The Look: Alpine Meadow
The Mood: Energized
The Look: Franco Feet
The Mood: Mysterious
The Look: Urban Witch
The Mood: Powerful
The Look: Alpine Meadow
The Mood: Energized
The Look: Franco Feet
The Mood: Mysterious
The Look: Urban Witch
The Mood: Powerful
I am a teacher dreading the beginning of the school year, and am devising strategies to get me through it. The first that I am actively working on is changing my mindset. The second very important strategy is full of bribery and rewards. I am planning local getaways (camping nearby, kayaking through the city) but am also looking at sneaking in weekend trips like this one to Joshua Tree National Park.
Where: Joshua Tree National Park
When: Mid Fall
How: Cheap flights, camping as lodging
Why: To get away!
What: Camping, hiking, sightseeing, stargazing
Step 1: Cheap flights to California
Generally, flights to San Diego are cheaper than Lost Angeles or Palm Springs. If flying into one of the first two, we will also need to rent a car and drive 2-3 hours to Joshua Tree National Park, so the earlier flight the better. (These flights were under $100 yesterday !!!)
Step 2: Rent a car, enjoy the drive
A good drive is full of good music, intelligent podcasts, planned stops in at the coast and in Palm Springs, surprise stops anywhere interesting, and great snacks.
Step 3: Make the most of the park
Say I arrive early afternoon. I will set up camp and take a short day hike before dinner dinner. Then I’ll take an evening walk, and star gaze. I’ll stay up reading in the tent, listen to music, and playing cards.
Step 4: Get outside!
The next day entails a long, strenuous day hike. After dinner, I’ll take an easy evening walk. More lounging at the tent and stargazing (glad I bought a star map in the Grand Canyon! Or are they different star hemispheres…?)
Step 5: Go home, don’t be too sad about it.
I want to wake up in the dark and take a sunrise hike. After, I’ll have some coffee, pack up camp, head out and fly back. I will likely get in late, which means before I left, I better have done laundry and washed all of the dishes and planned the rest of my week.
-read a book in a hammock
-get a sunburn
-play with water guns/ garden hose
-have a frozen drink outside
What do you still need to do before summer ends?
After backpacking in Banff National Park and hiking to the Lake Agnes Teahouse, we set out for Jasper National Park. Jasper was more remote than Banff, and we had more nature encounters throughout the trip.
This sunset happened during our first night in Jasper. We all ran up to the balcony of our chalet to watch it. Our dad ran downstairs to grab his camera and by the time he was back up… not even 60 seconds later!… the sunset was over. Luckily, my sister caught this photo.
There were a lot of unique water experiences in the parks of Alberta, Canada. On our first day of hiking in Jasper, we visited the Miette hot springs! The source of the springs steamed hot and stinky sulphur, but the actual lounging area wasn’t stinky at all. We especially had fun running from the 100 degree waters and jumping in the ICE cold mini-pool nearby. The next day we hiked the Valley of Five Lakes, the fifth of which is featured above. We hike the trail backwards, starting at lake 5 where we ate lunch and soaked in the views before hiking out. Each lake was a vivid and distinct shade of blue or green.
Continuing with the tour of spectacular water attractions, we visited the Sunwapta and Athabasca waterfalls the next day. Standing near water that is moving with such force is pretty terrifying. There were effective signs posted all around warning of people who were overconfident and climbed past the fences, only to fall in.
The next day was our father-daughter hike. My dad, sister, and I all drove to a beautiful and isolated section of the park, planning to take a strenuous four hour hike. It took us an hour to hike to the trailhead, where a sign was posted announcing the closure of this trail due to the spotting of a mother bear and her newly born cub. You didn’t have to tell us twice… we’ve all seen The Revenant. After hiking another hour back to the parking area, we decided on a shorter two hour hike nearby, where we visited a secluded lake that was home to a beautiful swimming loon. The water was so clear that you could see the loon through the water as he torpedoed under in search of fish.
We also visited this insanely mirrored lake where from a distance it looked as if people were walking on water. This lake was massive, but at no point was it ever more than ankle-deep. Some bold people had braved the frigid waters and waded across the entire lake!
To break up the 6 hour drive back to Calgary, we stopped halfway to stretch our legs and hike up to a glacier. It was wild to see the markers of where the glacier used to reach before melting, and so sad to see how much was gone. This glacier won’t be there for many more years.
When we got back, we did a bit of urban backpacking to get from the airport to the south side of Chicago. We were quite a sight at our bus stop downtown!
The one thing we had most been looking forward to was the Lake Agnes Teahouse Hike we had planned for our last morning at Banff. We had plans to meet our family at Lake Louise by noon, so we essentially ran up and down the mountain in order to have time to sip tea and have a second breakfast. (We told you “The Hobbit” is a great read on a hike!)
This was one of our favorite hikes of the whole vacation. It was so special to visit this teahouse hidden up in the mountain between two lakes. In the future, we would also like to visit the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House.
We shared a large pot of “Top of the Mountain Zen” herbal tea. I had a smoked salmon bagel, Kendra and Thor each had a bowl of beautiful rainbow root-vegetable soup. We shared tea biscuits and jam before jogging back down the mountain.
We made it to Lake Louise at the agreed meeting time. Only once we had regained cell service did we learn that our family was just leaving Calgary! We spent the next few hours waiting for our family at the lake. We read a lot… look at how many books Kendra read during our 3 days of backpacking!!!
And finally, we hugged our family and climbed in the car for the next 4 hours up to Jasper.
This is day 5 of an 11 day trip! Tomorrow, I will share our adventures from Jasper National Park, where we spent the remaining 5 days of our trip. There we visited hot springs and met families of elk! Be sure to read about our backpacking trip while we were in Banff National Park.
Last week, my family vacationed in Alberta, Canada. I would like to walk you through our travels in this photo-journey!
My siblings and I flew out 4 days earlier than the rest of the family for our second annual backpacking trip. We stayed in the Lake Louise Village of Banff National Park. The photos above are of the famous turquoise lake herself.
We got a late start on our backpacking trip, and after hiking up a highway for hours and hitchhiking the same distance in 15 minutes, we finally made it to the trailhead. Our first hour was spent on lunch and packing up to the halfway hut, where we hid from the sun and mosquitos and accidentally took a nap.
When we were finally loaded up and ready for the next 4 hours of our hike, it was late afternoon and we were anticipating some hiking in the dark. (Although, as we learned, the sun doesn’t set until 10 p.m. up there!) Just as we set out on the trail, it started raining, and more concerning, it started lightning. There had recently been wildfires in the area, and there was a strong fire risk at the time. Feeling uneasy about our late start and the storm, we regrouped and decided to camp at the site near the halfway hut. Even though it was not the site we had reserved, we felt much safer and there ended up being extra tent sites there.
The campsite we stayed at was a short hike away from Hidden Lake, and as advised by other backpackers, we set up our tent and then hiked our dinner out over a kilometer to cook and eat bug-free in the tranquil space by the lake. It was a beautiful spot that felt like a secret, and the bear tracks on the trail meant that we were the only people crazy enough to head out there. Our only regret was not taking our sleeping clothes and blankets, because it was frigid and very windy.
The next day, determined not to repeat the day before, we were out on the trail by 8 a.m.. My patient brother and sister stopped at least 5 times so that I could adjust my layers. It was too cold to wear shorts, but too hot to wear sweatpants. We were on sheer and windy mountainsides, and I finally found the right combination of long and thin layers. The rest of the morning was spent in the etherial beauty of the Skoki valley. The meadow between the mountains was in the full bloom of alpine spring.
Much to the surprise of last night’s campers, we arrived at Baker Lake campground by noon! We had lunch and a nap, then took a tip from some other early morning hikers and wandered down the path less traveled in search of two small waterfalls.
The hikers told us that we would first see a small waterfall. Even though it was beautiful, they insisted that it is quite small and unimpressive compared to our actual destination. Just past it, there would be much larger falls.
Photos don’t capture the sheer scale of what we encountered. This photo of Kendra and Thor shows them right next to the falls, which are blocked by the boulders they are standing on. You can see how far up we are, standing where the river turns to waterfall.
We spent the rest of the day relaxing. We took in the view of Baker Lake, made dinner, and played cards. We should have packed a book of card games, because basically all we could remember how to play was Blackjack and Go Fish.
We were out even earlier for our return hike the last day, leaving by 7 and stopping for second breakfast and coffee by 9 or 10.
The last part of our hike was down an access road, which kind of a crappy ending to backcountry camping deep in the park, far from roads. We were fortunate to catch a ride and hitchhike again, which saved us hours skidding down gravel roads. Our Canadian driver was listening to a public radio program about wolves in Indiana and drove us all the way to our campsite in the park.
We each made ourselves an easy feast. Thor bought a bag of raw vegetables and a half-baked baguette with a big hunk of cheese. Kendra has rosemary crackers with cheddar. I learned you can stick a can of chili right on the pocket stove and it heats through faster than a microwave! After a shower and an evening walk along the river, we slept through a night of rainstorms full and happy.
This is just the first 4 days of an 11 day trip! On day 5, we took an amazing hike up to the Lake Agnes Teahouse, and I will share that story tomorrow. Following that, I will share our adventures from Jasper National Park, where we spent the next 5 days of our trip. There we visited hot springs and met families of elk!
The one thing you can’t go hiking without: Chacos, they’re great for a light hike or for crossing through streams. They are my go-to shoe for everything.
A mistake you learned from on the trail: Don’t wait to go to the bathroom.
The surprising thing that saved you from a bad day: Once I used a bungee cord for a belt.
Best song to keep the bears away: Just singing “No bears, no bears no bears no bears.”
Favorite food for car camping: Build your own burritos bar
Favorite food on the trail: Clif bars
Most important planning detail: A minimalist mindset- pack light, but pack the essentials.
What is your signature move on the trail? Stopping to take pictures every two seconds because I am so amazed at every turn.
First memory of camping: I remember breakfast more than the actual sleeping part. Mom making eggs and bacon over the campfire.
What to do after camp is set up: Go for a sunset hike.
Top Three Best Trips:
1. Glacier National Park
2. Going out west for work as a trip leader
3. Went rafting in New River Gorge in West Virginia, also for work
Most wow moment on the trail: Waking up at Arrow Lake in Montana, and seeing the sun rise over the lake.
Best book about outdoors: “How to Shit in the Woods”
Best book to read outdoors: “The Hobbit.” It’s pocket sized!
What do you enjoy about hiking? The view. Being outside.
Why do you hike? To explore places you can only get to on foot.
What’s the most developed trail you’ve ever walked that’s still difficult? The steps leading up to Red Rock Amphitheater. Or really, any hill.
Question I should have asked: How do you choose a trail?
Your answer to that question: I look at the mileage, water sources along the way, and experience of others on the hike.
The one thing you can’t go hiking without: My Nalgene.
A mistake you learned from on the trail: Bring enough water, don’t go on a long hike on an empty stomach. I once- this was more of a suburban walk than a hike- I went on an 11 mile walk with no water and no food, and I was eating wild greens on the way back. So bring food and water.
The surprising thing that saved you from a bad day: I accidentally forgot to put on my Tevas, and wore sneakers instead to a hike to Sperry Glacier, and the last mile or two was all through snow banks. If I had worn sandals, I would have been hurting, so the tennis shoes came in handy.
Best song to keep the bears away:
Favorite food for car camping: Thor-bread: Mix one box of Jiffy cornbread mix with 1/2 cup of sugar and 1 carton of sour cream. Baked in dutch oven.
Favorite food on the trail: Rice pudding or canned fish
Most important planning detail: Coordinate arrival times “We were hiking with friends, three of us went in one car and the other guy was meeting us. He thought we were hiking at 8:30, but we were meeting at 8:30. We got there while he was there, but he was already on the trail, and when we got off the trail he had already left.”
What is your signature move on the trail? Foraging for food, and hiking quickly ahead of the group
First memory of camping: Camping at our dad’s property (82 acres of trees) in the pines trees.
What to do after camp is set up: Explore the area, walk around and see what trails are around
Best trip yet: Baxter State Park in Maine, Mount Katahdin
Most wow moment on the trail: Turning around while hiking Mount Katahdin and seeing the valleys below, and seeing the nearby mountains. “When we got up to the top, it seemed like we were on the tallest mountain in the park.”
Best book about outdoors: Mushi-shi
Best book to read outdoors: The Children of Húrin by J.R.R. Tolkein
Question I should have asked: What’s the most developed trail you’ve ever walked that’s still difficult?
Your answer to that question: A hill outside of Heidelburg, Germany, that was all stairs and switchbacks.
What do you enjoy about hiking? Walking is a fun motion to do. It is one of the most fun exercises there is. I’m always rubbernecking when hiking.
Why do you hike? Seeing a lot of stuff, and just getting to go look around at the world, I guess. Like, a scenic hike is great, and it’s also a fulfilling form of transportation, you feel like you moved yourself, instead of being moved by petrol-chemicals.
John Muir is wilderness famous. With parks and trails named after him, his legacy is a permanent part of American history. This collection of short stories is the easiest insight in to his writing and philosophy on natural preservation. In his stories, he urges readers to not only take part in a great appreciation for nature, but to actively strive to preserve it.
I started reading Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey while living in the Southwest, and Abbey showed me how to slow down and notice the native animals and native rocks and native people in a thoughtful way. When exploring the west, he showed me how to peel away the unnecessary layers of “protection” and go out into nature with only what I needed, in an effort to know the land a little better. His criticism of the National Park System is paralleled by an acknowledgement of its importance- all spoken from the voice of a Moab Park Ranger/ New Yorker. In fact, the friend that recommended the book to me was at the time a Moab Park Ranger/ New Yorker. It is interesting how nature can pull people away from the glamour and appeal of the big city. I loved Desert Solitaire so much that I am currently reading this Collection of Short Stories by Abbey. When searching for these links, I found these Files on Edward Abbey, published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation! Presumably these investigations regard his dissent for the system and maybe acts of eco-terrorism? That is pure speculation, I suppose I need to read these. Related: Journeys of Simplicity, featuring “Traveling Light with Edward Abbey.”
Life in the Woods by author Henry David Thoreau is an American classic. I am embarrassed to say that I have not read it! Any way of life, city or otherwise, during the age of the industrial revolution seems very back-to-nature in our 21st century eyes. With that perspective, in fact, I would argue that the pioneer lives featured in Little House on the Prairie really harken back to nature. Back to Thoreau, his writings are early sources for the environmentalist movement, and like Edward Abbey after him, he was comfortable criticizing the system in place to utilize and preserve nature.
I have always written off my dad’s love for Foxfire books, in part because I didn’t know what they were about and in part because when you are a kid you think your parents are boring. As an adult, though, I realize that my parents and I share an affinity for good books and information, a mutual appreciation for nature and a desire to acquire new skills devoted to a greater sense of self-sufficiency. NPR has a great article about how Foxfire came to be. On the topic of long-term hiking accounts being turned into movies… A Walk in the Woods will soon be made into a film. This narrative details the trek through the Appalachian trail. I have not yet read this, but my sister has and loves it. This is now her bucket list hike. Of course, you can’t talk about books about the great outdoors without talking about Wild. This book is Cheryl Strayed’s account of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail… solo. If you haven’t read it, you might have seen the movie. I know many avid backpackers are annoyed by this book, because they think it makes light of a serious situation, and because it has inspired many people who are unprepared and inexperienced to try this trail themselves. I certainly wouldn’t admit to this book being my first exposure if I was chatting with other hikers on the PCT given the harsh criticism many have given it. All of that criticism being taken into account, however, this book is a story of nature being used as a metaphor for life, and of championing months of meditation through solo hiking. Since reading this book one year ago, I have now taken 2 backpacking trips, and am making a third this week. The “elite” hikers may criticize this story, but it was the first inspiration for me to take my hikes from day trips to multi-day explorations.
“Named after a bioluminescent fungus that glows in the hills of North Georgia on certain summer nights, Foxfire started in 1966, when an English teacher in Rabun County was having a difficult time engaging his students. Out of ideas, he let the kids design the lesson. They chose to publish a magazine that would document the mountain culture all around them.”
With my growing interest in understanding the struggles of Appalachian people, I am inclined to read the whole series. They also have books specific to the topics of music, folk remedies, and of course, pickling and preserving. You can also visit the Foxfire museum and headquarters! I might have to plan a trip for Dad and I.
Intro to Nature Stories: I was raised to have an appreciation for these types of books. Growing up, I read the survivalist stories Hatchet and Touching Spirit Bear. Before that, I had engulfed Where the Red Fern Grows, where all the action happens outside, and of course Little House on the Prairie. As I said before, any pioneer life feels downright in touch with nature because… well, back then you had to be.