Tag: outdoors (Page 1 of 2)

A Love Letter to Arizona

Dear Arizona,

Look, I’ll just say it – I love you.

I know it’s been a long time coming, and that maybe I’ve denied it in the past.

I’m sorry if I’ve ever called you boring, or unwelcoming, or even threatened to move.

I hope you didn’t take it personally. I was young and foolish when I said all those things and hadn’t taken time to travel or open my eyes to all your wonderful features.

And what would those features be? Well, Arizona, how do I love thee?

Let me count the ways.

  1. I love your industrious, final frontier spirit.

    Somehow you got me enthralled in the mining history of many of our cities. But when you visit a town like Superior and stand amongst century-old brick buildings, frankly, it’s easy to get caught up in the romance of it all. Can you imagine leaving everything you knew behind to move westward with dreams of striking it rich?
  2. I love your ghost stories.

    The Old West was truly wild. It left behind ghost towns, usually settlements that were mining boomtowns abandoned after their mines closed. It also left behind tales of the people who lived here before us and those who may still haunt our buildings’ hallowed halls.
  3. I love your small towns.

    Globe, Kingman, Florence – Arizona has an abundance of small towns. And each of them has its own charm. These are why I hate hurrying on road trips. I always want to stop and see what little gems I can find.
  4. I love your nature.

    From desert to forest to canyon, Arizona’s landscape is beautiful. Add in a dollop of sunshine (though the summers be brutal) and you have the perfect recipe for some great outdoor trips and hikes.

So there you have it, Arizona. I hope you can forgive my past misgivings about you and accept that I’m in it for the long haul.

Yours Truly,
Katie

Want to discover your love for Arizona? Explore with us.

A Hike Worth Hollering About: Tanque Verde Falls

It’s rare for us Nightborn Travel gals to pass up a chance to hike. On our recent trip down to the Ol’ Pueblo (or Tucson, as normal people would call it) we decided to venture out to Tanque Verde Canyon for our first time hiking Tanque Verde Falls.

View from the top of the trail – close to the trailhead.

This trail is located east of Tucson, just barely outside of the city – maybe 15 to 20 minutes. Take note that the paved road leading to the trailhead becomes a dirt road, so take that into consideration if your vehicle isn’t suited for dusty and slightly bumpy (but still driveable) terrain.

A comically angry-looking cactus near the creek bed. You’re welcome.

The hike itself is only about 2 miles long, but if you want to actually make it to the falls, there’s one BIG thing to take into consideration, and that’s water. Should you bring it? Yes. But also, has it rained lately? Because if it has, the creek along the trail will be running and while it will be beautiful, it will make your hike to the falls less of a hike and more of an… attempt.

Mmmm, sweet brown rainwater. (We did not drink this water, nor do we endorse drinking this water.)

Why am I telling you this? Because it’s exactly what happened to us. We made it about halfway up the trail before a mini-waterfall blocked us from going forward. We talked to a couple locals who told us that if the creek is dry or at least more of a trickle, you can scramble your way up the falls.

The mini-waterfall that hike-blocked us.

And here’s another thing to consider, the trail going down to the creek bed is relatively easy going, but from there on you’ll be encountering rock pile after rock pile and some times it will feel less like hiking and more like bouldering.

Rocks on rocks on rocks.

That being said, the area the trail is in is wonderful and the falls are said to be worth seeing, so there’s a pretty good chance we’ll be back. And, keeping what you’ve read in mind, we’ll hope you visit, too (if you’re not a big hiker, it’s a great little spot to find a rock along the creek and relax).

Happy hiking!

xo,
Katie

Utah’s Mighty Five Roadtrip Summary

Day 0

Waited in line for 1.5 hours in order to pick up a rental car. I was extremely angry, until they gave me this beauty…

(c) ABR 2017

Day 1

We hiked 3.9 miles in Natural Bridges National Monument. I really wanted to hike the loop that went through the canyon here, but we didn’t have time. We settled for hiking down to each of the bridges instead. We also had to convince a ranger that we didn’t have anything against National Monuments, and we forgot the name of our hotel for the night since I left our itinerary at home.

(c) ABR 2017

Day 2

It snowed over night, and while we were trying to drive up to the Moab area. Due to the weather, we skipped out on seeing the Needles sector of Canyonlands, and went up to Island in the Sky instead. It was windy and cold as heck, but we still managed to hike to the second overlook of Upheaval Dome, Whale Rock, Aztec Butte, Grand View, and Mesa Arch (7.3 miles). We dressed really warmly so that we could stay out in the weather, and people kept commenting on how prepared we were. When we got back into town, we met someone who had flipped their car in the storm that we had driven through. It was a sobering moment.

(c) ABR 2017

Day 3

Fearing crowds, we got into Arches early and hiked to Delicate Arch first thing. Luckily, the weather was much nicer this day. Nice enough that we actually managed to take our jackets off (unlike the day before), and enjoy our picnic lunch without freezing. After seeing the arch that is on most Utah license plates, we checked out many other arches, and managed to hike another 7.4 miles.

(c) ABR 2017

Day 4

Capitol Reef was probably the least developed park of the five, but we started the day off by visiting another arch. I wasn’t expecting to be super excited about it, after Arches, but it was actually really cool. We also climbed up to a view point of historic Fruita, where Fremont Native Americans and then Mormon farmers lived, and walked through Capitol Gorge (6.5 miles hiked this day). This park felt a little disorganized, but it was nice to escape the crowds, and I loved the variation.

(c) ABR 2017

Day 5

Bryce Canyon was… mindblowing. I had no idea that Thunder Mountain in Disneyland was based on a real place, but here it is! Hoodoos every where, and even though we had to slip down ice, and slog through mud, the hiking here was wonderful. We visited Tower Bridge (another arch, go figure), and then wandered through the Queen’s Garden (where the trail winds through the hoodoos) and by the end that day we had hiked 6.4 miles. It was beautiful, and blessedly not all that crowded.

(c) ABR 2017

Day 6

Our last day was a mix of proud and disappointing moments. We wanted to hike Angel’s Landing, but the ranger at the gate freaked us out about parking, and there were only nasty port-a-potties at the visitor center. So, the start to the day was awkward. But we did find parking, and we powered up the steep incline of Angel’s Landing to the saddle before the part of the trail that crosses the spine of the mountain. I was scared, there were cliffs on either side, but it was worth it! I was so proud of us for making if up the cliffside and facing our fears, and we finished the trail in nearly half the time that the park signs thought we would. After lunch, we also made it out to Emerald Pools. But that was it for us and Zion, because it was so busy. There was no parking and it definitely turned us off a little bit. 7 miles hiked!

(c) ABR 2017

The Nature of Florida

So, I’ve established two things about Florida so far (1) the Florida Keys can be a destination for hikers, and (2) this state has a lot of forts. As much as I love Disney, I didn’t see a single theme park while I was there. So, yes, there are a lot of off-the-beaten-path destinations in Florida, and there is hiking to be had for those us of that love seeing nature. But just what IS nature like in the home of Disney World? I imagined lots of swamps, with beaches on the edges, but it turns out (unsurprisingly), that the nature of Florida is really complex, with a variety of ecosystems (or groups of plants and animals associated with certain environmental conditions) to enjoy. Here are some of the ecosystems that I got to explore in Florida.

Ecosystems of Florida

Sea Island Flatwoods in Fort Caroline NM, Jacksonville

(c) ABR 2016

(c) ABR 2016

Palmetto Forests in Cape Canaveral National Seashore, Titusville

(c) ABR 2016

(c) ABR 2016

Hardwook Hammock on Windly Key, Florida Keys

(c) ABR 2016

(c) ABR 2016

Sandy Beaches in the Dry Tortugas NP

(c) ABR 2016

(c) ABR 2016

Cypress Forest in Big Cypress National Preserve

(c) ABR 2016

(c) ABR 2016

Bay Head in a Grass River of the Everglades NP

(c) ABR 2016

(c) ABR 2016

Pinelands of the Everglades NP

(c) ABR 2016

(c) ABR 2016

Mangroves of the Everglades NP

(c) ABR 2016

(c) ABR 2016

nature of florida

Exploring the Inner Hebrides On Skye, Mull, Staffa, and Iona

(c) Wikipedia

(c) Wikipedia

Our adventures in the Inner Hebrides began in the Isle of Skye, and then through the Isle of Mull, Isle of Staffa, and the Isle of Iona. Of these, Staffa and Iona were my favorite and I will honestly say that we didn’t see much of Mull, although I would have loved to hike there.

Fairy Pools (c) ABR 2016

Fairy Pools (c) ABR 2016

The Isle of Skye is somewhere that everyone seems to love, but I found it a little disappointing after the highlands. The landscapes were beautiful and the culture is unique, but in terms of sheer amazement, the highlands took the gold and the Isle of Skye had far more tourists, which made parking and exploring that much harder. My favorite thing on the island, by far, was the Fairy Pools. We had to park about a kilometer away from them due to how busy they were but there were less and less people the further we went down the trail. The stream and the mountains were everything that I had been led to believe that the Isle of Skye was- breathtaking, somewhat eery, but inarguably beautiful. I only wish we had had more time to explore there. But we wanted to visit the Dunvegan Castle before it closed so we only had about 2 hours at the pools. Sadly, of all the castles that we saw, this one was the least interesting in my opinion. There wasn’t much to its museum, and the castle was really more like a mansion than anything else. After that, with time to spare, we

Museum of Island Life (c) ABR 2016

Museum of Island Life (c) ABR 2016

decided to drive the rest of the island before arriving in Portree for the night. While the Museum of Island Life was a very interesting look into the historical and current state of island life in Skye, the rest of the drive was just not comparable to what we had already seen. Kilt Rock was a nice stop for a few minutes, but the Old Man of Skorr was too crowded for us to really stop at. There was no where to park and we weren’t willing to hike down the street like we had for the Fairy Pools.

Countryside of Mull (c) ABR 2016

Countryside of Mull (c) ABR 2016

For the other three Inner Hebrides that we visited, we went to on a “Three Island Tour.” While I was overall very happy with this experience, I think that the better name for it would be the “Two Island Tour and a Drive Across Mull,” because while we spent the perfect amount of time of the Isle of Staffa and Iona, all we did was take a bus across Mull to get there. The bus included an automated tour as we drove across, but I found that very underwhelming. It would have been much nicer to have a bus driver that could actually talk to us about what we were seeing. For anyone thinking of spending some time in Scotland’s isles, I would highly suggest setting aside more time for Mull, as it looked very beautiful from the bus and had some intriguing history and folklore.

Staffa (c) ABR 2016

Staffa (c) ABR 2016

Staffa, best known for Fingal’s Cave, is a small island off of Mull. Here you find the same strange formations as on the other side of the sea in the Giant’s Causeway of Ireland. These giant columns some how formed (I don’t claim to be a geologist) during an ancient volcanic eruption, and during this time, created the island that we now know as Staffa. Visitors to the island can walk to Fingal’s cave, which is at sea level and is only fully accessible by kayak, although you can walk in a ways. I actually found the stroll to the cave more interesting than the cave itself, as this involved walking over the tops of the columns, and which gave you a sense for just how big and alien they are. There are also some tide pools in the area, but you have to exercise caution when approaching them because the surf can crash up over the rocks and there is no good place to climb out of the water if you get swept in. The best part of Staffa wasn’t either of these, however, because the island is also home to

(c) ABR 2016

(c) ABR 2016

puffins. If you climb the metals stairs up from where the tour boats leave you, and walk a ways through the green, wild grass on top of the island, you may be lucky enough to find these beautiful birds as they hunt, struggle to fly (I love their stubby wings), and play with one another. I do have my concerns about what the human presence on Staffa does to the puffins, as they are being observed for much of the day. This sort of attention can disturb animals and stop them from feeding, taking care of their young, or resting as much as they need to. So, if you visit, please be sure to be very respectful of these little guys, move slowly and be very quiet. Also, please educate other visitors about avoiding disturbance for these special birds.

Abbey on Iona (c) ABR 2016

Abbey on Iona (c) ABR 2016

Our final stop in the Inner Hebrides was the Isle of Iona. Now, as a fan of the Secret of Kells, I was really excited to stop here, and it was one of the most spiritual places I have visited. I’ve only previously experienced the same sort of spiritual experience in Japan and on Skellig Michael, so Iona is very special to me, especially since it has connections to my own religion. The island itself is a very peaceful place. It is easy to meander from the dock through the little, quiet town to the abbey. There are some small shops and restaurants here and there, as well as people driving the small roads (so please be courteous and make way for the residents), but it a breath of fresh air from modern life otherwise. The abbey itself has a little museum, which covers the history of the island, the abbey, and the people who stuck it out there despite constant attacks by the Vikings. Of course, there is a cathedral to visit, as well as a graveyard and a beautiful, rustic chapel. It is a very welcoming place, and a good representation of a loving Christian faith, being supportive of LGBTA, refugees, and gender equality. It just felt good to be there besides the amazing architecture and Celtic art that really makes this place unique when it comes to beautiful views and a place to explore.

My next post on August 15th will sum up the trip to Scotland and offer some suggestions to anyone that is thinking about going there and who might want to do something similar to our trip. After that, I am debating writing a piece about dealing with anxiety while traveling or diving into my journey to Haiti.

Castles and Cities of Scotland

View of Edinburgh from Arthur's Seat (c) ABR 2016

View of Edinburgh from Arthur’s Seat (c) ABR 2016

My favorite part of our sojourn through Scotland was the highlands, hands down! But I would be remiss if I did not talk about Edinburgh and some of the castles that we saw. All right, the title says “cities,” but Castle and City just doesn’t sound catchy enough.

Edinburgh Castle (c) ABR 2016

Edinburgh Castle (c) ABR 2016

Our trip to Scotland started and ended in Ebinburgh, and while we were there, we spent most of our time on the Royal Mile. Even for outdoor buffs, this is a great place to spend a day or two, and it has all the things that most tourists like to check out while in the city. It goes without saying that there is a lot of tourist souvenir shops here, but there are also some authentic places along the way as well. There is great food all up and down the mile, as well as a lovely little tea room called Clarindas Tea Room that we made a point of visiting both days that we were in the area. Of course, I think the major draw to the Royal Mile, besides the food, shopping, and architecture, is Edinburgh Castle. It is a massive castle, and being there still impresses upon visitors the power of its original owners. Even so, I felt like it was more of a museum experience than a historic castle experience, but for those of you that really enjoy museums, I am sure that you will enjoy both aspects of this attraction. You could easily spend a few hours here exploring, and even if you don’t enjoy museums all that much (like myself) there are some very nice views of the city and the buildings themselves are beautiful. ALSO, before I dive into talking about castles more, if you are into castles and plan on seeing a bunch of them, check out some of the passes that are available, because we bought an Explorer Pass for the trip and it saved us a good chunk of money. Here is a link to the Scotland Historical Association which discusses the passes.

Caerlaverock Castle (c) ABR 2016

Caerlaverock Castle (c) ABR 2016

There were two things on the Royal Mile that were my favorite though, and neither the castle nor the shopping/dining scene won out. The first was Arthur’s Seat. This is a great spot for a little urban hiking, and if you aren’t going on a road trip out into the highlands, it is actually a nice spot to experience some Scottish nature, complete with gorse, and bugs of all sorts. Of course, this is a popular spot for people exercising and tourists, so it can get busy. If you want some peace and quiet, try going during the week. The second place that I really loved in downtown Edinburgh was the Real Mary King’s Close. This was a tour that we took which explores a now-subterranean street of old Edinburgh. You can’t take any pictures on the tour, so I don’t have any here, but it gave me a really clear (if somewhat horrifying) picture of what life was really like back in the day. We all know that it wasn’t just castles, and knights, and royalty, but that is most of what’s left of those times makes it feel that way. Seeing the ruins of what the city really was and how most people lived was very interesting. Furthermore, the guides on this tour are great and they get into character like you can’t believe. It was just an overall enjoyable experience, and I highly recommend it.

Now, in terms of castles, these were all the ones that I saw from my favorite to my least favorite: (1) Caerlaverock Castle, (2) Craignethan Castle, (3) Urquhart Castle, (4) Stirling Castle, and (5) Edinburgh Castle. So, over the course of two weeks we saw five castles, and this definitely wasn’t something that I was planning since I am more of an outdoor type, but after the fact, I would really suggest checking a handful of them out, especially if you have a car. And get the Explorer Pass if this ends up being your plan. Now, Edinburgh Castle I discuss briefly above, and I wasn’t a fan because I am extremely picky when it comes to museums, and it was also very busy there when we visited. Urquhart I discussed here.

Craignethan Castle isn't much to look at from the outside, but the rooms are very fun to explore! (c) ABR 2016

Craignethan Castle isn’t much to look at from the outside, but the rooms are very fun to explore! (c) ABR 2016

My two favorite castles were two that we visited on-the-fly on our last day, because we were tired of Edinburgh. The first of the two, Caerlaverock Castle, is far south near the Scottish/English border, and was just super interesting because of how different it was. It is a ruin, so don’t go expecting anything like Stirling or Edinburgh castles, but it takes less imagination to put it all back together than Urquhart. What’s really cool about this particular castle is that is was built on a triangular plan, and it has some interesting examples of mixed architectural styles from Scotland and the rest of Europe that I didn’t see anywhere else. Now, my second favorite, Craignethan Castle, isn’t much to look at from the outside, but once you walk in, it is just amazing to explore. The rooms are very well preserved here, in terms of the structure of the building, and again, despite it being a ruin, it isn’t hard to bring the an image to your mind of this place in its better years. An added benefit to this castle is that it is right next to the Nethan Gorge, where you can take a short hike.

Stirling Castle (c) ABR 2016

Stirling Castle (c) ABR 2016

Finally, Stirling Castle– this place is fairly similar to Edinburgh as compared to the other castles that I mention above, but here they have been working on restoring the castle’s outside and rooms to what it once was. I know that there were a lot of people who weren’t happy with it being partially painted its historical color, but personally, I like when these things are done. I’d rather see what it was meant to look like than what we imagine simply due to having lived with the aged version for so long. I get where the other side is coming from, but on a personal level, I just like these efforts when carried out with care. And let me say, while there were museum sections here, my favorite part of the castle was the reconstructed section. While we were there, we chatted with some very friendly and knowledgeable staff, it was such an enjoyable learning experience. The other draw for us in Stirling was the Wallace Monument, which again, had lots of museum bits in it, so I wasn’t a huge fan, but it was pretty fun to climb all the stairs and the architecture of this building is worth a look for sure.

All right! Internet and God willing, I will be back in about two weeks with an entry on our adventures in the Inner Hebrides. And after that, I will sum up our experiences in Scotland with an easy-to-use fact sheet on where we went, and what places I highly recommend for people with similar interests. Please leave sweet, thoughtful comments and questions below, and I will get back to you ASAP. Until next time- explore safely!

Wallace Monument (c) ABR 2016

Wallace Monument (c) ABR 2016

The Scottish N500: The Scenic West Coast of Scotland Part Two

2016-05-22 13.52.48 HDR

Smoo Cave (c) ABR 2016

Waterfall in Smoo Cave (c) ABR 2016

Waterfall in Smoo Cave (c) ABR 2016

One of our first stops on the N500, after John O’Groats, was a place called Smoo Cave . I simply love caves (although I have not had the chance to go caving, I have visited caves in several different countries and continue to make it a priority when I travel), so based on that and my immediate love for the name, I just had to check this place out. The outer part of the cave that opens out onto the beach is a sea cave, while the inner cave, past the waterfall is a karst cavern. For the casual passerby, there is a section of Smoo that is freely available to anyone that hikes down the path that winds its way down the sea cliffs from the parking lot to the beach-front. This includes a large, stone room that is covered by a thin carpet of green, and a wooden walkway that leads back to a view of the waterfall that is the main visual prize of the location if you can’t go on the tour. Unfortunately, we didn’t do the tour ourselves, although it was very affordable, because we weren’t sure when the last group had left, and we didn’t want to wait around for a half hour for the next one. Pretty lame excuse! But we did still have a lot of driving left to do, and the weather was steadily going downhill, so we weren’t even sure that there would be another tour at that time, since rain can cause flooding in the cave.

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The bridge between Loch a’ Chairn Bhain and Loch Gleann Dubh (c) ABR 2016

The views coming south from Smoo Cave south to Lochinver were some of my favorite from the trip, and heavens, I was sad that we weren’t prepared for a hard hike. For one, if you ever drive this way- please stop at the turn off just north of the bridge between Loch a’ Chairn Bhain and Loch Gleann Dubh. The bridge isn’t particularly artful, although it is oddly pleasing to the eye… perhaps due to the juxtaposition of the concrete structure and the towering highland mountains beyond. The Lochs are breathtaking too, and I hate to say it, but in my opinion, much more beautiful than Loch Ness, although they are much smaller and lack a prehistoric monster (as far as we know). Driving past the bridge (south) you will then get some great views of the mountains that have stuck in my mind ever since the trip- three peaked Quinag to the west and Glas Bheinn to the east. Even when we visited the Isle of Skye, there were not mountains that outmatched these for beauty and mystique, in my opinion. And regardless, they are both great examples of highland mountains, and worth a gander if you like challenging hiking.

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Little Assynt Estate (c) ABR 2016

There is also some easier walks that you can check out on the way down from Lochinver to Gairloch. For instance, the Little Assynt Estate has a very nice area to walk around in with great views of a little loch and the mountains, as well as a place to sit and relax (and maybe fish as well?). The trails are dry and mostly flat here as well, so they make for a nice break from driving if you don’t have the proper equipment for a highland hike. We also walked up from Gruinard Bay to Eas Dubh Falls – which was a nice stroll along the beach, but the hike itself, up from the ocean into the hills to the waterfall, was quite boggy. Due to this, and our lack of proper, high-top hiking boots, forced us to walk through the bracken more than I would have liked, and I ended up getting a tick. So, do plan ahead, bring good, waterproof shoes, and be aware that Scotland does, in fact, have ticks. I definitely did not regret this second hike, however, as the waterfall was beautiful and the trail was deserted.

If you want to see more picture of my journey through Scotland, as well as past pictures, check out my travel Tumblr here.

On July 1st, I am planning on posting about the cities and castles of Scotland.

Feel free to leave relevant comments and/or questions below.

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Eas Dubh Falls (c) ABR 2016

Hiking Picacho Peak

Picacho Peak State Park is one of the most characteristic landmarks of the drive

Picacho Peak (c) ABR 2016

Picacho Peak (c) ABR 2016

between Phoenix and Tucson, and I have been wanting to explore this mountain for a very long time. However, the ~1.5 hour drive between Phoenix and the state park has been a bit of a deterrent for me. This spring I finally made it out there, and not only was the hike everything that I was hoping it would be, it really felt like an accomplishment to make it to the top.

Our first stop when we got to the state park, was the visitor’s center, where a friendly ranger told us about the trails that the park offered, and warned about Picacho Peak’s trail to the top- Hunter Trail. She told us the normal things first: bring water, wear good shoes, etc. All the things that experienced hikers are used to hearing before setting out, but then she also told us something that we scoffed at, that Hunter Trail was “extreme.” However, I would like to pause to say that she wasn’t wrong. This trail is very steep at several points, so steep in places that there are cables permanently secured to the mountain to make it safer to climb. It may be easy for some, but I do think it is worth coming to this trail with some amount of respect and caution. Also, bringing a pair of gloves for the cables would make things a bit easier, so consider it.

Picacho Peak (c) ABR 2016

Picacho Peak (c) ABR 2016

Anyway, the first section of the trail up to the saddle of the mountain is steep but not particularly surprising when it comes to Arizona trails. This means the trail is rocky, sometimes slippery, and surrounded by amazing views of the desert. The area around Picacho Peak is also quite breathtaking to look at, I think, because the desert stretches out, seemingly uninterrupted for miles, but for the highway and the farms to the west. If you don’t think you can make it to the top of the mountain, it is worth trying for the saddle. It is still difficult, but not nearly as hard as the second half of the hike. Furthermore, there is a more moderate trail that leads up to the saddle if the base of Hunter Trail is too difficult.

The way up from the saddle is very steep. It first drops down, and then weaves its way up the cliffsides of Picacho’s peak. The cables certainly do help with the ascent, but for anyone with a fear of heights I wouldn’t suggest it. There are a couple places near the end that are so steep, I would say that the cables are the only difference between

Picacho Peak (c) ABR 2016

Picacho Peak (c) ABR 2016

hiking and climbing, because they help you scale some nearly vertical sections of the path. Of course, the strain and fear involved with getting to the top make getting there an accomplishment (and getting home safely even more of one). The views from the top are beautiful, but I would say, not much better than from the saddle, although they are 360 degrees of amazing Arizona landscape. If anything, I think it is the trail itself that makes this hike worthwhile. It is dangerous, and although it sounds funny, it is “extreme.” But if you enjoy hiking and climbing, respect the mountain and the dangers it represents, and come prepared, I think it is a worthwhile journey. That being said, I would like to remind all my readers of something, thanks to the Hike Arizona warning: ” WARNING! Hiking, travelling and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.”

Camping for Five Weeks in Namibia Part Two: Etosha and the Namib

Etosha (c) Etosha National Park

Etosha (c) Etosha National Park

Besides Epupa, and having the opportunity to visit the Himba people, there are two other spots in Namibia that I want to talk about. The first is Etosha. While camping there it was possible to observe animals both from the car, and from watering hole observation points. The generally flat land of this national park makes it the perfect place to go out and view game, and the watering holes are utterly fascinating. I saw a lot of amazing interactions between different species in these locations, the likes of which I don’t think I ever could have seen in Kruger, South Africa. For instance, the most amusing thing I saw while there was just the sheer attitude of the elephants that came through for water. They would casually swat the other animals out of the way, and there was even a bull that had to follow a rhino around the water’s edge until the rhino gave up and left. The lions fared no better when the elephants were around, so it was pretty obvious who was boss out there. In terms of seeing animals, I think Etosha is at the top of my list of places to go.

Etosha retrieved from http://d2iaf7xwaf71rg.cloudfront.net/640/Etosha_Okaukeuj1__large.jpg

Etosha

On the flip side, there were a few dangerous things that have happened in Etosha, so anyone visiting needs to make sure that they use their common sense. For instance, don’t fall asleep at the water holes; people have been attacked there in the past. It is fairly clear that those fences aren’t tall enough to keep curious lions out if there is a potential meal snoozing out in the open. Also, be careful when wandering around the camp at night, preferably go with a partner or stay close by. Etosha may be a national park, but it is still wild, and tourists should always be aware that just because they are on holiday, doesn’t mean that bad things can’t happen if they aren’t careful. The same thing is a problem in Phoenix. Always respect nature.

Fish River Canyon (c) Bunnik Tours

Fish River Canyon (c) Bunnik Tours

On that note, my final favorite place in Namibia was the Namib-Naukluft Park, which is part of the Namib Desert, and a very daunting landscape. Again, not the sort of place I would mess around in, but definitely somewhere I would suggest visiting. When my class and I came here, we stayed with a woman who lived along the road through the park that goes towards Swakopmund. She knew the desert like the back of her hand, and owed camels besides. So, not only did I have the amazing opportunity to go camel riding in the desert, but my class and I got a backroads tour of the desert. I loved the stone canyons, and desolate stretches of land. It was threatening, in the way that I think any desert is threatening, but it was also so inspiring. Besides the landscape itself, the Namib-Naukluft is home to large, desert chameleons and the welwitchia plant, which is a unique, native plant that any nature enthusiast would enjoy seeing.

In the end, Namibia is full of beautiful places and wonderful people. It is a great country to visit for anyone interested in seeing some of Africa, and it is very safe compared to many other destinations on the continent.

Also, you can experience some super unique, extreme sports there! The Pink Backpack has the low-down on sandboarding in Swakopmund!

As always, feel free to comment below about your experiences in Namibia, and any suggestions for travelers going there, or questions if you are considering it.

Nevada Road Trip Part One: From Phoenix to Great Basin

Created by Google Maps

Created by Google Maps

I have a life goal to see all of the national parks in the United States, which is easier said than done, because there are a lot of them! But so far, this has led me to visit more than a few places that I didn’t previously know existed, and I haven’t regretted any of them. One of the national parks that I had never heard of was Great Basin, which seemed fascinating based on its name and its location north of Las Vegas in Nevada, an area that I had never explored. My dad and I were further intrigued by this place after learning that it is home to the Bristlecone Pine, one of the longest lived life forms on the planet. Finally, when we had a few days free, we decided to take a road trip up to Great Basin, and without much planning we ended up visiting several beautiful and intriguing places. The following account will mostly cover the places that we visited during this road trip, but I will also highlight a few places along the way that would be worth stopped at but which we didn’t have the time to visit.

Day One: Setting Out

(c) Sweet Tea @ http://www.rentcafe.com/blog/cities/great-phoenix-day-trip-lake-pleasant/

Lake Pleasant (c) Sweet Tea @ http://www.rentcafe.com/blog/cities/great-phoenix-day-trip-lake-pleasant/

The first day of our road trip didn’t start until 15:00, so our only goal was to make it up into Nevada for our first night. Luckily, the drive between Phoenix and the Las Vegas area is pretty nice, and it would actually have several good stops along the way for travelers with a full day. First, Lake Pleasant is worth a stop for anyone that hasn’t been, as it is a good example of Arizona’s artificial lakes, even if it isn’t one of the most beautiful. After living in the desert for a few years, it is hard to not appreciate water where-ever you find it, and besides some good desert winds for sailing, Lake Pleasant also has some nice hikes nearby in the Hells Canyon Wilderness. Furthermore, this area is home to wild burros, which I have seen on several occasions, and they are some great charismatic megafauna to see in the Sonora.

Further down the road, there is also the Hassayampa River Preserve just outside of Wickenburg. I actually haven’t made it to this area before, so I don’t have any personal experience with it yet, but it is somewhere that I hope to visit in the near future. Another oasis in the desert, the river preserve protects something that is rare now in Arizona, a river still flowing in its banks, thanks to the Nature Conservancy. There are plenty of trails here, and like Lake Pleasant it is good to experience any water that the desert has to offer, even more so, in places where some natural riparian ecosystems remain.

Hoover Dam at Night (c) AB Raschke

Hoover Dam at Night (c) AB Raschke

Of course, the biggest attraction between Phoenix and Las Vegas is the Hoover Dam, which we hit around 20:00. When I initially envisioned this trip last year, I had hoped to visit during the day and take a tour of the Dam. There is actually quite a bit there to see and do during the day, and in any case, this place is a major historical landmark for the country, and it has also shaped the Southwest in a very serious way. Las Vegas certainly owes its size to the resources provided by the dam, and the life-line of the Central Arizona Project shows the link between Phoenix and the Colorado River. Sadly, I didn’t get to take a tour this time around, but the dam is open to visitors until 21:00. So, we at least got to drive across the dam, park and take pictures of the landmark at night. It was a very peaceful place without the crowds, and there were some good views of the stars to boot.

Our day ended in Boulder City, where we spent the night in a Quality Inn a mere five minutes from Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

Day Two: Through the Desert to the Great Basin

(c) AB Raschke

Lake Mead (c) AB Raschke

Before we hopped in the car for the day, I dragged my dad to Lake Mead, because I had to get my national parks passport stamped and I wanted to go on a little hike before our journey. As it turned out, we found a really great little trail outside of the fee area, and we both really enjoyed this stroll. The Historic Railway Trail is right by the entrance to the park, and as its name implies, this trail follows the former track of the railroad that brought materials from Boulder City to the site of Hoover Dam as it was being built. Besides the great views of lake from the trail, we really enjoyed getting to see the massive tunnels that were built through the mountains in order to fit the large pieces of dam equipment through. From the trailhead to the first tunnel is about a mile, so it was a great section of the trail to walk when we only had a limited amount of time.

From Wikipedia

Lower Lake Pahranagat Lake From Wikipedia

From Boulder City to Baker was quite a drive. Most of the towns that we passed, besides Las Vegas, were quite small. Alamo, which is perched just north of Pahranagat Lake, didn’t have much to offer along the side of the road, and when we asked about places to grab lunch there, the gas station attendant only told us about two different restaurants. We ended up at the Windmill just north of the town, and it was quiet enjoyable. Not only did they have some good standard American fare, but they also had a nice little bakery where we got a fresh cookie and a lemon square.

From there on out, we entered the Great Basin region, which gave us a taste for what we would see and learn more about in the National Park. This region is characterized by parallel ranges of mountains, which remind me of the sky islands in Arizona, rising up out of the dry lowlands to peaks of lush forests. The lowlands, instead of being Arizona desert, however, were large, flat plains of sagebrush and grasses, where we spotted herds of cows and even a few ranchers on horseback.

Once we got to Baker, we were somewhat surprised at how small the town at the gateway to Great Basin NP was. In fact, since we traveled to the park out of season, there were no open restaurants, and according to Wikipedia the population is 68. That being said, we had a reserved a great little place to stay for the night called the Get-Away Cabin. The owner was very friendly and welcoming, and she even bakes her guests delicious little loaves of banana bread.

Baker Archaeological Park (c) AB Raschke

Baker Archaeological Park (c) AB Raschke

After getting some tips about what to do in the park the at the visitor’s center for the next day, we drove a few miles out of town to check out the Baker Archaeological Site, which wasn’t much more than a few outlines of Fremont buildings among the sagebrush. There was some good information in a little guide book that the BLM provided at the site, however. After a short stop there, we made it out to the Border Inn where we enjoyed a delicious dinner, and picked up some groceries.

Day 3 and 4 to come on April 1st! And Washington DC… someday!

If you have any questions about my experience in Nevada and Arizona or my travels feel free to leave me a comment. 🙂

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