And the winning destination of my Utah trip…..Arches and Canyonlands!

Greetings fellow Adventurers! I dilly dallied and struggled mightily with my destination this weekend. I was thinking Great Basin but it’s still cold! And, part of the big drive there is still closed for the season. Then, I was convinced to do Capitol Reef. But the cost of lodging and everyone saying they wished they had more time in Capitol Reef convinced my to get a cheaper hotel in Green River – a 45 minutes drive from both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. I figure I can get to Canyonlands late morning, hike around the park a bit, see some cool stuff. Maybe catch a sunset at Arches or at Dead Horse State Park. Sunday, go into Arches pre 5 AM and stay all morning/day there and maybe hit some missed stuff at Canyonlands. It’s going to be a very flex trip. I am excited for clear skies, a new moon, and a 4 AM (ish) Milky Way viewing opportunity! Stay tuned for my wrap up next week. In the meantime, if anyone has some tips for cool stuff that is easy to get to from the Moab area, or in the parks, let me know in comments!

Mid-Spring Update! Utah Recs?And calling all Bark Rangers!

Hello fellow Adventurers! Happy National Pet’s Day, which just so happens to be the Bark Ranger’s Gotcha Day! I saved my Bella Brown from a kill shelter 11 years ago! She’s still going strong, too! So the last 2 months have been a bit quiet. I have only done some local Florida traveling in March (see below!) with the Bark Ranger and the Sidekick, although I am still working on some new things for the page and still avoiding organizing some stuff! Until about 2 weeks ago I thought there would be no “big” trips until my first trip to Alaska at the end of May. A Southwest Airlines sale and a favorable weekend itinerary are getting me to hit a couple national parks in Utah in the end of April/top of May.

First off though: some Florida travel with the Bark Ranger, and also with the Sidekick and her Bark Rangers. On the first day of our Spring Break I took Bella down to Southwest Florida. For those who are unfamiliar with Florida, the stretch along the bottom of the state is pretty much all remote swampland with only some small native settlements holding on. Cell signal, gas stations, and any services are less available that the gator (literally) crossing the road. Anyway, the reason for the trip was I wanted to take Bella on a short road trip somewhere new (to both of us!) that could get her another Bark Ranger tag! While Biscayne National Park (also has a Park Ranger program, but too far a drive for this trip) sits off the east coast just south of Miami, there are actually TWO national park units that pretty much encompass the entire tip of Florida: The Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve. The Everglades does not have a bark ranger tag but Big Cypress does! (Sadly they were out of them and as of the time of this post, nearly a month later, I have yet to receive in the mail.

We first went into Big Cypress and drove around a while. We checked out the country’s smallest post office. We stopped at a dinky convenience store/live animal display and saw the Florida Skunk Ape. After driving down a sketchy gravel road for awhile, we found a boardwalk trail to view gators. Probably a good thing that even though this is a Bark Ranger park, they aren’t really allowed out of the car much…for obvious reasons! After stopping in the Visitor Center and failing to secure a badge we left and headed about 20 minutes away to Everglades City, which has an entrance and visitor center to the National Park that I had not been to yet.

Supposedly the country’s smallest post office: Ochopee, FL. Taken by me.
The locals. Bella stayed in the car for this! This is in Big Cypress, taken by me.
Florida is a really….magical place. The skunk ape is the Florida take on Bigfoot! Taken by me.

At this point I should note a couple things that I learned. It is much more remote down there than I anticipated. There are actually very, and I do mean, VERY few things to down in this part of Florida except boating and swamp airboat trips. This part of the Everglades is entirely explorable by water only. There are no trails, no drives…the visitor center here is even a temporary one to fill in for the one destroyed by Hurricane Irma 5 years ago. The Miami side of the Everglades is very much more worth your time and effort. I think Big Cypress is probably in the same boat…even though there were some drives and a proper visitor center, there is a much better area closer to Miami. I do not want to discourage anyone from exploring Florida, but really…this section of the state is very uninteresting and you should skip it if planning an outdoors trip in Florida.

I am really not choking her, I promise!
The sign for Everglades city is far superior to the parks’ signs around here!
Not only generic and uninteresting, but also not ever remotely situation in a picture friendly spot!

Later in the week, the Sidekick, her dogs, and myself got into our respective vehicles and headed north from the Tampa area for two nights in Cedar Key to enjoy some quiet dog time for St. Patrick’s Day. This is another very remote location about 2/3 up the Florida Peninsula on the west coast. About an hour from Gainesville, and 2 from Tampa you will find Cedar Key as a throwback to Old Florida, about 20 miles away from a main road. In contrast to the earlier trip this area is indeed much more dog friendly. The whole town seems to be welcoming to the pooches, including most bars and restaurants. There aren’t many to be sure, but I think we only saw one place with a no dog sign. The hotel we stayed in even allowed all three dogs with no issues and no fees! We found ourselves in the middle of a charity pub crawl, if you will, and generally just enjoyed the gorgeous Florida March weather and not dealing with the hustle and bustle of the Tampa area. While there were no a ton of things to do here, it was a nice change of pace for sure. And, if you don’t have dogs there do appear to be a lot of other things you can do as well, mostly water based.

A part of the smaller town of Cedar Key. Taken by me.
Sidekick and Bark Ranger Lily.
The Parks Adventurer and Bark Ranger Bella.
Sidekick and Bark Rancher Charlie!

Now, for the rest of my post points! I am still trying to decide on what to do in Utah and if anyone has suggestions, I’ll take them! An easy idea is to stay near Moab and that gives me easy access to Canyonlands and Arches National Parks, with potential to swing out for an hour drive to Capitol Reef. The problem with this one is that I never made it to Mesa Verde in southwest Colorado and I was sorta planning on doing that one plus those Moab parks in one go. This trip doesn’t offer enough time to make it to Mesa Verde, so I would have to make a trip just for that one park, although I would love to get back to Telluride again some time! The other option would be to swing down to Capitol Reef for a day and then spend a day in Nevada’s Great Basin National Park. This plan gives a bit more drive time, but does eliminate a park that was also looking like a logistical problem being several hours in the wrong direction…if I get it now, I will not have to worry and I can live Bryce missing because the Sidekick wants to go there some time. Any thoughts?

And lastly, if anyone has some good Bark Ranger pictures or stories to share I am in the beginning stages of something new and I think exciting on the topic of our fur kid rangers!

And with that, a fond farewell until next time!

Haleakalā NP, Maui, HI. Feb 2022. Summit and Maui Day

National Park Count: 27

I really enjoyed my brief visit to Maui! So much so that in just a mere 60ish hours I did enough to warrant two posts! I had already been to the summit of Haleakalā (a little shy of it, actually) on Friday night, and Saturday was my Road to Hana and Kipahulu part of the trip. Sunday morning I got up nice and early due to my feathered friends’ wake up calls. I was not able to secure sunrise tickets at the summit of Haleakalā so I was aiming for a 7 o’clock entrance. The entrance is pretty far up the mountain so I still left around 6. 7 AM is when they let the peasants in, and let me tell you, I got to that gate at 6:47 and not only would she not let me in, she also told me I had to go about 100 yards down the road to be off national park grounds….ahem. Rude. Nevermind that it’s a good 20 minutes, still, to the summit! But ok. Anyway, at 6:59 she let me in and I made it to the actual real summit at about 7.20.

When I came up the mountain after I landed on Friday, the temperature gauge went from about 82 to 50. This morning though, it went from about 70 to THIRTY FOUR. BRRR. Thankfully, I had two jackets, long sleeves, gloves, and a beanie. It was super windy, so all of that was needed. Although I missed sunrise, 45 minutes or so afterward was glorious! This time I did manage to snag parking at the true summit part. You pass the observatory up there (which is not open to the public) and there is a parking lot with stairs leading up to an observation building which was closed, I guess due to covid. No bother, you could walk around the whole building and get the whole view without glass separating you from the elements. There was a little loop trail up there that gives you views of the entire surrounding panorama. From here you can see the Big Island, all of Maui, Molokini, Lanai, and the uninhabited Kaho’olawe.

I very nearly decided to go to school for astronomy. I have actually never ever seen an observatory before. This one is a fully working one, and not open to the public in any way. But can you imagine working up here!? Taken by me.
The summit, above the clouds, about 45 minutes or so after sunrise. Taken by me.

After checking out the upper park of the summit I drove down a bit to the summit visitor center and began the Sliding Sands Trail into the crater of the volcano! This trail is rated as hard, is 11 miles out and back and has a 2800 feet descent. I actually did not intend to do a ton of this hike, but once I started I was making such good time that I managed to make about 2.5 miles in and about 2000 feet of that drop before I turned back after rolling an ankle. I made great time to that point. But it was the way out that was the killer. The last mile to so, according to alltrails, sees grades up to 23 degrees! And it is no joke, especially on a busted up ankle! There is very little vegetation growing up there. Despite the barren and volcanic beauty of the rock and cinder cones, there are a couple plants that do thrive in the crater including a really pretty plant called the silversword. This is a species of plant only found on Hawaii, and this particular one on Haleakalā is an endemic subspecies. Pretty neat! They can live for decades and only bloom once, which does kill them. They are threatened because people used to dig them up to take home…… Anyway, this hike is totally exposed with no shade of any kind. With the sun beating down on you at high elevation, at the nastiness of the climb out of the crater, lots of water and snacks are an absolute necessity! It is a very strenuous hike! Did I mention this hike goes INTO THE CRATER OF A DAMN VOLCANO???? Anyway, I finally made it back to the visitor center, grabbed a shirt, my stamp in the passport, and started heading back down the mountain.

Cool view into the crater. This is actually pretty far into the hike. Pretty desolate! There are actually 7 or 8 of the crater’s 16 cinder cones in this picture. Taken by me.
These are the silver swords. This subspecies is only found on Haleakalā. Taken by me.
I really liked the colors on this cinder cone here! Taken by me.
This last stretch of the hike was killer getting back out! It doesn’t really look it, but the grade is as much as 23 degrees. My picture.
A view into the crater from the Kalahaku Overlook. The dark spot in the middle of the picture is an old lava flow! My pic.

I said goodbye to the national park and headed back down to Wailuku and headed toward my next destination, the Iao Valley State park. This place was NEAT. The drive in is basically driving through a gulch of the old extinct volcano in west Maui. Tall cliffs, rather than the barren reds and browns of Haleakalā, totally covered in green fauna directed me in. The big draw here is the Iao Needle. This is a leftover lava remnant, and local natural landmark. The whole area is outstanding with a nice leisurely trail and some manicured pools and what not. There are some great views of the needle to be sure, but really the whole area is just as superb as the needle. This park has an entrance fee of 15 bucks if you park there. I spent maybe an hour as I found a little side trail into the wilderness that got me to a nicely flowing downhill stream to soak in the natural beauty.

The Iao Needle in Iao Valley State Park. Taken by me.
A view down the Iao Valley. Pictures really cannot do this place justice! Taken by me.
The quiet little spot I found to chill in Iao Valley. My pic.

At this point I really had nothing left on my agenda, but I was going to head in the direction of west Maui and Kihei, which is where Maui Brewing is located. I turned on the Gypsy App, though, and let him dictate where to go. Instead of going to Kihei I turned up to the north and drove the road along the coast toward a town called Lahaina. This drive gave views of the back side of the west Maui mountains (as with Haleakalā, this side was a totally different and dryer environment than inside where Iao Valley was). This drive also was the access to all of the beaches along the road. In Hawaii all beaches are public! Nice thing to know, and it seems everyone was there! I continued the drive and was amazed again, at how close the other islands were, especially when Molokai came into view, to the north, because it looked massive from where I was, and I was not even all that close to the northern Maui coast! Anyway, at this point, I stopped to soak up some rays on this particular beach which was no sand, but mainly big lava rocks, then I headed back south toward Kihei.

Molokai from the beach I stopped at in west Maui, in Lahai. This was a park called Hanakao’o. Taken by me.

On this stretch I made the decision to take this road down as far as I could go, which would lead to a lava field. This drive also went through the really ritzy tourist area which was pretty, but not terribly natural. However, there were some nice beaches along this stretch as well. Upon getting down to the lava field though, it looked, again, like a different planet! They actually constructed a road through this field. It is very illegal to get out and do anything in the lava field, and I see no reason anyone would want to! This was the last lava flow from Haleakalā anywhere from 2-500 years ago depending on who you talk to. Getting to the end of the road however, there are some ocean access points among the volcanic rock where the lava met the ocean here, further building the island. Some of this rock was that black lava, and some was a much lighter color giving a nice contrast. Looking up the mountain you can see how big the flow was and even see the vents which provided the outlet. Super neat thing to see! To wrap my trip up, I sat down at the Maui brewery, caught the 4th quarter of the Super Bowl, then grabbed dinner in Kahului and called it a trip!

This was a spot I stopped at that is a potential whale viewing spot. I saw no whales, but I did see this cool view of Haleakalā. My picture.
This is a spot where the last lava flow from Haleakalā met the ocean at La Perouse Bay. Take by me.

Overall impressionsPros: Stunning scenery. A super nifty culture. Cons: It’s pretty expensive on the island for sure and it is not an easy trip from Florida!

The Adventurer Final Word:
5 Stars! Amazing. A definite must see, Maui, the volcano, the road, all of it!

Haleakalā NP, Maui, HI. Feb 2022 First Night/Road to Hana Day

Hey there fellow adventurers! It has been a bit since I last wrote! I have been very busy with work stuff and life in general. BUT, I did manage to sneak in a weekend trip to HAWAII! WHAT? I can hear it already! Weekend and Hawaii, those are two things that should never go together! Well, they did and it was fantastic! (If you are interested in how to get to Hawaii, as of this Feb, please scroll to the 4th paragraph with the big star!)

This will be my first two part post on a trip. I was originally going to do a Haleakalā post and a Maui post. Then I decided that was dumb, they are essentially one in the same. Then I got to the end of my first full day and realized that post was already SUPER lengthy. (There are some nice pics to be found after the first few paragraphs, fyi!) so the first day gets a post and the second day gets a post!

So this how this trip got started: Several months ago, I was sitting on about 25,000 Southwest points. If you check out my 2021 wrap up post, I traveled a LOT using Southwest almost exclusively and paying for exactly one flight of the bunch. That flight was my El Paso trip and the reason I paid for that was to extend my companion pass through this month of February. My sidekick was unable to come and really this was the type of trip that anybody coming with me would have probably wanted to kill me anyway…so cut to around the time of that El Paso trip and Southwest dropped a 40 percent off sale to Hawaii! I had not even considered because A) Southwest did not actually allow you to book or even see fares to Hawaii other than calling them. And B) I just assumed Hawaii was out of my price league for now. C) I was unsure of the whole travel to Hawaii procedure (more on that later) Well, with that sale I saw an opening for A and B. Southwest had finally started advertising fares with this sale and I found round trip flight patterns from Tampa to both Maui and the Big Island for 22,000 points! I only had two personal days from work available to me, so I found a flight landing there around 4 PM Friday giving me the entire evening with a couple hours of sunlight, all of Sat, all of Sun, and flying back early on Mon. Then began step two, rental cars and places to stay. I was very much aware of how expensive Hawaii is, so at this point I had a flight booked and for the next like 2 months I was not even committed to it, but I had my eyes on a few things. I eventually settled on a hostel and a car, which together cost me only about $450

The trip from Tampa to Kahalui, Maui, was lengthy, as you might imagine. As of the trip in mid Feb, to get to Hawaii is not as easy as getting on a plane and flying there. Also, this is my experience and of course check on your own, don’t take my word for it, it’s a very fluid and moving procedure! (Since writing that last sentence I have to delete part of my post since things have changed again regarding dining indoors!) You must be FULLY vaccinated for Covid (not only one or two doses) or provide a negative test recognized by the state of Hawaii. It is best to set up an account with Hawaii Safe Travels. You can upload your documents there and they provide you a QR code. With that code you get scanned either at the last departing airport or once you land AND YOU NEED THOSE DOCUMENTS WITH YOU. No copies either. With Southwest they had a counter in San Jose and did it there and provide you with a wrist band. That band was checked multiple times after landing in Kahului, by the way. It sounds like some airlines don’t offer that service and then you are stuck in a long like at the Kahului airport to get through. When I was indoors to dine, my vaccine card was required, and the hostel also required it, but as of Feb 24 I see that vaccine cards are no longer required for eating indoors. I will say that having the entire procedure done ahead of time was vital. The line of people in the Hawaii airport waiting to be let through was lengthy and I am very glad I was able to sail right through!

Anyway, back to fun stuff! I had never flown over the Pacific before. It was a long time to not see land! But finally, LAND HO! I was so relieved to see the Big Island start rising out of the endless blue ocean and then it was but a short bit until we were flying over the midsection of Maui! After grabbing my luggage I booked it to the rental car station. We landed around 3:30, about 30 minutes early, and I had about 3 hours of sunlight and my plan was to book it up to the summit of Halekalā to catch sunrise! The drive to the summit was lengthy and quite interesting. This side of the mountain is quite a bit dryer and not really tropical at all! It has to do with how the winds are hitting the island, that the western side is very grassy and dry, while the the other side of Haleakalā is one of the wettest places on the planet. As I drove up the 10,000 feet of elevation change, the temperature steadily dropped and the views became increasingly striking above the clouds! I think Hawai’i must be the only place in the country that you can drive from sea level to 10K plus feet like this! The only spot that I can even think of that you even look up at 10,000 feet of elevation change would be the mountains of the Alaska Range! Sorry Colorado! Looking at a 14er from 7K elevation is not the same as looking at 10K from sea level! I made it up to the parking lot just below the summit parking lot, which was closed due to too many people. In any event, the views were SPECTACULAR. I was unable to get sunrise tickets…not many are available…but sunset was quite amazing! From this exact spot you could see all of Maui to the north and west, the shadow of Haleakalā on the clouds over the ocean to the east, the observatory above on the legit summit area, and the crater of the volcano! Seeing the island from 10,000 feet above and not in a plane was pretty awesome! After the sun dropped below the ocean I was off to sea level again. Ninety minutes later I had settled down for food and beer at the Maui Brewing Company, then it was off to the hostel!

Sunset over Maui from Haleakalā near the summit. West Maui is on the right side past the clouds. The island of Lanai is visible in the middle top. My photo.

I stayed in the North Shore Hostel in Waikulu, just adjacent to Kahalui. What can I say? It was cheap and it provided a bed. I had never stayed in a hostel before. For three nights at the cost of one night in a regular hotel on the island it did the job! Good place if you want 0 amenities other than a shared bathroom, bedroom, and kitchen. Let’s talk about chickens for a minute. I live in a spot where feral chickens are occasionally annoying. These damn Maui roosters start going off at like 3 AM. SUPER ANNOYING. The hostel windows were not very thick. Something to consider, maybe, if you are a light sleeper!

Maui’s resident pests. My decision to still eat chickens remains solid. My photo.

I came to Maui without much of an itinerary. I had a rough draft of things to do, but didn’t really know how the timing would work out! Upon making a beautiful sunset at Haleakalā I decided Saturday would be my trip down the Road to Hana. The Road to Hana is listed in many resources as THE most scenic drive in the entire country. And is WELL DESERVED! This drive is a mere 50 some odd miles to Hana, and it can take HOURS!

The route along the Hana Highway past Hana and onto The Kipahulu District of Halekalā National Park, courtesy of google. Thats an average speed of about 20 MPH and that’s without stopping.

I started the Road to Hana, officially called the Hana Highway, around 5:30 or 6 from my hostel while it was still pre-dawn, and I’d say I made it no more than 10 miles before I had already stopped 3 times and spent an hour doing so! This road runs along the coast north to east along the more or less sea level section of Haleakalā as it descends into the ocean. The Gypsy Guide mentioned 6 HUNDRED and some odd curves and some 59 bridges of which like 50 of them are one lane and require careful interaction with other vehicles! As you drive, the right side is entirely tropical mountainside with breaks for GORGEOUS waterfalls. The left side is usually beautiful coastline/ocean vistas. I stopped for a few waterfalls, including the Twin Falls which required a about a 2 mile round trip hike (easy peasy but youy do have to walk through some water). This was found early on and is also private property so there is a convenient parking lot and attendants willing to take $10 dollars from you!

Ho’okipa Point. This was my first stop along the Hana Highway. This is also when I knew that the trip was going to take a while…gorgeous! My photo!
The Twin Falls. That’s not me in the picture. But I did take the photo.

I also stopped to visit the Garden of Eden Arboretum. To be honest, this place kinda looked like a tourist trap and cost 20 bucks to enter, but was absolutely gorgeous. The grounds are stunning and include rainbow eucalyptus trees and also stunning views of the ocean, including (as they like to REALLY harp on) views of Keopuka Rock, shown in Jurassic Park.

A beautiful overlook of the ocean from the arboretum. And yes, that little rock pointing up…that’s Keopuka Rock. Which was very briefly filmed in Jurassic Park. And they are living off of that! Personally, the area stands on its own, but whatever. My photo.
I took this picture of a rainbow eucalyptus. The arboretum has several of these, and they are quite neat to look at! My photo.
Another lush view from the arboretum. My photo

After the stop at the Garden of Eden, I made the decision to not stop much more. However, the Gypsy Guide was ALL IN on stopping at a town on a sea level point called Keanae. The view here was awesome, at sea level, among volcanic rock. And, there is Aunty Sandy’s Banana Bread. This was what he actually wanted me to stop for. AND IT IS AMAZING. I ate almost all of it immediately. Its warm out of the oven when you buy it….omg. So good! After the banana bread indulgence I continued on my way to Hana. As a side note, I made a mistake here. There is a beautiful black sand beach along this road called Waiʻānapanapa Beach and unbeknownst to me, it requires ADVANCED reservations. So I could not go. I am not sure if this is a Covid thing or not, but just heads up! Upon getting to Hana I stopped for lunch and to get some beverages for my upcoming hike.

Me cheesing in front of the ocean on these lava rocks at Keanae.

The National Park is actually accessible in only two places and they are pretty much as far apart from each other as can be. The summit access comes in from the northwest through the more populated area of the island. The other one is called the Kīpahulu District. This area is kind of a sliver of land from the coast up the mountain a ways on the southeast side. The only thing to do here, though, is some hiking and sightseeing. The Pipiwai Trail is the big draw here. This trail is about 4 miles out and back with 900 feet of elevation gain. Main things to see on this trail include a very large banyan tree, a bamboo forest, and a few waterfalls including the famous Waimoku falls and the Falls of Makahiku. This was a very pretty hike with lots of variety. Most of the elevation gain was right at the start up to the first waterfall, the Falls of Makahiku. Not far after that came the huge banyan tree. Past this are a couple smaller falls and pools and then a really neat trek through a bamboo forest. The sound the bamboo makes in the wind is really quite neat. The trail was not too populated, but had enough people that I was never really alone. The draw is to get to the end of the trail to view the 400 feet tall Waimoku falls as they cascade down a sheer volcanic cliff! A beer and snack later, and it was time to return. The Falls of Makahiku were actually quite underwhelming, even at 185 feet tall. I was on Maui during one the rare stretches that had to rain, so the falls were tall, yes, but not much more than a trickle. However these fall into the top of the ‘Ohe’o Gulch and lead into the Seven Sacred Pools which go out into the ocean.

The very large banyan tree on the Pipiwai trail. There was no way to get a better view than this. That big branch on the left side dropping another root, if that’s what you call it? That thing was about my size. My photo.
The bamboo forest part of the Pipiwai Trail. Photo by me.
Waimoku Falls at the end of the Pipiwai Trail. As I look at this photo I started to think the blue was the water and the vantage point was high. That’s the sky and the vantage point was from the bottom. If anyone else got confused about it! Photo by me.

After finishing Pipiwai I started down the Seven Sacred Pools Trail. This is a must do for some awesome views and is very short, only half mile loop with about 100 feet of elevation chance, mostly paved sidewalk and a few stairs. Here you can see the ocean come crashing on the black sand at the bottom of the gulch and look up the stream going up the mountain and under the road bridge above. Really stunning sight!

View point of where the ocean meets the black sands of the gulch. My photo.
View up the Ohe’o Gulch and the Seven Sacred Pools. That bridge is the road I drove over to get to this area. My photo.

After finishing my trails I was very tempted to violate rules of my rental car….but I didn’t. The Road to Hana actually changes to the Pilani High was past the Kipahulu part of the National Park down here. This road is predominantly one lane, can be unpaved in parts and generally not the best condition. It does wrap around the island and connect back to the middle of Maui, avoiding taking the Hana Highway back, but the guides say a tow from here can cost thousands so I decided just to traverse back the way I came, on the Hana Highway. Without making all the stops the drive was quite a bit faster but still, when they say to plan an entire day to make that drive and back, that’s legit. The earlier you start this drive the better and the more you can see! Upon getting back to Waikulu I grabbed dinner and a couple beers at Mahalo Aleworks, a really nice semi outdoors brewery with some delicious beers, and prepared for the early start the following day!

2021 Wrap up and looking ahead!

Happy 2022 fellow Adventurers! This post sums up my 2021, looks ahead to 2022, and will have some of my favorite pictures from my travels this year! 2019 was a very busy travel year. I did not think it would be topped! Of course with current events, 2020 was a low travel year and who knew what 2021 was going to bring. At the beginning of 2021 travel was still very uncertain. That being said, my 2021 ended up being my busiest travel year ever!

To wrap up:
February saw the Adventurer and Sidekick check out Zion National Park, UT and the Valley of Fire State Park, NV. March saw the duo brave winter weather in Arizona to check out Sedona, the Petrified Forest National Park, Tucson, Saguaro National Park, and Mt. Lemon. April saw the Adventurer explore Cuyahoga Valley National Park, OH. In June the Adventurer and Sidekick went west again! This time Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in Wyoming (and MT) were our target. The very next week a road trip saw the Adventurer’s loyal 4 legged friend become a Bark Ranger for the first time at Little River Canyon National Preserve and also at Russell Cave National Monument, both in Alabama. July saw the Adventurer and Sidekick brave the wilds of West Virginian and explore New River Gorge National Park. In September we hit the skies again to watch a pro beach volleyball tourney in Chicago, and then found ourselves in beautiful Acadia National Park in Maine. In November I embarked on a solo trip out west to see White Sands, Guadalupe Mountains, and Carlsbad Caverns National Parks in New Mexico and Texas. What a slate! I might add that nearly all of these flights were free!

How about 2022? Unlike last year, I came in to this January with one trip planned and at least 2 more in the works! First up will be a ridiculously short trip to Maui to see Haleakala National Park. Spring break in March is WIDE OPEN right now and I have no idea what is going to go there! In June I have booked a trip to Homer and Seward, AK to visit a small park of Lake Clark and Kenai Fjords National Parks. And then there is the rest of summer break! Those trips are just me. The Sidekick and I are planning tentatively to get to Fairbanks, AK for fall colors and hopefully some northern lights! I am going to guess that this will not be nearly as travel heavy as year as last, but I am super excited to check out some of Hawaii for the very first time and getting back to Alaska is super important to me! In addition to that free flight to Hawaii, I will have the June AK flight totally free with perks from my new Alaska Airlines business card. That card also gives a perk of a once a year companion fare for 120 dollars, so the second trip will essentially be a bogo. I will still have enough points on my Southwest account to sneak in at least one more free Southwest flight before I run dry!

In terms of this travel blog, I have a few new ideas. I am going to make a section featuring the entrance signs of and of the park units I stumble upon. I also really have enjoying getting good sunrise or sunset pictures in the parks as well, so I am thinking of doing a feature on those as well! And I still have catching up to do on some other travels, and posting itineraries in the hopes that they might be useful to someone in some way!

Here are my top pictures of the year, either taken by me or taken of me!

Along the Canyon Overlook Trail in Zion National Park, UT
Valley of Fire State Park, NV.
The Painted Desert in Petrified Forest National Park, AZ.
Saguaro National Park, AZ
Blue Hen Falls, Cuyahoga National Park, OH
Lower Falls of Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, WY.
Grand Teton and the Teton Range from Signal Mountain, Grand Teton National Park, WY.
The Sidekick and I in front of Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park, WY.
The newly appointed Bark Ranger Bella.
The Sidekick and I underneath the New River Gorge National Park Bridge, WV.
Acadia National Park overlooking Bar Harbor, ME.
Salt Flats looking into Guadalupe Mountains National Park, TX.
Cool scene in Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM.
Cool foliage spot in Guadalupe Mountains.
White Sands National Park, NM.

Let’s have a great 2022 and do some cool shit and keep adventuring!

Happy Holidays!

I hope everyone had a great Hanukkah, Christmas, or merely off-of work days last week and a great upcoming New Year! I haven’t done too much blog-worthy in a bit but I did get a short drive and a new “National Park” sign picture at the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville, and the Bark Ranger got her THIRD badge and the Sidekick has two Bark Rangers now! More on those to come! Meanwhile, the picture is one of my new favorites, taken on the beach in Gulfport, FL, only a few minutes from homebase! Enjoy the rest of 2021 and see you more in 2022!

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM. Nov 2021

National Parks Count: 26

Hey there fellow adventurers! If you have read any of my most recent entries, you know I did a New Mexico/Texas national park extended weekend trip! If not, then now you know and you can check out my entries on White Sands National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Park number 3 of this trip was Carlsbad Caverns National Park, found in a remote spot in southeastern New Mexico. There is no other way to say it: this place is spectacular!

This is about 10 minutes long, but there really was no way to give sense of scale or the route using pictures alone!

Also a Unesco World Heritage Site, this National Park was established as such around 1930 and is located in the Guadalupe Mountains, near the later designated Guadalupe Mountains National Park. There is a really neat native history to this cave and geologically the cave was once a part of the same reef leftovers that now make up that mountain range.

I can count on one hand the number of caves I have been to and none have been this stunning. I have been to Mammoth Cave and I rated it 3.5 stars out of 5 🙂 Nothing against Mammoth…it was cool and all, I just wasn’t that impressed. That being said, I went with my mother and we did a lite tour and now I am thinking a return and more serious tour might be in order. Anyway, back to Carlsbad! And, spoiler alert this one is a hands down 5 star spot! Firstly, I guess I was a little surprised at how undeveloped the area is, which is good! But still, it seems like a place that sees a half million visitors a year there would be a little more around, but I digress! I was also a little surprised that the drive to the cave was UP. I guess cave, down in the earth? Anyway, once completing the couple miles of that road to the visitor center I arrived at the visitor center.

The required entrance sign selfie 🙂 Simple, yet powerful!

At this point I should point out the travails of this park with the covid situation. You absolutely must have reservations for the cave through recreation.gov. I have seen others saying that you can get walk up tickets…I did not see anything indicating that was possible. Also, the last tour must be started by 2.30 and the earliest tour starts no earlier than 8.30. Once you are in the cave you can stay until 4 or 4.30, I believe and you have to take the elevator out. To get into the cave you can choose the elevator down or to take the natural entrance.

I was very interested in taking the natural entrance. However, I had already hiked almost 7.5 miles earlier, and the natural entrance is a mile or so at 750 feet descent, and supposedly takes an hour. A) I was tired and B) I wanted to be back at my campsite at Guadalupe Mountains National Park before it got dark and my timeslot was the last of the day. So down the elevator I went: 750 feet straight down! At one point this was the second longest single lift elevator in the US!

The 3D model of the cave inside the visitor center. You can see the natural entrance and that path and also the elevator shaft. And I took about half a dozen pictures of this entire model to try to trace the path through the whole Big Room

Here is where the jaw dropping started! Getting off the elevator you are in a fairly large open room with a gift shop, restroom, snack bar. I was already impressed! To be fair, Mammoth Cave is LOOOOOONG. Like, longest in the world and number 2 isn’t even close…but a lot of those tunnels are just that, tunnels, and the rooms are not particularly massive in size. This first stop was a BIG room. The “tour” I was on was the only one available in the time of Covid: The Big Room Trail. Fun fact, this room wasn’t actually even “it”! After going down the path a bit and seeing some cool stuff…you go through a small tunnel and then….here it is! The BIG ROOM. But even then, this STILL isn’t the biggest or most impressive part, not by a long shot! After going through this spot the Big Room finally opens up to a gigantic size! The path through all of this was 1.25 miles and I think the NPS makes it at the equivalence of SIX football fields! The one thing that I found to be really different between this cave and Mammoth is the sheer number of features/structures/formations, or whatever you want to call them. Mammoth seemed more tunneled out and with more floor space that was flat and walkable. I do not know if I am describing it correctly, but in Carlsbad it seems every surface, save for the path, contains some kind of formation or feature! I managed to get some decent pictures with my phone set to the night setting. Using flash was not producing any good results, and neither was adjusting the ISO, interestingly. Either that or my photo skills are lame ;)! The only thing about the pictures, is that they do not seem to really do any justice to the scale of this cave since there is not anything way to judge perspective. I took some video (see the youtube link up top!) and that really helps with perspective in my opinion! I am going to do a bit of a photo dump here now…I hope you enjoy!

This is an area early on, before the tunnel that takes you into the first part of the “Big Room.”
These were called the Lions Tail.
Hard to get a sense of scale here, but these formations are MASSIVE. This was called the Hall of Giants.
This area was called Fairyland.
This is called The Temple of the Sun.
The Totem Pole and The Chandelier. Apparently I was a little shaky here…but this thing was tall…like 20 or 30 feet tall.
That rope hanging there is a fun story. They hung that rope to a balloon and let it ascend into a hole or crack in the ceiling. The rope then got hung on a rock or something and they deemed it safe to climb up and explore a new chamber above the Big Room!
And this contraption is what one of the earliest explorers of the cave used to get into that hole…no, thank you!
This is the Mirror Lake which is reflecting an Alien monster….
The Rock of Ages. Also HUGE.
The Chinese Theater, which was near the end of the Big Room Tour.

As I wrap up this entry, I should make note of the fact that this park is probably the first one that my experience may have been drastically altered by covid. There are normally other tours, including more “adventurous” ones that go down into the holes and further depths of the cave that I would absolutely love to come back and check out!

Overall impressionsPros: The cave is amazing. Simply otherworldly. Cons: None for the cave. Not having ranger led guides and the other tours available is a temporary thing and in no way detracts from the experience!

The Adventurer Final Word:
5 Stars! Really awesome spot. I never knew I would be so damned impressed with a cave…but this did it. This is definitely a unique spot that is well worth the trip just on its own!

Guadalupe Mountains National Park, TX. Nov 2021.

National Parks Count: 25

The second national park of my recent El Paso loop was Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Found about 90 minutes east of El Paso, in the middle of nowhere extreme western Texas desert, this park has been a National Park since the early ’70s. This park features the highest points in Texas and also the iconic El Capitan, Texas style. The mountains here are the leftovers of an ancient reef when this entire area was at the bottom of the sea.

Historically the area that became this park was utilized by the Apaches up until about the US civil war when the area became a part of a mail route and some very small settlements were made. Logistically, this is the most remote park I have visited so far. There are basically no roads running through this park, just the one that runs on the edge of it. There is running water found in the two different visitor centers and one bathroom at a trailhead. There are two campgrounds. The one I stayed in is called Pine Springs, it has space for 20 sites, no fires are allowed, there are no lights, and the shitter is a composter. There are a limited number of RV spots nearby as well. There is one more campsite but it is found on the other side of the park and it is even MORE remote. Cell service is extremely spotty but the main visitor center does have wifi, surprisingly. That is it for any services. The closest gas is about 45 minutes away and the closets store is probably closer to an hour. If you plan on making a trip of this one, you need to bring everything you need with you!

The Pine Springs Campground is somewhere in this picture out of sight middle left side. I took this from a creek bed near the old mail station ruins. This is the backside El Capitan. Taken by The Adventurer.

I arrived to the park and my campsite after dark. I had hoped to get there a bit sooner and do some exploring, but it was not to be. In any event, I got myself situated and chilled at my site with some beer and just sat and watched the gorgeous array of unfiltered stars above my head! The campsite is actually not far from the visitor center and is also the near the trailhead for several trails and from that spot you can access every trail in the park, but most people use it to summit Guadalupe Peak or El Capitan. The following morning I did attempt the summit trail. I was fully intent to complete the hike, however, I was on the fence about it until the night before due to some timing considerations. This is an 8.4 mile round tripper with a 3000 some feet elevation gain. Alltrails said the hike should take a little under 6 hours. I was needing to be 6 hours for sure from when I started (a little late admittedly), so I rushed the start. Oops. The first 1 km saw a 1300 feet plus elevation gain. I was blaming myself for lack or prep, but all trails says the same spot is only 500 or so feet of gain, totally inaccurate. Anyway, I gassed myself and it still took me 35 minutes to do that. There was no way I would get up and down in the 6 hours I needed. I turned around and went back down.

If anything I got a nice sunrise pic from the Guadalupe Summit Trail!

Despite the desert mountain type terrain there is a hidden world in this park. A couple of them actually. I got to experience one of them. The one I did not, is referred to as the “bowl.” If you hike up to the 8000 feet feature you can find a forest that is apparently similar to a Colorado type forest. After changing up my hiking aspirations for the day I did get to enjoy one of the other “hidden worlds” here. I had no idea at the time that my Sunday morning hiking plans actually were not going to work out either. With the change in my hiking plans I was able to make it to a spot called McKittrick Canyon. This other hidden world here is found deep within the canyons of the park. This hike can be as long as you want it to be, with measured lengths to certain spots. I had intended a Sunday morning early hike before getting back to El Paso for a noon check in at the airport thinking what I wanted to see was only a couple miles round trip though it turned out to be a lot longer. Although this trail starts in the desert, the hidden world here is a world devoid of desert once you get into the canyon proper. There are streams and special maple tree forests that were changing colors! I actually did not know about this when I initially booked the trip. Quite by accident I was there during prime time leaf season. Although this year the peak was a little later, I still got to see some gorgeous colored trees! I had thought the colors would be closer to the trailhead which is why I had planned for Sunday morning. However, the rangers there informed me that I was going to have to go at least to the old homestead (right?) tucked away in the canyon. This was 2.6 miles in, so 5.2 round trip. The hike started like everything else, hot, desert-y, and with the sun beating down. I chilled with a tarantula for a bit and made my way through the canyon and experienced the very extreme change in environment. Once I got to this house I found out that apparently at one time the trail I was on, which was very rocky, but mostly flat, was actually the way this guy named Pratt actually DROVE to his house in the early/mid 1900s. There was some foliage color on this stretch but not much. RATS! However, the ranger stationed at the house told me that there was some good color happening toward the next point on the trail, the “Grotto.” This spot was at 3.4 miles. I had time, so I did it! While definitely not peak, there was still some beautiful spots in the section of the canyon! I made it to the Grotto, stopped for a beer and snacks, and then made my way back. The entire trail is flat, so I made really good time. Even with a snack break at the Pratt Lodge, the snack at the Grotto, several picture breaks, and my visit with the tarantula, I made the nearly 7 mile hike in right about 3 hours.

Part of the McKittrick Canyon Trail before entering the canyon (which is behind me in this photo). Taken by The Adventurer.
The Pratt Lodge, just off of the McKittrick Canyon Trail. This was a 1930s era homestead. That trail apparently once was a road to get to this house. Somehow. Taken by The Adventurer.
The barn of the lodge. Taken by The Adventurer.
I got a nice family to snap this pic of my in the colors in front of the canyon walls. I really like this shot!

Later in the day I found another hidden part of this world: The springs. Obviously, I knew there were springs. My campground was called Pine Springs. That being said, there was no spring that I could find near my campground. However, there was any area called Frijole Ranch where there was a settlement that included a house, a barn, a spring building, and even a (very) small school! This was the place to be 150 years ago! Again, this was a consequence of the mail route going through here. The families that lived here would actually grow crops using the handful of springs in the are and drive them to markets dozens of miles away! Pretty neat! I saw a couple of these springs along the Smith Spring Trail, and they really aren’t impressive compared to the massive springs we have in here in Florida; however, out in the middle of the desert they were essential to early settlers’ lives!

The Frijole Ranch, or at least one building of it. Taken by the Adventurer.
The “school” and other use building on the ranch grounds. Taken by The Adventurer.
If you look carefully you will see Manzanita Spring there. Taken by The Adventurer.
The little spring at the ranch is flowing to this little patch of bright green in the desert. Taken by The Adventurer.

Bookending this evening and the next morning, I found a spot to catch the sun setting on El Capitan, and also the same spot for a sunrise…I guess the orientation of the mountain and the time of year made it a good spot for both times of day. It is definitely a super neat icon in the desert here! Before I departed the following morning I explored some ruins of the old mail stop facility, and headed back to El Paso. Along the way I found a cool spot, these salt flats in the approach to the mountains. Water is standing in the middle of the desert here, for some reason! Beautiful spot to view the landscape! And then I went WAY out through a sand road for about 10 miles and came up to another spot that gave a great view of the mountains rising out of the sand. This was not worth drive time to be honest! I think it took nearly an hour off the road to get to this point and then the parking spot was a mile or so from the actual dunes out there…I was on a time crunch, so I couldn’t go any further. On a plus, I got to chase cows out of the road, which I haven’t done in years and years :). And that was a wrap on this trip!

It took an awful long time to get to this spot. And judging by the cows on the road and no other vehicles to be found for miles, not many do. The side is a little hard to read here, but if you zoom in you can see the names of the peaks at least. The small print refers to that small patch of white sand. Don’t see it? It’s at 10/11 o’clock at the base of the mountains. Also, that spot is totally open to humans but about an hours or so walk from this spot -in addition 2.5 hours ro so round trip drive time back to the highway. Taken by the Adventurer.
Sunrise on El Capitan. Taken by The Adventurer.
The salt flats looking toward the Guadalupe Mountains. Guadalupe Peak is the highest peak. El Capitan is the cliff on the far right. This is actually right off the road! Taken by The Adventurer.

Overall impressionsPros: Beautiful night sky. Really quite stunning. If I lived in El Paso I would be out here every moonless night! Great hiking opportunities with great variety in topography. I personally find the history of the area to be interesting as well! Cons: The only cons I can think of is the park is not very accessible other than by hiking, but that’s ok to me. My biggest gripe would be the fact that there is a smallish visitor center that is loaded with souvenirs, but not much for anything else. Really, everything must come with you!

The Adventurer Final Word:
4.5 Stars! Really awesome spot. Great for hiking and stargazing. If I am ever back in the area I would definitely stop back and do at least one other hike!

White Sands National Park, NM. Nov 2021

National Parks Count: 24

Hey there fellow adventurers! I went on a solo trip to White Sands, Guadalupe Mountains, and Carlsbad Caverns National Parks (and one other NPS unit, Chamizal National Memorial) in early November! It was a whirlwind trip but a fun one nonetheless! I am going to do this post different than my usual format with multiple stops in one trip. Instead of one big text wall of the entire trip I am going to break it into each park, even though it will be a little disjointed. I spend a lot of my free time planning out trips just for grins, mostly. Occasionally, I get to pull off some of my plans. In my quest for visiting national parks, there are certain routes that have always appealed to me to catch many parks in one trip, based on good logistics. For various reasons, mostly due to time, I haven’t really got to pull off any of them. A few months ago I saw some Southwest gimmick offering to extend my companion pass a couple months if I actually spent money and bought a ticket. I actually had a 100 dollar voucher from them and I found a Tampa to El Paso route that cost me a grand total of 135 dollars round trip for the first weekend in November. This gave me a perfect chance to do one of my trip loop ideas!

First up: White Sands National Park! Formerly White Sands National Monument, this is one of the newest parks with the National Park moniker having been a national park since the end of 2019, though its national monument status was secured in the 1930s. The park itself is composed of sand dunes made of gypsum. These are the largest gypsum sand dunes in the world and were created due to the area being under the sea long ago, then uplifted, and the surrounding mountains being stripped away by later water into an area where the water could not escape other than by evaporation, leaving these beautiful gypsum sand dunes behind.

But first, I had to get there! After landing in El Paso , I had some BANG ASS tacos at the El Paso Brewing Company. This place is a stone’s throw from the fence, the beer is ok, but the tacos the bartender cooked up…DELISH. After that I booked it up the road about 90 minutes to White Sands. There was a border patrol stop involved :/….he asked me if I was a citizen and if I had anyone hiding in the back of my vehicle. That was it. I feel like at least an ID check was in order…oh well! So back to White Sands! Ok. So this is a newer National Park. The newest ones in the system are Gateway Arch, Indiana Dunes, New River Gorge, and this one. New River is most certainly worthy of the national park moniker, in my opinion. Indiana Dunes is a small question mark. Gateway Arch is a huge question mark to me…White Sands is hitting somewhere between Indiana Dunes and the Arch. It is some cool white sand for sure. I get that its gypsum sand…but we have white sand here in Florida. The dunes are definitely not impressive, being 60 feet high at the highest. Indiana Dunes has big dunes, Florida has bigger dunes in places, and Great Sand Dunes is on a whole different level altogether. I feel like White Sands was best a National Monument…it is a beautiful place and very unique, but there really is not a whole lot of variety of things to do here.

A got a nice fellow to snap this of me. Not going to lie, this sign has inspired me to make a new section of my blog dedicated to National Park Signs. I feel like a child came up with this one. Terrible…..
And the original. Not super artistic, but at least it seems to fit with the area! Comeon NPS…you all can do better! Taken by The Adventurer.

The park is actually pretty small. There is a road that starts at the visitor center and runs a couple miles through the park and and comes back out where it starts. There are a couple trails of sorts, but nothing noteworthy other than one boardwalk. It seems that you can walk pretty much wherever you want, but I felt a little weird about doing that. Other activities that can be done are sand sledding, but again, compared to the sledding options at Great Sand Dunes, this would be a let down. Kids might love it though! There are some backcountry options if that’s your thing. I think camping out here would be AWESOME!

Basically this is the view from the drive throughout the entirety of the park. Taken by The Adventurer.
A large amount of nothingness for as far as the eye can see in most directions. Which is actually pretty awesome! Taken by The Adventurer.

This was a short visit, only a couple hours. Honestly, this is probably my shortest ever national park visit. It’s a beautiful area, and it is understandable why it’s in the NPS system. Not every spot that deserves preservation is one that is a great place to visit, however, and I just don’t actually feel like it was a spot I would ever want to go out of my way to visit again.

Overall impressionsPros: Beautiful area, and different for sure! If you don’t like people, this is a good spot! Cons: For a spot that is really off the beaten path of anything else you would probably be gearing up to do, there are not a lot of activities to fill in your time, at least not in my opinion. My opinion is probably jaded by the fact that there is currently not much in the area. You drive an hour and a half to the middle of nowhere. Experience the park. There didn’t seem to be much in the area, so it was a drive back, or a long drive to the next stop!

The Adventurer Final Word:
3 stars! Beautiful and remote, but a little lacking in a variety of things to do, compared to other national parks.

Chamizal National Memorial

NPS Unit Count: 46

Hey there fellow Adventurers! I am going to start a new part of the blog. I am laser focused on visiting all of the “national parks” (63 and counting as of 2021). I have maintained that I will not go out of my way for the other 360 NPS units and I still will not. I am not made of money! However, I do run across them and if they are near I am going to stop. They will probably mostly be quick visits and that’s it, but I am calling myself the Parks Adventurer, so I guess I better get them when I can and jot down my thoughts about them as well. (This also means I might be playing catch up, again, on my posts!)

I recently flew into El Paso to visit White Sands, Guadalupe Mountains, and Carlsbad Caverns. In my research before the trip I knew that Chamizal National Memorial was in El Paso but I had never heard of it and was totally ignorant of the events it was established to commemorate. It was a short visit, and to be honest, I have spent much more time at other non “national park” NPS units than this one, but as I have decided to start chronicling these as well, here we are! Anyway, being in El Paso, and this park has a view of the fence, there is some interesting history with Mexico here.

Just pic to show the fence, and how close it is to the park. Taken by The Adventurer.

Growing up in southwest Indiana, I was intrigued as a youngster by why it was that when going to Kentucky from my home city you actually entered Kentucky BEFORE getting to the Ohio River, which is generally the border between the two states. However, there is enough land in Kentucky before the bridges that there is a horse track and a gas station despite being north of the river. The reason for this is because rivers do not stay on their course! I had never thought of the ramifications of this for international borders but this same thing is what led to the creation of Chamizal. The Rio Grande changed course between El Paso and Juarez and Chamizal commemorates the peaceful land exchange that the two nations engaged in to settle the issue.

Here is the gist of what happened. This display is found in the visitor center.
One side of this marker.
The other side.

I am not doing ratings and final thoughts on NPS units. The reason being that for me, I am more interested in amazing outdoor and natural wonders and an awful lot of the other NPS units are more about history and other things, which is cool, but not what I am really looking for. Also, for me, they will be quick visits, so I may or may not be getting a “full” experience of those parks.