :)

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”