Welcome to the Yellow Brick Road Trip!
Our visit to Lily Lake happened completely by accident. On our second day of hiking, I originally planned for us to visit Alberta Falls and Mill Lake. But since we had squeezed Alberta Falls in the day before, we decided to look for somewhere new. Ouzel Falls had been recommended to me and I couldn’t remember why I hadn’t included it on the original itinerary. (Click to continue reading…)
Before this trip, I had never been to Estes Park, Colorado. My mother has been several times so I asked her what my absolute must-do activities should be. One of the first she mentioned was the Historic Park Theater. She told me it was a great experience to see a modern movie in a historical theater and something uniquely Estes Park that I couldn’t experience anywhere else.
After our walk around Bear Lake, Mona and I decided to hike to Emerald Lake. When planning our visit to Rocky Mountain National Park, I was cautious about the altitude. Where we live in Kansas just about 950 feet above sea level. When we arrived in Denver, we were suddenly a mile above sea level (or 5,280 feet). By the time we reached the trailhead, we were almost 9,500 feet above level – literally 10 times the elevation our bodies were accustomed to. (Click to continue reading…)
When we decided to visit Rocky Mountain National Park, I knew our first visit would be to Bear Lake. The images of the mountain peaks and pine trees reflected in the mirror surface of Bear Lake are so iconic they were even on the promotional materials for the conference I was attending in Denver. I took a few vacation days and brought Mona along so we could turn my work trip into a mini hiking vacation.
Mona and I were visiting Murray, Iowa for their sesquicentennial, or its 150th birthday. Murray has a jamboree every year to celebrate its founding featuring a parade and community fair. But this year was particularly special and included three full days of events.
One event was the opportunity to tour Brush College, a historical schoolhouse just off the main street. The main street in downtown is not large and most of the buildings are no longer in use. There continues to be a fire station, post office, and library and the railroad tracks that first gave the Murray its life are still in frequent use. (Click to read more.)
Murray is a small town in Iowa notable as the birthplace of two people – my wife, Mona, and the feminist writer Meridel Le Sueur. We recently visited Murray to celebrate for the jamboree to celebrate its sesquicentennial anniversary and I was inspired to do some research into the town and its other famous person, Le Sueur.
In 1868, Murray was founded when Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy railroad laid tracks on the site. The town slowly built up to accommodate the railroad. Since its founding, the town has neither boomed or busted. (Click to read more.)
When I imagine the desert, I imagine sand dunes. There is something profoundly romantic about an ever-shifting landscape, knowing that the hills I see on the horizon will not be the same hills I see tomorrow or even an hour from now. The wind will shift the sands, erasing footprints and reshaping the hills. The dunes endure in a constant state of transition. It is the desert at its most ephemeral.
The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes cover a 14-mile area. There are no trails, obviously. But visitors wander from the parking lot onto to the dunes. Like Badwater Basin, there are a lot of people near the entrance but the farther we wander out the less crowded it becomes...(click to read more!)
On our second day of hiking with Trail Mavens, we visit Mosaic Canyon for a four-mile out-and-back hike to a beautiful dryfall. The National Park Service describes it as a moderate hike, which I think is accurate. The 1,200 elevation gain may seem significant but is a steady climb with periodic rock scrambles over boulders and dryfalls so it doesn’t feel particularly arduous.
We visited Badwater Basin twice during our visit to Death Valley National Park. The first visit was after the Golden Canyon Hike.
Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. The depth is visually demonstrated by a sea level sign placed on a nearby cliff, so visitors can crane their necks up to see just how far below the sea they would be (yes, I know exactly what I did there). Signs at the site say it is the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere, but that’s technically no longer true. It is Laguna del Carbón in Argentina, which is the lowest place in both the Western and Southern Hemispheres at 344 feet below sea level.
There is water in Badwater Basin. At the entrance is Badwater Pool, a small pool of water that is very salty as one would assume. A surveyor found the pool when he was mapping the area, but when his mule refused to drink from it he marked the pool on his map as “bad water.” And it has been Badwater ever since. (click to read more!)
When I first told my father we were going to visit Death Valley, his response was, “You know the clue is in the name, right?” He’s not wrong. Death Valley is the hottest place in North America. The world record for highest air temperature was recorded in Furnace Creek at a scorching 134 degrees Fahrenheit. The National Park Service warns visitors against hiking at lower elevations during summer months due to dangerous conditions. During our visits, we frequently saw signs advising on safety tips such as never traveling outside the view of your car. (Click to read more!)
I was awake before dawn, shivering in our tent. I hated crawling out of my warm sleeping bag into the chilly air and quickly put on every article of clothing I could. But as I stepped out of the tent, the cold breeze passed through my fleece and base layers... (click to read more!)
Mona and I wanted to spend more time outdoors, especially camping, but kept coming up against the same basic problem. We didn’t have all the skills we needed for a solo camping trip. We’d camp, but someone else took responsibility for things like building the fire or organizing cooking. When planning solo trips, we became aware of things we both needed to learn to be able to have a good experience by ourselves.
I first heard about Trail Mavens on the She Explores podcast. It appealed to me for a lot of reasons. The first was that it created an opportunity for us to learn outdoors skills in a non-judgmental environment with other women. (click to read more!)
When planning our route from Las Vegas to Death Valley, I was excited to find the National Park Service provides a map with several routes online. We could travel quickly and easily or we could take a more scenic route to explore the desert. Mona and I decided to add a little extra time on the road to follow the ghost town route. (Click to read more!)
We left the Area 51 Alien Center and continued along the two-lane desert highway towards Beatty, Nevada. The storm clouds continued to hover overhead and I kept my hands tightly on the wheel to keep our car on the straight and narrow as gusts of wind continually barraged us. We entertained ourselves by listening to the Let’s Not Panic podcast archive until a new distraction appeared.
A white sign stating in bold black letters that fresh jerky was ahead. No other information. Just fresh jerky somewhere in the distance. (Click to read more!)
Just as my eyes were beginning to water from the strain, it appeared like a mirage (since we’re in the desert, I’m just going with that metaphor). A lime green building in the distance. In my best Invader Zim impression, I shouted, “Here! We stop here!” And I swerved into the parking lot. (Click to read more!)
This is a heartwarming story, tale of childhood trauma, and a very long introduction to the famous signpost on the Will Rogers Turnpike all in one.
In 1995, the University of Tulsa basketball team was playing in the Missouri Valley Conference. For most people, that probably wasn’t a big deal. But in my childhood, it was huge. Both my parents were alumni and growing up in Tulsa, a significant part of my childhood was attending TU basketball games.
University of Tulsa basketball was such a prominent part of my childhood, I found out I needed glasses at a home game... (click to read more!)
After our arduous hike on Camelback Mountain, we wanted to take an easier hike for the second morning of our anniversary trip to Arizona. We had previously hiked the Lost Dog Wash Trail at the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, but didn’t particularly enjoy it because we were suffering from rather unpleasant bouts of the stomach flu at the time. So we decided to pay a visit to the Lost Dog Wash and give it another go. (Click to read more!)
Mona and I were married on April 1, 2017. Yes, April Fool’s Day.*
As we approached our first anniversary as a married couple, we wanted to have a big adventure. My parents kindly leant us the use of a townhouse in Scottsdale, Arizona so we could have a weekend getaway to celebrate. With our destination determined, we quickly decided that our adventure would be to summit Camelback Mountain.
Camelback Mountain is so named because its shape resembles the head and hump of a camel lying on the ground. I personally think the resemblance is amazing. While driving throughout Scottsdale and Paradise Valley... (click to read more!)
On our way back from Eureka Springs, we stopped in Bentonville for lunch and to assess the roads. A heavy snowstorm was passing through Southern Kansas and Missouri, so we decided to spend an hour at the Walmart Museum while the snowplows got to work.
I’ve frequently heard Bentonville referred to as “the town that Walmart built” and there’s definitely some truth to that statement. Sam Walton opened Walton’s 5&10 on May 9, 1950 in the town square of Bentonville. That store would become the flagship of the retail empire... (click to read more!)
To celebrate the 7th anniversary of our first date, Mona and I booked a cabin in Eureka Springs, Arkansas for a long weekend of quiet in the outdoors. Well, not so much a cabin. It’s a caboose. (As I told my parents, “It took me over thirty years but I finally get to be one of the boxcar children.”)
Caboose 103 was once pulled behind a train until... (click to read more!)
For Mona’s thirty-third birthday, we decided to celebrate by taking a weekend camping trip with friends. It had been years since either of us had been camping and we’d never gone together. We booked a campsite and gathered up the supplies, borrowed a tent and sleeping bags from Mona’s family. In the weeks leading up, we talked about how excited we were to finally have our first camping experience together! It was only as we were packing up the car... (click to read more!)
Where Have You Been?
I can’t believe it’s been so long since I posted. I stopped writing the blog at the beginning of my third year of law school because I was just overwhelmed. I was taking a full course load finishing up my degree, working an internship at the legal aid clinic, preparing for the bar exam, and looking for a full-time job after graduation. I just didn’t have time to travel or write. Since I stopped... (Click to read more!)