Sunset as we make our way to Star Dune, the highest sand dune in North America.
There are moments you experience when you travel to a strange new place where you are completely disconnected from reality and just totally in awe of the nature around you. It's why I travel often and why I travel alone.
This was one of those moments.
The hike up the Dunes was tough both because of how steep it is and the fact that you're walking through sand. So imagine being 1 foot tall and trying to traverse this landscape. Lola, who was the most excited she's ever been in her life when we first arrived, failed to pace herself and about half way up she started trying to pull me back to the car. At one point when I stopped to empty the sand from my shoes (had to do this periodically) she actually bolted all the way back down the dunes. I was chasing her wildly down the sandy mountain screaming her name like a crazy person and I'm sure we gave several people a good laugh. So, we started the hike over. And this time she learned that if she sat directly in front of me and stared at me and refused to move, I would pick her up and carry her. So this is how our hike looked about 50% of the time.
(Yeah I know it's a lot of selfies but I love my dog and I love this place and I love these moments and I want to remember them forever.)
Great Sand Dunes NP. Hiking up to the High Dune, which one would think is the highest dune, but you'd be wrong because that's Star Dune which we got to a bit later when the sun was setting. This place is magnificent. My thoughts have been all over the place the last week or two, and in many ways I don't think I was prepared for the amount of time I would have to myself to think / ruminate / obsess over things on this trip. Today was the first time in a while my head felt completely clear and I found myself singing made up songs out loud to Lola as we made our way through this vast landscape. Most of them were about how sandy the sand was and our EP comes out soon.
We found our favorite National
Park because it's DOG FRIENDLY. Lola about lost her god damn mind and this series of pictures has me cackling like a crazy person in the pitch dark in my tent.
As soon as I arrived at Great Sand Dunes NP I knew I was going to want to spend at least one night camping here. The park is beautiful and also dog friendly (not the case with most parks we've hit so far). So the first stop was setting up camp since spots are first come first serve. I had to laugh when I saw a whole crew of deer claiming one of the campsites. I swear one glared at me and mouthed "seats taken." Anyway, got a nice little spot with views of the dunes. Very much looking forward to waking up here.
Driving through southern Colorado on our way to Great Sand Dunes NP.
3 days ago
After a few restful days in my little lakeside cabin in Grand Lakes, I'm heading south towards Great Sand Dunes NP. Decided to stop halfway to stay in an airbnb outside of Colorado Springs for the night. It's a cute little guest house on this amazing property with views of Pikes Peak.
4 days ago
Morning drive through Rocky Mountain National Park.
5 days ago
When you're almost back to your perfect cozy little cabin but the road gets closed due to snow and this is the only alternative...
Being a law abiding citizen.
Vintage thrift shop outside of Denver.
Driving through Arapaho National Forest on my way to Denver & Boulder for the afternoon.
Staying at the cutest little cabin in the snoozy mountain town of Grand Lake, CO. I'm right next door to Rocky Mountain National Park, my cabin is a block from the lake, and marijuana is legal in Colorado sooo if you need me for the next few days you can find me here.
6 days ago
Left northeastern Utah this morning to head east into northern Colorado. I'll be staying in a small town right outside of Rocky Mountain NP.
7 days ago
Flaming Gorge, yet another example of me trying to fit too much into a day. It was getting dark and pretty freezing by the time I arrived here so my time felt rushed and the views, while incredible, were not as "flaming" as one might expect in full sunlight. Would absolutely go back in the summer months.
Dinosaur National Monument. This park actually spans Utah and Colorado, but even after a full afternoon I only made it through a small portion of the park on the Utah side. It was breathtaking and also fairly empty which made it more fun because I got to sing songs really loudly to Lola while we explored.
Stayed in Vernal, UT last night which is a strange little town outside of Dinosaur NP.
Drove out to the park this morning and was immediately absorbed by the amazing Quarry Exhibit Hall which houses a ton of actual dinosaur fossils. The set up here was really impressive... you were encouraged to actually touch the fossils and there were some cool interactive displays that help you identify what kinds of bones you're seeing.
8 days ago
Left Salt Lake this morning to head east through Northern Utah. The landscapes here are unreal and this sunset made me feel a lot of feelings.
The plans is to head east through northern Utah, hop over to Colorado, then head south to New Mexico, loop back up through Arizona and then return to Southern Utah for all of the amazing NPs there.
9 days ago
Sean Hayes at The State Room. Weird crowd dancing in weird ways to weird songs.
Hiked Bear Trap Fork and (barely) lived to tell about it. The altitude here has been pretty killer. Completely worth it to see the amazing views once we reached the top.
Stopped to climb some things while driving through Big Cottonwood Canyon just outside of SLC.
Matt decided that I wasn't capable of navigating SLC on my own (he just recently moved to Jackson from SLC) so he ended up coming down Friday night to be my tour guide. We had dinner at Pallet - amazing scallops and wild boar risotto.
This morning we took Lola for a walk through Emigration Canyon. I was happy to get her some quality off leash time since the parks so far have been pretty strict about dogs.
Rewarded myself for being a dog owner afterwards by getting tot-chos (that would be tater tots covered in guac and melted cheese) from Campfire Lounge.
10 days ago
Bonneville Salt Flats was one of the top five places I wanted to visit on this trip. I had seen photos and was obsessed by the landscape and the mirror like surface.
Unfortunately, I didn't have the greatest weather when I was there and I think you can have pretty varying experiences depending on conditions.
Areas of the flats covered in water produced a mirror like surface, though there was a bit of wind coming through which rippled the water and interfered with the reflection. Other areas were caked in salt crystals that crunched under my feet. The portion where I drove my car was actually a mix of salt and mud so it was a little more dull in appearance.
It was fun to explore here but I would love to go back on a sunnier day and when the salt has been replenished in spots. I also have my eye on the salt flats in Bolivia.
13 October 2016
Ate alone in my room at Hotel Monaco and have 0 regrets after living mostly off of Luna Bars and McFlurries for the last two weeks.
The restaurant attached to the hotel is Bambara and the food was unreal. Would highly recommend, even (/especially) if you eat it in your pajamas while watching New Girl like I did.
I had crab stuffed piquillo peppers in saffron sauce, smoked shrimp and glazed pork belly in a currant glaze with fig relish and arugula, and a spinach salad with grilled pear.
I'm continually surprised by the portion sizes out this way, but that hasn't stopped me from still ordering multiple items.
Driving into SLC I had no plan or direction regarding what I wanted to see. When I checked a map, I saw a park called Antelope Island which is on the lake so I figured it would be a good spot to check out the namesake of the city.
This place was so incredibly magical. The drive to get out there makes you feel like you're crossing over to another planet. Once in the island, you feel incredibly remote as the views of surrounding mountains were hazy and distant.
There were tons of hills and trails of varying lengths and some great camp sites. Lola was allowed here as long as she was leashed and kept off the beach, so we had a great afternoon exploring.
I saw quite a few bison and some wild rabbits, but no antelope. Was hoping to get a bison burger from the island's one small grill but it was closed by the time I got there.
Took a quick stop at Echo Reservoir to FaceTime with mom on my way into Salt Lake City.
Anyone who has ever suffered through watching me rearrange sugar packets anywhere / everywhere I go can appreciate how satisfying this gas station coffee station was for me.
It's also particularly helpful to contribute to this giant cup of coffee I'm about to ingest after sleeping on the back seat of my car last night somewhere in Evanston, WY. Got way too tired to keep driving last night and there's so many god damn deer hurling their bodies at your car from every direction in these parts that you just really can't risk it.
12 October 2016
Driving south through Wyoming on my way to Salt Lake.
Granite Creek Hot Springs. This man made pool fills with the naturally hot water from the springs. If you cross the creek below the waterfall, you can hike to a more natural part of the springs.
In search of Granite Creek Hot Springs in Wyoming just south of Jackson.
Last morning in Jackson Hole. Iced coffee and coffee cake muffin from Jackson Hole Coffee Roasters and relaxing poolside until checkout.
11 October 2016
Mammoth Hot Springs in the very northern part of Yellowstone.
Due to a combination of poor planning and consistently getting distracted and taking twice as long to get places as it should, I arrived here pretty late in the day. At first it felt pretty magical, like I was the only one in on the secret as I ran through the trails snapping photos under the moonlight.
That lasted until I realized I was lost at which point panic set in. Just a liiiiittle more foresight in the future would afford me a more carefree existence. Lesson learned.
Long / late drive back to Jackson since I was practically to Montana at this point and I hit more snow and ice coming back through the park.
Mint chamomile tea calmed my nerves at the end of a very long day.
Wildlife in Yellowstone. So glad I brought my binoculars with me, I've felt like a regular Steve Irwin scoping out the local flora and fauna. I've seen some cool animals, but still want to check a grizzly bear off my list and get a closer look at some male moose.
Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone. It was nearly impossible to see the spring due to the fog caused by the cold, wet air mixed hitting surface of the springs (I made that up but it sounds right, maybe I should be a meteorologist). The few glimpses I did get were otherworldly.
The area surrounding Old Faithful has several other small geysers and hot pools. The pristine clear blue waters seemed so inviting on a cold snowy day, but most were boiling and bubbling.
I've been getting pretty used to the bison, maybe even a little desensitized, but it was cool to see a few roaming the geyser basin.
Old Faithful in Yellowstone. It was freezing cold while I was there and actually snowing for a bit while I waited for the geyser to go off. It was definitely a site to behold, I wasn't quite sure where the geyser ended and the sky began.
Ominous skies driving through Yellowstone.
Driving past Jackson Lake and Snake River on the way to Yellowstone.
Driving through Grand Teton again this morning on my way to Yellowstone. Those mountains just don't quit.
10 October 2016
Monday was pretty uneventful. I catched up on some necessary errands - oil change, laundry, grocery shopping, etc.
Even boring things are better in Wyoming.
Met up with Matt when he was off of work for dinner at Bin22, a cozy little tapas bar connected to a wine shop. Hands down the best meal of the trip so far.
9 October 2016
Later in the afternoon we drove into Teton Village and took a tram up Mount Rendezvous where we had some glorious / terrifying cliff side views.
We ate dinner at the Mangy Moose within the resort and then headed back to Jackson Hole. On our way home we saw some moose and elk up pretty close, but it was a bit too dark to get any photos.
Sunday morning and I'm still in Jackson, Wyoming. It has been a really nice stopping point and the resort where I'm staying is gorgeous and having Matt's company has been much appreciated after a week of solitude on the road.
We had brunch at Cafe Genevieve in Jackson Hole and then took a drive through the Elk Refuge.
We drove up through the mountains to the west through the town of Wilson and over to the town of Victor, ID to grab a bite to eat. Had a cup of coffee along a creek in Wilson in the way back east.
8 October 2016
Exploring the Wildlife Refuge in search of some moose. No luck yet, but we did find a bison and some prong horns.
Exploring Grand Teton National Park with Matt. We found a warm, sunny spot on Lake Jenny to hang the hammock and relax for a pretty perfect afternoon.
Woke up a liiiittle hungover so took it slow and walked through Jackson Hole for coffee and breakfast. Matt brought me by his office to show me some projects his architecture firm is working on and pointed out some of the buildings they worked on around town. We stopped at a park at the base of Snow King to do some light bouldering with five year olds. Also swung by Matt's apartment which is right next to a beautiful creek and hill.
7 October 2016
Arriving in Jackson where we will be staying at Snow King Resort for the weekend. The plan is to explore Grand Teton National Park for then next two days with my friend Matt, then I'll return to Yellowstone early next week to spend a little more time there and camp out.
Driving past Yellowstone Lake on my way to Jackson. This felt very Pacific Northwest to me; a rocky beach, moody clouds, chilly temperatures, and beautiful crashing waves.
Passed through Yellowstone on my way to Jackson and there was over a foot of snow in the east side of the park. I'm actually excited for the timing of my trip and being able to see such a variety of landscapes and climates. The snow added another layer of dimension to the landscape.
Left Montana after a quick workout and drove west through Wyoming on my way to meet a friend in Jackson Hole. Passed through Buffalo Bill State Park, which was absolutely stunning. It's incredible to me how much variation in landscape I've seen in the last week. Every day has been something new.
6 October 2016
So, in order to give myself a reason to knock North Dakota off my list, I had googled interesting things to see there before I left New York. The only thing I really found was "The Enchanted Highway", which is pretty much just a 20 mile stretch that has a few super weird large statues made from scrap metal. But I mean A+ for whoever was behind the marketing for this place because I for some bizarre reason felt very strongly compelled to go. In retrospect, I would say a more accurate name for this place would be the "Will Haunt Your Dreams for Eternity Highway". I only saw three of the "sculptures" (/piles of trash) before it got dark and I think that was more than enough.
I was on the fence about going to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, but think it would be similar to / a watered down version of Badlands and I wanted to get to Wyoming for the weekend to meet up with a friend. Drove until about 1am and stopped in Montana to sleep. Heading to Jackson in the morning.
From Mount Rushmore, I headed north. I wanted to hit North Dakota while I was in the area but there's not a whole lot there in terms of attractions. As it turns out, the drive through South Dakota to get there is reason enough to go. The landscape was so gorgeous and I was the only car on the road most of the time.
We drove through Custer National Forrest, where we ran into more bison. I rolled down my window and started to slow the car to pull over to get some photos, and before I realized what was happening Lola had lept across my lap and OUT THE WINDOW running full speed towards the bison. The speed limit on this road is 70mph. Luckily traffic was almost nonexistent but I've never panicked as much as I did chasing her down that road.
She has no remorse and it was one of the most thrilling experiences of her life.
Windows are up and child locks in place for the rest of the trip, and she got a stern talking to.
Drove west from Badlands into the Black Hills to get to Mount Rushmore. I wasn't that impressed, it's smaller than expected and the process was a bit of a rip off. Had to pay for parking above and beyond the annual pass I bought which grants access to all the national parks. Once again, no dogs allowed. This one I really don't understand because there's no wildlife and it's just a small paved park / viewing area of the mountain. I was sorely disappointed because I had envisioned so many great photo ops of Lola & the prezs. To make it up to her I bought her a stuffed animal bison.
On the bright side, I learned Thomas Jefferson's recipe for ice cream, so I'll chalk that up as a win.
Took another loop around Badlands National Park to get some more photos in the daylight and explore some of the areas I hadn't seen yesterday. Also picked up my National Park Passport which is a nice way to keep track of each park I visit.
At the visitor center, I decided to clarify the policy for dogs. Indeed, they are only allowed on leash in parking lots, nowhere else. Because...
"We have the plague in this park."
"I'm sorry, what? Like, THE plague?"
"Yes, if humans contract it, it's like the bubonic plague."
Not sure if this is just a scare tactic, but it worked. Plus I spent the rest of the morning with that scene from Wet Hot American Summer stuck in my head. "I went to camp so long ago..."
Desperately in need of a cup of coffee and a full tank of gas in the car, I headed into the town of Wall for breakfast. I had been seeing signs for Wall Drugs for the last 200 miles and decided that it would be the best spot in all of its kitschy glory. It's a cute little group of stores and gift shoes as well as a cafe whose slogan was, I shit you not, "home of the free ice water!" Got some warm food and a cup of shitty 5¢ coffee and a maple glazed donut that I eyed the man in front of me ordering. I regret all of it except for that donut. 👌🏼
5 October 2016
I SAW A BISON.
So, I decided to camp in Badlands tonight so that I would have more time to explore in the morning. I chose the more remote camp site and it took about an hour to get here on a dirt road. On my way, I happened upon this guy. He was super laid back just chomping on some grass but he was HUGE. Same size as my SUV. The campsite I'm staying in is close to where the bison roam so I'm hoping to see more of them in the morning.
As I lay falling asleep at the campsite now, there is another group nearby playing the fiddle and singing songs.
I might just stay here forever.
Arrived in Badlands around 5:30 giving me a small window of time before sunset. This is the first national park on my list and the joy I felt pulling in was immeasurable. 5 days on the road, tons of rain, and one spider bite later - I'm finally here and it is so much more magnificent than I imagined.
4 October 2016
Somewhere in Iowa, trying to escape Nebraska's spider population. North of Omaha heading to Sioux Falls to spend the night. The plan is to head west to Badlands tomorrow, which is the first national park I'll be seeing.
It's so important to me to take quiet moments to myself off then beaten path to listen to the birds chirp overheard and the cornfields sway in the breeze.
Well, we all knew this was coming it was just a matter of when. I have a real knack for random medical issues on trips (tonsils out in Sweden, cortisone shotes in Croatia, whatever the hell happened in Paris, etc).
Apparently I got a spider bite on the back of my shoulder at some point last night and my body is reacting pretty strongly (lots of swelling and pain in my neck, shoulder, and arm). Stopped by urgent care ("I'm pretty sure it wasn't a brown recluse" - doctor of the year) and am on benedryl and strong antibiotics and will see how things resolve over night. Took it easy most of the day since the benedryl is making me drowsy and I don't want to be behind the wheel.
I am totally fine and really see this as more of a humorous / absurd inconvenience than anything else. Hopefully getting this out of the way early on will mean a healthy rest of the trip.
Woke up in Omaha and worked out then headed to Howlin' Hounds Cafe for coffee. This. place. is. awesome. The owner is from Omaha but lived in Seattle for a bit and then trained as a barista in Brooklyn. He serves the same brew as Gimme Coffee in NY (which used to be my go to when I worked in SoHo). Best of all, Greg (the owner) was hilarious and easy to talk to, and I ended up spending over an hour there shooting the shit with him and a couple of his regulars. I was not too impressed with the rest of Omaha, but if I ever find myself back here this cafe will be my first stop.
3 October 2016
Gorged on pulled pork and spicey slaw at Joe's Kansas City Barbecue, which is a highly regarded BBQ restaurant inside of a gas station. Yes, of course I gave Lola a bite of pork - I'm not a monster.
Driving through Kansas City passing the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and the Kansas City Convention Center.
Arrived in Kansas City late afternoon and took Lola for a walk at Richard L Berkely Riverfront Park. Was immediately taken with this city (maybe it had something to do with the first sunny day I've seen on this trip so far). Clean and beautiful, quaint little streets and cable cars. Stopped through City Market which is an extensive farmers market with tons of little restaurants and cafes. It was closing down when I arrived but I swung by Quay Coffee across the street for a cold brew. The area reminded me a lot of Brooklyn.
Stayed at The Elms, a beautiful
Spa resort located in Excelsior Springs outside of Kansas City. Arrived 11 pm last night, and slept til about 9 am. Took Lola for a walk around the grounds and did my morning workout. The weather has cleared and it is 75 and sunny, so I am taking the day to relax by the pool.
2 October 2016
St. Louis Arch: Gateway to the West
I almost didn't walk up to the arch because I figured it was best observed from afar due to the scale. I'm so glad that I did, because it's magnificent and it was so beautiful against the moody, cloudy sky. I didn't go up/in it because there was a bit of construction but I sat in the grass for a while with Lola people watching.
Rolled into St. Louis around 3pm and headed straight to Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park, which has a great view of the city skyline and The Arch. Lola haaaated it here because a) we were up on a high platform and b) she doesn't get why we are spending so much time in the Midwest when I told her we were going to California.
Stumbled upon Fox Ridge State Park and decided to stop and have a bite to eat (still working through all the apples we picked before I left NY) and walk some trails with Lola. Really beautiful scenery and the sun peaked through a few times which was welcome after driving in torrential downpours all day yesterday.
Woke up in Indianapolis, did a little morning workout, and got on the road around 11 heading west through Illinois. Ventured off 70-W to get a peak at some back roads and was not disappointed.
1 October 2016
First day on the road was honestly a bit discouraging. Lots of rain, torrential at points causing me to have to pull over at times. Made it through New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and into Indiana. Had hoped to make it to St. Louis but ended up stopping around 1am to spend the night in Indianapolis. I've spent months picturing my first day on the road: pulling out of the driveway with the radio blasting and sun shining. Today was an important lesson that life doesn't always look the way we'd like it to, but usually there's still small moments of beauty to be found if we learn to let go of our expectations and accept the present moment.
Stopped to walk Lola and have a snack and found a cute little riverside park and some pretty perfect birds on a wire.
Yep, I've got all the necessities for my cross county adventure.