Who pooped in the van?
Never ever is that a question you want to have to ask.
I parked at the last picnic spot above the lake, layered up, and hopped out. And then immediately jumped back in. Definitely gonna need my vest out there!
I hopped out for attempt #2. Better.
And oh golly were the hounds excited!
For a long time New Mexico was simply a state I had to pass through going to and from Minnesota/Arizona. It did not impress me. Sure, there were a few nice views from I-40 on the western side of the state, but nothing that really called to me to explore. I’d also experienced some pretty freaky weather cruising across the state: sudden snow, torrential rains and wind, and the thickest fog I’ve ever driven through. Oye. This latest trip through, however, changed the vibe for me.
At our last gas station stop in Arizona I opened Google Maps and scanned New Mexico for traces of green within an inch of I-40 (meaning park or forest areas where we wouldn’t have to detour too far off our route). All sorts of options showed up.
Bluewater State Park was the winner. It was a 10-15 minute drive off the freeway and totally worth it. The place was empty -- understandably considering it was below freezing and there were those previously mentioned torrential winds blazing across the landscape. But I owed the hounds a solid bout of exploring.
Despite the cold, the place was beautiful. Deep green pines, red-tinged dirt, and a wind-blown, ice-rimmed lake. Skittering down the rocky hill brought us to a sandy beach. Not exactly the best weather for a romantic beach walk, but it worked for us.
Right before we left a band of wild horses meandered out of the trees across the way (the tiny black dots at the far side of the lake). Magical. Once they spotted us, I took that as our cue to head back up to the car. No sense in disturbing their peaceful vibes with a couple of manic hounds wanting get a sniff up close and personal.
Valley of the Gods was beckoning. The red desert. The open sky. A call I cannot resist.
I made plans. Rearranged them. Then altered them once more. There is always a detour somewhere, so I knew these plans were in no way solidified.
I used to get thrown off by changes and alterations, but at some point, after finding myself exhausted, stressed, and overwhelmed for the umpteenth time, I learned to let it go. Embrace it. Run with it. Use it as a launching point for the next moment of adventure. I was, after all, out and about with my hounds, which is ultimately my end goal in every situation.
Thus I found myself on the road a day ahead of schedule, making my way north to VOTG
After six hours and one million dog hairs floating around my car, we arrived. Seventeen miles of dusty red dirt. Camping pull-offs every half-mile or so. The valley was our oyster.
The red dirt greeted us with a dusty coating. The sun welcomed our faces with warm, outstretched rays. The hounds immediately took to sniffing out the best spots...to pee. Everyone has their own priorities, I guess.
Our home base was tucked away down a side road -- a dirt road off another dirt road. There wasn’t much traffic on the main road, but this gave us an extra layer of privacy and seclusion. Keeps the hounds at a medium level of overexcitement.
Herc likes to gets huffy and puffy when other folks pass by: Hey! Hey you! Who are you?! What are you doing so close my mom? Why are you somewhere close enough that I can see you?! Move along! Scram! Skedaddle! Aroooo!
Cool Whip, on the other hand, just wants to know if they brought snacks to share: Hellooo! I see you are a human. Humans have snacks. What snacks do you have to share with me?! Hey, you get back here and give me your snacks!!
I set up camp facing my favorite group of monuments. A perfect view from the tent and the big rock I intended to use as the kitchen area. With evening fast approaching, we spent the last bits of daylight exploring our road and the local ravine.
The subtle hustle and bustle of the valley dropped to almost imperceptible hum. The breeze slowed. No other vehicles passed by. Essentially all I could hear when listening hard with the blood rushing through my ears. I imagined everyone else in the area was in a similar situation: silently staring up into the sparkling night sky. Heaven.
As dawn began sprawling across the land, the hounds started rustling about in the mess of blankets and sleeping pads. The usual start to our morning routines. I layered on everything I can find and we bustled out into the brisk morning air. Our breath puffs floated around us. Herc snorted about, checking for any traces of midnight visitors. Cool Whip sought out the closest bathroom bush, knowing that breakfast preparations start as soon as all potty pit-stops are complete.
Coffee is delicious. Coffee in the outdoors is a little extra delicious. Coffee in the outdoors on a crisp morning is the most delicious. The coffee that morning did not disappoint. In a classic Kris-type move, I had stopped at REI less than 24 hours before departure to gather the remaining “necessities.” This particular cache contained a new drip filter for my morning brew. Easy, lightweight, and small -- win!
Filled with adventure fuel, we set out to explore. We roamed and rambled. Stopping anywhere that called to us.
And that became our routine: Adventure and explore, soak it all in, refuel, adventure and explore more.
Hiking a trail with a specific route and checkpoints to reach has its appeal for sure. There is a definite point of completion and success. But there is something equally enticing about having the freedom to roam. Success is obtained by simply being there.
3.5 hours northeast of Phoenix is a section of land I could easily see myself driving right through without a thought of stopping to look around – from the car it looks fairly flat and somewhat monochromatic.
I would, however, be missing out. In a big way.
Thankfully the National Park Service has set aside this chunk of land as the Petrified Forest National Park. And SUPER thankfully they welcome dogs on all of the trails! <3
The petrified wood was fascinating to see up close -- so many colors appears from the minerals in the water way-back-when. And the rest of the landscape was equally as unique, though these pictures do not do it justice!!
There were several short hikes (about one mile each) and quite a few points of interest/scenic overlooks. We spent much more time exploring than I expected (in a good way!) and had to hustle through the last few points of interest, which was a bummer. However, I will definitely return!
We spent about 2.5 hours on Wildcat Trail.
30 minutes in, I lost the trail. I didn’t know I was lost until I saw the actual trail again. I’d honestly thought we’d been following it but it turned out we were just following a horse path…I’d noticed a prior set of footprints going up a dune right about as the trail went over portion of rock with no footprints visible. Understandable, right?! ... right.
Needed to find my zen with a little impromptu yoga. I call this the west-mitten-I-need-to-warm-up yoga class. ;)
Then my phone died. For the first time. Yup, there were multiple times. My best guess was that I had too many pictures on the phone and not enough memory free to continue taking the million photos I kept snapping. I quickly tossed around a few scenarios such as walking back to the car to charge the phone or grab the old phone I use as a music player, or just finishing the hike and enjoying the rest of it without technology to provide photographic evidence/reminders of being there. I opted for the no technology option and proceeded forward with fresh eyes trying to savor every last drop I could see.
Five minutes later I felt the need to snap a picture and tried turning my phone back on, juuuuust in case…success!! I took advantage of this bonus moment with a panorama photo – phone immediately dies!! Dang it. But at least I got the picture, and I think it turned out pretty neat seeing how it adjusted to the sun.
Then I came to the mitten & tree photo location. I needed this photo! Tried the phone again and it showed me a flashing red dead battery symbol. What is this sorcery?! ?!
Waited two minutes and admired the scenery. Tried again – it’s alive!! Aha!! Tried to open the photo app right away to delete photos – dead. Sigh.
So long beautiful mitten tree.
I continued hiking and mulled over my options once again. I knew I was at least half way. Do I simply enjoy the magnificent views and call it good, or hike back here after I got back to the car to plug in the phone and delete a few photos??
0.5km. I decided to try one last time…
Dead battery image of doom. -_-
Put the phone in my pocket to wait (still hiking)…
1km. Try again. Phone turns on…<tentative excitement>
Put phone in pocket very carefully as though any rough handling will cause it to get angry and shut down.
1.5km. Pause to try to delete several old videos and photos – success!! And the phone it still on!
Hustle back to the mitten tree, grinning like a goofball again!
The mitten tree photos may not have been the best I took on the trip, but they’re my favorite because getting to that point was half the adventure. I don’t think I’ve ever turned back around to capture a photo, but it was a fun reminder that readjusting the ‘plans’ you have in your head is totally okay. It is those little detours that make for good stories, even if those good stories matter only to you.
Also, I've now learned to always carry an extra battery and to listen to your phone when is says your storage is almost full.
Also #2, I love taking creeper-status selfies with my dogs. Am I the only one?! :D
8:22 am. The valley sprawled out ahead of us, empty of visitors but full of adventures.
After roaming about Goosenecks State Park and the surrounding area Sunday evening, I checked in at the hotel – Goulding’s Lodge. I chose this one because it was pet friendly ($20 per pet). A nice bonus was that the room looked out over the valley. We enjoyed a cozy stay and in the morning we were able to watch the sun start to rise (or look for critters, depending who you asked) from our patio. This was my signal the pack up and head to the valley (a short 4-mile drive from the hotel).
There was a $20 entrance fee, which was good for two days (wish I had known that before – I might have fit in an evening hike and a morning hike!). I checked in at the visitor’s center and logged my info in the Wildcat Trail hiker’s log. I returned to the car to retrieve the hounds (no dogs allowed inside the visitor center buildings!) and bundled them up for the windy and chilly hike ahead of us.
The start of the trail was like a red sand dune. As we lowered into the valley, it turned to packed red dirt and rock. I could see tracks from previous hikers, but they were blurred enough the night’s rain that I could tell they were from the day before.
We stopped frequently to enjoy the peace of the valley. Each moment brought changes to the colors of the valley as the sun rose higher and as clouds swept over the tops of the larger monuments. It was going to be a wonderful stroll along the Wildcat Trail.
Things I’ve decided to do:
So I guess this weekend was a super bonus excursion for items 1-3.
We left home early Sunday morning, cruising through the snowy mountains in Flagstaff just long enough to make me appreciate living without it. ;) The cool temps and rainy weather left low clouds completely obscuring to top halves of the in Flag and even monuments up in the Valley! I love fog and low clouds, so this had me grinning like a goofball!
Our first intended stop was Goosenecks State Park in southern Utah, just a tiptoe north of the AZ/UT border. The road takes you right up to the cliffs, so there wasn’t much for “hiking”, but the impressive view makes up for it!
I ventured up to the edge without the dogs to assess the situation. Yup, definitely a long drop if you fall over the edge. No small animals for the hounds to dart after, but it is windy so you never know what will blow by that they’ll determine needs to be chased… After several hours in the car, they were ready to rumble! My knees were already going weak at the thought of them dragging me over the edge! Eek!
Of course that thought didn’t stop me from leashing them up and following the short path along the canyon edge. It just added a little “excitement” to our exploration. ;)
The park was practically empty – just two other cars when we arrived and only one other showing up while we were there. It was a nice change from some of the hikes around town. As it turned out, visiting deserted parks was the theme for the weekend.
Final day in Banff.
I’d finally fallen back to sleep after the bear scare with thoughts of leaving town early to catch a hotel for my final night. But waking up that morning, in the light of day, suddenly I didn’t want to leave quite so soon.
Since Peyto was one of my top interests going into this trip, I figured I’d take the lesser known hike to the lakeshore. Great idea, until we hit construction and accidentally drove right by the trail head.
Well…might as well keep heading north and see what we can see. Like all the way up into Jasper type north! We just barely tiptoed into Jasper with our most northern stop being Athabasca, Toe of the Glacier. It was a short hike up to the ice, and of course CW complained the entire way. She made is extremely apparent during this trip that uphill is 100% not her thing.
Driving from the glacier back toward camp we stopped at what seemed to be every roadside pullout and viewpoint. Why? Because why not?!
It wound up being one of my favorite days. There would be no cars when we parked, so we’d wander down the side of the roadside up to the edge of the river flowing by and just hang out until people started appearing. Then we’d hop back in the car and continue to the next spot. A relatively lazy day of soaking up the sunshine and hanging out. <3
Enjoy these sunset views of Mt Rundle from Vermillion Lake #2 while I share one of my favorite stories from our Banff adventure.
FFWD to 3:50AM that night: Us three amigos are deep in slumber in our tent.
3:51AM: <insert very loud adult man scream/> AHHH! AAAAHHHH!!
<insert man still screaming/> AAAAHHHHHH!!!
Cowabunga dude! Wide awake! Bear in camp!
High alert mode activated: Herc's ears are up and he's sending out aggressive woof signals (deep growl, with a low woof under his breath).
Man stops screaming finally.
CW lifts her head, looking mildly annoyed: What? Is something going on?
Herc belts out his most fierce killer howl!
Yeah, that's right, my thug dogs haven't made a peep the whole week even while the yippy dogs barked all day...until the time comes to protect, then bam! Bring it on bear!
I mean, we're gonna stay 'hiding' in our tent, but if that ferocious furball comes to see us, we're ready.
I know, I know... The princess may not have been quick to rise but I know she'd have teamed up with Herc for a bear beat down. She's my #1 draft pick for bear wrestle-mania.
By the time I woke up and we finished our AM rituals, we didn’t reach Moraine Lake until 10am. Parking lot was already packed! They’re not joking around when they say stuff gets busy at 10am. This must mean Lake Louise is a mad house! <scratches LL off the list>
Started our hike along the lakeshore and arrived at the start of the Larch Valley trail where there this is a lovely sign noting that group travel (4 or more people) is strongly recommended (due to bears). No matter which way I count our group, it was still just two dogs and one skittish girl. Not quite enough to make hiking Larch Valley a wise decision.
So we simply took our time hiking along the lakeshore and enjoyed the gorgeous views.
With Larch Valley and Lake Louise off the list for today, we suddenly had an open afternoon.
Boom (Lake)! (below)
It was a wide trail, a little muddy from the rain in spots, but spacious width made it easy to avoid most of the mess. Downside? What I had thought was the round trip mileage for the hike turned out to be the one-way mileage. Whoops!
About halfway down the trail we came upon a lovely group of older ladies. They loved the dogs!! We stopped and chatted for a bit. They mentioned I was about halfway. The next hiker we came upon was an older gentleman with fishing gear. He agreed with me in that it was a longer hike than he’d expected but that if he could make then so could we.
In reality, it wasn’t that this hike was incredibly long, it was just the misconception of the distance in my brain and that Cool Whip was pulling out her princess act again.
Mud? Are you kidding me? Princesses don’t hike through mud. Rocks? Are you kidding me? Princesses don’t hike over rocks. <insert snooty chin lift and scowling puppy dog eyes>
Of course, the end was worth it. Spectacular view! Boom Lake was beautiful. And it felt like we were so out in the middle of nowhere that it made it even more wonderful. No resorts hidden in the woods, no other trails in sight or any other trace of humans. Just the rugged terrain, two dogs, and a girl. And the rain. Because of course it started raining as soon as we reached the openness. ;) As the rain got heavier I decided it might be a good idea to return to the woods and head home.
In our last 20 minutes of the hike we received our most massive downpour. Not even the trees could stop it. The dogs got nervous and antsy so I pulled out their raincoats. As this was their first experience with them on in the rain I wasn’t sure if it would help or hinder our progress. Luckily they seemed to enjoy the protection and we moved swiftly onward. Exhausted and drenched, we retreated to camp for a much earned lazy evening in the tent.