The BIG Announcement!

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And there it is, our big announcement. October 29th, we are fulfilling our dream of full-time travel and hitting the road for an entire year. We had a little bit of fun with this photo announcement since we’ve never had the opportunity to do anything like this. We never had engagement photos, we eloped and kept our wedding photos to ourselves, and we never had birth announcements. To continue our streak of being unconventional, we thought a “quitting our jobs, leaving a normal life, and living in a teardrop trailer full-time” announcement would be fun!

October 23rd is my last day as a medical social worker. It may actually be my last day ever as a “professional” social worker. I’ve come to realize that there is more to life than advancing my career and I feel a bigger calling with this trip. Clayton ends his job in hospitality on October 28th although he hopes to find something similar along the way. Our first stop is Beaver Creek, Colorado then we will head into Utah for an entire week while slowly making our way to California. We plan on exploring northern California and Nevada for about 12 weeks then we will head to the Pacific Northwest.

We are so incredibly grateful for all of the support we’ve received since launching our blog. Please continue to follow us as we take our blog and Instagram followers with us on our journey!! We are so nervous and excited to explore North America for an entire year!

And to conclude this post, here are some quotes we’ve found online to be very inspirational!

“LIFE BEGINS AT THE END OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE”

“IN THE END, WE ONLY REGRET THE CHANCES WE DIDN’T TAKE” 

Follow us on Instagram @thevaliantlife

Look out for the hashtag #roadbearadventures

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Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) covers 415 square miles in northern Colorado. The park has 2 main entrances, one in Estes Park and another in Grand Lake. We took our first trip to this famous park in mid September and our timing was amazing. The weather was warm with a tinge of coolness and the Aspen trees were in full yellow bloom. The scenery was spectacular and if we ever make another visit, we’d prefer to return in the fall.

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Some basic info if you plan a visit:

We entered the park through the Estes Park entrance. From Colorado Springs, drive time is about 2-2 1/2 hours.

There are 5 campgrounds in the park and one campground is for tents only. Make reservations ahead of time!! It fills up fast.

It’s a National Park, therefore dogs are not allowed anywhere. Although I saw many people breaking that rule, we kept our dog in the car when we went outside to take pictures. We were unaware of this rule and decided not to hike within the park because we didn’t want to leave Jack unattended.

Entrance fees are the following:

  • Automobile – $20 and valid for seven consecutive days, including the date of purchase
  • Pedestrians, bicycles, motorcycles and mopeds – $10 per person, not to exceed $20 per vehicle. Valid for seven days including the date of purchase.

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We left Colorado Springs around 6:00 PM on a Friday night. Since we planned our trip last minute, per the reservation site, there was no availability in any of the campgrounds in the park. We decided to take our chances and try the Olive Ridge campground which is about 30 minutes outside of Estes Park and in the Roosevelt National Forest. Olive Ridge is located on Highway 7 along mile marker 14. Reservations are not required, so our tip is to get there early before the weekend campers get in. A camp host is available to pay the $16 fee and several vault toilets are spread out around the campground. It is bear country, so be aware of what you bring and how you are storing your food.

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When we arrived around 9 PM, we drove the loop around the campsite and found that there was no availability. This came as no surprise since it was a Friday night and campsites in Colorado tend to fill up quickly. As we exited, we did not find any signs that indicated parking along the road was prohibited. We didn’t have a tent to set up, so we parked in front of the information sign and quickly jumped inside of Bear. Falling asleep was an easy task and before we knew it, sunlight was beaming through the windows waking us up for the day.

We woke up around 7 AM and opened up the back of the trailer to make breakfast. While we grubbed on freshly made breakfast burritos and hot coffee, a camper on her way out stopped by to let us know that she was leaving for the day and that we should snag her campsite. I grabbed Riley and we quickly ran over to the vacant campsite while Clayton headed over to the camp host to pay for the spot. As soon as we arrived at the site, a car pulled up and asked if we were taking the spot. I apologized to the woman, but I was also thankful we got there a minute before her! Sprinting to the campsite sure paid off!

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Where we parked for the night.
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Breakfast burritos with “meat” and eggs in a spicy tortilla.

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Once we got settled, we met our campsite neighbor who told us there was a back entrance to RMNP that has access to several trails. We decided to head that way and found there was no entrance fee. We found a full parking lot of hikers and tourist, and a couple rangers that welcomed us into the park. When we talked to the rangers, they informed us that dogs are not allowed in the park and that we had to leave Jack in the car. That sure put a damper on our plans.

We decided we didn’t want to leave Jack, so we drove back out to the highway and found a trail just outside of RMNP. The Tahosa Valley Trail followed right along the National Park boundary and unfortunately, the National Park had the better trails and views. As beautiful as the scenery was, the trail followed right along Highway 7 which didn’t make for ideal hiking conditions. The last thing I want to hear while hiking is cars passing by.  As we hiked for about an hour, the trail eventually turned away from the road and began to incline towards the mountains. By this time, I had lost my motivation to continue on and the idea of a nap sounded better. We headed back to Olive Ridge where I immediately headed over to the hammock and fell asleep. By the time I woke up, it was time for dinner and smores by the fire. The day didn’t turn out as we had planned, but it was still a very good day.

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Since we were forced to change our hiking plans because of Jack, we decided the following day would be dedicated to sightseeing through RMNP. We woke up around 9, ran around the campsite and rode our bikes. We left the campground around 11 AM and drove to the Estes Park main entrance into RMNP.

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Some points of interest to look out for when heading towards Estes Park is Chapel on the Rock and The Stanley Hotel. Chapel on the Rock is located in Allenspark right along Highway 7. In 1993, Pope John Paul II visited and blessed the chapel. There were pictures of the Pope located inside and we found that pretty exciting. As we drove through Estes towards RMNP, we passed the famous Stanley Hotel which is known for it’s paranormal activity and inspiring Stephen King to write “The Shining”. Although everyone told us we had to visit The Stanley and do a ghost tour, there were just too many people! I asked Clayton to pull over so that I could take a quick photo of the hotel. A tour of The Stanley would have to wait for another day, preferably on a weekday!

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The Stanley

We spent the next few hours driving through the park on Trail Ridge Road (one of America’s most scenic drives) and stopping at the various pull outs to look at the view and take photos. The park was extremely packed because it was the weekend. We often found ourselves behind a long line of cars and having difficulty finding parking at the pullouts and at the gift shops. As we started to make our descent through the end of the park, we also started getting really hungry. Luckily, we found a large picnic area that was completely empty. Since we had the whole parking lot to ourselves, we parked and set up our chairs. It was so quiet, peaceful, and scenic. Just the perfect place to have lunch.  After about an hour, we packed up and continued our way out of the park. Lucky for us, just as we approached the exit, we saw elk grazing in the field. When we exited, we found ourselves in Grand Lake. We were in complete awe by the lake and the Aspens. How lucky were we to experience the “gold rush”. Fall in Colorado is one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had!

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Grand Lake

Overall, a scenic and relaxing weekend. Although our plans for strenuous hikes and exploration through the forest didn’t go as planned, I actually enjoyed the change of pace. I was grateful for the beautiful views, and the opportunity for quality time and relaxation with the boys. My advice if you plan on visiting RMNP: make camping reservations, visit in the fall, and leave the dogs at home.

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Hawaii on a budget

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Here’s a story for the budget conscious traveler. I wanted to share this because I am also very budget conscious… or as some call it, cheap!

To most people, traveling is a very big expense. Sometimes when I daydream about traveling to a faraway place, I’ll goggle it and come across sites with information from travelers who have gone to that location. In the beginning of 2013, I was itching to go to Hawaii, but after some research it felt like an unreachable dream. According to folks on the internet, a Hawaiian vacation for 3 would cost several thousand dollars, and that was money that we definitely did not have.

In February of 2013, I was stressed out and cold. I know most people think it never gets cold in Arizona, but it does. And the cold is bitter and dry. For 5 years, every winter my knuckles would bleed from the dry air. On this day in February, I was driving home from a stressful visit with a client. The dried blood on my cracked knuckles held onto the steering wheel when it suddenly started to snow… in central Phoenix. As cool and exciting as the sight was, I was once again reminded that I was cold and miserable. I was in serious need of a warm getaway before I became a full blown negative Nancy. I decided that we were going to Hawaii and I was going to figure out a way to do it.

Through yet another google search, I found airfare to Honolulu for $600 to $800 RT per person. There was no way in hell I was going to pay that, so I headed to my trusted and favorite site: Hotwire. For past vacations, I had used Hotwire to book 5 star hotels at a cheap rate. I always trusted booking a hotel based on location and ratings, without knowing the name. I’ve never been disappointed using that process and the awareness of how much money I save is always very fulfilling for me. I perused through Hotwire when a notification popped up. If I chose to book a flight without having the information on what time the flight was leaving or what airlines I was taking, I could book a RT flight to Honolulu for $275 per person. The only information provided was the departure and return date. I confirmed the dates with Clayton which happened to coincide with his spring break. I couldn’t pass up the deal so without talking to my manager ahead of time (the flight was 10 days out), I booked the flights. After booking, I got the flight details. We were on Delta and had a connecting flight in LAX. Our layover was approximately 1 hour and the day of the flight, we had no problems!

3 roundtrip tickers from Phoenix to Honolulu including taxes= $825

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Next up was our accommodations. To stretch our dollar even further, I looked into renting out condos for our stay through several sites. Unfortunately, since we were booking so last minute, there was no availability anywhere. I also looked into campgrounds and once again, no availability. We had no choice but to settle for booking a hotel. I used Hotwire to book one 3 star hotel the night we arrived. It had terrible reviews, but it was the cheapest available at just under $100. For the next 5 days, I booked a 2 star hotel close to the beach which ended up being amazing compared to the 3 star from the previous night. The 2 star came out to $120/night.

6 nights in a hotel by Waikiki Beach= $700

When we found out that our hotel stay would be almost as expensive as airfare for 3 people, we realized our budget would be tight. We ate out a total of 6 times. Once at a food truck, twice at the International Market, once at a cafeteria style place right outside the beach and twice at a restaurant for dinner. 4 out of the 6 times, Clayton and I shared a plate. For the other meals, we went to the grocery store and got essentials. Having a kitchen in our hotel room helped with storing and cooking food. Our breakfast typically consisted of cereal and before we’d leave the hotel for an outing, I’d stuff my bag with snacks.

Here is the breakdown of what we spent during our trip:

Car rental for 2 days= $40

Parking for 2 nights= $20/night

Dole Pineapple Plantation= $40 spent

Pearl Harbor= $40 spent

Food and Gas= About $350

Total: Just under $2000

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Of course, there are downsides to watching your money very closely during a vacation. The main objective of a vacation is to let loose and not worry about those type of things, but we really didn’t have an option. Before we left for Hawaii everybody told us “you have to go to a luau!!” Well turns out luau’s cost around $100 per person and I couldn’t justify spending that much money on food and entertainment for a night. Another downside was the lack of alcohol. Drinks are expensive and once again, it was not worth it. Also, we had to be careful about what we spent at touristy spots. For example, at Pearl Harbor, we skipped several things because there was a separate admission fee. Overall, we spent most of our time at the beach and honestly, I wouldn’t have had it any other way!

Moral of the story: I love Hotwire and a Hawaiian vacation doesn’t have to cost several thousand dollars. If you’re willing make small sacrifices, you can save a couple dollars!

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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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Home Built Teardrop Trailer: Our First Camping Trip With Bear

We’d like to take the opportunity to introduce another member of our family. His name is Bear and he is our home built teardrop trailer. Clayton has been working on Bear off and on since July 2014. The initial plan was to build Bear and take him out on his first road trip through Utah, Colorado and Wyoming. In December of last year, we decided to move to Colorado which in turn halted our road trip plans and the continuation of building Bear. While making our move to Colorado in February of this year,  unfinished Bear made the trip from Arizona and his finishing touches were put on hold due to the cold Colorado winter. When the weather began to warm up, Clayton started slowly working on Bear again. This past weekend, we put Riley’s full size mattress inside, loaded it up with sleeping bags and food, and took Bear on his first camping trip.

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After this camping test run, Clayton fitted Bear with bigger tires and a diamond plated sheet on the front area. Bear looks a bit more aggressive now, but we still have a lot of work to do. The walls need insulation and Clayton is currently working on building cabinets for the kitchen area. Even though Bear is unfinished, we had an amazing time camping and we’re incredibly excited to bring him on more adventures. Here is a look at our camping trip outside Woodland Park, our mini hike to Rampart Reservoir, and our night primitive camping outside of Deckers with Bear!

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We made our way towards Woodland Park Friday night after Clayton got off work. With no plans on where we were going to camp, I figured we’d just wing it once we pulled into town. Since Woodland Park is only 20 minutes up the road, it didn’t seem too difficult to figure out a place to park and camp in the woods nearby. Once we got into town, we turned onto highway 67, headed about 10 miles north to Rainbow Falls Rd and found ourselves among other people who were primitive camping. We maneuvered our way through the dark road and eventually found an open spot not too far away from a small RV. We settled in as quietly as we could and for the first time in our lives, we jumped out of the truck and straight into the trailer. Since we’ve become pros at setting up our tent in the dark, it was kind of cool to just jump in the trailer and go straight to bed!

Before we fell asleep, we talked about how awesome the trailer is and how there was a slight downside to not being able to see the stars like we do from our tent. As I dozed off, I thought about how impressed I was with my husband. What started out as an idea has now become reality, and we were spending the night in something that he worked so hard on. This trailer was built from the ground up and I couldn’t help but be proud of him.

We woke up that morning during golden hour. I’m not sure what time it was exactly, but I can still picture the golden light shining on the pine trees and the mountains. In a nearby field, we saw several deer walking through the grass. We stayed in our sleeping bags while staring at the pine trees and taking in the fresh air. Riley woke up smiling from ear to ear. He told us how happy he was and how much he loved the trailer. We headed back to Woodland Park to grab a quick breakfast then headed to Rampart Reservoir. Rampart Reservoir is one of our favorite places to spend the day since it’s beautiful and so close to home.

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We love bringing the hammock on hikes!

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After relaxing by the lake, we quickly rushed back to Colorado Springs since Clayton had to return to work. After dropping him off, Riley and I headed back home where we showered and grabbed some clothes and food for another night of camping. At around 11, we headed back to Clayton and made our way past Woodland Park. Once again, we had no idea where we were going. We continued to drive on the 67 until we reached the town of Deckers. It was pitch black and there was no one around this tiny town with only one store and one restaurant. We pulled over to the side of the road and looked around for any signs of a campground, but had no luck.

As we continued to drive, we saw a sign for Lone Rock Campground. Thinking we had finally found a place to rest for the night, we were quickly disappointed to find a sign that said “campground full”. Feeling completely exhausted, I suggested we keep driving up the road, and before we knew it, there was a marvelous brown sign on the side of the road with a tent on it.

We turned on a dirt road and saw a sign for Flying G Ranch and several other sites. I honestly can’t remember the names of everything because it was so dark and I started to feel a bit anxious. We slowly made our way up this bumpy dirt road and the pure darkness started to make my imagination run wild. I thought about everything from Big Foot to ghosts to a big cliff waiting to pull us down on my side of the road. My fears started to creep into nagging comments towards Clayton reminding him to drive carefully. Finally, I felt a bit of relief when I saw a campfire in the distance. We eventually reached a fork in the road where we encountered other campers enjoying the night. Once again maneuvering our way through the dark, we found a spot to camp and quickly fell asleep.

I woke up around sunrise to find that Clayton had been up since dawn taking pictures of the view. My most favorite thing about finding a campsite in the dark is not knowing what the view will be like when we wake up! As I expected, the view did not disappoint. After waking up and getting ready, we decided to make our way back to Deckers to check out the little restaurant that we passed the night before. We ended up having breakfast and beer on the patio right by the highway. It was such a cool little town, and the mountain air and scenery was perfect.

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Riley and I are still asleep.

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Breakfast and beer in Deckers.

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We were thrilled with our first camping trip with Bear. This mini camping trip reminded us of how lucky we are to be living in Colorado and how cool it is to have the wilderness so close to home. I was also reminded of how amazing Clayton is and how as a family, whenever we focus on accomplishing something, we’re always able to reach our goals. As I’m typing this right now, we are getting ready to leave for another adventure with Bear. This time we’re going a little further and we’re so excited to leave tonight! I can’t wait to share it with you all on the next post!

Four States In Four Days

One of my favorite family memories is a spontaneous road trip we took in December 2013. I had some time off from Christmas until the New Year, so of course, I was itching for a new adventure. We loaded up our car with necessities and left our home in Scottsdale around 8 PM. The only plan we had was to drive north. When we got on the road, we planned to stop somewhere near Flagstaff and plan our next move in the morning, but when we reached Flagstaff, we decided to keep going. Four and a half hours later, we reached Page, Arizona.

We pulled into a gas station in Page since it was the only place open. We grabbed a couple snacks, took a bathroom break and headed down the street to the Page Lake Powell Campground. It was pretty cold out, so we quickly parked next to a tent site with an electric hook up, laid the seats down in the Explorer and plugged in our portable heater. We cozied up in our sleeping bags and had an amazing night of sleep. Before I dozed off, I asked Clayton if Lake Powell was nice. Little did I know, it was more than nice, and we were about to be amazed in the morning.

We woke up as the sun began to rise and as I looked around, the view was unbelievable. I was incredibly mesmerized and present in the moment that I forgot to take pictures. If you’re curious at what kind of view we had, just google “Page Lake Powell Campground”. Riley and I wandered around the campground in our pajamas and noticed that all of the other campers were in RV’s. While Clayton ran into the office to pay for our site, an elderly couple leaving their RV stopped their car to ask me and Riley if we needed help or “a ride somewhere”. Apparently, I looked like a homeless person. Amused and mortified at the same time, I took advantage of the amenities of the campground to shower and freshen up after I politely declined their offer and explained that I was camping. Since that experience, I make an effort to look more presentable when walking away from my campsite!

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Horseshoe Bend

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We made our way to McDonald’s for breakfast and wifi while we figured out our next move. It was then that we realized we were near Horseshoe Bend and after we saw pictures online, we had to go. The hike to Horseshoe Bend is 3/4 of a mile from the parking lot. The hike begins with a steep hill, then it’s a fairly easy walk in the sand to the view point. We decided to take turns looking at the view since there were no guard rails or anything to keep children from falling off the edge. Apparently, the best time to photograph Horseshoe Bend is between noon and 2 PM to capture the entire curve. Unfortunately, it was before noon so half of the bend was covered. We didn’t get the best pictures, but it was still stunning to see in person.

Back to the car and 2 hours later, we found ourselves in Monument Valley. After several years of seeing pictures and videos of Monument Valley, I was ecstatic to check this place off of my bucket list. This was also our first time in Utah and we were thrilled to explore a new area. We paid the entrance fee to drive the loop through the valley and we were reminded that the campsites in the valley were currently closed. After driving through the loop, we headed into the visitors center and had dinner at the restuarant in The View hotel. We stuffed our faces with Navajo fry bread while discussing where we should sleep for the night. Our first idea to sleep in the parking lot of the hotel was a bust. We tried to plug our heater into several outlets on the outside of the hotel, but had no luck. After giving up, we attempted to sit in the car for 20 minutes without the heater, but the cold was unbearable. We tried our luck across the street and found Goulding’s Campground. At last, we were able to plug in our heater and go right to sleep.

DSCN1741DSCN1734DSCN1736DSCN1751The next morning, we woke up around dawn so we could see the valley during sunrise. Unsure of which direction to go, we drove further into Utah hoping we’d find a small diner to have breakfast. We drove past little towns where nothing was open so we stopped at a gas station to fill up and grab a couple donuts to fill the void in our stomachs. As we continued to drive, we decided to head towards the Four Corners Monument. Being in four states at one time sounded like a cool idea, but once we arrived at the monument, it wasn’t exactly how we imagined it.

The biggest downside for us was maneuvering our way through all of the tourists. It took forever to take a picture where the four states meet because several tourists were unwilling to leave the spot to give others a turn. In addition to the immense amount of people, it was extremely cold. The cold wind started to upset Riley which led to a full on tantrum in all four states. After a couple photos, we ran back to the car and debated on whether we should go to Colorado or New Mexico. Turns out after discussing it for a minute, it was an easy decision. We always wanted to see Colorado and now was our opportunity to do so.

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Monument Valley at sunrise
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Riley with his small breakfast

Driving into Colorado, it was love at first sight. It was during this trip that we decided we were going to move to Colorado someday. About 45 minutes into the drive, we found ourselves in Cortez entering a Denny’s for lunch. Our starving stomachs devoured veggie burgers as we reminisced about the beautiful things we encountered the previous day. As we walked out of Denny’s, Riley quickly made his way towards the brochures that highlighted attractions in nearby areas. And of course, he gravitated towards the brochure with a big train on it. It was the brochure for the Polar Express. As Riley begged to ride the train, we looked at each other and thought “What the hell! Let’s go ride a train!”

 We drove to Durango which was about an hour away and called the number listed on the brochure to see if there was any room on the train. The Polar Express in Flagstaff was something we always wanted to do, but tickets were always sold out several months before Christmas. Luckily, we were informed that there were a few seats open, so we quickly booked the tickets and waited anxiously at a brewery until it was time for our first ride on the Polar Express.

The Polar Express was an amazing experience and we loved seeing how excited Riley was. Riley met Santa, ate cookies, drank hot cocoa, and met the reindeer at the end of the train ride. He was pretty starstruck when he met Santa and his expression is something we’ll always remember. After our Polar Express experience, we decided to drive to Gallup, New Mexico. We had to be back in Arizona by the next day, so we headed south in the dark and arrived in Gallup about 3 hours later.

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Four Corners: Arizona, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico
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Riley having a tantrum in New Mexico

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We were closing in on midnight when we arrived at USA RV Park in Gallup. The park was right off of Route 66, and although it seemed a bit pricey ($25/night), we were tired and needed a place to plug in our heater. The next morning, we woke up at sunrise, showered and headed back towards Arizona. An hour into our drive, we saw a sign for the Petrified Forest National Park. We decided we had to stop. We couldn’t pass up seeing the Petrified Forest.

The Petrified Forest is famous for the petrified wood scattered around the park. The fossilized wood is from the Late Triassic period, about 225 million years ago. The petrified logs we encountered looked like regular logs on the outside and contained bright colors on the inside.  Within the park, we also got to see the Painted Desert, pueblos from inhabitants who lived in the area thousands of years ago, and many petroglyphs. There are also hiking trails and camping spots within the park. We were a bit bummed that we didn’t have the opportunity to camp or hike, but figured we could come back another time to explore.

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Petrified Wood
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The inside of a petrified log
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The Teepees
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Petroglyphs

20131229_125205 20131229_121149 DSCN1802We ended our drive through the Petrified Forest and found ourselves back in Scottsdale three and a half hours later. Our trip with no definite plan became a trip filled with many memories and learning experiences. During this experience, we came to 2 realizations: we are happiest on the road and a trip with no itinerary makes the best adventures. What I miss the most is having the ability to spend the day without being constrained by time or a schedule. My hope is that someday we’ll be able to feel that sense of freedom again while exploring the wonders of nature with the people I love the most.

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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Cairns
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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.

Salt River

Earlier this week, my initial plan was to write our next blog post on a spontaneous road trip we took during winter break in 2013. Due to the recent events concerning the wild horses in the Salt River area in Arizona, we felt it would be the appropriate time to share our experiences on the Salt River. This post is in no way meant to be a political rant or anything of that nature, but more so our thoughts and feelings on the recent events and why we feel this way based on our experience.

Per the officials of the Tonto National Forest, the horses pose a safety risk to the public. Due to this concern, the US forest service came up with a plan to “annihilate” the horses by rounding them up and selling them at auction. The notice posted by the officials state that any horse that is unclaimed or not sold at auction will be “…destroyed, or other wise disposed of…”

I feel that the outrage and confusion for all of us opposed to this action is that there are no reports of the horses attacking people. How could fear and assumption that something MIGHT happen someday drive such a drastic move that could kill these animals? One official gave an example about the horses standing near children and how the children could have been hurt. I can’t help but think of how idiotic this logic is. Should we then remove all of the animals out of the wild in order to protect people?

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One view from the river.

 We spent many days and nights at the Salt River either hiking, camping, or floating down the river in our raft. I remember one morning we woke up and heard the horses running by our tent. They never bothered us, they just passed through. There were several occasions while floating down the river that we would pass the horses. Several babies and their mom’s peacefully drinking water and curiously looking at us as we passed by. The older horses, accustomed to the sight of people, always appeared unfazed by our presence.

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The horses taking a dip under the hot sun and taking a look at us.

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The horses had a calm and peaceful demeanor, and as a parent, what a blessing it was to have Riley witness the presence of these animals in their natural environment. If the officials with the forest service are concerned about public safety, why don’t they focus their efforts on teaching people how to respect nature and the animals? We took Riley on his first hike when he was 4 months old. Even when he was too young to understand, a focus we had as parents was to teach Riley to respect nature. We continue to teach him to stay on the trails, don’t pick or destroy plants, and don’t run or intimidate other animals no matter how big or small they are.

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There are cows in the river too.

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From our experience on the river, we feel the public needs to be educated on proper conduct in the wild. It was very irritating to be camping along the river and have a group of people leave all of their trash around, demonstrating to the rest of us that they have no respect for their surroundings. Imagine floating down the river and finding beer cans, marshmallows, bags of food left behind. We feel human beings are more detrimental to this area than the horses are.

Arizona was our home for 5 years and we loved it. We made amazing memories and learned to appreciate the state, it’s landscape, the animals, and all of it’s beauty. These horses made the experience in the river much more exciting and contributed to some wonderful family memories.

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Good spot to fish!

A little bit of info for those wanting to have some Salt River fun. The drive was usually about 45 minutes for us. When we moved to North Scottsdale, we’d usually go through Fountain Hills and up the 87. When we lived in Tempe, it was easier to take the 202 to East Mesa to access the river. During the summer, Salt River tubing is a favorite past time for those who enjoy floating the river for several hours. Tube rentals and a free ride to and from the drop off points is offered to those who don’t have their own equipment. We never went that route since children have to be at least 8 years old to rent a tube and ride on the bus. Riley has been floating the river since he was 2, so that was never an option! We would use our big raft, bring a cooler with food and drinks, and relax!

There are 5 entrance/exit points for the river where you can either get a ride on the bus, or park your car. We’d take both of our vehicles and park them at different points depending on how long we wanted to float the river. One time we went the whole 5 hours, and it was exhausting! When we approached the 5th hour, the river became incredibly still so we had to use team work to row towards the parking lot. Rowing in the hot Arizona sun after a couple beers is not the best idea. Although we were incredibly tired, we couldn’t help but laugh at the experience.

Overall, the river was one of our favorite places to hike, camp, fish, and float. It’s definitely one of the things I miss the most about living in Arizona.

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Best seat on our “boat”
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Beer is mandatory. We enjoyed this cheap lager from Trader Joe’s. Just remember, don’t litter!!

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!