Be Open to Not Having a Plan

Not only does Oklahoma have a special place in my heart because both of my parents grew up in small Oklahoma towns, it’s also home to my alma mater (Boomer Sooner)! It may be surprising to some, but Oklahoma has some truly beautiful natural landscapes. I remember being young and going on a lot of drives through the sprawling countryside and it’s honestly a really lovely view on a roadtrip.

While it is mostly plains, they have a lot of interesting waterways and of course, their famous red dirt. It was a bit weird to discover that this entire state only has two spots in the National Parks system. And one of them I passed within 20 miles of a million times on my way from home to college! I decided it was time to make a day trip to the Chickasaw National Recreation Area.

I guess it’s because of how comfortable I am with visiting Oklahoma, but I did next to no research for this trip. I’m big on planning, but for some reason I let myself become the tagalong on my friend’s trip. I was surprised how busy it was for a Friday, but it was summer so we ran into a lot of kids off from school. After visiting the visitor center, we walked the local flower park and spotted the state flower Indian Blanket.

The four of us, made up mostly of new friends I’d just made on the short roadtrip, decided to try a real hike before taking a dip in the many pools of water. The flowers had not been enough. The main probably with this was I had come completely unprepared. I had no water, was wearing jean shorts, and hadn’t showered before I was to go trekking into the summer heat.

We meandered through the Antelope and Buffalo Springs, checking out the different areas of the water fun, before we found the Travertine Creek trail. It was about a three mile hike, there and back, with hidden views of the spring and giant pools of water. I’m not going to lie, I wanted to nix the hike and jump in the cool natural springs.

I’m not good without a plan. I guess you could say I’m an easygoing control freak – I will be easygoing until things run out of my control. But I was with new friends and everyone was having a good time. And I honestly love hiking! So I stuck to the back of the pack and practiced patience. There are worse things to happen out of someone’s control. This was a simple summer hike. With a promised treat within sight!

The end of the trail led us to an awful smelling sulphur spring, and I was pretty glad at the group’s agreed disappointment. Now we could head double time to the swimming fun! In fact, we didn’t even make it all the way back to the super populated springs and instead took a side trail that led us to a big pool with a pretty cool waterfall.

We shed our clothes and hit the water fast. Even though it was freezing – seriously, in the middle of July! – I was so excited to be swimming. Not going to lie, there was a lot of debris and weird nature in the natural pool, but I was so glad to be swimming instead of hiking in the heat, I didn’t care a bit!

A few of the locals had spotted our waterfall and kids began lining up to slide down it. With them came the parents, who we chatted with about the summer break and where they’d come from. We were the only Texans, but I was surprised how many small town folks had made the hour drive to the Chickasaw Area. Then I remembered what a beautiful spot it was and how many swimming areas there were and it made sense.

We swam until our fingers pruned and got out shivering. It was a nice little hike back to the car and the promise of stopping for Mexican food before returning home had my mood a complete 180 from hours before. Everything had turned out great – I just need to remember to be open to new experiences!

Being in Four Places at Once

There’s nothing better than heading to work on my Friday with a car packed full of adventure. Knowing I’m going to start my travels as soon as I clock out is the best way to start a weekend, believe me.

Driving, sleeping, adventuring – this car is ready!

While planning this roadtrip with my dad, he kept talking about Four Corners for weeks in advance. More familiar with a brewery by the same name, I had no idea what he was talking about but knew to plan it into the trip.

The Four Corners Monument is the point where Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona meet. This means that if you stand in the middle of this intersection…you’re actually in four places (states) at once! Such a cool idea to me because I’m constantly worried about spending my time wisely and wishing there was more of me to go around.

Ah, look at me doing so much with this life.

After checking out the local Navajo craft booths we settled back into the car. Heading into Colorado, we made our way to Mesa Verde National Park. I got my stamp for my National Park passport and we explored some of the ancient cliff dwellings.

Our main purpose here was to hike the majority of the park and try our hand at working with the varying levels of elevation. We took the Spruce Canyon trail which included a lot of informational highlights, including some old petroglyphs from the Pueblo peoples.

It was hot and a little trickier than expected trying to navigate steep footholds and hidden cliffs, but well worth the effort by the end. I actually managed to lead a nearby couple who couldn’t figure out one of the rock steps to continue on the path. The zigzagging ascent to about 7000 feet was such an accomplishment though! My first “mountain” had been hiked.

All the closeups include me looking ROUGH!

After sweatily checking out the gift shop amidst happy families, we then trudged back to the car. We were tired and ready for a hearty meal, a shower, and a long sleep. That resulted in stopping for American fare in Mancos, CO and checking into our Airbnb.

Now, I don’t know if you’ve read Into the Wild but it tells the tale of a kid who left it all behind to live off the land in Alaska when he finds a bus to make into his shelter. So part of the allure of Mancos was getting to stay in this converted Volkswagen bus! I­t­ had a full bed and kitchenette inside. (I was so tired I didn’t take any pictures – what a dummy!) As a side note, I one hundred percent recommend anything written by Jon Krakauer.

From one automobile to the next!

There was a cute fire pit nearby for cooking also. They had a shower in the nearby artist garage as well as a compost toilet! I thought everything was so cool and interesting. Let’s just say my dad took a bit longer to come around. Even though we’d spent a tiring day driving many hundreds of miles, it didn’t bother me that bedtime involved retiring to a bus.

I always said I wanted to try everything!

Discover Dallas: White Rock Lake

Living in the East Dallas area for almost three years, it is crazy that it’s taken this long for me to become a regular at White Rock Lake. I started going here for some city-style hiking training, but it’s got a lot more to offer. 

Side note: I now wouldn’t recommend “hiking” here because there are better places in Dallas. Almost all of the White Rock trails are paved with very little up close nature.

Ah, dock yoga.

First of all it’s massive, so I really only know half the trails. The full distance around the lake is more than 9 miles! I started bike riding here because all the trails are long and spacious. 

It’s also so scenic! Because of the lake, it features tons of bridges and docks. I like to bring a friend to socialize because it’s nice to catchup with a great view. It’s also the perfect amount of traffic where it’s not deserted, but you aren’t constantly fighting for the right to the pavement. 

Every picture looks great on these paths.

When I’m dogsitting, I always head here for a couple of hours. There’s lots of fields that you can take a break in (with benches). Or you can bring a blanket (I always have one in my car now) to enjoy the outdoors or even get some reading done.

This year I got into REI volunteering and they work with the East Dallas community to put together the Second Saturday Shoreline Spruce Up – which is great! It’s mostly picking up trash. (It is so upsetting how many people still litter in this day and age.)

I swear I stood up mostly.

Of course, it’s obviously a lake so there’s water activities too! This is where I first tried stand up paddle boarding. It was so fun! A little awkward at first because I was sure I was going to topple head first into the water – but you quickly get the hang of it and then have yourself a leisurely wade through this picturesque water.

The have lots of boats/boards to rent. Just know there’s technically no swimming within city water sources so don’t go expecting a fun splash. 

I run here so I can see far enough to stop when it looks like someone’s coming.

Seriously, this is the spot that just keeps giving.

Losing Your Keys in the Desert

Besides the randomized screensaver at work I had never seen or heard of a place called White Sands. But when a friend said it was on their bucket list and asked if I wanted to go – I said hell yeah!

We got there a little before sunset just to check it out and it’s incredible. Pure white sand stretched out at all sides, gorgeous unmarked dunes, and small spindly plants in every valley. We enjoyed the sunset and then figured it was time to head the mile back to the car.

White Sands (I wanna live in this serenity)

Only. The keys weren’t wedged in my shorts anymore. They weren’t on the top of the dune we’d been sitting on. They weren’t anywhere in sight.

Now, I am pretty cool headed. I’m a problem solver that loves logically and methodically fixing any new issue. But for the first time in my life, I was one gasping breath away from a panic attack. My keys were missing in an empty desert.

We split up and retraced our steps and luckily – so lucky – we found them near a spiky plant that had surprised me earlier. Crisis averted and I was back to appreciating the evening desert beauty. Whew.

My first National Park!

The next day we knew we’d have to buy a sled to fly down the side of the dunes. While in the National Monument visiting center that’s where I stumbled upon the National Parks Passport. There’s nothing I love more than books and lists. And this was a book and a list! I was sold. Thus started the journey of me getting every National Park “cancellation” or stamp. 

So I bought the passport and we bought the sled and hit the dunes. We didn’t buy the wax so it was pretty slow going but still a lot of fun. We started climbing the highest dunes to make the way down worth it.

Sand sledding makes ya tired!

We went out to grab lunch – future note: bring lunch! They have grills and tables – and when we came back we were ready to hike. They have a couple of marked trails and since it was afternoon and pretty hot we choose the 2 mile one. 

Disclaimer: we did not make the full trail. We got a less than halfway and decided to turn back. We were beat, but more importantly we were worried about the dog with us who wasn’t used to these desert treks. Go figure.

A cool desert.

All in all, a great weekend. And the start of my personal goal to visit every national point of interest. Can’t wait!

Random Girl in the Woods

I was on my own and it wasn’t going great. 

I had gotten up early at a girls weekend camping trip to try my first solo hike. It was gonna be just me and the trail – well, if I could find the trail. Yet again, GPS was failing to help me find the actual place I was supposed to start hiking. Luckily, I’d gotten comfortable wandering.

Majestic way to start a trail, am I right?

While I had wanted to get to a good spot to watch the sunrise, this obviously meant I was wandering around to find the trailhead in the near dark. After walking back and forth over the same 100 feet for twenty minutes it was lit enough to see the trail had no beginning marker and started near the river. Missed the sunrise, but learned not to try that again on a new trail.

The trail was rough, especially compared to my previous experience. It was incredibly hilly and covered in dew. I only stumbled once though (twice). 

These beauties (boots) are from the 80s!

It was empty on my side of the river but just across the way there were a few campsites who kept hollering “Good morning!” or were still dead asleep in their tents. 

Because of my late start, I didn’t make it to anywhere but along the stretch of the river. That was okay by me. The hills were giving me work and I was enjoying the crisp winter air. 

All the cool rock formations!

Eventually my time had run out and I knew my friends would be up, so I turned back. Somehow still pleasantly surprised by how everyone I passed grinned and said hello to some random girl hiking through the woods. Not a weirdo at all, promise.

Honestly, I’d been a little nervous to hike alone. You never know what kind of trouble you might run into – a person, an animal, or an injury. I kept telling myself I could handle anything. Solo hikes were something I’d always wanted to do partly because I wanted to prove to myself I could do them. 

Nature shows you the colors.

There’s times when I want company – when I thrive off of the social interaction, but there’s also a very real duality to me that means being independent and capable matter to me just as much. This hike (through the struggles and the challenges) was my accomplishment with no one’s help. This means the delights and sights are just for me as well. 

Well, until now! 

Finding the Trail

This was the trip that was going to make me an official “hiker” the way I saw it. I had gear, a purpose, and a buddy (Lola!) to take on the new adventure. I was [over]prepared.

My boots were secondhand but my bag was new because I was in this weird “I won’t commit till I love it”/”I’m going to love it duh” mindset. 

So why Davy Crockett National Forest? My thinking was I needed a mountain or a forest to hike but I live in Dallas. So forest it was. And this national forest was an easy day trip with easy trails – perfect for beginners.

We got an early start for our 3.5 hr drive to Kennard, TX because we wanted to be hiking at first light. It had been a rainy January so the roads were pretty much mud and the GPS dared us down a wrong-looking stretch. Technology failed us early and then we were off the grid.

Skimming the outer of the forest we found the official entrance and ranger station (empty). We were two newbies struggling to find the easiest trail in TX. We finally decided to park and and wander until we found it. Wandering is just a dreamier word for hiking, right?

We soon discovered that our intended trail had been closed a month before because of the marijuana crop that was found. (Eye roll.) So even with my full bag of gear and “necessities” I was already 0 for 2. But we would not turn back!

A smaller trail was soon found and we were soon actually hiking (an hour behind schedule). The trees were awesome, the trail fairly dry, and it was mostly flat. I kept thinking, “look at me I’m hiking.” 

The best thing about hiking with a friend is that there’s no technology to get in the way and you can talk. The second best thing is that you learn how to be comfortable in silence with each other. 

To be honest the trail was so easy, after hiking it the third time I had Lola describe the entire plot of Bridget Jones’s Baby. At one point I worked out aloud the ending to the screenplay we’re collaborating on. A lot was accomplished that day. (Haha.)

A little before sunset we got back in the car and headed home. A full perfect day and I could now add ‘hiking’ to my interests. I had learned a lot (like you may think you’re prepared but no) and I was ready to start planning the rest of my year. 

From this trip on I always had on the brain: Where could I go next?