Author: theadventurecru

The Grand Adventure: Part 2

Before we get into the meat and potatoes of this post (or, um, spinach and potatoes), we want to apologize for the long gap since our last post. Our schedule has been crazy lately as we prepare for our next adventure, but that’s a post for another time. Right now, we’re telling the story of our Grand Adventure, which is what we’ve decided to call this trip after Grand Canyon knocked our socks off. We promise we’ll keep the story going steadily from here on out!

Two days is not *quite* enough time here.

Day 11 found us waking up in Kaibab National Forest, which is where we highly recommend camping if you’re looking for free, dispersed sites. We specifically wanted to be close to the South Rim Visitors Center, but didn’t want to bother with the developed camping areas, which were almost certainly all booked in advance anyway. We were able to find several open sites along fire roads, many of which were suitable even for large RVs (there are no hookups here, of course). Kaibab National Forest actually contains land on both sides of Grand Canyon, but we never made it to the North Rim as it takes about 3 hours to get there from the South Rim.

By this time, breaking down camp for us was beginning to go a little smoother. Camping in the woods versus a parking lot provided us with the opportunity to set up our camp chairs and propane stove and make some instant coffee. We had shakes for breakfast, and I kept munching on handfuls of peanuts, since we knew we would be doing some hiking.

This Utah Agave blooms only once in its lifetime, and we were lucky to see it. Soon it will die, but this remarkable flower stalk may remain for some time.

We knew before we left Maine that bringing a dog along to a National or State Park can limit your activities there. Often, this wasn’t a problem for us, but at Grand Canyon we knew we wanted to hike down below the rim, where dogs are not allowed. Luckily, there is a boarding facility in Grand Canyon Village and they had an opening for Zorro. After we broke down camp, we brought Zorro there and toured the facility. It is pretty basic but clean, and provides indoor/outdoor access and shade. It was surprisingly hard to say goodbye even for the day, since he’s been with us non-stop since we started this adventure, but we knew he would be fine sleeping the day away.

Once our party was down to two, we stopped by the South Rim Visitors Center to watch a short orientation film about the Canyon, narrated by Peter Coyote. There’s something about Peter Coyote’s voice over beautiful drone footage of National Parks that brings a tear to my eye every time. There’s a sequence in the film about the South Kaibab Trail, where we planned to hike, and it was both awe-inspiring and imposing, given the steep switchbacks the hikers were descending.

It may not look like it, but that’s the trail.

We took a shuttle to the South Kaibab Trailhead and found dozens of other hikers either preparing for or recovering from the trail. This is a very popular hike, so don’t expect much quiet and solitude here; but there’s a good reason it’s so popular, as we would soon find out. There’s almost no shade to be found on the trail, but we had hats, sunscreen and protective clothing to keep us safe. Side note: the Tilley Airflo hat I bought in Colorado has proved absolutely essential in this environment. It provides excellent cover and is never in danger of flying off with the strap worn properly. Later, we would see many lost hats below a windy overlook – I can only imagine how disappointing it would be to lose your hat in the unforgiving Arizona sun.

That hat’s not going anywhere!

Once we had topped off our water bottles, we hiked down into the canyon. It’s definitely steep going, especially at first, as the trail rapidly drops down a very vertical face of the rim. We were glad to have our trekking poles, although we forgot to bring both pairs so we only had one pole each. This still helped a lot, and I made a mental note to always bring both pairs along on steep hikes.

It is a much-cited Grand Canyon adage that what goes down must come back up. We kept this in mind as we hiked ever further down the trail toward Ooh Aah Point. The views at Grand Canyon aren’t just found at designated lookout points, of course, but confront you endlessly in nearly all directions all the time. It’s recommended to rest frequently on the trail, not only because it’s strenuous and sun-drenched, but because there’s so much to see. We learned that the “big picture” at Grand Canyon – that super wide angle, zoomed out aerial perspective – doesn’t do justice to the details of the Park. As we climbed lower, the Canyon took on a more personal perspective that made it somehow seem both smaller and more expansive at the same time.

Feeling good on the way down while saving energy for the return hike.

 

When you’re hiking to someplace called Ooh Aah Point, you have certain expectations. Those expectations had been met long before we reached the famous lookout point, but there was indeed a spectacular view waiting for us there. Seeing Grand Canyon from within is no less amazing than seeing it from above. It could have been the effort it took to get there, but we were gob smacked by the beauty and took our time mustering up the resolve to turn back around.

I have a feeling I’m not the first to do this.

What can we say about the hike back up? Quad burning, huffing and puffing, sweat dripping and water guzzling times were those. We were very much in need of air conditioning as well as some answers about what was going with all that geology we just saw, so we rode the shuttle back to the geology museum at Yavapai Point. Here the ancient story of the canyon’s walls finally started to make sense. This is an essential visit for anyone interested in the geologic history that’s exposed at Grand Canyon like nowhere else on earth. Through interactive exhibits and specimens from every part of the canyon, the colorful bands of rock outside start to reveal a history of alternating oceans and sand dunes, as well as tremendous heat and pressure deep within the earth. I’m not a geologist, but I was fascinated by this look inside the earth. Looking into Grand Canyon is like traveling through time to our planet’s ancient past.

At Grand Canyon, you can gaze right into the ancient past.

That evening, after reuniting with Zorro, we set up camp in another dispersed site, this time in a more remote area of Kaibab NF. Here the forest was much more desert-like, sparser and sandier. We cooked dinner and read by the light of our headlamps until it was time to go to bed. In the middle of the night, as I stepped out of the car to answer nature’s call, I looked up and saw what the bright headlamp had prevented me from noticing earlier: the milky way galaxy and the most spectacular sky of stars I’ve ever seen, including a perfectly-timed shooting star. This is what we miss when we’re sitting comfortably on our couches watching Netflix. This gorgeous sight is always up there, hiding behind the light pollution and smog. It was a perfect coda to the day’s breathtaking beauty and reminded me how lucky we were to be on this adventure together.

 

Grand Canyon has always been on our bucket lists, and I don’t intend to cross it off just yet. There’s much more to do there than can be done in two days, so we plan to return and spend more time there in the near future. I recommend at least three days if you want to do any hiking at all, since it’s not recommended to hike all the way down and back up again in one day unless you’re an expert. That place works on your soul, slowly opening you up to appreciate its staggering beauty over time. We absolutely loved it, and considered spending another day there, but we knew we had far too much ahead of us to linger on. The next day, we packed up camp and drove out via Desert View Rd, stopping again at many of the lookout points along the way. We knew we would return someday, but it was still hard to leave the Park knowing we had barely scratched the surface of its treasures.

Luckily, our next major destination was no geologic slouch itself, Zion National Park in Utah. The adventure continues in our next post!

The Grand Adventure: Part 1

Mexican Hat is named after this whimsical formation, visible from our yurt.

Walking out of the yurt in the early morning, feeling the sun already hot on my skin, I look toward the Navajo Rug ridgeline. The bands of colorful sedimentary rock do look remarkably like the geometric patterns seen on the Navajo rugs for sale in town. The red and orange dust comes to rest on everything here. I look down at my LL Bean boat shoes and note how much they’ve already changed since leaving Maine a week and a half ago. I like this new color. It’s a good look.

Whenever anyone mentions the heat of the desert, it seems there is always someone nearby who chimes in with “but it’s a dry heat,” which has always sounded pretty nice to me. Growing up in South Carolina, summer heat always meant humid and sweaty weather that often called for multiple showers per day. On a really bad day, the southern air feels positively sticky, and I’ve hardly missed that part of life in the south since moving to Maine. Now that I’m experiencing the desert climate firsthand, I feel like I was born for this environment.

Rocks and dirt, or staggering geologic wonder?

Someone at Grand Canyon National Park would later tell us that there are two kinds of people who come to this part of the country: those who see a bunch of rocks and dirt, and others who are wowed by all the beauty. Compared to places like the Maine woods, there does seem to be a lot of emptiness in the desert. But that emptiness makes room for our thoughts to stretch out and contemplate our small role in the history of the planet.

The southwest is famously known as a geologist’s paradise, because the story of the earth’s past is exposed to view here like almost nowhere else. This landscape has seen alternating oceans and deserts, tremendously violent seismic activity and the never-ending effects of erosion and weathering over hundreds of millions of years. Everything looks ancient here, even though many of the most stunning features are very young in geologic terms. Visiting this area gives you a sense of arriving very late to a very old scene, and it is also a reminder of how much the planet is capable of changing.

The San Juan River carved this incredible meander through sedimentary rock at Goosenecks State Park.

We wanted to see the most dramatic evidence of these forces of change, so we headed to Goosenecks State Park in Utah, an awe-inspiring vantage point overlooking one of the most remarkable entrenched river meanders in North America. The San Juan river carved this winding canyon over 300 million years, cutting through layer after layer of soft, sedimentary rock as it washed debris downstream. The powerful, transformative effects of water are visible everywhere in this region. Really, the desert is all about water. Even if it’s not visible, the story of where water has been and what it has changed is all around you here. From the top of the canyon, the distant river below wasn’t even audible. It was impossible to comprehend time on this scale, and we felt very small and insignificant here.

In the parking lot at Goosenecks, we met a Navajo couple who sold handmade jewelry. We talked with them about their excellent choice of location and a little about the history of the Navajo Nation, the largest Native American territory in the U.S. When we were planning our trip, I didn’t realize how much time we would spend in Navajo Nation, nor how special a place it is. In the south and northeast, there are no large Native American territories left, so it was enlightening to visit here and talk with the locals about what life is like. We agreed we would return to Mexican Hat and spend more time exploring Navajo Nation.

The road to Muley Point hugs the steep face of Cedar Mesa.

Our new friends at Goosenecks recommended we check out the nearby Muley Point overlook from the top of Cedar Mesa. The road to Muley Point starts out flat on the valley floor, with the 1,200 foot mesa looming ahead. The steep cliffs don’t look very inviting from the bottom, and we wondered how the road could possibly take us to the top. However, we soon found ourselves climbing a series of switchbacks that included some memorable hairpin turns along the sheer face of the mesa.

The view from Muley Point gave perspective to Goosenecks. Together, water and time carved out this surreal environment.

Like quite a few scenic drives on our trip so far, this one would have been impressive even if there was nothing to see at the end. Our efforts weren’t in vain, however, as those who make it to the top of the mesa are treated to the sight of not only Goosenecks and more of the San Juan meander, but also views stretching as far as Monument Valley, 20 miles away. We even thought we could spy the (relatively) tiny Mexican Hat Rock. In this area, Monument Valley gets the lion’s share of attention, but if that’s all you see, you might be missing out on the big picture. Muley Point puts the entire Mexican Hat/Monument Valley area into perspective, which in this part of the country is hard to achieve outside a helicopter, just because everything is so massive and spread out.

We were able to see Monument Valley one more time.

From Muley Point, we headed west to Grand Canyon National Park, one of our most anticipated stops. The drive was mostly through Navajo Nation, which we continued to find captivating. As much as the landscape there is shaped by water, there is very little of the stuff to be found except in a few developed areas. This is so different from Maine, where it feels like we live in a giant sponge! It’s worth noting that throughout our trip, there’s been a “red flag” warning in effect for wildfires, the highest possible risk level, due to extreme drought conditions.

We were a little bit in shock at this point.

We were fortunate to arrive at Grand Canyon from the east entrance, also known as Desert View. It is a less popular entrance since most traffic is coming from the south in Flagstaff, and it offers a series of spectacular views leading up to the classic south rim viewpoints. The first time we caught a glimpse of the canyon, still nowhere near its widest point, we were a little dumbstruck. We’ve never seen anything like this before, and trust me- pictures do NOT do Grand Canyon justice. I tried, I really did, to capture worthwhile images, but I’ve seen a lot of photos of this place and none of them prepared me for the sight of it in real life. It’s simply one of the most incredible places in North America. Honestly, I’m content to call it #1 at this point, but I’m keeping an open mind.

The massive scale even overwhelmed my camera.

After taking in the view from the south rim, we had to find a place to make camp so we could explore in earnest in the morning. Fortunately, there are plenty of free spots to camp in the sprawling Kaibab National Forest. On our way to a site, we passed a very tall fire tower. I immediately elected to climb it, which I realized a third of the way up was ill-considered since the minimal iron grating proved slippery in my aforementioned LL Bean boat shoes, and I could see all the way to the bottom through the skinny metal slats. I made it to the top, saw miles of forest, then hurried back down.

The thin grating means you’re keenly aware of how far from the ground you are.

 

How do you tear yourself away from this? We never wanted to leave.

A surprising thing about Grand Canyon if you’ve never been before is how forested the area is. I was expecting desert, but that’s only found down below. Up above the rim, the weather is cooler and trees grow abundantly. Our first night in Grand Canyon, we slept in a wooded area on National Forest land that didn’t look anything like the Grand Canyon of my imagination. Surprises abound when traveling, and it’s delightful when a famous destination defies the stereotypes. The next morning we would get to experience the Canyon from below the rim, which turned out to be the key to grasping its immensity. Follow along to see what the Grand Canyon taught us, and our incredible next stop: Zion National Park!

The Four Corners and Beyond

There was no mistaking the change of scenery when we got to the Four Corners region.

On our 9th day of traveling we really started to feel like we had hit our groove. We had a great visit with our family, we covered a LOT of ground, and we had our car camping set up pretty well figured out. That morning we set out in the CR-V camper and started to see the first glimpses of the wild west: towering monoliths of stone we knew as “monuments.” The first monument we came across, called Chimney Rock, floored us entirely. You are just driving along when, all of a sudden, an otherworldly structure appears out of the earth.

This formation, one of several known as Chimney Rock, greeted us as we entered the Great Basin Desert.

We couldn’t find much information about the first formation we saw on the Southern Ute Reservation, except that it is known as Chimney Rock (other formations also go by this name). But when we saw it, we had to stop and take it in. There was a stately gravity to it that stunned us, and little did we know what other magical sights lay ahead.

Troy and I were in good spirits as the scenery around us began shifting. The land we covered that was once mountainous and hilly transitioned to chaparral (shrubland plant vegetation). The desert land collided with the monuments and led to many lovely photo opportunities, of which we took full advantage. For those of you wondering what we had been doing in the car to keep occupied all that time, we did talk a lot, listened to good music like the Rolling Stones, Stars, and Maroon 5. There were a few podcasts we listened to, and of course there were plenty of snacks and pit stops to let Zorro out.

It feels ridiculous, but isn’t it also kind of ridiculous not to do this when you’re here?

When we made it to the Four Corners monument, we hadn’t planned to stop, but we figured, “We’re here so we may as well stop in!” We are glad we did, not necessarily because we put four body parts in four states – we did – but because we had our first serving of Navajo fry bread. This tasty bread is a simple dough that is fried in shortening or oil, then topped to be sweet or savory. For our first taste, we chose to get cinnamon sugar as was recommended to us. And so our continual search for more Navajo fry bread began as we drove deeper into Navajo Nation.

The beginning of a quest for more Navajo fry bread.

We did a funny little four state merry-go-round and switched from Arizona to New Mexico to Utah all on that day’s drive. Let me just say that of all the states The Adventure CRU has visited so far, Utah is the one to beat! Pretty much from the moment we crossed the state line into Utah, the colors, variation and drama were over the top. The bright reds and oranges popped against bright blue skies. The bright sun illuminated the rise and fall of the mesas and cliffs that flanked scenic Highway 163. Utah was a total standout in both mine and Troy’s memories and will continue to be.

Our first glimpse of Monument Valley was incredible!

That afternoon, we arrived at Monument Valley in the heat of the day. It was so hot, the wind that blew (dirt) felt like someone put the heater on full blast! I was very comfortable wearing my Spandits board shorts (seen above), they kept me cool all day. My first impression of Monument Valley was, “Oh my gosh, we’re actually here!” We could hardly believe our eyes. The different structures that surround the valley were nothing short of magnificent. There are plenty of roadside pull-offs for people to stop and take photos or just stand still to take in the glory of the place. We made it to what seemed like a good turn-around point, as our sleeping destination happened to be behind us in Mexican Hat.

The effects of water and weathering have resulted in these amazing formations.

Mexican Hat is sleepy little town preceding Monument Valley if you are coming from Arizona. It is so named because of a naturally occurring, and rather whimsical, stone feature near town that resembles a head and a sombrero atop it. In this small town we found WiFi (win!), cellular service (kinda), Navajo tacos (which is the afore-mentioned bread made into a bean taco, yum), and a yurt to sleep in for the night. The place to find all of these amenities in Mexican Hat is the San Juan Inn on the San Juan River. We highly recommend this area if you are headed near it. Mexican Hat is a great central spot for a lot of great sightseeing in the region. There’s a gas station and convenience store, but you’ll want to bring some supplies because it is pretty far from the nearest grocery store!

Our view from the yurt in Mexican Hat.

More about the yurt, you ask? The yurt was a short drive away from the main Inn location. It was pet friendly and featured a queen sized bed, WiFi, bathroom, and spectacular views of the Navajo Rug ridgeline and anticline (Google those!). Once moved in and showered, we spent the evening outside in the 97 degree breeze watching the light change on the rock formations. One cool thing about the yurt was no TV – And we didn’t even miss it. Note: That’s a bonus about traveling in our car and from odd place to place. Less TV, more life.

Living the good life, no TV required!

Our days in the southwest were a lot like this one, full of adventure and hot, hot sunshine. Hard to say why us South Carolinians felt so at home here in the deep west, but we are already looking forward to our return to this part of America. Up next, Grand Canyon and more!

Into the West: Part 2

This is a spectacular part of the country!

Waking up at your sister-in-law’s house and thinking, “This will be the day we finally see the southwest,” was a feeling unlike any other feeling in the world. This is the west of film iconography, the west in our history books, and the west of family members’ stories you have heard all your life. This is the west you’ve been thinking about experiencing as long as you can remember. And with all that excitement, you grab your man, grab your dog, and hit the highway.

Southwestern Colorado doesn’t seem to be a well-known region, but these views are incredible! That’s Great Sand Dunes National Park in the distance.

We began our drive from Canyon City to Salida, CO following along the Arkansas River. This road offered scenic passes and miles of mountains, the likes of which we had never encountered before. Though our stay in the Colorado Springs area offered many exciting vistas, nothing could have prepared us for this drive out to Great Sand Dunes National Park. Peaks both jagged and smooth, drawing ever closer to our car, made for some harrowing curves through the mountain passes. It’s the windy and curvy roads we like to think of like roller coasters. A fun ride like this one would not have been complete without having some delightful GrandyOats Coconola to snack on in the car!

Once we drove out of the mountain crossing, the land really began to open up as expansive grasslands ran along both sides of the road. It was in this vast, open prairie valley we stumbled across the UFO Watchtower and decided to take a peek. Pulling into this nearly abandoned lot (save for one couple who promptly departed as we arrived) we knew we had come across one of the roadside oddities people tell you about. There was an elevated platform for having a better view of potential UFO sightings as well as a garden of mementos people had placed to rest for an eternity of hot, dusty, and maybe extraterrestrial(?) usage. The Adventure CRU left an object behind with the understanding that no one would ever move or disturb our memento. If you are curios what we left, you’ll have to visit the garden yourself!

We didn’t see anyone else at the UFO Watchtower… but did they see us?

Back in the car (gladly, because we all almost blew away atop the UFO viewing platform), we headed to our camping spot on public land within sight of the Great Dunes mentioned above. We saw the towering reddish dunes off in the distance as we drove towards our camp. Upon arrival, we were pleased to find several open campsites with ample views of the grasslands and Blanca Peak right beside our camp.

If you are wondering how to go about finding public land or BLM land camping (BLM means Bureau of Land Management), it is quite simple. You search the area you’d like to “dry camp,” or camp without water and electricity, and see if there are any public lands you can stay on. If so, odds are people have camped there before you and will have written about it on www.freecampsites.net. You cannot camp on any vegetation and should pack out everything you pack in. We plan to write a blog post all about this soon as we gain more experience!

Now where did we pack those utensils?

We slept hard after a hearty meal and some stargazing. Note: Colorado and other western states have some of the BEST stargazing we have ever seen. First order of business was the camp breakdown, breakfast shakes, and then off to the GREAT SAND DUNES! We lathered up with sunscreen, wore our UPF 50+ clothes, and packed lots of fresh water. The dunes combined with full sun were no joke with temperatures well over 90 degrees, we wanted to keep this wild adventure short and sweet. The Great Sand Dunes are the tallest dunes in North America and are a focal point of the San Luis Valley. I carried Zorro in his new doggie carrier (since leaving him in the car was NOT an option) and Troy carried the rest of the gear in our awesome FlowFold Optimist day pack. Second Note: We want to give a big thank you to FlowFold for providing us with this great day pack because we’ve used it literally every day. From 2 waters, our day safety kit, keys, 2 FlowFold wallets, Zorro’s gear, and snacks, this little guy holds everything we need for a day trip!

Trekking through the dunes. Note Zorro getting a free ride!

It’s a lot of fun to explore the dunes, which cover over 30 square miles of land, though we didn’t make it nearly that far. Walking in sand this thick and shifty really takes it out of you! Troy climbed to the highest peak he could, only to see beyond that peak were dozens more even taller. Shade and water were our top priorities when getting off the dunes, and after fulfilling those needs we had a quick lunch (homemade salmon jerky, apples, and GrandyOats) then hit the road yet again. This time, we were headed to Rio Grande National Forest and then the San Juan National Forest immediately after. These forests looked inviting for the most part, however we were just cutting through them to get to our next destination, the Four Corners region and Navajo Nation. Keep an eye on the blog for another update coming soon, and until then may you have peace in your heart and happiness on the road.

When you get to the top, there’s always a higher dune on the horizon!

Into the West

The Great Plains are a great place to find a level spot for yoga!

The American landscape between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains is dominated by the Great Plains, a tremendously flat expanse mainly utilized by ranchers and farmers. This is an overwhelmingly horizontal environment. Outside an occasional small hill, the only vertical features are man made. Windmills, silos and signs stand out from a great distance, appearing almost monolithic in the great open landscape. It is both exactly what we expected and also somehow alluring.

One of the best surprises was the presence of birds. Everywhere. Thousands of swallows swooped dramatically through the air around us whenever we stopped to rest. Their songs filled the air and reminded us that while the Plains may look empty, they are very much alive. It is a place to look for details, small flowers and weathered old buildings, smaller scenes that tell a story of endurance and the passing of time. And what do the birds eat? Insects – thousands of which pelted our car as we drove through the Midwest. Seriously, it got hard to see through the windshield at times and regular wiper fluid does NOTHING to clean them off; serious squeegee effort is needed.

As we crossed from Kansas into eastern Colorado, the story changed little at first. We were still in some of the most sparsely populated places we’d ever seen, where you can see for many miles in all directions and still can’t spot the next cluster of silos or a gas station. But as we got closer to Colorado Springs, what appeared at first to be clouds near the horizon started to come into sharper focus and we knew we were finally approaching the legendary Rocky Mountains. This is where the west begins!

Oh yeah, we’re definitely in the west now.

It’s funny how when you see the mountains from eastern Colorado, you think you must be pretty close, but they’re still about 100 miles away. As we neared Colorado Springs, we thought about the pioneers and explorers who arrived here from the east and wondered how they felt. The Rockies definitely do not suggest an easy way over or through! Luckily for us, we had a few days to play and explore in their shadow before going any further west.

Wait, what planet are we on again?

Troy’s sister and brother and their spouses live in Colorado Springs and Denver, so we got to stay with them and share some of our adventures together. After meeting up in Colorado Springs, we all decided to head to the Paint Mines in Calhan, CO. Even baby Claire came along! The Paint Mines are a natural wonder of colorful sandstone rock formations, hoodoos and meandering trails. The rich colors come from iron oxides in the clay, and this clay really was collected and used for pigments by people at least 10,000 years ago. Walking among the hoodoos felt like being on another planet. Because the Mines are about 40 minutes east of Colorado Springs, this is a lesser-visited park, but trust us- it’s a must-see. Even after the spectacular sights we saw further west, the Paint Mines remain a trip highlight.

The Paint Mines are definitely worth a visit.

After a night of hanging out with family around a fire, we were ready for a busy day of exploring the Rocky Mountains themselves. First of all, we prepared ourselves for the increased sun exposure. Did you know that UV exposure increases by 10% with every 3,280 feet in elevation? Colorado Springs is 6,000 feet and Pikes Peak is 14,114 feet, so serious sun protection is essential. We used plenty of sunscreen, and also wore protective clothing that covered most of our skin. We always keep hats, sunglasses and bandanas on hand when venturing outside in the sun. For Troy especially, clothing that’s functional, durable and stylish is kind of an obsession, so we’re seldom unprepared for extreme weather.

We were wowed by the Garden of the Gods.

Our first stop was Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. This is a very popular park because it’s so close to town, easily accessible and totally FREE! A walk through the excellent visitors center and museum makes the free part especially unbelievable. Garden of the Gods is a range of spectacular rock formations towering over a series of pleasant walking paths. Despite the history of the rocks having been forced up violently by seismic activity, the place has a very peaceful atmosphere. It really does evoke a garden, with paths following the natural contours of the monoliths and smaller formations appearing almost like garden statues. A few of the larger rocks have trails up to the top for panoramic views, but most of the park can be enjoyed from the comfort of the smooth, paved paths; this is a very wheelchair- and stroller-accessible park. The museum also provides hands-on exhibits for the visually impaired, so this is truly a park for everyone – even Zorro, although we had to keep him on a leash!

We felt as small as Zorro standing here!

We stayed for a couple of hours at Garden of the Gods, but like most of our stops, we could have easily spent much longer there. It’s kind of like our own Fort Williams Park in Maine, home to Portland Head Light. Visitors to Maine always want to see the lighthouse, and most stay less than an hour, but the park could easily fill an entire lazy afternoon if there weren’t so much else to see and do. In our case, we had really BIG plans for the rest of our afternoon: Pikes Peak, the most visited mountain in North America.

The Rocky Mountains live up to their name.

There are two options for getting to the summit of Pikes Peak: by personal vehicle or cog railway. The train was closed, but we would have taken the adventuremobile either way. Before we set out from Colorado Springs, we unloaded some of our heavier cargo to make the climb easier. Several years ago, we drove up the Mt Washington auto road in New Hampshire. At 6,289 feet, Mt Washington is less than half as high as Pikes Peak, but we found that the drive can be pretty intense and hard on your vehicle.

Although it was warm when we began climbing through the forested lower slopes of Pikes Peak, the ranger at the road entrance told us to leave our AC off so we didn’t overheat our engine on the way up. Luckily, it quickly got much cooler as we ascended. There were many places to pull over and enjoy the views, which of course we did at nearly every opportunity. The higher we got, it seemed there were ever more mountains to see in nearly all directions. The Rockies you see as you approach from the east are just the front of an enormous range that continues far into the west. Again, we thought of the explorers who, upon reaching these mountains, climbed up to see that there appears to be no end in sight.

We’re not in Kansas anymore.

With higher elevation comes less oxygen, and about 1,000 feet from the top, it finally started to hit us. Troy was driving and noticed himself feeling slightly dizzy and fatigued. Talking started to seem difficult and even slow, deep breathing felt shallow and insufficient. When we made it to the top and parked at the visitors center, we were amazed to see how far we’d come, but also worried we might get sick if we stayed too long. A surprising curiosity at the peak given the scarcity of plants and animals was the abundance of insects, mostly small gnats and flies. This is especially strange since Colorado Springs is weirdly almost insect-free. My (totally unsubstantiated) theory is that the mountain winds funnel the few existing bugs up to these higher elevations, where they mostly land on tourists or die. Sounds legit, right?

If you drive to the top of Pikes Peak, you must get a doughnut from the visitors center. Maybe it was the elevation, but they tasted amazing to us and it’s a nice reward for your effort. If you hike up to the peak, you have our unconditional respect and admiration and we will gladly buy you a doughnut.

Before long, we had to head back down to Earth. After the first couple thousand feet, the effects of the elevation gain subsided and we were able to enjoy the even more spectacular views coming down. One of our favorite sights was a pair of marmots perched on some rocks, taking in the view themselves.

“Everything the light touches is our kingdom.”

After returning to town, the whole family went out to eat in downtown Colorado Springs at The Rabbit Hole, an underground restaurant with an “Alice in Wonderland” theme. As much as we enjoyed our adventures in the Rockies, it was this time we shared with our siblings (and our sweet niece, Claire!) that made these last couple of days sparkle. As we mentioned in our last post, this is a big country, and having family and friends to meet up and share it with is one of our favorite things about traveling.

It wasn’t easy saying goodbye to that face…

The next morning, it was time to say goodbye and discover what lay on the other side of those mountains. As it turned out, the best was yet to come, but that’s a story for another post. Keep following along to find out where the road takes us next!

The Adventure Begins: Part 2

Missouri is far from ordinary!

America is big. No, like really really BIG! In the past, Troy and I have spoken about how trips we have taken in the past were often seen only as the destination, and we didn’t account for the travel itself as part of the journey. Shifting our mindset and adjusting our priorities has allowed us to treat this road trip across America in a different way; we are experiencing every day as the destination itself (trying to, anyways). The satisfying feeling of crossing into each state, many for the first time, is highly rewarding. Troy and I are loving covering every mile of the road that we’re traveling on.

The second day of our trip delivered some shining new experiences and some unwelcomed ones as well. We headed right for my Aunt Joyce’s home in New Albany, Indiana, and along the way started hearing some not so good sounds coming from our back right tire in the car. By the time we arrived at her house, the brakes had completely started grinding and we knew we had to get the CR-V into the mechanics ASAP the next day. But first dinner!

The Belle of Louisville is a riverboat that cruises the tremendous Ohio River and is visible from the Big Four Bridge.

Aunt Joyce and some of her family took us out to dinner and a memorable walk across the Big Four Bridge that used to be a train crossing over the Ohio River. This mile-long bridge is a popular spot for folks to come and take in the sights of Jeffersonville, IN and Louisville, KY. We had a fun time watching the light fade and walking from city to city. After a good night’s sleep and some homemade egg casserole, we dropped the adventuremobile off at the shop to get those brakes fixed. So glad we did, too, because the caliper had locked up and the brakes were in bad shape! We are crossing our fingers that this will be the last of our car repairs this trip. Thank you again to our Aunt Joyce for being such a marvelous host – We’ll be back with Zorro to hang out on the deck with you and Buddie!

The Gateway Arch in St Louis is enclosed within a beautiful park. If you can visit near sunset, you won’t regret it.

There was a farewell BBQ and some fresh cherries for the road (which are delicious by the way) and The Adventure CRU set off for the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri. We drove, listened to podcasts, and snacked on GrandyOats’ handmade apple cranberry trail mix and finally began to see the arch rising out of the city streets! We made a stop to stroll under the massive shining arch and watch the sun dip into the city horizon. Since St. Louis wasn’t on our itinerary to stop, we took a quick survey of what we did see while there and decided, yes, we would go back to visit in earnest one day. Those of you in the South will be pleased with our choice of dinner that night: eggs and hash browns, smothered and chopped. Waffle House, the shining black and yellow beacon of dinner to the weary traveler, hit the spot. Camping that night was a breeze – Thank you, Wal-Mart in some town we can’t remember the name of haha!

As the sun rose on day 4 of the road trip, we knew the highway ahead of us meant long and bright hours of travel through the rest of Missouri and on to not-so-flat-after-all Kansas.

Side note: It’s funny how a “few hours” of driving has become inconsequential, whereas it used to be considered almost a deal breaker.

We passed countless old buildings like this one on throughout the midwest, but stopped to photograph just a few of them.

A few hours later, we took a quick walk about Kansas City at the County Club Plaza Shops where we were lightly rained on, but it refreshed us for the long road ahead. See Troy had heard things about Kansas before we got there. “It is so flat and boring,” people would say, “it’s called flyover country for a reason.” But ultimately, we found Kansas quite pleasing. At least in the eastern half of the state, the rolling plains are not flat at all and the long stretches of highway across this sizable state allow for even abandoned-ish gas stations to be alluring. Quiet, warm, and peaceful would be some words I would use to describe our drive through Kansas. As with anything in life, you have to trust your gut – and that is exactly what happened in Colby, KS, at the Wal-Mart we were prepared to camp at. We pulled up after dark and realized the Motel 6 nearby was a much safer and reliable place to make camp that night, so we did. And we slept like babies!

What about day 5 you ask? Day 5 brought us to eastern Colorado. Colorado stole our hearts and we have decided that state – and its adventures – deserve their own post. Coming soon, but until then may you have peace in your heart and happiness on the road.

The Adventure Begins

Taken in Camden, ME on a test run just a few days before our trip.

At 10 days in to our journey, we’ve started to realize how difficult it is to keep up with our various social media outlets. Not only because we’re so busy actually having these adventures, but because wifi and cellular signal are so hard to come by in the middle of the country! We tend to share more frequently on Instagram and Facebook, so if you’re interested in a more timely account of our travels, you can follow us there.

When all the months of preparation and dreaming finally brought us to Departure Day on June 1, we almost couldn’t believe what we were about to do. The road that lay before us was so different from anything we’d done before that we had no frame of reference for the scale or intensity of the experience. When I looked at Zorro curled up on Lizzy’s lap, I thought of all the places he’d walk, the smells he would smell, the plants he would pee on. The sense of excitement before such a trip is one of life’s greatest pleasures.

It’s a little sad to be leaving Maine right as summer is starting, but we’re very fortunate to be taking along some Maine treats as we travel. As we were planning our trip, we reached out to several Maine companies to introduce ourselves and our project. We were delighted to receive generous packages from some of our favorite local companies! Not to brag, but we think Maine is home to some of the best snack food in the country. Take, for example, Maine Coastal Popcorn Company, whose delicious blueberries & cream popcorn we were munching on before we even pulled out of our driveway. We LOVE popcorn, and MCPC makes the most adventurous flavors we’ve ever tried! They kindly sent us other wild flavors like smores and buffalo wing, which we’ll look forward to trying later in the trip (if we can keep ourselves from eating it all at once!).

Of course, the excitement of those first few miles usually dissipates as the odometer starts ticking and the reality of highway travel sets in. Fortunately, we know a great, simple travel hack that transforms a long drive into an act of discovery: Take the back roads!

We simply set our Google Maps route options to “avoid tolls” or “avoid highways” depending on the route, and instead of endless mile markers and exit signs, we drove through forest and farmland, seeing places even in our home state of Maine that we’d never experienced before. Is it weird to want to see the small town tire shops and grocery stores instead of booking it to our big “destination” stops? Probably, but adventuring rewards weirdness.

That first day, we drove through Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and upstate New York. Even though we’ve lived in Maine for five years, this was our first time in Vermont. Our route took us through the Green Mountains, a beautiful and, indeed, very green drive through mountains quite different from the Whites we’re used to in New Hampshire. We stopped at a gift shop overlooking a peaceful valley and bought some local aged cheddar (Flash forward: We’re enjoying this cheddar now in Utah and it is incredible), as well as a small magnet to commemorate our visit. We decided on a whim to purchase a magnet in each state we visit as a small, packable souvenir. This is an inexpensive and space-saving way of remembering the places we’ve been.

Spotted at a rest stop in upstate New York: Zoltar! New York has some of the nicest rest areas we’ve seen anywhere.

From Vermont, we passed into upstate New York. We were surprised how much this region feels like New England. The mountains and hills, forests and rivers all seem a million miles away from the City we usually think of when we think of New York. We would have loved to spend more time here, which surprised us a little since we expected this first leg of the journey to be relatively unremarkable. The road has already taught us this lesson: Travel is not about destinations.

Destinations are just abstract concepts, ideas we can never truly reach. How many times have we visited someplace and left wondering whether we truly experienced it properly or not? Sometimes we can get so preoccupied with checking off places on our itinerary, taking photos and buying the t-shirt, that we miss the experience itself. When we talked to people about our trip this spring, most of them asked the same question: “Where are you going?” meaning, specifically, what is your ultimate destination? But that was never the point. Sure, we’re going to San Francisco, because that’s not intended to be the big crescendo to our whole trip. The journey itself is the adventure, and we’re happy to take it as it comes, adjusting our plan as needed.

A good example of this is our second morning. As we bedded down in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Buffalo, NY, we realized that we were only about an hour from Niagara Falls. Since we had taken a slightly different route than we had planned, we hadn’t put this stop on our schedule. But to come this close and not see the most powerful waterfall in North America? We knew we would regret it.

The sight of Canada on the opposite shore was so very tempting…

We woke up super early the next morning and drove a little out of our way to the Canadian border. Approaching the falls, we could see the rising mist from a mile away. After driving around in confusion for a few minutes (it’s a very touristy area with numerous false “welcome centers”), we made it to the park and walked out to the falls. Upon seeing/hearing/feeling the tremendous natural beauty of the falls, we knew this was a sign to keep following our dreams and to create our own adventures. As six million cubic feet of water per minute went roaring past us, we gazed into Canada, wishing we had our passports and another few hours to explore. Instead, we reflected on how fortunate we were to visit this place before continuing our journey. From here on, we realized we can go wherever we want. To quote J.R.R. Tolkien, “The road goes ever on and on…”

See that Flowfold backpack? We had no fear of getting wet with our valuables secured in the watertight Optimist day pack! You’ll be seeing a lot of this pack as it’s become our go-to bag. The best part? Flowfold is based in Portland, Maine!

In our next post, we’ll share our adventures from the Midwest, a region that held some surprises for us! We’re working hard to catch you up on where we are now, because SO much has happened. The best is yet to come!

What’s in Zorro’s Bag?

When Troy and I first started planning our trip to California this summer, we knew right away we would be bringing Zorro along with us to serve as the official Adventure CRU mascot (and snuggle buddy). Zorro is our petite rescue pup (you can read his story here) and he’s been a member of our CRU since 2015 — we just couldn’t imagine leaving him behind! Although he is low maintenance, we will need to pack up his travel bag with gear for our road trip.

 

Basics

Zorro gets two meals a day and drinks plenty of water, so kibble, fresh water and travel bowls are essential. We like these bowls we found on Amazon. For snacks, Zorro usually gets a few treats and some finely chopped veggies, and to be honest, a little of whatever we’re snacking on too!

His favorite treats right now are Buckley trainer treats in Bacon Flavor. These treats are grain free and only 4 calories per piece – great for rewarding him during training sessions, and important since he only eats 200 calories per day!

Since the day we adopted Zorro, we have watched him burrow into blankets and make a nest tucked deep in the cozy bedding. He is quite the snuggle bunny! His microfiber bone blanket will definitely get packed as well as his bed so he can rest peacefully on the road. It’s always nice to have a bit of home with you when you travel!

Though we have worked hard with Zo to be under voice control, we will definitely be bringing his leash along for the trip. Some parks and nature preserves don’t allow dogs, and if we need to board him at any point along the way, the paperwork will definitely come in handy. Another basic necessity for the road is Zo’s veterinary paperwork, including rabies verification, and a dog friendly first aid kit with us just in case.

 

Extras

Troy and I are still working on how to keep ourselves entertained as we drive long hours out west. Luckily, we have Zorro’s entertainment figured out. He loves Himalayan Chews! They keep him occupied for hours. We plan to bring plenty for him to enjoy and since these hearty chews are made out of yak’s milk and lime juice, we don’t mind him chewing all day long. Zo is small but he chomps hard. Even still, it takes him a while to chew up the Himalayan chews and that is a great thing in my book. More chewing = less spending! Our pup is not very toy motivated but he does have one moose stuffy that was his first toy (also his favorite) that will make the trip with us.

 

Checklist

  • Month long supply of kibble
  • Water
  • Bowls
  • Blanket
  • Bed
  • Moose
  • Waste bags
  • Leash
  • Himalayan chews
  • Treats
  • First aid for dog
  • Vet information

 

Once we get on the road we will see where Zorro feels most comfortable sleeping. During the day he will probably be in one of our laps or in his bed. At night, he can either sleep up on the sleeping platform with us or cozy down in his bed in the front seat. Soon we will be going on our first overnight camp in the CR-V to test it out and we will let you know how it all goes in an upcoming blog post! Until then may you have peace in your heart and happiness on the road.

Meet Zorro: The Adventure Dog

Let’s face it, whether you have a dog of your own or not, at one time or another you’ve probably had your heart melted by these lovable fur-babies we’re lucky enough to share the planet with. They capture our attention and our hearts and make life better just by being themselves. For Troy and me, that little dog is named Zorro.

Zorro is our 5 year old rescue dog from Louisiana and, to the best of our knowledge, Zorro is a mix between a Chihuahua and Papillon. He weighs only 7.5lbs and stands about 12” tall — he may be little but he brings a whole lot of love to our family!

Dog on mountain
Dog gets free ride to top of Cadillac Mountain, looks immensely pleased with his accomplishment.

Louisiana to Maine

Zorro was born in southern Louisiana sometime in 2013 and most likely lived his first year or so alone on the streets (Breaks my heart to think of that!). He was found in 2015 and fostered by a kind-hearted woman named Julie. Julie worked hand in hand with a Maine-based company called Puppy Love Maine. She was calling the dog “Remy” when Troy found Zorro’s profile on the Puppy Love Maine website.

A note about Puppy Love Maine: this website is a non-profit adoption organization based out of Brunswick, Maine. In order to adopt Zorro, we worked with a friendly woman named Laurie who was incredibly helpful in bringing him from Louisiana to Maine. If you are interested in adopting a new family member, we would highly recommend working with Puppy Love Maine!

In the fall of 2015, Troy and I began searching online for a medium-sized dog like a Boston Terrier or similarly sized dog to adopt.  While on Puppy Love Maine’s website, Remy’s picture grabbed Troy’s attention. Almost immediately, Troy knew this petite guy was the dog for us.

It is important to mention the website was clear in telling us this dog was heartworm-positive. Although we knew this would be an added cost and effort to adopting him, we decided to proceed with the process. Heartworms are a very serious and life threatening problem especially in the deep south. Stay tuned for a later post about Zorro’s heartworm treatment and success.

Swipe Right?

When I first saw this picture I thought, “That little gremlin-looking dog? He’s so funny looking and we aren’t in the market for a Chihuahua!” Boy was I wrong! After a few days of convincing from Troy and researching the Chihuahua breed, I was ready to apply with Puppy Love Maine. Luckily within a few weeks of sending in our application, Troy and I received the best news from Laurie– we had been selected to adopt Remy. The drive from Louisiana to Maine is a long one and we were told that our pup sat and slept in the back seat of the van quietly the entire way.

Meeting Zorro

It was a cool November afternoon the day we went to pick up our pup from Laurie’s home in Brunswick, Maine. Troy and I were full of excitement as we drove and of course we had packed his gear: a small kennel with blanket, a leash and a tiny collar.

Upon arrival, Laurie placed a tiny (6lb at the time) blonde creature in my arms and said, “Here’s your new baby!” And you know what, she was right! I was smitten with the little guy. After letting him meet Troy, we were able to take him for a walk around the spacious front yard. While getting to know him, Troy and I decided all the names we had been kicking around for replacing “Remy” did not seem to fit. (Some of those names were Little Jerry, Mr. Pickles, and Pootsie!)

We thought he looked a lot like a white fox running about Laurie’s yard. Since we were both studying Spanish in the fall of 2015, we googled the word for “fox” in Spanish and discovered that it’s “zorro.” Troy and I thought this suited our new family member perfectly.

Vida de Zorro (Zorro’s Life)

This fall will make 3 years since we brought Zorro home. Nowadays he spends a solid 75% of his day napping. The rest of his time is divided between sitting in my lap, running on the beach, and chewing on his favorite Himalayan Yak chews. He is truly a momma’s boy and pretty much becomes my shadow when I am at home. Let’s face it, I prefer it that way too!

Zorro is kind of undecided when it comes to adventuring. On one hand, he really enjoys car rides and discovering new parks, campgrounds, and hikes. On the other, he gets overwhelmed easily and likes to retreat to the safety of a blanket when things get to be too much. And you know what? We think that’s okay. Troy and I like to bring him with us whenever we can because it’s good for his confidence to meet new people and dogs, and we have truly loved seeing positive changes in Zorro since his adoption a few years ago. But we respect his needs and he reminds us to find quiet time and not let our adventures get too crazy!

Zorro is a joy to be around. He is sweet and cuddly and has been known to have peppy bursts of energy and run around like a Tasmanian devil! Troy and I are excited to bring him along on The Adventure CRU’s debut road trip across America. We hope all of you will love getting to know Zorro as we share our adventures together!

Breaking hearts since 2013.

What’s This All About, Anyway?

In case you haven’t noticed, you live someplace remarkable.

It’s got jungles, tundra, deserts and a whole lot of water. It’s got colors like you wouldn’t believe, and smells and sounds to thrill even the most jaded heart. There are plants that live for thousands of years and insects who must pack a lifetime into a single day. And then there are people; the incredible, unpredictable, maddening people who have brought both order and chaos to this world. They exploit inconceivably complex systems without understanding the implications of their actions, yet also imbue the everyday struggles of existence with a dignity and poetry that suggests a glimpse of the divine.

There’s not enough time in one human life to see it all, and that’s okay. It’s part of the thrill of living that there’s always more to life than we can ever fully experience. But we believe that the more of this planet you can explore for yourself, the more robust your brief but glorious existence will become.

That’s why we’re setting a new course for our lives with a focus on adventure and exploration, and we want to share it with anyone who could benefit from a little inspiration to do the same. Our mission is simple: to create unlimited opportunities for experiencing all this world has to offer, and letting those experiences transform us into the people we are capable of becoming. We believe you can’t force inspiration, you can’t force change, but you can create opportunities in your life for the world to change and inspire you.

 

Who Are We?

We are Troy and Lizzy, two dreamers from South Carolina who moved to Maine in 2013 just a month after getting married. At the time, we felt it was the craziest thing we’d ever done. Leaving behind family and friends in the beautiful city of Charleston, we packed up our small apartment and two cats and moved to Portland, Maine.

We’ve had a few moments in the five years since when we questioned our sanity, but we’ve never regretted the decision. Maine feeds our souls with its rocky coast, gorgeous lakes and alluring mountains. You know when you’re at the dentist and they tell you to go to your happy place in your mind? Ours is and probably always will be Maine.

We could almost certainly live here for the rest of our lives and be happy, but the same sense of adventure that brought us here in the first place keeps tugging at our hearts. There’s way more out there to see and do and precious little time to fit it all in.

The idea to prioritize adventure in our lives was born, of all things, on a trip of exploration. Driving to Bangor to spend a day and night someplace new, we talked about our desire to see more of America. It went something like this: When can we stop dreaming and start doing the things we truly love to do? Why not start now? No seriously — what are we waiting for?

We’re fortunate to be in a state of flux with our careers and school, so it was not too difficult to conceptualize a new way of life for ourselves, one that prioritizes experiences over things and adventure over stability. We wouldn’t just be planning a trip but an ongoing adventure, a life we could live without regrets. We knew right away that such a life was worth sharing with others, and we decided to make that act of sharing central to our mission.

Through this blog, social media and video, we aim to make honest, inspiring and entertaining content for people who believe, like us, that life is better with a little adventure thrown into the mix. We believe that one of the most precious gifts humans possess is the ability to tell stories, and we hope to share stories that inspire you as much as we’re inspired by the stories of other courageous women and men who choose to live life without regrets.

 

Where Do We Start?

There’s no end game to this project; we want to keep adventuring until we’ve explored at least as far as the edge of the solar system! But every adventure has to start somewhere, and ours will begin with a coast-to-coast drive from Maine to California in June 2018. We’ll be outfitting our trusty 2005 Honda CR-V with a sleeping platform to minimize our travel expenses and footprint, as well as cooking most of our own food and enjoying the relatively cheap thrills of outdoor life. We’ll be documenting our preparations here on the blog as well as on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.

When traveling in the past, we’ve learned how hard it can be to stay healthy on the go. That’s why it’s important to us to strive for balance as our world constantly changes. We are committed to eating a healthy, plant-based diet and making time for self-care, something too easily neglected in the whirlwind of life. We’ve chosen to make yoga a central part of our daily routine, a journey we will share (bumps and bruises included).

We’re not travel experts by any means, but we’ll share with you everything we learn along the way and we’d love to hear from you as well. Please leave a comment or reach out to us through social media if you’d like to say hello! In the meantime, we’ll keep you updated as we prepare ourselves for the adventure of a lifetime.