Maui

Growing up, I was always taught that the United States lies within the continent of North America. While this may be true most of the time, it isn’t true of Hawaii – technically located in Oceania. The Aloha State is also the most recent state to be admitted into the union and the only state to be composed entirely of islands. Although less obvious to a reader of the Wikipedia article on Hawaii, and most shocking to me when driving around Maui, is the state’s climate diversity. In a single day, we passed through both dessert and tropical rainforest, swam in the ocean and stood on top of a mountain, basked in sweltering heat and shivered in the cold high-altitude wind.

Happy to be in Hawaii!

We arrived in Maui late Wednesday night, leaving both our car and trailer behind in a pricy San Francisco parking lot ($17 a day adds up quick when you leave it for 19 days – I just hope they don’t charge us for two spots!) Since the airline skipped on a meal or even a snack, we swung through McDonalds for a taste of the island before heading to our Kihei AirBnB.

The first of many great rainbows

The next day, we made great use of one of the seven vacation days we took to drive The Road to Hana – a world-famous trek around the island’s east coast. Taking advantage of the time zone shift and our already early morning habits, we started before the sun rose, beating the crowds to the first few stops. While I don’t want to bore recalling all the incredible individual locations, I think a few deserve mention.

No idea what kind of tree this is

In one of our first stops, at the Garden of Eden, we were greeted by a flock of crazy ducks and peacocks before strolling through a botanical garden that showcased some of the wildest plants I’ve seen, like the rainbow eucalyptus.

Liz wants to attempt to grow these in Ohio

After a few more stops at waterfalls and swimming holes, we made it to Liz’s favorite pull-out, Wai’anapanapa State Park. Here, the Pacific meets ancient lava rocks with tremendous force, creating captivating collisions shooting water high into the air.

Initially stood too close and got soaked

While our last stop was in Halealaka National Park, where we hiked the Pipiwai trail up to a 400+ foot waterfall, it certainly wasn’t the end of the road.  Against rental car recommendation (or mandate?) we opted to complete the full loop rather than retrace our steps. It was perhaps our best decision of the day. The drive back was incredible! A sunset from the ocean-side, cliff-side, narrow, one lane road. A wind-torn lava field with cows roaming the gravel road. A breathtaking mountain-side bay, complete with an overturned SUV a hundred feet below that served as a not-so-subtle reminder to look at the road ahead every now and then.

Waimoku Falls

Friday, we headed up toward Halealaka National Park. First, though, we stopped half way up the mountain to zipline. It was both Liz and my first time ziplining and I figured there’s not too many places better to do it than down a mountain in a tropical rainforest. While I think we both enjoyed the experience, there isn’t a need to do it again. We spent a lot of the remaining day in the National Park, picking up some great litter and hiking a way down into the eroded volcano top.

Halealaka Crater

Saturday was our last full day on Maui and we had yet to snorkel, despite flying out with the snorkel straws (that what they’re called right?) we’ve been driving around the country with since we went in Florida. So, we headed to a store, purchased some masks, and drove to Black Rock – a popular public beach in the resort part of the island. There we encountered a few sea turtles and countless tropical fish while floating around. And, since swimming quickly works up an appetite, we headed to the Paia Fishmarket where I was able to chow down on one of those tasty fish.

Snorkel Time!

Sunday was our last day in Maui, although not our last in Hawaii. From there we were off to the Big Island to meet up with Liz’s family and watch her brother compete in the Ironman World Championship. I don’t know if I’ll make it back to Hawaii, but I know that if I do I’ll put Maui back on the agenda.

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Medford and More!

Leaving Crater Lake, we headed south to meet up with the rest of Tyler’s family.  While in Medford we repeated some of our favorite activities from our last visit.  Watching Zach’s nieces at their swim lessons, walking down to Roxyann Winery and staying up late every night playing board games and Super Smash Brothers.

Uncle Zach and June

Unfortunately, we also experienced some unwanted activities.  I came down with a bad cold in the beginning and by the end of the week, all of the Oregon Serafinis had caught a stomach bug.  There were a lot of sick people in the house but still managed to enjoy our time together.

Common Block Brewing Company

The six of us headed down to Lassen Volcanic National Park in northern California. The titular Lassen Peak is the largest plug dome volcano in the world and the park is home to all four types of volcano (plug dome, shield, cinder cone, and strato).  I had not heard of Lassen before we started out on our National Park quest so I was surprised to learn it was created in 1916, making it the 11th oldest park.

Selfie with Lassen’s Seismograph Station

We started with the best named trail in the entire park system –  Bumpass Hell.  The hike takes you down into a geothermal area nicknamed ‘Little Yellowstone’.  Having not previously seen anything like it, I was fascinated by the way the ground bubbled, steamed, gurgled, and churned.  The sulfuric acid created fascinating color patterns surrounding the scalding mud pots.

Bumpass Hell from above

Planning on eating out for dinner, we had not gone grocery shopping in preparation for the weekend.  It turned out, our only options less than a ninety-minute drive closed before 5pm. Between a can of clam chowder, some pasta, and a pouch of tuna, we managed to scrounge together a meal for six from our trailer’s limited pantry.  Tyler, Whitney and family slept in the trailer.  After first getting used last week by Tyler, our convertible table bed had its second customer in Sage.  This gave Zach and I an excuse to break out our neglected tent and cuddle under the chilly stars.

Artsy filler picture 

The following morning, after a delicious breakfast at JJ’s Café which would have made Leslie Knope envious, we headed to the north side of the park for another hike.  Cinder Cone Volcano was created by an eruption around 1650 which is recent enough essentially no plants have started growing on it.  The hike to the crater is two miles each way, meandering gently up to the base and ending with a challenging climb (about 700ft in a third of a mile).

Cinder Cone Volcano – they must have used all of their creativity naming Bumpass Hell

The hike out took longer than expected due to a slow moving four-year-old.  Zach and I had more than a five-hour drive ahead of us so we said our goodbyes at the bottom of the volcano and high-tailed it back to our car.  As always, it was great to see Tyler, Whitney, Sage and June.  I’m looking forward to seeing them at Christmas and hoping our next reunion will be healthier and equally as adventurous.

Beautiful sunset driving though California

I forgot that I was planning on including our time in San Fransisco in this blog which is why the previous paragraph sounds like a conclusion.  We were flying out to Hawaii on Wednesday, so in the meantime, we spent three nights at Samuel P. Taylor State Park, about an hour north of the city.  All in all, it wasn’t a great experience – we were worried about catching the stomach bug going around, I always get anxious before big trips and none of the Starbucks in the Bay Area have outlets which makes working from them nearly impossible.  The highlight of the stay was our visit to Point Reyes National Seashore.   One concluding paragraph is difficult enough to write, let alone two, so I’ll just end things here.

We’ll be seeing a lot more of the Pacific in the coming weeks

Ohio / Rainier

It’s interesting how our perception of time is always changing. Sometimes the last half mile of a difficult hike can seem to last forever. Yet, the whole weekend seems over as soon as it starts. I have been very fortunate (or maybe unfortunate) in the past nine months. Nearly everything has flown by. To help keep things in perspective and not lose sight of the amazing adventures we’ve had while experiencing new ones, Liz and I often ask each other “What were we doing a month ago today?” and “Where will we be in a month from now?”. Perhaps the most interesting part of the time change phenomenon is that while the days seem to speed by, I’m always shocked at how long ago the things we did just a few weeks before seem.

It’s already been 3 weeks since Rainer!

Perhaps the fastest time yet this trip was the whirlwind week we spent in Ohio. We had planned on spending two weeks in the Seattle area, but CoverMyMeds offered to fly us in for the work week, so we jumped on the opportunity to catch up with friends and family (and work).

Cymanski Family Reunion 

On Sunday night, Liz and I took a red-eye from Seattle to Columbus and headed straight into work. After work, Liz picked up her sister, Megan, and drove up to Ashland to get dinner with her parents and grandparents. Meanwhile, I took a series of Ubers from work to our AirBnB and back to work again to find a charger for my dying phone before seeing Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats at the LC. Tuesday, we caught up with a group of friends from work for volleyball and trivia. Then, on Wednesday, I managed to stay upright on my first Segway tour. And in the evening Liz and I headed our separate way to grab a few drinks with coworkers. Thursday, we drove up to Canton to see my family and hiked the beautiful new Fry Family park with baby Zion in tow. Then, Friday morning we drove back to C-bus, put in a day’s work, and flew back to Seattle. By the end of the week Liz and I were exhausted. Although, we still had a full weekend ahead of us.

Uncle Zach and Baby Zion

Due to our late arrival in Seattle, we opted to sleep in the airport parking lot (which I’m sure is against some sort of rule). Then, the next morning, we met up with Mark and Ben, my friends from college,  and headed to Mount Rainier. While Ben has twice summited the 14er, it was the first time in the park for the rest of us. Even though we didn’t attempt the technical summit, we did make it up to the Muir basecamp – one of my new favorite hikes. To get to the basecamp, we hiked up about 5,000 feet and across the Muir snowfield. Although going up rewarded us with some spectacular views, it was going down that made the hike.

Camp Muir

The heavily packed snowfield not only allowed us to hike to Muir basecamp without sinking in knee-deep every-other step (like we would the next weekend hiking the South Sister near Bend) it also allowed us to glacade down. For those who don’t know, glacading is just a fancy word for sledding without a sled. Enough hikers had gone before us that nice slick chutes ran down the snowfield, adding a new dynamic to hiking I had never considered. Pro tip: bring a heavy-duty trash bag to act as your sled.

Glasading!

The next morning, before driving Ben and Mark back to Seattle, we hiked up to the nearby Eagle Point to get a panoramic view of Mt Rainier. I hope that someday I can head back to make it all the way up to the summit, although going it to the basecamp is a worthwhile hike in of itself.

Drinking our summit beers!

Bend and Beyond

After dropping Ben and Mark off in Seattle, we headed South to Oregon.  There was a bit of a mishap in our accommodations (we thought our campground reservations started on Monday night, but they actually were for Tuesday) which resulted in an extra night spent in a Walmart parking lot.  We’re becoming experts at sleeping in Walmart lots and they’re really not that bad.  There’s usually bright lights shining throughout the night, occasionally loud cars and not all allow overnight parking but it saves money, time and the effort of finding a campground.

Lucy in a Walmart Parking lot

On Tuesday, we made it to LaPine State Park, our home for the week.  The park, just South of Bend, is home to ‘Big Red’ the world girthiest ponderosa pine.  It was also the most voluminous but it recently lost a good chunk of its height to a lightning strike.  There were some great trails for running – not too rooty or rocky and, most importantly, flat.  The Deschutes River runs through the park making for some great scenery.

A bend in the Deschutes River

We visited Smith Rock State Park, home to some of the best rock climbing in the country.  Although we didn’t go climbing, the scenery itself was magnificent.  We had a delicious dinner at Sunriver Brewing company.  I ordered a Rueben Pretzel Calzone, which sounds like a strange combination but was really great.

Smith Rock State Park

On Saturday morning, Zach’s brother Tyler drove up from Medford to spend the weekend with us.  We planned to hike the South Sister, the youngest and tallest of the volcanoes which make up the Three Sisters.  Unbeknownst to us, the higher elevations had received a large amount of snow the previous week.  The trail was completely covered, in some places with well over five feet of snow.

Two brothers and someone else’s sister

We progressed very slowly up the mountain.  As the day warmed up, the snow became softer, and soon, every third step led to being knee deep, or sometimes even hip deep, in snow.  We didn’t make it to the top, instead drinking our summit beers at a pass about a mile before the end.  The guys were disappointed about turning around but there were some very menacing clouds heading our way and Zach had frozen feet.

Our summit

The way down was much faster (thanks gravity!) and Zach snapped this awesome picture of Tyler jumping down the hill.  Once again very happy with our camera purchase.  I greatly struggled deciding which pictures to use for this post.

Flying down the mountain

Sunday morning we left La Pine and headed to Crater Lake National Park.  We visited the park in May, the last time we were in Oregon, but there had been a ton of snow which was really fun but I wanted to visit the park without the snow to see what it was like.  It was too late in the year to wish for no snow but there was significantly less than last time.

Crater Lake National Park

The rim is an average of 1,000 feet above the lake but there is one place you can hike to the water, traveling 800ft down in less than a mile of trail.  I stuck my feet in the water but Zach was the only one brave enough to fully get in.  And by that, I mean he jumped off a cliff into the lake.  On the hike up, we tried to calculate the volume of water in the lake.   We knew that at widest points, it is about 4 miles wide  and 6 miles long and the deepest point is 1,932 ft.  Given those three data points, we estimated the volume to be 12.5 cubic km, only 6 cu km off from the actual volume of 18 cubic km.  That may seem like a decent ways off but I was happy to be in the right order of magnitude.  Our main source of error was underestimating the average depth by 100 meters (we guessed 250m, it’s actually 350m).

The equivalent of 5 million Olympic swimming pools

 

North Cascades National Park

From the Olympic Peninsula, we traveled by ferry to Whidbey Island – the fourth largest island in the contiguous United States nestled in northern Puget Sound.  We spent the week relaxing at Deception Pass State Park.  The past few weekends had been busy and were traveling back to Columbus the following week which we knew would be hectic.  Other than going on some runs in the park, we spent most of our time decompressing and catching up on Netflix.

Deception Pass Bridge

North Cascades National Park is just as close to Seattle as Olympic National park but received less than 1/100th as many visitors in 2016.  Most of the park is inaccessible to the average visitor.  Highway 20 bisects the region but there are very few roads to take you into the park.  The Lake Chelan area is only reachable by ferry, private plane, or very long hike.  Almost all the land is designated wilderness which limits the development of roads and buildings.

Doubtful Lake

This didn’t stop us though.  A break from the crowds which had filled the parks of the past few weekends was appreciated.  We met up with Zach’s college friend Ben and his wife Jennifer on Saturday morning and hiked up to Cascade Pass.  What started off as a foggy hike became a cold, rainy, very foggy hike on the way down.  Some of us (i.e. me) forgot our raincoats and were ready to get back to a warm, dry car.

Very, very foggy

We managed to find a restaurant in the tiny town of Marblemount (population 203) that had the Ohio State v. Oklahoma game on.  It was painful to watch but we enjoyed good food and company in the meantime.

Zach in his OSU shirt

The following day we did a short hike up to Thunder Knob which had great views of Diablo Lake from the top.  Before we knew it, time had come to pack up and leave the park.  While North Cascades doesn’t have the amenities, diversity or attention-grabbing features of other parks, the craggy peaks, bright blue lakes and solitude made for a great weekend.

Diablo Lake from Thunder Knob

Olympic National Park

We left Banff early Monday morning and headed southwest, back into the US.  Canada had been nice but it was good to get back to a place where I have cell phone service, speed limits are in miles per hour and gas is not super expensive. We drove most of the 700-mile trip on Monday, putting in nearly nine hours, in addition to eight hours of working. We arrived at our final destination, Shelton, Washington, by Wednesday afternoon.  Zach’s great-uncle Bill and his family were visiting the area and allowed us to crash their family vacation.  We collected oysters, caught crabs, watched the Ohio State opener, relaxed in the hot tub, and debated politics.  It was great to see some familiar faces after months on the road but before long we had to continue on our National Park quest.

Zach catching crabs with a fishing pole, lunch meat and a trash can

The original plan for Olympic National Park was to backpack on Shi-Shi beach.  When getting our permit, the ranger informed us the parking was full at Shi-Shi.  Considering we needed a parking space that fit our trailer, we headed to Rialto Beach instead.  The ranger also informed us that Olympic is the most backpacked National Park which surprised me.  I would have guessed a highly-visited park like Smoky Mountain or a park such as Glacier which is famous for its great backpacking.

Just a few of the many fellow backpackers we saw

Parking at Rialto Beach turned out to be a bit of a hassle but we managed to find a good spot about a mile from the beach. I want to give a shout-out to Zach for backing us and the trailer out of some tricky situations the past few weeks.  I have a rough enough time driving the trailer let alone figuring out how to turn around in a tightly packed parking lot.

Not only is he a good driver, he’s also very handsome!

We packed up, walked the mile to get to the beach and continued on for another two miles down the beach.  It was crowded, with many day visitors and plenty of other backpackers.  We found a pleasant location for our tent nestled within the driftwood near the Hole-in-the-Wall rock formation.

Home for the weekend

By the time we set up, we were ready for dinner and soon after watched a beautiful sunset over the Pacific Ocean.  I had a peaceful night’s sleep listening to the waves crashing just a few yards from our tent.

One of the best sunsets of the year

The next day we hiked further north along the beach.  We encountered many obstacles along the way – slippery rocks, fallen trees, the rising tide – but we managed to make it to a secluded section of the beach to hang out while the high tide made sections of the trail impassable.  It was a great time exploring the tide pools, climbing on rocks and playing cribbage.

Lots of cool rocks to climb on

Returning to our base, we took a nap, people watched (as stated earlier, there were plenty of people around), I read a whole book and Zach explored the tide pools more.  We watched another beautiful sunset and tried to remember/deduce the science behind the phases of the moon.  As the sky darkened, we partook in one of my favorite camping activities – counting the stars.  When the sky first darkens, you can only see one or two.  Each time you count, more stars have appeared and before long, there are too many to keep track off.

Night on the beach

The Pacific Northwest is a wonderful place and this was just the start of our time in the region.  Although I got frustrated with sand being everywhere, our weekend on the beach was nothing short of delightful.   As much as I’ve loved our past few mountainous National Parks, it was great to change things up.  The inland part of the park has worthwhile features to visit (we hit up Hurricane Ridge and the Hoh Rainforest when we where in the park two summers ago) but don’t forget to stop by the coast when you visit.

Starfish Best Friends

Canada Part 2 (Banff)

We spent nearly a year planning our trip prior to hitting the road – marking points of interest on a map, researching car and lodging options, and reading about the national parks. In all that time, I don’t remember ever discussing taking our trip beyond the US. Yet, for the second week this summer, we found ourselves in Canada. This time, instead of a remote island on the French River, we stayed in a campground within the city limits of Calgary.

Oh Canada!

While visiting a brewery in Calgary, Liz and I met a few locals who made a point to remind us that Canadians tend to know a lot more about the US than we know about their affairs. So, for those unaware, Calgary is Canada’s third largest city with about 1.3 million residents. The city lies about an hour east of Banff, Canada’s first national park. And it played host to the 1986 Olympics, a fact the city continues to heavily lean on more than 30 years later.

Looking back, nothing in particular stands out about our time in Calgary. We drove past several old ski facilities used during the Olympic games, spent a limited amount of time downtown, and got the cars oil changed. In short – I don’t feel a strong desire to head back any time soon.

The one picture we took in Calgary

On Friday, after work, we made the short drive west to Banff National Park. After setting up the camper at Tunnel Mountain campground (an enormous campground with over 500 sites!) we headed into the town of Banff. The town sits within the national park and has the vibe of a large ski community, even in the heat summer. While in town, we decided to swing into the park visitor center to plan our weekend. There, we were ‘greeted’ by a warden (what they call their park rangers in Canada) who informed us that “you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do” in the park and that there’s “nothing that you need to see”. Thanks for the guidance Sophia.

Beautiful Banff!

Like most weekends, our time was primarily spent hiking. Saturday, we climbed the Cory Pass Loop – a strenuous hike that follows a seemingly endless set of switchbacks before leading up a picturesque mountain ridgeline. The trail then crosses through a mile of rocks and boulders before entering a densely-forested ravine that follows a creek down the mountain. The trek was tiring but a great way to start our weekend!

One of many breaks on the way up

On Sunday, we got up early and drove to Lake Louise. Perhaps the most popular destination in the park, the lake was already crawling with tourists early in the morning. We were able to escape most of the crowd by hiking around the lake and up to a remote tea house. The tea house is staffed by seasonal workers who hike in on several day rotations and cook all the food on site with supplies air dropped in by helicopter. After munching down a heavy piece of chocolate cake, we continued up the trail to check out the glaciers.

Great cake and great views!

While I don’t know if Banff is a good representation of all of Canada’s national parks, I felt like their park system is managed very differently. While the US national parks often contain guest lodges, a small handful of gift shops, and restaurants to service visitors, Banff plays host to a far larger commercial enterprise. From the town of Banff, located in the park, to the railroad track, the ski slopes, and the trans-Canadian highway, Banff seems to specialize in accessibility, not conservation. That’s not a slight to the park though – I think both Liz and I really enjoyed our weekend and I’d love to make it back again someday to see the park from its ski slopes.

Better glaciers than Glacier

Glacier National Park

According to our trusted Guide to the National Parks book, Glacier is the number one park overall and has the best scenic drive and the best trail.  In addition, it nears the top of the list for hiking, backpacking, whitewater rafting, biking, horseback riding, mountain climbing, waterfalls, and ‘best for couples’ (not sure what makes a park good for couples).  Not that we were planning on doing all those things during our weekend in Glacier but it gives you a good idea of how great the park is.  Definitely one of most anticipated locations of the summer – so much so that we took Friday off of work to spend more time in the park.

Ready for a grizzly encounter!

Located in northwest Montana, Glacier National Park is populated by the Rocky Mountains, hundreds of lakes and waterfalls, and a few quickly disappearing glaciers.  These titular glaciers formed over 7,000 years ago but thanks to climate change, they could be completely gone within 15 years.   During the past hundred years, the park went from having 150 glaciers of over 25 acres to only 26 glaciers of that size. Given the backwards steps our current administration has taken in terms of climate change, I don’t think there’s anything that can save the glaciers.  But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try! And go see the glaciers while you still can! (Read more on the disappearing glaciers)

Everyone should see a glacier at some point in their life!

Although Glacier has 13 campgrounds, most of them don’t take reservations and they all fill up very early on summer weekends.  We were past the peak tourist season but still in the heat of things.  As a planner and a worrier, I was concerned about getting a site and had an ordered list of campgrounds and some backup options outside the park in case things didn’t work out.  Thankfully we easily got a site in our first choice, Apgar Campground, and once again, I had wasted my time worrying.

Testing out our new chess board

Glacier is an enormous park (over 1 million acres) with so much to do! Even after making it a long weekend, we were still overwhelmed with the multitude of options.  With both of us battling injuries, we decided to postpone the epic 19-mile Dawson Pass loop until our next visit; instead settling for more manageable 10-14 mile hikes.

We still needed breaks on the shorter hikes

We started the weekend with the Highline trail – our book’s top rated trail out of all the national parks!  The hike starts at Logan Pass and travels 12 miles along the continental divide, conveniently losing 2,000 feet of elevation on the way.  A park shuttle will take you back up to your car at Logan Pass.  I alway appreciate a hike that is very much downhill!

Highline Trail!

The views were out-of-this-world amazing! I recently bought hiking boots at an REI garage sale and was experiencing some breaking in pains (AKA blisters) but I had no complaints.  In addition to beautiful panoramas, we also saw three mountain goats! We watched a mom and a baby eat for a while and later got stuck behind another goat who was slowly making his way down the trail.

I had a difficult time deciding which of the 29 goat pictures to use

Halfway through, we saw a side trail going straight up the mountain.  There were some people sitting at the intersection that said it was too difficult for them to do but they heard the views were worth it.  Not wanting to back down from a challenge, we headed up.  It was the most challenging mile I’ve ever hiked.  According to my Garmin, we gained over 1,000 feet in less than a mile.  From the top, we were overlooking Grinnell Glacier and Lake.  Not to be repetitive, but the views here were amazing too! The bluest water imaginable!

Glaciers are so cool!

On Saturday, we drove the length of Going-to-the-Sun Road to get to the Many Glacier area.  Completed in 1932, the road is an engineering marvel.  Traveling fifty miles east to west, Going-to-the-Sun is a great way to see the park without having to get out of the car.  It goes up and down mountains, past lakes and waterfalls, and through alpine forests.

Great views along Going-to-the-Sun Road

Once in the Many Glacier region, we headed out to Iceberg Lake.  Famous for its icebergs that stick around until late summer, the lake itself is amazing even without them (they were mostly melted by this time of year).   The hike was less crowded than Highline and, in my opinion, more beautiful.

Mountains + Glaciers + Trees + Waterfalls

On our way out, we were informed there was a bear across the valley.  With the help of our very long camera lens, we could barely make it out.  I have no idea how anyone spotted the bear; it must have been close to a half mile away.  We were very much hoping for a (safe) bear encounter and I guess this technically counts but I’m still waiting on a close-up.

This is the long lens all the way zoomed in

Along the trail, we also saw a pair of big horn sheep.  My favorite thing about them was the inquisitive look they always had on their faces.

What are these humans doing in our habitat?

While on the east side of the park, we had dinner at the Many Glacier lodge.  Back in the early 1900’s, the railroad companies helped develop Glacier into a tourist destination.  They built Swiss style hotels and chalets and enticed wealthy Americans to ‘See America First’ rather than vacation abroad. To get to the park, they would take a train.  Many Glacier lodge was built by the Great Northern Railway in 1915.  The beautiful building with beautiful views made the overpriced food worth it.

Hard to beat this view

On our last day in the park, we headed up to Apgar Lookout.  We had spent a lot of time driving the past days so we were happy to do a hike closer to our campground.  Although it had a thumbs-up in our book, it seemed like a forest fire had semi-recently burnt most of the area leaving it not very attractive.  Maybe if we hadn’t done amazing hikes the past two days it would have been more impressive.  It was very hazy at the top due to current forest fire smoke which probably affected our experience.  The one nice thing was that there were very few people hiking it.

Very poor air quality

We finished off the weekend by exploring Avalanche Creek and hiking to Avalanche Lake.  We attended a ranger talk on trees and how to identify conifer species.  Zach recently bought a tree guide and we’ve been working on increasing our arbor knowledge.

Avalanche Creek

I need some time to reflect on the weekend, but I think Glacier will be nearing the top of my favorite National Parks list.  It is big, beautiful, full of amazing hikes, and home to diverse wildlife.  I know that I’ve been saying this about pretty much every place we go but, visit Glacier! It’s definitely worth the trek across the country!

South Dakota

What a jam packed two weeks! The Black Hills of South Dakota gave us plenty of adventure, new experiences, and unexpected beauty.  I had always thought of South Dakota as a touristy, dusty sort of place and I was happily surprised to be proven wrong.  While it has gimmicky tourist traps like Wall Drug, the state is also home to amazing tourist traps, like Mount Rushmore, and incredible, off-the-beaten-path escapades.

Happy to be in South Dakota (and drinking wine)!

South Dakota is home to two National Parks, the first of which we visited was Wind Cave.  Zach wanted to do a Wild Cave tour – a four-hour expedition into the cave involving crawling, squeezing, and climbing.  I reluctantly agreed.  I’m very happy I did.  I was picturing many more tight spaces, and while there were a few times I had to maneuver through a small opening, I never felt trapped.  It was so much fun that maybe, if software development doesn’t work out for me, I’ll become a cave surveyor. I would highly recommend doing a wild cave tour if you ever have the opportunity. Phone’s weren’t allowed but here’s a picture I found online of the amazing boxwork formation found throughout the cave.

Wind Cave has the most boxwork in the world!

The other National Park, the Badlands, was a bit of a letdown.  The best views of the park were top notch but it lacked depth and diversity.  As Zach put it, the park could be summed up in one view.  It’s an amazing view but once you see it, there’s not much else.  There’s no great hikes or other activities, nothing that can’t be done from the car.

Not too shabby of a view

The National Park Service also owns Mount Rushmore.  I, as a president enthusiast, loved it. My expectations had been set low by the multiple people who had told me the heads were smaller than they appeared in pictures.  Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised by the size and quality of George, Tom, Teddy and Abe.  We arrived at dusk, with enough daylight remaining to walk the short trail and stuck around for the illumination ceremony.

Reppin’ the NPS

While not visiting National Parks, we spent a lot of time in Custer State Park.  Over the course of our three trips to the park, I came to truly appreciate South Dakota’s beauty.  Out of all the great things we did in the state, this is the one I would most recommend.  The winding roads, the abundance of wildlife, and the awe-inspiring views are not to be missed.

One day after work, we headed to Custer to combine three trails to make one epic hike.  We started at Cathedral Spires, big spiky rocks that attract rock climbers from all over the country.  Then we hit up Little Devils’ Tower, which had spectacular 360 degree views.  Finally, we cut across to Black Elk Peak – the highest point in South Dakota.  Here we had more fabulous views, supposedly of five states.

Cathedral Spires

Little Devils Tower

Black Elk Peak

Within the first minute of our trip back down, I fell hard and sprained my ankle.  It started swelling instantly but I got up, wiped away my tears and had Zach fetch me a walking stick.  We were three miles from the car and the only way of getting there was on my own two feet (Zach offered to carry me but, no offense to him, I didn’t think he could make it all the way).  The way down was rocky, steep and a struggle but we made it back just before dark.  It was one of the hardest things I’ve done but when there’s only one way out, you do what it takes.  It’s still a bit swollen and sore but it will hopefully be back in shape in time for Glacier.

Still enjoyed the views on the rough trip down

While not exploring the great parks of South Dakota, we took some time to experience the culture of the state.  We attended a rodeo in the nearby town of Deadwood.  In Zach’s words, we had a boot-scootin’ good time.  The Sturgis motorcycle rally, one of the largest in the world with more than 700,000 attendees, started our last weekend in town. Zach wanted to rent a moped to drive around the rally but luckily, he couldn’t find one.  I felt enough out of place as it was.

Zach got some great pictures (considering we were in the top row)

South Dakota was full of exciting wildlife! Buffalo (safely from our car this time), prairie dogs, so many deer, pronghorns, bighorn sheep, a grey fox, and mountain goats!  It wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration to say there was more wildlife in South Dakota than all the previous states combined!

Bighorn sheep!

I feel like I’ve been ending most of my blog posts with ‘you need to visit this place!’ and I’ll do it again this time.  South Dakota is a great state with much to do and see!  Definitely worth spending some time in!

North Dakota

North Dakota. Zach’s first new state of the trip; my eighth new state. Although he can only remember being in an airport in Minnesota so I’m not sure I trust his state count. Layovers do not count as being in a state. We spent the workweek in Fargo – winner of the “Toughest Weather City” poll, thanks to its harsh winters and frequent flooding.  Luckily, we only experienced high temperatures and one strange thunderstorm that appeared to have pink lightning.

Beautiful post-storm sunset

In Ohio, we like to complain about the amount of orange barrels covering the roads but it is nothing compared to the construction going on in Fargo. It seemed like every other street was closed due to road work. In order to drive the five miles from our campground to downtown, we had to take four detours! In addition to construction, Fargo also has a surprising amount of culture. We went to a different independent coffee shop every day. A brewery put on The Office themed trivia that packed the bar to well over capacity. I thought I knew The Office pretty well but there were some teams that didn’t miss a question the whole night!

Literally the only picture I took in Fargo

We left Fargo on Thursday afternoon and headed west. We ran into a bit of trouble when our trailer got a flat tire along the way. Thanks to teamwork, we fixed it without too much stress and continued on to Bismarck where we witnessed a beautiful sunset from the Walmart parking lot we spent the night in.

I think we’re ready to be NASCAR tire changers now

Our final destination in North Dakota was Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We planned on going backpacking and, on Saturday morning, headed to the visitor’s center to pick up our permit.  The ranger warned us that our route was very difficult and seemed skeptical in our ability to find the way.  Undeterred, we headed out for the 18 mile Achenbach loop.

TRNP – where the Great Plains meet the rugged Badlands

The trail was by no means easy but we survived.  A few times we lost the trail, once getting over a half mile off it, but managed to find it again everytime.  We crossed the muddy Little Missouri twice, climbed up and down the hills of the badlands and traversed wide open plains.

This is how I traverse

The geology of the park is baffling.  I felt like I was hiking on the moon or Mars (or a planet with the oxygen and gravity levels of Earth.)  There were multiple times I looked around and said to Zach, “this is so weird”.  It’s hard to describe but here’s one of many strange formations we walked through.

What is going on with the dirt?

Along the way, we ran into a herd of buffalo on the trail. After taking pictures from a safe distance, we skirted around them.  Unbeknownst to us, a few had strayed from the pack. We rounded a corner and there was a very large bison, very close to us.  Bison, North America’s largest animal, weighing up to 2,000 pounds, are quite frightening up close.  Zach snapped a picture before we hightailed it out of there.

Zach is really upset the camera focused on the bush rather than the buffalo

About two-thirds of the way into the loop, we were feeling good and had plenty of sunlight left.  We decided to finish the whole trail that day.  There was cold beer and a nice bed waiting back at the camper and I wanted to prove we were fast and able backpackers after the talk from the skeptical ranger.  It seemed like a good idea at the time but the trail ended up being a few miles longer and more strenuous than we were expecting.  At that point, we were so close to being done that we had to finish.  By the end, I was exhausted and could barely keep moving. Walking 20 miles with a 30+ pound backpack is not easy.  We would have enjoyed it a lot more if we had stopped and camped along the way like originally planned.  But we learned our lesson and it made for a memorable day.

So thankful the last miles were on a flat road

Sunday, after sleeping in, we headed to the more popular south unit of the park.  Not feeling up for hiking, we drove to a prairie dog town where we saw prairie dogs (obviously) and some wild horses.  We said goodbye to North Dakota and headed down to  South Dakota for the next two weeks.

Prairie dog!

I had never heard of Teddy Roosevelt National Park until we decided to visit all of the National Parks. But I would highly recommend stopping by if you’re ever in the area.  The views are great and it’s pretty spectacular to see bison up close.  As Teddy himself said, “It is an incalculable added pleasure to any one’s sum of happiness if he or she grows to know, even slightly and imperfectly, how to read and enjoy the wonder-book of nature.”