Saturday, April 30, 2011

Eating Well & Traveling Green

Amazing, we’ve been eating pretty healthy and organically with veggies, salads, and even wraps with quinoa, which is my new favorite veggie friendly substitute for protein. It’s kinda of similar to rice and couscous. I have been eating more meat lately, but that was a given. Did not want to be picker than I already am and sandwiches are just cheap and easy when on the go.  

We’ve been very good at maintaining a green life while on the road. Always bringing reusable bags to the store and even not using those small plastic bags for veggies.  Some stores in CO give you .05 cents for bringing in your own bag. I’ve been even saving every plastic bag from trail mix, loaf of bread, granola mix, crackers, etc. to reuse as small garbage bags. This is perfect for any road trip as you do not want to hold on to your waste too long in the car.  And, you never know when you need one, for example it was great to store my wet sandals in them when we were back country camping.

I know traveling in a jeep is not an eco-friendly mode of transport. But Greg was going to this road trip solo, so technically my footprint is 0 :) This jeep is my home for a dew months besides tents and staying with people here and there, so I am at least using what I got and I don’t got much these days. In a way I think being homeless is greener!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Part I: wwoof wwoof- city girl on a farm for 2 weeks & doing manual labor!

We arrived on Easter Sunday at an organic farm vineyard Montezuma Canyon Ranch; we are staying for 2 weeks. I t will be nice to stay in one spot for a few days. For the past two months on this trip, the longest stay we had was 5 nights in Denver. I’ve never stayed on a farm and was unsure what work we will be doing. The deal is the farms usually provide room and board in exchange for you working about 6 hours a day; usually 5 days a week. We signed up as members for USA wwoofing, set up a profile, did a thorough search and review of all the farmers, contacted this farm, and bingo, he accepted us. 

There are four other wwoofers here from MA, TX, TN, and SC; all in their young 20s. The 24 yr farmer’s, Danny, mom was in town; she made an awesomely moist carrot cake, homemade fruit and nut bread, asparagus soufflé, and we have brownies every day… When we were camping, I mentioned the chocolate easter bunny that is hollow on the inside. Had not had one in ages and they were just sitting here waiting for me. It was a great Easter dinner with a bunch of new friends. There are also three sweet dogs too. No other animals on the farm though except bees and ants and a neighbor's donkey :( Will do a summary on the farm experience with pix later on. 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Canyonlands National Park - Easter Weekend

It being Easter weekend, all the campsites were full at Canyonlands NP. Lucked out with the only private campground by the entrance. Good news is they have a shower ($3 p/p).  On Good Friday & Earth Day, we did a 14-mile jeep drive then hiked a bit to some cool canyons with the muddy Colorado River view. We then started a 3.5 hike to our overnight campsite for the next 2 nights. 

Even with a good purchased map and gps, we managed to make a wrong turn adding another mile. Lesson #9, don’t trust people even when they seem super confident. Poor Lisa and Greg had 47 lbs. bags and I only 25. We had to bring a ton of water in, as there’s not much out there. This is my only second back country hike and my longest.  Good practice for me and with pros but not sure how often I will be doing this in the future.  Our campsite was spacious and beautiful. The hike in was not too terrible.  We had to store all of our food and toiletries in dry bags and up a tree to keep from scavengers.

Our next day, we did a 4 mile one way hike to Druid Arch, which is different than the other arches we have seen.  But it was a scramble getting up to see it. On the way there’s a water spring we can filter, but Greg’s filter pump was not working. He had tables as a backup, which takes 4 hours to work and taste like chlorine. We then headed to do a 5-mile Central Park loop, which was neat. It was also rainy making it fun to climb up, down, over, and through the canyons with some tight squeezes while the rock cliffs tower over us. Got to camp by 3pm and I rested in the tent.

It was getting cold and raining off and on, so we retired to tent around 8pm. We awoke at 7am on Easter Sunday and packed up our wet gear in between the showers. I hardly hike in the rain and my backpack did not come with a rain cover. I realized how unprepared I was as I hike with wet sticky cold pants. You know it ain’t good when you are keeping your hands warm in a cold, wet soft pair of gloves.   

We managed well through the slick rocks and narrow muddy rivers forming on the trails. I can’t recall the last time I smiled when I saw a parking lot or as Lisa calls it car park. She’s been slowly reminding me the Aussie lingo, which has been nice after all these years. And off to wwoofing; farm work we go (more on that soon! Click here for more pix.

Arches National Park & Dead Horse State Park Utah

On Tues afternoon the campground in Arches NP was full with 52 sites. Luckily there were primitive campground spots ($10) close by on BLM area. Many of the closer in ones were full, but we found a huge, nice spot by the muddy river.  We did not plan to be here during Jeep week, but that’s what happened.

The first night we did a 3-mile hike to see the sunset at Delicate Arch. We brought some dinner and wine. The next day we did a 7.2-mile loop at Devil Garden to view 8 Arches up close. Sun is strong and hot, can’t imagine doing this in the summer. Then headed to the Windows section for more arches with small hikes

Back at camp, we had a nice soup veggie and chicken dinner and lite a fire as it was not windy. The stars came out quickly and it was cloud free. Looking at the sky, I though to meself, as one world goes to sleep, another awakens. I said aloud, this is like a real planetarium (yeah I am a city girl). Who needs TV when you got the real thing in front of you?

Wearing socks, shoes, bras, pants, and a hat most of the day and night, you really start appreciating wearing less clothes when possible. Fresh air and less constriction against the skin feels so great. Gradually wearing fewer clothes as it is warming up. 40 deg at night and 60 during the day is super warm for us. Now we are getting 75 during the day and I got tons of winter gear.

Another lesson learned, let’s just say when they predict 30% chance of rain and calling for 40 mph wind the next day, don’t leave anything out at camp. The wind woke us up around 1:30 am; by 2:15 we decided to pack up our sandy bags with Lisa as she was in the all weather tent. We quickly packed up the summer tent we were in before it broke. There’ was sand everywhere inside the tent, our bags, mouths, etc. Going to the jeep from the tent was painful on the eyes and so hard to see as the wind was picking up all the dust/dirt from the road. What a crazy, unpleasant night. I don’t think I ever had to do that before.

It calmed down by 4ish am I think. We dusted off and packed up then headed to Dead Horse State Park. Which is out of the way but a pretty spot and hoping for a chance to shower before going to Canyonlands NP. Unfortunately not all state parks have shows, lesson learned #??? Click here for more pix. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Yuba State Park & Salt Lake City

The next day in Capitol Reef, we did a quick 3.5 loop hike called Chimney then north we headed. We stayed at Yuba State Park as an in between to Salt Lake City (SLC) and we lucked out with a campsite by the lake, surrounded by snow-capped mts. Very pretty place; even the bathrooms were amazing with a shower and warmish running water. Oh another thing I just remembered that I miss is cooking proper meals in a real kitchen and washing dishes in a sink vs. a plastic bucket. The bucket does the job for the most part; sometimes things are still soapy and a little grimy. But sux to have cold wet hands at night, which Greg has been enduring mostly.
SLC was never a stop we had in mind, but we made some plan changes for two reasons. 1. Greg has to be back in Denver for a follow up surgery doc visit 6 weeks from surgery. it’s been 2 weeks now. 2. Greg’s friend Lisa got a plane ticket to SLC and will join us for a week camping at Canyon Lands NP & Arches NP. Then we will head out to an organic farm and vineyard for 2 weeks of wwoofing, which I am so stoked about, doing for my first time.  I will be writing a story about it for TIES, the ecotourism association that I am volunteering for while on the road. Man, can one stay busy while not working. So more on this later on.

I never thought I’d be in SLC. It is a fairly sized city, not as many high buildings as Denver. But it is so pretty with so many mts surrounding it. This is what I envisioned Boulder, CO would look like the way it was described to me so many yrs ago. I just had no clue there were so many ski mts in Utah! And the main library is a modern masterpiece.

We beat the rain on Sunday and got to do some touristy landmark walks in downtown (finally a day off from hiking). Wes and 3 of his roomies (recent college grads from the east coast) hosted us for two nights. They have a stable foosball table; was great to play so many well-paired games. I have not played so many games in one night in so long. Also went to see the movie Paul, which was good silly fun.

Tuesday morning, off to Arches NP then Canyon Lands NP till the 24th; no shower till Sunday and easter in the woods! Click here for more pix.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Capitol Reef NP, UT

One thing we have been noticing is the large RVS surrounding our small tent. I don’t blame people for wanting some small luxuries on a road trip, but these things are massive and often 600 sq ft just for two lazy peeps. They are so darn popular, there are hardly tents these days (I guess we are old school. They drag their SUVs or even at times hummers behind these RVs (no joke). Man, people must have money to literally burn on the gas. And then use more gas to run the generators to light their mobile homes up.

We did a 125-mile loop around the park and 6-miles off road 4 wheel driving (my first I believe). From hiking and driving over sandy rocks to driving up 3,000 feet to a cold snow mt top; man what a climate and landscape difference from CO to UT.

During our hikes here and at Natural Bridges NM, we hiked through streambeds, which is pretty cool to see canyons stand so high above us. At Capitol Reef we were the only hikers; it made the world seem to vast and quiet. Actually a handful of our hikes have been just us; it’s gonna be strange being around people in the busy summer season.

I also started missing and appreciating warm running water. My hands froze while trying to wash me face, but I am happy to still have good water accessible.  At camp, I noticed an older couple with the largest telescope I have ever seen. I went over there at night to take a look-see. I saw Saturn; it was pretty small but so amazing to see. I could not believe my eyes. Then we saw the moon, which was almost full and at 30x larger view. Gosh it was huge; even saw some of the craters on its edges. Also took a pix through the scope which came out pretty darn good. It was very tricky to shoot. Click here for pix.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Goblin Valley State Park, UT

On the drive to Goblin Valley State Park, one has to look out on the road for roaming cattle, which one did cross ahead of us. We stopped at Hanksville for gas and I noticed just across the road all these white formations like skeletons. It was Mike’s Auto Clinic Dinosaurs, very similar to Swetsville near Ft. Collins, CO.
We got rejected on a Wed night with 24 campsites at the state park. Luckily we were near Bureau Land Management (BLM,) so we camped for free, saving $16. Found a scenic site off the road actually. We found a kinda flat rock to set up the stove. At some point during the night, the wind was insanely howling while we were in our all weather-seasoned tent.

People often see our license plates, which consists of South Carolina at the back and a Canadian flag at the front. They ask us where we are headed, how long we’ve been on the road, etc.  At the trail head parking lot, after one of those brief encounters, a lady handed Greg a small piece of paper claiming that Mormon’s have all the answers we’ve been looking for. Finally, Jebus has saved me!

I forgot NPs don’t have showers, but Goblin Valley is a State Park, which was one reason we wanted to camp here. After the cool short hike into the valley, we snuck into the camp area for a quick and needed shower. We’ve been camping for 2 nights and my skin is slightly covered with sand and dust. We also knew we would not get a shower for the next two nights at Capitol Reef NP. Click here for more pix.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

4 Corners, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, & Natural Bridges National Monument

Greg made us stop to take a cheesy photo at 4 corners, where CO, AZ, NM, and UT meet. Recently surveyors discovered that the 4 corner spot is 2,000 feet off! I guess they decided it is not worth relocating this set up.

Next stop, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, on Indian Territory. We did the 17-mile drive loop to see different butte formations. We got an awesome tent view primitive site. It was a bit windy but warmer temps; even saw the sunrise the next day. We got a great sunny day to do a 3-mile loop hike around mitten rock. Saw the sunset around 7:45pm and stayed up past 10pm to see the stars come out. 

One thing I like about traveling, which you notice after camping constantly, is appreciating the little things in life. I always appreciated flush toilets, running water, and even hand soap, but now I appreciate non-windy days. Cooking and eating in the wind, is just no fun.

Natural Bridges National Monument was out next destination. The drive there was beautiful, leaving the buttes in AZ and entering more in UT.  We drove up a crazy windy road at 5 miles an hour and over this huge rocky valley. Did the 8.6-mile hike loop to see the three natural bridges. It was odd hiking in so much on sand vs. snow (from CO), Makes me slower going but at least we aint falling through the ground.

We ended at 4:30 pm so decided not to camp here and head 1.5 hrs. North to Goblin Valley State Park. Click here for pix.

Monday, April 11, 2011

More Hippy Towns and Amazing Dwellings in Mesa Verde NP

After leaving Orvis Hot Springs, we heard Ouray was a must-see town. Very picturesque with the mts so close by and trying to hold on to some of the Western roots. We then visited Telluride a hippy ski resort area. Ski season is over leaving these areas as a ghost town, but still worth a quick visit and grab a beer ad nachos at the Smugglers.

We headed SW to Cortez for a 2 night couch surf as it is very close to Mesa Verde NP. Camping is still closed there, but luckily they started the Cliff Dwellings tour a day before we got there. Finally had a sunny great day at a park. The dwellings were discovered in 1888 and it became a park in 1906. The dwellings dated back from AD 550-1300.

It was nice to be at a park before it gets crowded in the summer. Got to stop at all the overlooks and had the popular Petroglyph Point Trail 2.4 miles, round-trip with awesome views of the canyons. Click here for pix.

Free Off Road Hot Springs, Black Canyon NP, & Another Hippy Hot Springs

Next day we were headed for a 2 night camp at Black Canyon NP. We were slightly delayed as I left my small backpack at the local brewpub, which I retrieved safely. We further delayed ourselves by going to a very natural and free hot springs, Penny, right out of town and off the road, next to the cold Chrystal river.  We even saw sheep drinking from the river. Another reason not to have a tight schedule and chill with couch surfers.  

When Dan suggested the place; I suggested he and his friend Tom join us. We realized that all of us were recently unemployed and we cheers to that. It worked out nicely as Dan helped us out and even though we did not surf in his cool 1987 old ski bus, we got to meet up. Before heading out, we got a tour of the groovy bus that has been on some epic adventures like taking 9 people to Burning Man.

The drive down was nice through cattle and horse ranches and green valleys. We arrived at Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP (8,000 ft) before sunset and got to finally make a fire and cooked salmon over it.  Next day, after talking to the ranger, we did a 2.4 mile loop hike with proper crampons and poles on Oak Trail. Cool views of the canyon and the pretty clear blue Gunnison river down there.  The canyon is about 2,700 feet high, but at times you can hear the roaring sound of the raging river. The park protects 14 miles of the gorge and was made into a NP in 1999.

Also did the 7 mile Rim drive with tons of overlooks and ended with the 1.5 mile loop Warner Point hike, which was very pretty seeing the Uncompahgre Valley, mts, canyons, and trees. It quickly started snowing and piling up fast. It was too foggy to do the Rim Rock trail, we decided to head back to camp and then pack it up and leave a night early.

We planned on visiting Orvis Hot Springs in Ridgway, so we headed there, as we knew one could camp there. It was pricey but we got an indoor kitchen and use of the pools that night and the next day. This is my second time camping at a hot springs in my life, both being weeks apart and in CO. This was a natural, not so resorty, clothing option; my kinda place. It was actually one of our coldest camping nights; our water bottles froze up, along with my toes I left the tent at 6:30 am to dip my toes in the pools and make breaky. Click here for more pix.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Denver Surgery, Vapor Cave, Roof Rack Incident & Hanging Lake Hike

Last Monday, we headed back to Denver area for Greg to have a cyst from his ear, which went well. I actually enjoyed the day he was drugged up and slowed down.  After 2.5 weeks in central CO area, we headed south and west with a quick stop in Glenwood Springs. I went to Yamaha Vapor Caves, which is a natural cave at 125 deg! I have never sweated so much so quickly. While in there, I thought of all the water use going on as we dumped and splashed water on our heads and bodies :(

We couch surfed with Jackie, a 27 yr old high school teacher who truly cares and loves her job, in a rural area b/w Carbondale and Basalt. It was more country feeling that my parent’s PA country house with muddy roads and old abandoned-like farms. It was pretty cool but would not be able to live this remotely. Originally we wanted to couch surf with Dan W. in Carbondale because he had an old ski bus one could sleep in but he was all full up with friends ending the ski season and employment.  

Our main reason for staying here was to visit Maroon Lake, which is one of the most photographed places in CO, but the road was still closed due to snow.  Therefore, we opted for a hike to Hanging Lake. Then planned on another short hike, Mushroom Rock, and check out Aspen. On the way to the hike, on a windy turn, one of the heavy weighted roof racks (newer but cheaply made one) flew off the jeep.  Luckily there was no one else on the road and it did not skid down the mt. We dragged it back to the jeep, when Greg should not be carrying anything over 10 lbs for a few weeks after surgery. The top got cracked up badly and even one of our sleeping pads got ripped.

Greg got some crazy glue and duct tape it up. We got in touch with Dan W., who let us use his drill while he was not even home. Greg reinforced the rack with new bolts etc, to avoid future runoffs.  To lighten the load, Greg shipped home 42 lbs of gear that he no longer needs.

After a few hours, we at least got to do the 1.2 mile one-way steep hike to Hanging Lake, with about 1,000 ft elevation gain, starting at 6,000 ft. Man, I wonder how different CO must look in the summer and easier these hikes are w/o snow and ice. At the top there was the beautiful clear blue lake; I felt like I was in Switzerland with the snow-cap mountains and canyons surrounding us. Click here for lots of pix.

Couch Surfing, what's that?

I mention couchsurfing  (CS) often in these posts and feel inclined to explain in it a bit for those who are unaware of this awesome traveling network website. It’s a community travelers can use in a few different ways; kind of like a face book where one has a profile and friends, but way more valuable and it is a nonprofit.

There are city groups one can join to ask questions, get/share info, and initiate some meet ups and events. I first did this in Portland, which was a very caring and active group.

People can also choose to host travelers at their house where travelers will send a specific “couch surfing” request. I have hosted a bit in PDX and met so many interesting people from around the world. It sounds a little unsafe, but people have references and you need to be trusting and have an open mind. The times I have are priceless.

It is so refreshing in this life to meet people who trust others still and they are so darn hospitable and generous, to strangers no less. This world has some negative people, but CS allows you to have hope for humanity. You meet a variety of people; there’s so much in this world I just don’t even know and this allows you to get a little taste of life.

It is not a perfect system, but what is? The good outweighs the bad. This network is allowing people to travel very affordable, but it is much more than that. You get to know about local things that are not in the guidebooks and meet awesome people.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Metal Dinosaurs, Beers and Meditation Center - Oh My

Ft. Collins (FoCo) was a great visit. We stayed with a friend of mine, Kelley, who is from FoCo but lived in PDX for a few months in 2008; we met a couch surf meet up. We met Kelley at her work place, Odell brewery, and sampled a few beers. My tummy can’t keep up with all the delicious local beer here.

On Sat we were lucky to get 75 deg weather and hit another brewery, New Belgium. I am told this is the 3rd largest microbrew in the US. They give 4 free good size tasters. I love that you can walk everywhere here and there’s so many places to visit.

Sat night we headed to Denver for Kelley’s friend bday event at a salsa club. Yeah, not something I normally do and had to borrow a skirt and some heels, as I did not pack for such outings. Mark tried to teach me the way. It’s not too hard as long as you have a good leader.

As we headed home we were welcomed by another fire near town. It’s been a very dry and windy season so the fires are much worse than usual. We smelled it from Kelley’s house!

The fire prevented us from hiking the Horse tooth trail, so on Sunday Kelley took us for a nice long drive to Fort Collins Shambhala Center. An unexpected treat; meditation is something I have attempted but have not given much priority, even though I know of its great benefits.

We ended the day tour at Swetsville Zoo, which is a free place people can witness wicked cool art recycled from metal parts. Lots of dinosaurs and fun play with old school cars; all very real looking and creative things on here.  Thanks Kelley for an awesome weekend! Click here for pix.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Snow Camping & Hiking Rocky NP

It was crazy windy for the two days we were in Rocky NP last Wed & Thurs. We arrived at 6pm and thankfully decided to do a regular tent camp near the jeep rather than back country. The wind was shaking the heavy loaded jeep and there was snow everywhere. Cooking and eating in this wind was not pleasant. Must have been 35 mph. I kept chasing after the bowls, matches, bags, etc. Next day still windy, but we attempted to do a long 6 mile loop in the snow. We got a lost a few times; it was so hard to see the trail and following skiers does not mean that is a trail. So we did a simple small loop around Bear Lake. Wet tried to find a waterfall another trail, but again could not find the right trail.

Back at camp, we saw two wolves while we were in the jeep. Yikes. Windy again so had dinner in the jeep. Saw a tad bit of red sky behind the snow cap mts then the stars were out a night.

Next day we thought we could do a 6 mile regular hike at Deer Mt. Its a 10footer but we only hike about 1,000 elevation gain in 3 miles. The last .5 mile was a nightmare; we badly needed snow shoes. We kept sinking into the snow, which admittedly was fun the first few times, but it was so tiring pulling yourself up to just fall back down. We ended up crawling at some points to distribute our weight. Luckily, we met a couple with snow shoes so we were able to follow their tracks even though they got lost a few times. We would never have reached the summit without their tracks. Another lesson learned, talk to a ranger before attempting snow hikes to be better prepared.

Afterward we were headed to Ft Collins to see a friend of mine, Kelley. Before that we stopped at touristy, but pretty Estes Park for an awesome Nepal buffet lunch, which is very similar to Indian food
Click here for pix.

After Thoughts

It is unfortunate that we had to drive through the night in New Mexico and southeast Colorado without stopping. People say there’s nothing to see in such places as Oklahoma and Kansas but I’d like to be the judge of that. Being from a big city, I am more interested in nature, landscapes, farms, animals, and non-touristy areas (uniqueness is what I seek).

Driving through CO, we passed by these huge suburban sprawls. I quickly grew tired of looking at these gigantic cookie cutter houses and seeing strip malls or how I say “shitty malls’. I felt sad for the people who lived here all of their lives and having only known these mainstream, not so great, restaurants and stores.  I don’t mean to offend those who live in such places, these are just thoughts that ran through me mind.

In Englewood, south of Denver, we saw an apartment/town house complex that was literally inside the strip mall. Enough said! Hopefully, we will find ourselves off the main highway soon and be able to loose ourselves with something unfamiliar.

I realized that my postings have only been reports of places that I have witnessed and the good people I have encountered. I must make time to reflect, to capture a few of the so many thoughts that run through my mind while traveling that I can’t seem to collect.

Ending this post with a few quotes from the book that I am reading “Traveling with Charley”:

“In this a journey is like a marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you can control it.”

“We find after years if struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”

“… everything in this world must have a design or the human mind rejects it. But in addition it must have a purpose or the human conscience strives away from it.”

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Chillin in Boulder

Last Tues in Boulder, we were hosted by Joe who is from NJ but spent five years with the Marine Corps living in Russia, Switzerland, and Tanzania.  We traded books, he gave me “Travels with Charley” and I gave him “Vagabonding”. We went out to a local brew up  “Southern Sun Pub and Brew” (just like OR so many breweries!) while Greg went to the rock climbing gym with Ira.  Lots for rock climbers in CO.

I heard great things about Boulder, but it wasn't much to me. Great people, but the town is just so darn small for me with a busy road. I disliked Pearl Street (a touristy area) and felt that I could not walk around the town much; sorry no photos. Oh well, CO is still pretty sweet.

Wed, we went back to Denver for Greg’s pre-opp apt then we headed up back to Rocky NP. Greg’s surgery is this Tues and we learned that we need to come back mid May for a follow up visit. Gonna spend a lot more time in CO than planned! Maybe I don't have to move to CO b/c by the end of this trip, I will have been all around the state!