Rafting the Royal Gorge, CO, 2018

Hey there fellow adventurers! It’s been a hot minute since my last post – full time job, side hustles…ugh. Anyway, the Sidekick and I are getting prepared to visit Acadia National Park in Maine this weekend! In the meantime, here is a new video I made of rafting the Royal Gorge Stretch of the Arkansas River in Colorado from June 2018! To check out the rest of this trip, click here!

I was in the raft with a couple friends on this trip. This was my 3rd rafting trip, and it followed up the very intense trip in did in GA just a few months before. This was not nearly as intense, though I did fall out….That being the case, rafting through the gorge is very impressive! Very neat spot, both naturally and also in the history of the area! Later on in the video you can even spot the Royal Gorge Bridge waaaaaay up above the us!

Dog Sledding, Girdwood, AK, June 2017.

Video taken with my GoPro Hero Session 5.

Hey there fellow adventurers! This is another video post! This time the footage is coming from the dog sledding excursion I took with the Sidekick and our friend Katie a few years back. Check out the og Alaska post! As with anything Alaska, planning waaaaaay ahead of time is a necessity. Part of the trip took us to BEAUTIFUL Girdwood. The town is a ski town, down the Seward Highway (itself a spectacular drive) a bit from Anchorage. We actually had a private tour with Nicolas Petit, a perennial high finish Iditarod musher. This was hands down, probably one of the most awesome things I have ever done. The “tour” I guess? was awesome! There’s a several mile drive up the mountain to an area that is an abandoned gold mine. Nic Petit has a tiny little cabin up there and a spot for all the dogs. He leashed them up to a cart and away we went! AMAZING excursion! Check out the video! It’s a little on the long side, but well worth it! Visit https://www.visitgirdwood.com/explore/girdwood-mushing-company to book!

Rafting the “Numbers” section of the Arkansas River, Buena Vista, CO, July 2019

This is just ONE segment of this run! Most of the rest of this trip was about the same, whitewater everywhere!

The Sidekick and I did a really awesome and long trip to Colorado in 2019. One of the many highlights was rafting the “Numbers” section of the Arkansas River with the Adventure Company out of Buena Vista. Though the trip itself was planned way ahead of time, planning the rafting trip was not as easy. The previous winter had a lot of snow which led to a pretty crazy river season. If you like intensity, late July is not the best time for rafting, but this particular year I had to keep calling once or twice a week to see if they were opening up the outfitters by the time our trip came! I was eyeing the Pine Creek stretch, but was spooked by the number of deaths on Colorado rivers that spring, and Pine Creek is the hardest stretch, but the section just below it, The Numbers, is itself a pretty advanced stretch of the Arkansas, mostly IV and IV+ rapids all in succession, hence the rapids are just numbers! The river was MOVING. The video is just the lead up to Rapid 5 through 5.5, it is totally uncut, thats 11 minutes straight of almost entirely whitewater! There will be a longer video in the YouTube channel soon. This is a super fun stretch of water to raft, for sure!

Whitewater Rafting the Deerfield River, MA, Sept 2018.

Another super fun rafting trip! You can read more about this trip here! This is a dam release river in a pretty cute spot in central Massachusetts (who’d have though there would be mountains and whitewater rafting in Massachusetts????). The rafting company is Crab Apple Whitewater. Being a dam release river, it starts off pretty tame and works up to class IV at the end, so there is some serious action to be had! The trip featured some different rafting fun, surfing, etc, that I had not been a part of before. Super fun spot if you are up there and the whole area is a potential revisit for me! The video is a little lengthy, but give it a view!

Section IV Chattooga River, GA, June 2018

A 10 minute (I know…it was hard to narrow down the hour or so of footage I had from a 7 hour rafting trip even just to this) highlight reel of rafting the Chattooga, Section IV in Clayton, GA. This was a mainly class IV and V run on this day. We used Southeastern Expeditions in Clayton, GA. This is an awesome trip! If you want to read of the entirety of trip go here!

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, WV, July, 2021.

National Park Count: 22

America’s newest National Park, number 63, is New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, nestled in the mountains of southern West Virginia. Just a few weeks after visiting the nations first national park, the Sidekick and I spent a couple days checking out the nation’s newest park and it’s a pretty cool one with tons to do!

This trip began not as my idea, but as Nicki’s. She had some personal business to attend to on the West Virginia/Kentucky border. There is actually an regional airport nearish to the national park, but we were flying Southwest for free, and where we needed to initially go to was not any closer anyway. So we flew into Cincinnati, picked up the rental car, and headed about 4 hours through the sticks to get to a little town called Williamson, on the WV/KY border.

Part of what makes traveling important is that it gives you new perspectives and allows you broaden your horizons. West Virginia is one of those places that is poked at a lot. But upon visiting it becomes very clear that West Virginia is a land that has been forgotten. Williamson is a pretty decent sized town for West Virginia (and by decent sized I mean like 15,000 people) along the border of the two states. It is very dilapidated and falling apart. On a side note, the Sidekick’s family is pretty closely related to the Hatfield family of the famous Hatfield-McCoy feud and this area is right where all of those events unfolded! We stayed one night at the Hatfield McCoy House Inn in Williamson. The house sits on the site of one of the old Hatfield or McCoy sites and is fully decked out in kitschy Hatfield McCoy stuff. The price was super affordable and if by chance you ever find your way to this part of the world spend a night or two here! And just as an FYI there is a pretty lengthy, dozens of miles long, trail that goes through the whole Hatfield McCoy area and this house is pretty close to some entrances to that trail.

The Sidekick in front of well owned by her family’s nemesis 😉 Taken by The Adventurer.

The following day it was off to the New River Gorge area, a few hours away! The drive through this part of West Virginia is remote and filled with dilapidated, yet inhabited towns – relics of the past, when the local coal mine was still operating. Essentially, think of a mountain, a mile or two of one of two rows of homes nestled up against that mountain, one main road through, and then another row or two of homes, there is probably a big creek, and the there are a couple train lines, probably a defunct coal mine, a river, and then another mountain. The next town might be only a few miles away but will take 30 minutes or more to get to. These towns feature burned out houses, some even still lived in, no places to work, no shops, and maybe one convenience store if you are lucky and maybe a falling down school here and there.. And then the next town is 30 minutes down the road and around the hills. That’s pretty much what this part of West Virginia is like.

Once we arrived at our destination, Beckly, WV, a spot that was good central location to various parts of the park, we got into the AirBNB and then departed to scope out a part of the park. We first headed east on I-64 to the Sandstone Falls Entrance and Visitor Center. After a stop at the visitor center for the stamps for my national park passport we headed south a bit for the main goal of the afternoon which was simply to check out an overlook for the Sandstone Falls. The falls themselves are accessible via road, but it’s from the complete other side. While the drive to the overlook from the Airbnb was about 20 minutes, from the bnb to the actual falls was closer to an hour, so we were going to scope the falls area out from above to see if it was worth the trip down there or not. And it was!

The next morning we got up early and headed in the direction of the Sandstone Falls area. The falls are actually part of an island or several islands. Think of island that the river is overwashing, and then falls over the edge in many different places and you get the idea. So, there is a nice boardwalk trail throughout the island that gives nice views of the lower and upper falls. However, the entire island is walkable/hikable and we were able to get much much closer. Definitely a cool thing to experience. The off trail hiking is generally frowned upon in the parks, but they actually had steps off of the boardwalks into the forested part for us to do this and there were many people doing the same, and many who were just out there fishing the river.

The Adventure in front of the Lower Falls at Sandstone Falls. Taken by the Sidekick.
The Adventurer in front of the bigger, Upper Falls of the Sandstone Falls area. Taken by the Sidekick.

After a hiccup involving a local who was towing big round bales of straw down this road to who knows where – and then proceeded to catch it on FIRE – we were off to catch an afternoon white water rafting trip. It had been two years since my last whitewater run and I was definitely itching for it! We decided to raft the tougher Lower New River run with Ace Rafting. The river actually runs north and the put in was about 8 or 9 miles south of the big bridge and we came out right under the bridge. The rafting was not quite what I expected at times. Oddly enough the river doesn’t really seem to run too quickly between rapids, so you hit a rapid and then its very calm water until you get to the next rapid. We got stuck on a rock in class IV rapid and on coming off the rock, out I went, which also sent the Sidekick into the river as well…I came up under the raft, which is not an experience I want to replicate! In any event, we were both pulled up to safety. Rafting through the national park is definitely a really neat way to see the a park! Being on the river afforded some great views of the bridge from below, some other older bridges, and ruins of some of the old coal mining operations that were running on the edge of the river once upon a time! I highly recommend! Also, Ace operates a hillbilly water park. Supervision and rules are extremely light, alcohol is available, and I am sure there are many injuries, but don’t worry – you will sign waivers! It’s pretty cheap and really a lot of (dangerous) fun!

Hmm. This is not a view you really want to privy to when going through a class IV rapid…oops!
New River Gorge Bridge from our raft. Captured from GoPro.

By the time we finished rafting and loitering around the water park a bit we were done for the day. The next day we had another adventure: walking UNDER the entire span of the New River Gorge Bridge. I don’t particularly like heights, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure that 75 bucks for that excursion was going to be worthwhile! But it is! It was a really neat experience! The bridge itself is a pretty fantastic piece of architecture. At about 50 some years old it is still one of the longest and highest bridges/arch bridges in the US. The tour underneath has you hooked into cables as you walk along the underside of the bridge on a narrow catwalk. Honestly, even with the heights issue, it was safe enough that there was really no need to be hooked in unless you were planning on being stupid. Definitely give it a go if you get a chance! The tour is a couple hours long, very informative, gives some killer views up and down the gorge, and the guide will take pictures of your group for free!

I like this picture! Taken by The Adventurer, this is the underside of the New River Gorge Bridge
Adventurer and Sidekick on the Bridge Walk tour. Photo (for free!) taken by the guide!
870 feet up! EEK! But a really neat experience. Obviously, taken by a terrified Adventurer!

After the bridge walk we stopped at the visitor center which offers some pretty awesome views as well. This was the north visitor center, the Canyon Rim Visitor Center. After the requisite stamps and what not, we headed for lunch at a place called Chetty’s. Food was ok, some good local beers, and a really nice deck overlooking the gorge and river! After that we left to hit a trail: The Endless Wall Trail. This is a loop if you want, or an out and back as is recommended to avoid looping along a road. There are some killer views from this trail. It’s pretty heavily forested and not terribly difficult and it’s moderate length, maybe 2 or 3 miles. We brought some snacks and found a cool overlook spot and chilled for awhile and finished our day.

Nice vantage point along the Endless Wall Trail. Taken by The Adventurer.

The next day was the travel day but we found time to squeeze in one last check-in at the park. We made it to the Grandview Visitor center. This one is more in the middle of the park. The Grandview area was also not too far from our AirBNB and we got there hoping for a killer sunrise view, and did a trail, the Grandview Rim Trail along the gorge rim. The views are supposed to be stunning! I say supposed to…because it was so foggy that we couldn’t see more than about 20 feet. Oh well…what can you do!? The Sidekick decided to start photographing mushrooms and I was just content being in quiet nature.

The view from Grandview that we were expecting at sunrise….and the view we actually got… can’t get it all!
But, I was able to snag this cool picture along the Grandview Rim Trail.

So, that concludes another trip and another National Park down! I really enjoyed learning about this park! At the beginning of 2021 this park didn’t even exist as one of the “big” national parks so it was not on my radar and then once it was on the radar, I didn’t expect that I would get there this year! As a final mention there is a thing called Bridge Day. It’s a big deal around there. And that is the one day that people can basejump off the bridge and do all sorts of sundry things. This is also in October, probably during peak foliage. The bridge is totally closed to traffic and it looks like a good old West Virginia shindig! Maybe a good time for a return visit?

Overall impressionsPros: This is an awesome spot to visit. There are TONS of things you can do here: world class whitewater rafting, rock climbing (not for me), hiking, there is a lot of coal town history, there are horseback opportunities, fishing trips, the Bridge Walk, and probably things I am missing. It’s pretty and scenic. Great place! Cons: Not the most convenient place to get to, and it feels like the area is still a little ways away from being fully ready to be a “national park.”

The Adventurer Final Word:
5 Stars! I would not really go back to West Virginia, but I would go back to this park if the opportunity presented itself!

Yellowstone NP, MT/WY and a little of Grand Teton NP, WY, June 2021

National Park Count: 20, 21

Hello fellow Adventurers! The Sidekick and I just returned from a pretty spectacular trip to Yellowstone National Park! This place is out of this world! In case you somehow don’t know at this point, Yellowstone is the largest supervolcano on Earth and the whole area reminds you of that at almost every turn! The planning for visiting the Yellowstone area must be on point as it is quite a pricey place to visit and reservations book up VERY quickly! And, I have to say, we ran our plan to about as much perfection as could be had! If you are interested TL;DR , check out the itinerary. I have it streamlined in the itinerary section at the top!

As you may know from a previous post several weeks ago, I am traveling a TON using that fancy companion pass with a crap ton of points from using credit card options from Southwest Airlines. Southwest has a noticeable gap in destination coverage in the upper midwest (bummer – but nobody lives there or goes there really :/) so when they dropped Bozeman, MT as a destination, much to my surprise, in early March, I was actually sitting in my living room hanging out with the Sidekick and we booked a flight within minutes! Book first, ask later! Southwest always has free and easy change and cancellations! Anyway, booked!

Next up to book was the car. I booked a week or two after the flight for 500 bucks for a Tuesday PM through Saturday early AM. In May that total price was the DAILY price when I looked for curiosity sake. So, BOOK EARLY. Anyway, next up was just figuring out where to stay. Yellowstone is HUGE. It is essentially the NW quadrant of the ENTIRE state of Wyoming, plus parts of Montana and Idaho. Realizing there was a part of the big Grand Loop Road through the park that was closed, and we also wanted to try to make a stop in Grand Teton, we settled on two nights in West Yellowstone, and two nights in Gardiner, MT, at the north entrance. In West Yellowstone we selected Al’s Westward Ho Motel. Truthfully, the price at $200ish a night at that point was actually on par or better that most other places AND it was the closest hotel to the western entrance to the park. We also chose a motel called Yellowstone Big Rock Motel in Gardiner. This one was pretty significantly cheaper, but still $200ish a night, than other options in Gardiner, while still being only a few minutes from the Northern entrance to the park.

So now onto the trip itself! I just want to throw out there really quickly, that flying into Bozeman was cool! Coming from a Denver connection you fly over the northeast part of the park which is cool! And then the descent into Bozeman is neat because the town is nestled in the mountains and the airport itself is newly built/renovated and is a really neat rustic/lodge-y look.

We got into West Yellowstone around 3 PM and headed right into the park. Since I have embarked on this national park journey, it is always an exciting moment to see that ubiquitous arrowhead and the welcome sign! So, after the requisite pictures, in we went through the west side en route to the grand loop. If you travel to Yellowstone you ABSOLUTELY must spring for the 5 or 10 bucks for the Gypsy App. It’s a super useful smartphone audio guide that runs off the GPS – there is limited to 0 cell phone coverage in the park. Also to know: the Grand Loop Road through Yellowstone can be described as a large figure 8. Please look at the map below to get a sense of things to help get a sense of the blog entry!

Most useful tool, other than the Gypsy App, for a visit to Yellowstone. During our visit, and all of 2021 actually, the road between Canyon Village and Tower-Roosevelt were closed.

We drove to the Madison Junction and headed down toward Old Faithful, but that was not today’s goal. Today’s goal was simply to scope out things a bit and visit the Grand Prismatic Spring. We actually saw Old Faithful go up from the road and there was a beautiful rainbow, but sadly, there are no pictures…we were just driving along and there was this big spray and the rainbow. En route, we pulled off into a side area where you can walk to the river and watch a bison herd on the other side. We also pulled off at our first thermal feature, the Fountain Paint Pots area. This was a very NEW thing to me. The smell and the heat coming off of these features was definitely present, and would be a recurring sensation throughout the trip. We continued past Grand Prismatic and down to the Old Faithful village area. Pulling into that area and seeing how jammed packed it was solidified the plan to get there super early as planned in a couple days. Driving back up to the Midway Geyser Basin, we parked at the trailhead for the Fairy Falls Trail. This leads to an overlook that gives the best view of Grand Prismatic Hot Spring. What a gorgeous thermal pool! The view from up here is far better than what you would get from the boardwalks surrounding the spring. After departing Grand Prismatic, I would definitely suggest heading onto the little side road called the Firehole Lake Dr. This is a short looping road that was very quiet and peaceful. It features some bubbling fountain geysers (geysers that come out of a pool) and many pools. The best part was there were *limited* people! That was the extent of our afternoon and we headed back to West Yellowstone. That evening we stopped for grub and drinks at the Slippery Otter, which seemed like a good hotspot in the town Side note: businesses in West Yellowstone seem to shut down mainly around 10 PM, so plan accordingly!

The Adventurer and Sidekick at the Grand Prismatic Overlook. I’m not sure what’s going on with the sidekick here ;).
One of the pools in the Fountain Paint Pots area. The blue is amazing! Taken by the Adventurer.
Firehole Spring off of Firehole Lake Dr. Taken by The Adventurer.

The next morning we did not get up super early, which is unusual. Rather we rose, grabbed some bear spray from a rental kiosk, and found a bookstore nearby, the Book Peddler, that was operating a breakfast cafe. It wasn’t fancy but the food and coffee were good, and definitely hit the spot before we headed back into the park! So this was the day that we had planned to visit the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Getting to Madison Junction we decided on an audible. Instead of trekking to the canyon we first went right back in the direction we went the previous day. Not far from the junction is Firehole Canyon Road. This road descends off of the main road to parallel the river. There are some pull outs with some really nice waterfall views and some hiking trails. At the end of the road is a swimming area which was sadly closed during our visit. Dammit Covid! Anyway, this road was a solid side excursion for sure. The waterfall here really was the first highlight of the power of the waters flowing throughout the park!

AdFirehole Falls, off of the Firehole Canyon Road. Taken by The Adventurer.

Onward back to the north and past Madison Junction we found our next stop: Gibbon Falls. This is a pretty large roadside feature with a nice large parking lot to check out this waterfall and get a huge sweeping view of the valley in this area. This is also very near the rim of the caldera (supervolcano remember!). Just past this was our next quick stop: Beryl Springs. Like one of the fountain geyser pools we encounter along Firehole Lake Dr the previous day, this was another one located right next to the road and super easily accessible. When I had planned out this day it was super low on things to do. I believe my written itinerary was just explore the canyon area and possibly the Firehole Canyon Road. As we approached the intersection that leads to the canyon, our good Gypsy App guide was insisting on a visit to the Norris Geyser Basin, so we stopped in! This one is really close to the big intersection here, that forms the nook on the left side between the top and bottom of the figure 8 of the Grand Loop through the park. This basin is very large and features many pools and geysers, including Steamboat Geyser, which is the largest geyser in the world. This one goes off very unpredictably and can go decades without erupting, but it has been erupting the last couple years, but not this day! Still, this is another cool must do area in the park and we spent an hour or so there, but I think you could easily spend several! Now, heading across the park to the canyon, we ran into another Yellowstone feature: traffic jams. We had actually run into a pretty good one the previous day on the way back into West Yellowstone. These jams can be caused by bison, or they can be caused by careless or inattentive humans. It is hard to say which caused this one and it was pretty lengthy, but did offer the chance to watch a lonely male bison up close walking along the road. He passed us several times!

Gibbon Falls, taken by The Adventurer.
One of the smaller, but beautiful hot pools in the Norris area, taken by The Adventurer.
A friend that passed us several times! Taken by The Adventure.

We finally arrived at the Canyon Village, stopped to check out the visitor center, and grabbed some lunch at one of the park restaurants. I grabbed a beer from one of the local MT/ID breweries along with a fancy Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone glass! We headed to the canyon and parked in the first parking lot which is for Uncle Tom’s Trail. This trail is closed for the year and that was sad because it goes down to the base of the lower falls of the canyon. But it also is a part of the trail that follow the rim of the canyon allowing for views of that falls and also the lower falls! These two waterfalls are IMPRESSIVE and beautiful. This is absolutely a must do. This trail continues for a short ways to the next big visitor draw, Artist Point. This is THE spot to get a picture or a selfie, AND we even saw an artist there doing artist things at Artist Point. So cool! After some pic snapping and oohing and ahhing, we continued on the trail for awhile. We were thinking about making it a couple miles to a spot called Point Sublime. Upon later research I do not think I made it there, but I found a spot on this trail that was the first spot, and also appeared to be th highest spot, that allowed a view from the waterfalls entirely through the canyon and out to the other end of the park. Outstanding! We hiked back to the vehicle and had still yet another awesome moment! A mamma cinnamon black bear and her two babies were along the road and they ran out RIGHT in front of our vehicle. Oddly enough, other than two grizzlies in Denali WAAAAY off in the distance, these were the first close views I have had of a bear in a national park! Anyway, we began the long trek back to West Yellowstone and ran into another bison jam on that same stretch of road. Baby bison are cute AF if you haven’t seen one! That night we hit up another local place called Bullwinkles. Not gonna lie, I am not going to be in the habit of saying anything about a business that is not positive, but it was tough to find the positives here. I would avoid this place, especially if you have a vegetarian in your group, or like fresh food, or timely service. The good thing about this place is its very large and has a handful of slot machines if that’s your thing!

The Upper Falls of the Yellowstone. This is from the Uncle Tom’s Trail area.
An artist doing artist things at the Artist Point! How cool! Taken by The Adventurer.

The next day was the loooong day, but it was packed and we got in national park number 21! I mentioned that nothing in West Yellowstone is open late. Nothing is open early either. Just a heads up on that one. In June, the sun comes up before any place is open, and the sun goes down just before everywhere closes. If you want to get into the park super early, but need coffee or breakfast, the GoGo Espresso Cafe, which is one of those shipping container coffee shops, is your place. A delicious bagel and tasty cappuccinos in tow, and we were off to Old Faithful! We got down to the geyser around 7 ish. There were not a ton of people and there was a bison just randomly hanging out there by himself. The geyser went off a little before 8. Compared to the day we first strolled through, early morning is DEFINITELY when you want to see Old Faithful, without a doubt. After the eruption we headed toward the south entrance and Grand Teton National Park. The south end of the park is just as pretty as the rest and there is a pretty big canyon of its own rights down there along the road, but not much in the must-see category I would say. There is another geyser area we were going to visit on the way back up and another village that was due to mainly open…the next day! D’oh! The segment of the trip to The Tetons was always a “flex” option due to timing and distance but we thought, hey might as well while we are here! The plan was to go to Jenny Lake and get on a boat to some trails in the range proper. We left a little on the later side, so as we approached, our gypsy app guide was insisting on a visit up Signal Mountain. To get from Jenny lake to our new hotel that evening was about a 3 hour drive, so I was a little hesitant about running into jams and making 3 hours much more…so we decided to make the Signal Mountain visit our Grand Teton National Park “thing,” and what a thing it was! Honestly, it was a pretty standard 20 or 30 minute mountain road ascent, but the view of the Tetons from the top was KILLER. And this mountain was covered in a carpet of beautiful yellow wildflowers. This was the extent of our visit to Grand Teton National Park. It was brief, but it counts! I got a stamp in my passport book, got the unigrid map and that’s good enough. But I will certainly be back. Stunning area, absolutely jaw dropping. There are some who say this is the most beautiful national park…I am not sure I am totally on board with that, but I can see why they would think that!

Old Faithful!
The view of the Tetons from Signal Mountain. GORGEOUS.

After departing the Tetons we backtracked up through the South Entrance of Yellowstone and headed toward West Thumb Geyser Basin. This is another thermal area featuring boiling mu holes to the depths of hell, and hot springs, but they are all right alongside Yellowstone Lake. The lake itself would be a cool place to explore, but you can only get into it via guided tours: there are many thermal features in the lake itself, and the park probably doesn’t want anyone farting around with them. We explored this area for a bit and it’s probably another definite must see just for the scenery around the lake!

Yellowstone Lake from West Thumb Geyser Basin. Taken by The Adventurer.

After West Thumb it was time for the lengthy trip up to Gardiner, MT, just outside of the North Entrance. There is not much to tell here. About half of this drive was backtracking past features we had already seen. It was not until the Norris Geyser intersection that we saw anything new, from that point all the way up to Gardiner. The one striking feature of this area is that is really became a little more mountainous and the thermal features seem to be further and fewer between. We did stop at a spot called the Golden Canyon, which was close to the North Entrance. This is a cliff hugging road that comes into a more sketchy driving area. From there we proceeded through Mammoth, past the Mammoth Hot Springs (to be seen the next day), and up into Gardiner. The trip out of the park brought us the opportunity to see some mountain goats way up high (no pics, too high). We stayed that evening in Gardiner at a motel called The Yellowstone Black Rock Inn. When I booked this motel it was literally the cheapest to be found at about 200 a night, and it was booked in March. The view from our third floor door was exceptional, and honestly probably a better view than any other lodging in Gardiner. The hotel was clean, the room was big, and it seemed way more modern that I was expecting. Al’s in West Yellowstone was close and convenient but not a spot I would have wanted to just hang. This one was a definite sit outside on the balcony and chill and look at the mountains as the sun sets kind of place. That evening we stopped for dinner at Ironhorse Bar and Grill, a spot with a big balcony right on the Yellowstone River.

View from outside our door at the Yellowstone BIg Rock Inn. Taken by The Adventurer.

As I start this paragraph I realize that if you are still reading, KUDOS, it is a LOOOONG entry, but that’s how this trip was. We have arrived at our final day in Yellowstone! We began with an early exploration of the Mammoth Hot Spring area. As with everything that steams in Yellowstone you are again reminded of the supervolcano you are standing in! The entire area was impressive and it’s easy to see why it has been named Mammoth! After finishing at Mammoth we hit the road across the north of the park into Lamar Valley. This is technically the right “spoke” into the park’s Grand Loop, from the northeast. This is an awesome area. We saw coyotes, badgers, many many bison, some bears and it was a serene area to drive through! Our itinerary called for a drive through Lamar and to a hiking spot at Trout Lake and then on through Cooke City, MT and then on past that spotalong the famous Beartooth Highway. We pulled another really decent audible here. We decided to do the Trout Lake hike later on, and proceeded into Cooke City. At this point, we had been on the road a bit and felt a stop for a bite to eat and a beer would be good. There is pretty much no cell signal to be found in Yellowstone, and Cooke City was no different, so after finding a little visitor center with WiFi we discovered a well reviewed bar called the Miner’s Saloon. GO HERE. They had a veggie pizza that was amazing! And, it just so happens that the bartender, a chap named Chris Warren, wrote a BOOK about Ernest Hemingway’s time in Yellowstone and Cooke City! HOW NEAT!? Twenty bucks later we have a signed copy! Super cool! This is why travel is soooo important! After lunch we went up the Beartooth Highway a bit. We were trying to find a good spot to park and string up some hammocks we had brought along. Our stop for lunch had made it so driving up the intense parts of Beartooth was not possible, but we managed to stumbled upon some of the most aggressive river water I had ever seen, the Crazy Creek Falls. This is not marked on the road and if you are driving by any not paying attention you would miss it. Truth be told, we only found it because across the road was a pull out that we were searching for hammock spots. There was a pretty raging river there, and it came under the road. We could see that there was some little trailish looking area across the highway, so we ventured over there and then could see this amazing huge cascade of water rushing down from a decent height. Super awesome find! We finally did find a little boondocking site to set up those hammocks for an hour or so and then headed back into the park. The next stop was Trout Lake. The sidekick took a break and I went out exploring! The trail was surprisingly strenuous right from the get go, but it was not long – maybe 3/4 of a mile to the lake. Once at the lake though…some awesome nature views! I made my way to the creek that comes into the lake and the trout were clustered in that creek and jumping! How neat! Upon the return to our hotel, we simply sat outside out motel balcony and finished off some food and some beer before the morning return home.

Crazy Creek Falls. Found off the Beartooth Highway. Taken by The Adventurer.
A cool little spot of the Mammoth Hot Springs. Taken by the sidekick.
Trout Lake, taken by The Adventurer.

Ok. That was a lot. Probably as much as my entry for my Alaska trip. I will say that this area is AMAZING and an absolute must see. This area of both Montana and Wyoming is stunning and really kind of changed my worldview of the area. I am looking forward to a return to Montana and The Tetons in Wyoming. I feel like a return to Yellowstone is not needed as I think we saw all the “must sees” but I would go back for sure. A return to the Tetons is definitely in the cards!

Overall impressionsPros: Otherworldly scenery. SO MUCH TO DO. It is not possible to not see lots of wildlife. All the thermal things….you probably have not and will not ever see that stuff again. Cons: Pricey is about it. There are lots of people, but honestly, if you plan properly that’s not much of a problem.

The Adventurer Final Word:
Five Stars, undoubtedly. The whole trip. Even the airport was notable!

Dog Road Trip Number 3! BELLA IS A BARK RANGER!?!?! Little River Canyon National Preserve, Russell Cave National Monument, Alabama; and Clifty Falls State Park, Indiana, June 2021.

Hello Adventurers! FYI. If you are wondering and I am sure you are 😉 ;), the Sidekick and I went to Yellowstone and Grand Teton, as scheduled. There is still a lot of work to be done to organize that trip into the blog and YouTube channel. That entry is coming in the next few days!

On to this trip! There is a Bark Ranger Program in some of the US National Parks. THERE IS A BARK RANGER PROGRAM. Raise your hand if you just now learned this!? I did not know there was such a thing! My girl dog Bella is now a Bark Ranger, and that is now her name on this site!

The Adventurer and the Bark Ranger. This is her badge from Little River Canyon National Preserve!

This dog is crazy AF to drive with (but really she is quite a well mannered and sweet dog), but it is nice being able to drive cross country with her. We were taking a visit my mother and ailing grandmother in Indiana. We left St. Petersburg around 2 PM and got to Macon, GA by around 8 or 9 to stay at the usual: La Quinta. If you don’t know – La Quinta is a dog friendly hotel, with a small fee (like 20 bucks) in some locations. The next morning we got up early and headed to Northern Alabama. I had known about Little River Canyon for a bit, just simply through my national park perusals. And, I know what you are thinking…Alabama? What is there!? Well…the northern part of the state is quite beautiful! BUT the real reason we took that route was because a few days earlier I had learned of the BARK RANGER program! And, Bella HAD TO BE A BARK RANGER.

At this point, a few important notes about dogs and NPS (national park service) units. Not all are dog friendly. Some are entirely service dog only and that’s it. Some are partially dog friendly (they can only be walked in certain areas and on certain trails) and some are totally dog friendly (all trails, visitor centers, etc). Really the distinction is made to keep the dogs and the the native fauna. Obviously you don’t want your dog to aggravate bears, or to fall into a boiling hot spring, and you also don’t want your dog driving prey animals away from their homes. It is this latter group of NPS units that generally seems to have the Bark Ranger Program. You will need to to refer to each individual park of course, but the Bark Ranger program is a really neat thing for your future Bark Ranger!

Courtesy of https://www.nps.gov/subjects/pets/be-a-bark-ranger.htm

Back to Little River Canyon! What a neat spot in an unexpected place! A little removed from Huntsville, AL and close to Ft. Payne, AL is Little River Canyon National Preserve. This is one of those smaller NPS units. It is very long though, and very skinny, as it straddles the Little River as it cuts a pretty impressive canyon through a small section of north eastern Alabama. As you approach the entrance you will find a parking lot with trails leading to the falls that are the inception of the canyon. The falls themselves are quite nice, but at this spot you cannot quite see what happens very quickly afterward. To do that you need to get into your car and follow the road! This is definitely one of those parks that is super awesome for the overlook and drive through park adventurer! As you follow the road there are many overlooks to view the impressive canyon. To be honest, not only is it incredibly surprising to see this is in Alabama, but the canyon itself is large and gets large VERY quickly. It was maybe not even more than a few miles before the canyon was several hundred feet deep. In any event, refer to the pictures! Now, to be fair, I said this is a great overlook and drive through park. It is. There are lots of trails, however, from those overlooks down into the canyon. The Bark Ranger is older and has some not so great hips, so we did none of those as the trails looked quite steep.

Taken by The Adventurer. This is the top of the Canyon, where it all starts! It gets deep in hurry though!
This spot was only a few miles from the waterfall! Who would have known this was in Alabama!? Taken by The Adventurer.
Waterfall called Maggie’s Falls in the preserve. Taken by The Adventurer.

To get Bella her Bark Ranger badge, the Rangers at Little River Canyon wanted some basic things done. They wanted some pictures of Bella and I demonstrating the BARK ranger principles: Bag the waste, Always on leash, Respect the wildlife, and Know where you can go. So, I got a pic of bagging her poo on a trail while leashed :). A silly form to fill out later and she got her BARK RANGER BADGE!

The Bark Ranger Badge from Russell Cave National Monument. The Bark Ranger seemed unsure of why this one was smaller 😉

Now, not to be greedy, but I had also been aware of some cave national monument from seeing signs for it off of I-24 approaching Chattanooga. This is actually Russell Cave National Monument, it is only about 30 miles from Little River Canyon, on the way where I needed to go, and they ALSO have a BARK RANGER BADGE! Of course, we had to stop!

This NPS unit, in all honesty, should probably just be an off limits archaeological site. The reason I say this is it’s a decent size cave entrance, and the cave is many MILES in length but visitors can only approach via a boardwalk, and that’s it. There is a mile or two nature trail through the woods near the cave, but that is about it. Oddly enough there were two park rangers working the visitor center which made up 2 of the 6 people I saw there! The didn’t seem to care too much about me showing a picture of NOW OFFICIAL BARK RANGER demonstrating that which she had already demonstrated, they just wanted me to take her the length of the boardwalk to see the entrance of their cave, then take a picture of her looking cute and badge number two was secured!

This is the entrance to the main cave at Russell Cave National Monument. The boardwalk only went down to a closer spot that wasn’t as easy to see into.

Just a real quick blurb on something in Indiana. We were there for a week and my mom and I were able to get away for a day trip. Indiana is a generally boring and disdainful place BUT, there are a couple decent state parks. One of them can be found along the Ohio River in a town called Madison, its somewhere along the river between Louisville, KY and Cincinnati, OH. This is Clifty Falls. It’s a rather nice park with lots of trails and the town of Madison is quite a nice little town as well. The hometown where my mother lives is literally about 10-15 times the size of this town, but I kinda think Madison is a much more enjoyable spot than Evansville is. If you are in this area, it is DEFINITELY worth a stop!

The namesake waterfall, one of a few, at Clifty Fall State Park in Madison, Indiana. And remember. This is INDIANA we are talking about here!

Overall impressionsPros: BARK RANGER. Very surprising and enjoyable scenery! It’s a day drive from me, a long one for sure, but it’s definitely a day drivable destination from a large chunk of the southeastern into the midwestern areas of the US. Cons: Russell Cave left lots to desire. Not a fault of the place itself, just not much to do there.

The Adventurer Final Word:
5 Stars!

Chattooga River Rafting, GA June 2018

Just outside of Clayton, GA on the GA/SC border lurks a whitewater enthusiast’s gem: The Chattooga River, filming site of the movie Deliverance and site of some of the best whitewater in the eastern part of the country. The Sidekick, myself, and one of our other friends spent a week in the Clayton, GA area during the early June week of 2018.

A short snippet of one spot toward the end of the run! This is a part of the 5 Falls section, called Jawbone. Taken with my GoPro. For this rapid we had the guide in back and also this guide in front!

There are several outfitters who run this part of the Chattooga, with runs on what is referred to as Section III and Section IV. We chose Southeastern Expeditions, due to proximity. If you choose Section III, it’s a shorter time commitment and more family friendly. Section IV on the other hand is super awesome, classified as advanced, a full 5 -6 hours on the rive,r and has some of the best rapids around, including the last half mile which runs 5 consecutive Class IV and V rapids. This is a normal river, and spring time is the peak whitewater, normally.

‘As you can see from the video above it was not a beautiful sunny day! But it was exciting as hell! After the fear inducing safety speech and waiver signing absolving the company from any liability from your potential death we were off to the put in spot. When we got into the water our guide, an “older” dude named Link or it might have been Lynk was our guide. He actually seemed to be the lead guide and really knew what he was doing. Most of the other guides were kids in their early 20s it looked. I prefer the old farts who really know the rivers! Anyway, as we began he snuck a peek at the river guage. I don’t remember exactly what the numbers were but he said we were JUST under the cutoff when they have to shut down the river! There had been a lot of rain in the days leading up running off into the river!

The first big waterfall is the third spot on the map above, called the 7 Foot Falls. It was at these point that I think we all kind knew we were in for a crazy trip! I was in the front right, the Sidekick was front left, and our friend Katie was on the left in the back and she got smashed up pretty good on the rocks on the side as we went over this waterfall. There were some more rapids, a stop on the side of the river to check out a waterfall in the woods. Part of the trip including a provided lunch on the rocks along the river. Scary moment here as a kayaker came over the this waterfall section and got stuck in a hole between some rocks. The guides tried to throw ropes to him, but we were all on the opposite bank and so he was on his own, scary moment, but the kayaker got out of it finally!

Our lunch spot. Kayaker got caught between rocks on the far left here!
The three of us in front of the waterfall off of the side of the river. Taken by our guide.
This is called Raven Rock…because it looks like a …raven? I dont see it. But here it is, and sorry for the water drops! Still from the go pro!
Picture of us taken by the company. I am front right with the camera on the helmet, looking resolved in the face of death!

If you take a peek at that map up above you can see there are a handful of rapids in very quick succession. This spot is called the 5 Falls. It is roughly somewhere between a quarter and a half mile long and includes rapids called Entrance, Corkscrew, Crack in the Rock, Jawbone, and Soc-em-dog. These are all normally rated as IV and IV+ but the guide said with the water level they were all Vs that day! The full version of my video of these rafting experience is found below, and about half of it is the Five Falls area. Jaw bone the one with two guides in the raft, and Soc-em-Dog is the one that almost took my head off, although it looks much more tame on camera!

It’s a bit length…but it was one HELL OF A RAFTING TRIP.

Overall impressionsPros: Awesome fun! Beautiful scenery. No too far from places in the eastern part of the country, especially if you are visiting the Smoky Mountains or Asheville. Cons: You could die. This river has killed many people, so if you choose the hard section definitely be prepared!

The Adventurer Final Word:
5 Stars!

How I Travel (for now!)

Hey there fellow Adventurers! In an effort to inform, plus give a shameless plug 🙂 I thought I would share with you how I have been able to fly for (almost) free and even have some free hotel stays since early 2019! (Bear with…this is actually REALLY REALLY good info, but it takes a minute to get through the options and the logistics). And before I forget, once you read through this and decide to apply for a Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Card, do me a favor and click this link to do so!

First, though, what is the Southwest Companion pass? This is travel gold, quite frankly. If you earn the coveted companion pass you can take a pal (and can change who that person is 3 times a year) with you on any trip for free (excluding 9/11 taxes of 11 dollars per person/round trip). The best part is you can take them with you on literally any trip you book (unless there are no seats left), whether you paid OR USED POINTS. Normally the companion pass is good for the remainder of the year in which you earned it, and the entirety of the year following. If you earn it quickly in year one then you could have nearly 24 months of this perk. But if you earn it late in the year, you could have it for only 13ish months, or less. The normal way to earn it is to spend enough to earn 125,000 points on a Chase SW Credit Card. If you never hit any point multipliers, that’s $125,000. You can also fly 110 legs of flights as well. I am not rich, so this is method is not for me. The other way you can earn a companion pass with Southwest is through various credit card offers and this is what I am talking about!

There are two ways to secure a companion pass using credit card offers. 1) There is an off chance (but it has happened twice in the last three years now) that ONE personal Chase Southwest Card will drop with an abbreviated companion pass (just the year it’s earned in) and 2) the “traditional” way using a personal card STACKED with a business card. You cannot stack two personal cards, but one business card, and one personal card, and two business cards together work.

Option 1 is currently not available but it was a couple months ago! When it is, here is how it is done! In 2019 (and they did it again this year, I might add) Chase and Southwest put out an offer to apply for one of their Rewards Cards. Basically the deal was: apply, get approved, and then spend x amount of dollars in a 2 or 3 month time frame, and get anywhere from 40-65,000 Southwest Points AND a companion pass. The Southwest Companion pass is unique in that it is good for AS MANY TRIPS AS YOU WANT on Southwest during the timeframe earned. Usually, a companion pass is good for the remainder of the year you earn it AND all of the following year. But the Sidekick’s deal was the first time they offered it with such ease and it was only good for that one year it was earned in. In other words, try to earn this companion pass as fast and early as you can! If you earn it in your first month having the card (definitely possible with a 2k spending requirement) remember that it will not hit until that billing cycle is complete. So, in other words, if this card is available in January, you apply for the card immediately, and then spend your required amount by Feb. 1st, then you will not see your point and companion pass bonuses until Marchish. But keep an eye out. This offer is not heavily advertised, and it is not available for long, when it is, which is why you should really keeps your eyes open for it. FYI, there is a small annual fee for these cards. Most of the time the lower 69 dollar annual fee card is all you need. Do not run a balance and pay interest though!

It is June 2021 now, and looking at the Chase Southwest Cards available, one can get a companion pass the same way I did RIGHT NOW. Step one is similar to what I already wrote. The personal cards available right now all pay out a bonus of 65,000 including the card with a $69 annual fee. The current spending requirement is actually 1000 less than mine was, at 2k spending in your first 3 months. Charge your rent, utility bills, car insurance, whatever, and knock it out. Once you have hit that mark, you will have 67,000 points minimum (65 plus the 2 you earn from your spending).

I will pause real quick right here and point out something. Even if you cannot get approved for the business card required for step 2, those 67,000 points are nothing to sneeze at. If you do your flights smart, and have good flight patterns, you can easily get round trip tickets for 18k or even better, which means that basically you could take 3 to 4 round trips by yourself, or even take someone with you for one or maybe two of those trips.

Moving on to Step 2. If you have business income or can swing getting approved for that business card some way then this is vital. Currently there are two business card offers. One is 80k points, a 200 dollar annual fee (boo), and a spending requirement of 5 grand in 3 months (tougher, but not as difficult as you might think at first). The other one is the one I have, which is currently a 60k bonus, 100 dollar annual fee and only 3k spending in 3 months. When I did this one it was 75K bonus points for the 100 dollar card, but had to spend 5k in 3 months. I gave that card to the sidekick and she did most of the spending and then paid it off – only, of course, do that with someone trusted! So for what is offered now, if you do the 67,000 points on a personal card and stack it with the 63,000 points on the cheaper business card, for a grand total of 168 dollars in annual fees you and a friend can fly probably 5-10 round trip flights for a 22 dollars total in 9/11 fees. If you continue using those cards as your daily rewards points card you can EASILY bump that closer to 10-15 round trip flights WITH A COMPANION!

So where did I go in these 3 years? Tampa is the home airport, so all of these flights were from there. In 2019, using the Sidekick’s companion pass and points we flew to San Francisco, Denver, New York City, and Grand Cayman. Over the past two years, using my companion pass and points we have flown to Baltimore, Denver, Phoenix, Las Vegas; planned flight to Bozeman, Cincinnati, Portland, ME. In addition I flew solo to Louisville and Cleveland. And on top of all of that we used a mix of both of our points for hotels in Arizona and Utah! A little bit ago I sat down and did a rough estimate of how much monetary benefit I had received from this and it was in the 5 THOUSAND DOLLAR range, and that was before figuring in the next 3 trips! Oh, and as of this writing, I STILL have over 15,000 points left, and of course 6 months before the pass expires!

Want a few days in the mountains in the summer? Why yes, I do! With the 130K points one would get from combining the bonuses of the two Chase Southwest Cards you AND A friend could to this trip TEN TIMES for only 22.40 cents for you and your companion (11.20 is per person no matter what!)
Want some time in the desert? Less than 21 K points from Tampa.
Looking for a post holiday weekend in LA? (I don’t know why, but hey lots of people go to LA!)
Wanna catch some shows on Broadway at the beginning of the week? One leg of this trip was 8k and the other 5K. If you only got the personal card by itself you could still take this trip 4 times, or buy a second ticket for two tandem trips!

Just some general final thoughts! If you live in an area that is NOT served by Southwest this is probably not the best arrangement for you, but if you do, YOU SHOULD DEFINITELY GO FOR IT. If you really watch flight sales, and always check that low fare calendar, you can really get some mileage out of this amazing travel perk! Also, just as footnote, getting use of your points for hotels and car rentals is possible. It is tedious, but possible! However, be warned that the value of points to hotel and even more so to car rentals is not nearly as good as it is for flights. PAY YOUR BALANCE EACH MONTH and do not go spend crazy, just pay for stuff you normally do anyway and you will probably meet the bonuses. The goal is low cost travel, but no interest and definitely no extra spending! Make sure your credit score is sufficient for this as well. One last thing, and this is IMPORTANT! Chase has a 5/24 rule, meaning that you cannot be approved for more than 5 cards from ANY bank within a 24 month period. To get two of these Chase cards you can have opened a max of 3 cards in the previous 24 months!

But what’s next you might say? Well, 2022 and 2023 are probably going to be different in terms of volume of air travel for me. I plan to cancel both of these Chase Southwest Cards next year, before the next round of annual fees hit because I plan on looking into an Alaskan Air card. That card has some good bonus perks, as well, including Alaskan Airlines own “companion pass” which is not very useful, but it’s something if you only travel once with them. And then once all the Chase Southwest clear, you can supposedly do it again! Here’s to hoping Southwest doesn’t end the program!

If you have any questions drop a comment, and here is that link again for the referral! (please and thank you ;))