Slab City

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“God is Love”

A beautiful message spread over Salvation Mountain that welcomes visitors to the famous yet unbelievable Slab City. This off grid city that resembles a post-apocalyptic movie was first introduced to us on our second day on the road. We met a young couple at a rest stop in Utah who told us about a place in the desert where travelers meet up. Their description was a bit vague and inaccurate, and did not prepare us for what we encountered.
Slab City has made its appearance in popular culture to where even those who wouldn’t dare live on the road or ever visit this place has heard of it. If you have ever read or watched “Into the Wild”, the movie about a guy who leaves his life behind and dies in a bus in Alaska… Slab City was one of his stops.
Our plans to head north to Alaska made a sudden change in December when we realized we were sick of the cold. Alaska sounded awesome, but I needed some sunshine in my life and I was itching to see Arizona again. The sudden change of plans was a bit scary. We were supposed to spend the summer in Alaska to work so we had money to continue traveling. Heading south meant we needed to figure out another way to obtain some income. I had faith we’d figure it out, but in the meantime, we needed a free spot to park and Slab City sounded like the perfect place.
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Wal-Mart Mornings

We spent out first night in the desert in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Brawley, California. Brawley is where civilization is at…they have a Starbucks, a Wal-Mart, a hospital. We headed into Slab City the next day carefully watching the homemade signs that directed us to the right place. We were greeted by a small building that was painted with several messages. The message that stuck out the most was “The Last Free Place” and boy, does that make you think.
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I could probably write a book just on our two weeks in Slab City. Our time there was an experience that can never be duplicated. We met some cool people and some strange ones too. Actually, one of the strange guys was traveling in a brand new Airstream so always keep in mind to never judge a book by its cover!
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“campsite”
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We set up the big tent so we had indoor standing room.
Here are some highlights:
Salvation Mountain: This “mountain” built with straw and adobe on a hillside and covered with multicolored paint reminded us of a page in a Dr. Seuss book. As we walked around and admired the colors, there are messages about God and Love. The messages are beautiful and could speak to anyone, of any denomination. As I walked around, I thought about the man who dedicated his life to building this mountain and spreading the message of God’s love. I usually find my connection to God in nature, among the trees or on a mountaintop. But this… this colorful structure visited by thousands of people… this felt spiritual and I felt love.
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East Jesus: An interesting collection of recycled artwork that conveyed messages about our society. My favorite was the display of televisions with short phrases as to how the media controls our thoughts and relationships. We also climbed and played on some things. The guys running the place were more than happy to show us around.
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The Range: Every weekend, the stage is set for performers to show their musical talent in front of a large crowd. We showed up with no expectations and again, an open mind. The acts ranged from really talented to really terrible.  The crowd consisted of a diverse group of people from Slab City residents to people who were obvious tourists. There were also several children present which eased my anxieties about bringing Riley along. We bought a soda, kept away from the smoke and made conversation with several people. It was a good time for all of us.

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I tell everybody that “The Last Free Place” needs to be experienced by everyone. We get so caught up on what is “normal” in our society that we have found ourselves among people who would panic over the inability to have a smart phone, cable and internet, or a latte every morning. We have become a society of instant gratification and convenience that we have lost our basic instincts. Being among people who had no running water or electricity, things we consider very basic and often take for granted, helped me see the possibilities of a simpler life.
I remember looking around The Range and watching the interactions between people. Everyone was filled with joy. You could see it illuminating from their faces and it was kind of beautiful. And they were all so friendly and welcoming, even though I was different and I was an outsider, they allowed me to feel like I belonged. What an incredible feeling that was when the world I know is full of labels and criticism and exclusive groups that look down on those who are different.
Would I ever give up my comforts to live in Slab City? That’s a definite no! But, they have something figured out, an inner light filled with peace that I admire and that I felt while I was there. I try to hold onto that feeling while I’m here in the real world.
My advice is, get out there and learn something from Slab City. Open your heart and open your mind and you might come away with something incredible to bring home. And while you’re doing that, stay away from the Slab City hot spring! It’s more like a mud hole and I warned you…
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Lake Tahoe

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Along Highway 50, Bridal Veil Falls.
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Trail to Fallen Leaf Lake

We rang in 2016 in South Lake Tahoe, California. Growing up in the Bay Area, we were very familiar with Tahoe and its beauty. We knew it would be cold and snowy, but our plans were filled with hikes and more hikes. I imagined picturesque views of the lake where we would play in the snow everyday and take awesome photos we could share with friends on Instagram. Unfortunately, our time in Tahoe was not as eventful as we had hoped. We came down with terrible colds during the holidays and for a family who rarely gets sick, this was a big blow for us. Our immune systems seemed to have taken a toll from the holidays and we found ourselves in very bad shape. So forewarning, this post is short. Our time in Tahoe was mostly spent indoors, wrapped under a blanket indulging in cold medicine and probiotics. But no worries, we made it outside for one hike and of course, food!!

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Jack loved running through the snow.

New Year’s dinner: Latin Soul at Lakeside Inn

168 Hwy 50

Stateline, NV 89449

Bear took a break during this trip since we were able to stay with our friends in their cabin. It was of course a holiday, so they made reservations for all of us to go out to dinner. We were sick and the only ones with a kid, so we offered to stay home so they could enjoy their night out. They insisted and even confirmed with the restaurant that there would be items on the menu to fit our dietary restrictions (we are Pescetarian, the only meat we eat is seafood). It was a thoughtful gesture, so we went ahead and joined them for dinner at Latin Soul.

To our surprise, the restaurant was located inside a casino. One of our friend’s opted for the $35 all you can eat Brazilian barbeque and was disappointed at how dry the meat was. We ordered a vegetable soup and confirmed with the waitress that it was vegetarian. She said yes, but after careful inspection discovered the soup had bacon. On a positive note, we traded in the soup for a chile rellano and it was pretty delicious. Staff was also really nice. Long story short, I wouldn’t return here. But per yelp reviews, the food is good, except the Brazilian barbeque.  

Breakfast: Heidi’s

3485 Lake Tahoe Blvd

South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150

Heidi’s has the most amazing breakfast. It’s one of those restaurants known for their giant portions, but in addition to the big plates, the food is also incredibly delicious. We shared an omelet, home fries and pancakes. The pancakes stood out and I enjoyed every bite. My only regret is ordering juice and getting a refill. Refills aren’t free and that tacked on another $6 to our bill!  My advice: get there early and don’t arrive starving because they have a long wait. And don’t order drinks if you’re on a budget!

Hike: Fallen Leaf Lake

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g28926-d116646-Reviews-Fallen_Leaf_Lake-California.html

It’s a short and easy hike to Fallen Leaf Lake. We were thrilled to be back among pine trees after spending the holidays in the busy jungle of the SF bay area. Along the way, we had a snowball fight and we were in awe of the scenery once we made it to the lake. I would have loved a more challenging hike, but our bodies were trying to beat our colds so it turned out to be just perfect for us. Click on the link to trip advisor above for more details.

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Snowball fight!

Although we spent most of our time indoors, we felt like our time at Lake Tahoe was the perfect transition from the holidays in the Bay Area to going back to our lives on the road. After we left Tahoe, we headed north to Chico since Clayton wanted to show me the town where he spent his first years of college. I was intrigued by Chico, but more so wanted to see the Sierra Nevada Brewery. Unfortunately, Sierra Nevada turned out to be a bust. Minors are not allowed on the tour (we thought it would be similar to the Coors Factory) and their restaurant was closed, so we used that time to catch up with friends in the area. While in Chico, I got word that my grandparents were asking if we were going to visit. We thought “well, we’re this far north, we should just go!” That’s the beauty about this road trip. Next stop, Oregon!

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Next stop, Oregon!!

Conundrum Hot Springs

Our very first hot springs experience was at Conundrum Hot Springs in Aspen. Conundrum Hot Springs is the highest elevation natural hot springs in North America sitting at an elevation of 11, 200 feet. The only way to access the hot springs is by hiking the 8.5 miles up through the Maroon Bells-Snow Mass Wilderness. With an elevation gain of about 2,700 feet over 8.5 miles, we figured what an amazing way to experience our first hot spring! A challenging hike paired with camping and relaxing hot water sounded like a dream.

We left Colorado Springs at 11:00 PM and started our 3 hour drive towards Aspen. As usual, we had no idea where we were spending the night. Our hope was to find a campground or a parking lot by a trailhead where we could park Bear (our teardrop trailer) and sleep. Around 1:30 we started to pass several campgrounds and decided to turn in to Lostman Campground in the White River National Forest. We saw a sign stating that a bear canister was required, but we weren’t planning on renting one until the next day. We pulled into a campsite and snuggled Riley in his sleeping bag while I gathered all of the food we had and did my best to hide it from any potential bears. In the pitch darkness with only one flashlight, I gathered the apples, cereal bars, apple sauce and granola, and tightly wrapped it inside a reusable grocery bag. While trying to fit the bag under the seat of the car, I decided to also throw in a little prayer and asked God for some protection. Since we came to the campground unprepared, I didn’t want us to be the reason our campground got a visit from some hungry/curious bears.

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Falling asleep was an easy task since both Clayton and I had work the day before. We must have had amazing sleep because as we struggled to wake up, we checked our phones to find that it was 8:45 in the morning. We slowly got up, changed our clothes, and packed our backpacks while Riley sat in the truck and ate a couple cereal bars. It was past 10 o’clock when we arrived in downtown Aspen and looked for a store to rent a bear canister from. We found Ute Mountaineer, rented the canister for $13, and headed towards the trailhead for the hot springs.

We left downtown, headed towards the mountains, and drove down the narrow Conundrum road. The parking lot at the trailhead was very small, so Clayton parked towards the end where the truck and Bear didn’t intrude on anyone else’s parking space. We carefully packed our bear canister with food, put on our backpacks, and headed towards the trail. This was the first time I carried around 20 pounds on my back. Typically, I rely on Clayton to carry everything while I carry a small bag with snacks and water. For this trip, I had to carry my own weight and once I put my pack on, I knew this was going to be the hardest 17 miles I’ve ever done.

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The first half of the hike started off pretty smooth. There were slight inclines here and there, then we’d reach a long stretch of flat ground in a valley filled with wildflowers. We crossed a couple bridges, crossed streams and creeks, and encountered a few animals. While we were walking through one valley, I looked to the side of the mountain and saw a black bear about 100 yards from us, lying in the grass. The only black bear experience we’ve ever had was a drive through Bearizona, so this was epic. I felt the bear was in a safe enough distance so I started yelling “bear, look it’s a bear!!” That’s when the bear perked up, looked in our direction, then started running the other way. I felt a little bad for ruining the bear’s relaxation, but boy, Riley was so excited to see him.

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As we continued on, we encountered a large boulder field that was a big pain in the ass to cross over. I found it difficult to maneuver around the rocks while carrying a large pack and holding the camera. I watched Riley cross over the boulders with no assistance and my anxiety began to rise as I pictured him falling between the rocks. As I yelled over to Riley reminding him to be careful, we looked up and saw 2 moose grazing in a field about 30 yards from us. They were amazing and so large, and they didn’t pay any attention to us. As we passed the moose, I stood on a log sitting in the creek we were attempting to cross, and tried to get a picture. I didn’t have much luck zooming in, but it was definitely exciting to see.

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Without any mile markers or signs, we started to wonder how much longer we had to go. Every person we passed had a different sense of how far they had travelled. We soon realized we couldn’t rely on the estimate of others, so we trekked on watching the hours pass and feeling like we were not making much progress. When we had about a mile to go (we didn’t know we were that close at the time), Riley started to give up. It got to a point where about every 10 minutes, he would force us to sit and he would lay on our laps and close his eyes. I welcomed the breaks since the weight on my back was starting to take a toll on me, but we nervously looked at our watches and realized we were racing daylight.

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Riley was frustrated with us because we refused to carry him. As much as I wanted to relieve my child of his tiredness, it was physically impossible for us to pick him up since I had 20 pounds on my back and Clayton was carrying over 40 pounds. We continued to empathize with Riley when suddenly Clayton slipped and fell on mud covered rocks which in turn scared Riley who was holding onto Clayton’s hand. Riley burst into tears and I announced to Clayton that we had to let our little guy rest. We consoled Riley and agreed on 15 more minutes. Wherever we were in 15 minutes, we would set up camp and find the hot springs in the morning. Luckily, as we approached 15 minutes, we saw the first tent. Hallelujah! Seven hours later, we reached the first camp site.

Taking off my backpack was the most glorious feeling. We set up the tent and while Clayton organized our camp area, Riley and I quickly pulled out our sleeping bags and snuggled while eating all the snacks within reach. It was getting late and it was still a half a mile to the hot springs. Part of me didn’t want to leave my sleeping bag, but the thought of sitting in the hot springs and relaxing my aching body sounded too good to pass up. After laying for about 30 minutes, we gathered our swim suits and headed towards the hot springs. When we arrived, we found the main pool was filled with several people, most of the folks were clearly under the influence (this is Colorado), but they didn’t bother us. Honestly, we’d rather we share the pool with a bunch of relaxed stoners than rowdy drunk people. We sat in the 100 degree pool and felt our muscles relax. I tried my best to hold in my laughter as I listened to several philosophical questions get passed around from person to person. One guy was seriously asking people if they liked the sun or the moon better, and the reasons for their choices.

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After about 30 minutes, we reluctantly got out of the hot springs. The mountain air was so cold so I dressed myself first then pulled Riley out of the water to dress him as fast as I could. We headed back to our campsite in the dark which turned out to be an adventure in itself. It pretty much consisted of crossing a high narrow bridge in pure darkness, crossing an incredibly muddy creek where we lost our footing and got foul smelling mud all over our feet, we then reached a really cold stream where I bent down to wash Clayton’s feet and ended up sitting in the cold water, getting my entire backside wet. Regardless of those mishaps, we were so tired, it didn’t matter. When we got back to the tent, we found that Riley’s camelback had leaked and one end of our sleeping bags were soaked. This then led to an entire night of sleeping with wet feet.

Since we didn’t have the best night sleep, we welcomed the morning with open arms and slowly got ready, ate breakfast, and packed up camp. We decided to have everything ready to go so that after another soak in the hot springs, we’d be set to start the 8.5 miles back to the car. When we arrived at the hot springs, we found only 4 people who had been there since early morning. After about half an hour of sharing the springs, we finally had the whole place to ourselves. The mountain views were just incredible and it was surreal to be sitting in hot water at tree line in the mountains. I told Clayton I never wanted to leave and Riley shared the same feelings. As expected, we had a little difficulty convincing Riley to get out of the water.

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He finally agreed to go, so we dressed him and headed back to our camping area where we left our backpacks. The hike back wasn’t as difficult and we definitely made better time. It helped that we were hiking mostly downhill, leaving behind that 2,700 ft gain. As we made our way back, Riley announced that he wanted pizza, so it was the thought of devouring pizza that helped keep up the pace. This time, there were no tears from Riley. He hiked back like a champ with only a few reminders that he was tired. When I saw the Aspen trees that surrounded the trailhead and parking lot, it was like I had just witnessed a miracle. I felt like I had been walking in the desert and finally found a well full of water. Seeing those cars was the most glorious site. I was walking in front of Clayton and Riley when I turned around and yelled “Thank God!” I just really wanted to take off my boots and eat pizza.

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We headed back to downtown Aspen, returned the bear canister, parked the truck and Bear, and walked to the nearest pizza place. We devoured a veggie pizza, and Riley was thrilled to get his pizza and sprite, just as he requested. We talked about our exhaustion, our tired feet, and how bruised our hips felt from our backpacks. That conversation then turned into “so what should we do next?” It’s in those moments that we realize, this is what we live for. Our lives revolve around taking the opportunity to experience God’s creation, challenging our bodies physically, and immersing ourselves in nature while enjoying each other’s company. This is what makes us feel alive and helps us appreciate what life is really about. And Riley… Riley if you ever read this when you grow up, you are absolutely amazing. There was not one other kid on that trail, and even when you wanted to quit, you kept going. We are so proud of you, bubs. Sometimes I look at your little legs and wonder how you do it. You are truly an inspiration and I hope others recognize that too.

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Mt. Elbert

Our first attempt to summit Mt. Elbert and climb our second 14’er was quite an adventure. Mt. Elbert sits at 14,440 feet claiming it’s place as the highest peak in Colorado and the second highest peak in the lower 48. We took the opportunity to climb Elbert on a Sunday morning since Clayton miraculously happened to have the day off. Since moving to Colorado, we’ve had completely opposite work schedules, making it nearly impossible to go on day trips and big hikes. On Saturday, I was in charge of packing our gear, loading up the car, and taking a nap so I could drive the 2 and a half hours to the campsite from Colorado Springs. We picked Clayton up from work and left the Springs around 11:00 PM. We made it to the campsite past 1 in the morning and found ourselves among tents and RV’s with people still awake and sitting around their campfires. We set up camp quickly, bundled Riley up in his sleeping bag, and set our clocks for 5:30 AM. The plan was to get up, eat breakfast, and leave as soon as possible. It’s common knowledge for those who hike 14’ers that you need to start early, typically around sunrise so you can start hiking down by noon to avoid thunderstorms. Well, apparently we enjoyed our sleep too much, that things didn’t quite go according to plan.

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The alarm went off at 5:30, I slept another 30 minutes and climbed out of the tent, then Clayton followed. We peaked our heads in the tent every few minutes and gently called Riley’s name. He didn’t budge. After several attempts to wake him, nothing seemed to work. The kid loves camping and he looked incredibly comfortable snuggled in his sleeping bag. Fast forward an hour, we have Riley up and we’re packing away the tent. We drove a couple miles up a dirt road from our campsite and parked about a quarter mile from the upper trailhead to the South Mt. Elbert trail. At 8:15 we finally started our hike, over 2 hours behind schedule.

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Aspen trees.

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Roundtrip from the upper trailhead is 7.6 miles. The trailhead sits at 10,440 feet with an elevation gain of 4,000 feet to the summit. The first few minutes of the trail began with a slight climb then a very steep hill welcomed us several minutes into the hike. The trail doesn’t level out until after tree line which contributed to a very intense, heart pumping experience for the first half.

In the beginning, we were engulfed in a forest of aspen trees. The colors, the smell, the beauty surrounding us was overwhelming. As we climbed higher, the aspen became shorter until they disappeared. We soon found ourselves amongst a few pine trees before we reached tree line. As the trail slightly leveled and we were no longer surrounded by trees, the sight of the wildflowers was a treat in itself. Bright colors of yellow, purple, pink, and white covered the side of the mountain. I mentioned to Clayton how I felt like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. I just wanted to prance around the side of the mountain while singing about my favorite things.

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These are a few of my favorite things.

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Riley enjoyed the sights and started the hike with a ton of enthusiasm, but after we reached tree line, he started to lose motivation. He complained that his feet hurt and that he was hungry, yet he didn’t want to eat. He asked to stop for water breaks several times, sat on every rock he encountered, and stopped about 5 times to pee along the side of the trail. He also became very obsessed with his heartbeat, asking us to stop and feel his chest everytime he felt it work a little harder. The frequent stops along with the late start caused a bit of anxiety for me and Clayton. We knew that time and weather was not on our side.

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Riley decided this was a good place to rest.

As we began to approach the summit, dark clouds began to hover over us and the wind suddenly turned bitterly cold. We put our jackets on as unexpected snow flurries fell over our heads. We spoke to a nice man hiking down in the opposite direction and asked how long it took him to get to the summit from where we were standing. He answered, “about 40 minutes, but I was moving pretty slow.” We continued to climb for another 15 minutes until the flurries became worse. Heavy rain could be seen in the distance and the entire summit was engulfed in a big cloud. We stopped about 30 minutes from the summit, realizing that we couldn’t go on. We tossed around the idea of carrying Riley to the top so we could make it up faster and be able to say that we bagged another peak.

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Riley finally agreed to eat an apple.

It was past noon and we had been hiking for almost 4 hours. A part of me wanted to continue because we were so close, but the other part of me was terrified of becoming a lightning rod and it wasn’t worth the risk of putting ourselves and Riley in danger. We decided that instead of hiking up another 30 minutes, we would sit and rest before making our descent. The flurries turned into a hard downpour of rain and we knew we had to move fast down the mountain. Clayton carried Riley as we quickly made our way back to tree line. Riley, exhausted and bundled up in his warm jacket, fell asleep in Clayton’s arms for a few minutes. When we reached the pines, we sat under a tree and waited for the rain the lighten up. As soon as we saw a small break in the sky, we quickly made our way back to the aspen trees.

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Rainfall in the background.

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A very exhausted Riley and mom in front of the beautiful view.
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We hoped for a family photo at the summit, but this was okay too!

By this time, Riley showed us that his motivation was back as he jumped down rocks and asked to take pictures. I was relieved to see some spark in Riley again. Over 6 hours after the start of our hike, we found ourselves back at our car. We were tired, but not completely exhausted. Although we were unable to reach the summit, there was a feeling of content since the hike was not only challenging, but incredibly beautiful. It was also gratifying to know that it was the weather, a circumstance out of our control, that contributed to our inability to reach the summit, and not a lack of motivation.

We were also so proud of Riley. Despite the complaints he had when we reached tree line, he showed determination and strength as his little legs climbed up that mountain. We continue to remind ourselves that with hikes this difficult, any person of any age (including myself) will show a variety of emotions while accomplishing something this challenging. Our 4 year old’s emotions during these physical challenges are completely normal. Riley continues to amaze us and other hikers especially since he was, once again, the youngest hiker on the trail.

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Riley got his energy back for pictures.
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First order of business: take off hiking boots.
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Peanut butter straight from the jar for a protein packed after hike snack.

Our plan for our next attempt at Elbert is to hike until tree line and camp, then continue to the summit on the next day. We saw tents around this area and thought it was a great idea especially with Riley who has a hard time waking up early. Overall, Mt. Elbert is a 14’er we’ll definitely find ourselves climbing again. Even though we didn’t make it to the peak, I’d say it was a successful hike and an experience we’ll always remember.

Largest Dinosaur track site in North America

I first heard about the dinosaur track site from a co-worker who mentioned that it would be something Riley would enjoy. As she described her experience at the site, it consisted of a guided tour and 4×4 vehicles. I thought it was a cool idea, but had my hesitations about the tour guide. Tours tend to be expensive and I don’t like depending on others to guide my adventure. Regardless of my hesitations, I knew it would be something Riley would love, so I quickly did a google search and found out something we would all love. There was a hiking trail! The Picketwire Canyon trail could take us straight to the dinosaur tracks and I immediately knew that this hike was going to be awesome.

The drive from Colorado Springs to La Junta is around 1 hour and 45 minutes. Once we reached the town, it was still a bit of a drive to get to the trail head. It was also a little confusing because there weren’t any signs that said something like “trail to dinosaur tracks.” Some info would have been helpful!

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Finding our way was a bit confusing, but the biggest mistake we made was taking our sweet time to get there. I must have not been paying attention to the details of the trail, or maybe I was just really excited, but the entire time I kept thinking it was only a 2-3 mile hike from the trailhead to the site. When we reach the trailhead, the sign stated over 5 miles to the track site, and it was already after 2 PM. We stood there for a few minutes discussing whether or not we should go. I was pretty upset with myself for not leaving earlier, but we were already there, so we decided to just go for it and if we didn’t make it, we could always come back!

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Along the way, there are other points of interest on the trail such as the petroglyphs on the rocks, an old cemetery, and the Dolores Mission. We were pretty much hauling ass at the beginning of the hike. I was so concerned about the time, I kept picturing ourselves hiking out there in the dark, and it was not a comforting thought. We kept reminding Riley that we might not make it to the dinosaurs and that reminder was not welcomed. He insisted that we keep going because he wasn’t leaving without seeing what we promised him. My heart ached a little thinking of the possibility of breaking a promise. So we continued… and we continued at a very fast pace.

Before we knew it, we had passed the cemetery and the Mission, so we had no choice but to keep pushing forward. The weather was constantly changing. We started the hike with rainfall in the distance, then the beating sun came out, then the clouds returned and gusts of wind were pushing us off our path. I recommend bringing warm clothes, rain gear and a backpack to hold all those clothes to anyone who hikes this trail. I’ve never seen such inconsistency in weather in such a short amount of time.

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It’s easier for Riley to keep up when we he follows with a stick.

The last 2 miles felt terrible. I think it may have been because we were moving so fast. We didn’t take any time to stop and take in the sights because we were so focused on our goal and the time constraint. But at last, we made it! And it was glorious! We had the entire place to ourselves, so we quickly sat down and pulled out the camera and food. As we sat and ate, the wind became stronger and colder, and we could see intense rain fall coming in our direction. As happy as we were to make it, we were a little bummed that we couldn’t spend more time to enjoy and explore the entire track site. After resting for 30 minutes, we quickly packed up and headed out to avoid getting rained on.

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The hike back was hard. We moved at a much slower pace, but still didn’t have time for breaks since we had to make it before dark. Out of the 11 miles, Riley rode on Clayton’s shoulders for around 3 miles. He did amazing, but he was exhausted. Towards the end, he just couldn’t walk anymore and asked to take off his boots. My poor guy had some intense blisters on his feet which was a bit surprising because he didn’t complain much.

We made it back to the car past 7 PM. We were wiped out and relieved that we had made it back before dark. We were greeted at the car with a beautiful sunset which helped keep our minds off of our aching feet. When we got back to La Junta city limits, we hit up the taco bell drive thru and ordered every vegetarian item they had. We’re not usually big on fast food, but in that moment, it was the most delicious meal!

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Handlebars and Hiking

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Overall, a great and tiring adventure. If we decide to make another trip out there, we’ll probably stay at the camp site right before the trailhead. I’d like another chance to take in the sights and explore all 1300 dinosaur prints. Maybe next time we could reenact some parts from Jurassic World. I think Riley would like that.

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Pre Taco Bell sunset

Great Sand Dunes National Park

I’ve heard many awesome things about the sand dunes here in Colorado. After Riley got his hands on a free map of our state and repeatedly asked to go to the dunes while pointing at it on the map, we realized we needed to go. The Great Sand Dune National Park and Preserve is located at the base of the Sangre de Cristo range. Spending a day at the dunes is definitely worth the almost 3 hour drive from Colorado Springs.

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We didn’t know what to expect when we arrived at the park. We paid the small $7 entrance fee and once I saw those dunes, I immediately regretted the decision of not camping. We brought our hiking books, a change of clothes, a beach towel and our swim suits, but we didn’t bring our tent. Terrible decision!

After we parked, we headed towards the dunes and saw several people dressed in their bathing suits. We had to cross Medano Creek which had some areas of really fast moving water. I was surprised at how I had to focus on keeping my balance in the fast moving creek. Riley, on the other hand, was incredibly excited and welcomed the fast currents with laughter and smiles.

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After we passed the creek, we hiked towards one of the highest peaks of the dunes. At that moment, I completely forgot how hard it is to walk through sand. As we walked along the sand and climbed up the hill, my heart was pounding and my back was soon drenched in sweat. I had to take several breaks because I thought my heart would explode. Luckily, I had the excuse to take pictures along the way, so it made for productive breaks.

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When we got to the top, we were drained and exhausted, but the view was worth it. What an amazing sight being on top of a giant sand dune while looking at beautiful snow capped mountains. The view was stunning and bewildering at the same time. I kept asking, “how is this possible?” Standing there and taking in the sights makes one realize how absolutely amazing nature is. Our world has an assortment of amazing things to see and how lucky were we to witness this!

Once we reached the top, a photo shoot was obviously due. Storm clouds began to approach and in the distance we could see rain pouring on the plains. In addition to the rain, thunder began to rumble and bolts of lightning became apparent. Other visitors began making their way down, so it was also our cue to get the heck out of there and avoid becoming a lightning rod. We took pictures quickly and ran down the dunes a hundred times quicker than it took us to go up.

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Look at the rain!
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I spy Clayton (on the left) and Riley (on the right) .

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As we made our way down, we still planned on taking a swim through Medano Creek. Unfortunately, as the storm rolled through, the wind became unbearably cold and the creek water suddenly turned very chilly. Riley was bummed about our change of plans, but we promised we would be back, and we definitely will.

Next time we’ll plan on camping. I read the stars are pretty amazing at night. We’ll also plan on hiking the highest dune at an early time so we can spend the rest of the afternoon swimming in the creek before the thunderstorms roll through. Overall, an extremely cool place that I could visit again and again. Riley is already asking to go back!

Our first 14’er, Mt. Democrat.

We hiked our first 14’er, Mt. Democrat, this past weekend. I could fast forward to the end of the hike where we rejoiced and took pictures with delighted smiles on our faces… or I could just be honest and tell the story from the very beginning. When I imagined this hike, I imagined something less strenuous. I think I heard 2 and a half miles up and ran with the idea. Less than 3 miles can’t be that hard?! But it was.

Maybe if the circumstances were different, we may have had a smoother start. My husband never gets weekends off, so when he found out his weekend schedule was the following: off at 11:00 pm Friday night and back to work at 4:30 pm Saturday, he thought it was a glorious plan to hike our first 14’er between those hours.

We left Colorado Springs at 11:30 and made the almost 2 hour drive to Kite Lake. We did our best to set up our tent in the darkness and picked a spot on a slope on top of some sharp scattered rocks. Little did we know we were only a few feet away from soft, muddy grass which would have made for a better night sleep… but in that moment, we were tired and I had no motivation to look for a better spot in the dark.

When daylight hit, all the campers awakened and started up the mountain. I barely slept during the night, but of course, once the sun came up, I finally fell into a deep deep sleep. I woke up to my husband yelling at me to “PLEASE, get up”. Unwillingly, I grabbed my stuff and started the car to crank the heater up while I got dressed. I really hate the cold.

Waking up was hard for me, but it was even harder for Riley. He pretty much woke up on the wrong side of the tent. I dressed him in the warm car and did my best to get him pumped at 6:30 in the morning, but he was not having it. I should have known that waking up a grumpy four year old and making him climb a mountain over 14,ooo feet would not be a good start to the morning.

Fast forward 45 minutes, we’re stopped on the trail because Riley is crying his little eyes out. The sun has barely hit the top of the mountains, so the beginning of the trail is windy and cold. I admit, I was frustrated. Riley is an amazing hiker and can handle the cold better than me, so watching him cry and complain slightly hit a nerve. I was caught between frustrated and guilty which made me realize that we need to suck it up and go back to the car; this hike was not happening. As Riley sat on a rock with red cheeks and a stuffy nose, I asked him if he wanted to stop hiking and go back to the car. Surprisingly, in between sobs he said “no, I want to go up the mountain.” What in the hell?! My frustration and guilt suddenly turned into pride. My kid is a flippin bad ass.

I decided it was best to stay behind with Riley and let my husband and the dog hike ahead. Riley snapped out of his bad mood, and once we felt the warmth of the sun, our motivation to continue the hike grew. Along the way, we had to make a couple pit stops. We hiked off to the side behind the biggest rock we could find so Riley could pee, then 20 minutes later it was an urgent request to take a poop. Yup, a few hikers saw my kid taking a dump along the trail. I guess when nature calls you gotta answer, especially if you’re 4!

The hike itself really isn’t bad until you start approaching the saddle. Occasionally, there were big gusts of wind where I slightly feared I’d get blown off the side of the mountain. We had to maneuver through these giant rocks while several people are hiking down and around us. I kept my eyes on the ground to make sure I was stepping on rocks that wouldn’t slide and making sure I had a good hold on Riley. As people hiked down, I had to be aware of people and sliding rocks coming towards us. I’m really surprised we didn’t see any injuries in that area.

When we got to the false summit, I had a mini tantrum of my own. I think I threw a couple F bombs at the actual peak and also announced that I didn’t care to reach the top because I was probably at 14,000 feet already anyways! Well, fortunately, I did care. I was tired and I wasn’t leaving until I got to the top. We began to approach the summit and Riley was delighted to walk in the snow. At this point, I felt exhausted and defeated, but Riley ran ahead of me and was incredibly excited to get to the top of the mountain.

The views and my son’s enthusiasm is what made this whole thing worth it. When we got to the top, several people congratulated Riley with high fives and fist bumps. Many couldn’t believe that he hiked the entire thing. Yeah, my kid is definitely a bad ass.

And those views… pretty amazing. It’s incredible seeing those mountains and not seeing a soul, a city, anything for miles and miles. Just pure wilderness. It was in that moment that I felt so free, so alive, and so close to God. We live in a beautiful world, and I got to see it at 14,148 feet with my 2 favorite people.

And that folks, was our first 14’er. I can’t wait for the next one!!

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Handmade signs left by other hikers to help capture the moment!

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Clayton and Jack made it to the summit way before us!