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”

Colorado Rockies Adventure

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“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” ~ John Muir

If there were one thing I could convince everyone to do more of, it would be going outside and being in nature.

In the great outdoors you can find peace and rest, freedom and clarity, challenge and excitement, beauty and awe.

So in the interest of inspiring as many people as I can to go find their adventures, here is the little story of another of Lyssi’s and my biggest adventures: The Colorado Rockies.

August 2018, Lyssi and I took a 5 day roadtrip to Colorado. We booked the coziest Airbnb suite in Boulder. Days 1 and 5 were long drives from and back to Minnesota (14ish hours both ways!), leaving us 3 full days to explore! Here are the highlights for you.

Enjoy! I hope that you get to find beautiful, happy places to visit. And if you can’t right now, I hope the pictures from our adventure bring you some of the happiness and wonder of nature! :)

BEAR LAKE TRAILHEAD, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

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After arriving in Estes Park at dawn, we kicked off our first hike in the chilly morning air. We started at Bear Lake Trailhead with an 8-mile loop planned, taking us to a bunch of pretty lakes and waterfalls. No strenuous hiking this day, though the first hour or so we definitely felt the effects of the elevation!

NYMPH LAKE, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

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Our first stop was at Nymph Lake. Aptly named, it looked like a scene from a fairy tale. The next leg of our hike took us to an overlook directly above the little lake, and it couldn’t have been prettier!

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DREAM LAKE, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

Dream Lake is the second of the three lakes in a row along Emerald Lake Trail. It’s a long picturesque lake with the trail running right along the edge.

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EMERALD LAKE, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

Emerald Lake, the end of its trail. You can see where the Rocky Mountains get their name.

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DREAM LAKE AGAIN

Once past Nymph Lake, the trail to Emerald Lake becomes an out-and-back, which means you get to hike by Dream Lake again on the way back.

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LAKE HAIYAHA, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

Here’s where the trip got fun. Or . . . interesting. ;)

Lake Haiyaha was just to die for. I’d go back and just sit there for hours. Halfway back to the trailhead from Emerald Lake, you can turn off onto the longer Glacier Gorge Trail which eventually loops around past Alberta Falls back to Bear Lake Trailhead. Somewhere along the way you can take Haiyaha Trail out to the sprawling Lake Haiyaha. Its shore all around is made up of big rocks and boulders to clamber over and hide behind. I think this was the most peaceful spot we found all day.

We found our way to another side of the lake and found a quiet spot to just be alone and happy for a while.

Video credit: Alyssa Elbridge

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The thing is, to get to and from the trail takes some climbing over rocks, and when we left the lake, there was a little hiccup. Without looking up to see what was above the brim of my hat, I launched myself up onto a rock to hop over it, and I could just feel and hear this CRACK run straight through me. I’d slammed my head directly into a giant rock-solid tree branch hanging over the trail. Blacked out and sat down hard. Said a choice word–sorry families with little kids that were there! I could immediately tell I’d done something legit.

Not only did I give myself whip lash, but it turned out I’d gotten a concussion as well. Which explained the foggy and emotional state I was in for the rest of the trip, and the fact that I couldn’t walk in a straight line too well for a while. But we were four miles out, so we kept on trekking, in between pretty frequent sit-down-and-feel-dazed breaks. And my whole shoulder and arm weren’t too happy. My epic best friend Lyssi insisted on carrying both of our backpacks for a while–and these were heavy backpacks, loaded for an entire day on the trail. Thanks Lys, you’re a champ! ;)

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THE LOCH, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

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A ways past Lake Haiyaha Trail on Glacier Gorge, you can turn off on The Loch Trail to head up past beautiful green hills with streams and falls. Eventually you get to another big, picture-perfect lake, The Loch.

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ALBERTA FALLS, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

The rest of the day as we finished the loop back to Bear Lake Trailhead, we got to see some beautiful mountainous views, some beautiful streams, and Alberta Falls.

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Photo credit: Alyssa Elbridge

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Alberta Falls

SOUTH SAINT VRAIN CANYON

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Photo credit: Alyssa Elbridge

Day 2 we started by driving South Saint Vrain Drive along South Saint Vrain Creek in South Saint Vrain Canyon. Memorable names. Just a beautiful drive, roads winding through brown cliffs and boulders, rushing creek on the side of the road. We hopped out at one spot and enjoyed the rushing water.

Video credit: Alyssa Elbridge

PEAK TO PEAK HIGHWAY

At the end of South Saint Vrain Drive begins one of the most beautiful scenic byways we’ve ever driven: Colorado’s “Peak to Peak Highway.”

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MOUNT EVANS

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Photo credit: Alyssa Elbridge

After we reached the south end of Peak to Peak Highway, we headed down to Mount Evans. Absolutely worth it, but hands down the scariest road I have ever driven in my life. Up to the peak of the 14,265′ Mount Evans runs the highest paved road in the United States.

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A mixture of fast elevation gain, concussion symptoms, and just generally being halfway to space, meant I almost passed out on the drive back down. It was rough. And scary. But man alive what a view! In the picture above, you can see in the upper right corner the road cut out of the side of the mountain. Right along the edge of the road the entire way was just a steep mountainside that just kept going and going and going.

Mount Evans was just . . . massive.

PEAK 12,150, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

Video credit: Alyssa Elbridge

We got to see some Elk sparring at dawn across from Poudre Lake at Milner Pass. We arrived to the trailhead just as it was starting to get light, and the drive there was absolutely incredible. It was foggy, dark, and stormy as we drove Trail Ridge Road from one side of Rocky Mountain National Park to the other. The Alpine Visitor Center lies at the top of Trail Ridge Road, the highest paved through-road in the United States. When we pulled into the Visitor Center at around 5 or 5:30 AM, there was lightning all around us. The fog all around us was flashing yellow and pink. Up above the treeline, where the world is huge. What a morning!

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Video credit: Alyssa Elbridge

Our plan had been to hike from Poudre Lake Trailhead to Mount Ida, but more incoming thunderstorms meant a last-minute change of plans. We would have just enough time to get as far as Peak 12,150 and back down below the tree line before the rain started. The mountain we hiked is called Peak 12,150 because it’s not considered its own mountain. Because of the saddle between it and Mount Ida, Peak 12,150 just lacks its own distinct prominence just barely enough that it doesn’t get its own name. However, at 12,150 feet, it is an epic spot!

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To this day, I think this was the most awe-inspiring place I have ever had the pleasure of walking. Above the treeline in the Alpine Tundra with the occasional marmot or glacier, and endless views of the Never Summer Mountains to the east. A long, beautiful walk. Very uphill. What a picturesque path!

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Oh man, the colors! Other-worldly.

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Ragged.

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In the picture above, you can see Mount Ida on the right. And on the left is Lyssi taking the last few steps up to the tip-top of Peak 12,150.

Video credit: Alyssa Elbridge

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Photo credit: Alyssa Elbridge

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Back below treeline just in time for the rain to start!

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Photo credit: Alyssa Elbridge

ALPINE VISITOR CENTER, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

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Glaciers in the fog at 11,800′.

OLD FALL RIVER ROAD, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

Pretty stream along Old Fall River Road. The road is a one-way precarious drive on dirt and gravel from the east side of the park up to the Alpine Visitor Center. Very beautiful!

TRAIL RIDGE ROAD, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

Near Forest Canyon Overlook on Trail Ridge Road. Goodbye, Rockies! We miss you!

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Photo credit: Alyssa Elbridge
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Photo credit: Alyssa Elbridge

Happy adventuring, everyone!

There’s lots of beauty out there, and lots of thrill! Chase it down!

 

P.S. As always, thank you Altra Running for being a big reason my feet love hiking miles and miles up and down mountains! :)

P.P.S. And thank you Airbnb and Enterprise Car Rental for making so accessible a life of exploring our big, beautiful world!

P.P.P.S. And thank you Panic! at the Disco for great tunes to sing on our 14 hour drives and thank you Neil Gaiman for writing and narrating Norse Mythology to keep me awake and enthralled for the drives before sunrise. :)

Canadian Rockies Adventure

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Hello again! It’s been a while! I was away on an adventure and now I get to share it with you, which is almost like getting to relive it again! :)

My wife and I drove from Minnesota (home) up to the Canadian Rockies in Alberta and stopped through Glacier National Park in Montana on the way home.

Road trips are our favorite, and it was an exciting one! We had a week and a half of hiking on the agenda. Life had a different adventure in store, and we spent the first several days visiting the emergency room and recovering due to an infection that randomly turned up in my wife’s wrist. It was a little scary, and it meant we had to throw our whole schedule out the window. But it also meant we got to relax more on our vacation than planned, so–silver lining. ;)

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It also meant we had time to explore the hip little town of Canmore, Alberta (with all its extroverted little bunnies). Great place to book your lodging if you’re visiting Banff and its neighboring mountain ranges!

Bunnies were just one of the adorable species we spied on our adventure.

When we finally did make it out for some mountainous adventures, it was EPIC.

Here are some highlights for you. Enjoy the views, and I hope you’ll drag yourself on ridiculously extravagant and exhausting and make-it-up-as-you-go-along adventures! There’s a whole big world to explore out there. :)

KANANASKIS, ALBERTA

Highway 40 down through the Kananaskis mountain range south of Canmore was our first easy excursion after a recovery day off.

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Mostly just drove the Kananaskis–the views couldn’t have been much better. We stopped halfway down south for a little scenic walk in the Kananskis village. And we stopped several more times to wait for crowds of moulting bighorn sheep chilling on the highway. And they just couldn’t be bothered. They had no time for all the traffic. Didn’t even notice us. Until we finally made it past, when without fail they’d suddenly whip their heads up and glare at us as we drove away as if they couldn’t have been more just disgusted with us. They were legit hilarious.

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Watching storm clouds roll in at a surprising speed.

BOW LAKE, BANFF NATIONAL PARK, ALBERTA

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Bow Lake was our first stop in Banff, just off the Icefields Parkway, north of Lake Louise. That day we drove in and out of sunshine, rain, clouds, and even snow. Amazing how quickly and dramatically the weather changes in the mountains.

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Haunting.

PEYTO LAKE, BANFF NATIONAL PARK, ALBERTA

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The iconic Peyto Lake is a little ways north of Bow Lake and was our second stop.

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Our first attempted hike was down steep switchbacks from the Peyto overlook to a flat rock surface by the water’s edge. We turned back halfway down to be responsible and not overdo it with Alyssa’s recovery. Good call, but what a spot to miss!

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My favorite little adventurer :)

LAKE LOUISE, BANFF NATIONAL PARK, CANADA

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SENTINEL PASS, BANFF NATIONAL PARK, ALBERTA

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Our first big hike was about 5.5 miles up to Sentinel Pass from the trailhead at Lake Moraine. This was just incredible. 360° views of the grandest looking mountains.

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Up in the alpine tundra–snowy hiking with icy lakes and the occasional nervous marmot.

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Sometime when we’re not recovering from a medical scare, we’ll hike the rest of the way up the switchbacks and snowy rock scramble to that final peak on the right.

MORAINE LAKE, BANFF NATIONAL PARK, ALBERTA

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The shocking turquoise blue of the glacier-fed-lakes in the northern Rockies is one of the most breathtaking sights in the world, I think.

TENT RIDGE HORSESHOE HIKE, PETER LOUGHEED PROVINCIAL PARK, ALBERTA

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Tent Ridge Horseshoe–our most challenging hike, finally feeling better enough for a pack and some serious uphill. Still a bit of a stretch for a recovering hiking warrior.

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After the first mile or so we came to a clear valley in the middle of a horseshoe-shaped mountain ridge. This shot was just after crossing a deep snow-packed area with downed pine trees where an avalanche had crossed the trail.

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So this rock scramble was possibly the most intense we’ve done yet. Half a mile of steep (and sometimes wobbly) rocks to pick your way through. Not for the faint of heart. But also there’s only one way to become not-faint-at-heart–come try!

After we reached the first peak we turned to the right and hiked down and back up a saddle to the highest point of the hike.

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Tent Ridge to the right, Mount Indefatigable and The Fist to the left.

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From the highest peak with views of Mount Indefatigable and other nearby snowy peaks, we turned right for the long Tent Ridge walk/scramble. The initial descent may have been the most nerve-wracking part of the hike. And the wind gusts. Oh man.

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Breathtaking.

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GLACIER NATIONAL PARK, MONTANA

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On our way back from Canada we spent a day hiking in Glacier National Park, Montana. I remembered why quiet woods and rushing water is so magical to me. Good to sit and breathe it all in.

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Views from Going-to-the-Sun Road. Recently opened for the season, cleared of snow. Our day in Glacier was so overcast and rainy that we could hardly see a thing–except the couple hours we spent on the Going-to-the-Sun Road and up at Logan’s Pass. The clouds parted and we got sunshine and mind-bending views. Thank you!!

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Logan’s Pass

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P.S. Hey friends–Nature is magical and healing and inspiring, and is open to everyone. Get outdoors! :)

P.P.S. See you soon, mountains!

P.P.P.S. Thank you, Altra Running, for making hiking comfy! And thank you All Trails for great maps to follow by GPS!

Thanksgiving 2018: Celebrating a Year Full of Adventure

I think this last year has been the oddest of my life. It has been one of the best and felt at times like one of the worst. The low times included getting another concussion the week before my wife and I moved and I restarted school, holding my wife’s hand as she walked through sad personal stuff, uncovering a lot of deeply rooted issues of my own to work on (thanks in part to my concussion) and losing some of the most meaningful parts of my life during a long (ongoing) recovery–like running, working out, and playing sports.

But along the way I’ve learned so much, experienced so much, and come to so appreciate trust and safety, the fragility of the human heart, and the beauty of love, truly supportive friendships, and healing.

And looking back at the end of the year, the sad times are all but lost in the exciting and blissful memories of the adventures and inspiration this year has given me.

So happy Thanksgiving season 2018! Thanks for the adventures!

Some of the year’s happiest memories: Exploring the Smokies, Big Bend, Glacier, and the Rocky Mountains; Running my first official half marathon, rejoining Toastmasters, marathoning all the Marvel movies with my best buddy Lyssi, moving into and decorating a new place with said buddy, discovering the story-telling of Neil Gaiman, officiating the wedding of two of my favorite people (one of the most meaningful experiences in my life), and buying an awesome new Yamaha digital piano and playing it for hours and hours and hours.

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Appalachian Trail near Newfound Gap, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, November 26, 2017
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Charlies Bunion, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, November 26, 2017
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Alum Cave Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, November 27, 2017
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First steps on our 17 mile hike, Chisos Mountains, Big Bend National Park, February 26, 2018
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Casa Grande and the Pinnacles, Big Bend National Park, February 26, 2018
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View of Lost Mine Peak, Big Bend National Park, February 26, 2018
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Emory Peak, elevation 7825 ft, Big Bend National Park, February 26, 2018
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Panoramic of South Rim, Chisos Mountains, Big Bend National Park, February 26, 2018
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Panoramic of Santa Elena Canyon, Rio Grande River, Big Bend National Park, February 27, 2018
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Playing in the snow during winter’s last big snowfall, Louisville Swamp Area, April 3, 2018
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Apgar Lookout trail, Glacier National Park, June 13, 2018
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Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park, June 13, 2018
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Two Medicine Lake, Glacier National Park, June 14, 2018
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Grinnell Glacier, Many Glaciers, Glacier National Park, June 15, 2018
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Glacier Half Marathon finishers, East Glacier Park, Montana, June 16, 2018
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First steps in the Rockies, Bear Lake Trailhead, Rocky Mountain National Park, August 16, 2018
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Nymph Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, August 16, 2018
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Peaceful snooze, Lake Haiyaha, Rocky Mountain National Park, August 16, 2018
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South Saint Vrain Creek and Canyon, Roosevelt National Forest, August 17, 2018
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Elevation 14,265 ft, scariest drive and highest point yet, Mount Evans, Colorado, August 17, 2018
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Peak 12,150, Rocky Mountain National Park, August 18, 2018
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Majestic alpine terrain near Peak 12,150, Rocky Mountain National Park, August 18, 2018
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Incredible view from near the top of the highest paved through-road in the states, Rocky Mountain National Park, August 18, 2018