Happy Birthday, National Parks!

Hiking to Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo Credit: my friend Katja

Hiking to Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo Credit: my friend Katja

(If you’ve been following me over the last few weeks, I have been doing a series of National Park Posts. It’s all culminating to this one post, celebrating the Centennial of the National Park System and showing my National Park Pride! Official turning 100 this Thursday, August 25th, I wanted to write about them to show different ways you can enjoy the parks.

Through my posts, I took you Hiking in Rocky Mountain and Arches, Climbing in Joshua Tree, Wandering in Death Valley and Exploring in Mt. Rainier.

I absolutely love and respect the National Park Service and when Cotopaxi reached out to me to help show my National Park Pride, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to write about them. I want to encourage you to find your closest National Park and explore, learn and discover what nature has to offer.)

Christine Falls in Mt. Rainier National Park

Christine Falls in Mt. Rainier National Park

When I was younger, I used to take yearly road trips with Mom or Dad. Many of these road trips were around Colorado and some were out of the state, but a lot of them ventured into National Parks.

Picture from my scrapbook...Yellowstone National Park with my Mom.

Picture from my scrapbook…Yellowstone National Park with my Mom.

As I’ve gotten older, my love for the outdoors and exploring has grown exponentially but it has only been in the last couple of years that I have had a lot of opportunities to get out and travel more; many times into National Parks. I’m super grateful that I had met my boyfriend, Ben, who shares an equal love for adventure and travel.

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Climbing in Joshua Tree National Park

This year alone, Ben and I have ventured into five national parks! We’re also in the process of planning out a New Mexico/Texas road trip for the end of the year that will check off another two National Parks (Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe National Park) and several other National Preserves and Monuments (in addition to going through Roswell, NM…. yes….aliens!).

There’s a TON of National Parks all across the country, and I bet there is one close enough for everyone to get to.

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There are a million ways for you to get out and enjoy a national park…. Climbing, hiking, driving, camping, running, star-gazing, canyoning…… the list could go on and on!

I know what some of your are thinking….”All that travel is expensive! Plus they raised their prices for National Parks! BLAH!”

Exploring in Arches National Park

Exploring in Arches National Park

Well, thankfully, the money does go to a good cause (ya know, like preserving the place) but there are many ways to travel cost-efficiently. My boyfriend and I bought a season pass and it has saved us literally hundreds of dollars. In addition, we are very cheap travelers: we don’t eat out much, camp instead of stay in hotels (yes, even in the winter), and don’t splurge on souvenirs (I collect those squished pennies you get from the crank machines. 51 cent souvenirs!).

Now, hopefully I have sparked a little inspiration for you to start planing your National Park trip and don’t forget to wish them Happy 100th Birthday!

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Links:

National Park Centennial Information

FindYourPark.com

Cotopaxi – outdoor gear company that cares

I know you can get in FREE to Colorado’s National Parks Aug 25th-28th…I would assume that’s the case across the nation! 

Rocky Mountain National Park...check out that air I got! I'm on the left! Photo credit to Katja again!

Rocky Mountain National Park…check out that air I got! I’m on the left! Photo credit to Katja again!

Exploring Mt. Rainier National Park

20160426_160305(Did you know it’s the Centennial Celebration of the National Parks? It is! The National Parks Service is officially celebrating their 100th birthday on August 25th. I absolutely love and respect the National Park Service and plan on doing a whole bunch of National Park posts this month. Check out my last posts about Rocky MountainArches, Joshua Tree, and Death Valley. Next up is this one, Mt. Rainier National Park….)

Back in April, Ben, myself and a friend of ours, took a journey to Washington. It was a trip to combine many different things: a half marathon for me, my Grandpa’s Memorial service, family time, vacation and some Mt. Rainier fun.

Photo Credit: My aunt Bambi that lives out in Washington.

Photo Credit: My Aunt Bambi that lives out in Washington.

Ben and his friend Matt had plans to climb Mt. Rainier. I had no desire (yet) to do this climb, let alone the route they chose, but went with them to the National Park. I was their communication to family and friends via the internet while they climbed. While their climb is their story to tell, this left me with a lot of free time to explore Mt. Rainier National Park, or at least the parts of it that were open in late April.

Ben and Matt started toward the summit from the Paradise parking lot. This is on the South side of the big mountain. During the winter months, a majority of the roads and entrances to Mt. Rainier are closed due to snow. Winter in this area can extend into June, we were told. We were visiting right as lot of the snow was melting, but that still only left one entrance open to get to paradise, through the town of Ashford.

Ben and Matt starting their climb.

Ben and Matt starting their climb.

After waving good-bye as they started their journey, I doddled, trying to figure out what to do and see. I don’t mind doing stuff by myself, but having company on adventures is always more fun, in my opinion. Not letting being alone stop me, I studied the map for some trails I could explore. Not a lot was open but I had driven past a couple of signs for waterfalls, and thought, “I should start there!”

Leaving Paradise, as I drove down the road, I first came across Narada Falls. At first, when you look over the edge of the parking lot you can see the fast-moving river and the side of a massively wide waterfall. There’s a trail you can take to the view-point down below. I started and was thwarted by a massive wall of snow, waist-high that came right up to the guard rail. I was super bummed as another lone-hiker came. I watched him hop right up on top of the snow and defeat this obstacle (why didn’t I think of that). So, I followed!

The trail-blocked with snow

The trail-blocked with snow

 

After getting over the snow, I realized that was the only part of the trail that was difficult. The rest was snowed on and a little slippery, but was manageable. The other traveler was in town on business and decided to journey into the park for a quick trip. We helped each other take pictures, then went about our ways.

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Next up was Christine Falls. Just a quick drive further down the road and I was there. I hopped out of the car and took in the beautiful view. There was a trail that takes you up about the falls, but I was going to save that for the next day.

When traveling by yourself, you take a lot of selfies!

When traveling by yourself, you take a lot of selfies!

After getting some rest, trying local restaurants (dinner the night before and breakfast), then talking to the rangers, day two brought some more exploring.

I drove back into the park (stopping at every view-point along the way) and did the short, flat historical hike called the “Trail of Shadows”. I learned all about the town of Longmire (a health destination in the late 1800’s for people to cure all that ails them by soaking in the once hot springs and using medicine from the native plants nearby).

View from the trail, through the trees you can see Mt. Rainier.

View from the trail, through the trees you can see Mt. Rainier.

Then I drove my way up the road again to hike the trail behind Christine Falls with the destination Comet Falls in mind. The ranger did warn me that he didn’t think the trail was passable, but I decided to try it anyway, because I’m like that.

I made it about 1.5, maybe 2 miles at the most, before the trail was blocked by a steep snow slid (see picture). With better shoes and an ice ax or walking pole, I probably would have attempted it. But looking at the bottom of the slope and my trails shoes, I opted to skip it; envisioning myself sledding on my butt to the icy river some 100 ft down. No thank you!

What I would have had to hike over to get to Comet Falls.

What I would have had to hike over to get to Comet Falls. Would you do it?

The rest of my day was spent at Paradise, staring at the slope, looking for my boyfriend to return, terrified, not knowing they were staying one more night on the mountain due to weather. That’s a whole different story filled with worry, a lot of tears and looking for a hotel at 11pm.

Top of Christine Falls

Top of Christine Falls

Getting there:

  • Looks like the only way to enter during winter is from the south/west side of the park where we did, through Asford; the snow leaving all other road impassable.
  • There are THREE total entrances during the summer. We only got to see this part of the park.
  • Mt. Rainier Website

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Tips:

  • Best time to visit: Summer – Temperatures are great, roads are open and trails are passable. (Unless you’re a mountaineer, then consult mountaineering books to find out when the best time is to visit.)
  • Skiers and Snowboards: this is a magical place! You can hike up and ski down; I wish I had brought my board!

We can’t wait to go back!

Oh, by the way; the boys made it to the summit, safe and sound (and back down again)!

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Wandering Death Valley National Park

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(Did you know it’s the Centennial Celebration of the National Parks? It is! The National Parks Service is officially celebrating their 100th birthday on August 25th. I absolutely love and respect the National Park Service and plan on doing a whole bunch of National Park posts this month. Check out my last posts about Rocky Mountain, Arches, Joshua Tree, and up next is Death Valley National Park…)

Our Death Valley trip was un-planned. Back in January, we were on our way to Mt. Whitney and just driving along. Not knowing how far our drive would take us on day one, we were looking for a place to camp for the night that wasn’t far from where we were (some where outside Vegas) and free. We searched the map and decided, what the heck, lets spend the night in Death Valley!

Our first view of the National Park were, well, dark (see picture above). We arrived well after sundown and had no idea was around us, with only the road illuminated by our headlamps. When we woke up, we were floored. It was amazing!

View from our campsite

View from our campsite when we woke up.

We didn’t have a whole lot of time to waste, we were on our way to Mt. Whitney, but we couldn’t resist the urge to explore this wonder.

When you pull up the website, the first thing you read is this is the hottest, driest and lowest national park. My favorite sign was the one that indicated we were BELOW sea level.

But as you can see, it wasn't that hot when we were visiting.

But as you can see, it wasn’t that hot when we were visiting (January).

We pretty much explored the whole middle section of the park, leaving a few gems to come back to in the future.

First up , the Mesquite flat sand dunes that we had a blast running up and rolling down. (we’re still finding sand in places).

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Then we drove around the Artist’s Drive to see Artist’s Palatte, a uniquely colored rock and sand formation.

Artist's Palate

Artist’s Palate

Lastly, before exiting the park, we ran (literally) to Darwin Falls, a beautiful oasis with waterfall amid the dry desert.

Darwin Falls

Darwin Falls

Next time we visit, we really want to go up to Scotty’s Castle.

Getting there:

  • Can get there through Nevada off of HW 95
  • Or from California via HW 395 or HW 127
  • Park website.

Tips:

  • I highly suggest going anytime BUT the summer. We had a friend that visited in July and said it was unbearably hot, obviously.
  • Allow 2-3 days to see the WHOLE park.
  • Free camping! Yep, there’s a few, first-come-first-serve, free campsites in Death Valley. We snagged one!
  • Bring a lot of water, even during the “winter” months. It may not be hot, but it is surely very dry.

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Climbing in Joshua Tree National Park

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(Did you know it’s the Centennial Celebration of the National Parks? It is! The National Parks Service is officially celebrating their 100th birthday on August 25th. I absolutely love and respect the National Park Service and plan on doing a whole bunch of National Park posts this month. Check out my last posts about Rocky Mountain and Arches. Next up is this one, Joshua Tree National Park….)

Back in January, way at the beginning of the year, my boyfriend and I got the chance to take a two-week vacation and go on a road trip. We chose California, with the main goal to climb Mt. Whitney (because it’s my name, duh). While we did not summit Mt. Whitney (and a whole different story), we got to venture and explore some other places on our way to and from home.

Attempting Mt. Whitney

Attempting Mt. Whitney

On our way back towards Golden, CO we stopped for a few nights to camp and climb in Joshua Tree National Park. All climbers LOVE it here, supposedly. I wrote a little bit about it when I first returned home from that trip here.

Joshua Tree was a really cool place to visit. The scenery, plants and animals is so different from anything I had ever seen. I loved it and wanted to take a million pictures.

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We visited in January which meant it wasn’t that hot in the desert. In fact, it was a bit chilly which made it really hard for me to climb. (If you are a climber and are reading this, please keep in mind I am sorta new to climbing and a bit of a pansy. I don’t like cold hands).

We had a couple of days to get in some climbing but was thwarted with the cold weather, rain, and difficulty of climbing. I cried a lot of tears as we kept reaching different challenges (including a super stressful down climb).

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Climbing in Joshua Tree is old school. All the routes are way more difficult than they are rated in the guide books, the rock is rough and feels like sand paper, there are not a lot of rappel loops to get off the rock (meaning you have down climb the back sides of routes) and there’s mostly crack climbing, which is not fun for a beginner. Picture wedging your toes and hands between two giant rocks and using those appendages to pull yourself up. Yes, it hurts.

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We camped at the south end of the park which meant that we got to drive through the beautiful sights every time we went to a climbing area. Joshua tree is characterized for the giant rocks (sometimes looking like a giant kid piled them up) and for the actual Joshua Tree plants that grow there.  All of these characteristics offer great photographic opportunities (and me wishing I had a better camera).

Some of my favorite things:

-The Cholla Cactus Garden: these cool, super pointy cacti that grew only in one section of the basin in the park.

Cholla cactus

Cholla cactus

-Skull Rock: Literally as it sounds; a rock that is in the shape of a skull.

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-Indian Cove: a ton of climbing!

This is the main views of Indian Cove.

This is the main views of Indian Cove.

Getting there:

  • Enter the park from the south side off of I-10 or the north side off of HW 62
  • Park Website

Tips:

  • A smaller National Park but with a lot of things to see. If you are just a sight-seer, you could totally make a great one day trip out this place.
  • Climbers: you could spend a week (or more) climbing all that Joshua Tree has to offer!
  • Tape your hands, if you’re going to climb.😉 (A little bit of an inside joke between my boyfriend and I. We’ll see if he catches it).

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