The Ultimate National Park Travel Guide

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.” 
― John Muir

The Ultimate National Park travel guide.jpg

Living in the West — Colorado in particular — sometimes makes me feel like everyone is a master outdoors-person. That everyone has been to more National Parks than me (and I’ve been to 47 on my own just in the US!), everyone has an SUV crammed with gear, and everyone is on top of some mountain right at this moment, probably looking down at me and laughing. But, alas, apparently that is not so. 

While National Parks visitors have generally increased each year (318 million in 2018!) they are still mostly concentrated in the top 5 parks, with the bottom 5 only receiving between 10-20,000 visitors a year.

For comparison sake (and math!) Disneyworld averages over 52 million visitors a year — nearly five times the number of visitors of the most visited National Park — Great Smoky Mountains — which sees just over 11 million. The second-most visited park — Grand Canyon — only had 6.3 million visitors last year.

So, while social media may make it seem like everyone already knows everything about National Parks — don’t worry, they don’t. With the start of National Park Week (and a fee free day April 20) and summer vacation season gearing up, hopefully you are planning a trip to one or two of America’s best idea. To assuage any anxiety you may have, here are my answers to the most common questions I get about National Park Travel:


which parks should i visit

This is the by far the question I get asked the most! Which parks are “the best” or my favorite. Well, here’s the thing, it doesn’t really matter what my favorites are — because my motivations for visiting might be different than yours or your family’s.

I always tell people to consider their motivations when planning a National Park trip. What do you want to do while you’re there? Because while you may think a parks trip is all hiking and wildlife — there is so much more to do at many (most, even) of the parks.

Some parks are great for a drive (with lots of photo worthy overlooks), some parks are great to bike in, some parks are on water or have a lot of water inside, some parks are better for families, and some parks have entire towns inside. The point: understand your motivation for the trip and how it matches up to where you are going. 

If you want to stay in a cool lodge and play mini-golf in the afternoons — don’t go to the Petrified Forest. On the flip side, if you want to hike in solitude (you know, become one with nature, kumbaya, namaste) then maybe don’t hit the South Rim of the Grand Canyon or Yosemite Village. 

There are a lot of different atmospheres within parks, and also outside of them. Big parks generally have towns outside that cater to tourists and families (Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Rocky Mountain) while other parks are literally in the middle of nowhere (Guadalupe Mountains, Pinnacles, Theodore Roosevelt) and some are nearby to medium to large cities (Channel Islands, Saguaro). 

It’s important to take all of this into account and also to understand what you/your friends/family actually like to do. If you only want to walk 3/4 of a mile (or less) to see some natural wonders — that’s awesome and totally possible. Don’t try to backpack for three days just because you think that’s the thing to do.

when is the best time to visit

Again, the “best” time might be different for everyone. I go to a lot of parks in the off or shoulder season to get away from crowds (and it’s cheaper), but I also miss some things that way. That being said, there are some “rules” to consider when planning a trip.

If you aren’t from a mountainous or higher elevation place, you may not realize how long “winter” lasts. Rocky Mountain National Park, Glacier, North Cascades, Mt. Rainier, and Crater Lake are just a handful of parks that will have snow well into Spring. In many cases the roads won’t even all be open until much later than you might expect. So unless your motivation is to see the snow, check each park individually to see when roads will be open and when you can expect the snow to be melted.

Similarly, there are a few parks that you really don’t want to be in after the spring. Death Valley, Saguaro, and Joshua Tree all have extremely high, uncomfortable, and even dangerous heat in the summer months.

Other things to consider: is there a certain ecological event you’d like to witness? Many parks are known for spring blooms and fall foliage. While the parks will be more crowded during those times, it is for good reason, and might be worth the trip.

Bugs/Wildlife: There are definitely certain seasons that are better for seeing wildlife and worse for certain bugs. If these things concern you, look up that park specifically.

where do i stay?

Not to sound like a broken record here but, this depends on what you want/like to do. You don’t have to camp! But if you want to, that’s definitely the best option in my opinion. Many times any other lodging options are 1+ hour away, which takes time away from your experience in the park.

There are also beautiful lodges in many parks. These are often booked well in advance, so if this is the route you want to go — book early.

Gateway towns often have chain hotels, but I find that they are often overpriced for what you get. If I’m not camping I generally will spring for an Airbnb. There are almost always an abundance of interesting Airbnb listings near the larger and more remote parks.

how do i plan my route?

When visiting a National Park, you’re going to need a car. While there are shuttle buses within many parks (and I recommend using them!), the parks themselves are generally remote. Luckily, a lot of National Parks are (relatively) close to other parks — especially in the West. And remember, they’re also mostly all in the middle of nowhere anyways, so if you’re going to spend the time to drive to one, you might as well add in another one. Or four (looking at you California). 

I’ve taken advantage of proximity on most trips. Grand Tetons and Yellowstone are obvious groupings, but Theodore Roosevelt and Rocky Mountain National Park aren’t too far from them either. Wind Cave and Badlands are near each other, Great Sand Dunes, Mesa Verde, and Black  Canyon of the Gunnison are all within somewhat short distances of each other, and I even went to Carlsbad Caverns, Guadalupe Mountains, and Big Bend all in one big loop. 

Then of course there are the obvious: California, Washington, and Utah are all packed with National Parks — it would be a crime against Ken Burns to only visit one. 

what do i pack?

National Parks are great because they cater to all sorts of people. You can hike the back-country for days and climb a 14er, or you can stay in a luxurious lodge in a park with it’s own grocery store. There are certain things you need, sure, but if you plan on doing the normal things, no need to spend your entire vacation budget at REI. 

That being said, there are some things I have with me no matter what:

Water — in a water bottle and a gallon or two in my trunk (although many parks have water stations for fill ups)
Sunscreen -- even though I always forget to put it on (just having it makes me feel mature and prepared haha)
Snacks — usually mixed nuts and dried fruit (no melted mess)
Book -- (related to the place I am in if possible! - check the visitors center)
Camera — DSLR or just iPhone (make sure they are charged!)
America the Beautiful Pass - $80 to get into all the parks for a year, as well as tons of other National Park sites (GREAT DEAL I use it all the time)
Pepper spray/knife -- cause hey, I'm alone (and I guess the type of badass who carries a knife) 

and…. that’s it. That’s really all you need. Probably more than what you need, actually. I have other boots, backpack, first aid, poncho, hiking poles etc, but generally use those mostly at non-National Parks.

what do i wear

Again, this isn’t as complicated as you might think. What would you wear to go to a park in your town? You can probably wear that. I usually wear leggings, Tevas, and some kind of t-shirt or tank. If it’s hot I’ll wear some denim or athletic shorts. I usually keep a flannel nearby if it get’s cold.

Think about breathable fabrics, layers, and comfortable shoes. You’d be shocked at how many people try to hike down into the Grand Canyon in totally inappropriate dress shoes and even heels.

Just use common sense :)

In the Park

what do i do there

Again, this depends on what you like to do. There is no “right way” to visit or experience a National Park. But, if you have no idea or are looking for new experiences I always recommend visiting the visitors center first. And don’t just walk in and out. Talk to the Rangers! Get specific! They want to help you have the best experience. I say some version of this: “I like to _______, I have ______ time, I’d like to see _______, what do you recommend?” Always works. They know the secret spots. 

And then let go of any expectation. You’re there to enjoy yourself, so if you get sidetracked and miss a spot or two on your list — it’s okay.

what if its crowded

If you’re visiting some of the more well-known parks in season, they’re going to be crowded. It’s just the way it is. And in many ways it’s great to see the parks being appreciated. But, if you’re like me, the crowds can make the experience a little… annoying. Luckily, I’ve spent enough time in the popular parks to come up with a game plan for crowds.

Get there early. Always. The early mornings are always going to be less crowded. Parking lots may not be full yet, popular trails aren’t congested, and you also get the best views.

Venture off the main “attractions”. While I would never say to skip something like Old Faithful or the Grand Prismatic Spring at Yellowstone (they’re worth fighting a crowd) remember that there is SO MUCH more to do and see at Yellowstone. And this is true for all of the parks. If you’re not sure where to find a hidden gem, ask a ranger, but then also ask someone else. I usually ask a gift shop or restaurant worker. Maybe someone you met in town. The key is to find someone who lives and works in the area — they know the spots.

Another option is to travel in the off season. When I post pictures in a park I always get comments that I went at the wrong time, or should really come back for ______ season. But, like I’ve said about 50 times, my motivations are different than theirs, so I might be perfectly fine missing that season or event in a park in exchange for less people overall. You might be too.

what if i dont want to hike

Then don’t! Like I mentioned above, there are so many options in each park. You can bike, drive, boat, swim, canoe, snorkel, and all kinds of other activities depending on where you go. Think about that before you plan your trip so you’re not stuck doing something you’re not interested in.

what if i'm tired

Then take a break! Seriously, don’t burn yourself out. That is definitely not the point of a vacation. I see so many people at parks who seem totally beat down from trying to see and do it all. Families are bickering and no one seems to be having any fun.

I spend a lot of time relaxing. Sitting on a rock somewhere and reading a book. Or just sitting. Listening. Meditating. Taking a nap. Allow yourself to do the things that make you feel good. That give you energy and fill you with joy. If that’s going hard for 12 straight hours, that’s great. If it’s sitting at a lookout for 12 straight hours, also great. It doesn’t make your experience any more or less.

am i safe

One of the reasons I started traveling to National Parks was because they felt safe. I wanted to spend time outdoors, but wasn’t ready to go off the grid completely. While National Parks are often very large and remote, they are also generally full of people — and park rangers!

If you’re concerned about safety camping, or encountering wildlife, stop by the visitors center and talk to a ranger. Maybe even go on a guided hike. Remember that you are surrounded by like-minded people — who would help you if you needed.

how do i care for environment

This might seem obvious, but according to what I’ve seen at parks apparently it isn’t. There might be a few areas for trash in some parks, but they are few and far between. Anything you bring in, you need to take out. Park rangers are not custodians, and more importantly — there are bears hanging around! Wildlife does not need your skittles wrapper/you are actually endangering people on top of ruining the very thing you are here to see. 

Actually, aim to leave a place even better than you found it! If you see some trash, pick it up. 

And it should go without saying, but don’t write on, deface, carve etc anything into anything (yes, people still do this)

For more information, check out the Leave No Trace Seven Principles.

what's trail etiquette?

If you don’t spend a lot of time on trails, you may not know trail etiquette is even a thing. So here’s a quick rundown (of the stuff that bothers me):

Right of way - The hiker going uphill has the right of way. It takes more energy and flow to ascend so the hiker going down should step to the side. 

Noise - Keep it down. I've actually been on many hikes where someone was playing music loudly from their iPhone. No earbuds. That is NOT why people go into nature. Keep it to yourself. 

Groups - Hike single-file unless you are truly the only people on the trail and can see ahead/hear behind! Sorry, but you can still talk that way. At least stay on the right half of trail space, and stay on the actual trail. 

Don’t take it with you - Don't take the rocks/branches/whatever. Leave it for others to look at. :)

Traveling Alone

As much as I’d like to think that traveling alone isn’t any different than in a group — it is. Especially as a woman. So while all of the above information still applies, there are some special concerns I’ll try to address here. For more information on solo travel and safety check out my posts here, here, and here.

what if i'm scared

Fear is a natural emotion. It makes sense to be afraid of something when you don’t know what to expect/haven’t experienced it before. But you can’t let the fear stop you. Real courage is acknowledging fear and continuing. Easier said than done though right?

Here are some things that can help to face fears:

 Gradual exposure – Identify your fears and then gradually expose yourself to them. If the idea of going on a week long off the grid hike is scary – start with a solo hike on a busy trail for a couple of hours. Work your way up to the thing you are afraid of. Practice is key – the more you expose yourself to the source of your fear the less of a hold it will have on you.

Acknowledge and accept – There’s always a point at the beginning of a trip where my mind is working overtime with fear. Did I remember to turn off the oven, did I pack my phone charger, what if the Airbnb is sketchy, what if what if what if. I have learned to acknowledge my fears and then accept that I can’t do anything more. I feel the fear and let it pass. This is a practice of mindfulness. Imagine you are watching cars drive by on a street. You acknowledge they are there and let them pass. Do this with your fear – acknowledge it and let the thoughts pass.

Think positively – A generally positive attitude is key. Assume things will go well. Assume it will all work out. Look to the past and remember the times when your fears were unfounded and assume they will be again.

Practical Tips: I always carry a pocket knife, pepper spray (or bear spray), and when staying in a hotel or Airbnb I have a doorstop alarm and/or an add a lock. Much more here.

how do i get photos?

Every day people ask me how I get photos of myself if I am traveling alone. Some people seem to think that I am lying, and have some secret boyfriend or photographer in tow. But, nope, 99% of my photos I take on my iPhone with the camera timer. The other 1% are taken by strangers I ask to take a photo of me if I’m in a crowded area. For many years I just set my phone up on a ledge, wall, or ground, but now I use this inexpensive tripod that fits in my day pack.

Here are a few tips:

Basics: Set the timer on your phone camera to 10 seconds and either set up the tripod or find something to prop your phone up against. It could be a wall, a fence, your water bottle – I’ve found some crazy stuff that works.

If you can help it, don’t use the selfie camera – you won’t be able to see yourself but the quality of the photo is much better.

Set your phone up as high as you can. Sometimes a pic from the ground can look cool but generally closer to eye level makes a better photo.

If you have an Apple Watch - set your phone somewhere farther away and use the watch to cue the photo — or use a remote (most tripods will include one)

Camera timers are the secret to the cartwheel/active shots – the timer takes a burst of photos so you have a few to choose from.

Take a bunch! Haha but seriously – take one, look at it, and then make adjustments as necessary.

And then post them all over the internet. (duh)

how do i let people know where i am

I tell at least one or two people what my hiking area is, and I share my location from my phone with my parents and two of my friends. I don’t know how that works when you don’t have service, but it makes me feel better that if they don’t hear from me, they can see my location. It’s also important to check in with others when you have service.

On the other side of that, it’s important not to post where you are! I’ve seen people post photos of their exact campsite while they are at it — not a good idea.

I still have questions!

You’re going to be okay! At some point you have to stop planning and start doing. Just go. Talk to rangers. Make friends with others in the park. Learn by doing. You’re going to have a great time :)

If you have specific questions about any of the parks I’ve been to, leave me a comment below!

Friday Favorites - 3.24.17

 “I’d never seen anything like it before, but it fitted to me exactly. It’s something that’s in the air – it’s different. The sky is different, the wind is different. I shouldn’t say too much about it because other people may be interested and I don’t want them interested.” - Georgia O'Keeffe on New Mexico

I haven't been so great about blogging lately. Mostly because the days are longer and I'm spending every moment possible outside. duh. But here are some things I've loved this week:

This Place

I went to Taos this past weekend and stayed in an earthship! It was so perfect and beautiful and relaxing. I was completely off the grid in the middle of nowhere outside of town - I really can't recommend it enough. You can read more about earthships and Taos here.  And/or watch my instagram story below:

This Data

I am currently reading 4 different books. And although I am not tracking a specific reading goal this year - I still project somewhere around 50 books read. While that sounds like a lot (and it is) think about all the books that exist! I want to read them all! But can I?

Emily Temple at Literary Hub decided to find out. She used data from the Social Security Life Expectancy Calculator and the average number of books read by different groups per year to find how many books you can still read in your lifetime. I've got around 2,800 left! I better choose wisely :) Look at the data here

This Recipe

I am restricting myself from meat for March (and into April for Lent), so I have been trying lots of vegetarian recipes (but mostly eating a lot of bread, french fries, veggie pizza, and macaroni and cheese haha). Anyways, I've found a winner! Buffalo Tofu!

Tofu?! It might sound scary if you've never worked with it, but this recipe is super easy and tastes so amazing I made it two days in a row. Head over to Killing Thyme for the recipe here (and thank me later) :)

This Timeline

The Atlantic recently went live with their "Life Timeline" You enter in your birthday and they give you a personalized timeline of world events from your birth into the future. Each event links to an article for more info. Some of it was meh but most of mine was pretty interesting. Try it for yourself here. 

This Soundtrack (and show)

Have you been watching Big Little Lies?? If you haven't, block out some time and get someones HBO password ASAP. The show is pretty addictive, but the best part is the soundtrack. While there is no official soundtrack, much has been written about the music on the show and you can find all the songs cataloged in many places. Find the songs from Episode 5 here. And this spotify playlist for more:

Happy Friday! I'm headed to California next week - follow along @emhart11 :)

Solo Travel - Part 1

“The man who goes alone can start today, but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready.” — Henry David Thoreau

Imagine your favorite band is coming to your town to play live at your favorite venue. You bought two tickets so you could share this life changing experience with a friend or partner and have been counting down the days to the event. But on the night of the show, to your surprise, your friend or partner doesn't care about the band and are just standing limply next to you scrolling through facebook during your favorite song. Would your experience change? Mine would. I would be annoyed that I bought the ticket in the first place, but more than that I would have a hard time focusing on my own enjoyment with someone who obviously would rather be somewhere else. I would still enjoy the concert but I would definitely leave the experience wishing I had just went by myself. 

While it is important to share experiences with others - it can be just as valuable to experience things all alone. There are a lot of things in life that I want to do and if I waited around for someone who wanted to do them with me (with the same amount of enthusiasm) I might be waiting forever. 

I don't have time to waste so I almost always travel alone - and it's one of the things I get asked about a lot. People are always curious about whether or not I went somewhere to visit family or friends or with some mystery someone else. When I tell them I go alone there are generally three reactions: a long list of questions that begin with why, those who think it sounds amazing but something they "could never do" or those who - like me - understand that solo travel is full of opportunity and joy. 

For those of you who may fit into the first two groups, here is the first in a series about solo travel: who is doing it, why you should, and some tips for enjoyment and safety. 

Who's Flying Solo?

Solo travel is more popular than ever - specifically solo female travel. 

According to a 2015 study, 24% of people traveled alone on their most recent vacation. While accurate statistics are hard to gather for this topic - according to the Travel Industry Association, 32 million single women traveled at least once last year with a third of them traveling three or more times. 

You might assume that the majority of these solo travelers are young single adventurers but the average female solo traveler is actually 47 and just as likely to be single or married.

Over half of women asked in this study said that they were more likely to travel alone than they were five years ago and it's no surprise: 65% of them said that they feel more confident after a trip alone, 63% said that a solo trip made them feel more energized and refreshed, and 59% said they would travel solo again in the next year.

Social media, also unsurprisingly, has played a role. The same study found that social media has empowered women to find unique places to go and are inspired by the other solo travelers that they see. (obviously I can attest to this as well)

Why not?

So while there seems to be a huge increase in solo travelers in recent years, there are still so many people who think they could never do it.

I think one of the reasons more people don't go on their own has to do with the natural human tendency to care about others perception of you. There is a stigma attached to doing things alone. Sometimes this manifests as the so-called "spotlight effect" - the belief that you are being noticed by others around you more than you actually are. The spotlight effect is what keeps people from doing things like eating at a restaurant, going to a museum, or a attending a concert alone - they have an (egocentric) belief that they are being noticed by others as the "loser who has no one to go with them" so they change their actions and don't do things alone. 

Another reason people wait around for others to do things is that they just don't think it will be as fun alone. I get that. You want to share your experiences - we all do. But what if nobody wants to do the thing you want to do? What if they can't take the time off? What if they actually hate the thing you end up doing and then mess up the experience for you both? 

But you shouldn't worry about enjoying a solo experience less. According to a study in the Journal of Consumer Research, people consistently underestimate how much enjoyment they will have doing things alone. The researchers asked participants to rate how much enjoyment they thought they would have doing something alone and then how much they actually had. The study found no statistically significant difference between those who did things with friends and those who did them alone. Surprised?

So, are you going to wait around for someone who loves your favorite band just as much as you do before you see them play? No way. Then why wait to travel. There is no perfect time  - just go. Solo travel - even just a day trip - promotes more enjoyment, productivity, reflection, and independence. Being alone gives you a chance to do exactly what you want, recharge, and make no apologies for it. So what are you waiting for?


Check back next week for Solo Travel - Part 2 Tips and Safety. 

Friday Five - 12.23.16

"Do not be afraid of spending quality time by yourself. Find meaning or don’t find meaning but 'steal' some time and give it freely and exclusively to your own self. Opt for privacy and solitude. That doesn’t make you antisocial or cause you to reject the rest of the world. But you need to breathe. And you need to be.” ― Albert Camus, Notebooks 1951-1959

Lone Geniuses

I just got back from a short trip to Arizona and, like almost every trip I take, I went alone. I do most things alone - I prefer it. So many people ask me how and why I travel alone, tell me that it is brave/adventurous, or ask what I am running away from. I just like being alone. That's the secret that's not a secret at all. 

Due to my proclivity for alone time, I'm always interested in studies about solitude. I recently read about a study in the British Journal of Psychology that found that while social interactions increase happiness generally, they have the opposite affect on people with higher intelligence. Not that I fancy myself a genius or anything but the logic makes sense to me. Intelligent people are driven to a specific purpose - or have a lot of interests and hobbies that can make social interactions more difficult. Whether they are more intelligent naturally or as a result of their curiosity and drive doesn't really matter. 

More than "genius" or "high IQ" I think that (and have lots and lots of evidence that) creative people are more likely to thrive in solitude. Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Henry David Thoreau, and Howard Hughes are just a few of the many noted creative people throughout history who preferred to be alone. I know that I need a ton of alone time - not neccesarilly to recharge in the introvert sense - but to cultivate creativity. I mean, I can't research and write this blog about creativity and solitude if I wasn't, in fact, alone. :) 

So, as Nikola Tesla famously said, "Be alone, that is the secret of invention; be alone, that is when ideas are born." It's nothing to be afraid of.  

Read more here, here, and here.

Biosphere 2 

On my trip to Arizona I stopped at Biosphere 2 in Oracle. Biosphere 2 is the famous closed ecological system where "biospherians" spent two missions living and working to simulate a space like environment. The longer of the two missions lasted two years, and while it had it's share of problems (a whole other posts worth) it was considered to be a success by many in the scientific community. 

The space and the science are super impressive but what I was interested in this week was the confined environment and isolation the biospherians experienced. Being stuck in a space (even one over 3 acres like Biosphere 2) for any amount of time with 7 other people is sort of my worst nightmare. Imagine only interacting with those people day in and day out - working, eating, socializing - everything. 

Now imagine the stress you'd already be feeling from harvesting and making your own food (one of the biospherians famously said that it took 4 months to make a pizza), conducting science experiments all day, and being the only engineers and maintenance of the amazingly large structure. Then add losing weight due to the low calorie diet, losing oxygen due to the closed system (oxygen got so low that it was equivalent to being over 13,000 ft above sea level), and then the effects of prolonged isolation such as depression, insomnia, anxiety, fatigue, and boredom. Whoa. 

Confined Environment Psychology is super interesting and studies these sorts of environments - mostly long term Antarctic research stations (or, appropriately, ICE - Isolated Confined Environments) and uses the results for a model for life in space (just like Biosphere 2 and other Mars simulations aim to do). 

Read more about Biosphere 2 here and here. Read about confined environment psychology here and here. 

Or watch this TedTalk by one of the Biospherians: 


 Productivity Cliff

I wrote a bit last week about American's tendency to overwork and not take all their vacation time. I couldn't understand why people would willingly do this so I did more digging. My theory has always been that more than 50 hours of work a week makes me less effective and efficient. While the average teacher spends 59 hours per week working, I've always been proud of my work life balance and ability to leave the unfinished work unfinished (to save my sanity). It turns out my theory is on the mark for most people.

According to a Stanford study there is a "productivity cliff" after 50 hours of work per week. The relationship between hours worked and productivity is linear (math woo!) up until 49 hours but then falls after 50. Productivity dramatically falls after 55 hours per week (the cliff) so much that someone who works 70 hours a week produces no more than someone working 55. Whoa. 

Long hours have long been shown to increase absenteeism, turnover, sleep disturbances (which leads to even less productivity), increase chances of stroke, heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes (in low-income jobs), and increase depression. So why do we do it? American's value work and "busyness" - but that is another topic entirely. Read on. :)  

Or first read more about the productivity cliff here, here, and here

Creating Margin

There was a piece in the Washington Post this week about how busyness has become a status symbol. According to a Harvard study, it's become the new conspicuous consumption - more people are able to have luxury items now so those items are losing their ability to signal importance or worth. Being busy all the time is a way to show your worth through perceived scarcity - (ie. I am very important and in demand). 

But if you read about the productivity cliff, the importance of taking your vacation time, or just have a pulse, you know that this isn't healthy or sustainable. You must create margin in your life. 

Margin is the "space between load and limits" or "between breathing and suffocating". It's the extra time intentionally planned into your day for the things that might come up or for the rest that you will need. And while you may not be signaling your importance, being intentional about creating margin opens up your life to more balance, creativity, and happiness. 

Read more here, here, and here. 


Why I Use a Physical Planner (and you should too)

One more Friday of 2016 and you know what that means - new planner! I read this article on The Onion a couple weeks ago and am ashamed to say that many years I fall into the first few weeks then sporadic planner user group. But not this year. I actually started a new, undated planner a month ago (couldn't wait) and have tried to be very intentional about using it.

Successful people plan. They know where their time is being spent and where it is being wasted. If you are not intentional about time it can (and will) get away from you. If you want to create margin in your life, you have to be intentional. You have the power to design your own life - but you have to be conscious and plan it. 

So while I know all the important reasons to plan my days - there are also many reasons why I use a physical planner rather than one that is tech based. Here are some of them:

- Writing things down is linked to learning - you learn more when you write it as opposed to just seeing/hearing.

- Notes that are handwritten are remembered at a higher rate than those on a laptop.

- Physical writing helps you to focus - no notifications or other tech distractions

- Writing helps the brain stay sharp!

- Writing things down helps to mentally unload. You can think more clearly, receive ideas, and focus better once the mental clutter is on the page

- Writing down goals helps to achieve them. Self-authoring brings clarity, focus and direction.

(*Write your goals in your planner! You'll reap the benefits of writing them and of being reminded of them!) 

Read more here and here

Happy Friday :) *and Holidays!

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 :) 

The Anticipation Phase

“Well," said Pooh, "what I like best," and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called.” 
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

I love traveling to strange places off the beaten path. I love road trips, I love exploring, and I love finding hidden gems along the way. All of these things bring me a lot of happiness. But something that brings as much or more happiness is just the process of planning the trip. I love researching, I love planning, I love talking with friends and gathering recommendations. Of course I am not alone in this.

Trips, like a good story or a lesson, come in three phases: the anticipation phase, the savoring phase, and the reflection phase. As a teacher, the beginning of a lesson serves the most important purpose - the "hook" or in educational terms, the "anticipatory set". The anticipatory set is meant to "focus students attention, provide a brief practice and/or develop a readiness for instruction to follow" it "helps students to get mentally or physically ready" for the days objective. The anticipation is what drives the lesson. It is when the inquiry starts and (hopefully) the curiosity is ignited. 

Anticipation, in general, works this way. The latin root of anticipate - ante-capio literally means to take before or to cause something to happen sooner. When you are anticipating something, the positive emotions associated with what you are anticipating happen sooner. If you are going on a great vacation, getting married, or buying a house, you feel the happiness boost well before the event takes place. 

And it's not just anecdotal, there are several studies that back me up on this. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Applied Research in Quality of Life found that among participants, the majority of people felt happiest before a trip - even more so than on the trip itself. Another study commissioned by found similar results. In the study, 72% of people experienced an immediate high when booking a trip, 56% said they were at their happiest when booking, and over a third said they thought about their trip once or more per day for a quick pick me up. 

These studies aren't surprising when you think of the vast history of delayed gratification research. People who are able to delay gratification have always been posited to be happier in the long term. Like the famous 1970's cookie and marshmallow experiments where the children who could delay their gratification received not only another cookie or marshmallow but were found to later do better in school, have less behavior problems, higher SAT scores, higher incomes and on and on. The trajectory for those who couldn't was much more negative.

What does this have to do with anticipation? Well, there is a ton of research that suggests that not only does delaying gratification build willpower and more successful people, but it actually makes the thing you have delayed that much more satisfying. 

According to Elizabeth Dunn, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and happiness researcher, "it is better to immerse yourself" into the planning and anticipation stages of a trip for many reasons. It helps to actually smooth over discrepancies in your expectations vs reality of the trip, you learn something new, and it gives moments of novelty to your everyday routine. 

Novelty is at the crux of anticipatory planning for me. As University of California professor Sonja Lyubomirsky has found in her research, because of the concept of "hedonic adaptation" we return to our baseline levels of happiness after adapting to positive and negative experiences. Basically, once we get what we've wanted we adapt to it - it becomes our new normal and alas, it becomes boring and we take it for granted. The way she and other researchers suggest to counteract the adaptation is through novelty, variety, and surprise. Simply changing your daily routine to spend ten minutes researching an airbnb or a trail you want to hike can provide the variety to keep your levels of happiness up. 

So how can you apply this to your life? Well, plan something! It can be a year in advance! In fact, that would be awesome - you have a whole year to anticipate and plan. Here are some things I do in the Anticipatory Phase:

Pinterest Boards

I create a pinterest board for trips I have coming up. That way I can browse through posts about the area, specific things I want to see, photography, packing tips etc. and pin the things that excite me. I may never go back to any of the boards but the excitement is in the creating. 


Of course! I have nothing without books. Read about the place you are going! I read Astoria before visiting the Grand Tetons, a Georgia O'Keeffee biography before visiting Santa Fe, and read parts of Wild pretty much anytime I go on a hike. There is a great website: Longitude Books that has books organized geographically (so smart). 


Watch a movie that's set in the area, watch a TV show with a similar backdrop (or exact hello Westworld), look up documentaries on YouTube.. the possibilities are endless. I've spent many nights watching random internet videos of Bishops Castle or Arcosanti (currently anticipating) to prepare for a trip. 


Basically, google it. There is information on everything in a form of communication that you enjoy. Trust me. (Or just start here)


Buy some new gear! Even if it's something small. I bought a new pair of leggings before I went to NYC that I've needed for months but it felt special to "buy them for New York". 

Countdown Apps

This is just fun (well if you have some available phone storage). There are many apps that countdown to events in your life. I generally download one once I have a trip confirmed, set my arrival time, maybe a background photo of where I am going, and I can look at it whenever I need a pick me up. It sounds small but it's really kind of gratifying. 

And finally...

Talk About It!

Talk to your friends about your trip. Social bonds increase happiness already so it's a double win. And you'd be surprised how many people have already been to the seemingly obscure Utopian off-grid community you are going to and they can be great resources. 

So don't be afraid to anticipate. Don't fall into the trap (that I sometimes do) of being afraid to think too much or plan too much so you won't be let down. Because even if the trip is a letdown, you've experienced a lot of joy already. :) 


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!


road trip essential: podcasts

"Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose."

- Walt Whitman, Song of the Open Road

I love a good road trip. I'm currently driving across the Midwest and, well, it's not the most exciting part of the country. Don't get me wrong, I love seeing the sights anywhere - but I need something to keep me occupied during a long (or short) trip. Enter Podcasts.

I don't have any actual data (although I'm sure I could find some) to back this up but I'm fairly certain the popularity of podcasts has grown exponentially in the past few years (thanks Serial) BUT I'm still so surprised when I frequently talk to people who don't listen to any - mostly because they don't know where to start. 

I listen to sooooo many (because there are sooooo many out there) so it was hard to narrow it down but here are my recommendations on tried and true podcasts (all available via iTunes) to get started for a newbie and some less popular casts for those looking for something new. 


Tried and True:

It wouldn't be a list of podcasts without TAL. This is continually the first or second most downloaded podcast on the iTunes charts each week and with good reason. It blends journalistic non-fiction, short stories, essays in generally a three act format. There are over 500 episodes hosted by Ira Glass available online and an estimated 2.5 million listeners per week. 

Available: once a week

Time: 1 hour

Memorable Episodes: Is This Working? , The Problem We All Live With, Abdi and the Golden Ticket

This podcast is a collaboration between TED (Technology, Engineering, Design) and NPR hosted by Guy Raz bringing together snippets of popular TedTalks and interviews with the speaker that all relate to a common theme. 

Available: weekly

Time: 1 hourish

Memorable Episodes: Solve for X, Quiet, Do We Need Humans

Spun off the popular book series - the authors are back with a podcast exploring the "hidden side of everything" If you enjoy the books or are just a curious person this is for you. 

Available: weekly

Time: 30-50 minutes

Memorable Episodes: Is America's Education Problem Really Just a Teacher Problem?

iTunes describes Radiolab as an "investigation through sound and stories, centered around one big idea" Each episode is a trip through science and philosophy woven together brilliantly. There are shorter and longer episodes (I prefer the longer) and it rivals This American Life as one of the most popular podcast downloads.

Available: every other week

Time: Ranges 30-1 hour +

Memorable Episodes: 60 Words, Space


and For Your Consideration...

An advice podcast from the original "Sugars" of the Dear Sugar column from The Rumpus - Cheryl Strayed (of Wild fame) and Steve Almond. Each episode centers around a theme with one or more letters that the hosts and special guests (authors) give advice on. Strayed has created a huge following (me included) due to her insight and empathy and she doesn't disappoint. *Also check out the book of her columns as Dear Sugar - Tiny, Beautiful Things.

Available: Fridays

Time: 30-45 minutes

A newer podcast I stumbled upon hosted by two friends from Kentucky - one is conservative and one is liberal - discussing politics. They say the word nuance a little too much but in general I enjoy their perspectives. They don't argue, are both very well informed, and just seem like the type of friends you'd want to have at happy hour (if you're like me :))

Available: They have a weekly longer show and "The Briefcase" a shorter episode also each week. 

Time: 30-1hr

This is a newer podcast that aims to take a deep dive into a news story and, well, embed into the story. So far I'm enjoying it. The first episode especially hooked me - I'd recommend starting there since there aren't many episodes yet.

Available: Season 1 all available

Time: 30-45 min

Memorable Episodes: The House (episode 1) and the follow up We Found Joy, The School 

A podcast from Buzzfeed that takes on race, gender, popular culture (and jokes!) I really like the two hosts and they have some good guests and interviews. 

Available: weekly

Time: 45ish min

Memorable Episodes: Ep 28 with Hillary Clinton

This show is hit or miss for me but I love criminology and the episodes are short so I always give it a chance. Each episode is a different story related to crime in some way throughout history. 

Availability: not sure - 44 episodes available on iTunes

Time: 15-30 min

Hosted by Lea Thau, this is a podcast with great stories. Some are personal to Thau and some she becomes involved in. I like how she allows herself to become moved by the stories but again, this is sometimes hit or miss for me.

Available: bi-weekly

Time: 15-50 min

This is a fictional serial-type podcast with just six episodes in the first season. It follows a reporter investigating a town where everyone disappeared and ... you'll find out (through twists and turns) 

Available: Season 1 is all released

Time:20-35 min 

I'd say this is my guilty pleasure but whatever - no guilt. This is a Real Housewives breakdown podcast from Casey Wilson (of snl and Happy Endings!) and Danielle Schneider, two cast members of the Hotwives parody series on hulu. They are both hilarious and talk about the Housewives franchises on at the time and really all the other Bravo shows. The only thing I'm guilty about is that I haven't been listening all along!

Available: weekly

Time 1 hour ish


So there ya have it - a sampling of some of the podcasts I'm listening to now. Enjoy!

Nowhere to go? Check out my post on how to plan a weekend roadtrip! And remember, you don't have to go on a roadtrip to listen. I listened to four podcasts while I was writing this blog about podcasts! (so meta) Happy travels!

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!

sand dunes 3
sand dunes 4
sand dunes 5
sand dunes 6

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)

sand dunes 9

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. 

how to: plan a weekend road trip

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” – Bill Bryson

As much as I would like to spend weeks traveling the globe, my kind of travel is generally of the long weekend road trip variety. Living in Colorado makes finding beautiful places easy but - trust me - there are hidden gems near anyone. 

People ask me a lot of questions about road-trips: how I decide where to go and how I find interesting places when there. While most of my advice is common sense and you probably do most of it already, hopefully I can give you some kind of new tool to make your planning less stressful or some inspiration to start planning (Memorial Day is around the corner!). So here is the first of a series of "how to" posts covering some basics of short road-trip planning. 

car window

First: Where to go??

The first thing I do when I have a long weekend or am itching to get away is to look at a map. I start in Denver and search a radius of 4-6 hours in any direction for place I haven't been.

denver map


A good strategy is to find the green on a map and zoom into it! This is what I got a couple weeks ago zooming in to the Rapid City area. So many places I never would have thought about!

rapid city map

Second: Where will I stay?

After finding the area I want to go to I generally will start an airbnb search. I set the map to the same places, filter it to my price range and entire home with the dates I want to travel and see what comes up. If you haven't used airbnb before, my advice is to go for places with lots of reviews 4 1/2 stars and up. I've had only really great experiences this way. 

airbnb rapid city

If there isn't anything I like I move the airbnb map around with the cursor to see if anything else pops up. Just make sure to keep it within the distance from home that you want to travel.

This also helps with finding unique places. The best places I've stayed (tiny houses, domes, etc.) are "off-the-grid" in some form so it's worthwhile to look in the outer areas. They are also generally cheaper!

This trip didn't have a deal good enough for me so I went on to Hotwire

Love a straightforward hotel. 

Love a straightforward hotel. 

As you can see, hotels tend to be much cheaper in this area. Personally, I also knew that the objective of this trip was to spend as much time as possible visiting things outside of the hotel so having a swank or interesting place to sleep wasn't as important to me. 

I don't make the actual reservations just yet though! I just need to know where the best accommodations are to direct the rest of my search. 

Third: What will I do while I'm there?

Sometimes I visit places for a specific reason, sometimes just because I haven't been there, but generally it's a combination of both. I had never been to South Dakota, but I knew I wanted to visit Mount Rushmore. After that I was open to anything. 

Again, looking at a map is a great way to start. That's how I found that Badlands National Park was within a day trip of Rapid City. I also put Custer State Park on my list from the map. 

Reading other blogs is a great way to find well known and less known attractions. I usually start with a Pinterest search and go down the rabbit hole for a bit, pinning posts and taking notes of places that seem interesting or that keep coming up in posts. 

black hills pinterest

I also always look at the "things to do" section of TripAdvisor. It's based on reviews from real people so the content and ratings are genuine.

trip advisor

 I look at the general vicinity and also the specific city I'm staying in. The Rapid City TripAdvisor page is the reason I got to see this dinosaur: 

dinosaur park

Another great way to find interesting local attractions is instagram! Hashtags and location tags are seriously how I've found some of the greatest places I've ever been. 

I also do this with the locations I visit to make sure I don't miss out on a cool spot. It's also a great way to get inspired and excited for a trip. 

Instagram led me to Art Alley in Rapid City, an awesome alley downtown full of street art. (look out for a dedicated post - so great to find in South Dakota)

Fourth: List making!

After I have some ideas/notes/maps I write out actual distances between the places I want to go to find the best route. This (of course) starts by looking at a map and getting a general idea for what's going to be the smartest route. Then I look up distances between the points and come up with an itinerary. This helps me feel more organized and makes the best use of my time. Not a minute is wasted! 

This is what I ended up with for the Black Hills trip: 


I didn't end up making it to Wind Cave National Park or Chapel in the Hills but knowing the possibilities made the actual trip much less stressful. 

Fifth: Book it!

Book the trip! Take the day off, confirm the hotel/airbnb/tickets etc. Be confident that you have planned an amazing trip and focus on the fun stuff! 


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. 

badlands 1

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!)

badlands 3

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!!):

badlands 4

Door Trail

badlands 5
badlands 6

Notch Trail



badlands 7

original fav pose

badlands notch

Ladder on Notch Trail

badlands snake 1.JPG


badlands 8

Fossil Trail.

badlands 9

Fossil trail.

badlands 10
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!

to the moon and back

Day four in New Mexico. I woke up early to hit the road to Alamogordo. The drive from Roswell was about 2 hours through beautiful country. 

The only thing I had planned was a visit to White Sands National Monument, leaving time for some roadside attractions. 

Luckily I saw a sign for the New Mexico Museum of Space History! Obviously I had to stop. 

You start on the fourth floor and work your way down the museum chronicling the history of space in New Mexico. You also get to practice landing the space shuttle (see above - I crashed only once or twice) There is also a cool Space Hall of Fame with filmmakers as this years inductees. 

At the end of the exhibits you can dress up as an astronaut for pictures. I was flying solo so I chose not to put on the full spacesuit but.. next time. Also, in a once in a lifetime moment (like being on the moon) specify what you want when asking strangers to take your picture. This scene was way cooler in real life. ahhhh #solotravelproblems

Then it was time for the main event - White Sands! I stopped at the Visitor Center on the way in but passed on renting a sled (mistake). My National Parks Pass got me in without admission and I started driving towards the most surreal landscape I'd ever seen (and remember, I was on the moon just minutes before) 

The road quickly goes from paved to completely sand covered and you really feel like you are in a different world. It was super windy so I didn't stay as long as I wanted. BUT ... you can camp in the backcountry on the dunes so I see a longer trip in my future.. and sunset pictures!

But until then - daylight pictures are alright too. Although they don't do any justice to the place. You have to see it for yourself! 

Still mastering the camera timer - and maybe got in a fight here?

After I left I headed back up North for my next adventure. Until next time White Sands..