Posts Tagged ‘national park’

The Wild Life Part 2: The Badlands

Thursday, July 5th, 2018

The Black Hills once again showed off by wowing us with dazzling landscapes and very opportune wildlife appearances. When we arrive at the first overlook of Badlands National Park early in the morning my mom and I were both stunned by the surreal beauty of this unusual park.

As I scrambled down into a good position for my landscape shots, I nonchalantly declared that “The only thing that would make this view better would be if a bighorn sheep was right front in center.” As I checked in my view finder to line up my show I was astonished to see that I had been lucky enough to find right in front of me a bighorn sheep slowly making his way up the side of the mountain right toward me.

As I stammered out excited exclamations to draw my mom’s attention and gesticulated wildly in the bighorn sheep’s direction, he only continued to calmly move even closer.

I couldn’t believe how lucky I was. I already felt insanely spoiled by my mountain goat sighting and here was another beautiful animal standing right before me.

The wild beauty held in the square caramel pupil of the bighorn sheep once again shocked me into total astonishment. How can a quiet majesty like this exist in a world full of so much noise?

The National Parks are so incredibly important to this country and sadly so many people will never get to experience the wonder preserved within the boundaries of these parks. These special places are not a manufactured space for the amusement of tourists, but rather they represent the remnants of a world left undisturbed by modernization and the greedy outstretched hand of man.

The Badlands in many ways epitomize the strange glory of the national park system. You drive into what appears to be nothing more than endless grasslands when suddenly you find yourself standing on the precipice of a natural wonder shaped by a millennia of natural forces. These spires and rocky edifices were carved by the hand of Mother Nature meticulously to cradle the unique characteristics of the world.

Even the wild animals embody a special feeling of otherworldliness. I was lucky enough to witness an entire family of bighorn sheep including several small babies. The fresh eyes of new born life shone brightly in their dark gaze. Locking eyes with these graceful creatures brings an exhilarating rush of understanding that stems from some unknown place inside of me. I don’t know exactly what it is that feels so understood in those moments, but I know that I will carry it with me always.

The Badlands really display the beauty of barrenness. Last time I explored the Badlands everything appeared to be dust, but this time around I was lucky enough to see the ground coated in green and a sparse, yet beautiful collection of wildflowers sprinkled throughout the park. The deep desert hues of the mountains contrasted so brilliantly with the green grass of the plains. 

The life here can seem so fleeting and in many ways that is what makes it so extraordinary. The continual struggle for survival, for a single foothold in life in a place as extreme as the Badlands, really illuminates the resilience of nature and the determination to continue on despite seasons of barrenness.

The best way to experience this for yourself is definitely to lace up your hiking boots and head deep into the rocky crags and spires of the park. Behind the looming towers of layered rock exists a microcosm of clay riverbeds, veins of blue grey pumice, and secret caverns of water carved rock.

My favorite hike in the park has to be the Notch Trail near the eastern visitor center. When you leave behind the boardwalks leading across the rocks and weave your way through the rocky towers, there lies a log ladder snaking up the mountainside.

This deceptively tall ladder while visually stunning creates quite the bottleneck of hiker traffic so definitely arrive early to dodge the crowds and enjoy the peaceful canyon trail! 

After climbing to the top of the notch and hiking a great deal around the park we took a fun break from the serious beauty of the Badlands by visiting a prairie dog town just outside of the park.

As I said before, I’m a sucker for these little guys. Especially when they come in groups of two!

We were sad to leave, but let’s be real, when would I ever be happy to leave a National Park.

On to Madison and then the western side of lower Michigan!

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Sea Level Lungs

Saturday, September 26th, 2015

I woke up bright and early this morning with only one thing on my mind: hiking Rocky Mountain National Park. I had visited the park once before but did not get to actually hike into the park anywhere and have always felt the need to go back and redeem my lost time in the park. Today was the day I finally realized that dream.

I made a quick pit stop on my way out of Boulder towards Estes Park to do the most important thing I do every day… get coffee. I have heard there are many great places to grab a cup of coffee in Boulder and I decided to try out the Laughing Goat on Pearl Street. I enjoyed it quite a bit, the interior was cozy and work oriented while also being hip, modern, and welcoming. I ordered a Venetian Creme that was sweet and delicious. I also grabbed a croissant for a later day hiking treat.

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It has been about six years since I last stepped foot in Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. In many ways, my last trip to this place was the beginning of my life as a road tripper, but not quite in the way you might expect. Last time I was here all I wanted to do was leave. I just wanted to get home as quickly as possible with as few stops in between as we could manage. I was not a road tripper, not yet. But looking back on the squandered opportunities I had passed by in such a hurry to get no where made me re-evaluate my priorities and the things that meant the most to me. I had to go back, I had to do it again and after that I never stopped. So here I am, back again and ready to do this the right way.

I pulled into Estes as the sun was rising over the lake that held the reflections of the mountains surrounding it. I bypassed Estes for the time being and made a bee-line into the park where I had a hike in mind. I decided to hike out to Emerald Lake, which is a trail that stops by a total of four alpine lakes. The final lake lay at an altitude of almost two miles above sea level, but I had my eyes on the prize and didn’t plan on stopping until I could put my feet into the cold clear emerald waters of that final lake.

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I packed everything I had (including Mama the Llama and my croissant my the Laughing Goat) and hopped on a park and ride that would take me to the first of the four lakes, the incredibly popular Bear Lake.

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Bear Lake was just the tip of the iceberg as far as beauty goes for the day and its still waters made a perfectly wonderful start to the adventure ahead.

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The path from Bear Lake lead upward into a Gorge with a glacier at its end, but everything from my point of view was all sunshine. The weather was splendid, perfectly warm but with a breeze that rustled the aspen leaves causing them to cascade gentle down from the sky onto the trail. The sky was a deep blue and you could feel the thinness of the air crisply in your lungs.

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I made my way between trees and boulders, over rocks and fallen autumn leaves, and found myself standing on what felt like the top of the world. It was enough to make my heart scream at the top of my lungs; it is a moment like this that makes you feel truly alive.

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After hiking with a smile from ear to ear on my face up the mountain side I arrived at the second lake of the day, Nymph Lake. Covered in lily pads and much smaller than the first, this lake definitely felt like little forest nymphs were hiding under the lily pads waiting for all of the hikers to leave before leaping from their hiding places to skip and dance across the still lake surface.

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From Nymph Lake the climb continued and the air was getting thinner and thinner resulting in a harder and harder ascent for me and my sea level lungs. But every gasping breath was well worth the effort because every step I took revealed an even more beautiful sight than the last.

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I repeatedly crossed over a stream that rushed by me from the third (and my personal favorite) lake of the day, Dream Lake. Just like Nymph Lake, the name accurately embodied the lake to come, it was dream-like in its natural splendor. I couldn’t help but think with every step that I took that people all over the world look at postcards or pictures of the places I have been lucky enough to step foot in and dream of someday visiting them, some with more realistic intentions of realizing these dreams than others, but still, I was there in this fairy tale place, a place of postcards and magazine covers as if it was my own backyard to play around in for the day. How lucky am I to have seen the things I have seen, to have done the things I am doing.

Dream Lake was rimmed with driftwood caught on the shores. The water was such a shocking emerald color it made me particularly dubious that the next and final lake, Emerald Lake, could possibly be closer to the color emerald than the waters of Dream Lake. Underneath the clear waters swam speckled rainbow trout that occasionally disturbed the still surface by pecking at bugs sitting on the water. The fish were everywhere, slowly drifting through the clear waters undisturbed and unafraid of the people surrounding the lake.

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I pushed on from Dream Lake knowing that the end goal was not too far off (albeit up the steepest portion of the trail yet).

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After befriending a young hiker ( a ten year old girl who followed me up the trail as her parents and brother lagged behind), we ascended the final portion of the trail. I felt light headed and a little faint by the end of the climb because we were almost two miles above sea level at this point and the affect was staggering. At least I had my little hiker buddy to keep me motivated and moving despite not feeling super well.

I rounded the final corner and there it was, Emerald Lake, the fourth and final stop on the hike. The waters were indeed emerald and beautifully pristine. Some hikers had stopped to eat lunch at the lake and were being casually attacked by a horde of chipmunks who were literally crawling on the backs of the hikers to steal crumbs. One chipmunk even tried to take a bite out of Mama the Llama until I chased it away.

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The driftwood surrounding the lake was a massive accumulation of bone white tree trunks scattered on the rocky shoreline. With some difficulty, I made my way down to the water’s edge over the boneyard of driftwood and took a break with my bare feet in the glacial waters.

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With the finish line crossed I made a decision that made the rest of my day perfect. I decided to return to Dream Lake since it was my favorite of the day and eat my lunch there instead of Emerald Lake. It was the best decision of the day. So I hiked back down to Dream Lake and found a perfect hammock spot on a rocky out cropping into the lake and set myself up with my croissant from the Laughing Goat in Boulder and my book. It was marvelous.

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I sat there for several hours just basking in the sun and soaking in everything. It was truly glorious but I wound up getting pretty sunburned since I was so much closer to the sun up in the Rocky Mountains than normal.

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After I was too warm to continue resting in my hammock I packed up and descended the mountain back to the first Lake where I took the shuttle back to my car so I could continue on my journey around the park. I decided to drive the Trail Ridge Road and go up to the Alpine Visitor Center that was over two miles above sea level. I stopped a few times along the road to marvel at the Autumn colors and take views of the valleys below the towering mountains I now stood atop.

I even managed to get photobombed by a chipmunk at the Rainbow Curve.

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At the top where the Alpine Visitor Center sat I walked around the fragile Alpine Tundra environment that stretched across the ridge. I was above the tree line so there were only rocks and tiny shrubbery dotting the horizon line. The road going up there was slightly terrifying because there were no guard rails despite being precarious perched on a road with no shoulder and gigantic drops on either side. IMG_9455 IMG_9454

The air was getting a little too thin for my sea level lungs though, which became my general thought of the day, and with my head swimming and seemingly floating on my shoulders, I decided it was time to return to a somewhat bearable elevation. Dropping back down to the valley I took some time to look at the colors and was rewarded with a bonus sighting, a small elk family consisting of a Bull, a doe and an adorable little baby. IMG_5385 IMG_5414

The baby was eating while the parents were settling down to rest in the field and he was quite the photogenic little guy. IMG_5408

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I left them be and exited the park exhausted but satisfied. I wandered slowly on sore feet through Estes Park and stopped to get some Nepalese food outside in the warm autumn air next to the river. It was a pleasant way to end a long but wonderful day and my drive back to Boulder was filled with thoughts and images of everything I had seen and experienced in the park. I could have stayed forever, but there was always more to see and time would not wait for me, not today at least.

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Travel Update: Yosemite

Friday, December 24th, 2010

My mom and I on our road trip to Yosemite saw many interesting things and actually had a lot of luck with wildlife on the ride up, however you will have to wait for those stories. Yes I know I am evil, lets just call it a cliffhanger, high-five, then walk away.

We were hoping there would be lots of snow in Yosemite but there was surprisingly little. There was a lot of interesting fog and mist that added another dimension to my photography. It provided an intriguing experience to experiment with photography. It was breath-taking, the beautiful sites all over the park that made both of us sad that we only two days in total for our trip. We made the most of it though, running around after wildlife and chasing reflections in frozen rivers. It was a lot of fun and the little dose of adventure that I was yearning for.

I decided that instead of just getting normal landscape shots of Half Dome that I was going to try to get a new spin off of the original photos to spice up my photography a bit. My idea rested on a hunt for Half Dome’s reflection. Finding just the perfect spot on the river where Half Dome’s beauty could be found was tricky but a fun challenge.

I think it worked splendidly. From Half Dome we moved onto Yosemite Falls. We didn’t have time to go up to the upper falls so we settled for just the lower ones. The rainbow being cast off from the falls was magnificent.

We could at least watch from afar the majesty of the upper falls that cascaded down the cliff’s face.

My mom was helping me by being my camera assistant the whole time. Helping my swap out lens and helping out with the tri-pod. So a little shout out for my best travel buddy, my mom, and my lovely camera assistant. Love You!

It was a really fun little trip and I hope to go back soon and get even better photos. Other photos from our  adventures in Yosemite and the road trip up will all be coming soon!

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Creeper Photo: Lei Woman

Sunday, January 3rd, 2010

I seriously die from laughter when I see this, I decided to put it up because I am in need of a good laugh. So here you go, the Lei Woman.

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Volcano National Park: Hawaii

Monday, December 28th, 2009

When in Hawaii, my family and I visited Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park. I must say it was pretty disappointing to most of us. It took us three hours to drive there, then it started pouring rain. And I mean POURING. So I had to quickly put pants on because of course I was wearing a dress since it is Hawaii and I am horrible at predicting the weather. So we had  to make a mad dash from the car into the Visitor Center, which kept routinely losing it’s power which made things very hard to buy when tha cash register keeps shutting down. I forgot my passport book as well (you get stamps from national parks all over the country.. I have had mine since eighth grade) so that wasn’t as fun. I had to safeguard my little tiny piece of paper which I had stamped and would later put into my book, which was nearly impossible since I didn’t have a jacket, was wearing a dress with pants, and had no were to hide it from the downpour.

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The most disappointing part was the fact that the lava wasn’t flowing. The whole thing we drove three hours to see, wasn’t happening today. Can I explain my disappointment.

But you have to push through, so instead we went to go see this really interesting crater. There were also some nice steam vents along the way. Can I also say how hard it is to take pictures when it is pouring? I was running around getting soaked with my camera shoved in a plastic bag whipping it out to take pictures then stuff it back in.

The crater was very cool, but it still didn’t quite fill the void of the unseen lava. But I did get quite a few good creeper photos there. I also learned quite and interesting bit about Hawaiian Mythology which is one of the only types of Mythology I haven’t looked into. Pele is an interesting woman… goddess.

Next was a stop at the Lava Tubes which is basically a giant tunnel underground. It was very impressive. We also had a lot of fun with the mad dash back to car out of the pouring rain. The area around the park was amazing. It was just like a rainforest with giant ferns, and so much green all around you. It really was a beautiful place.

After the disappointment I had a lot of fun at the park. As we left the park the rain got even worse. I love rain but this was scary, we couldn’t even see the road it was coming down so hard. On our ride home a huge storm followed us. Thunder storms chased us along the mountain road back to the hotel. The storm lasted until noon the next day. But that is a different story.

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