So You’re Planning a Roadtrip

Though it’s easy to make traveling purely about the destination (because we get excited about new places!), if you have the time to commit to a roadtrip, it’s an ideal way to refocus your travel around the act of traveling itself- that is, the journey. The way roads wind through landscapes, the roadside vegetation, the climate, the people-watching- these are all things I love about roadtripping. And as someone who’s made their way across the country via automobile a few times, I like to think I know what I’m talking about.

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Driving through Banff National Park in Canada

I’m planning a few roadtrips for this summer too- one from Wyoming to New Mexico, another from New Mexico to North Carolina, and then one from North Carolina back to Wyoming. Mapping out potential routes is almost more fun for me than the actual trip itself, but looking at Google Maps got me thinking: what advice do I have to aspiring roadtrippers? (I know you’re out there!) So below I have some advice organized by stages of the planning process, and then at the end I’ve included my abridged packing list to spark some wanderlust-y ideas for you!

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Southern Wyoming sagebrush prairie

Planning a Roadtrip:

  • Map out your route, starting with the quickest way between your start and end points. Are there nearby cities, national parks, historical sites, or other places you may want to stop that aren’t on this most direct route? If you’re planning on making your way quickly, try not to plan a day of driving longer than 8 hours. Though that doesn’t sound like a lot, when you throw in eating and bathroom breaks (and sightseeing!), that’s absolutely a full day. If you’ll be trading shifts behind the wheel with a partner or friend, you can of course do longer days, but even then be mindful of how cranky several full days of sitting can make your body feel. Also try to avoid large cities around rush hour– that is, unless you love traffic.
  • Get AAA! Or figure out if your car insurance company or car manufacturer offers roadside assistance. These programs are lifesavers should your car break down. In addition, AAA members get discounts at campgrounds and hotels all over the country. To note, if you’re roadtripping with a friend, only one of you needs to have AAA because they’ll provide roadside assistance to their members even if that member is a passenger in someone else’s car- of course speaking from personal experience.
  • Try to make reservations ahead of time, if possible. During the summer especially many campgrounds (both private and public) book up months in advance! Websites like reserveamerica.com allow you to search for campgrounds and pay online. If you’re considering a private campground, check for reviews on websites like yelp first to ensure the amenities you want are available, like potable water, toilets, or showers. KOA campgrounds aren’t the most scenic, but they often have laundry facilities and other conveniences available. For any campground, try to arrive before nightfall since it can be practically impossible to find your campsite in the dark. If you lean more toward hotels, consider setting up an account with a website like hotels.com, which gives you 1 free night at member hotels for every 9 nights you book through them. If you don’t want to shell out for hotels but still aren’t psyched on camping, check out websites like airbnb and couchsurfing, which allow you to stay with locals and within the bounds of your budget. If you’re bringing along a furry friend, you’ll need to check whether all the places you plan to stay are pet-friendly. Certain hotel chains are pet-friendly, but typically charge extra fees for the service.
  • If you’ll be traveling through or spending time in wilderness areas where predators like bears or mountain lions live, educate yourself about how to behave in these animals’ territories and what to do should you encounter a bear or mountain lion. For example, if you’ll be backpacking through grizzly bear country, buy some bear spray and learn how to use it. Being in bear country also affects the way you store any scented goods like food or lotions- here is a good list of tips for traveling in grizzly bear country.
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Driving through Big Sur on the California coast

Right Before You Leave:

  • Call your credit card company/ies to let them know when and where you’ll be traveling. I forgot to do this once, and when I tried to buy breakfast at a cafe in San Francisco the first morning I was there, my card kept getting declined. After a brief call to my credit card company I was able to use my card again, but only after I was a little annoyed and thoroughly embarrassed. Communicating your plans ahead of time will ensure your card works throughout your trip.
  • Get a phone charger for your car so you aren’t reliant on electricity, which is great if you’re planning on camping. This way your phone can charge while you drive!
  • Bring physical maps with you, whether you buy a road atlas or just print out copies of your directions from Google Maps. There will likely be many instances in which you won’t have cell phone service or LTE/4G to help you navigate.
  • Get a simple first aid kit outfitted with things like bandages, antibiotic ointment, alcohol swabs, tweezers, gauze, medical tape, and painkillers. You can find a complete kit like this at a drugstore or a store like Target or Walmart. You might also consider adding small packets of antihistamine medication (in case you struggle with allergies on your trip) or caffeine pills (if you get tired behind the wheel)- you can get these smaller packets at most gas stations. Obviously stock up on any medication you use regularly and bring that along, too.
  • Consider buying or borrowing jumper cables, a small jack, a spare tire, and a headlamp or flashlight. These items will seriously help you out should you encounter any car trouble.
  • While we’re on the subject of your car, schedule an oil change and get any timely maintenance your car may need BEFORE you leave, such as tire rotations/new tires, new belts, new brake pads, fluid flushes, etc. Your car can’t take care of you if you’re not taking care of it!
  • Make a fun playlist! Not only does this keep you excited about your trip, it will also prevent you from messing with your phone or iPod while you drive. Bonus: if you select songs to which you can sing along, this will keep you from getting sleepy behind the wheel (speaking from personal experience here, obviously). You can also utilize driving time to catch up on great podcasts or audiobooks.
  • Stock up on yummy snacks that won’t require refrigeration and won’t melt in the backseat like nuts, dried fruit, M&Ms, pretzels, veggie chips, granola, protein bars, jerky, little cups of fruit or applesauce, etc.
  • Tell someone you trust your entire itinerary in as much detail as you can provide including where you’ll be when, the route you’re taking, how to contact you, and where you’re planning to spend each night. Provide them with your car’s make and model in addition to your license plate information if they don’t already have it. If something happens and you aren’t where you planned on being, this person will not only know, but will be able to provide authorities with crucial information about your plans. Also tell this person where/when you anticipate not having cell phone coverage, if applicable.
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Bears Ears National Monument in Utah

On the Trip:

  • OMG you’re doing it! Take all the photos! Fill up your journal with tales of your adventure! Eat all the food! Stop at all the cool, weird, beautiful places!
  • Be mindful of possible delays on your trip like road construction, traffic, weather, and accidents. Many roads in more mountainous or remote areas close seasonally, so check the Department of Transportation’s websites for each state you’ll be traveling through for relevant information, especially if you’re traveling in the winter or spring. Additionally, if you’ll be driving anywhere at 5,000 feet above sea level or higher, no matter the time of year, bring a big coat and a warm hat. High deserts, prairies, and alpine areas and campgrounds can get below freezing temperatures even in the summer.
  • Some basic ground rules: don’t text and drive– use a friend, voice recognition software, or just pull over if you need to. In this vein, please don’t drink and drive either. Consider only drinking when you’re set up for the evening, or when you’ve arranged alternate transportation (e.g. walking, public transit, taxi, or designated driver).
  • Give yourself time to eat and move. Though it can be tempting to drive all day and eat fast food in the car, try to take a break for lunch, maybe eating at a non-chain restaurant. Websites like yelp and tripadvisor can guide you toward unique eateries. Take regular breaks not just to use the bathroom, but to walk and stretch. Our necks and shoulders can get particularly tight in the car- here are some useful stretches you can practice on your trip.
  • Only access sensitive information on secure WiFi. In other words, avoid checking your bank account balance or your email on public, non-password protected WiFi networks, like those at restaurants.
  • Trust your gut. If something seems off, it probably is. Don’t be afraid to pack up and leave because the guy in the next campsite is acting creepy, or to change your plans entirely when the motel or diner feels off. You’re not obligated to chat with or help someone if you feel unsafe or if you don’t have the time. This is your trip! You don’t owe anyone anything except to keep yourself safe.
  • Keep in touch with your trusted person! Tell them at regular intervals where you are and how you’re doing. Use a payphone or a landline if necessary. Send them amazing photos and make them jealous!
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Salt Lake City, Utah

Finally, here’s my abridged roadtrip packing list for this summer:

  • Journal + pens
  • Approximately 50 books
  • Cell phone equipped with some audiobooks + earbuds
  • Laptop + charger
  • Wallet
  • Sunglasses (maybe 2 pairs since I seem to always lose 1 on every trip)
  • Hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • Lip balm with SPF
  • Deodorant
  • Face/body wipes (I like Burt’s Bees and these Yuni shower sheets)
  • Scentless lotion
  • Dry shampoo (these two are my favorites)
  • Hairbrush/comb
  • Extra ponytail holders
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Toothpaste & toothbrush
  • Travel towel (like this one)
  • Toilet paper
  • Sandals for driving (wearing close-toed shoes in the car? ugh!)
  • Hiking boots + wool socks
  • Rain jacket
  • Warm jacket
  • Swimsuit
  • Comfy driving clothes (aka NOT JEANS)
  • Travel yoga mat (I have this Manduka one that folds up into a little square)
  • Camera + battery charger
  • Headlamp + extra battery
  • Sleeping bag + sleeping pad
  • Pillow
  • Swiss army knife or multi-tool
  • Camp kitchen like this one (including stove, gas canister, eating utensils, etc.)
  • Sponge + biodegradable soap
  • Paper towels
  • A few plastic shopping bags to serve as trash bags
  • Water bottles + Camelbak bladder
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Wide open roads in Wyoming

What does your ideal roadtrip look like? And what would you add to my tips or packing list? Let me know! Happy travels.

Love to all.

Ode to Snow

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Brighton Ski Resort, Utah

Winter is a time for contemplation. Everything takes a little longer to do. Food must be warmed, layers must be compiled and worn, windshields and sidewalks must be scraped and shoveled of ice and snow.

Whether you are in the midst of knee-deep snow yourself or whether you only dream of it, I invite you to listen to my new snowy playlist on Spotify while indulging in some wintry reading (sources cited) and photography (all by me) below. Enjoy.

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Laramie, Wyoming

“Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
tell yourself
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.” -From Mark Strand’s “Lines for Winter”

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Southern Wyoming

“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, ‘Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.'” -Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass

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American Fork, Utah

“Everything is flowing — going somewhere, animals and so-called lifeless rocks as well as water. Thus the snow flows fast or slow in grand beauty-making glaciers and avalanches… While the stars go streaming through space pulsed on and on forever like blood… in Nature’s warm heart.” -John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra 

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Steamboat Springs, Colorado

“One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land…” -From Wallace Stevens’s “The Snow Man”

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Centennial, Wyoming

“It snowed all week. Wheels and footsteps moved soundlessly on the street, as if the business of living continued secretly behind a pale but impenetrable curtain. In the falling quiet there was no sky or earth, only snow lifting in the wind, frosting the window glass, chilling the rooms, deadening and hushing the city.” -Truman Capote
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Steamboat Ski Resort, Colorado

“A few feathery flakes are scattered widely through the air, and hover downward with uncertain flight, now almost alighting on the earth, now whirled again aloft into remote regions of the atmosphere.” -Nathaniel Hawthorne
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Medicine Bow National Forest, Wyoming

Love and warm wishes to all from the wintry American West.

Desert Abundance

Over Thanksgiving break, Matt and I visited Zion, Canyonlands, and Arches National Parks in Utah as well as Antelope Canyon on the Navajo Reservation outside Page, Arizona, and Horseshoe Bend (of the Colorado River) there too. I’ve never been any place that dry before, that red.

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Puddles at Horseshoe Bend National Military Park, Arizona

North Carolina clay is notoriously red and dense, but that’s all disguised by layers of roots, worms, sloughed needles and leaves, thickets of thorn and vine.

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Sagebrush in Zion National Park

The abundance of the desert is different. Desert comes from French, then Latin—desertus for “left waste.” In English, the word desert is also a verb—to abandon, to leave a place, causing it to appear empty; to fail someone, especially at a crucial moment when most needed. A desert landscape is one with high stakes, where the smallest actions are amplified by emptiness. A horizon unscuffed by silhouettes of trees, left yawning open to dawn and dark alike. It is like the prairie in this way, “big sky country” —weather approaches like an oncoming train, openly. Its plans laid bare as plains. This is like what happens when someone deserts us, isn’t it? Their plans, their feelings and intentions are all laid bare, made plain.

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Mule deer at Watchman Campground, Zion National Park

Only the wily can effectively hide in the desert—the gray fox we saw skim the road at Watchman Campground inside Zion National Park, the chipmunk who approached us atop Angels Landing, the rabbit among the sagebrush near Moab. Mule deer were unabashed in their hunger, making meager meals from fallen cottonwood leaves gone to almost dust in their mouths.

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The roads in Zion are paved with maroon asphalt, presumably to blend into the landscape, which reddens fiery at dawn, then fades to rust at dusk.

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Canyons are the hiding places of the west, the shadowy forests and warren bungalows of the desert. Rivers don’t always run year-round, leaving behind dry “washes,” but when they return each spring, new snowmelt or runoff sand sediment, we allow them to do so under the same name as before. In that way, the name seems to mark the bed—a ditch, a crease in the fabric of the landscape—rather than the water.

Folksongs sing of the “rolling” Shenandoah, the “falling waters” of the Mississippi (the National Park Service has a whole webpage dedicated to “Songs of the Mississippi River”). The silence of a wash, a dried bed, doesn’t lend itself to rhythm, to song. What does it lend itself to?

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Cerberus Gendarme area of Zion National Park

When songs insist on the desert, I feel they then concern themselves with liminality—waiting to get to one place, leaving another. The desert isn’t a place in which we can stay for long. This makes it sparkle with an ancient mystery, the mystery of existing in a timeline so outside of our own.

The river that formed Zion National Park’s main canyon is the Virgin River. I’m still working on a way to formulate the following fact into a joke: the Virgin River is what cut through layers of sediment to form the cliffs now known as the Court of the Patriarchs. These are all Mormon-assigned names. The Paiute people originally called this area Mukuntuweap, purportedly meaning “straight up land.”

We spent our day in Zion climbing at the Cerberus Gendarme area, which is named after the multi-headed dog monster from Greek mythology, and then hiking the famous Angels Landing trail. Each time we went into the park we took the shuttle, which is the only way to park in Zion unless you’re willing to pay for a permit in addition to the entrance fee.

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Matt flaking out the rope before climbing in Zion National Park

The climbing was a fun, varied introduction to the splitter crack sandstone we’d be visiting in Indian Creek south of Moab later in our trip.

Angels Landing isn’t a particularly long hike (2.4 miles one way), but it gains quite a bit of altitude (1,488 feet) over its relatively short distance, resulting in a couple stone staircases and many cement switchbacks.

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Matt on a flatter section of the Angels Landing Trail in Zion National Park

The last half mile or so is very exposed, meaning an accidental slip could result in a deadly fall.

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Matt approaching the steep, exposed section toward the top of Angels Landing, Zion National Park

Every so often there are metal posts bolted to the rock with chains strung between them for you to grab as you walk.

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Matt clinging to the chains for dear life! (Angels Landing Trail, Zion National Park)

The view from Angels Landing is spectacular, allowing you to see down each end of the canyon the Virgin River has carved over many thousands of years.

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We made it! The view from Angels Landing, Zion National Park

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Another view from Angels Landing, Zion National Park

After Zion, we drove to Page, Arizona where it rained all day. The weather prematurely ended our Antelope Canyon tour for fear of flash flooding.

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The sanctum of Antelope Canyon, Arizona

Water streamed down the canyon walls, carrying with it little red grains of sand. Matt and I stood underneath a temporary waterfall in our rain jackets.

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In the car I found red particles of sandstone crystallized to my jacket like salt.

Right before sunset it stopped raining. We spotted a double rainbow through our hotel room window and drove out to the Horseshoe Bend overlook.

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The desert sand had congealed itself into a mud, and puddles were everywhere, signals of the ground’s inability to absorb so much water so quickly. We passed many other tourists and photographers on our way up the short trail to the overlook.

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The pale colors of the cloudy sunset reflected off the surface of the Colorado River.

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Horseshoe Bend, Colorado River, northern Arizona. Ignore the human hand 🙂

I wish I’d had a fisheye lens to better portray the huge, prehistoric bend of riverbed.

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Horseshoe Bend

More temporary waterfalls streamed down from the desert surface into the canyon.

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All smiles, all orange at Horseshoe Bend

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From Page we drove through Monticello, Utah and out to a tract of BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land known as Indian Creek, famous among rock climbers for its beautiful sandstone cracks sized almost perfectly for hands and fingers.

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Indian Creek, Utah

We luckily found one unoccupied campsite at Hamburger Rock (with a pit toilet, hooray!).

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Part of our campsite at Hamburger Rock in Indian Creek, Utah

We spent a couple days at Indian Creek—Matt leading some hard and impressive routes, me starting to come to a sort of understanding with the way I would need to position my hand inside a crack in order to pull down on it like gripping a rung on a ladder, reset my feet ever higher, and do it again, and again, and again.

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Splitter cracks! All the gear!

Climbing, ladies and gentlemen. Tackling infinite variations of rock formations with the same square pegs—hands, feet. Not simply admiring but analyzing, utilizing. How can I lean against this? How can I stand atop it? How can I twist and contort my body such that I find a shape against the rock that feels almost like a rest? How, then how? The landscape a puzzle.

One of the highlights of the trip was undeniably the hike we did in Canyonlands National Park on Thanksgiving Day.

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Needles District, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

When I’d told people about my plan to go to Canyonlands, I kept hearing recommendations to go to this particular area—Chesler Park, which is accessed via the Needles District of the park. Its remoteness drew us, too.

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The Needles of Canyonlands National Park, Utah

We began at the Elephant Hill trailhead, then took that out-and-back trail to a loop (I like to call this style of trail a “lollipop”) through the Chesler Park area. The out-and-back section of the trail gave us some beautiful scenery of the “needles,” sandstone formations.

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Walking amid the Needles, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

It took us through an eerie slot canyon, too, another dried-up crease in this landscape’s fabric.

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Matt in a slot canyon (on the trail!) in Canyonlands National Park

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Matt took this one of me- same slot canyon, all the awe

In the meadows and open spaces we walked among cactus, pinyon pines, and warped junipers.

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Matt can’t *not* climb

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In the grottoes of the wider canyons there were yellowing cottonwoods, and Russian olives and shinnery oaks gone brown. I was surprised to see so many deciduous trees and bushes.

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More needles! Canyonlands National Park

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Armed with jackets, trail mix, and enthusiasm in Canyonlands National Park, Utah

The rock formations felt otherworldly, enigmatic. Perhaps this is because their histories, though still mostly unknown, are worn visible on their surfaces. The layers of sediment, proof of years and years, are outwardly visible. Their shape, sculpted by weather’s wind and water, speaks to their experience. We cannot entirely know this history, but we are invited to know by the unlayering made visible—we can start to know.

The final day of our trip (not including driving back to Laramie) was spent in Arches National Park, just outside the town of Moab. The contrast between Arches and Canyonlands was immediately apparent. A long line of cars with out-of-state license plates waited at the park’s entrance to be admitted. The parking lot for the Delicate Arch trail was nearing capacity. A park ranger worked to empty the overflowing trash bins nearby. Children cried and argued noisily. There were lines for each pit toilet, and above each toilet was a sign instructing visitors, among other things, to please go in the toilet rather than on the floor.

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Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

Due to the recent rains (it had rained here as well as in northern Arizona), the upper road to the Delicate Arch overlook was underwater, so we parked at the trailhead and did the 3-mile out-and-back hike. The trail was reminiscent of Angels Landing at Zion National Park with practically no shade and lots of hiking directly on slick sandstone, but significantly less steep and exposed this time around. The trail was cut out of the rock in places, but those sharp corners had been smoothed over by years of foot traffic.

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Maybe it was the crowds, the two hikers I’d seen shuffling down the trail in their Uggs, or the iconic image of Delicate Arch (it’s the one on all the Utah license plates), but I just wasn’t impressed by Arches, and certainly not in the same way I’d been impressed by Zion and Canyonlands. Was this eerily red and open landscape (an earth-wound) becoming familiar already? Maybe I’d arrived with unrealistic expectations, or I’d let myself be bothered by the presence of hundreds of other people who were also there for the same reason (so hypocritical), allowing a minor discomfort subsume the odd and fragile beauty of this place.

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More Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

Hiking back down from Delicate Arch, we took a quick detour to see some petroglyphs believed to have been carved by members of the Ute tribe, after whom Utah is named, in the late 1700’s since the people depicted are on horseback.

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The petroglyphs in Arches National Park, Utah

So maybe my characterization of this desert land being one that only experienced in passing is false? How would these people have survived? The National Park Service says the Ute and Paiute were nomadic peoples at that time, traveling seasonally as needed for food, water, and shelter.

This red, sparse land gives the impression of openness—open to curiosity and exploration just as to death and slow, methodical destruction. But inherent in the brutal openness of desert is a threat, some lurking danger. The ground beneath you may shift to sand, may collapse to canyon, may flood instantaneously. The surrounding air burns you all day and chills you all night. These extremes constitute a radical abundance, one both delicate and fierce.

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Yours truly, dizzy with joy in the Devil’s Kitchen area of Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Utah: Land of Skiing, Land of Canyons, Land of People-Actually-Live-Here

I reckon it’s about time to write a blog post that’s not Christmas-related *sigh*. Things in Laramie, Wyoming have been pleasantly not-too-cold and not-too-windy, about which I could, admittedly, be happier. We always find reasons to complain, don’t we? There may be no wind and it may be 30 degrees Fahrenheit, but it just so happens to be cloudy and there’s dirty snow all over the road and people’s front lawns. I still won’t venture into our icy, snowy backyard to clean up the strewn mess Laramie’s wildlife has made of my attempts at a compost pile. (Thank you, Matt, for pointing this out to me, as I haven’t been back there.) And it gets dark too early. And I can’t wear T-shirts. So there.

I can’t complain too much, since I emerged from the holiday season with an electric blanket and a crock-pot, both marvelous modern-day inventions for which I have electricity and my mother to thank. Thank you!!!

Last month Matt and I drove to Salt Lake City to add on to the UNC reunion that was slowly forming there. Though it may seem we are forever away from Utah, I-80 actually crosses southern Wyoming from Laramie directly to Salt Lake City, so it’s only a 5.5-hour drive. Again, that may seem like a lot, but an all-interstate drive for us is a rarity, and it means both minimal animal crossings and well-maintained (aka plowed) roadways.

Windmills on the drive in southern Wyoming

Windmills off of I-80 in southern Wyoming

(Side note: in case you didn’t know, Matt totaled his car last summer hitting a pronghorn on a state highway coming back into Laramie. Pronghorn are colloquially referred to as antelope. They are one of the fastest land animals to tread this earth. Matt maintains that the pronghorn ran into his car, and not the other way around. I am inclined to believe him, for a multitude of reasons.)

We stayed in Salt Lake City with our fellow-UNC-graduate-and-climber-friends Kyle and Tallie. We actually visited them on the exact same weekend last year, which I wrote about here. This time, other UNC folks joined us as well – Dylan from Hong Kong/San Francisco (he just moved back to the states!); Kevin from Boulder, Colorado; and Sara, who lives in Salt Lake too. We also briefly met up with our friend Jon who lives in Durham, North Carolina, and happened to be in town for the semiannual Outdoor Retailer show, which is a huge trade show for the outdoor industry where companies like Patagonia, Mammut, Prana, Outdoor Research, Marmot, Black Diamond, MSR, High Sierra, and Big Agnes show off their upcoming goods (outdoor clothing and gear) for the spring season. We were in town the weekend before the show began, so as we were departing, all the hotels and ski areas began to fill up with people in town for the OR show.

Just driving around Salt Lake City is scenic – you are surrounded on almost all sides by beautiful chiseled peaks.

Matt on the road in Salt Lake City, UT

Matt on the road in Salt Lake City, UT

Kyle, Tallie, Matt, and I went climbing on a warm and sunny Saturday at American Fork just outside of town. The approach (climber-speak for the hike into the climbing area) at the bottom of the canyon was still snowy, but the snow on the trail was packed down enough that it didn’t require snowshoes.

Matt on the trail in American Fork Canyon

Matt on the trail in American Fork Canyon

Once we switchbacked our way up to the base of the sport climbs, the sun was shining enough to keep us toasty.

Kyle rappelling down after competing a climb at American Fork

Kyle rappelling through blue sky after completing a climb at American Fork

The rock at American Fork is a heavily featured limestone, and its white coloring allows you to more easily see holds for your hands and feet as they generate shade in direct sunlight. Unfortunately, a fair amount of the rock is still loose, meaning that both rocks can fall onto climbers from above, and that climbers can accidentally knock or pull off chunks of rock while climbing, creating potentially dangerous situations. In climbing areas where loose rock is prevalent, you’ll see climbers knocking their fists against blocks of rock in order to listen for a hollow sound, ideally indicating the looseness of the hold.

As you can see from the pictures, despite warmer temperatures, there was still snow in upper parts of the canyon elsewhere.

American Fork Canyon, UT

American Fork Canyon, UT

On Sunday we met up with Sara, Kevin, and Dylan to ski at Brighton Ski Resort, just outside the city. Matt and I endeavored to ski through the trees a little bit this time, which requires more technical prowess but also more brainpower, like mountain biking single track versus road biking.

Dylan, me, and Kevin at Brighton Ski Resort

Dylan, me, and Kevin at Brighton Ski Resort. Yay helmets!

The view from the top of a mountain at Brighton

The view from the top of a mountain at Brighton, naked aspen trees below

Brighton is a lot bigger than Snowy Range Ski Area, our local ski mountain outside Laramie, so the runs are a lot longer. You therefore spend comparatively less time on the lift getting to the top of the mountain, which I appreciate, as I tend to freeze my butt off on the ride up.

Riding the lift at Brighton, photo by Sara Leung

Riding the lift at Brighton, photo by Sara Leung

It’s been a relatively dry winter out here in the west, so there wasn’t much new snow at Brighton. We still had fun on packed powder! No ice, thank you very much.

On Monday morning before driving back home, Tallie, Kyle, Kevin, Matt, and I went climbing at Big Cottonwood Canyon (I’m fairly certain of this, although there’s also a Little Cottonwood Canyon, so feel free to correct me, everyone). Unlike Saturday at American Fork, this was cold and cloudy climbing, which is hard on your little fingers as they grasp at chilled rock.

Kyle belaying Kevin up a sport route at BCC. Do they look cold?

Kyle belaying Kevin up a 5.12 sport route at BCC. Do they look cold?

Techniques for keeping hands warm in cold climbing conditions include, but are not limited to:

  • Whining about it
  • Bringing a hot drink in a thermos
  • Hand warmers in your fleece-lined pockets
  • Alternate placing hands on warm parts of the body, such as the back of the neck, the collarbones, or the armpits
  • Bringing a dog along so you can place your hands in their armpits (legpits?)
  • Go skiing instead?

After a couple hours, Matt and I said our goodbyes and drove to Brighton again to meet up with Jon who, like I said at the beginning of this post, was in town for the OR show. We bought a one-run ticket, which allows you just one ride up the ski lift, and skied down with Jon before heading back to Wyoming.

Now if we could only convince everyone to reunite in Laramie this time… what do you think, guys?

Love to all!

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This post was not sponsored by Black Diamond. (We just like their helmets.)

 

Holi in SLC

In order to live in Laramie, sometimes you just have to get out of Laramie. That’s what my friend Amy and I did last weekend – five and a half hours of driving to Salt Lake City, another five and a half back.

The descent into Salt Lake is as gorgeous as it is dangerous with its winding, steep, unsuspecting interstate. On our way in we passed a suburban that was flipped on its side – yikes!

From the mountains you make your slithering way down to the valley of Salt Lake City, a bowl surrounded by snow-capped rocky peaks. We couldn’t believe how green everything was! (So much so that we spent like a half an hour just sitting on some grass in front of my friend Sara’s apartment before she got home.)

We first went to 9th & 9th, a cute area of downtown with shops and restaurants, and lots of tulips and lilac and other furiously blooming and good-smelling things. Amy had to finish a paper, so we found a coffee shop with Wifi. Amy, who is gluten-free, was ecstatic over her discovery of that coffee shop’s gluten-free doughnut.

Ladies & gentlemen, Amy's first doughnut in 3 years

Ladies & gentlemen, Amy’s first doughnut in 3 years

With Tallie and Sara’s input, we decided on a Cajun restaurant for dinner, which ended up being an excellent choice, even though I forgot my leftovers on the table. (Sorry, gumbo! You really were delicious!) They had an amazing beer selection and a darn good artichoke dip. Also I’m pretty sure you can never overdo paprika seasoning. Put that stuff on EVERYTHING!

The next morning we slept in on Kyle and Tallie’s marvelous air mattress and had a late breakfast at Whole Foods, where I acquired a box of blueberry muffins and some dried mango. Walking around the store, I exclaimed to Amy, “Look! None of the produce is wilted or sad or moldy!!!”

Since we were in a large city, obviously I searched Google Maps for some nearby thrift stores. We ended up at this amazing store called Home Away, which was packed to the brim with refinished antique furniture, little painted lanterns, amazing kitchenware, and old window panes-turned-picture frames. I’ve been searching for a nice but inexpensive end table to sit by our front door in the living room to collect items like keys, wallets, sunglasses, and mail. And I FOUND IT.

Ta-da! Planter from Walmart, tray from Mom

Ta-da! Planter from Walmart, plant from local flea market, tray from Mom

I’m probably more excited about this than I should be, but it’s really given the room some personality. Of course Matt’s first response was literally, “Aah! More knick-knacks!” His second response, if you’re wondering, was, “This thing needs a new coat of paint.” Anyhow, the whole store was very reasonably priced; I highly recommend it if you’re ever in the SLC area.

After our little shopping excursion, we leisurely made our way to Holi, which is a Hindu festival of colors celebrating the coming of spring. You’ve probably seen photos of it or heard about “color runs.” The tickets we bought for the event paid for our admission, a meal each (delicious Indian food!), and several bags of color – aka dyed and scented cornstarch.

The "before" picture

The “before” picture

Throughout the day there were free yoga classes, since the event was hosted by the Krishna Temple, and live music from kirtan bands, MC Yogi, and other groups. At one point a singer lept off the stage and indicated with body language (I don’t think he spoke much English) that I should grab the back of his shoulders. SUDDEN CONGO LINE.

Since the event was alcohol-free, many of the attendees appeared to be highschoolers eager to hold hands away from their parents’ watchful gazes. It was pretty adorable.

One of the performers

One of the performers

Andy Grammer performed a couple songs and reportedly filmed his music video for one of them there as well. I think I was the only person in the crowd to not recognize this man, or any of his songs, likely because I don’t listen to the radio. But hey, maybe I’ll be in a music video! As I screamed to Amy in the crowd, “OHMYGOD I’VE ALWAYS WANTED TO BE ON MTV!”

I also ended up crowd-surfing at one point?

So many colors lalalaaa

So many colors & pretty background mountains

So that was fun. It took me a little while to find Amy afterwards.

We alternated between dancing and eating, two of life’s most marvelous experiences. The Krishna Temple makes a mean mango lemonade! We also wandered over to the yoga area and practiced our handstands. A very sweet new teacher, about our age, led us through a nice flow.

There are children in the tree behind me

There are children climbing the tree behind me

The Sanskrit name for the pose above is janu sirsasana (pronounced “jah-noo sheer-shah-sah-nah”), one of my favorites!

Amy getting some free love

Amy getting some free love

It took us a while to wash all the powder from our bodies, which had turned a kind of gross brown color instead of its cute original patches of neon pink and purple and yellow. I explained to Tallie that we had to wash the shower after showering. Amy’s hair still looks kind of green today.

After returning to our somewhat normal appearances, we spent too long in Trader Joe’s, basically the best place ever on the planet.  It is the happiest grocery store you will ever encounter. Though the closest one from us is in Boulder, CO, I have stocked up at Salt Lake City’s location the past few times I’ve visited. This means lots of coconut oil and gummy vitamins, obviously.

We made tacos for dinner at Kyle and Tallie’s while Kyle made some delicious margaritas, Sara brought over her adorable dog/jackrabbit Porter, and we stayed up talking (mostly about climbing) until way past everyone’s bedtimes.

Naturally the best way to end a weekend like this is with a 5.5-hour drive home through brown sagebrush prairie, relentless wind, and dazed truck drivers (the speed limit is 75, people!).  Up in Laramie, we’re still holding out for spring. My optimism lies in my sprouting zucchini and sunflowers – but don’t worry; they’re still in indoor trays. We’re supposed to get some snow on Thursday, but maybe the weekend will be nice. I think I got enough vitamin D last weekend, even through caked layers of cornstarch, to last me for a while, though.

Much love & adventure to all!

Salt Lake City Weekend

For the long MLK weekend, Matt and I bid adieu to Laramie and headed for Salt Lake City, where fellow UNC graduates and friends Kyle, Tallie, Sara, and Dan now reside. Both Dan and Kyle are in graduate school at the University of Utah there. It took a little under six hours for us to get there, but it’s fairly easy driving across wide open Wyoming plains. Of course, this is easy for me to say, as I did zero driving and 100% passenger-ing.

Coming into Salt Lake City, the highway cuts through Echo Canyon before descending through the ski areas and surrounding mountains into the valley. There was actual traffic, which was unnerving.

We arrived late Friday night and had some beer with our leftover birthday cake (Matt turned 26 on January 15, me 24 on the 13th). I can’t resist sharing my little birthday cake photo collage with you all. So proud.

Matt delves into the first slice

Matt delves into the first slice

I followed the recipe from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook by the letter to make this red wine velvet cake with whipped mascarpone cheese. Lots of butter, cocoa, and pinot noir were involved. Yum!

Kyle and Tallie were kind to host us in their apartment on the upper edge of the valley. Their street dead-ends into an amazing view of the city sprawl.

Saturday we went bouldering in Joe’s Valley a couple hours outside of the city.

Carrying crash pads up the trail

Carrying crash pads up the trail

Bouldering is a type of rock climbing where, well, you climb boulders. Because the routes are much shorter than routes on a rock wall or up a mountain, the routes tend to be more difficult, and ropes aren’t used. Instead, boulderers use crash pads, which you can see in the picture above. Climbers unfold the crash pads beneath a route they want to try and overlay them so you don’t hit the ground when you fall.

Matt on a boulder problem

Matt on a boulder problem

Because of the way most boulders are shaped, boulder problems (routes on a boulder) tend to involve an overhanging section, and then a top-out, where the climber makes their way up over a ledge to the top of the boulder, as you can see Matt doing above.

Kyle and the blue, blue sky

Kyle and the blue, blue sky

We couldn’t have asked for better weather. In the sun, with zero wind, you could easily strip down to a t-shirt. Occasionally.

Unfortunately I managed to injure myself on the second problem I tried. On the way off a dynamic move, one in which the climber has to jump, my left shoulder popped out of its joint briefly, then went back in. Ouch! I chalk it up to a combination of not climbing enough and doing too much yoga, thereby having unusually loose joints and weaker upper body muscles.

I therefore spent most of the remaining afternoon hanging out, spotting friends (standing nearby with arms out to catch their head and push them onto the crash pad in case they should fall), petting the dog, and making Matt take pictures with me.

Squinty in the sun

Squinty in the sun

You can see how pretty Utah is in the background!

On Sunday we went up to Snowbird to ski and snowboard. Only later via some Googling did Matt and I learn that Snowbird is not a good place for beginners like us. As Tallie said, when she and Kyle bought season passes this year, they figured they would have to get good FAST.

I’m starting to learn how snow conditions really affect the way you ski and how skiing feels. Fresh powder is nice, but deep fresh powder can cause some problems if you’re me, on skis. Ice makes a very distinct sound under your skis and inhibits control.

Riding a lift at Snowbird

Riding a lift at Snowbird

The Salt Lake City-area hadn’t seen any snow in a while, so conditions were icier than any of us would have liked, but that didn’t keep us from enjoying the view and the sun!

Sara took this picture of us on the lift! L to R: Matt, me, Tallie, Sara

Sara took this picture of us on the lift! L to R: Matt, me, Tallie, Sara

It was so warm in the sun that I wore just one long-sleeve shirt under my rain shell. Defeated after a couple unsuccessful attempts on Tallie’s skis, I went to the rental shop and got some shorter skis and gave Tallie hers back.

Photo credit to Sara for this panorama shot of me & Tallie. MOUNTAINS!

Photo credit to Sara for this panorama shot of me & Tallie. MOUNTAINS!

Sunday night we finished off the cake while Matt picked up our friend Jon from the Salt Lake airport, who was flying in from Durham, NC to represent Mammut at the Outdoor Retailer show, and also to ski.

Sunday morning we went out for brunch at a cute, busy place called Eggs in the City.

Yummy breakfast scramble

Yummy breakfast scramble

Afterwards, we stopped by Trader Joe’s so I could stock up on delicious things like almond croissants and jalapeno cilantro hummus before heading back across Wyoming toward Laramie.

Because Matt is attending school full-time and I’m working full-time, I feel grateful to have the opportunity to go on these fun weekend adventures and outdoor getaways. Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah make up a beautiful, wild part of this country, and we are lucky to be here, especially when it’s not too cold!

Love to all.