Friday Five - 1.27.17

“If I were to remain silent, I'd be guilty of complicity.” 
― Albert Einstein

This week I couldn't help but be interested in politics. I mean - duh. I have a degree in political science and an almost Masters in Sociology so everything that is happening in America right now is endlessly fascinating - and infuriating. I don't want to blog in order to push my own political agenda but, I also don't think it helps anyone to stay silent. So, I'm taking the angle of the National Park Service - facts without opinion (kinda sorta). Read on if you'd like :) 


As I’m sure everyone is aware of by now, the National Park Service tweeted out some photos comparing Obama and Trump’s inauguration sizes this week – and were subsequently ordered to stop posting. After that, Badlands National Park tweeted out some facts on climate change – which Trump has said “is a hoax” (it’s not) They were quickly deleted and attributed to a rogue staffer, but not before they were retweeted, favorited etc thousands of times.

Since then, other official National Park twitter accounts (Death Valley, Redwoods, and Golden Gate – see a pattern? Haha) have seemed to be staging their own resistance and an Alternative National Parks Twitter account has sprung up – and at last count it has 1.25 million followers! Now, according to CNN there are now over 50 “alternative” twitter accounts – everything from @RogueNASA to @BadHombreNPS – the resistance Badlands Account - and while there is really no way to know if the accounts are being managed by actual park service employees – does it really matter?

Naturalist activism obviously has played an important part of shaping environmental policies and protected land as we know it. Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Rachel Carson, Carl Sagan, Ed Abbey... the list goes on and on. So if Twitter’s not your thing – check out this book, or this, or this. Read this article. Or just support the parks by visiting them, respecting them, and not doing this.

"Fake" News

Something I’ve been thinking a lot about (like everyone else on the planet) is fake news. While there is news that is just out and out wrong – as a math teacher I’m more concerned about false interpretation. When I started teaching in Louisiana there was an entire standard based on interpreting misleading graphs as such. I looooove teaching this standard (well, actually, I don’t think it’s an actual standard anymore, but I teach it because, um hello) Anyways, I’m always looking out for misleading statistics.

Take the Chicago murder rate. Trump tweeted that he would “send in the Feds” to get the city under control because the murder rate has spiked 24% this month over last January, but let’s take a closer look.

This article does a great job explaining some of the nuances, but basically – Chicago isn’t the most dangerous city (not even in the top 10), and doesn't have the highest murder rate. In fact, it’s not even in the top 5. It’s murder rate is actually 8th in the nation (Chicago is a big city y'all) Yes there has been a spike in murders, but there are always spikes! You might remember trend lines from your middle school math teacher (at least I hope so) – the trend is long-term, and shows the direction of statistics over time while the spikes are short-term, variable cycles that can be contributed to sooo many other factors.

Take Chicago this month – A) we are not even one full month into the year – extrapolation based on that for the year over last year is not sound statistics B) It’s been unseasonably warm and warmer weather has always been shown to increase violent crime C) The rate of actual shootings has not went up. I could go on, but look at these graphs:

Chicago has always had a more variable pattern of murders, but the trend – like with all violent crime in the last 20 years – is still negative. These also show that monthly data is much more easily misinterpreted.

Think about data as a sawtooth – it goes up, but then it also goes back down. Looking at a small sample might lead someone to believe the data is steadily increasing and totally fails to recognize the pattern over time. There are always spikes in data – it is just noise.

So, are you smarter than an eighth grader? If you are – look at data trends over time, don’t make extrapolations based on small sets of data or data that is over a short period of time. There are definitely too many murders in Chicago and spikes in other cities - but don't take the headlines as evidence of some sort of crime spike - violent crime is still near record low levels across the board and have been on a decreasing trend for over 20 years. Read more here and here. 

Echo Chambers

The concept of a “Facebook Echo Chamber” has been swirling around social media for the past year or so. What it means is – Facebook, Google, (all the internet basically) uses algorithms that pay attention to the things you like, read, interact with, etc. These sorts of things are then showed to you more often. That doesn’t sound so bad on the surface – I get to see things I am interested in more often – but the problem is what you don’t see.

Before the election I had so many conversations with friends where I noted that they were totally underestimating the support for Trump. The idea that Hillary was going to win by a landslide seemed so obvious to many of my friends. The problem is that they were caught in their echo chamber. They weren’t surrounded by people who thought differently than them – face-to-face or online – and therefore had this idea that those people were fringe or much less in number than they really were.

I pride myself on having a fairly diverse set of friends and I’m from a small rural area so I knew in my heart the so-called “caps of support” weren’t real. Confirmation bias is powerful – the idea that we seek out things that support our own beliefs and ignore the things that don’t. We are motivated to be selective about the media that we consume and the people we interact with which gives us this feeling that everyone is like us. When I write this blog I assume most of the people who read it already know everything I’m writing because I feel like everyone is probably like me. I know this isn’t true but that’s where my head immediately goes.

But back to my point – echo chambers. I have seen a lot of people this week take a Facebook or social media hiatus, and I totally get it – there are a lot of hateful things being posted all over and that’s not healthy. But I also don’t think it’s healthy – for me anyways – to shield myself from it. If I don’t know how others are thinking about things then I can’t fully form my own beliefs or back them up in a way that is relevant. People generally only change their beliefs through emotional appeals that begin with understanding and common ground. If I don’t even know what is concerning someone who disagrees with me then I obviously can never connect with them intelligently over that concern.

So, I’m not going to take a social media hiatus. I’m going to try to continue to understand the people who disagree with me. I’m going to remember that not everyone thinks, feels, or knows the same information about issues as I do - and that’s okay. If you don’t want to be surprised by an outcome (ahem or an election) then don’t spend all your time in an echo chamber. Read more here and here

Praising the Process

I read this article in The Atlantic yesterday that I want to recommend – to teachers, parents, everyone. It talks about a study that showed girls begin to show evidence of gendered beliefs about their intelligence at just 6 years old! Boys and girls were asked to pick the person who was “really special” or “really, really smart” out of pictures of four people – two male, two female – and at age 6, girls started to choose the men over the women.

This is something I am so passionate about. Girls do just as well or better than boys in school, but their confidence is so much lower. Parents and teachers play a big role in this. Studies have shown that children pick up math anxiety from their parents, but even more important, they develop their mindsets from their parents. If a parent has a positive view of failure their child is shown to do better in school and life. Attitude about failure is even more predictive than attitudes about intelligence.

So why do more girls have a problem with failure? Through socialization girls are generally praised for being smart while boys are praised more for their perseverance and hard work. This “process praise” leads to higher confidence --> which leads to a stronger growth mindset --> which leads to more success. Boys are more likely to stick with fields where ability seems to be prized over hard work because they’ve been conditioned not to get sidelined as easily by failure.

This is a huge topic with so many layers, but this is what I would advise as a teacher: praise the process, normalize failure, model what learning from mistakes looks like for your kids, encourage them to persevere, and never praise them for some sort of innate ability or brilliance – even “geniuses” work hard to achieve – there is no such thing as a “math person” or a “science person”- just a person who works hard.

Read more here, here, and here.

Women’s March

I marched in downtown Denver last Saturday as part of the massive Women’s March.  A lot of people have asked me questions about it, and have made (false) assumptions. I feel like if I started to get in to the specifics, my reasons for marching, or counterpointing those who have criticized it (but weren’t actually there, didn’t read the unity principles, and have no idea what they’re talking about – but I digress) I would be here all day. So I will leave you (if you actually read this far) with this sociological poem explaining the value of protest that I recently re-stumbled upon: 

The Low Road

By Marge Piercy

What can they do

to you? Whatever they want.

They can set you up, they can

bust you, they can break

your fingers, they can

burn your brain with electricity,

blur you with drugs till you

can't walk, can’t remember, they can

take your child, wall up

your lover. They can do anything

you can’t blame them

from doing. How can you stop

them? Alone, you can fight,

you can refuse, you can

take what revenge you can

but they roll over you.


But two people fighting

back to back can cut through

a mob, a snake-dancing file

can break a cordon, an army

can meet an army.


Two people can keep each other

sane, can give support, conviction,

love, massage, hope, sex.

Three people are a delegation,

a committee, a wedge. With four

you can play bridge and start

an organisation. With six

you can rent a whole house,

eat pie for dinner with no

seconds, and hold a fund raising party.

A dozen make a demonstration.

A hundred fill a hall.

A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;

ten thousand, power and your own paper;

a hundred thousand, your own media;

ten million, your own country.


It goes on one at a time,

it starts when you care

to act, it starts when you do

it again after they said no,

it starts when you say We

and know who you mean, and each

day you mean one more.


happy Friday :)

30 for 30

"I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.' - Kurt Vonnegut

As I get older time seems to pass by much more quickly. It's easy to become negative and wonder where the time has gone. Each year at my birthday I try to take an inventory of the year - what was good, what was bad - recognize it all. While this year was difficult in a lot of ways, it was really mostly amazing. I made a list of some of the amazing things from this year - 30 places I went as a 30 year old - and thought I would share. You can fit a lot into a year y'all. 

1. Great Sand Dunes National Park

3. Yellowstone National Park

4. Red Rocks

5. Santa Fe, New Mexico

6. Garden of the Gods

8. Aspen, CO

11. Vail, CO

15. Rocky Mountain National Park

16. NYC

17. Custer State Park

24. Idaho Springs

25. Dead Horse State Park

26. Crazy Horse

30. Monmouth IL - home :) 

Friday Five - 12.9.16

“Prime numbers are what is left when you have taken all the patterns away. I think prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about them.”

― Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

This week has been a strange one. It's my last solid week as a 30 year old, it's colder in Denver than it has been in 2 years, it's the week before finals, and it snowed! It's been the sort of week that somehow feels long and short at the same time. A week where I have been happy and sad and everywhere in between for reasons I mostly can't even remember now. So, just like this scattered week, here is a scattered list of five things that have gotten my attention:

Emotional Relationships to Numbers (aka thank goodness I'm a prime number again)

In three short days I will be turning 31! Like many others, I am excited to leave this year behind. - not just 2016 but 30. It wasn't all bad - in fact, it was mostly really great - but the number 31 itself is exciting for me.

Why is 31 so interesting? Well, I am a math teacher, so I'm sure it's not surprising that I love reading about numbers. But my fascination is not just with numbers in a mathematical sense, but the emotions and relationships we have with numbers. I - like a lot of people - have always been obsessed with the number 3. I count out everything into groups of three. Three (and any multiple of three) feels calming to me. I'm also really interested in prime numbers - the lack of pattern and divisibility make them unique. I also like that 3 and 1 are both odd, that 3 divided by 1 is 3 and that the difference between the two are equal to the digits of the number. So.. maybe the fascination is mostly sort of mathematical (and strange). 

While I am excited about 31, my favorite numbers are actually 11 and 3. There are so many interesting studies about favorite numbers and number relationships. Even numbers are seen to be good or calm, while odd numbers are seen as bad. Evens are said to be feminine while odds are masculine and more difficult to process. Despite the seemingly negative connotations, odd numbers are far more likely to be someone's "favorite number"

The number 7 is - by far - the most common favorite number in the world. It is arithmetically unique and seems mystical in some way. It's the only one digit number that isn't a part of another single digit fact family (nothing under 10 can be divided into/multiplied etc to make 7). Three feels that way for me. It's odd, it's prime, it's curvy, and it's everywhere in art. Eleven is odd, prime, but still has even characteristics (add up to an even, first two digits of the Fibonacci sequence, etc..) 

If you want to learn more about favorite numbers and the emotional relationship we have with them, listen to this episode of Radiolab (embedded below) or read this, this, or this

Petrified Forest National Park

Today marks the 54th anniversary of the establishment of Petrified Forest National Park. I visited the vast park in the middle of nowhere nearly two years ago now. 

Interesting part of the parks history: at one point the park said it was losing 1 ton of petrified wood a month to visitors illegally smuggling it out. The park took several punitive steps to curb the theft but found that it actually seemed to increase with the attention placed on it.

I recommend a great, short, Criminal podcast (embedded below the pictures) about the wood theft. It talks about the bad luck people claim to experience after they've stolen wood from the park and the subsequent letters they send back (with the wood) in the hopes of their luck being reversed. The so called "conscience letters" used to be on display at the park - now they are trying to step away from that narrative - but the letters are still available on the website "Bad Luck, Hot Rocks" and book of the same name. Here are a couple of my favorites: 

Read more here and here

Creators vs. Consumers

Last weekend I spent Saturday night getting (much needed) drinks with a friend and catching each other up on our creative projects. Through the night - as we got a few more drinks and a little more honest in our venting - the refrain "at least I'm doing something" came up more than once. It can be frustrating and lonely to try to make something new. To put yourself out there for judgment. But at least I'm creating. At least I'm trying. At least I'm sharing. At least I am doing something. 

While "sharing" online seems to be constant, most people are not actively creating content. Consider the 1% rule of the internet - the theory that 1% of users actively create new content and that 99% generally "lurk" on most platforms . The 1-9-90 Principal is similar - that 1% of users are creators, 9% are synthesizers (Blooms Taxonomy woo) and 90% are just consumers. The Pareto Principle is also very similar and theorizes that 80% of content is created by 20% of users. 

Any way you look at it it's a very small percentage of people creating and the overwhelming majority of people are simply consuming. Here are some interesting stats I found:

0.2% of Wikipedia users ever contribute new content

44% of twitter users have never even tweeted (lurkers) and only 3% tweet daily

< 0.1% of YouTube users are creating any content

1-3% of Reddit users are contributing

< 1% of people who buy books on Amazon leave reviews

I don't know about you but I'd rather be a creator. I may not always create the best content but at least I am creating it. Creating gives you power - the only cultural influencers are creators. Consumers are passive. They believe they have limited options and work within a framework that's already been decided. Boring. And the more you create the better it gets! 

Read more about creating vs consuming here, here, and here


Psychology of Holiday Decor

One of the best parts of the holidays for me is the opportunity to decorate! I especially love Christmas decorating and despite living in a small one bedroom apartment, I have managed to fit in 7 Christmas trees of various sizes, shapes, and colors. 

 Generally I am the only person to ever see the 7 trees but I know that decorating is important to me and my mood. I wanted to know more so I did some digging into the psychology of decor. I ran into several articles talking about "neuroarchitecture"- the study of the link between neuroscience and the physical built environment. (i.e. how light affects mood)

Some interesting takeaways:

Clutter can sometimes be a good thing! It's been found that some clutter can be beneficial in a home and that being surrounded by evidence of who you are has a grounding effect. 

"Soft Geometry"or the idea that curved surfaces activate more emotional centers of our brain and cause us to relax. Conversely, a Harvard Medical School study found that sharp objects produced a negative feeling and conveyed a sense of danger. 

Plants reduce stress! Even just a picture of a landscape can improve concentration and lower stress. 

Rearranging can lift your moods! Just like the hedonic adaptation I talked about here, your physical environment can benefit from novelty. When you make changes in your environment, dopamine kicks in and motivates us. Easy way to rearrange: Holiday decor :) 

Read more here, here, and here

Math Stained Glass - Math/Art Connection

This week my classes all finished one of my favorite activities of the year - Math Stained Glass! They have to graph linear equations into a stained glass pattern then color them in and we put them on the window - instant fancy. 

The math art connection is so important to me. Every year kids complain that this "isn't art class" and I have to tell them it is. Math is art. They are inextricably linked. Here is some proof/things to ponder:

Maryam Mirzakhani, a mathematician who became the first woman and Iranian to win the Fields Medal (most prestigious award in math) works almost entirely visually. She sketches out everything on large paper and says that "The process of drawing something helps you somehow to stay connected”. This is math in the real world. It is open, creative, and outside the box. It is the direct antithesis of school math - math that is generally closed and absurd. School math poses very few interesting questions, and assumes a general algorithm can be used to find a tidy answer. That is not math.

Math is more than numbers and computation. The most powerful learning occurs when we use different areas of the brain. There are different pathways for drawing/visualizing and numbers and symbols and achievement has shown to improve when subjects are taught in a way that uses both of these pathways. Brain crossings are the definition of creativity - making connections between seemingly unrelated things and finding hidden patterns. The world is a pattern and math is all - guess what - patterns! 

Another creativity block in (boring) school math is the idea of "learning styles" that has permeated education and other fields despite there being no scientific evidence or brain research that supports the idea. Instead, many of the same styles and modalities apply to most people and EVERYONE is a visual learner! 

Visualization and visual representations are key in math. Students who use more visualizing in their curriculum achieve higher. Not just in math class, but students who are in more arts courses have been shown to score higher on SAT's and other standardized measures, as well as have more confidence, better motor skills, better decision making and problem solving skills. 

I could go on. And on. But if this is interesting to you read more here, here or here. (Or just bring it up with me over a glass of wine. But be prepared.)


Happy Friday :) 


utah's mighty 5

“Most of my wandering in the desert I've done alone. Not so much from choice as from necessity - I generally prefer to go into places where no one else wants to go. I find that in contemplating the natural world my pleasure is greater if there are not too many others contemplating it with me, at the same time.” 
― Edward AbbeyDesert Solitaire

Mid-October: the best and worst of times. Fall activities, changing leaves, crisp temperatures, Halloween!... and the realization that summer is finally over. For a teacher like me this is.. unsettling. So instead of give in to the October blues, I've spent some time looking back over some of the incredible places I visited this summer - like Utah's Mighty 5 National Parks! 

If you know me you know one of my greatest joys is visiting National Parks. Preferably alone on a road trip in the summer but I'm not picky :) I've had visiting the Utah parks on my list for a few years and even just weeks before leaving made every excuse about why visiting 5 parks in a week across a sparsely populated state as a single lady was a terrible idea. But when has any of that ever stopped me? :) 

My intention is to blog more specifically about each park in the future but for now here is some general info on the parks and some pictures that might inspire you to get outside.

Day 1 - Capital Reef National Park

I started the trip from Denver and drove to Torrey Utah - about 447 miles and the longest driving day. I got there early enough to spend the evening relaxing in the most amazing airbnb with a view out over Capital Reef. 

After waking up with the sun and eating some breakfast I trekked it in to Capital Reef National Park. Capital Reef was first settled by Native American tribes then by Mormons after the Civil War. One of the settlements was Fruita - a small town of ten families that has been restored by the Park Service. You can (and I did obv) visit the old general store, blacksmith, school, and the Fruita fruit orchards. Visitors to the orchards can pick whatever is in season on their own and leave a very small fee to take anything out. The apricots in the orchard were mostly out of season when I visited but I still enjoyed the stroll through. Surprisingly, I didn't encounter many other people at all during my walk and drive/stops etc. It is in a remote location but still has far fewer visitors than the other parks. 

capital reef 2

Day 2 - Zion National Park

The next day I woke up in St. George Utah - not the closest place to Zion but the easiest and most affordable. I drove to the park with the intention of getting there before the crowds but boy was I wrong. I shouldn't have been surprised since Zion is the sixth most visited National Park and the most visited park in Utah (by far). There isn't car access to much of the park so I waited in line for a shuttle bus for over an hour. Once I got on the bus it was worth it. The park is just the way I imagined it and more - awe inspiring and massive. 

I got off at the last stop to hike the famous Narrows. The Narrows is a hike through a river in the canyon. You can find tons of information about it online but my advice is: don't rent the shoes, socks, sticks etc - my cheap trekking poles, old New Balances, and waterproof case in my bag worked just fine. There was a chance of rain and flash flooding can be deadly so I didn't go as far in as I would have liked - just a reason to come back next summer :)

zion 1
zion 2

I went on some other hikes and had lunch at the lodge before the heat got to me and headed back to St. George for some room service and pool relaxing. 

Day 3 - Bryce Canyon National Park

The next day I checked out of my hotel and headed on to Bryce Canyon National Park. The drive to the park was incredible but unfortunately storms were rolling in. The park is between 8,000 and 9,000 feet in elevation so the risk of storms can be dangerous. 

Bryce was crowded and although you don't have to take the shuttle I recommend it. I hiked along the rim trying to convince myself I was in a real place and not a dream world until the storm clouds were imminent. I took the opportunity to visit the lodge for some food and people watch (one of the best things about visiting national parks)

The weather kicked me out way too early so another visit to Bryce is first on my Utah agenda for next year. 

real place.

Interesting Fact: Bryce Canyon is not actually a canyon but a natural amphitheater. Who knew. 

Day 3.5 - Brian Head Utah

I try not to plan too precisely on trips like this in case something (like a huge storm) comes up and ruins my plans. Thankfully I hadn't booked a place for the night by lunch so I found a resort I could relax the rest of the night at in Brian Head Utah - a ski town with a 119 population at 9,800 feet. It was raining/freezing rain the entire time I was there so thankfully my resort had an in house restaurant with some pizza and the only place that sold wine was across the street. It was the perfect place to relax mid-trip. 

brian head

Day 4 - Arches National Park

Arches was the only Utah park I had already been to so it wasn't even on my itinerary in the beginning. Of course, I like doing things in series so I figured if I'm already going to 4 of 5 parks I have to do them all. I tried to do some of the hikes that I hadn't done before and it paid off. It was kind of a gloomy day so I spent several hours hiking and just sitting/reading/yoga-ing among the 2,000+ natural arches.


Day 5 - Canyonlands National Park

I left the perfect Airbnb I stayed at in Moab before dawn to catch the sunrise in Canyonlands. The park is about 35 miles away from the city (Arches is only 5). There weren't any cars on the road and surprisingly only passed one other group in the park. I sat and watched the view at Mesa Arch for quite a while before exploring some other areas. The park is so vast - it was the perfect last National Park. My actual last stop was Dead Horse State Park (ahem, Westworld) which is about 8 miles away. 

my selfies got so much better throughout the trip ha

So there you have it - a whirlwind 5 days and a whirlwind of a blog post. If you made it this far - go outside, how do you have this much free time?! haha but seriously, if you have specific questions about any of the parks please ask - I'm no expert but I'm really into research. :)

Now start planning your trip!


grand teton national park

“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery — air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, ‘This is what it is to be happy.’” Sylvia Path

teton 1

I'm not one for resolutions - but I love goal setting. One of my goals this year is to read 52 books. Not necessarily sticking to one a week but 52 in total. So far I am ahead of my goal (woo!) and reading a lot of books that I wouldn't have normally chosen. One of those books is Astoria by Peter Stark. It was book number 26 and chronicles John Jacob Astor's Astorian's trek to the West Coast to establish a fur trading post. 


What does this have to do with the Grand Tetons I'm sure you are asking yourself. Well, the Overland party of Astorians decided to take a route through North America that was south of Lewis and Clark's between 1810 and 1812 and in the process became some of the first non-native people to cross the Teton range. 

teton reflection

"There the landmark stood, clearly visible even at sixty miles' distance - three jagged, snowcapped peaks rising in a cluster like shark's teeth, nearly a mile above the surrounding landscape... '[the three mountains] were hailed by the travelers,' wrote Washington Irving, in his account of Astor's enterprise. 'with that joy with which a beacon on a seashore is hailed by the mariners after a long and dangerous voyage..." (Stark 131) 

After reading I immediately booked my first night in Driggs, Idaho, in the Teton Valley - over the Teton pass that the Overland party traveled over 200 years ago. What can I say, books inspire me. And I'm so glad that they do - because I wasn't prepared for the beauty I was about to find. 

I stayed in Driggs the first night in part because the Jackson Hole valley is super duper expensive (especially in the summer) but also because I wanted to see the range from a different view. I stayed at a beautiful log home in the valley (on a yak farm!) and enjoyed an evening watching the sunset and a beautiful morning watching the sun rise over the peaks. 

After watching the yaks for longer than I care to admit, I started on the (breathtaking) road to the park. Grand Teton is north of Jackson, Wyoming and 10 miles south of Yellowstone National Park - connected by the Rockefeller Parkway. It was established in 1929 and encompasses 310,000 acres of land. It is in the top ten visited National Parks with over 2.5 million visitors per year.

teton sign

Grand Teton is the tallest mountain in the Teton range at 13,775 feet above sea level but what makes the landscape so dramatic is that it towers over 7,000 feet above the valley. 

teton drive

There are over 200 miles of trails, 1,000 campsites, lodges, visitors centers, lakes famous for trout fishing and two that allow motorized boating - Jackson and Jenny Lake (below).

jenny lake

I spent quite a bit of time in the Colter Bay area of Jackson Lake, named after the first white man to see the Tetons and the original mountain man - John Colter. There is a marina with rentals, swimming beach, picnic areas, general store, restaurants, lodging, a gift shop, and an alright view :) 

Fun fact about the parks name: "The buoyant French-Canadian voyageurs called them as they saw them, the Trois Tetons - 'the three breasts.' It's the voyagers' name that has stuck for these grand mountains that tower above today's Jackson Hole, Wyoming." (Stark 131) 

jackson lake

Now that I hope these pictures and stories of fur traders have convinced you to visit - here's how to do it:

Fly: The Jackson Hole Airport is the only airport within a National Park! 

Drive: I drove from Denver through Jackson to Driggs via 191 which was so beautiful but a more direct route is via US - 287. 

Stay: There are lodges and campsites in the park, hotels in Jackson just outside, or a little farther in the Teton Valley - over the Teton pass to Driggs (where my airbnb was located) and Victor. 

Pay: I (of course) used my $80 America the Beautiful Pass to get in fee free but if you don't have one, the fee for Grand Teton is $30 for a vehicle 7-day pass ($50 for a Grand Teton and Yellowstone pass) 

Things to do: There are so so many things to do that I can't possibly blog about here but check out the official website, my post on trip planning, and this map for more specifics!

Now plan your trip! (and bring an extra memory card for your camera - you're going to need it) :)

tetons relaxing


the great great sand dunes

“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.” - Rumi

From 1st to 4th grade my family lived in Colorado. One of my strangest memories from those years is of a visit to the Great Sand Dunes (it wasn't yet a National Park). I have always remembered images of the visit in my mind but thought that it was too surreal to have actually happened. Because not even my mind could conjure something so incredible.

dunes 1

Since I have moved back to the state I have visited a few times and am in the same state of wonder and amazement as all those years ago. 

A little background on the park: the Great Sand Dunes are home to the tallest sand dunes in North America - 750 ft from base to crest. It was declared a National Monument in 1932 and a National Park and Preserve in 2004. The park covers 44,246 acres and an additional 41,686 for the preserve. The nearest town is Alamosa (35 miles away). 

The dunes started forming through sand and soil deposits from the Rio Grande, the winds picked up the sand and lost power before crossing the mountains. The process is continuous and the shape of the dunes change daily. 

The dunes are accessible for hiking (very carefully in the summer when sand temps can reach 150 degrees!) sand sledding, sand boarding, and there are sand wheelchairs available (so cool) The sand sleds and sand boards are available tor rent in Alamosa at Kristi Mountain Sports or Oasis Campground outside the park. 

The Great Sand Dunes are just shy of 4 hours from Denver. I take I-25 south, exit 52 to US-180 W at Walsenburg, over La Veta pass and into Fort Garland then Blanca. Turn right onto CO - 150, drive about 19 miles and you're there! It is $15 per car (or no charge with the America the Beautiful Pass that I recommend at least once a day). 

Until you get close you'd never know anything was there other than the Sangre de Cristo mountains. 

dunes road

At the main parking area you enter the dunes by crossing Medano Creek - or swimming through in the summer!

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The dunes are much larger than a picture can convey. Be prepared to walk quite a while through some challenging altitude change if you want to get to the top. Bring water! (and sunscreen - I had a Teva foot sunburn that lasted a year after this picture)

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I like to climb up somewhere and just sit. I bring a book but it's usually too windy to do anything but take it in. There are no real set trails due to the changing landscape so you can be as far or close to others as you'd like. I prefer far :) Acoustic monitoring has shown that the park has one of the quietest soundscapes in the country! I'm not surprised. So peaceful. 

Again, pictures don't do them justice. You have to go.

Resolution: make a gif ✔️ #sanddunes #cartwheel #gif

See this Instagram video by @emhart11 * 8 likes

If all these pictures haven't convinced you to visit this underrated National Park then I don't know what will. It is an amazing, peaceful, and surreal place that everyone should see in their lifetime. 


While in South Dakota, I took a day trip to Badlands National Park. It is about an hour drive from where I was staying in Rapid City via I-90 E and about 6 hours direct from Denver.

It is everything I had hoped for and so much more. 

badlands profile

Badlands is a 244,000 acre National Park  in Southwest South Dakota. It's east of the black hills and the scenery is strikingly different. 

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According to the National Park Service, "The Lakota people were the first to call this place "mako sica" or "land bad." Extreme temperatures, lack of water, and the exposed rugged terrain led to this name. In the early 1900's, French-Canadian fur trappers called it "les mauvais terres pour traverse," or "bad lands to travel through."

It is near the town of Wall, but you wouldn't know you were anywhere but a prairie until after you've entered the park. 

It costs $15 per car (or nada if you've got an America the Beautiful pass that I can't recommend enough!)

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Some history: Badlands was designated as a National Park in 1978. It is made up of eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires made of layers of colorful sediment. Water carves out an inch more each year through erosion to create the beautiful formations. It is home to one of the worlds richest fossil beds, and the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the United States. 

Wildlife is everywhere at the park (like the snake pic below ahhh) and it used to be the home of rhinos, three toed horses, and saber toothed cats. --> They even sell saber tooth cat fossil earrings. 

had to.

had to.

I took the Highway 240 loop scenic byway through the park and stopped at every single pull over (duh). It is breathtaking. The thing I liked the most was the differentiation between the landscapes. Between the prairie and "The Wall" of sediment and between the formations themselves. Each area had its own look.

I took about 3.2 million pictures, but here are just a few (and a gif!!):

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Door Trail

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Notch Trail



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original fav pose

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Ladder on Notch Trail

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Fossil Trail.

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Fossil trail.

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badlands logo

Badlands is an underrated park for sure - if you are near South Dakota (or not) you should definitely go! 

Mt. Rushmore (Earth) Day

Last weekend I decided to take the day off to celebrate Earth Day! I had recently been looking at maps for fun (I do this a lot) and found that Mt. Rushmore was only 5 1/2 hours from Denver! I had never been so... woo weekend road trip to South Dakota! 

I drove through a whole lot of nothing until I got into the Black Hills. The nothing was so worth it. The Black Hills are beautiful and driving up to Mt. Rushmore is gorgeous.

Background on Mt. Rushmore (just in case): it's a National Memorial governed by the National Park Service. It was conceived by a South Dakota historian to bring tourism to the area. It is now visited by over 3 million people annually, and is the number one attraction in South Dakota - where tourism is the 2nd largest industry. 

Originally the historian Doane Robinson wanted the sculpture to be of Western heroes but Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor, wanted it to have a national focus which is why the Presidents were the final design. They began sculpting in 1927 and finished the four faces (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln) between 1934 and 1939. The original design sculpted the Presidents from head to waist, but due to a lack of funding work ceased in 1941.

Amazingly, sculpting 60 foot heads in blocks of granite for 14 years produced no fatalities. 

There is no entrance fee to the Monument, but there is an $11 per car parking fee. This allows you to park in the parking garage for the year. 

After walking down the Avenue of Flags, I spent some time taking in the view above the amphitheater. Then I went on the fairly short hike closer to the mountain. One of the first stops on the hike is a cave with a great view up George Washington's nose. 

It was a beautiful day for a walk.

The hike is all wooden paths and stairways (lots of stairs) in the trees.

Future Mt. Rushmore face.

After the hike I stopped at the dining hall and got some ice cream. The big draw is Thomas Jefferson vanilla, apparently modeled after his famous ice cream recipe, but the mint chocolate was too tempting. (and didn't cost extra like TJ vanilla!)

I had painted Mt. Rushmore earlier in the week and (of course) brought it to take pictures with the real thing. 

It was a beautiful place and once in a lifetime experience (60 foot President heads!) I definitely recommend if you've never been, or haven't been as an adult. 

PS - my Mt. Rushmore is for sale :) Make me an offer if you love Presidents as much as I do!