Crater Lake Lovin'

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Since we had a restless night (we decided to sleep in the car so that we didn't have to pack up camp in the dark in the morning), we woke up at 4:30 am and decide to start driving towards Crater Lake and Toketee Falls. We had been told the fires were still so bad that we probably wouldn't have good weather or views at Crater Lake, and even if the weather was clear we probably wouldn't be able to get in to the park because there would be too much snow to drive on the roads. So, we prepared ourselves for the worst and thought maybe we would go to Toketee Falls first and then maybe the middle of the day would bring warmer weather and clearer skies at Crater Lake. As we approached Crater Lake and prepared to drive past it, something told us to try. We made a sharp turn into the park once we saw the "Crater Lake National Park" entry signs, and it was the best decision we ever made. The sun was rising, the skies were as clear and as crisp as they could be, snow covered the ground everywhere except the roads, and at 7am we were the only people in the entire park. As we prepared for what we were sure was going to be the best view of our lives, we threw on some layers, stepped out of the car, grabbed each others hands and start walking up to the rim of the lake. 

Little did I know that the view I was about to see was going to be made even better by one of the most memorable moments of life. 

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Blake popped the question as we were posing for a picture with his camera on a tripod, and I LOST IT you guys!!! Literally the coolest thing ever and I couldn't have asked for a better moment than this. 

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After taking the time to take it all in, hug each other, admire the ring ;), and enjoy the view, we explored a few other sections of the lake rim, and just tried to cherish the fact that we were the only people there. 

Crater Lake is great because just simply driving through is gorgeous. You can pull over at any over look and you won't be disappointed. We found a ton of cool spots just by walking the rim. 

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Once people started slowly showing up in the park, we drove over to the Crater Lake café (basically the gift shop), and paid for wifi so we could call our families and tell them the good news (yay!). The staff there were so nice, they even gave us a commemorative Crater Lake National Park coin to remember our big day... so sweet!

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After the shock of getting engaged settle just a bit, we ate lunch at an over look in the park, then we hopped in the car and drove to Umpqau National Forest to see Toketee falls. Umpqua is a stunning drive, and the short yet beautiful hike to the fall was the perfect way to close out our day. 

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If you want to get the coolest view of Toketee (from the bottom), you have to crawl through a little hole in the fence of the viewing deck, which is covered with caution tape. once you're through the whole, you actually have to rappel down a knotted rope and get your hands a little dirty climbing to the bottom, but the view is well worth it. 

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We had zero cell service the whole day so it was actually super fun to get back in the city and have both of our phones blow up with texts from friends who had been trying to reach us to congratulate us all day! 

After Toketee, we drove to Medford to get a good nights sleep in an AirBnB for the night. Blake treated me to a romantic dinner at In-N-Out, my favorite burger place EVER and basically that's how I would describe my perfect day- lol!

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Smith Rock State Park, Tumalo Falls, and Sleeping on a Fire Road.

On day two of our Oregon excursion, we woke up before the sun and drove straight to Terrebonne from Madras to explore Smith Rock State Park.

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Smith Rock State Park was an amazing experience for a few reasons. First off, it's unlike any scenery you would imagine when thinking of Oregon or the Pacific Northwest in general. Instead of being covered in greenery and overcast clouds, the park looks more like it belongs in Utah than the PNW. This place is famous for rock climbing, and when we arrived as the sun came up, we were surprised at we saw. We expected to be one of the first and only people at the park (as we usually are to most parks on these trips), but this case was quite the opposite. We arrived to about 100 converted vans and other cars that were packed full of climbers of all skill level, ready to spend the day hanging on the rocks. Groups were heating up breakfast after jumping out of their homes-on-wheels and we felt so inspired to be able to witness this sort of morning ritual by this unique group. 

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We wanted to watch the climbers, but we came there to hike- little did we know this park was perfect for doing both of those at the same time. We started out with the 5 miles Misery Ridge Loop hike, and the majority of the time we were hiking, we could look anywhere and spot climbers on rocks, near and far. We would spot some so far away they looked like ants, and others were climbing right above our heads! I honestly couldn’t get over how unique this park experience was. 

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Misery Ridge offered some of the coolest scenery. I was amazed that this was in Oregon. Misery Ridge offers so many look outs and overviews, and the hike wasn’t very difficult at all. 10/10 would recommend! At the end of Misery Ridge, we took the easy and short River Trail. This 2.5 miles trail was the perfect wind-down after Misery Ridge and our time at Smith Rock. The flat loop trail is stunning in mid-October, covered in fall colors, climbers wherever you look, and otters playing in the river! We must’ve sat and watched one family of otters play and sunbath on a rock for half an hour! We had sunny skies and high-60 temps and we couldn’t have asked for more. 

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After Smith Rock, we jumped in the car and drove to Bend for the night. We grabbed lunch and much-needed brews at Immersion Brewing (and added it to the list of our favorite breweries in the U.S.). Afterwards we stopped at Gear Fix, the coolest consignment camping store, right next to Immersion Brewing. Talk about the perfect day for Blake and I! We got some gloves for myself and talked to an awesome employee named Luke who gave us tons of advice for hikes in the area. Luke also gave us our camping spot for the night since we had no idea where we were sleeping. If you ever need a place to camp in Bend, Oregon, try out Fire Road 4610 - it was perfect for us and our busy schedule. We set up camp in late afternoon, and then decided to head to Tumalo Falls as the sun set. We met some new friends, Andrew and Carley, who showed us how to get to the bottom of the falls (just look for the safest side path off the main trail & be careful!). The bottom of the falls was so powerful. It was roaring loud, and being sprayed with the mist of the falls was refreshing, even in the October chill. 

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After Tumalo, we spent a couple of hours at an awesome hidden gem coffee shop/ local brewery called Spoken Moto. At Spoken Moto, we ran into Luke from Gear Fix and we chatted all about our trip. After a couple Oregon Chai's and cold brews, we said goodbye to Luke and headed back to our fire road campsite to get some sleep so we could wake up before the sun the next day. Little did I know that the next day was not only going to be my favorite day of the trip, but my favorite day EVER. :)

 Mt. Hood

Mt. Hood

Just Go With It
-Mo

Mt. Hood National Forest- Fueled by VooDoo Doughnuts.

We left Ft. Lauderdale, FL, flew through the night and landed in Portland, Oregon at 2am West Coast time, 5am OUR time. We were exhausted, and cold to say the least. We hopped off the plane and exited the airport into the freezing weather (by Floridian standards). We found our Turo rental car in the airport parking lot, jumped in and drove straight to VooDoo Donuts. There was no better way to start 10 days of hiking, camping, and exploring the west coast for the first time. 

We got our fix at Voodoo Donuts in Portland around 3am (they only take cash- FYI) and drove straight to Mt. Hood National Forest to hike Ramona Falls, a trail that is also apart of the PCT.  We drove into the town of Welches, which lies on the border of Mt Hood National Forest, and grabbed a coffee from Coffee Brewsters- the cutest and yummiest little shop-  and got our groceries at the shopping mart next door while waiting for the sun to come up! We then drove the dark, narrow, windy roads up to the Ramona Falls trail head. When the sun came up, we set out on the 7 mile hike. 

This hike exceeded our expectations, partly because I don’t think we realized how much snow would be covering the trail in mid-October. It was a winter wonderland which was so beautiful, even for me and my warm weather loving, native south-floridan self. It was truly gorgeous and we loved every second. 

Ramona Falls Trail

One of the most important things to know about this trail is that you do have a section early on where you have to cross a river, and there is no bridge. You have to find the best place to cross, and thanks to some awesome friends made on the trail, we made it over with no slips or falls into the icy water! When the snow melts, the water level is usually too high to cross safely, so please keep that in mind if you are planning a trip to make this hike. The time of year is so important when planning hiking trips in general, so always do your research- or call park services ahead of time to get the correct information. We hiked this trail in October and I wouldn’t have changed a thing about it! 

River crossing! Thankfully the river was low enough to cross during our hike.

There are some areas where the trail isn’t as clearly marked, especially since everyone picks a different part of the river to cross, so you’ll have to double check and make sure you’ve picked back up on the trail once you get to the other side. The All-Trails app is especially helpful for this!

The waterfall was amazing and it was the perfect lunch break spot. 

 

After we finished this hike, we stopped back in at the town of welches and ate lunch at a little diner called Zigzag Mountain Cafe. After filling up some home-cooked meals, we drove straight to Madras, Oregon. This little town might sound familiar, and it’s most likely because they were in the path of totality for the 2017 Solar Eclipse- and let me tell you, they will not let anyone forget it! The whole town is covered in posters and signs about the eclipse, and the lady at the front desk of our itty bitty motel room that night was wearing a T-shirt from the event. 

We decided to stay in the little Juniper Motel that night, as we were passing through Madras to get an early start the next morning to make it to the rock climbing Mecca, Smith Rock State Park in Terrebonne, Or. 

The Havauspai Experience: What to Expect and How to Prepare.

Waking up in a hammock over the blue waters of Havasupai was nothing short of incredible. It looks like something out of a movie and there are no pictures that can prepare you for seeing it in real life. Most of our preparation for this hike was done at the Hilltop of the hike (a little last minute), but luckily we were fully prepared and had everything we needed for the two night, two day trip. 

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 Havasu Falls Overlook

Havasu Falls Overlook

Our one and only full day there was spent exploring every inch of the reservation. We started at Mooney Falls at sunrise, which was amazing because we got to experience it with absolutely zero people around- which made it feel even more prehistoric. We then made breakfast at camp, and from here we walked up to Havasu falls. We spent the first part of the afternoon playing frisbee in the water, jumping from mini waterfalls into spring-like water holes, and witnessing an absolutely magical wedding ceremony at the bottom of the falls with tribal elders dancing and singing. It felt so sacred, and truly allowed us to experience the full effect of how the tribe exists. 

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After Havasu Falls, we walked back towards Mooney and started the 3 mile hike to Beaver Falls. We stayed at Beaver Falls for quite awhile, as we made friends with one of the rangers and we talked each others ear off- us asking questions, him giving us awesome insight into the Havasupai culture. (He was the nicest ranger we met while we were there). Once we realized that it would be getting dark soon, we headed back to camp to make dinner and enjoy our last night of sleep before the 10+ mile trek out the next day. 

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5 Things To Expect:

  1. Temps drop at night and are coldest when you’ll be waking up. Be ready- good sleeping gear goes a long way! 
  2. Expect some ratchet stank bathrooms. They ask that you do not go to the bathroom anywhere other than the designated “restroom” - and it can be a little scary. All apart of the experience, right?
  3. Expect to be stopped by rangers if you are breaking any rules or do not have the proper visible credentials. You will be asked to hike out! (Cliff jumping is clearly stated as a no-no, but it’s basically at your own risk at this point. Keep in mind there are no Emergency Services if someone gets hurt. There is one helicopter that can come in and out, but it can only land up at the village- and you'll have to pay for it's services should you need them.)
  4. Expect SQUIRRELS! They will climb into your bags, pick the food they like best, and take it for themselves. Prepare accordingly!
  5. Expect lots of people, especially during summer months. Be patient, be kind, and be respectful. For less of a crowd, try to go during weekdays. 

5 Ways To Prepare:

  1. Get your permits and keep the information handy when you start your hike down. 
  2. Food! Pack lots of snacks for the hike in and out. 
  3. Bring Life Straws, or easy ways to filter water. Most all of the camping/hiking is along the rivers, streams, and waterfalls, so having a way to use that water is super helpful! There are a few water spigots throughout the grounds, but they are few and far between.
  4. Bring water shoes or sneakers to wear in the water! I went with the Columbia brand Womens Megavent and it was perfect for walking through rivers, climbing over rocks, etc. 
  5. Take the trip with a good group! Having people around you that are prepared, ready to go with the flow and have fun is so important! Be ready to take in the whole experience and enjoy it to the fullest. 

Over all, there is no way that a few words of this article can actually prepare you for the sights and experiences that Havasupai will provide you. It is truly one of the most amazing things I have ever seen, and everyone needs to put this as a priority on their adventure list. 

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Side Note-
Due to social media, Havasupai has seen a giant increase in exposure and tourism. In light of this, they have implemented a more structured and regimented permit system- please be courteous to the Havasu people and their land, and follow the rules when it comes to obtaining a proper permit and respecting the grounds once you are there. 

Have any questions on the hike, the experience, or the gear? Or want to ask about something I didn’t mention? Shoot me an email and I’ll be happy to answer any inquiries as best I can. 

Just Go With It

-Mo 

Antelope Canyon, & Hualapai to Havasupai.

On day 10 out of 13, we woke up on the beach of the Glen Canyon National Recreational Area. The weather was gorgeous as we jumped up, made some camp breakfast, tried to get the sand off of our stuff as we packed it up, and headed to our next stop: Antelope Canyon! We made a reservation well in advance for our group, as you have to pay for a guided tour from the Native American people if you want to see Antelope Canyon. When we got there, it was fairly early in the morning, probably around 8:30, and the lines for tours were already extremely long. At that point, we were very thankful for our reservation, because we were on a time crunch to get through Antelope Canyon and make the nearly 5 hour drive to the Hualapai Hilltop where we would start our hike down into Havasuapai. However, even with our reservations booked ahead of time, we ended up standing around with hoards of people like cattle waiting to get into the canyon… Since only one group can travel down at a time, it gets backed upped pretty fast, and we ended up being delayed about an hour. We went through Kens Lower Canyon tours, and on their website they even have a disclaimer saying the delays can reach up to 2 hours. 

The tours are $25 per person (along with an $8 Navajo Permit fee), with a max of 15 people per group. We chose the Lower Canyon for a few reasons. It is cheaper, and even though it is crowded, it is less crowded than the Upper Canyon. They do allow pictures in the canyon, however video is not allowed. But if you're wanting a solo shot, be prepared to be strategic! The only reason we were able to grab a few shots by ourselves is because we waited for the people in front of us to move out of sight by holding up the people behind us… Now you can see why delays are so common- everyone trying to get their perfect shot! By the tail end of the canyon we decided to put the cameras down and just enjoy it. 

Exiting the Lower Canyon.

Once we jumped out of the canyon, we all booked it to our van and put the pedal to the metal towards Havasupai! We got to the hilltop around 4:30 and began our hike around 5pm. The Havasupai woman sitting at the hilltop did not want to let us begin our hike until the NEXT DAY! She said it was too late to start….We expressed that we were well prepared and fast hikers, and if she didn't let us down our time would be cut extremely short (aka...we begged.). She asked us our reservation name and allowed us to go. Thank goodness!!! Our hike down was filled with wild horses, wild dogs, and a lot of snack stops! I would recommend bringing no less than two liters of water. I brought more than two for the hike in and out and I was happy I did. We were a little worried on the hike down since we didn't have access to our reservation #, (there was NO service for hours), but we finally got cell service when we got to the village and were able to pull up our reservation info. We were worried because we had heard plenty of stories of people being turned away and made to hike back out, so definitely be prepared with your information before you hike down. 

Wild horse selfie!

By the time we made it to the village around 8:30, the tourism office was closed. Since this is where you check in with your reservation and get your wristband and we were unable to, we kept walking to the campground. When we finally made it, we were stopped by a ranger, who took down our names and reservation #. We were told we would have to hike an hour back to the tourism office in the morning to get our wristbands…and we decided we would, as to be respectful and follow the rules.

The campsite was completely packed, and we finally found enough space for our hammocks all the way at the end of the grounds, out by Mooney Falls. The next morning, the grounds were empty as everyone hikes out on Sundays. The following morning, we woke up to the rangers who walk through the camps in the morning to check everyones permits. We explained our situation to him, and he simply took down our name and reservation # again, and told us we were good to go. However, the entire rest of our time there, we were stopped by rangers multiple times for our lack of wristbands. Because the rangers are not overly- friendly, we almost would have preferred to make the hike back, get our wristbands, and remain unbothered. So, a big tip for your trip to Havasu falls, time it around getting properly checked in! I think we were lucky with them allowing us to remain. (Most people are told they must hike back to check in if they pass the office after hours.)

*And NO- you cannot visit Havasupai without the proper permits for your group. Please be respectful of the people who live there and allow us on their land.*

The best sight I've ever woken up to!

We set up camp in the dark, with the sounds of the waterfalls around us and the running river underneath us. However, nothing could prepare us for the sight we would wake up to! 

Enter Page, AZ: Horsehoe Bend & Lake Powell

When we woke up in Page we were exhausted to begin with. But we had a fun time when we were packing up at four in the morning to go to horseshoe bend and our vans alarm started going off, and its sure, waking up every person still asleep within a mile radius. Our key fob wasn't working so Matt and Blake drove the car away from the lodge until they could figure out what was going on. After what seemed like forever and tampering with every button, wire, and gadget in the car, the alarm finally shut off and we could make the drive to Horsehoe Bend. I'm sure we looked like a mess of tacky tourists.

Horsehoe Bend was everything I had imagined. It was stunning, awe inspiring, and just breathtaking. Even though the sun was rising behind us ( which does cast some light and shadows not perfect for photography), it was still a good time to go. It was windy and chilly, but with the amount of people that were present was still plenty. Since we were there around 5 am and still saw a good about of people, I cant even imagine how many people are there during normal hours of the day. So, all in all, I’m glad we got there as early as we did. The trail so Horsehoe Bend is short and easy, so anyone can see this view! 

After our early morning at Horseshoe Bend, we went into the small town of Page to eat breakfast. We stopped at Ranch House Grill (recommended to us by people we met at Horsehoe), and I had biscuits and gravy- duh. After our huge breakfast and many cups of coffee, we stopped by a laundromat to throw some clothes in the dryer since they hadn't dried from the night before when we did laundry in the lodge sink. After our clothes had dried, we made some sandwiches and drove to Lake Powell where we had a boat rental waiting for us! Since we were splitting the cost of the boat 6 ways, it wasn’t too much of a hit on our budgets. 

Lake Powell was absolutely incredible. Even though the day was a bit chilly, we spent the whole day out on the water exploring the towering maze of canyons. Blake, Matt and Phelan even did a little cliff jumping! When you arrive at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and the boat rental area, the staff will give you an extremely helpful map of the lake and all the canyons you can drive through. There are beaches where you can stop and eat lunch and swim, but we found there was far too much to explore to stop moving! We had packed beers and lunch and we had an awesome day on the water. 

After we got back to the docks, we stopped by the Lake Powell Gift Shop and got some commemorative T’s! We then made our to a popular beach campground in Glen Canyon, called Lone Rock Campground, which is just over the state border line, so it's technically in Utah.

 

After we had some fun in front of the Utah sign, we headed into the camp. It was $14 to camp there, which was easy to do, and we had so much fun. People were camped everywhere, bonfires were lit up on the beach, and frisbees and footballs were being thrown all around. We were driving threw trying to pick our spot when we got stuck, so definitely be aware of the soft sand! After pushing our van out of what felt like sinking sand, we decided to pick the spot where our van ended up. After exploring the dunes and collecting rocks to build a fire ring and logs to build benches, we set up our fire, played frisbee, drank some pale ales and had dinner on our butane burners. It was a picture perfect night. We camped with our tent covers off with the stars above and fires all around, and for that reason I think this was one of my favorite nights. 

Ribbon Falls & the Trek to Marble Canyon

Day 8 out of 13! We were finally in Cottonwood and so happy to be there. We woke up and enjoyed the views of the canyon walls towering over our site while we ate breakfast and had a beautiful camp visitor, seen below.  Afterwards, we hiked about another mile and a half to Ribbon Falls. We spent an hour or two exploring the falls before we headed back to camp to start packing for the hike up. 

A deer stops by to say hello in Cottonwood.

The trail from Cottonwood to Ribbon Falls. 

Our first view of Ribbon Falls.

 @BlakeLylePhotography :)

@BlakeLylePhotography :)

We knew the entire uphill hike was going to be tough, but we didn't know just how much of a toll it would take on us. The hike back out of the Grand Canyon took us 4-5 hours since we were all at different paces, and by the end we were all exhausted. It was no joke.. a few of us had run out of water, a few of us were having some panic attacks about making it out, and some of us may or may not have cried. As I type this I can't help but laugh out loud. I picture our group- exhausted, limping, mad at everything… While trail runners who just ran from the South Rim are literally running past us….and I just smile. Looking back, that was one of the top two hardest hike outs I've ever done. By the end, nobody was speaking, we just wanted to get as far way from that trail as possible. But, we all wouldn't change a thing. 

After our 4 hour uphill hike, we went to the nearby Jacobs Lodge for some comfort food to celebrate! We had an amazing dinner which made up for the super slow service, but we didn't mind since we were just happy to be off our feet and inside a warm lodge while it snowed outside- and the whole lodge was extremely busy come dinner time. 45 miles from the rim itself, Jacobs Lodge is often referred to as the Gateway to the North Rim. It is one of the only places in the area to offer food and lodging, as well as a small convenience store, ice cream, and bakery. So, you can imagine how excited we were to get ice cream and cookies after dinner!

Since the service was that slow at Jacobs Lodge, it kind of altered our evening plans. While we said goodbye to Kim and Alex at the lodge (they were packing up to head to Sedona then Vegas for their flight home), we were planning on driving to Page, AZ that night. Our original plan was to arrive in Page and camp on public land in Marble Canyon. However, by the time we got to Page, it was pitch black. We were doing everything we could to find the public land, but there weren’t any signs like there were in Utah. We found a closed gate that simply unlatched and opened, but we weren't sure if our van could make it down the rough roads- and since we couldn't see much, we decided to not to risk driving down what could be private land.

The open road drive from Kanab, Arizona to Page, Arizona. 

We ended up paying for the last room at the Marble Canyon Lodge. This place was something, let me tell ya! It looked like the deserted buildings you see on the side of Route 66, complete with buzzing, neon lighted signs and Native American crafts being sold outside. So, we crammed 6 people into a small room with one bed, and we felt like we were living the life! We all took showers, washed our clothes in the sink, set up our sleeping bags on the floor, and tucked in for the night. The next day, we were waking up before the sun so we could try and see Horseshoe Bend with out a crowd of people blocking our view.

The Grand Canyon: North Kaibab Trail to Cottonwood.

On day 7, Blake and I woke up in Snow Canyon excited to pick up Phelan from the airport! Meanwhile, in Arizona, the other part of our group was waiting to see if they scored our permit for Cottonwood Campground. Long story short, the people ahead of us on the waiting list wanted the permit for the next night, not the night we wanted. They were waiting to see if the next day had become available, and in turn ended up declining the permit we wanted, so we ended up getting it.

As soon as our group found out they had a permit, they decided to make the 7 mile hike down into Cottonwood so they could make the most of their time down in the canyon. Since the weather was still frigid, they called us to let us know that our current clothing might not suffice… 

Part of the gang starts the trek down into Cottonwood.

Back in St. George, Blake and I packed up our stuff and headed to Owens Loop, a short hike that overlooks the cute little red rock town of St. George. We got a little lost getting there, and since we had were unable to find a marked trailhead, we were more than confused after driving around for about 30-45 minutes. We had difficulty because Owens Loop doesn't start out as Owens Loop- It starts at the Brooks Nature Trail at the small city park, Brooks Nature Park, on Main Street. About 0.3 miles into the Brooks Trail, You’ll see a merger sign for Owens Loop.Round trip, the trail falls close to 2.6 miles. However, the nice part is that you don't have to do all of the 2.6 miles to get a good view. As soon as you merge to the Owens Loop trail, you'll find awesome overlooks and carved out red rocks, perfect for something to do in St.George that might not be so strenuous. 

Owens Loop.

Blakes favorite "feet shot" on Owens Loop.

While on the hike, we met an adorable older couple and starting making small talk. We asked them for breakfast recommendations in town and they directed us to Bear Paw Cafe… Best. Breakfast. Ever! We ordered Biscuits and gravy and my day was made!! 

After enjoying our breakfast at Bear Paw, we headed over to the Goodwill of Utah, Deseret Industries. We stocked up on sweaters, vest, and long johns for us and the other part of our group that had already hiked into Cottonwood. Then, we made the drive to the very remote St. George Airport to pick up Phelan and head to the North Rim. 

We picked up Phey around 12pm and began our three hour drive to the North Rim. Once we got close to the canyon, it began to snow and hail heavily. We all stayed in the car at the trailhead while we packed every single PBJ we could make into our bags, and put on every layer of clothing we had bought at DI. There are clean water sources at the trailhead, along the trail, and in the campground at Cottonwood, so luckily that wasn't an issue!

Finally made it into Arizona!

Call us crazy, and we definitely were crazy, but we started our 7 mile hike at 4pm with dark clouds above our heads and hail coming down hard. We only had one shot to stay the night in Cottonwood, and this was it. If we didn't make the hike, we would just have to sit at the trailhead and wait for our group to come back up the next day. 

 Phelan and I on our way down.

Phelan and I on our way down.

Since we had no cellphone service, we couldn't communicate with the ones already in Cottonwood to let them know where we were, if we were hiking down tonight, and if we would even be there at all! So, they just sat and waited patiently for us. About half way down, the temperature had gotten warmer, but the wind began to pick up and the thunder started rolling. So… we started running. No seriously… We ran the entire last half of the trail due to the storm moving in, and made it to camp in record time- about 2 hours and 30 minutes. Once we found Cottonwood, we started running through camp like crazy people looking for our friends tents and yelling their names. It was raining, so everyone in the camp had retreated to their tents. Once they heard us, Matt, Jamie, Kimmy, Mandy, and Alex all came running out of their tents and I have never been so happy and relieved in my life to see those goofballs.

We quickly set up our tent and called it a night, excited to explore the bottom of the canyon in the daylight. 

Helpful Hints for Cottonwood- 

  1. Make sure to properly display your permit on the permit box outside your campsite. 
  2. The weather gets significantly warmer as soon as you start hiking down into the canyon, so wear light layers if you are cold at the trailhead, as you will most likely be removing them pretty soon into your hike.
  3. Bring water containers
  4. You MUST utilize the provided trash canisters at each camp to avoid wild animals getting into your stuff. 
  5. There are a ton of trail runners on South Kaibab who are running rim to rim, or even rim to rim to rim, so when you're walking on the trails, always step aside for those running. 

 

From Zion to Arizona: Backcountry Permits for the Grand Canyon.

On day 6, we woke up and went back into Zion to explore for the last time. We did the leisurely Narrows Riverwalk, a short walk to the entrance of the narrows. You can take the paved route above the river or the carved out trail that follows the river all the way down, both are equally easy. Here, you will see people set up by the river painting the scenery, and even wild turkeys roaming around and drawing a crowd. Unfortunately, the Narrows were closed due to high water levels so we couldn’t check that hike off of our list, but we got to walk to the beginning and see the slot canyon which was pretty cool. 

Kim posing on the Riverwalk!

The end of the Riverwalk, the beginning of the Narrows. 

After we did the short walk, we packed up our stuff and got ready for the next leg of our trip. We were heading to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, but we didn't know when or where we would make camp…yet. Alex, Kim, Matt, Jamie, and Mandy all packed up in one car to drive to Arizona to apply for a backcountry permit for Cottonwood Campground. Cottonwood lies at the bottom of the South Kaibab trail, with only 12 sites that can be used by permit only.

Permits can be applied for online at https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/backcountry-permit.htm. However, we called two months ahead of our trip to obtain more information and we we found out that every site at Cottonwood was reserved for our wanted date. They told us to show up in person the day before and apply for the lottery in case there is a no-show, then we would get their spot. So, we took the chance! When Alex, Kim, Mandy, Matt, and Jamie arrived at the North Rim, they applied to be on the waiting list. They then found out that there was one person ahead of them and would have to wait until the next day to find out if they got the spot or not. 

We chose the North Rim because of its solitude. Of all the people who visit the Grand Canyon each year, only ten percent choose to go to the North Rim. This rim offers only one lodge, and very little civilization around it. It is closed during the winter each year, so to see this gem means to take the road less traveled at the right time. We were not disappointed in our decision! 

ARIZONA —> While some of our group was handling the permit situation, they found that the temperature dropped more than they had anticipated on the way to the North Rim, making it far too cold to camp since a lot of their gear and clothing was still with Blake and I in our car. It started snowing on the way up, and only got colder from there. And this is in the last week of May! They ended up getting a motel room in the empty town of Kanab while waiting for the permit situation to play out. 

UTAH —> Meanwhile, we stayed back because Phelan was arriving at the St. George Airport in Utah the next day! Since we had the whole next day and half to ourselves, Blake and I drove back to St. George and revisited Snow Canyon State Park. Once there we hiked shorter trails such as a small slot canyon called Jenny Canyon (red rocks in photos) , and the incredible White Rocks Trail. The White Rocks trail we perfect for scrambling, exploring, and climbing any rock that tickled your fancy. 

The White Rocks in Snow Canyon.

Top of the White Rocks.

ARIZONA —> Back at the North Rim, the other half of our group explored the many overlooks of the North Rim, such as Point Imperial and Bright Angel. 

 UTAH —> We ended up camping in the group lot at Snow Canyon, which offered immaculate campgrounds with hot showers and clean water. The rangers were extremely friendly and really cared about making sure everyone was taken care of. We spent the night eating dinner and bird watching, listening to all the cool bird calls going on in the canyon (side note: we ended up meeting a couple who was there to look for all different species of birds and reptiles, and they pointed out every species of bird to us!).  We took showers, spent a solid hour and a half taking everything out of our van and reorganizing in preparation for Phelans arrival, and crawled into our tent for the night. The canyon was extremely windy overnight, but nothing we couldn't handle!

ARIZONA —> The North Rim crew had an awesome evening taking in the sites, eating an awesome dinner of comfort food in a warm lodge, and sleeping off of the ground for the first time in over a week. They prepped to wake up early the next day to head to the visitors center and see if they won a permit for Cottonwood so that we could not only see the canyon, but hike into it and camp at the bottom. 

Angels Landing

On day five of our trip and our third full day in Zion, we hiked Angels Landing. We had built up this hike in our minds quite a bit, watching videos of it on YouTube, and talking to people who have done it about their experience. Being extremely fearful of heights when mixed with ledges/cliffs, this probably wasn't a good idea. I was very hesitant about this hike and all I’ve heard about it, but I was also pretty determined to finished it. The day we did Angels Landing, we made the decision to arrive at Zion at 6:30am. The first shuttles are scheduled to run at 7 am, although you should always call the visitors center to confirm and check for changes. 

When we got to the shuttle we stood in line for a few minutes then off we went. The park wasn’t crowded yet which was our whole goal for getting there as early was we did. When hiking Angels Landing, you want to do it as early as possible. If you wait too long, the trail will become flooded with people trying to pass each other while hiking the 4 foot wide ledges. You want the trail to be as empty as possible, especially if you're like me and have a slight issue with heights and ledges. 

The approach to Angels Landing

Taking in the view before we hit Walters Wiggles.

We started up the trail with our packed lunches and two liters of water on our backs, which we found was the perfect amount for most all of our hikes. The hike leading up to the actual ridge that is the namesake of Angels Landing is absolutely incredible. You get to hike through Refrigerator Canyon, (you will quickly find out why it was given that name…hint hint… Bring a sweater!), and up the famous Walters Wiggles, a series of 21 steep switchbacks named for Walter Ruesch, Zion National Park’s first superintendent who first put in place a plan to construct a trail to Angels Landing in the 1920s. 

Out of our group of seven, we all hiked up to Scouts Landing. This is the lookout just before the final push to Angels Landing and the place where most people stop their hike.

The stopping point at Scouts Landing, with the Angels Landing ridge behind us. 

Five out of the seven of us then made the hike to the summit, and I barely made it. Matt, Jamie, and Mandy all made it up quickly and without a problem. Blake stayed with me since I moved pretty slowly, and was a little shaky from looking down the thousand foot drop-offs on each side of the trail. At about the half way point, I had a small panic attack before Blake talked me down and pushed me to keep going. We made the final push and the view was beyond worth it! Although we had kind of already seen the view, as Observation Point looks down on the top of Angels Landing, it was still incredible, and the perfect spot to each lunch aside from the rogue Chipmunks climbing all over us to try and get our food. 

Jamie the explorer on the summit.

The way down was a lot quicker and easier for me than the way up. The only hinderance was that it was starting to get more crowded at that point, and you really have to communicate with the people around you. The best way to function on Angels Landing is to take turns and work together. We had to talk with every person that passed, and there was a lot of “Ok you guys go first…Ok we’ll go this way then you guys go that way…” But everyone was extremely nice, and seeing that I was shaky and afraid, mostly everyone would let Blake and I go first. You will get the occasional few hikers that don't speak english, but they still understood what you meant. So, the biggest piece of advice I can offer for Angels Landing is to go early, and be patient and work together with your fellow hikers on the trail. By the time we made it back to Scouts, there was a Disney World-looking line of people waiting to walk up to Angels Landing, and we were so glad we were done by the time most people were starting to get there. Over all, everyone on the hike was so incredibly nice that it made the hike easier for people like me who are a little shaky with the steep drop-offs! 

Me faking a calm smile with Blake on the summit. 

Starting the trek back towards the ridge. 

Descending the ridge

Looking back at what we accomplished! 

When we were done, we decided we deserved beers and burritos- and lots of them! So, we went to the local Mexican restaurant, Casa Amigos, for lunch. After stuffing our faces, we strolled around town, got some ice-cream, and enjoyed the area. After we felt capable enough, we did the Watchman's Trail in Zion. This short hike offered a nice view over the town and was the perfect “cool down” to end to our day. When we got back we hung out at Zion Outfitters doing laundry and paying to take 5 minute showers. After we had gotten all cleaned up and finished laundry, we stocked up on beer and ice and headed back to our public land site at Smithsonian Buttes to call it a night. 

The Subway- Bottom Up!

On day 4, we woke up well rested to a chilly morning. We prepared a massive breakfast feast to get rid of some of the stuff in our cooler.  We made eggs, bagels and cream cheese, cut up some avocados…It was like camping in Heaven, and we took our time! As we all enjoyed lightening our load of groceries, we packed up and made our way back to Springdale to spend some time in the town. The shops and outfitters were a blast to explore! Amongst all of the touristy T-shirts and hats (one of which I just had to purchase), there are some pretty cool stores with sweet camping and hiking gear, which was a really fun break for our group. 

After our town exploration, we went to the Zion visitors center to pick up our permits for our most strenuous hike so far- The Subway. Kim and Alex didn't come with us since our original permit was booked for five people. And, yes, you do need a permit! This permit is much easier to obtain than a Havasupai permit, but you do have to book it a few months in advance. You can apply for the lottery system online at the Zion National Park website. However, when we arrived at the Subway trailhead, we realized they most likely could have hiked with us even though they weren't included in the original permit. We think the permit would have covered our whole group, and it is in a very remote area so we saw little signs of other people except a few times on the hike itself. There are two routes you can choose from for this hike. We chose the Bottom Up route, which is a little easier than the Top Down route, which requires special gear, wetsuits, repelling, and more. 

Mandy and I before the hike starts following the river. 

The subway hike was strenuous… very strenuous. And we did the “easy” route! There is a short downhill trail to get to the main “trail” which consists of following the river until you arrive. Even though this makes for an incredible scenic hike, it is also rough on the knees and ankles considering there is very little marked trail to follow. Scrambling over boulders, jumping across the water, and practically repelling down vines and rock walls were just a few of the requirements on this 10 mile round trip excursion. 

The Subway was absolutely incredible. Even though the water was freezing, the site was worth it. I wore my Columbia water sneakers for this hike which was extremely comfortable (a priority for me), but cold on my toes after walking through the water and continuing to hike in wet socks. The other hikers in our group had their waterproof hiking shoes on which worked just as well! My recommendation with this hike is to wear something comfortable as it is a longer hike, yet be prepared to be ankle deep in water, and slipping and sliding at some points as well. So, definitely make sure to wear something with good traction. The Subway took us 7 hours to complete. This includes our lunch break before we headed back. We refueled on PBJs, Cliff Bars, dried fruit, and cold filtered water from the river using our Sawyer Life Straws. (These little contraptions are so worth it).

Blake Lyle Photography

 Blake Lyle Photography

Blake Lyle Photography

When we made it back to the trailhead after an uphill climb that seemed to last forever, we went to Springdale for beer and ice and headed back to Smithsonian Butte where Kim and Alex had gone early to claim our spot from the night before. Needless to say we were absolutely exhausted, but a fire, some S’mores, and a little 90’s music playing on our portable speaker was enough to keep us up for a little while. We passed out rather quickly after the Marshmallows filled us up, and got ready for our third day in Zion- which turned out to be my most challenging, yet my favorite. 

The Subway with my adventure buddy for life. 

 

 

 

Observation Point, Hidden Canyon, & 5 Minute Showers.

Day three turned out to be one of our low-key favorites. We spent the night before at the East Mesa Trailhead, which lies on the border of Zion National Park. We camped there so we could get an early start to see the stunning view that is Observation Point. We woke up around 4 am, packed up in record time, threw on our headlamps and off we went! The hike was an easy one, and it felt more like a leisurely stroll through a meadow more so than a “hike”. We made it to the overlook as the sun rose and we couldn't believe our eyes. Pictures don’t even come close to capturing the epic view. Even though the overlook doesn't look over the sunrise, being there at that time gave the sky some beautiful hues of color that we wouldn't have seen otherwise. The grays, pinks, oranges, and blues were just stunning, and looked like real-life watercolor painting. It was the most spectacular start to a morning I’ve ever experienced, and this is why we chose the shortcut hike. 

 The Nutona Squad!

The Nutona Squad!

After taking in the views, taking some photos, and making some coffee to try and cope with the frigid gusts of wind, we hiked back to the car to take on the rest of the day. We drove back to the visitors center parking lot and our first order of business was to tackle the mountain of a mess that was our minivan. We spent a significant amount of time repacking, condensing, and organizing… Basically playing a game of Tetris in our car trying to make 13 days worth of gear seem like 3. Afterwards, we ate some PBJs and JetBoiled some pasta sides at the picnic tables beforemaking our way to our next stop in Zion.

Since you aren't allowed to drive throughout the park itself, a free shuttle is offered to give visitors access to each hike, trail, and viewpoint in the park. Just jump on and go! On each shuttle there are numbered stops with names of the hikes provided, so it’s extremely easy to find your way around. We boarded and took our seats for the twenty minute ride through the towering orange cliffs until stop #7, also known as Hidden Canyon. Although Hidden Canyon was not what we expected at all, it was still a nice leisurely hike with some really unique features. As the signs on the trail were a little misleading, we estimated that the hike was 2 1/2 - 3 miles round trip, and it took us about three hours to complete. We loved that the hike was unique, however we were slightly bummed that there is no view…no summit… no overlook… the trail just…ends! You will walk through vine covered narrows and scale small little cliffs with chains provided for your comfort (which I very much appreciated), however when walking the trail of the prehistoric looking slot canyon for which Hidden Canyon is name, it just comes to an end. Once we realized we couldn't walk any further, we turned around and headed back for some much needed “hydration”. 

Zion Views

Kimmy in Hidden Canyon.

The picture on the left is a section of the Hidden Canyon hike, the picture on the right is the turnaround point. 

Once we got back to Springdale (the adorable town at the base of Zion), we made a necessary stop at the Zion Brew Pub. We had a couple beers and ordered some appetizers, which we would've gone without except in Utah you're not allowed to order alcohol at a restaurant without ordering food as well. Needless to say we had a few baskets of fries and called it a day! After we ate we paid a couple bucks for some short but necessary five-minute showers at the Zion Outfitters store just next door to the Brew Pub. After showers and washing some clothes in the sinks, we drove to public land to set up camp. 

When we arrived at Smithsonian Butte Public Land, we were a little weary. However, once we drove a little ways down the isolated red dirt road, we came upon multiple worn in campsites with incredible views! We liked it so much we ended up staying there every night while we explored Zion, which ended up being three awesome nights and four incredible days! We made a campfire, Mandy led us in some yoga, Alex and Kim reenacted their first dance, and we sang songs until the fire died out and we all made our ways into our tents to bunker down and get ready for our next day at Zion, which would be one of our most strenuous. 

Snow Canyon, Sand Hollow, and the Road to Zion

Waking up in the Valley of Fire was incredible. We were up and at ‘em at sunrise, and on the road by 6:30 am. We drove through a small corner of Arizona to get to the small town of St. George, Utah and our first stop was a gorgeous state park called Snow Canyon. Most people probably haven’t heard of this particular park, but it ended up being one of our favorites, and one we would go back to during the trip. Our entry fee for Snow Canyon was $6 per car, with a separate camping fee of $20 if you choose to camp. Although, we did over pay to camp there at one point in the trip, but this was not that night.

Snow Canyon is filled with giant white and orange rock formations, and each rock trail is perfectly climbable! We hiked a couple different trails including the Butterfly Trail and Lava Rock Trail, which lead to incredible views of the park that make you feel like you’ve gone back in time. This park truly feels prehistoric and is a must-do in the area. The park itself is perfectly kept and very clean, with clearly marked and organized trails, as well as beautiful scenic roads, and awesome campgrounds! We spent about half the day in Snow Canyon exploring the trails and eating lunch in secret caves before heading back into town and stuffing our faces with ice cream at the local Culvers.

Panoramic of Snow Canyon by Blake Lyle Photography.

The girls!

The lava rock formations on the Lava Rock trail: Snow Canyon.

Endless climbing opportunities in this playground!

The second part of our day consisted of making the short drive over to Sand Hollow State Park.  At $10 per car, this park offers a giant reservoir surrounded by orange cliffs. Popular for boating, kayaking, paddle boarding, and even scuba diving, our reason for coming here was simply to jump off of those orange cliffs. Sand Hollow has a popular cliff jumping spot well known to locals, and we took full advantage of it! We were greeted by groups of young people making daring jumps and showing us the ropes, which we thoroughly appreciated. Always be cautious of jumping, especially in new places. We watched a bunch of people go before us so that we know it was deep enough and we were in the right place.  (Side note: The park is extremely windy, so be prepared.) It’s a great spot to bring a lunch and take part in some activities on the water. Just be sure to wear some sort of water shoe or sneaker to make it easy to get in and out. We jumped in the chilly water for about an hour before we dried off, warmed up, packed up, and started our 1-hour drive to Zion National Park.

Blake and I take the plunge in Sand Hollow State Park!

Mandy takes the leap!

Jamie Jo showin' off.

Blake and I enjoying the view in Sand Hollow.

We arrived in the little town of Springdale, UT that evening and paid for a $30 Zion weekly park pass for our car. We got to the visitors center to get some info and then we explored the area a bit before driving our van up to the trailhead of the Observation Point hike via the East Mesa Trail. Observation Point is the most incredible view in Zion. Over looking Angels Landing, you can't miss this view during your time in the park (pictures in the next post). There are two routes to get to Observation Point, the 4 mile uphill hike, or the 3.2 mile leisurely meadow hike. The longer hike starts down in Zion itself, the shorter hike has a trailhead accessible via a road up to the Zion Ponderosa. If you talk to the rangers at the visitors center, they’ll be happy to give you some tips and advice on the hike itself, including how to get there. We found our directions on a hiking forum that basically gave turn by turn directions based off of landmarks and dirt roads. So, jot some notes down before you make your way up, but google maps should be able to get you to the trail head no problem. 

When it comes to backpacking, hiking, and camping, we are ALWAYS rule followers. Pay your fees, get your permits, and leave it better than ya found it. When were at the Zion visitors center, we were told that you are able to camp on the public land outside the trailhead. We met a couple at the parking area who said they thought you needed a backcountry permit to camp there, but they weren’t sure. So, we just went for it following the rangers advice.  We spent that night near our parking spot outside the trailhead, just behind the border of the national park. Since we were uncertain, we were sure not to light any campfires. We made our dinners, bunkered down for a windy night at the trailhead, and set our alarms for 4am so we could wake up, trek through the dark, and take in the incredible view of Observation Point at sunrise.

Camping at the East Mesa Trailhead. Off to bed for a few hours so we can wake up before the sun! 

 

 

 

Valley of Fire: Overton, Nevada.

Dedicated in 1935, Valley of Fire State park in southern Nevada is the states oldest park. Covering 46,000 acres, Valley of Fire is accurately named. Upon entering the park, you’ll be greeted by giant towers of red rock and cliffs that look like they were made for climbing. This was the first stop on our 13 days of travel through southern Nevada, southern Utah, and northern Arizona. 

We had left from Vegas at around 7 am to make the 1-hour drive to the park. We drove through the gorgeous Moapa valley views and desert landscapes until we arrived at the massive red rocks that let us know we’ve arrived! When entering the park, you’ll have to pay a park entrance fee of $10 per car. We spent our first night in the park as well, so we paid an extra $10 for our campsite fee. There are two campgrounds in the state park; Atlatl and Arch Rock. Both campgrounds in the park are first come first serve, but if you get there in the morning you’ll have your pick. We were there the second week of May and had plenty of options in both grounds. We chose to stay at the Arch Rock campground because it had incredible views and plenty of sites, each with water, grills, picnic tables, and metal overhangs which we were very grateful for in the desert sun.

A view of our campground, Arch Rock, by Blake Lyle Photography.

Once we arrived at the campsite around 8 am, we broke out our burners and JetBoils and made breakfast. After breakfast, our first move was to drive on over to the visitors center! If there is one thing you’ll learn about us, it’s that we love visitors centers. First of all, it’s where they have the patches that we collect, second of all, they have all the awesome info we could ever ask for. And last but not least, they’re staffed by awesome park rangers who will tell you exactly where to go and what to do to get the most out of your day – shout out to you guys!

The first stop on our tour of the Valley of Fire was the boasted “mini wave.” Most people are familiar real the real Wave monument in Arizona, but with very minimal permits given out, it is extremely hard to score a visit to this photographers dream. So, a lot of people love being able to visit the similar mini wave at no trouble to them in this easy access state park.  The Fire Wave is a short and simple trail, 1.5 miles out and back, easy for members of the whole family to explore.

We then headed off to the Prospect Trail. The Prospect Trail is 11 miles round-trip, and we were definitely warned to be ready for this one! We did not plan to do the whole thing; we just wanted to walk a few miles in and out to see the trail itself. We did go off-trail to explore a couple times, and the it was not a disappointment! It was our first taste of desert hiking, and we might not have taken it as seriously as we should have… Being from Florida, we thought we were well prepared for the heat, but we weren’t prepared for desert heat! After taking a humorous picture with the “heat warning” sign, we proceeded to run out of water and have a very desperate hike back. We absolutely learned our lesson, and on every hike after that, even if it was 2 miles, we filled up our 2 liter hydration reservoirs… Every. Single. Time. 

When we got back to camp, we patiently awaited the arrival of our favorite married couple, Kim and Alex, as they were just arriving in Vegas while we were hiking. They picked up their car, and drove straight to meet us at Valley of Fire. We didn’t have any cell phone service, so it was kind of fun to sit around and wait for them! Every time we heard a car, we would all perk up to run and see if it was them.  After countless cars, imagine our excitement when they finally pulled up… With plenty beer in tow. Needless to say, they are the perfect addition to any group!

Our campsite was perfect for sleeping in hammocks! We had originally set up tents, but 5 of the people in our for-now 7 person group had brought a hammock, while Kim and Alex took the tent pad. We hung the hammocks, and we couldn’t have picked a better spot.  We took showers at the campground bathroom, and ended the day on a cliff by our camp watching the sunset. We made dinner, climbed in our hammocks, and passed out for our first night! We experienced some harsh winds that night, which we discovered is common in most of the valleys, and I think all of us woke up a few times trying to shield ourselves. Yet, waking up to the orange sunrise over the red rocks that surrounded us was quite the way to wake up.  We woke up ready to tackle day 2, wondering how this trip was going to top our first day. Little did we know, it was just going to get better and better.

All awesome pictures taken by the awesome Blake Lyle. You can follow him and his traveling shoes on Instagram! @blakelylephotography

"Nutona"

First things first, this trip had been months in the making. Blake went above and beyond with this trips itinerary and we definitely improved on a lot of little glitches from our Colorado road trip.  The foundation for this trip was basically structured around the fact that we wanted to go to Zion National Park in Utah, and once we realized how many incredible parks and monuments were in the surrounding states and areas, we decided to go for it. We booked round trip flights from Fort Lauderdale to Las Vegas for 13 days, rented a car from Turo, and went from there. A lot of our locations and destination just come from research. For example, googling “Coolest hikes in southern Nevada,” or talking to other bloggers who live and hike in the area we are going to.

 In our 13 days, with eight people and two cars, we visited Nevada, Utah, and Arizona, hence the self-proclaimed name of the trip, “Nutona”. Overall, we visited three state parks, two national parks, one Native American Reservation, and one national recreation area. We drove a total of 1,400 miles, and hiked a total of 167 miles, averaging close to 14 miles a day. The Nutona trip was definitely one of the coolest of my life, and we will definitely be back to many of these areas in the future.  The Nutona posts are going to be written in order of the days of the trip; a guide and summary of each location by each day. Enjoy!

Amicalola Falls State Park: The Start of the A.T.

Up until this point, I have road tripped, camped, and done combos of the two. I’ve lived out of a car for a few weeks at a time, but I had not actually packed a backpack for an overnight or more. So, I was super stoked to be heading to the Southern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail to have my first real backpacking experience and my first taste of thru-hiking.

Long story short, my dad had been prepping and preparing to hike the A.T. from start to finish, starting at the Southern Terminus in Amicalola Falls State Park in Northern Georgia, all the way to the Northern Terminus on Mt. Katahdin, Maine. That’s 2,190 miles and 14 states- in case you were wondering! So, to see my dad off on his trek, my mom, dad, boyfriend and I packed up the car and made the 10 hour drive to Dawsonville, GA. This is the first step of our experience- the lodging and prep before our hike. (We did the 8.5 miles approach trail to Springer Mountain, the southern starting point of the AT, camped overnight, and continued on the next day.)

In Amicalola Falls State Park (where the A.T. Approach Trail begins), they offer both cabins and a hotel for lodging options. Through a series of twists and turns, we actually got to experience both, along with camping on the A.T… This was so awesome as I am able to now share our experiences about all three! The lodge is beautiful and feels so secluded over looking the mountains so you will not be disappointed. We went in early March so it was quiet around the lodge, except for the handful of very recognizable hikers getting ready to attempt the same trip as my dad. This is where you check in, whether you are staying in a cabin or the lodge, so be sure to take a minute and sit out on the balcony overlooking the view, or take advantage of the restaurant that shares the same views.

 CABINS

There are cabins at the “bottom of the falls” and cabins at the “top of the falls.” We decided to stay at the top of the falls, and though we could not actually see any waterfalls, we were glad we chose this spot. It was secluded, quiet, and had a beautiful porch overlooking a fire pit and the wilderness! We did see a few cabins at the bottom of the falls, and you can see the waterfalls from outside the cabin but you are located in and near the main parking lots, so they are not very private, however they are more easily accessible. Pros and cons to each! On our third day, we were supposed to hike out, but the weather had other plans. It poured endlessly and our cabin sprung a leak, so they put us in a room in the lodge, which we did not complain about

THE LODGE

The view from every single room is stunning, and the lodge is so quaint, you’ll be happy with whichever option you choose! The lobby does not even feel like a lobby. It feels like a living room complete with a fireplace, a balcony, and a small little restaurant for breakfast, lunch, and dinner while watching the sunset over the mountains. Make sure to grab your seat early, they’ll fill up quick for that setting sun!

 

THE HIKE INN

The hike inn is a stunning lodge in the Chattahoochee National Forest. The Inn is a five-mile hike from the Amicalola visitors’ center and is the perfect place for rest, relaxation, and a hot meal after a cold hike. We did not have the opportunity to stay here, but it’s definitely on the list. (Reservations always required at this lodge!)

After dealing with all of our lodging situations, we got to help my dad prep for his first thru hike, which was such an awesome experience. I have learned so much already just from helping him and watching him go through this, it only excites me more to think of how much more I’ll learn when I ACTUALLY go through it and hike the trail myself…which I WILL be doing. :)

Activities In & Around The Park

The park offers zip lining, along with numerous hikes and photo ops. In the state park, there are so many hikes- some easy some moderate- to keep you busy. Just ask anyone at the lodge or the visitor’s center for a trail map with recommendations and you can easily find one that is perfect for you! The waterfalls that give the park its name are just stunning. Make sure to hike the waterfalls famous stairs (famous for kicking your butt) for the best views and photos. 

Just a short 20 minute drive from the state park is a little gem called Dahlonega. This adorable little town has all the restaurants and chocolate shops your heart desires. The main square has enough to keep you busy on calm day whether it’s shopping or eating! Do yourself a favor and be sure to get a 5 cent cup of coffee from the general store. 

And before you leave…make the decision to have breakfast at Billie’s Country Kitchen. This little diner is in Dawsonville, just outside of Dahlonega, and boasts to be “home of the heavenly biscuit,” and let me tell you, they weren’t kidding! Don’t miss out on this little slice of gravy smothered heaven. This inexpensive, amazing breakfast was our reward for spending a completely underprepared two days on the trail before seeing my dad off.

Just Go With It

-Mo

 

 

The Brand That is Making the Sea Happier.

Is there any better feeling than helping out a cause you love? How about if you can help out that cause by supporting a local business and purchasing cute stuff all at the same time? 

Look no farther than The Happy Sea. The Happy Sea is the sweetest "Salty" brand out there. This adorable small business based out of Fernandina Beach, Fl and is run by an ocean loving mother daughter duo, Laurie and Owyn. Owyn and her mother have loved the ocean as long as they've been alive, and Owyn dreamt of becoming a marine biologist and saving the ocean one day. When Owyn realized math and science were obstacles that would prevent that dream, she just found her way around those obstacles. 

The Happy Sea was envisioned soon after Owyns realizations in school. Laurie and Owyn immediately mapped out a product line consisting of cute art that would spread awareness and support ocean conservation, and in turn, give back. Together, they began brainstorming ideas, and finally, after months of back and forth, The Happy Sea was ready to launch - with a small card line and initially 3 tank top designs. Slowly but surely, it has expanded into a full card and magnet line, as well as tanks, tees, long sleeve tees and sweatshirts. But The Happy Sea hasn't stopped there! There are many plans to continue expanding in 2017. 

Whats so unique about the small business are the styles and designs on each funky piece. Each design is created by Owyn herself. The eclectic combinations of colors and triangles holds a lot of meaning to Owyn, and is the key inspiration to what she designs. The triangle pattern comes from two things... Owyn grew up with 2 younger sisters and it was always the 3 of them walking through life together, therefore you have the triangle. Triangles are also the sign of water, which is in her astrological sign (cancer). They are created with a mosaic look which was inspired by a dear family friend, Ruth Ann Petree. She was extremely influential in their lives and created incredible mosaic art, chipping the stones by hand, and creating breathtaking works of art. In turn, this inspired Owyn and is reflected in each piece that is produced. Laurie handles all of the production for everything they produce & Owyn makes the art —dream team!

But, The Happy sea is much more than just a pretty face...They work hard to raise awareness for oceanic conservation and donate proceeds to an organization called Ocean Alliance, otherwise known as www.Whale.org. They are working towards reducing pollution, preventing the collapse of the marine mammal population,and benefit ocean and human health. Everything that Ocean Alliance represents is what The Happy Sea loves to support. Save the whales, save the oceans, save the earth. Another organization that The Happy Seas is getting involved with is Sea to Shore Alliance. Sea to Shore Alliance is a Florida based non-profit that helps educate, as well as protect, the habitats of right whales (native to North Florida), sea turtles, manatees.

As you can see, The Happy Sea is one busy business, but they haven't settled just yet. If you ask Owyn about what she sees for her company in the coming years, she'll tell you with a big smile on her face. 

"The Happy Sea eats, sleeps, and breathes ocean conservation. The ocean is THE most incredible place on the planet and it’s so sad that it keeps getting threatened by ocean pollution. There are SO many easy things that we can do to contribute to our earth and help save our oceans. All in all, the one major goal for The Happy Sea is to help create a difference and raise awareness for ocean conservation. The more people we reach through art and the ocean, the better! We would LOVE to see The Happy Sea grow into something wonderful and are along for wherever it takes us!"

Well said Owyn. We thank you, your mom, and The Happy Sea for supporting a great cause and letting us look great while doing it! As for myself, I couldn't help but purchase some tanks right away because of how well they reflect my obsession with jellies, sharks, & octopuses. You name it, they got it. Being a passionate freediver and ocean lover, I couldn't imagine a more perfect line to represent.  Go With The Mo PROUDLY wears and supports The Happy Sea brand and all of it's endeavors. :) 

*** Use promo code GOWITHTHEMO10 for 10% off your next Happy Sea purchase!***

Just Go With It-

Mo

 

7 Of The Best Day Hikes Near Denver

The Flat Irons | Boulder- This hike is the gem of Boulder! It’s about thirty minutes outside Denver in one of the prettiest towns in CO. Hike the Flatirons in Chautauqua Park, then jump on over to Pearl Street for hot food, cold beer, and good vibes. It makes for an all around awesome day!


Grey Rock | Ft. Collins- This is an incredible hike about an hour and a half north of Denver, in the Poudre Canyon. It lies just west of Ft. Collins in the Roosevelt National Forest and it is worth every step! The final number is close to 7.5 miles round trip, but there are two different trails that you can take up or down, so it just depends on what route you decide on. We took a short, steep hike up and a leisurely (but extremely long) route for the way down. The hike is tough but the summit is the best lunch view you will ever have!


 

Dream Lake, Emerald lake, Nymph Lake, Lake Haiyaha | RMNP, Estes Park. – Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and Emerald Lake is a string of beautiful sights that starts at the Bear Lake Trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park, accessed easiest by the Estes Park Entrance. It ends up close to 4 miles round trip, depending on how many little side trails you explore, but it isn’t very strenuous. This is just one of many beautiful sites that lie close to Estes Park, a beautiful little town an hour and a half northwest of Denver! The perfect place to explore for the day with easy access to the trails in that area of RMNP.

 


Loch vale | RMNP – This hike can easily be paired up with the string of lakes listed above. Beginning at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead, the trail to Loch Vale is close to 3 miles with incredible views the whole way. The trail passes by Alberta Falls, a stunning waterfall that cant be missed! When you reach the Loch, you’ll find it’s a popular lunch spot before heading back. (It’s another 1.3 miles to Timberline Falls, 1.5 miles to the Lake of Glass, and 1.9 to Sky Pond. During the winter months, you cannot continue any farther past the loch unless you have the proper snow trekking equipment. We made the hike in May and we could not continue.)

 


Garden of the gods| Colorado Springs – Although it’s a little touristy, it’s a must do! This landscape of awesome rock formations is a National Natural Landmark and boasts some of the coolest red rocks you’ve ever seen. Because it is touristy and can become crowded during all hours of the day, I recommend going to explore when the parks opens (times can vary based on season). When we were visiting, we got to the park at 5am and had the entire place to ourselves. It was something else to see the giant rock formations peering out from behind blankets of fog with no one else around… It really was like we traveled back in time. You can absolutely spend the whole day exploring this park and its trails.

 


Manitou Incline | Manitou Springs – Hardest Hike Ever. Ok, that might be a little dramatic, but it’s also a little true. How long is it you ask? Oh, it’s just a mile. Short, right? Yes. Except, its one mile STRAIGHT UP. Literally, a direct incline… In Colorado altitude. Seriously though, its an amazing experience and must do! (People run this thing up and down for military training and serious exercise, so don’t be discouraged if people are running past you). Good luck!


 

Paint Mines | Calhan – Such an incredible hidden gem! Located about an hour and a half south of Denver, the Paint Mines Interpretive Park in Calhan is a 750 acre park that features a section of multicolored rock and clay that looks like something out of a movie. When we visited in May, we had a beautifully overcast chilly day to take in the trails, fields, colors, and formations. This place is in the middle of nowhere but it’s truly magical.

The Havasupai Permit Process

lI’ll keep it short and sweet. Havasupai has quickly gone from a hidden gem on a quiet Indian Reservation, to a bucket list item for millions of people. Havasupai Reservation is home to Native American residents, incredible waterfalls, and turquoise waters seen in viral videos all over Facebook, but what you don’t see on social media is how hard it is to get there.

To enter Havasupai and have the privilege of making the 11 mile hike down into the canyon, one MUST have a permit to do so. The Havasupai people issue 300 permits for each night, for the whole year, and you CANNOT day hike (meaning you must hike down and stay at least one night). And on February 1st each year, thousands of people scramble to become one of those lucky permit holders.

Up until February 1st, 2017, the only way to receive a permit was to jump on the phone the minute the Havasupai office opened, and begin dialing one of the four provided numbers, until you finally get though to someone on the other end to reserve your spot. It was well known and understood that the Havasupai people did NOT work with technology and they did not have a website. This year, after countless phone calls from every person in our party of six to those four numbers for over TEN hours, we gave up discouraged and defeated for that day, assuming all the permits had gone and we did not receive any of them. Skip to February 2nd.. We wake up and continue calling…calling…calling…

We then received a text in our “Mission Havasupai” group chat from Blake that says “I got it!!! We’re in!!!”We all immediately assume he got through the phone lines, so we were extremely skeptical when he said he booked our reservation on a website. Let me rephrase… We were all very upset and somewhat panicked when he said he booked on a website. We thought we had just lost all of our reservation money and had gotten scammed.

Long story short, Blake saved the day. He constantly refreshed every social media site using the key word “Havasupai” to monitor what was going on, if anyone else had gotten reservations, etc. Someone posted about the website within minutes of its launch, and Blake was able to get in contact with him and confirm its legitimacy, and book our reservations… And thank God he did! Within the next hour, people were starting to spread the word on social media and realize the Havasupai tribe just launched its first website…and it was real… after years of complaining from hikers that the permit process was impossible to deal with. We just happen to be some of the first people to find out about it. Within two hours, every permit was booked up for every single day the rest of the year.

Now, from my understanding you can still use the phone numbers to the office to reserve a spot. Permits become available for the year on Feb 1st, so if you are trying to receive a permit for Havasupai, make sure to start dialing and using the website as soon as the office opens at 9 am (MST). The more people you have one the phone or on the website the better your chances, just make sure whoever gets through is prepared to front the total cost for your group at one time. There are no refunds and no transferable reservations so be 100% sure before your make these reservations. If you do not get one right away, be patient and continue to call the office and check and see if there are any cancellations for your dates. People often make reservations and end up cancelling or not being able to go even up to a few days before your preferred hike date.

This was our first time going through the Havasupai permit process, and it was definitely a learning experience, so I am so glad to be able to write about it and pass on the things we have learned or answer any questions to anyone who is interested in pursuing a permit to this magical place! We are scheduled to make the trek in May of 2017, and we are so excited to experience this sacred land and share it with others. I cannot wait to travel through this place and even more excited to write about it and help others get there.

Havasupai was pricey, but we are confident that it will be so worth it. For our upcoming road trip through Nevada, Utah, and Arizona, this was definitely our splurge. Be sure to  check back in May 2017 for our Havasupai experience and picture overload!

2018 PERMIT PROCESS UPDATE:
The following information is directly from the Havasupai Tribe Website,
 TheOfficialHavasupaiTribe.com

"Campground reservations for all of 2018 (February 1 to November 30) started on February 1, 2018 at 8:00 AM Arizona Time.

The campground is a "camp wherever you want" campground running for over a mile on both sides of Havasu Creek between Havasu Falls and Mooney Falls in the Grand Canyon. There is a maximum of 4 Days / 3 Nights per reservation (but you are welcome to make multiple back-to-back reservations to extend your stay if those dates are still available).

Pricing for 2018 is as follows and includes all necessary permits, fees, and taxes:
One Person, 2 Days / 1 Night: $140.56
One Person, 3 Days / 2 Nights: $171.12
One Person, 4 Days / 3 Nights: $201.67

Weekend nights (Friday, Saturday, Sunday), Holiday weekday nights (February 19, May 28, July 4, September 3, October 8), and Spring Break weekday nights (March 5-8 and 19-22) are an additional $18.34 per night.

When making a reservation, you will have the option to add the name of a person you authorize to be able to use your reservation to check-in at the Tourist Office as if they were you. The reservation is only valid if at least one of the two people named on the reservation is present at the Tourist Check-in Office in the Village of Supai (on the way to the campground) with photo ID - otherwise the reservation is NOT valid and will NOT be honored.

All reservations are paid in full at the time the reservation is made and are non-refundable and non-transferable (i.e. the individual listed on the reservation cannot transfer the reservation to another individual). Reselling of reserved permits is strictly prohibited. Any person caught reselling or buying a reserved permit may, at the discretion of the Havasupai Tribal Tourism Department, be permanently banned from Havasupai. Military and tribal discounts are processed upon check-in with a valid reservation and identification. No day hiking permitted - all visits require at least a one night reservation made prior to arrival."

Below is the ONLY official website of the Havasupai Tribe, as well as the office phone numbers.

 (928) 448-2180 or (928) 448-2237

FOR INFO: http://theofficialhavasupaitribe.com/

FOR RESERVATIONS: https://www.havasupaireservations.com/

Go With It-

Mo

Havasupai Seal Photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/alanenglish/

 

Four Things You Should Know Before You Go

First travel post here we go! This is a preface to our 11 days in Colorado and four things to think about while planning your first road trip.

I’ll keep it short so we can get to the good stuff… You know, the cliff jumping, the sleeping in laundry rooms, the elk encounters… All of it.

Most of my trips and travels have been with my family. And I have to give them a shout out because they’re pretty incredible people and we have done and seen some pretty cool things. They’re the ones that have instilled in me the importance of travel and experience outside of your bubble- the importance of meeting new people and embracing new things. So thanks to them, I wanted to make this family visit into an 11 day road trip with some good friends. 

So… I have family that lives in Denver. My uncle had been trying to get me to come visit for a while but I have a legitimate fear of cold weather (absurd I know) and been avoiding the trek to the mountains. The whole ten days ten different places thing came about when we were headed to Colorado for a family gathering and I wanted to do and see as much as I could if I was going to be there. So, I called up a few friends, found a great price on Southwest Airlines (my favorite airline by far- I'll explain another time), booked a flight 11 days ahead of my fam, and started planning. A few other things to touch on about these kinds of trip…

1.) Who you travel with is EXTREMELY important. So, this go around I had my adventure buddy for life, Blake, and long time friends Mandy and Dane. What’s so cool is that each of us are so different, so it was really interesting to see how the dynamic worked when we were crammed together for ten days. (Mo Tip- Always pick your travel companions very wisely. You will become VERY close.)

2.) As much as I hate to admit it, an itinerary really does help. My original intentions were to go where we wanted, when we wanted, and how we wanted. No plans at all. I didn’t want to map out our days because hey, I didn’t want to be structured- I wanted to be free as possible you know? Going with the flow ;). But, Mandy and Blake are planners and they were totally right to impart some wisdom on me. Having an itinerary taught me how to make the most of your time when traveling. (Mo Tip- Always have some structure- it helps allow for more spontaneity I promise.)

3.) Always plan to go OVER budget. Have some cushion money for pop up expenditures or unplanned fees or activities along the way. But if you do it right, you can do a LOT for free.

4.) Do your research, and make sure to do a lot of it outside of NPS (National Park Services) resources. NPS is great and I’m a huge fan of all they do. It’s just also important to gain other peoples real experiences and opinions, which is what I plan to be doing most of my writing on to help other people. 

So without more babbling, lets go to Colorado.

 

Go With It

- Mo