Initially our trip was just going to be us spending a week at Yellowstone. I don’t really know what happened, maybe I mentioned that I had always wanted to go to Utah, or others kept making suggestions. Regardless, our trip began to grow. More states, more parks, more days. It morphed into a two week Grand Adventure (#1).
Somewhere, sometime, I had heard about a National Parks Pass. It is ONLY $80 (this is dope because a state pass, just for parks in Indiana is $50). Just to get into a national park, can cost you $20, if not more. And this pass is good for an entire year (hence why we are in the works for planning a Grand Adventure with my sister-in-law Mary with a larger loop and 10 more national parks). I cannot describe my level of giddiness when our pass came. I pretty much was ready for us to sign it and put it in the window right away!!!
Nature is my spot. Growing up, we lived in the country. My parents, notably my father, were big on being outdoors. As I grew, the more I came to appreciate my times outdoors. After college, when I simplified my life (got rid of a bunch of stuff, moved into a shed, set out on adventures, the usual), I set to living my life. My instant gravitation led me to the woods. Anytime I had a day off I took off to a state or local park or camping. I ached to be on a trail. On a whim I took off to Yosemite by myself. I yearned to be outside. The woods, to me, cuts out and filters the bullshit of everyday life. It is easy to get lost in the busy of everyday life. To get sucked into worries or stressed. We are constantly connected and contantly bombarbed with a stream of other people telling us how to live. Going to the woods, helps me reconnect with myself. With life. I get back to what is important. To my values. To god. That is my time for clarity. For maximum gratitude. For mindfulness and awareness. It is like hitting a reset button, back to my best self. I NEED outdoor time.
There are so many reasons I love my husband, but this travel, camping bit was something I have waited for. I have always wanted a companion. Relationships in my mind are easy and effortless. I love you. I enjoy spending time with you. We can collaborate on building a life together. We can travel and have adventures. Have a home. A family in the far future. Someone by my side. I spent years traveling by myself. Being by myself. Getting comfortable with that. So by the time Zach came into my life, I was fully ready and receptive to have someone with me for the adventures. Within the first month of dating, we took off to Brown County for a camping trip. It just accelerated my falling. This was it. We fit. Here was the person I could co-pilot with. And on our grand adventure traveled beautifully together. Yes was the only possible answer, then, when he asked me to marry him in Arches National Park. Find someone who not only loves you, but someone you can set goals with, who makes you better and enriches your, and who likes to do similar things.
So it excites me and fills my heart that we both geek out about travel and parks so much. When I moved in, we were pumped to spend an afternoon updating the large map over our bed and to hang up our National Parks maps all over the room.
Now let us leave the lovey stuff behind and get into these parks. We visited 10 on this trip. Here I will cover a little something on each one!
- Badlands National Park: what a place to start! I will tell you driving west across South Dakota is boring. The speed limit is 80 and I joked that it is because they are aware of what a bore it is. We left late on a Thursday and it was going to take 16ish hours to get there. Don’t ask me why, but when I did the math, I got it stuck in my mind that we could get there by sunrise if we drove through the night. We were determined. I was tired, but pushed through the last two hours of driving. When I saw signs for the Badlands in 5 miles I thought there was no way. It was so flat and open around me. I had seen pictures of the Badlands, so my brain was completely lost to how we could be approaching. At 4 in the morning I began driving into the park. It was never completely dark, there was always a pink/red rim around the horizon. I drove in silent awe as I entered the park and things started to take shape. Zach was passed out and really wanted to let him sleep as much as possible, and I also didn’t want to get to far in, so we wouldn’t have to back track. I parked us perfectly in front of some formations. My excitement built as I looked around. And the sun began to rise, rather early. I quietly snuck out to take pictures as it began to light the shapes. Zach eventually woke up in perfect time to witness the sunrise with me. We eagerly sped around to take in the views. And we leisurely took our time that day to take in all the sights. Hiking the Notch Trail and the ladder to get some cool views. We also took a nice bike ride to take some of it in. Rain, though, had us done a little early and we felt content with our park visit (plus you really don’t want to hike in the rain in the Badlands). And man the drive out of the park was absolutely breathtaking!
- Wind Cave National Park: We spent our afternoon wandering around Wind Cave. Really, someone had told us they had buffalo there. Mount Rushmore we thought was too costly and it was too foggy to see anything anyone, plus nature vs. manmade is more up our style. Finding a buffalo was rough (we really weren’t practicing patient, I kept trying to remind that Yellowstone was going to be where it was out). But we did find them. It was a nice little park, however, we missed the big attraction. The cave. So if you go there, check out the cave. If you want to see buffalo, go to Yellowstone.
- Yellowstone National Park: I feel this trip was kind of just for getting our feet wet. A taste of some of these parks. Which ones we would want to come back to and spend a week or two. I will give it away now, I would love to go back to Yellowstone and the Tetons and spend two weeks camping, exploring and hiking. A friend suggested we go through Beartooth Mountains to enter the park. Which we followed because we were ahead of time. Therefore we entered the park on its Northeast entrance, which was perfect for us because it took us right into the Lamar Valley. This is THE place to see wildlife. A little while in we saw two buffalo. Of course we wanted to get closer than the distance allowed. The entrance at the park warned of giving further respect distances for buffalo and bears. It also said not to take selfies with buffalo today, tomorrow or ever. I felt we were on the right track, but that we needed to keep going. I was right, soon we opened up to a valley full of thousands of buffalo and we found ourselves stuck in traffic, waiting for them to cross in front of us. Dope. Dinner included our neighbors spotting a Grizzly Bear cub over the ridge. Unfortunately, we thought we would go to Mammoth Springs. I’ll be honest, is was a letdown. The next day we started early (the benefits of being on Indiana time, we beat the crowds). Checked out some falls and then headed to Yellowstone Falls. Take Uncle Toms Trail down to see the lower falls. There are lots of stairs, but it is breathtaking looking out at the powerful falls and the colorful canyons. Worth it. Next we drove on over to the GPS (our nickname for the Grand Prismatic Spring). I had ran across it on my Pinterest, and pumped us up on pictures of it. And I will tell you what, it was one of my favorite things. It lived up to the hype and the crowd there. I thought one of the smaller springs was it, so when we kept going and I saw how massive and how vibrant it was, I was in awe. It SURPASSED my expectation. It is a must and my favorite thing at Yellowstone. Before that we saw some Geysers, so when Old Faithful’s parking lot of behind full, I was okay with continuing the drive to the Tetons. A return to Yellowstone is a must. The valleys, mountains, unique springs and geysers, falls and breathtaking colors are stunning.
- Grand Tetons: I am a mountain girl. Straight up. If I am going on a trip, I want to end up in the mountains. I was excited to get to the Tetons. I just stared. We were eager to jump on our bikes and get to the lake to go for a swim and look out at them. Plus we saw a black bear on our journey? Bonus! And then we kept driving and the views got better and better. Had an awesome campsite, and started early again the next morning to head around Jenny Lake. Multiple people had told me to go there. We thought we were going to have an easy 3 mile trek to an inspiration point. No. We ended up hiking around the entire lake and it was more like 10 to 12 miles. It was STUNNING, however. We ended up wedged higher up right in between the two mountains. Gazing in awe up at them. Totally worth it. The weather was perfect. The sun kept lighting them at the right time, for the best views. It, in combination with Yellowstone, was my favorite national park (although Yosemite is still my all-time favorite right now).
- Zion National Park: Zions is interesting because, as Zach pointed out, they run it kind of like an amusement park. For conservation reasons, you cannot drive through the park. They have shuttles running constantly to get you around. We were set on Angels Landing (rather I was). I love challenges and kind of hate comfort zones. I enjoy the reward of pushing myself, working hard, and overcoming self-imposed fears. Everyone in Zion it seemed wanted to climb. There was a large crowd. But that actually really added to the experience. Once we got to the chains, we only had half a mile. We thought this would be a breeze after ALL the switchbacks we had conquered. Wrong. Check out this video. Growing up I had a major fear of heights. This is something I would have never done. However, now I change my perspective and focus. I was focusing on the climb. The analytical part of my brain took over. It looked at the rocks and chains as a puzzle. I was focused on the best places to set my foot of hand. When I did look up or down, I breathed and reminded myself that I was taken care of. The view at the end? So beautiful. I had to take a video to get in all the sweeping views. Back to the crowdedness. I really noticed on the way down how much we leaned in to each other. How we able to encourage people heading up. To let them know they were getting closer. That the view was worth it. That they were crushing it. Plus there was a three-year-old girl behind us, dead set on climbing down by herself. Singing, smiling and enjoying herself. It encouraged us and everyone us that they had nothing to complain about. My favorite overall experience of the trip. That is pretty much my highlight there, after there we were kind of wiped and the crowds at the Narrows was ridiculous. If I went again, I would take two days, and enter one day at the Kolob Canyon.
- Bryce Canyon: this was my favorite Utah Park. It was small, but stunning. We drove all the way down and checked out expansive views of the rocks and hoodoos. Then we got to the main points. Parked our bikes. Headed to the other point and got down in there. Take the Queens Trail. Dope. The lighting on those rocks is amazing. And you’ll stumble upon little archways carved into the rocks. Roam back through the canyons and tear up the switchbacks, for more amazing views. Thor’s Hammer is a slight disappointment, but the park (like Grand Prismatic Spring), surpassed my expectations. We both agreed that we would go back and backpack in to camp and do more exploring.
- Capital Reef: the drive through Escalante was one of my favorites. As you leave it and approach Capital Reef, the colors and views are jaw dropping. Capital Reef is a skinny, long park. Therefore, we pretty much had this sweeping view and a short one as we drove through. Utah is great because the landscape is ever-changing. You never know what is coming next. Driving from Escalante to Capital Reef to Glen Canyon had our heads spinning to try and take in the constantly changing view.
- Canyonlands National Park: This is another interesting one. There are two entrances. Based on our drive, the south we figured was on our way to Moab. Boy it was a journey getting there. And it was a pretty lonely, empty park. Although known for its Needle formations, we preferred the mushrooms. The canyons were vast and ongoing in front of us. Plus the most stunning colors of reds. If I were to go again, would do the North entrance.
- Arches National Park: start early if you go in the summer. One it gets super freaking hot and you do not want to be out in the middle of the afternoon. Two, it gets super crowded and the line just to enter reaches the highway. Three, pack lots of water. We decided to drive in further and then go back in the evening to do the closer attractions. This led us to the Delicate Arch. It is not only on the Utah license plate, but the photo on the front of our atlas. It said It was a mile in, but that was deceiving. It was a nice little trek and I was beginning to think they had misnamed the park (we were not the only ones to think this either). We thought we were never going to find an arch! But boy was it worth it! When we first entered, there were few people there (and a lot behind us that we encouraged). It seemed to be in an amphitheater of sorts and it was grand in size. Zach is tall and he is morphed in this picture. Once we left there, though, we hit our stride in arch sighting (we learned in a video that the park has over 2000 arches). Here is a video inside of one of the arches. After a heat break, we came back around sunset. Oh my, the Double Arch was another thing that surpassed my expectations. It was monstrous in size. And just amazing. Then we saw the sun setting behind it as we walked behind the windows. We had mountains and dunes and arches and natural windows, all lit by orange and pink skies. It was perfect. We drove over to Panoramic Point just in time to lay down a blanket and lay on the ground to watch the stars pop up. I have never seen stars like we did in Utah. There is no interfering light. The stars are bright and fill up the entire sky. I think of country stars talking about being under a billion stars. I thought it a little much, but when I was there I got it. It felt like I was under a billion stars. And then Zach asked me to marry him and I was flooded with the happiness and prospect of being with him forever. On an adventure, under these stars. It was perfect.
- Black Canyons of the Gunnsion: This stop was unexpected. We were ahead of schedule so we figured we would take my parents suggested scenic drive through the black canyons in Colorado. Once there we realized it was a National Park. STOP. We had a pass. We stopped at every other lookout and it was freaking awesome. Another unexpected viewpoint among the mountains. A hidden gem. And we loved how it put “the Gunnison” in the title, made it seem legit. Definitely worth the stop, especially since we did not end up on the scary by-way.
That is it! Our first national parks together. Grand Adventure #2 we are hoping to double our list. There are 59 national parks and we’ll be about halfway there. So far the list is shaping up to be: Glacier National Park, Olympic National Park, Rainer National Park, Redwood National Park, Kings Canyon National Park, Yosemite National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, and Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado.
Hope this is helpful in some way!!