Discover Dallas: 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.

Timing is Everything

There are a ton of National Park spots in New Mexico (basically double the amount in Texas). Not having a lot of vacation to burn, I decided to try my hand at a jam-packed weekend trip that included eight Parks. We left at midnight after our last work day and raced the sun for 48 hours, making it back home only hours before it was time for work again. Spoiler alert: we got all 8 spots!

Our first sunrise found us at Capulin Volcano National Monument. Though it’s been inactive for quite a long time, it was still pretty majestic as we made our approach. The trail was easygoing and led us straight into the middle of my first volcano!

It was amazing to stretch my legs after driving for so long, and I was glad to be treated to such a beautiful sight first thing. At the rim of the volcano, it was super windy and cold, but also offered another great view of the landscape. I almost didn’t want to leave, but I’m a stickler for a schedule (and I didn’t want to miss anything else planned for the day).

Next up was Fort Union, and while not the biggest fan of forts and battle sites, the fact that the Santa Fe Trail crosses right through it was cool to me. The buildings still standing after so many years were impressive too, especially since they were made with adobe. Also I ran into a snake right on the trail! Very cool any time I run into the wild.

Back to the car it was, and then on our way to Los Alamos, which is home to one of the major Manhattan Project sites. This park is also run by the Department of Energy. I went in thinking this wasn’t of much interest to me since massive destructive weapons aren’t really my thing, but the old Park ranger was delightful. He told us the town was built to house the scientists and their families who were apart of the Manhattan Project.

He pointed at a little empty field outside the window of the visitor center and told us that’s where the original site was. We would pass the new scientific building on our way to the next Park, Bandelier National Monument. We passed the National Laboratory responsible for working on the next rover being sent to Mars and cancer cures.

Immediately past security checkpoint gates, I was driving into the woods. The road was secluded, empty, and gorgeous. It was such a nice scenic woods drive, with just a little bit of drizzle to give the end of our day a dreamy feel. We didn’t have much time at Bandelier, but the trails couldn’t allow dogs anyway. The drive alone – funny considering we’d spent hours driving this far – felt completely worth it.

On our way out of the Monument, we spotted several deer in the trees too! There were the most is ever seen out in the wild, and were weirdly close to the road. The sun was setting and we idled on the side to watch a family of deer lazily pick their way through the woods. Then Jenna’s dog, Florence, started barking like crazy after spotting them and they fled. It was great!

It was a tough goal, but this trip taught me a lot on how to plan an efficient road trip (for the first time I put gas and food stops into the schedule). I also learned that no matter how much beforehand research I do, it’s hard to really know what will catch my interest when I’m there. Some of the places I’d planned to spend little time at, I’d wished I had longer and vice versa.

As always in life, it seems there’s never enough time to see and do it all! I’m glad to be using my own time wisely!

Hiking with Hives

So I’m just going to say it. I have chronic urticaria.

Since I was diagnosed shortly after my eighteenth birthday, I have been very self-conscious about it and have hidden it as much as I could. For years, I’ve pretended I didn’t have it. Tried to will it away, avoided situations where I knew I would probably have a reaction, and disparaged when it came during social situations with no explanation.

It’s an autoimmune disorder where my body thinks something is wrong and produces histamines to inform the body. Basically my body is like “oh, shit!” and produces hives pretty much daily with varying degrees and it’s been going on for almost a decade.

The most frustrating part about it is that after seeing many doctors and specialists, the best they can give me is that statistically it tends to disappear one day (though if it lasts more than five years you’ll probably have it forever) and all they can do is continually pump me with medications to try and control it.

Starting college with daily uncontrollable hives sucked. The medications did not work and made my hives even more unpredictable as well as tended to raise them into welts instead of just red blemishes. I didn’t know why my body had suddenly gone out of control and along with it my emotions. When my body is weak, my hives get worse, and my mood dips as a side effect. Depression and anxiety are major consequences of chronic urticaria – which are two things I’ve never felt I had. I was hitting lows for the first time in my life.

Within a year, I dropped all medication and began to try and find my own solution. I scoured online message boards but that wasn’t much help because every case is so different. Part of the problem with this disease is everyone’s story is unique. And we all just want answers.

I read up more and more on nutrition, on health, on being better to my body. Sometimes the studies make me a little crazy (there’s chemicals in pretty much everything) and often I feel hopeless because I add one more non-solution to the list, but then I had a revelation.

I couldn’t hold myself back anymore.

It’s not my fault that the cold, the heat, the stress, the whatever has given me a reaction. I have to accept it’s going to happen, and be more open about it. It might be hard to understand, but at the end of the day the one who most cared about it was me. Starting to share my disease this year has been hard but I’ve learned no one is going to fault me for something out of my control.

So I’m starting 2018 with a public proclamation in hopes that I can be more open about my disease. I’ve passed up on too much in fear of appearing like a monster. But I want to get outdoors. I want to experience life. My urticaria wants me to be at a perfect homeostasis at all times, but that’s just impossible. If I’m not sweating a little, playing in the snow, or just generally doing all the things I want to try, I’m letting it win.

So there it is. A lot of my new experiences in the past year have caused my skin to react. Many trips I took in 2017 I had to deal with itchy, uncomfortable hives that threatened to bring down my mood. Major reactions happened in Whitesands, Chickasaw, Belize, and LA. But I can’t let it stop me. I want to be open about this and start fully embracing the way it is.

I have chronic urticaria and that’s life.

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!