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National Parks

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Photo Essay: A Day Hike Along Grand Canyon's South Kaibab Trail

South Kaibab Trail // Grand Canyon National Park

Between tax prep and rainy day snuggles with my pups this weekend, I turned on the computer and began scrolling through photos from last year's cross-country CYOP road trip. Sometimes it's nice remind myself of adventures that have come and gone, you know? 

Thing is, I realized I never edited and shared snaps from my favorite hike from my quick stop in Grand Canyon National Park! I thought I'd better hop to it just in case any of you have plans to head that way in the coming months (and if you have a chance to go—do it!).

South Kaibab Trail // Grand Canyon National Park

So let's talk about the South Kaibab Trail, shall we?

South Kaibab Trail // Grand Canyon National Park

My stay was focused on the South Rim and as I was researching hikes, I knew I needed to try and tackle a day hike along this specific trail. Why? It's stunning.

South Kaibab Trail // Grand Canyon National Park
South Kaibab Trail // Grand Canyon National Park
South Kaibab Trail // Grand Canyon National Park

From the South Rim, this trail leads down to the Colorado River and meets up with the North Kaibab Trail, which gets you up to the North Rim on the other side. Someday, a longer, multi-day hike might be in order, but I only had time for a day hike during my stay. I knew I needed to stick to a hike I could handle during the cooler morning hours.

South Kaibab Trail // Grand Canyon National Park
South Kaibab Trail // Grand Canyon National Park
South Kaibab Trail // Grand Canyon National Park

Since this trip was my first time to the canyon and I wasn't acclimated to the elevation yet, I decided to hike about a mile and a half down into the canyon to the Cedar Ridge stopping point mentioned in this pdf

South Kaibab Trail // Grand Canyon National Park
South Kaibab Trail // Grand Canyon National Park
South Kaibab Trail // Grand Canyon National Park

The views from the rim of the canyon are spectacular—no doubt about it—but I cannot recommend hiking into the canyon enough. You get such a different perspective seeing the plant life and canyon walls up close. You also gain a healthy respect for just how deep the Grand Canyon really is!

South Kaibab Trail // Grand Canyon National Park
South Kaibab Trail // Grand Canyon National Park
South Kaibab Trail // Grand Canyon National Park
South Kaibab Trail // Grand Canyon National Park

Travel tip: all of the information about the trail notes that you have to get to the west side of the park and take a shuttle to the trail head for this hike. If you want a ride right to the start of your hike, that's true—there's no private vehicle access to this trail head.

However, you can walk. There's a small parking lot (with a restroom!) across Desert View Drive and about .12 miles down the road from Yaki Point Road, which is the road you need to take to get to this trail head. I chose to park there and walk to the trail head because, you know, I was just going to be walking all morning anyway. All told, it's about .65 miles from the parking lot to the trail head, which means this option adds just over 1 1/4 miles to your hike. For me, it seemed silly to go to the other side of the park, hang out with tourists and cram together on a bus just to get to a place to which my two feet could carry me just fine.  

South Kaibab Trail // Grand Canyon National Park
South Kaibab Trail // Grand Canyon National Park
South Kaibab Trail // Grand Canyon National Park
South Kaibab Trail // Grand Canyon National Park
South Kaibab Trail // Grand Canyon National Park
South Kaibab Trail // Grand Canyon National Park
South Kaibab Trail // Grand Canyon National Park
South Kaibab Trail // Grand Canyon National Park
South Kaibab Trail // Grand Canyon National Park
South Kaibab Trail // Grand Canyon National Park

No matter how you get there, if you have a chance to hike the South Kaibab Trail—even if you only hike a half mile into the canyon—please give it a try. It's worth the effort to see a side of the canyon so many people never take the time to explore.

Tell me, friends: do you have any hiking recommendations in Grand Canyon National Park? 



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How to Spend Your Birthday Alone at the Grand Canyon in 31 Simple Steps

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How to Spend Your Birthday Alone at the Grand Canyon in 31 Simple Steps

Pipe Creek Vista // How to Spend Your Birthday Alone at the Grand Canyon in 31 Simple Steps

When I first thought about being away from everyone I know on my 33rd birthday, I wasn't quite sure how I felt about it. Then when the CYOP road trip really started to come together and I saw an opportunity to celebrate by finally seeing the Grand Canyon, I was completely sold.

I could celebrate my birthday alone—right? No big deal.

Well it was a big deal, but in the best ways possible. I found solitude. I gained perspective on stopping to appreciate my surroundings. I listened to my body when I reached a few limits. I did exactly what I wanted to do at the precise time I wanted to do it. In short: it was pretty glorious. 

If you've ever wanted to celebrate your birthday alone at the Grand Canyon, here's how (in 31 simple steps): 

Pipe Creek Vista // How to Spend Your Birthday Alone at the Grand Canyon in 31 Simple Steps

1. Wake up hours before the sun rises because you've got some strange road trip version of jet lag and your body hasn't realized that you're almost back in California after 5-ish weeks on the road. Also: because you want to find a good spot to watch the sunrise over that beautiful hole in the ground.

2. Hydrate. You are now at 7000+ feet above sea level, you're prone to elevation sickness and you'd like to go on a hike. Drink. That. Water! 

3. Leave your hotel with multiple bottles of water and snacks long before the sun rises.

4. Enter the park via the south entrance and turn right onto Desert View Drive. This takes you to the eastern portion of the South Rim, which is less inundated with tourists.

5. Keep an eye out for elk crossing the road. Do not speed. I was thiiiis close to hitting a giant cow (female elk) when she decided to leap directly in front of my car to get across the road. Not only would that have bummed me out big time, but a run-in with that beast could have also totaled my car. On my birthday. In a place where it is very difficult to get a tow truck before 6 a.m.

Pipe Creek Vista // How to Spend Your Birthday Alone at the Grand Canyon in 31 Simple Steps
Pipe Creek Vista // How to Spend Your Birthday Alone at the Grand Canyon in 31 Simple Steps

6. Find a place to park (my first stop was Pipe Creek Vista), get out of the car and marvel at one of the seven natural wonders of the world. 

7. Take pictures as the sun begins to rise, but please don't forget to put down your camera and just be in it

8. Cry and smile at the same time when you think about how far you've come, both figuratively (over the last year) and literally (over the last five weeks).

9. Wipe away the the tears and look around. Realize that you're alone on a cliff overlooking the Grand Canyon. Smile some more. 

10. Get in your car and head east on Desert View Drive toward Grandview Point to both take in the beauty now that the sun is up and to start the Grandview Trail.

Grandview Point // How to Spend Your Birthday Alone at the Grand Canyon in 31 Simple Steps
Grandview Point // How to Spend Your Birthday Alone at the Grand Canyon in 31 Simple Steps
Grandview Point // How to Spend Your Birthday Alone at the Grand Canyon in 31 Simple Steps

11. Get out of your car at Grandview Point and stand up only to immediately sit back down with a serious case of dizziness. You are most definitely not acclimated to this altitude! Drink more water and eat a few of the snacks you packed.

12. Make your way to the trailhead and read the signs. Let bold phrases like "unmaintained trail," "do not hike this trail alone," "beware of snakes," and "loose gravel" soak in for a minute. 

13. Decide this is not the trail for you. Take in the scenery and head toward one of the more well-maintained trails on the western side of the South Rim.

14. Park at or near the Bright Angel Lodge (I found a spot fairly easily, but I was also there sometime before 9 a.m. mid-week in late September) and follow signs for the Bright Angel Trail

15. Get started only to keep stopping every few feet to take in the view. It's amazing what a difference going down into the canyon can make—you'll get a different perspective of the canyon by going below the rim.  

Bright Angel Trail // How to Spend Your Birthday Alone at the Grand Canyon in 31 Simple Steps

16. Watch as backpackers return up to the rim from the canyon floor, which is nearly 4400 feet down. Step aside on the narrow parts of the trail and give them the right of way. They've earned it. Pulling over for uphill hikers and all mules/horses is also a good trail etiquette!

17. Oh. And watch for mule manure. The Bright Angel Trail is mule-friendly.  

Bright Angel Trail // How to Spend Your Birthday Alone at the Grand Canyon in 31 Simple Steps
Bright Angel Trail // How to Spend Your Birthday Alone at the Grand Canyon in 31 Simple Steps
Bright Angel Trail // How to Spend Your Birthday Alone at the Grand Canyon in 31 Simple Steps
Bright Angel Trail // How to Spend Your Birthday Alone at the Grand Canyon in 31 Simple Steps

18. Get about one mile into the canyon and turn around to look up at where you've just been. Let the realization that you now have to climb back up the trail wash over you. 

19. Keep walking for a little bit longer until you realize you've consumed all of the snacks you packed and most of the water. Considering it's not yet 10 a.m., you decide to turn around and head back up the trail.

20. Pass hikers who are wearing jeans and silently wonder how that's working out for them.

Bright Angel Trail // How to Spend Your Birthday Alone at the Grand Canyon in 31 Simple Steps

21. Make it back up to the trailhead and decide 10:45 a.m. is, in fact, not too late for a hearty breakfast.

22. Find said breakfast in the form of a breakfast burrito and a pitcher of water at the restaurant inside the lodge.

23. Stuff your face like nobody's watching only to have the friendly waitress inform you that the gentleman across the restaurant (who is also dining alone) would like to pay for your meal.

24. Smile and decline the offer while being slightly annoyed that people (men, mostly) seem to think you must be lonely/in need of assistance/available if you dine/hike/travel alone. Remind yourself that he could have just been trying to be nice to a fellow hiker/traveler, smile again, pay your own bill and leave the restaurant.

Flowers outside of Bright Angel Lodge // How to Spend Your Birthday Alone at the Grand Canyon in 31 Simple Steps

25. Walk outside to find this burst of colorful flowers and decide that Mother Nature must know it's your birthday because she sure is showing off.

26. Decide it's time for a hot shower, a long nap and, probably, more water. Head back to your hotel.

27. Wake up from your birthday nap just in time to order dinner from the hotel restaurant.

28. Return phone calls and texts from loved ones. Listen as some sing out-of-tune renditions "Happy Birthday" on your voicemail. 

29. Eat dinner and drink more water while researching another hike for the following day.

30. Read a book under the covers even though it's still light outside. 

31. Drift off to sleep: a.) completely content with how your solo birthday adventure at The Grand Canyon turned out; b.) proud of your accomplishments in the last year; and c.) excited about the adventures that await.



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Photo Essay: A Quick Stop in South Dakota

Mount Rushmore | South Dakota

Let me be straight with you all: I'd be lying if I told you that this trip was a vacation. Though I'm 100% grateful for the opportunity to see places I've only read about, I've actually spent most of my time working or driving. 

Now, I'm not complaining. Not one bit. This trip is a gift and it's been worthwhile in more ways than I can even describe. All I'm trying to convey is that time spent exploring has been wedged between serious email sessions, audio wrangling, some pretty long hauls on the road and interviews. So, when I have a few free hours to see the sights, I'm absolutely making the most of it.

When I had a morning in Rapid City, South Dakota, I just knew I needed to head for the hills to check out the monuments I've seen in documentaries and history books my entire life.

Mount Rushmore | South Dakota
Mount Rushmore | South Dakota
Mount Rushmore | South Dakota

I've heard that Mount Rushmore can be a bit underwhelming, but I didn't find that to be the case. I actually gasped when I turned a corner only to see the monument staring back at me.

A little tip for those who visit: go early in the day in the middle of the week, preferably after schools are back in session. It was nearly empty at 9 a.m., but started to fill up around 10:30 a.m.

Black Hills | South Dakota
Black Hills | South Dakota

The monuments and the history that comes with them are fascinating, but I think I was most enamored by the surrounding area. The Black Hills are striking, to say the least, and I cannot wait to get back there and explore a bit more.

Crazy Horse Memorial | South Dakota
Crazy Horse Memorial | South Dakota
Crazy Horse Memorial | South Dakota
Crazy Horse Memorial | South Dakota

The Crazy Horse Memorial is incredible. Not only is it huge (Mount Rushmore would basically fit into the area that will be Crazy horse's head), but the story behind it is so moving. If you ever have a chance to visit the area, don't skip out on this one. Apparently, you can get a bit closer than I did by taking a bus tour (they also have special events!), but I decided to save that for next time. I'll definitely be back.

So tell me, friends: have you ever been to the Black Hills area of South Dakota? What was your favorite part?



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Highways, Byways and Staring Up At Giants

Avenue of the Giants // Northern California

I've been taking the solo trip from the Sacramento Valley to visit my family in Crescent City, California for nearly 15 years. Many times, the journey looked a lot like cruise control, I-5 (to 199 to 197 to get back to the northern-most portion of California) and The White Stripes turned all the way up:

"Something better than nothing
Something better than nothing, it's giving up
We all need to do something
Try to keep the truth from showing up"

Avenue of t  he Giants // Northern California
Avenue of t  he Giants // Northern California

Other times, it looked like jetting up I-5 to Highway 20 through the quirky towns spotting the edges of Clear Lake. Eventually, I would hit Highway 101 just north of Ukiah and I would cruise quickly along the winding highway, barely pausing to appreciate the surrounding beauty. Fiona Apple's vibrato reminding me of earlier (and moodier) days:

"And all my armour
Falling down
In a pile at my feet
And my winter giving
Way to warm
As I'm singing him to sleep"

Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway // Northern California
Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway   // Northern California

Lately, however, I've been taking things a little slower. I've been stopping at towns I used to pass by on my way to the destination, getting lost in an area I used to call home and taking back roads and scenic routes that require a bit more time and a greater sense of wonder. I've been turning down the music and rolling down the windows. I've been pulling onto the shoulder turn-outs and staring up at giants.

Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway   // Northern California

On my most recent trip up north (a quick stop-over on my Seattle/Portland CYOP Road Trip), I decided to add a little extra time to my already long trip to take some scenic routes. If you're ever in the area, please do yourself a favor and take the exits for the Avenue of The Giants and the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. It will take you longer to get wherever it is that you're heading, but go slow anyway.

Stop and get out of your car. 

Worry less about the destination.

And keep heading north.

There's more to California (and to the journey) than you might think.



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Published: Ready, Set, Explore!

Ready, Set, Explore!  A guide for touring the U.S. national parks

I have some very exciting news to share, my friends. Over the last several weeks, I've been hard at work on my very first multimedia ebook and it's officially live and ready for public consumption!

I was thrilled to be asked to try out the publishing app Snippet for this project. If you haven't checked it out, by all means, hop to it! The Snippet App is not only a super cool way to publish multimedia content, but it's also a great way to take it all in as a reader.

Now, you know how I love traditional printed goods: books, magazines, newspapers—you name it! I'm a huge fan of the way ink on paper smells and the tactile delight of turning a real, live page is my jam. However, the capabilities of this platform have me completely hooked. Being able to add video, audio recordings, photos and social media integration into an easily-digestible ebook is kind of incredible.

ABOUT THE BOOK

The book is titled Ready, Set, Explore! and, as you can see from the cover art above, it dives into a topic that's near and dear to my heart—the U.S. national parks. I have always hoped that by sharing my passion for travel and the great outdoors, I could get a few others to start enjoying the parks as much as I do.

In this book you'll find tips for planning a trip to the national parks, some favorite spots to visit and much more. I had the pleasure of continuing my conversation with Sheldon Neill and Colin Delehanty of Project Yosemite throughout the book and the folks at Glacier Country Tourism were kind enough to help on the video side of things. I hope you'll find it fun to read and—of course—useful!

If you'd like purchase the book to read on the web, you can sign up for a Snippet account and download the book here. If you'd like to take it with you on-the-go, you can do so for iOS (Apple) mobile devices by downloading the Snippet App on iTunes here and then heading to the travel category. 


You've all been incredibly supportive of my various adventures—of both the creative and travel variety. For that I will always be thankful.

Happy reading, friends!


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