Canyonlands is my Candyland

It’s impossible to play favorites with the AZ/UT parks because each is unique, fascinating, and beautiful in its own right, and I’ve loved exploring them, but I have to admit…Canyonlands (The Needles) holds a very special place in my heart.

Canyonlands "The Needles". #heaven #BAMF2015

Canyonlands “The Needles”. #heaven #BAMF2015

Crazy trails! #BAMF2015

Crazy trails! #BAMF2015

There are no shuttle buses to take you to the scenic overlooks here. This place makes you work for it! In just 4 days, Martin & I logged more than 50 miles of the most magnificent hikes, and with each mile, I fell a little deeper for this raw wonderland.

#inlovewithCanyonlands #BAMF2015

#inlovewithCanyonlands #BAMF2015

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Each hike is more like a series of mini hikes as the topography keeps shifting. We went from walking-on-the-moon through giant rock craters, to traversing over slickrock, to bouldering, to winding through narrow slot canyons barely wider than our hips (so cool!) to meandering through big open fields surrounded on all sounds by massive, colorful rock formations.

Craters on the moon. #BAMF2015

Craters on the moon. #BAMF2015

Crazy trails! #BAMF2015

Crazy trails! #BAMF2015

How they carved these trails in/over/around/through/ under those rocks is a mystery, but it’s a hikers paradise. You never know what will surprise you around the next bend or over the next rock. It’s heaven – GO!

Slot canyons - my favorite!

Slot canyons – my favorite!

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Special thanks to Randy and JeanneĀ – our new friends who helped show us the ropes and see the hidden wonders of Canyonlands. You two are an inspiration for living the adventure travel lifestyle. Thank you for sharing some of your secrets with us! Same time, same place next year??! šŸ™‚

Randy & Jeanne - thank you!

Randy & Jeanne – thank you!

We are now in Moab/ArchesĀ and will be visiting Canyonlands’ sister in the north (Island in the Sky) next, but The Needles has set the bar high, even for Glacier and Denali.

So, while I’m loathe to play favorites, if you make me do it, you have my answer!

What do Jiffy Pop & solar showers have in common?

Answer: they both make me a happy camper! These are my 2 favs of the week…

Jiffy Pop Rocks! You guys remember Jiffy Pop, right? I’m on a mission to make it cool again! This is seriously the best camp snack – buttery, salty, yummy goodness (and fun to pop over the fire). Better than s’mores, IMHO, but I’m more salty than sweet, as most of you can attest! šŸ™‚

Jiffy Pop master: it's all in the wrist! #BAMF2015

Jiffy Pop master: it’s all in the wrist! #BAMF2015

Jiffy Pop done! #BAMF2015

Jiffy Pop done! #BAMF2015

I need to be hired to promote Jiffy Pop – I have 100 campaigns in my head targeted at the world’s campers. Let me at it!

Solar Showers Rule! Another favorite invention: the solar shower. We were lucky enough this week in Canyonlands to have both sunny days and a large campsite with lots of privacy – perfect for the solar shower!

Solar happiness! #BAMF2015

Solar happiness! #BAMF2015

My 'private' shower. Perfection! #BAMF2015

My ‘private’ shower. Perfection! #BAMF2015

We’ve tested 3 different solar showers and our favorite is actually the cheapest ($20 at Sports Basement). It’s better than the $100 pressurized Nemo shower with the foot pump! It works like a charm and heats up quickly. Hang it from a tree (lucky for me,Ā Martin is tall enough to hang it high for me), and you’re golden!

P.S. If you’ve never gotten buck naked outside to shower, try it. It’s liberating! šŸ™‚

Monument Valley = Monumentally Disappointing

This may be blasphemous as I’ve never heard a bad word about Monument Valley, or maybe my expectations were too high coming off of Zion, Bryce & Capitol Reef, but, for me, Monument Valley is the first thing on our itinerary that did not deliver.

After you drive into the Navajo Reservation ($20 entry), the scenic drive itself is a bumpy, dusty dirt road filled with tourists and dust clouds. And everything is an up-sell (take a tour, ride a horse, get a photo with a native, camp in our crappy campground, buy our jewelry…). It just feels like a tourist trap. My favorite photo (below) is actually from the visitor center!

Monument Valley. #BAMF2015

Monument Valley. #BAMF2015

Don’t get me wrong, it’s cool and you should go if you’re in the area, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to visit Monument Valley, as we did. I would much rather visit the beautiful UT/AZ/CO parks where you can hike into the landscape and actually experience it up close and from all angles – get your hands dirty! The drive-by experience isn’t quite the same.

Monument Valley. #BAMF2015

Monument Valley. #BAMF2015

Monument Valley. #BAMF2015

Monument Valley. #BAMF2015

The BAMF in Monument Valley. #BAMF2015

The BAMF in Monument Valley. #BAMF2015

My $.02 for what it’s worth!

What if the world were a campground?

I’ve been in enough campsites now that I am self-declaring myself an expert. And I’ve realized that campers are seriously cool people. Maybe it’s the cameraderie of an adventurous spirit and a love of the outdoors.

Where else on the planet could you leave half your possessions on a picnic table, expensive gear in a tent, and your car unlocked, leave for an all-day hike and return to find everything exactly where you left it? WHERE? The city girl in me still can’t process this phenomenon. There’s an unwritten code of conduct in Ā campgrounds that doesn’t exist anywhere else. I love it.

Our new BFFs from Capitol Reef. #coolestpeopleever

Our new BFFs from Capitol Reef. #coolestpeopleever

So how do we make the whole world a campground?

Utah: Beauty vs. Booze

So my observation of Utah is that it is easily one of the most beautiful states I have ever seen with endless mountains, canyons, and the most amazing rock formations and colors. Which makes me think: “I should live here!”

Utah beauty. #BAMF2015

Utah beauty. #BAMF2015

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imageimageimageimageBut there’s a catch. You’re in Mormon country. Try getting a decent beer, margarita, or any other cocktail. The max alcohol content is 3.2%. I said 3.2%! You can’t order before 11:30am (hello?!). You must also order food (probably a smart rule). You can only get liquor in a liquor store, and we could probably be arrested for carrying alcohol across state lines (the least of all our offenses).

So, could I live here? Given my Irish heritage and taste for fine wine and dark beers, probably not. But it sure is pretty!

Not a Quitter!

Sorry for the delay in posting. We’ve been without any cell coverage for days, which begs the question: why can I get fast, free WIFI in Cambodia – a third world country – and I can’t get basic connectivity in the U.S.? Granted, I’ve been hanging out in canyons, but still, I expect more of this “advanced technological society”! Just sayin…

So I owe you a bunch of updates as we’veĀ been through Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, and Natural Bridges National Monument since my last post, but first I have a confession, in the name of keeping this blog real…I had my first “I can’t do this” moment last week.

Our snowy campsite. This was NOT in the brochure! #BAMF2015

Our snowy campsite. This was NOT in the brochure! #BAMF2015

Bryce in the snow. Still beautiful! #BAMF2015

Bryce in the snow. Still beautiful! #BAMF2015

I was doing pretty well with the cold. We brought proper gear and I’ve been wearing every layer (and Martin is a master fire builder). But, when the cold turned to snow & bitter winds at Bryce, I cried for the comforts of home (ANY home). Then when that night was followed by cold blowing rain, every bone in my body said “I can’t do this.” Poor Martin – I was not fun company.

This was a gift from Luise. I attached it to the windshield as my reminder that "shit happens". #BAMF2015

This was a gift from Luise. I attached it to the windshield as my reminder that “shit happens”. #BAMF2015

I knew those moments would happen, but I was surprised by how hard and fast it hit – how quickly my adventurous resolve crumbled into dust. Clearly, if I’m going to come back as Katniss, I have a lot of toughening up to do! And if I’m going to survive Alaska.

But this jouney is as much about self-discovery, and I knew it wouldn’t all be pretty. So, there, I confess. Some days are REALLY hard, even with Martin’s endlessly optimistic spirit. I hope I become more like him!

Yesterday and today were both sunny, beautiful, perfect days, so my spririt is lifted, and I hope my resolve just a little bit stronger.

Natural Bridges. #BAMF2015

Natural Bridges. #BAMF2015

Natural Bridges hike. #awesome. #BAMF2015

Natural Bridges hike. #awesome. #BAMF2015

Yesterday we did a hike at Natural Bridges National Monument that is definitely on my Top 10 most favorites hikes EVER list. We climbed rocks, forded streams, fought through narrow wooded paths, and around every corner was an unbelievable scenic reward. Every 5.6 miles of it was unique and awesome.

Our campground on the bluff. #perfect #BAMF2015

Our campground on the bluff. #perfect #BAMF2015

Watching the sunset. #heaven #BAMF2015

Watching the sunset. #heaven #BAMF2015

And last night we had the most breathtaking campsite on a high mountain bluff with views for miles in every direction and vertical cliffs below. Watching the sunset there and then the sky fill with stars literally took my breath away. Not another person for miles. If I could put that experience in a jar, I would pull it out in all my moments of weakness as a reminder of what this is all about.

Life is good! #BAMF2015

Life is good! #BAMF2015

I’ll probably be without coverage again for a few days as we head into Monument Valley and then up to Arches, Canyonlands, and Moab, but I’ll post as often as I can, and will give you the good, the bad, and the ugly! Love and miss you all.

You tell me what this is! #BAMF2015

You tell me what this is! #BAMF2015

P.S. On a less serious note, I have a question. Maybe it’s just my 3rd grade sense of humor (or something deeply Freudian), but why do all rock formations look like a penis?

 

“It’s not an adventure until something goes wrong”

Actually, nothing has gone wrong (yet), but Martin chose the middle of the hike-from-hell to the Grand Canyon basin to impart this philosophy. Should I have know this before commiting to a 6-month adventure? šŸ™‚

Ahh...nature. Notice the smoke stacks in back! #BAMF2015

Ahh…nature. Notice the smoke stacks in back! #BAMF2015

The Canyon rim-to-rim hike (which they smartly advise NOT to try to attempt in a single day, but somehow we feel the warnings to mortals don’t apply to us) was both escrutiating andĀ unbelievably scenic. I actually think the view from the bottom is even more beautiful than from the top, but you have to work your ass off to get it! We did the Bright Angel trail (7,000 ft) down to the Colorado River (2,000 ft) and then up the South Kaibab trail (8,000 ft). In total about 18 miles, but half straight up steep climbs. My bones were HURTING at the end!

18 miles of beauty + pain. #worthit. #BAMF2015

18 miles of beauty + pain. #worthit. #BAMF2015

Jen: we didn’t make it to the Hopi Reservation, as much as I wanted to do the Havasu Falls hike. I didn’t realize it was 3-4 hours from the South Rim (in the wrong direction). In hindsight, I would haveĀ done that first! Next time I’ll also get a backcountry permit and camp inside the canyon to break up that back-breaking hike.

I absolutely recommend Grand Canyon in early April. With the exception of a bit of a Spring Break crowd early in the week, we largely had the campgrounds and many hikes to ourselves, and despite chilly evenings, the day temps were perfect for long hikes. I never would have done the hikes we did in the summer heat! The desert plants were all starting to bloom, too, which is beautiful.

Grand Canyon hike. #JustDoIt #BAMF2015

Grand Canyon hike. #JustDoIt #BAMF2015

This morning we left Grand Canyon and drove to Page, AZ to tour Antelope Canyon (thanks to Megan for the reco). It was SO cool! All those photos you see of the waves of rocks with sunlight bouncing off the walls at odd angles – many are taken here. It is truly breathtaking and definitely worth the stop if you’re driving through northern AZ. You’ll also drive through the Vermillion Cliffs which are seriously awesome.

Antelope Canyon. #BAMF2015

Antelope Canyon. #BAMF2015

Antelope Canyon. #BAMF2015

Antelope Canyon. #BAMF2015

Right now I’m sitting in the middle of nowhere (the campsite we were aiming for is closed), so we pulled off a nice forest service road near Jacob Lake, AZ. For some reason I have 5 full bars of cell coverage, so I’m posting a blog! Dinner will be sausages and sweet potatos over the fire (there’s a nice fire pit here), and I have wine in hand, so who can complain?

From last post: deerskin work gloves. Can you tell who works harder in this relationship? #MartinRocks. #BAMF2015

From last post: deerskin work gloves. Can you tell who works harder in this relationship? #MartinRocks. #BAMF2015

Tomorrow: who knows? But probably Utah. It’s been fun Arizona – thanks for a great time!

When Happiness = A Hot Shower & Cheap Hair Dryer

We’re 11 days into our 180 day road trip, and I’m starting to get used to the life of vagabond, although I’ll never get used to dirt under my fingernails!

We’ve been in the Grand Canyon for several days exploring every nook and cranny. We’re gearing up for a 14-miler tomorrow down to the heart of the canyon. The 14 miles doesn’t scare me, but the steep descent and ascent on both ends sure as hell does! Wish us luck…

My favorite part of the Grand Canyon campground is the heated bathroom with hot showers ($2 for 8 minutes) and laundry machines ($3 for a wash & dry). Worth every friggin penny (errr, I mean quarter)! There’s nothing like a hot shower to feel human again. And those cheap hair dryers I hate so much? Not anymore – it was pure pleasure to actually dry my hair. It’s definitely about the simple pleasures when you’re camping!

For what it’s worth, I do have a few tips & tricks I’ve discovered in these first 11 days…

1.) Come prepared for any weather!Ā It has been WAY colder than anticipated, and I am so thankful that we brought our best down jackets and base layer. There are so many tourists freezing their cahones off in their shorts & t-shirts. Even though we’re in the Arizona desert, you just don’t know what Mother Nature will throw at you. It’s worth it to tuck a couple extra layers in your bag! Did I mention already that down booties are my most favorite thing on the planet?!

2.) Cotton in NOT your friend.Ā While I desperately miss my favorite jeans and cute cotton T’s, I’ve sat next to enough smelly shirts on the shuttle buses to appreciate the value of dry-wick materials that wash/dry/wear easily and keep odors & moisture at bay. We may not be setting any fashion trends, but we’re comfortable and dry! (My favorite hiking pants are still the Columbia Ridge convertible – I like the men’s because they have more pockets!)

3.) Hiking Poles are (NOT) for Wimps!Ā I hate to admit this, but I was one of those “real hikers don’t need sticks” kind of people until Martin forced a pair of hiking poles in my hands, and it has literally saved by ass (and my knees) on these steep and treacherous hikes. I now understand and appreciate the function of hiking poles, especially on adventurous terrain. I will mock them no more!

4.) Get a good pair of deer skin work gloves. Martin taught me this, too. These gloves are not only warm, but you can literally stick your hand in the fire to move logs. They are seriously awesome! Keep a pair in the car for whenever you need to get a little dirty. I’m having trouble uploading photos, but I’ll show you who the real worker is in this relationship when you see the state of Martin’s work gloves compared to mine. But I have 6 months to catch up!

5.) Lastly, fatwood is the secret to a great fire! I think Martin is probably a natural pyromaniac, but there is a secret ingredient that I’ve seen work in literally every climate and condition. Get some fatwood (essentially sap-soaked wood sticks) from any hardware or grocery store. Those little sticks as the foundation will rock just about any fire. And Martin has saved more than 1 unprepared neighboring camper with them in the last week!

That’s all I’ve got. I hope these tips are helpful! The next post will be all photos & videos. We’ve got a bunch of good ones. Love and miss you!