Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Zion

Zion was my first Utah national park... And let me start these following post by saying "I love utah."

I entered the park through what I assumed was the least popular entrance but it had windy roads and amazing views. It also had a mile long pitch dark tunnel that my desire to take a picture of was taken away by my irrational fear of tunnels.

After entering the park I had two concerns
1) getting a spot in the campground... I was told it fills up quickly
2) my car's brakes started to make a funny noise.

Unfortunately I didn't take a single picture of the drive to the campsite. I was later told that the entrance I came through has a completely different landscape then the part I would explore.
I also assumed I would exit out the way I came in... Again I was wrong.

A happy ending to this story is I did get one of the last campsites. It wasn't ideal and it was close to the visitor center which meant a lot of foot traffic... But I did get full cell phone service.
The next morning a family of deer scared me to death when they decided to have breakfast behind me and I was unaware until a random fellow camera got out their camera and took a picture.

To explore the majority of Zion they make you take a shuttle around. Shuttles in the parks are pretty common Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon all had them.
This was my first time taking it and I absolutely loved it. I didn't have to worry about the dreaded parking and it was easy to hop off and explore a section of the park on your own.
Half of the reason I loved this park so much is because the crowds weren't crazy and I didn't feel like I spent more time waiting/driving then exploring.

I heard two older ladies talking about how they hated the shuttle... How it takes too long.
Obviously they have never lived in a city and depended on the bus to get around. The most I ever waited was five minutes (if that).

I hoped off the shuttle four different times. I was planning on just taking it for the loop drive and wasn't planning on hiking so I just wore my regular tennis shoes.

The first stop I immediately regretted the lack of hiking boots because I found a "secret" trail and walked right down a valley in-between two canyons.
I got off again at the turn around point for the shuttle. I wasn't planning on it and actually sat in my seat until the driver turned off his engine. This area was crazy busy and I had no desire to walk down the busy trail... But I did and it ended where the canyon walls meet and with water streaming between them. I decided to join the brave handful of others and take my shoes off and explore the waters path way.

It was AWESOME and one of the perks of my trip. I didn't care that I didn't have water shoes on (if anything this was a point I was happy that I just had my tennis shoes and not my heavy hiking boots).
If I ever go back to Zion I'm going to attempt the 16 mile "narrow" hike that leads you all the way down the water. (I'm pretty sure I'll have to learn to swim before then).

The next stop was a small little hike that lead to "Weeping Rock" a spot where water mets through two rocks and it appears to be "weeping"
Here I also witnessed two foreign men put hairspray in their hair. They were doing this national parks thing all wrong.

The finally stop I decided to explore were the emerald pools. There was three of them and it stated that it was about a mile hike to the first one and .8 miles and .something miles to the last one.. Totally doable.
I got up to the second pool and thought the incline and elevation was going to kill me. But I needed to see the third. And then I had my first hiking fail. I realized the time and that it was past seven and I knew the sun sets around seven and I was at least a mile from the shuttle... The shuttle that stops running at 8:30.

So I immediately turned around. (I never made it to the third pool.. I was probably super close) and not thinking I decide to follow the sign to the "grotto." I had no idea where the grotto was or if it was close to a shuttle. I just knew I recognized the word.
In reflection I should have just retraced my steps and headed back the way I came. But what's the fun in that?

On this hike I accidentally saw the sunset and it was the fastest I have ever walked a mile with elevation change. (Also the one time I did not have a light source on me).
I made it to the shuttle and felt like this hiking fail lead to a mini-hiking victory.

When I got back to my tent and explained my hiking fail/victory to James he encouraged me to go on a five mile hike the following day stating "the kolob canyons is one of my favorite hikes." (he apparently has lots of favorite things to do in the national parks.)

Five miles seemed crazy to me at the time but I finished it with no problem.
At the end of the hike there was a Double Arch Alcove and it was well worth completely the hike to see.
the bright colors were absolutely crazy beautiful.

I think Zion will always be one of my favorite parks because it made me realize the joy of challenging myself when I'm hiking.
Also making me realize I enjoy having little hiking victories. (especially when there isn't anyone else around)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Grand Canyon

I arrived around the area on a Saturday night (always breaking my 4:00 o'clock rule) and the campground was full... But it was also national lands day which meant that the established national forest campsite I decided to camp at was also free!
*technically you can always camp in national forest for free if you care to live without a toilet and don't mind just parking your car on the side of a gravel road and picking an un-established spot. (I do not care to do that... But someday when I go camping not by myself maybe I'll try it)

My campsite had vault toilets, assigned spots, tables, fire pits, and places where you could fill your water bottles up.
I actually had a rookie camping moment here where I wasn't paying attention to where I was going and hit my toe on a rock... I was very concerned about a bear attacking me bc of the blood... But as with everything I'm still alive. (And my sister showed very little concern when I sent them a picture).

The next day I paid way to much for McDonalds breakfast (I figured I deserved it after the toe thing) and headed into the park.
I got a nice camping spot by the east entrance and went off exploring.

The sites were obviously amazing and it is the one place I had memories of learning about in school... But it was crowded and unless you wanted to hike down the canyon there wasn't much else to do.
And I wasn't going to hike... If you hike down you have to hike back up. No. Thank. You.

So I spent some actually time in the visitor center and watched the videos they provide for the first time and after that I decided to do laundry. (Real exciting I know... But it needed to be done)

Then I made dinner and got a spot on the canyon to watch the sunset.
And that was AMAZING! Everyone should see the sunset on the Grand Canyon once in their life. (Preferable not by yourself and without a couple talking behind you)
But even with all of that it was worth it.

varies grand canyon pictures! 

Nevada

As soon as I entered into Nevada I realized my mistake... There was so much more to Cali that I wanted to see. But I reminded myself what the old man at yellowstone told me "you're young you have plenty of cruises in front of you."
I have the rest of my life to explore Southern California.

I also really just wanted to avoid Death Valley at this point I did not trust my car and had no desire to drive through a place know as "death valley."

After a quick text to my friend James he asked if I was close to two places in Nevada... And I was only close to the one: extraterrestrial highway.
He actually texted me right when I was deciding what route too take. So I decided to drive down the road next to Area 51 where people report all the time of weird stuff happening... Yes I did this by myself knowing that I was probably going to end up on the 5 o'clock news. I even told James that I was going to blame him if my car broke down.

I'm obviously still alive and I saw nothing weird and nothing weird happened to me. (Sad I know).
They had a neat little sign and a box where you could leave letters to the aliens... I only took a pic, sadly I didn't think to write a letter.


Overall the drive was pleasant... No curves, no mountains, no people, etc... The way driving should be.
Well without those darn open range cattle.

After seeing only one camping sign from Yosemite to Las Vegas I decided to stay in a hotel and while I was sitting in the parking lot of a holiday inn on the outskirts of town I decided to check hotel rates on rooms actually in Vegas. I found a cheap one (the cheapest I have paid for a hotel room on this trip) and booked it.

Vegas was great in theory: cheap drinks, live country music, and I made friends with a young couple from Las Vegas and an old man in a cowboy hat... And that is all I want to remember about that place.
Vegas was way too busy for me and all around it is the one regret I have on this trip (well so far).

Also I lost $25.00.. Lame, super lame.
And I didn't eat at a buffet. Double super lame.

The *cough* next day I headed out I see the Hoover Dam. I saw it once when my older sister Kassie got married but wanted to refresh my memory about the place. Sadly all I did was take pictures... The tour cost money and I didn't really care to re go on it. But I should probably re-thanks my aunt and uncle for taking me there the first time.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Yosemite

Yosemite

I like when you register for a campsite for two nights in a row.. It just leaves you with a feeling of no worries. It will be there when I get back and I don't have to worry about setting it up when I'm done exploring.

I was headed to Yosemite valley first. I drove around the lope they have and snapped one too many photos. No real hiking just short little cement covered paths... But like all national parks it was still beautiful.

This was my first time seeing gigantic rock walls... I'm not sure if that is the correct term, but who cares.
After walking around and spending twenty minutes trying to find a trail that turned out to be a stream ( pause for judgment) I went up to glacier point.

To arrive to this place is a serious of curvy roads that drop of into nothing-ness... (I could once again vent about Yosemite drivers but I won't) and lead you up to one of the most magnificent views ever.
I mean ever.


After the traditional glacier point view I headed on a trail that literally lead up to the top of a big rock... I finally understood the "go climb a rock" bumper stickers.
but more importantly I was beginning to learn the excitement that comes along with pushing yourself to a limit.
I had no idea what would be on top of that rock... All I knew is I wanted to be one of those tiny ant sized humans on the top. Sure it was tough and my body wasn't ready to climb it... But I needed to do it

The view from this rock was absolutely amazing and one of those places you could just sit forever... Everywhere you looked you discovered something new. Awesome.

After that I headed back to my campsite, gathered a bunch of sticks, started a fire, and enjoyed the night.

That night I had no idea where I was headed the next morning... I had been living with out service on my phone and couldn't remember if I planned to head more south or if my next stop was Las Vegas / Hoover dam?
That night I didn't care. I was going to live life in true road trip fashion.

When I woke up for some reason I didn't want to explore California any more and I followed the road out of Yosemite the eastern route to Nevada.

Also I paid the most for gas inside Yosemite park... At a rate of $5.00 a gallon. I only put $20 in and the next time I saw a gas station it was the closest I have ever let my gas tank get to E... Don't tell my dad

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Yosemite camping

After San Fran traffic... I didn't care about rules all I wanted was ice cream and to get to Yosemite.
So that night I had beef jerky and a McFlurry for dinner. It was delicious!

When I arrived at Yosemite it was about 6. And being the uninformed national park visitor that I was I didn't research the camp grounds until I arrived at the place. The location the lady at the entrance counter recommended was $20 a night and I saw plenty of places on the map that were $12 with water and $10 with out water. I was going to try the 12 dollar location.
After driving around for a good thirty minutes I realized I passed it... At this point I was upset with myself and even more upset with drivers at Yosemite... I could vent for a very long time about how I hate when people pass me in national parks. The speed limit is 45 for a reason. (And don't get me started on how the majority of Americans do not know how to use their brights correctly)

But anyways... I found the campground! And after pulling in it turned out to be closed. And after looking at the map it stated it was closed after Labor Day .
Off to the next campground. This time I was willing to pay the 20 and pulled into a site. It didn't have the normal "register here" sign and I assumed I would find it later.

Of course I take my time setting up my tent and securing my food (at Yosemite they don't allow you to leave food in your car and you have to secure it all in a bear safe container that is provided... I suppose Yosemite bears are smart enough to break into your car, but yellowstone bears are not.)
I then decided to walk to the entrance of the campsite. For those of you who have camped before your are probably familiar with the self-registration. But for those of you who are not they normally have a container filled with envelopes where you fill out your information and leave your money in a slot.
There was no envelope or slot for money.... And then I read the sign more closely.
It stated that this was for pre registered folks only and to register at the registration desk at the front of the park if you need to make one.
The registration desk closes at 9 and it was a little after 9.
I had two thoughts "just leave your tent and register tomorrow"
Or
"Realize your mistake and take down your tent and move to a new location"
I did the second one... I looked like a fool. But what was a girl to do?

I then quickly drove to the next "first come self registration" site I saw.
Perks: it was only ten a night and they had opened spots
Downfalls: no running water.

I re-set up my tent paid for two nights and was off to bed.
All and all I was much happier with the campground that was placed on a dirt road three miles from the main road.
Less people. Less noise.
I also felt like I was getting major camping life points for staying at a places without running water.

But for those of you planning on staying at Yosemite campground I found it to be confusing and by far one of the most confusing national parks campgrounds.

Tomorrow: actually exploring Yosemite!

Friday, October 12, 2012

San Francisco

Up until this point I have been following the directions to the GPS my lovely sister Kaci let me borrow. I forgot that I had the setting to avoid toll roads on.
This story begins and ends with that little fact... And did you know the suburbs of San Francisco are scary? Yeah me either until the sign read 5 miles to San Francisco and the GPS read 100 miles.
After a mini-driving freak out I figured it out and was headed into the city. Where I parked my car for an hour and walked around.
I got some coffee and felt uncool and very unhipster-ish in my gap shorts.

After about thirty minutes I passed my car and added some money to the meter and walked by the water. Where I snapped some more photos and ate at In-n-out burger for the first time.
I wasn't impressed. It was just a normal burger and fries... Fries that I didn't really like. I prefer my five guys.


And up next was the Golden Gate Bridge... It was foggy and I haven't decided if that makes it better or worse. But it was still impressive and something that I have always wanted to do (thanks full house).

After that I was off for another two hour stressful drive away from the city. Never again will I go to San Francisco with a car. I will wait until I visit in a plane.

Up next Yosemite




Thursday, October 11, 2012

California Day Two

One of the first thing I did this second day in California was stop in Eureka California and buy a camping stove.
A couple of days prior I bought a pan and a coffee cup from goodwill with the idea that I would stop and get a stove.

I went to three different shops in Eureka looking for the one I wanted - a single burner that would fit on top of a propane tank. And each place I stopped at the people working in the stores were super helpful. I decided at that moment I would move to Northern California if I ever had to move to that area. Yes gas prices were more expensive (someone should have warned a girl) but everyone was Midwest nice with out being Midwest.

---

I continued my redwood experience by driving through the Avenue of Giants and snapped a bunch of pictures of trees. After a while I felt a little weird doing it... But when you see a tree called "big tree" how can you not take a picture with it.

The perk of the day was driving thru a redwood.
Originally I wasn't going to pay the 6 dollars to do it, but after a quick text to my sisters I decided I might as well.
When I pulled up to pay the guy he informed me they didn't take credit cards and after I told him I didn't have any cash. He stated "we'll I have to let you see the tree. Do you have a dollar or any change?"
So I payed him 1.50 and I drove thru a tree... I felt like a 1950s tourist. It was Awesome.
It is probably one of the perks of traveling in sept/oct... Less people and they need any business they can get.

That night I camped out at a privately owned campground. The guy checking me in was the third on this trip to make a note of concern that I was traveling by myself.
Whenever someone says something I immediately get freaked out... Think scary movie something bad only happens when someone brings it up.
But the campsite turned out to be very nice and I felt as safe as you can feel sleeping in a tent.
He also mentioned that "I was going to sleep among the redwoods tonight"... Which does sound pretty awesome.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

California Day one

After my camping success I decided to enjoy California a little more and stop rushing.
My main goal that day was the redwoods. I was warned that California state parks charge $35.00 to camp and the redwoods are half national park/half state park.
But when I looked at the map I decided "whatever... I'm paying the money and sleeping on the beach."

Sure I didn't get the spots right on the beach and I had to drive 6 miles on a dirt road to get there (the dirt is still on my car to prove it) but it was worth it.

I did a very successful 2.5 miles hike amongst the redwoods where I didn't see a single other person (the way hiking should be).
Being surrounded by these trees older then our country was absolutely amazing.
Definitely a perk of my trip and something I want to do again.

At the end of my hike the first thing I saw was an elk... It actually scared me to death. I just came from bear country and was trying to quickly go through the rules of what to do if you see a bear. But this was a solo elk could have cared less that I was there. So I snapped a picture and left.
Since then I have seen lots of elk... But like the first time you see any animal in the wild it is exciting.

I also should mention the amount of hitchhikers you see in California. I have lived 26 years of life and I'm pretty sure I have never seen one before the west coast.
And the first time I saw one I wanted to take a picture: it was outside of Olympic and he had a dog and a guitar. The kind of hitchhiker you would want to pick up.

But for those of you concerned my front seat is not clear enough to have another person sit there, so no hitchhikers on this journey... But I always felt a little bad.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Oregon and Crater Lake

I left Olympic national park and my next planned stop was crater lake. The friend the night before pointed out to me that it was an 8 hour drive and I should split it up in two days (remember the arrive at our campsite by 4 rule).

So I took my time. I went for a morning hike at Olympic (one the guy also recommended) and headed off to Oregon following the 101 south bound.
The scary factors of the road was taken away by the fact that I was literally following the coast. Amazing.

Oregon was the place that I first put my feet in the water (well I'm 90% sure it was Oregon) and I saw the sunset on the coast for the first time.
Absolutely beautiful.

The two camping sites I planned on staying at were full and before I knew it it was dark.
And I was on a dark road with no idea where I was headed. This was my first mini-freak out of the trip. I won't go in to details.... But getting lost in Oregon at night on a road that had multiple one lane bridges is not anywhere on on my want to do again list.

But let's forget that.
The next day I was a camping pro!
I arrived at Crater Lake (scroll down look at pics). it is the deepest lake in the United States and I was told it was the most purified.. You could literally go up and drink the water. Well you would have to climb down and get to the water first.

crazy blue!

I arrived at my site before four. At this point it was the most I had paid for a camping site (22).
I went for a hike and finished it completely. Got back to my campsite, started a fire right away, and cooked my first actual meal on the fire (corn and potatoes).
I also enjoyed a *couple* of S'mores and a *couple* of glasses of wine. (After the previous night my friend James informed me that drinking and camping go hand and hand.. So why not).

Over all Oregon was a camping success in my book

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And for those of you unaware of my friend James. He is a guy I met that last summer I was living in Iowa and he has spent the past three years (my guess) working for the national park service. He had provided me with tons of advice and I can't thank him enough... He will probably be mentioned a lot more in my upcoming post.