They Don’t Call it “Big” Bend for Nothing

I woke up to my last day at Big Bend National Park very optimistically. The day felt endless and so I had no doubt I would be able to accomplish every single thing on my Big Bend list. In retrospect, this is hilarious because I had five hours to try and cross off sixty miles of driving and twelve miles of hiking. Plus, you know, enjoy the views. Good luck!

First item on the list was catch sunrise. I hadn’t slept all that well in the night, mainly because it was a bit too hot to ever really get comfortable. I was ready to get moving and all packed up. While doing this, a javelina wandered into our campsite! This certainly wasn’t on my checklist, but you can’t say no to meeting new friends. This little hog-like mammal was also my most exotic wild animal sighting to date!

Based on the incredible span of views, we had decided the day before that the Rio Grande Overlook would be our best (easy to reach) spot to watch sunrise. It required only a two minute walk and then you were at a hill that had unobscured three-sixty views. We could see the sun just starting to peak over the mountains, so all the plains were changing beautiful colors. As you’ve probably figured out by now, I love catching a sunrise in National Parks. You’re never disappointed.

Before the sun could rise too much, I knew we should get moving to start on our big hike of the day. It wouldn’t be as hot as the day before, but this was still Texas after all. It definitely wouldn’t be cold. We moved from the east side of the park to the middle, finally entering the Chisos Basin mountain area. We would be checking off one of the trails to a peak of about 7500 feet. The Lost Mine Trail.

This was a moderate level hike, not to steep all at once, but lots of switchbacks to reach the top. As always, elevation can get you if you rush too much or don’t remember to focus on your breathing. For me, this trip was right after a long two-week illness, so I was very much feeling the strain on my body. Luckily, this trail had lots of benches and amazing scenic stops. Anytime I needed a minute to pant, I also snapped a shot of the trail of the surrounding mountains.

As always on a trail like this, as soon as you reach the top, it’s all worth it. This peak had quite a few boulders to climb and get a little risky with. You can climb steep rock formations and slip between cracks if you were feeling like a daredevil. To be honest, I played it pretty safe, but both Austin and Jenna got great (slightly scary) shots at the top. I preferred relaxing and enjoying the insanely beautiful sights.

Making our way down, I realized it was noon already. Our end at Big Bend had come swiftly, leaving me with a list of only about seven other things I’d wanted to do. Even after spending a weekend there, I’d still only seen about half of the Park. But I’d also done so much!

On our scenic drive out of Big Bend, I started talking about coming back later in the fall or early spring of next year. There’s been a couple of trips previously where I knew I’d need to go back, but this was the first time I felt like I hadn’t done a majority of my list. Sure, I’d hiked three major trails, got into two different bodies of water, and seen exciting wildlife – but that just goes to explain how big Big Bend really is!

I can’t wait to see what else I can cross off next time!

Big Bend Brings the Heat

It’s finally time for me to share my trip to Big Bend! Being a Texan, this National Park has been on my list from the beginning! When planning my visit to Big Bend National Park, I knew I wanted as much time as possible to try and get as much done there as I could. I gave myself a three day weekend and researched as much as I could. I even highlighted a printout map for the first time!

We stayed in Alpine, TX for the night after a day of National Park sites and Marfa tourism, so we were ready to start bright and early. We grabbed our stamp at the nearby Fort Davis, checking out the replica of the general store and walking a bit of the grounds. Then it was straight on to Big Bend!

I knew the temperatures would be reaching a hundred by midday, so I planned one short hike in the morning and the rest of the day would be water activities. After checking out the Panther Junction Visitor Center and getting some more detailed trail information, it was time to rough it to the Balanced Rock trail.

To get to this trail was a six mile drive on a dirt road, with plenty of dips and bumps. My friend Austin drove a small rented car, so we definitely felt every jag and jostle. The drive was scenic, with lots of cacti and a big beautiful blue sky. This road was long enough that I even had time to crawl into the backseat to braid Jenna’s hair!

We arrived a bit behind schedule, and it seemed we wouldn’t be escaping the heat as much as I’d hoped. We were in high-ninety zone, but luckily this was only a short hike with very slight elevation. The whole thing would take us about an hour.

Reaching the top, after many encounters with cute green lizards, I was already impressed by the views. I couldn’t believe we were still in Texas! And the massive balanced boulder was cool too, obviously. It had been a hot hike, but up at the top the breeze was really nice.

Our next stop was the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River! We drove to an overlook, snapped a few pictures, but then were ready to get in the water. There were a couple of small trails into the river, so we pulled away to have more privacy for our swim. After stepping through a bit of mud and over river pebbles, we made it in the water. It was perfectly cool even though it wasn’t as deep as I would’ve liked. It was more sitting than swimming, but still really fun!

Now that we were all a bit more refreshed, we headed to set up camp. Austin had bragged a bit too much, so we made him set up the tent blindfolded (ha). Unfortunately, he did it easily and now forever has bragging rights to setting up a tent while blind. We set out a blanket in our little meadow, made an easy no-fire dinner of sandwiches (PB&J!) and cracked open our Big Bend Brewery beers. Ah, what a life.

We relaxed in the shade, drinking and playing card games while we waited for night. Our next water activity involved a hot spring. Since the spring is naturally 105 year-round, we knew a night hike would be the only way to chance getting in and not burning alive instantly.

Of course, there’s no pictures from the springs seeing as it was almost midnight, but let me just tell you the stars were amazing. The spring was a crudely built brick structure around a natural bed, right on the edge of the Rio Grande. The water was super hot, but so relaxing with the surroundings after a day of working my muscles.

My time at Big Bend was running out fast, but sitting there surrounded by the galaxy, I couldn’t be all that mad about it. I’d already seen and done some incredible things. I knew no matter what else I could accomplish the next day – I would be planning another trip to Big Bend!

Why I Hike (Anywhere I Can)

This Saturday is National Trails Day! I’ll be busy with a friend’s wedding, so I’m hoping to get in my hiking before the weekend arrives. Hiking has become very important to me, so I wanted to share my most personal hiking thoughts.

1. My body got me here.

As most of us probably have at some point, I’ve struggled a lot with what my body can and can’t do. Regardless of whatever insecurities I may feel, I always have a moment of being so proud of what my body can do. The elevation I can climb, the miles I can push through, and the weather I can survive. All thanks to my body!

2. Does (blank) really matter?

Hiking is extremely meditative for me. It’s where I tend to start working through a lot of the problems I deal with. I’ve never been able to sit and work toward a solution. It’s only when my body takes over that I can get to a place where my mind is free to work on all that deep stuff going on subconsciously.

3. I can work on that connection.

Similarly to personal problems I work on, I also find me thinking a lot about the relationships in my life. Hiking always makes me optimistic so I begin to think of what I can do to better a friendship, a connection, etc. The solitude of nature has a way of making you appreciate the connections I’ve made and all the wonderful people who surround me in life. I’m thankful for the opportunities to work on showing my loved ones what they mean to me.

4. A perfect check mark for my list.

I find myself almost constantly needing to be productive. A lot of times I can stretch myself too thin or take too many stressors on my plate. Hiking is one of the only things in my life that feels completely for me and yet doesn’t give me the guilt of not “getting stuff done.” It’s good for me mentally and physically so it’s almost like having a few check marks rolled into one (especially when the thinking time helps me solve a problem).

5. Life has beauty to it.

The main thing about getting outdoors – anywhere that may be – is there’s always something visually beautiful to offer. Even in the winter, even in a small park, even on populated paved trails, there’s always something interesting to discover. I’ve always been a naturally curious sort, but being in nature reminds me how wonderful life can be. Things completely unrelated to you are growing, are struggling, and existing.

Arbor Hills Nature Preserve

I was very excited about this local hike. I’d seen one of my friends frequent it and it looked a bit woodsy and very spacious. It was a bit further north of Dallas in the city of Plano, so I invited my friend Lola for a morning hike since she was on the way.

After a quick coffee stop (of course) we headed out there. When we first got there it seemed everything was paved and well done – quite a fancy park. We didn’t see too helpful of a map, so we just decided to pick one of the cement paths and see what we could find.

Very quickly, we found an offshoot dirt path. I don’t mind nice parks, but I was very glad to see dirt trails and what seemed like a lot of mileage. Afterward, I discovered there is equally three miles of paved trails and three miles of unpaved trails.

The two of us were a bit chatty this morning, but I was glad to find only a couple of other people were out on the trails because of the cooler weather and the weekday. Lola and I weren’t sure where we were headed because we essentially had no map so we just decided to pick directions randomly. (This is normally so unsafe but I knew it was all one big loop so there’d be no real way to get lost if we stuck to the trail – we just might end up hiking more miles than we’d planned.)

The trails were mostly pretty flat, so very easy, but interspersed with a lot of interesting trail additions like ledges and bridges. The nature aspect was also pretty great. At times there were woods, fields, creeks, and even a lake!

We passed a very nice, big pavilion, found the restrooms, and knew we were close to the car. Around this area, we finally discovered a big map, but having not kept track it was too hard to know where we’d gone exactly.

At this point, me and Lola were pretty cold so we decided since we’d stumbled upon the parking lot, it was time to head out. On our way out on the last little trail, we spotted a few cardinals playing in the trees. It was so great!

I know I will definitely be back because of all the rural trails I’ve yet to explore. I’m especially excited to check it out again now that it’s getting warmer. Warmer weather means more enjoyable hikes – and also more wildlife!

Long Glance at the Edge of the World

Canyonlands National Park is very big. We put ourselves on a time crunch through Arches because we weren’t sure we’d make it to The Canyonlands visitor center before it closed. From tip to tip, it would take about three hours to cross. And we’d never even heard of it before this!

The best place to start seemed to head for the section called “Island in the Sky” because it was the north edge we were closest to and a few other sections were closed for the winter season. Plus, Island in the Sky is a pretty cool name, so we figured we’d be in for a treat.

Surprisingly, it turned out every section of Canyonlands had its own visitor center, so after about an hour’s drive, we had our stamp and could stop stressing about making it through the whole drive in time. Now, we could relax and enjoy the Park at our leisure. Directly across from the Island center there was a lookout where we decided to sit for a bit. It was the biggest canyon I’ve ever seen.

On a ridiculous side note, this was also the Park where I made my first friend. Well, maybe just got my first obsession. In the parking lot I’d spotted the biggest crow I’d ever seen in my life! He was large and very vocal. I wanted to take him home with me. (Ha!) Instead, I filled my phone with at least a hundred pictures of him. I guess I sort of have him forever now?

Driving a bit further into the Park, we decided to check out the Mesa Arch trail because it was average difficultly and we’d already spent the whole morning hiking. Plus, we were really into all the natural arches Utah was showing us. It was a very easy hike, not strenuous or long at all. The path was lined the traditional way with stones stacked upon each other. We only ran into one family on their way out from the trail and then had the place to ourselves!

Even after starting with a great big canyon view, I was still awestruck by the sight of another massive canyon, but this time at its edge was a nature-made arch. There was something about these views which made me and my friends pretty quiet. Normally a pretty chatty person, I kept to myself at this Park and just stared out at the lands and colors for awhile without saying anything. It was extremely peaceful and humbling.

Tired from our day of hiking and fast approaching sunset, we decided to head back to Moab to grab dinner and explore the little adventure town. It’s so funny to me how every new town I go to, I can imagine the life I’d make there. I don’t know if it’s my wandering heart, but I often feel like I could be happy anywhere. The highlights of Moab were great beer, cute boutiques full of handmade goods, an adorable independent bookshop, and great coffee. What’s not to be happy about?

Walking lazily around the main strip, I could tell there was a certain sadness in the group that this was our last night, but also I could tell we were so tired from our adventures that we were all a bit ready to be back in our own beds. We stayed in an (Airbnb) cabin at the edge of Colorado for the night, knowing we had a full day of driving left to get back home.

I was glad though, thinking over all the new sights I’d seen. Honestly, I’d never given Utah much thought before. Now, I couldn’t wait to plan another trip out there. There was so much variance to the landscape from Monument Valley to Arches to Canyonlands, I knew I’d only scratched the surface of what Utah had to offer. All in all, this was a great last trip for the year of 2017, the first year I embarked on this National Park journey.

A Desert Wonder to Explore

Usually I’m into a lot of greenery, but my visit to Arches changed something in me and somehow Arches National Park became my favorite Park yet. There was something magical about waking up in the Park and being able to race time to catch the perfect spot for the sunrise.

We had to fit the visitor center into our plan seeing as we hadn’t made it before close the day before. We also needed to do a bit of cleaning up in the public bathroom since we were going on about forty-eight hours with no showers. As soon as the visitor center opened, we were inside to collect our stamps and get our trail maps.

After talking to a ranger, we knew right away we wouldn’t have enough time (probably not even enough for half the Park) but we had to decide what we could do. The most iconic arch is the Delicate Arch, but requires a mild two-to-three hour hike. Even though this would eat up most of our time, we knew we had to do it. My goal was to manage it under two hours. If we were able to succeed, we would get to add another short hike to our day and get to see other arches.

So we got our gear together and started our hike. It was basically off season and pretty early in the day, but we still passed quite a few people. The hike started nicely with only a slight incline, and then suddenly jutted steeply. It was basically hiking on a massive steep rock. The trail was marked every now and then with wooden posts and it was hard to know exactly what we’d see by the time we reached the top.

The elevation had slightly winded us, but everything was so beautiful with such a massive open sky it was hard to be upset about the effort. Finally after reaching the top, the trail wound its way through a couple of cliffs, the crater between being very rocky. After a bit more ascent, and a wide ark around the side of the cliff, we popped out on what was the top. And then we came upon the Delicate Arch.

Everything was so alien. Truly beautiful, but so different from the type of landscapes I was used to seeing. Everything was shades of oranges and reds, intersplicing a brilliant pale matte grey.

Even with about a half hour of picture taking at the top, we still made it back to the car in less than two hours. We had hustled the trail, knew we’d really be feeling it later, but now had time for another arch! There was a very quick trail, so we decided to make our way to the Double Arches.

This trail was very, very short. Honestly, took us about the same amount of time to park as to hike. That allowed us more time to explore these massive arches. Even though the Delicate Arch is more iconic, there’s something about the double arches that I really enjoy. I like that you can hike up under the archway, that there’s lots of big rock formations to climb, and that the arch phenomenon has coincidentally happened twice right next to each other.

I talk a lot about wanting to make the most of my time and scheduling in a way that packs my day full of new experiences. This trip to Arches was supposed to be very easy-going and allow us lots of time to just enjoy the Park. But even with all that extra time, I still felt like as we were leaving, I wished we had one more day. I guess I’ll definitely have to make it back to Arches at some point!

Volunteering at the Cedar Ridge Preserve

One of the great things I found out about recently is the REI upcoming events page. Not only do they have the dates for upcoming classes and the quartet Garage sale (which is hands down so great), they also list local outdoorsy community service projects. When I saw they would be working on clearing some trails at the Cedar Ridge Preserve, I immediately signed up.

My friend Lola and I were pretty excited not only to help out REI but also to check out a new set of trails. Originally we were in the prairie clearing group, but after losing track of them, we ending up with the branch clearing group on one of the inner trails. It wasn’t too hard and everyone was really friendly. We carried branches and vines about fifty yards off the trail to be composted, and ended up making some great progress.

Afterwards as a treat, REI had cold watermelon and free swag for us. It was such a great experience and such a good way to connect with other local hikers, I’m definitely on the lookout for more of these trail cleanup opportunities.

One of the Preserve’s manager told me he clears an entire two trash bags worth of plastic water bottles and wrappers a day and it’s still not enough. This made me immediately start bringing plastic bags on every hike to start cleaning up a trail as I go. It’s so easy to spot a gross crumpled up bottle, it’s an easy way to keep a trail clean by grabbing it on my way.

About a month after this event, I went back to the Cedar Ridge Preserve to explore more of the trails. I love how large it is and how well kept the trails are. It’s also basically zero pavement, which I really enjoy. I went on a Friday morning, my favorite time for trail exploring, and only ran into a couple of people.

The hills were fortified with wooden steps and there were several benches placed in scenic stops. It was really beautiful and varied. I have definitely made it one of my favorite hiking spots.