"Wander here a whole summer if you can... time will not be taken from the sum of your life. Instead of shortening, it will indefinitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal." - Our National Parks, by John Muir
This summer, Graham and I certainly lived by John Muir's words. We spent five whole weeks on the road, backpacking, hiking, and camping our way through 10 states and 17 National Parks. We spent almost every night in our tent under the stars. We had ultimate freedom to wake up and decide where to go and what to see each day. It was an amazing experience, and here's the highlight reel.
National Park #1: Glacier National Park, Montana
This shot was taken at Logan Pass, about halfway through the Going to the Sun Road. Logan Pass marked our first stop on the continental divide at an elevation of 6,646 ft. The Going to the Sun Road is stunning - you can see it carved into the mountainside here.
National Park #2: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
The West Thumb Geyser Basin is one of my favorite parts of Yellowstone. Deep hot springs, geysers on the shore of Yellowstone Lake, and the Absaroka Mountains framing the background. This was one of our last stops in Yellowstone, which also means that we had officially entered the "let's eat hot dogs for every meal" stage of our trip... Yum.
National Park #2: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
One of the greatest things about Yellowstone is its diversity. This photo was taken on a day trip to the far Northeast corner of the park, the Lamar Valley. That's supposed to be the best part of the park to look for lesser seen wildlife like grizzlies and wolves. Unfortunately we saw neither of those, but we did some dozens of pronghorns, a herd of at least 800 buffalo, and some beautiful mountains, so we counted it as a win.
National Park #3: Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
It's official. My new favorite way to see the Tetons? From a kayak! Our second day in the Tetons we woke up early to get a few hours of kayaking in before it got too hot. We got to spend the rest of the morning and early afternoon sitting on the pebbly shores of Jackson Lake, swimming and eating lunch - sans hot dogs this time. Then, in truly desperate need of a shower (it had been about a week), we spent a night at a motel in Jackson... and conveniently took advantage of their wifi to watch the season finale of Game of Thrones, just a week late.
Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, Colorado
After leaving Wyoming we met up with friends in Denver and took off for a long weekend backpacking trip into the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area. We hiked in about 8 miles to this beautiful lake and set up there for two nights. We were just South of Rocky Mountain National Park (our National Park #4!) so we got to drive the Trail Ridge Road through the park on our way back to Denver. The Trail Ridge Road reaches an elevation of 12,183 ft., making it the highest continuous paved road in the United States. It was a fantastic introduction to Colorado, a state that neither Graham nor I had ever been to.
National Park #5: Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
This was such a cool experience. We snagged a free permit to backpack into the Sand Dunes and camp there overnight as soon as we arrived at the Park. The Ranger told us that once we got past the first tall dune ridge it was fair game for camping, and the only critters to worry about were kangaroo rats, who have been known to jump up on an unsuspecting camper's chest as they climb out of the tent. I was personally pretty relieved at the lack of snakes and other creepy crawlers and, once we replenished our water supply we took off into the dunes.
Climbing that first tall dune ridge with a 20-something pound pack on your back is certainly easier said than done. On the steep parts it felt like for every step I took, sliding sand would carry me back two steps. I ended up doing an extremely graceful mix of running and hurling myself over the edge to make it to the top. Once we did, it felt like we had been transported someplace far, far away. The sounds of children and families playing in the distant creek faded, and all we could hear was the wind. We were completely alone and dunes were the only thing we could see, until they faded into the mountains in the distance.
Durango, San Juan National Forest, & Telluride, Colorado
Being able to visit Telluride and drive the San Juan Skyway was a pleasant, unexpected surprise. We intended to briefly stop in Durango then drive South to Mesa Verde National Park... but once we got to the San Juans we couldn't bring ourselves to leave.
National Park #6: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado
Visiting the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park was a fantastic perk of spending extra time in the San Juan National Forest. We essentially traded Mesa Verde for the Black Canyon, and I was certainly not upset with the exchange.
We decided to set up our basecamp in Moab at a little BLM site on the banks of the mighty Colorado River while we explored the area for a few days. This picture was taken on night one in Utah, as we were preparing a meal of Knorr's Spanish rice sides, black beans, lima beans, and plenty of hot sauce!
National Park #7: Arches National Park, Utah
This was taken around 7:00am in Arches, and it perfectly describes us. We had been up since about 6:00am that morning, having made camp coffee and packed up before driving over to Arches to get some hiking done before it got too hot, a frequent routine for the last half of our trip. I love mornings and woke up happily at 5:00am to drive multiple times, while Graham is likely to label anything that involves waking up before 7:00am as a serious mistake.
National Park #7: Arches National Park
The Landscape Arch, above, is one of the most famous arches in Arches, second only to the Delicate Arch in my mind. It was really cool to see, even though part of the hike required us to trek through sand, giving me troubling flashbacks to Great Sand Dunes National Park!
National Park #8: Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands is divided into two sections, Island in the Sky and the Needles. We only had time to go the Island in the Sky part, but trust me, it lives up to its name. Dizzying canyons in the ground as far as the eye can see, arches, great masses of rock covered in prickly desert plants - I can't wait to go back.
National Park #9: Capitol Reef National Park
After leaving Moab, we drove West towards Capitol Reef National Park. It was the park I knew the least about, but ended up being one of my and Graham's favorite nights of camping. Capitol Reef is unique because in addition to its stunning rock formations, it has a rich cultural history. Part of that cultural heritage includes Mormon pioneers who left behind thriving orchards that the National Park Service has chosen to maintain, and allows visitors to pick their own. Our shady campsite was in the middle of multiple apricot orchards bursting with ripe fruit, and before taking a sunset drive through the rocks we picked almost a dozen. Some deer joined us to feast in the orchard, and bunnies later joined us in our campsite for dinner. It was an idyllic place, and a nice rest from the overbearing heat we experienced in the rest of the state.
National Park #10: Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce ended up being in my personal top 3 favorite Parks, and I wish we could have spent more time there. We called our entire time in Utah a "recon mission" - it was far too hot to do any of the many bucket list backpacking trips there are in Utah. We'll be back for them, though - I'm looking at you, Under the Rim Trail!
National Park #12: Grand Canyon National Park
This morning, we woke up at 4:30am, parked off of a forest road somewhere just North of the Grand Canyon. I started driving a little before 5:00am in a race with the sun. Our only delay came after passing a herd of buffalo and noticing two babies butting heads and wrestling with each other. It was far too adorable to drive past! Luckily we made it to the North Rim in time to see the Canyon in morning light - and in time to get coffee before we both collapsed.
Las Vegas, Nevada
We (finally) got to shower off that dusty Utah dirt and clean up for a night out in Vegas. I was pretty skeptical that I would enjoy Vegas, but we spent the whole night wandering around the strip, being amazed at the opulence, drinking mojitos, and catching Pokemon. I'd call that a Vegas success!
National Park #13: Pinnacles National Park, California
We got a chance to visit America's newest National Park, Pinnacles. My favorite part, by far, was trekking through the Bear Gulch Cave. There were frequent openings in the ceiling to let light in, which created some truly magical light affects like in the photo above.
National Parks #14 & #15: Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
I was so glad to be able to spend some time in John Muir territory in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park. We spent a night among the tall trees in Kings Canyon, and started our tour of the tall trees with General Grant, our Nation's Official Christmas Tree. We then drove South to Sequoia National Park to see General Sherman, the largest tree in the world, by volume. It was surprisingly short, but at 36.5 feet in diameter at the base, it was still quite impressive.
After the obligatory tree tour, we took off for a few days of backpacking in the Sierras. The picture above was taken during a day hike to a little peak just off the trail. We debated about adding more mileage to our day for a second... but who can say no to lunch on top of a mountain? And, our tuna and triscuit mountain date was superb!
National Park #16: Yosemite National Park
I've been looking forward to seeing the Yosemite Valley for years. Our backpacking trip here ended up being one of the best weekends of the whole trip. One of Graham's oldest friends, Iain, joined us for our trek. We started at a point North of the Valley and hiked down to the edge of the cliff looking over the valley for the majority of the hike. This essentially meant that for a good chunk of our hike we could take a break and stare out at half dome and the surrounding peaks - unreal!
On Saturday, we woke up around 5:30am and hiked four miles to the top of El Capitan before breakfast. Hiking pre-coffee was certainly not ideal, but getting to have coffee and breakfast on top of El Cap was so, so worth it.
National Park #17: Redwood National Park
The Redwoods marked our seventeenth National Park and final stop on the roadtrip. It was a bittersweet feeling, but given that we had been on the road for five straight weeks, Graham and I were both ready to head home. After a morning stroll through the misty Redwoods, we drove straight back to Portland and got back in time to have our favorite take-out Thai food for dinner and crack open one of our home brewed IPA's that we had to leave behind. The perfect end to the trip!