Get Your Head Right

When I say the word “future,” what comes to your mind?

A scary, hairy monster that gives you goosebumps and paralyzes you with fear?

Or a peaceful, mountain meadow that fills you with joy, excitement, and happiness?

It’s all in how you decide to approach things.

The right mindset, so to speak.

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The future used to terrify me.

Back in high school, I was distraught with fear when senior year came around and I had to choose a college, choose a major, and basically choose the life I wanted to pursue without anyone telling me what to do or how to do it.

I was a ball of stress. I was so focused on fear, my priorities went down the tube. I lost a lot of weight, gained a lot of anxiety and parted ways with some friends. Once I decided on a school, I eventually just had to take a semester off to re-evaluate my long term goals and rediscover Alexandra.

Taking time to breathe turned out to be the “pause” I needed to jumpstart my life.

That “pause” gave me¬†mental¬†clarity and the tools I needed to cope with my fear of the future. God has a perfect plan for our lives and I just needed to RELAX and trust His timing. After attaining my Bachelor’s in marine biology, the future doesn’t seem so scary.

I have big dreams in both bodybuilding and the marine science field and I don’t plan on half-assing either anytime soon…

Bodybuilding-wise, my long term goal is to compete in Women’s Physique, and in order to do so, I need to put on a lot of size. While I’d love to compete again sooner, I know what has to be done. I’m absolutely LOVING the offseason and learning to maintain balance, consistency, and the daily routine. The stage will always be there, and I don’t want to sacrifice long term goals for short term pleasure. I’m in it for the long run!

Marine biology- wise, I haven’t told many people, but next February, I plan on pursuing my Master’s (and eventually PhD) in Marine Sciences from the University of Otago in New Zealand. Yes, it’s a long way from home, but I’ve always been one for adventure, travel and new experiences, and I’m not afraid to branch out!¬†Aaaaaand the University¬†has an incredible program and an¬†absolutely awesome location for research.

I wish I could go back and tell high school Alexandra that everything turned out just fine. Sometimes, I still get anxious about the future or¬†feel like I should¬†have my life more together, but I quickly slap myself and say, ” You’re in your 20’s, you DON’T have to have your life all planned out. God’s got that all worked out for you. That’s what makes¬†life exciting, enjoyable, and amazing.”

YOU are in control of how you interpret life, the future, and your dreams.

When you decide to make “getting your head right” a priority, everything else just seems to fall in place, and the future no longer has its fear-gripping power.

Where’s the Beef?! (No Cow Bar Review)

Hey everyone!! Long time no blog!

It feels like an eternity since I last posted, life got pretty busy with competition prep, work, and grad school applications. But I’m back!! ūüôā

Competing in my first figure show was a whirlwind of an experience, I actually placed second in my class! It got me even more addicted to the sport of bodybuilding than I ever thought possible. I’m currently taking a long offseason to add some quality size to my frame…EAT ALL THE THINGS! ūüėÄ

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Since my diet isn’t as strict during offseason, I can fit some treats into my macros. Additionally, I¬†have two free meals a week that go untracked. So, when I stumbled across D’s Naturals¬†No Cow Bars towards the end of my prep, I made sure to bookmark their website to try out there stuff as soon as offseason began.

What makes No Cow Bars so unique? They have the macronutrient profile of many other high fiber protein bars on the market, but they’re made without milk products or whey protein! They’re soy free, dairy free, vegan, gluten free, and high fiber.¬†Perfect for plant-based, vegan¬†athletes or people just trying to grab a healthier snack.

I contacted the company and they graciously sent me samples of their three current flavors: blueberry cobbler, peanut butter cookie dough, and mint chocolate chip!

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So without further ado, here’s a taste review! ūüôā

(Note, I was not paid or endorsed to say anything about these bars. The thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are solely my own.)

Taste: Blueberry Cobbler: I gave this bar to my mom as a snack for work (hence no picture). She said it tasted very fruity with major emphasis on the blueberry. The little freeze dried blueberries in the bar provided a lot of flavorful zing! 

Peanut Butter Cookie Dough: Reminded me of the powdered peanut butter PB2 in flavor. Sweet but not overpowering, tiny chunks of chocolate and peanuts, more peanut buttery than chocolate.

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Mint Chocolate Chip: IDENTICAL to a thin mint Girl Scout cookie. Little mint chunks in the bar really added to the overall flavor. I got kind of tired of the flavor by the time the bar was over though.

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Texture: Each flavor was VERY soft, almost dough-like. The peanut butter cookie dough was a bit grainy, but not bad. The mint chocolate was probably the softest and best texture. All had tiny chunks of chocolate, fruit or nuts in them. I didn’t try them heated, but I bet they’d taste like fresh baked cookies.

Smell: Blueberry Cobbler: Grandma’s fresh pie ūüôā Peanut Butter Cookie Dough: A brand new jar of peanut butter or a Reese’s cup!¬†Mint Chocolate Chip: Thin mint cookies all the way!

Price: $29.99 per box (Store locator on their website, may be able to find them cheaper locally)

Nutrition: 20-21g of quality plant protein, 25g carbs (19 of which fiber), between 2.5-5g fat, 2g net sugar, and roughly 200mg sodium.

Ingredients: Blueberry Cobbler: 71BNi2mG2LL__SL1300_

Peanut Butter Cookie Dough: 

71mHgyPiDGL__SX522_ 

Mint Chocolate Chip: 71wmnY10r0L__SX522_

Overall:¬†I probably would buy again and highly recommend them! The texture was a lot better than other high protein bars on the market and they digested well. The only thing I’m not a fan of is erythritol since it has the tendency to¬†upset my stomach, but I had no ill-effects from these.¬†I can’t wait to see what other flavors they come up with!

Thanks again D’s Naturals for allowing me to do this review!!

If you’re interested in learning more, don’t hesitate to check out D’s naturals’ website, Facebook page, or Instagram (@DsNaturals)

Wanderlust Wednesday: Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend, AZ, 2014

Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend

Page, Arizona

September 2014

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The lovely city of Page is a small town located on the southwestern edge of Lake Powell, near the Utah/Arizona state line. It features Glen Canyon and other gorgeous natural wonders.

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As we soon discovered, it’s pretty much the only metropolis for miles–restaurants, stores, boat docks for the lake, hotels, tours.

So, what brings people to this neat town? The gorgeous, off-the-beaten-path, natural¬†gems. Namely Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon–two hidden treasures in the desert landscape where countless¬†photography enthusiasts and national geographic paparazzi flock every year.

On our southwestern road trip last September, I knew we had to make a pit stop in this city to see these iconic landmarks!

First up, Horseshoe Bend!!

Horseshoe Bend is a horseshoe shaped portion of the Colorado River just outside of Page. The overlook above the bend is a breathtaking 1000 feet above the River with a sheer cliff face drop.

To get to the landmark, you have to take a little 3/4 mile hike from the parking lot. The hike is easy to follow and pretty self-explanatory, but I’d recommend you pack some sturdy shoes–people in flip flops were struggling in the deep sand.

Horseshoe Bend Trail

Many suggest you go at sunset for the best pictures, but sunrise is optimal as well. We decided to go in the morning to beat crowds and have more time in the afternoon to explore.

The view was outstanding!! The sheer drop to the bottom was steeper than I’d imagined. Dad and I lay on our stomachs and inched our way to the edge to get some neat shots.

We explored the area around the Bend and had fun meeting lizards and¬†posing on rocks like Rafiki from Lion King ūüėÄ

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And, to give you an idea of the grandeur, that little person below is me!

Horsehoe Bend 4

We left about an hour later and picked up iron-on¬†patches from the Glen Canyon visitor center ūüôā

Later that day, we’d scheduled a tour with Navajo guides¬†in the popular¬†Upper Antelope Canyon. Signing up for a tour is the only way you can get to the canyon since the roads are off-limits to pedestrians and regular¬†vehicles. They even offer photographer-only tours during midday for a special VIP experience. We opted for the general tour.

There are two parts of the canyon you can explore–the Upper and Lower portions. We’d read online that the Upper was the more popular of the two, and recommended for those only staying a day in Page.

The tour place was just outside of the city and many guests were huddled around when we arrived at about 2pm.

The ride was BUMPY on the sandy terrain and our SUV had all of the warning lights blinking–transmission, oil, overheating, coolant, DING DING DING DANGER! I kept slamming my head on the window and thought for sure we would break down. A crazy 15 minutes later, we arrived at the canyon in one piece. It looked like nothing special from the outside, but man is it deceiving!!

Antelope Canyon 1

Other tour groups were already there so people lined up and were herded through the canyon like cattle. The guides explained to us how the canyon formed and even pointed out good places for picture opportunities. The one pictured below is called the “Candlestick”!

Antelope Canyon - Candlestick

I’ve never been so shutter happy in my life–every angle offered another beautiful perspective of the canyon walls in the light. Pictures just can’t do it justice! It was so fun playing with different modes and shutter speeds with my camera, too.

Antelope Canyon 2 Antelope Canyon 3 Antelope Canyon 5 Antelope Canyon 4

We snaked our way through the canyon and came out the other side about 30 minutes later (pictured above).

The trip back through was meant to go quickly with no pictures, so you could just enjoy the canyon and get out of there in time for the next batch of tourists. It was an awesome experience, that’s for sure!

Both Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon are MUST-SEE if you make it to the Arizona Utah border. You will be blown away by the beauty and serenity found in every tiny detail! ūüėÄ

Antelope Canyon FINAL

Wanderlust Wednesday: Wildcat Trail, Monument Valley, Utah, 2014

 

Wildcat Trail

Monument Valley, Utah

September 2014

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Monument Valley has always mesmerized me. The beauty, the grandeur, the unique rock formations– I mean, what’s there not to love?!

While my dad and I were on our southwestern roadtrip last September, we decided to take a pit stop at this gorgeous natural wonder which also happened to be one of the top places on my bucket list.

The long, desolate road out to the monument was filled with picturesque rock formations. Look for the horse in the first picture below! (I actually took that one randomly out of the car window!)

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Upon arrival, I was shocked at how large the iconic rocks actually were! We swore we’d landed on Mars.

3-Landscape

We discovered there was a short trail that led around “The Mitten” and offered close, spectacular views of the rock and the surrounding desert.

Some fun facts about Wildcat Trail:

  • 3.2 miles around the West Mitten Butte, about 4 miles including the trek from the road
  • 5400 feet elevation
  • Walking takes about¬†1.5 – 2 hours

4 3-trail

The trail started off very steep downhill grade in deep, copper colored sand. I was glad I wore my hiking boots for the ankle support.

We arrived at a fork in the trail about a mile down from the road and it pointed right. We followed the trail all the way around the Mitten and literally gasped in awe at each angle. The moon even came out to greet us! And, way off  in the distance, was a rock that looked just like a pair of praying hands.

5-fork 6-Rock angles 7 8-praying hands

After completing the full circle, we trudged back up the extremely steep, deep sand hill. It was like trying to swim in a pool of peanut butter–we were huffing and puffing by the top. But we made it and got some food at the visitor center caf√© afterwards. It was a really fun short hike!

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So, if you ever visit Monument Valley, take some extra time to venture beyond the gift shop and visitor center and get up close and personal to the gorgeous rock formations! You won’t regret it! (Click on the picture below for a full landscape panoramic shot of the valley!)

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Wanderlust Wednesday: Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon AZ, 2014

 

Bright Angel Trail, Rim to River to Rim

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

September 2014

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Every sign, pamphlet, and advertisement in the park¬†said, “DO NOT ATTEMPT TO GO TO THE RIM TO RIVER AND BACK IN ONE DAY!!”

he..he..hee…….my dad and I kinda sorta violated that recommendation…..

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What can I say, we’re rebellious explorers! ūüėÄ

Here’s some facts about the hike and the beautiful and daunting¬†Bright Angel¬†trail:

  • 15.6 miles total
  • 4380 ft elevation change
  • 20 degree temperature change
  • 11 hours total
  • carrying 30+ lb packs
  • Very easy to follow, groomed path

We began the hike at sunrise (6am) and boy, was it chilly! We figured we should enjoy the cooler air while it lasted though, so we didn’t complain.

2-Bright Angel Trailhead

As we walked ever downward, we met two Vietnam veterans, both in their 70s, who’d hiked all over the country! If I remember correctly, this was their thirs hike into the canyon.¬†I love meeting new people on hikes and hearing about their stories! We even spotted some deer on the trail thanks to their elderly prowess ūüėÄ We kept talking about how weird it was to start a hike going down rather than up.

There are three rest stops on the way down to the river stationed at 1.5 miles, 3 miles, and Indian Garden at 5 miles. These stops consist of bathrooms and a place to fill up your water bottles! Definitely a nice mini destination to look forward to–especially on the way back up which we soon found out.

3-Rest House 1

We made it down to the first house relatively quickly,  and even though we felt great, we took advantage of the bathrooms, a breather, and chugged some water.

The sun still hadn’t crested over the rim of the canyon yet, so we were feeling awesome and continued on the adventure. We went¬†past the second stop and onto the third and final stop at Indian Garden,¬†one of the park’s popular¬†campgrounds for day hikers. We checked our water, shed our jackets, ate some snacks and prepared for the final long trek to the river. If you click on the picture below, you can see a better depiction of the distances between the rest stops.

6-Maps

The sun came over the rim about 11am, and after being semi-cold, it felt amazing, so we relished it.¬†Dad even spotted a deer and her baby right by the trail nibbling on a cactus!! They didn’t even move and were so brave!

4-Deer

A few people we passed were coming up from spending the night camping deep¬†in the canyon at the famous¬†Phantom Ranch! The spots at ¬†filled up fast so we weren’t able to do that, but still LOVED camping in the park close to the trailhead. We’ll have to return in the future to experience that!

Did I mention the breathtaking SIGHTS on the way down?!?! Unbelievably gorgeous. Such a unique, special view of the canyon unlike anything you can experience from the road or observation decks. Pictures can’t do it justice.

5-Hike Down

At about 12:30, we made it to the river and never felt so happy to rest our feet and shed our packs! The steep downhill grade was rough on the knees and ankles with the constant pounding.

A couple arrived seconds before us, so we offered to take their picture and they took ours. It was SO serene on the little river beach! My dad even dipped his toes in the icy cold Colorado!

7-Colorado River

8-Colorado River

9-Colorado River 10-Colorado River

We spent about 30 minutes taking in the awesomeness, and then started mentally preparing for the return trip. I remember looking up at the rim, realizing just how far we’d come. It was daunting to think of going back UP, but¬†we knew we had to do it. There was no option. As the park’s catch phrase goes, “Going down it optional, coming up is mandatory.”

11-THE RETURN

We contemplated going onto the Phantom Ranch campground, just to see it, but we decided we should turn around and start heading back. After all, our goal was to see the river! There was a tiny bathroom hut and water spigot at the river, so after emptying our bladders and filling our bottles, we began the long, intense hike back up.

One foot in front of the other. Step. Step. Step…

I hit a wall about an hour into the journey back. It was getting HOT. The mix of heat and the looming task ahead was intimidating.

But my dad pumped me up!! Yay hiking buddy!!! We made a game of taking a drink every 5 minutes to get our minds off of the blazing heat.  That game was a lifesaver!! That and seeing a band of mules go by and waving at the riders!

12-Mules

We made it back to Indian Garden and ate some of our snacks. I’d never been so happy to see the first of the three rest stops. I knew we were a little under halfway back and it egged me on!

I’m glad my second wind kicked in because the steepness between Indian Garden and the second rest stop was the HARDEST. Think of a stairclimber and max incline treadmill having a baby in the Mojave desert. It kicked our BUTTS. Let’s just say, we were THRILLED to see the second rest stop. We ate some more food and talked to some neat people, including a man who used to be a guide on the trail. He was shocked at the great time we’d made for making it down to the river in the same day! Definitely a nice little ego boost haha

We headed out and were stoked to keep kicking canyon booty!

13-Return Hike

About 30 minutes in, a MONKEY WRENCH was thrown at my dad. Things got a little scary right before we made it to the last rest stop. My dad’s¬†pemmican bar¬†started to upset his stomach REALLY bad and he almost passed out. He laid down on a big flat rock in the shade and became super pale. I was nervous, thinking how I could flag down a mule¬†if things got any worse. He laid there, drinking water, breathing deeply for about 45 minutes and then said, “let’s do this.” Cautiously, we started up again. He’d say “pace” whenever I’d start going to fast, and slowly but surely we made it to the rest stop. We knew we were close to the top by then!!

After another 40 minute break, my dad started feeling a lot better and it was my turn to cheer him on and get him to the finish!

Every step was gruesome, our legs were fried, and our sunburns were fierce, but we kept smiling, laughing and enjoying sights. The amount of people began to increase as we made it closer to the top. They’d ask us if we’d come up from spending the night at the campgrounds, but when we’d say no and told them of our adventure, each person was speechless! Granted, a lot of them were just tourists in flip flops, but still! They cheered us on and their words of encouragement helped us to the finish!!¬†Seeing the trailhead¬†on the horizon was overwhelming, and with a “go for it” from my dad, I ran to the finish! We high fived at 5pm and a nice couple took our picture.

14-The Finish!!

It was one of the most challenging hikes of my life, but also one of the most rewarding. I’m so happy I got to experience such a unique, heart pounding adventure with my dad. It’s memories like these that make my brain explode with happiness.

After making it back to our tent, we ate some food and CRASHED¬†under the stars. A fabulous end to a fabulous day! I totally recommend the Bright Angel trail to any avid hiker–maybe not to the river and back in a day, but you catch my drift ūüėČ

16-The Canyon

(And it wasn’t until the next day that I realized how intense my sunburn was hahaha)

15-Sunburn

 

Updates, Adventures, and Skydiving

Dang it!

I keep telling myself I’m going to start blogging on a more regular basis again, but I either a) get too busy b) get too lazy or c) totally forget!

So what’s been going on? Not a WHOLE lot, life has¬†been awesome (minus a flat tire haha) and I’m savoring it!

I guess I owe an¬†update on the homefront! ūüôā

  • BIRTHDAY: I’m officially 23 as of Feb 12! 22 was an epic year, but I feel like 23 has a lot of potential to surpass it! Bring on the fun times!!
  • SCHOOL: Well, it was looking promising for the program I’d been pursuing at Universty of Arizona, but state program/project¬†funding has put a damper on things. I’m not sure if they’ll get projects approved by this fall, so I’ve started applying to other schools and investigating new programs. I won’t get into details as of now, but it’s looking like BIG BIG AMAZING things could be happening…abroad.
  • WORK: Still loving my part time job at Vitamin Shoppe. I’m learning so much about vitamins and supplements, meeting new people, and laughing a ton with my awesome co-workers. It’s just a fun atmosphere to be a part of!
  • WEIGHTLIFTING/FITNESS:¬†Since this fall may be chaotic, I decided to pursue one of my biggest dreams…I finally¬†signed up for my first figure competition in May!! I’m working with my awesome coach from INOV8 elite performance whom I’ve been with for about 1.5 years and prep has begun. I’m so excited for this new journey and cannot wait to hit the stage! Now to keep practicing walking¬†in my heels haha
  • BUCKET LIST: For my 23rd b-day, my parents surprised me with an indoor skydiving experience!! It was SO fun checking that off the bucket list!! And in March, I’ll be checking off another big dream item — attending the Arnold Expo in Ohio!! BEYOND excited for that!!

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Well that’s about it, not a whole lot of stuff, but exciting things are brewing! I’m just stoked to see what 2015 holds, it’s gonna be an awesome year!! ūüėÄ

Thanks again to anyone still reading! Be on the lookout for a long overdue Wanderlust Wednesday post! ūüôā

Life Updates

Whoa!¬†Sorry for my random “fall-off-the-face-of-the-earth” absence;¬†it’s been awhile since I’ve made a post here. I promise I’m still alive!!!

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Life has been fantastic. Busy but fantastic!

I feel like I owe¬†anyone who’s still reading a few¬†updates on the homefront:

WORK: I snagged a part time job at local Vitamin Shoppe and have been LOVING every millisecond of it. My co-workers/managers are awesome, I’m learning a ton about supplementation as well as¬†interacting with people, and I feel so accepted among¬†friends who share similar goals. I wouldn’t trade it for the world! God’s timing is truly perfect.

work face

SCHOOL: I’m still focusing on going to grad school next fall and have a phone interview next week¬†with the professor I’ve been talking to for the past 6ish months. So excited to hear about the available projects he’s got lined up! ūüôā After taking time off from academics, I’m ready to get back to learning and being a fish geek haha!

HOLIDAY SEASON: Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming….ummmmm WHAT?! I’m in the biggest time warp in the history of ever. I’m just now getting used to the fact I have swap my shorts for pants when I go outdoors.¬†It SNOWED here earlier this week. WTF TEXAS?!?! Also sorta started the Christmas shopping process, but I’ve been a major slacker haha

snow

VOLUNTEERING: There’s a cool wildlife refuge/museum near my neighborhood, so I signed up to volunteer with animal care and special events. I’ve only been able to go once due to my work schedule, but it was cool! I look forward to going when I get more down time.

GYM: Training¬†has been AMAZING. I really feel like I’m becoming more in-tune with my RPE as well as my mind-muscle connection. My mental state is better than it’s been in eons and¬†I couldn’t be more appreciative to my coach for helping work through negative thoughts that occasionally try to creep in my noggin.¬†A lot of those thoughts stem from¬†getting frustrated at myself since¬†it’s been hard putting on weight (I mean¬†heck I’m maintaining on 575g carbs a day).¬†Celiac probably doesn’t help, but I officially have the metabolism of a 9 year old boy. By focusing on my overall progress rather than tiny snapshots from month to month, I’ve been able to keep a lot of negativity at bay. (Sorry for¬†the picture of me in my skivvies).¬†Just gotta keep eating hard, training hard, and resting hard to get to the stage *hopefully* at the end of next year.

progress

So that’s about it, nothing too crazy exciting. I wish I could say I got abducted by aliens or was a stunt double in a movie or something haha!¬†I’m just eager¬†to get back on the Wanderlust Wednesday train ūüôā I still have some hikes to recap from Arizona, so be on the lookout for new posts soon!

Thanks to anyone who’s still reading! Wishing everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving! ūüôā

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Wanderlust Wednesday: La Luz Trail, Albuquerque NM 2014

The La Luz Trail

Sandia Mountains, Albuquerque, New Mexico

September 2014

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Earlier this month, my dad and I took a road trip through the Southwest on our way to visit my grandma in the Phoenix area. En route, we hiked, camped, checked things off our bucket lists, and explored like never before! So, for the next few Wanderlust Wednesdays, I’ll be recapping the highlights of the trip in detail.

First up, the La Luz trail in the Sandia Mountains of New Mexico.

I’d read about the La Luz in some travel books at the library, and knew it was a must while we were in Albuquerque.

Here are some facts about the hike:

  • Located on the west face of the Sandia Mountains.
  • Sandia Peak Tramway can take hikers down or up with one way tickets.
  • ¬†Very strenuous, with 3,775¬†ft (1,151¬†m) of elevation gain and a grade of 12%.
  • Awesome views of animals, granite cliffs, and plants, as well as scenic¬†views of Albuquerque, cinder cones of the Albuquerque volcanoes, and Mt. Taylor.
  • Trail is home to an annual trail run, so runners appear often.

We decided to take the tram up to the peak, hike to Kiwanis Cabin, and then hit up the La Luz and hike down. The Sandia Peak Tram is actually North America’s longest aerial tram!! It took us over deep canyons and gorgeous scenery.¬†Note to self: next time,¬†work on my derp face for elevation pictures.

Sandia Tram Sandia Tram

Once our feet were back on solid ground, our Texas lungs needed some adjusting to the 10,000+ ft elevation. We were glad for the beautiful, clear weather, though. Onward we ventured to Kiwanis cabin!

The cabin, planned by a local Kiwanis chapter, was made in the 1930s of local limestone. You can see it on the cliff edge during the tram ride. My dad is a member of the Kiwanis club in my home town, so we had to check it out! To get there, we had to take the short Crest Spur trail  which is about 1.5-2 miles long. It took us near some steep drop offs and a gorgeous meadow. Tons of grasshoppers were out in force, too!

3-Crest Trail 4-Crest Trail

Next thing I knew, we were on a barren cliff edge overlooking Albuquerque. The cabin itself reminded me of ancient Greece. It was so magnificent looking out of its windows at the valley below.

5-Kiwanis Cabin 6-Kiwanis Cabin 7-Kiwanis Cabin Hike

After taking pictures, we found the trailhead for the 8 mile La Luz and began our descent.

8-La Luz

There were a lot of large boulders and rocks blanketing parts of the trail, so you definitely had to watch your step at every switchback. For the most part, we stayed in the shaded forest, so the sun was deceivingly absent.¬†The forest was filled with the sound of birds and we even saw a fuzzy caterpillar on the path. Don’t worry, we spared him ūüėÄ There were also a lot of people running down…every time they’d pass us, my calves would cry just thinking about being in their shoes. Talk about beast mode!

9-La Luz 10-La Luz

¬†When we got out of the treeline and into flat desert, the sun unleashed its wrath. By that time, we were tired and eager to see the tram station/parking lot. Falling victim to the sun’s tricks, I hadn’t been drinking a lot of water during the latter part of the day. The dry, cool air¬†paired with the shade of the trees messed with¬†my thirst levels. Boy,¬†I felt it in the desert. Hardcore. The only thing that kept me going was picturing a giant bottle of cold Ozarka at a gas station haha

11-La Luz 12-La Luz

Despite the¬†heat¬†wave,¬†we made it down¬†to the trailhead in one sunburned piece! It was an awesome hike, one¬†I’d highly recommend.¬†Although strenuous, the¬†variety of different¬†plants, rocks¬†and animals kept it exciting.¬†In all, we hiked about 10 miles that day and¬†had a blast!¬†Definitely a cool way¬†to experience¬†Albuquerque!

13-La Luz

Card Memory Booklet

I’ve come to the conclusion that I am a paper¬†hoarder.

Recently, I was going through my dresser and found jillions of birthday, Easter, Halloween, you name it cards! Most of them came from my mom–while I was in college, she¬†frequently sent me little “just because” cards and they always brought a smile to my face. I saved every one of them and they hold a big piece of my heart! ūüôā

I wanted a way to display them, rather than having them stuffed in a drawer, never seeing the light of day. To Pinterest!! ūüėĬ†There were lots of neat crafts for wedding cards like this one, but¬†I decided to take my own spin on it and revamped an old three ring binder!

Card Booklet Materials

What You’ll Need:

  • Three ring binder
  • Hole punch
  • Paper
  • Stickers and markers
  • Cards
  • Tape

Steps:

  1. First decorate a cover sheet for your booklet. I had some stickers and sharpies laying around and went kookoo ūüėÄ
  2. Organize cards however you want–¬†I put ¬†mine into categories like¬†holidays, birthdays, just because, etc
  3. Use a hole punch on your desired paper. I went with notebook paper for a simple look so I didn’t need my hole punch.
  4. Tape cards to the paper, front and back. Some of my cards were big so I could only fit one per page.
  5. Fill up your book with memories and enjoy! ūüôā

Card Booklet

Wanderlust Wednesday: Estes Park, Colorado 2009

 Rocky Mountain National Park

Estes Park, Colorado

Summer 2009

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You’ve probably heard this a million times by now, but in high school, my parents took me on a college trip through Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. During our time in Colorado,¬†we decided to explore and do some sightseeing after touring campuses.¬†We were eventually¬†delivered into the hands of¬†Rocky Mountain National Park, specifically the town of Estes Park.

RMNP and Estes

It was pretty close to CSU, so while I was a student there for a semester,¬†I¬†dreamt¬†about that town–hands down one of the prettiest pockets of the United States. I only revisited once while I was up there, but it forever has a place in my memory as¬†one of the most splendiferous places!¬†No words can truly describe the magnificence and beauty that place possesses, so¬† I’ll let the pictures¬†do the talking! ūüôā

Lakes Lakeside RMNP Landscapes Scenery Valley

The animal friends we met were pretty neat, too, especially the baby ducks haha! The pictured bull elk was strolling in someone’s driveway and was bigger than our car! And the chipmunk thought my dad had food in his hand, and enlisted every ounce of his bravery.

Baby Ducks Elk chipmunk

If you ever get the chance, you MUST check this place out! I want to return so badly to hike those mountains and feel the solitude of nature. It was just so unfathomably epic and stunning!

Mountains

 

Wanderlust Wednesday: Appalachian Trail, Amicalola Falls, GA 2013

Appalachian Trail

Amicalola Falls, Georgia

March 2013

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Prior to swimming with whale sharks at the Georgia Aquarium, my family and I stayed at¬†Amicalola¬†Lodge in the Appalachian wilderness and did some hiking on the famed Appalachian Trail. Amicalola means “tumbling waters” in Cherokee–very appropriately named for the state park’s main waterfall feature.

The Lodge itself was magnificent! Here’s some info taken from the Lodge website (linked above):

Just a 90-minute drive from downtown Atlanta, the lodge is located on the top of the mountain in Amicalola Falls State Park, in the heart of the Chattahoochee National Forest.

The room we had was spacious and had a cool view of the rolling hills. It was awesome to watch the clouds and fog billow over the landscape every morning. It was also awesome because of the many trails that began and ended right at the lodge as well as the visitor’s center, where we met some animal friends. Perfect place¬†for exploring!

Amicalola Lodge Morning Fog Visitor's Center Hiking Map

Onto the hikes!

Amicalola Falls Hike

A short, but intense hike from the base to the top of the Amicalola Falls was the first hike to be conquered by my dad and I.

Here are some quick stats:

  • Great views of the tallest waterfall¬†east of the Mississippi River¬†(729 feet)
  • Strenuous, vertical climb¬†
  • 600 steps
  • Leads into the¬†Appalachian Approach trail

Stairs_hike

Stairs Appalachian Approach

After hearing¬†the hotel staff’s high¬†praise for the hike, my dad and I decided to conquer it the afternoon we arrived, despite the cold, rainy weather. Thinking it’d be easy, we started out with gusto, but man, our legs were on fire near the end! Ultimate star-master!! We had to take multiple breaks to catch our breath, but it was okay because it was an excuse to take pictures ūüėȬ†It was a really unique hike, definitely one I’d recommend!

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Len Foote Hike Inn Trail

The next day, we set out to conquer the majority of the smaller 1/2-1 mile trails around the Lodge as well as the longest local hike to Len Foote Hike Inn.

Here are some stats about the Len Foote hike:

  • 5.5 miles
  • Moderate hike with gradual slopes
  • Ends at the Len Foote Hike Inn– a place where you can spend the night, eat, and have hot showers

Len Foote Hike Inn

It was a little disappointing compared to some of the other hikes we’ve experienced. There wasn’t a lot of wildlife besides squirrels, and the dense trees made it hard to see any views of the hills, but there were still pockets of beauty! The highlight was definitely reaching the Hike Inn. Nestled in the woods and only accessed via trails, it was so serene and calm. When we arrived, we were chilled to the bone from the cold rain, and they had¬†a cafeteria and hot drinks available for hikers and residents. That cup of black tea was one of the best I’ve ever had! ūüėÄ

After talking to some of the cooks, watching some frogs in a pond and spying on birds singing at a feeder,  we hit the trail to get back to the Lodge.

We also explored the multitude of other tiny trails that day, including the fitness trail outside of the Lodge that had about 20 stations where you stop and perform an exercise like pullups or pushups etc. So neat!

Park sign

Although¬†it was a fun¬†experience, I think I’m¬†a bigger fan of western U.S. landscape. Don’t get me wrong,¬†the Appalachians possess a unique beauty of their own; the¬†rolling hills and¬†dense forest. I guess¬†I’m just a fan of snow capped, bare mountain peaks! ūüôā

 

Wanderlust Wednesday: New York City 2012

New York City at Christmas

December 2012

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Since tomorrow marks the 13th anniversary of 9/11, I thought I’d post a special Wanderlust Wednesday that features the memorial dedicated to the heroes,¬†victims, and witnesses¬†on that tragic day.¬†I’ll never forget sitting in my 4th grade classroom,¬†hearing my teacher tell us something terrible happened in New York. My dad did a lot of traveling for work back then, and I prayed he wasn’t on one of the planes or in the World Trade Center. The feeling of helplessness and fear was overwhelming. Although a horrendous tragedy, I feel our country truly became the¬†“United” States as we came together to¬†support the victim’s families and the city of New York. Visiting the memorial brought back so many memories and¬†left me speechless; truly a beautiful commemoration to those amazing souls. So tomorrow, I encourage you to¬†take a moment of silence on behalf of those that lost their lives. May their souls feel the love and respect¬†we’re sending their way.

I guess I should give a little background to this trip before I dive into the pictures. Every year, my dad’s work has a Christmas party in New York City. In 2012, I finished finals early, so I was able to accompany them to the big apple! We’d visited when I was about 8 and saw the Statue of Liberty, China Town, the Empire state building, Beauty and the Beast on Broadway, all that stuff, but I’d never seen the city during one of the busiest times of year. It was quite an experience and I was able to knock some things off of my bucket list while I was there! ūüėÄ

Short on time, but not short on fun, we packed a lot of adventure into two days!

Taking a stroll around Central Park and meeting Balto…

Central Park

Catching Lion King on Broadway (SPECTACULAR SHOW!!)…

Lion King on Broadway

Browsing FAO Schwartz toy store and walking around Times Square…

Times Square

Eating at PB&Co and having the greatest peanut butter pickle sandwich of my ENTIRE LIFE. This was pre-celiac, but I definitely got glutened. IT WAS WORTH EVERY BITE haha

PB&Co

Seeing the 9/11 memorial, Survivor Tree, murals¬†and Freedom Tower being built…

911 memorial Survivor Tree and Freedom Tower

And finally, seeing the beautifully lit tree at Rockefeller center! It was jammed, but so worth it!!

rockefellar (2) rockefellar

While I’m¬†not a big city kind of person, New York is definitely a cool place to visit! There’s never a dull moment in the concrete jungle! ūüėÄ

Wanderlust Wednesday: Grand Teton and Yellowstone, WY 2007

Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks

Summer 2007 and 2009

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Hello out there!! I’m alive!!

I feel like I owe y’all a little life update:¬†I took the GRE and passed the¬†pre-req’s for my grad programs of interest, had a few job interviews, and have¬†started the application process to grad schools, so things have been busy in these parts! So I feel like I’ve neglected ze blog a bit, especially on the Wanderlust Wednesday posts. So I’ve changed up the theme (still working on it a little) and am¬†back to it! ūüôā

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Prior to my family and I’s adventure at Goosewing Dude Ranch, we trekked around Teton National Park, Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park!¬† To this day, it remains as one of my favorite parts of the country. It’s just so pristine and breath-taking– if you’ve never ventured to Wyoming, I encourage you to check it out. My family and I visited Yellowstone for a second time when we were driving through Western states on a college tour, so I’ve included pictures of the park from that adventure as well. No matter how many times you visit, there always seems to be something new and exciting to discover!

I apologize in advance for the quality of some of these pictures, I had a disposable camera for the majority of the trip and then put the pictures in a scrapbook.

Grand Teton and Jackson Hole

Jackson Hole is probably my favorite town EVER. I remember flying into the tiny airport on a little propeller jet; seeing the HUGE Tetons fill up every inch of my window. I was hooked before I even set foot on Wyoming soil.¬†It’s like taking a time machine back to the Old West–stagecoaches and carriages for rides, game meat and big steaks¬†at every restaurant, horses, saloons, cowboy boots galore. We loved everything about it! The town is about 20 minutes or so from Teton National Park, so it’s a great place to spend the night. We stayed just¬†north at a place called The Hatchet Inn Resort–super friendly, gorgeous,¬†and convenient. You could see the Tetons from the breakfast room, just inviting you to come explore! Besides the Tetons, I think Jenny Lake was my favorite spot we visited in the park. It was so quiet¬†and the water was crystal clear!¬†

Jackson Hole Grand Teton Natl Park Jenny Lake

Yellowstone National Park (2007)

We chose to visit the¬†iconic Old Faithful first. Scientists have almost timed when the geyser blows to the minute, so people wait anywhere from 35-120 minutes to see it’s glory. We drove up and started walking toward the viewing platform and right as we got situated, it blew!! Our timing was perfect haha! Some people approached us afterward and said we were lucky because they’d been waiting almost an hour! It was pretty spectacular to see how high the plumes of scalding liquid flew.

Old Faithful

The Lower and Upper Falls in the park’s Grand Canyon were also one of our favorite spots. The roaring water was breathtaking. We also saw a lot of bison, elk, coyotes, and chipmunks! ūüôā

Lower Falls

But perhaps the greatest place I’ve ever been in my entire existence was Artist Point. VERY aptly named! I remember turning the corner and see the most picturesque scene my eyes had ever witnessed. I remember thinking to myself, “if I got blind tomorrow, I’m glad I saw this.” The colors of the canyon, the roaring waterfall, the serene treeline surrounding the rushing water; it was spectacular!! Pictures don’t do it justice!

6-Artist's Point

Yellowstone National Park (2009)

In 2009 on my college tour trip, we entered Yellowstone from the North. The Roosevelt Arch greeted us, as well as some amazing mountains. It was cool to see the park from a new perspective!

7-Yellowstone 2009

We had to get through the park before it closed and we didn’t want to get trapped, so we weren’t able to¬†take a lot of time to stop. We did, however, see more bison that two years prior and still enjoyed the scenery.

Yellowstone 2009 Yellowstone 2009

About midday, there was a huge traffic jam and as we sat idle, we assumed it was probably a bison hogging the road. But I saw people start grabbing cameras frantically and some even getting out of their cars. Off in the wooded distance, I saw why they were so excited…

Bear! Yellowstone 2009

A black bear!!!!!! ūüėĬ†WICKED AWESOME! We’d never seen a bear before and felt so giddy to witness one, even without a lot of time in the park. Some weirdos kept walking toward the bear with their camera (and you wonder why people get gored or mauled) but eventually scared him off and he ran deep into the pines. Definitely a sight I’ll never forget!

The sun started setting, so we put the pedal to the metal and were able to make it out of the park just in the nick of time. But before we exited, I managed to get a fleeting “out of the car window” shot of the majestic Tetons and the sunset. To this day, I get chills thinking of the grandeur and beauty those mountains possess.

11-Sunset at the Tetons

You sure get great views from the roads in these parks, but I regret not really exploring places people rarely visit. Since I do a lot more hiking now, I would definitely love to return and hit up some of the trails!

DIY Patch Display Pillow

As many of you know, I’m¬†addicted to hiking.

Fresh, crisp¬†mountain air, burning thighs, cool animals and plants, the views…I can’t get enough.

After Half Dome, I¬†started collecting patches from the locations/national parks where I’ve hiked. I guess I’ll just have to return to the places I hiked prior to that, drat ūüėČ

For months, I’d been trying to find a neat way to showcase the patches. I wanted something that could readily remind me of the great memories and keep my love affair with hiking strong since living in North Texas isn’t very¬†scenic…hopefully grad school or a job will take me to a more¬†hiking-friendly location one day haha ūüėĬ†I had them hot glued on my hiking backpack for awhile, but they started falling off, and I didn’t want to risk losing them. I would’ve sewn them on, but the patches¬†proved to be¬†impenetrable to¬†a needle. I also considered framing them in a shadowbox, but it just seemed “meh” to me.

Introducing…

The patch pillow!!

patch pillow

What You’ll Need:

  • Needle and thread (or sewing machine if you’re high-tech like that)
  • Pillow
  • Fabric (unless you like the pillow how it is)
  • Patches
  • Hot glue gun

patch pillow - what you need

Instructions:

patch pillow process

  1. Cut some fabric to fit your pillow and flip it inside out so the seams won’t show.
  2. With a needle and thread, stitch closed 3 of the sides of the fabric, leaving about half of the fourth side open. You could bypass the whole needle and thread aspect if you have a sewing machine.
  3. Flip fabric inside out (so the pattern is on the outside and your stitches are on the inside) and stuff the pillow into the hole you left.
  4. Once pillow is inside the fabric, sew the rest of the fourth side and tie a good knot at the end.
  5. Fire up your hot glue gun and arrange your patches to your heart’s desire!

patch_pillow

The pillow now resides on my bed and each night, I¬†look at the patches, reflecting on the fun memories and hoping¬†to dream of the adventures each patch represents! ūüôā

Breakfast Never Tasted So Good (Review)

When I say the word “oatmeal,” what pops into your head?

A¬†piping hot¬†bowl of delicious mush that greets you on a cold, winter morning? Grandma’s homemade oatmeal raisin cookies, fresh out of the oven? Tiny round grains sprinkled on top of yogurt or featured on the crust of your favorite bread?

Well, what if you could create your own flavor and ingredient combination to replicate your favorite form of oats?

Tada!¬†Lemme introduce you to… My Oatmeal!

After hearing about My Oatmeal from friends on Instagram, I contacted the company regarding blog reviews. Anthony, the founder, got back to me right away and GRACIOUSLY provided me with an opportunity to sample some of their products.

I was more excited than a dog chasing a squirrel.

My_Oatmeal My_Oatmeal_Creations

Before I begin though, I have to mention that I was not paid or influenced in any way for this review. The opinions I express are solely my own.

Onto the review!

Basically, this company rocks.

First off, the website was SO much fun to navigate. I loved being able to pick ingredients and see the nutritional information of your creation pop up on the sidebar. The ingredients were also arranged in easy-to-follow categories like fruits, nuts, sweeteners, flavors, and oat or PB lean type. And did I mention the copious amounts of flavors?! It was hard to decide! Red velvet cake, banana bread, sugar cookie, german chocolate cake…the list of exotic, unique flavors goes on and on! Another cool touch is that you can name your DIY’ed food goodie bag–perfect to mark your territory ermmm….I mean customize your creation.

So how did they measure up?

“Holy Baboons” Oatmeal– Gluten free quick oats with banana bread flavor and dates.

Banana Bread Dates Oatmeal

Taste: Tasted like fresh baked banana bread and just the right amount of sweetness. Really nice after flavor, too. Next time I’d get more dates though, there weren’t a whole lot in the mix. My mom said this was her absolute favorite!

Texture: Very smooth and soft, cooked great in the microwave.

Smell: Bananas!!

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“Not Your Average Cookie” Oatmeal– Gluten free thick rolled oats with oatmeal cookie flavor,¬†honey flavor and organic cane juice crystals

Oatmeal Cookie Honey Oats

Taste: Identical to a true oatmeal cookie, and a little hint of honey. Super delicious! Totally want to use this in cookie batter one day.

Texture: Very grainy, I think I should cook it on the stove next time, it never got really soft.

Smell: Fresh baked oatmeal cookies, it made the kitchen smell amazing! Super inviting aroma.

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“Gingerbread Goodum” PB Lean– light roasted, powdered peanut butter with gingerbread flavor and brown cane sugar

Gingerbread PB Lean

Taste: The peanut taste sorta overpowered the gingerbread when it was eaten alone. When I added powder to a smoothie, it blended well and gave a pleasant, peanutty flavor. Just wish there was a little more of a gingerbread flavor.

Texture: I added a little bit of water gradually and stirred until it had a creamy, paste-like consistency. AWESOME! It made smoothies thick, too.

Smell: Mostly peanut butter, with a tiny hint of gingerbread.

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Overall: I will definitely be purchasing from My Oatmeal again, five stars! Not only do they have a ton of options, but the oatmeal is high quality and delicious. I’m considering using the oats in cookies one day, can you imagine the deliciousness?!

Thanks again so much Anthony, and everyone at My Oatmeal, for the opportunity to try your product! My family and I are hooked! ūüėÄ

Crockpot Magic: Chicken Thighs and Root Veggies

I’ve decided that whoever invented crockpots was a genius.

Plop some ingredients in a dish and 6 hours later BOOM. Delicious gourmet feast.

Genius for all of the self-proclaimed, lazy kitchen chefs (*cough cough* me).

Story time: Prior to this recipe, I’d never delved into the world of crock-potting (?).¬†It always intimidated me, I guess. WELL. This weekend, I noticed that we had¬†some extra chicken thighs in the fridge. Instead of resorting¬†to the usual bake or fry¬†avenue,¬† my mom suggested¬†trying¬†out something new. So, to Pinterest I went! What slapped me in the face? TONS of suggestions to use chicken thighs in a crockpot for a richer, more tender flavor. So, I put my¬†fears aside, dusted off the ol’ crock residing in the deep, dark caverns of our pantry, and got to work!

Behold! This is the creation I came up with based on the ingredients we had on hand as well as food preferences, so feel free to try alternative veggies etc. We’re a voracious family, so the whole batch was gone in one and a half days mwahaha

Slow Cooker Chicken Thighs and Vegetables

(gluten free, paleo)

crockpot chicken thighs (ingredients)

Ingredients:

  • 6 quart crockpot
  • 1/4 cup diced onion
  • ~1 tbsp. ghee or oil
  • 2 russet/baking potatoes, skinless
  • 2 cups whole baby carrots
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 1/4 tsp. salt
  • dash of pepper
  • 1 tsp. Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute
  • 4 bone-in chicken thighs (with skin)

Instructions:

1. Grease a 6 qt. crockpot with ghee and set temperature on LOW. You could sub nonstick cooking spray instead.

2. Place onion chunks in ghee. Cut skinned potatoes into bite-sized chunks and place on top of onions. Top potatoes and onions with baby carrots.

3. Combine water, garlic powder, salt and pepper in a glass and pour over veggies.

crockpot chicken thighs (process)

4.¬†Arrange chicken thighs evenly on top of vegetables and sprinkle with Trader Joe’s seasoning.

5. Cover mixture and make sure crockpot is set to LOW. Cook for ~6 hours or until chicken and vegetables are tender.

ENJOY!

crockpot chicken thighs

 

 

Wanderlust Wednesday: Texas Edition

Texas Explorations

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Some of you know that I was born and raised in the Dallas area and have lived here my entire life.

I’ve grown accustomed to the lack of seasons, the inferno summers, and brown, flat terrain. But there are a lot of positives about this region of the US as well! Gargantuan oak trees that tower over houses and yards, possums that taunt¬†family pets¬†from¬†the tree canopies above, tex-mex food,¬†cicada symphonies that fill the air on summer nights, mockingbird songs that greet each morning.

Yep, Texas is a pretty swell place.

So, I thought this Wanderlust Wednesday could feature my home state and some of the neat things it has to offer. Because sometimes, it’s fun to be a tourist in your own backyard! ūüėÄ These are just a few of the towns I’ve been to in this state. It’s truly a unique one! The varying terrain and overall distance makes it feel like multiple states when you’re driving it, though!

Arlington:¬†Screams and¬†laughs at Six Flags Over Texas,¬†cracking peanuts and catching fouls at Rangers baseball games, and now home to “Jerry World” where the Cowboys play. (For the record, I loathe the Cowboys…sorry).

1-Arlington, Texas

Austin: Home of the state capital, the University of Texas, and¬†unique “Keep Austin Weird” attitude.

2-Austin, Texas

Corpus Christi: Exploring the inner workings of the¬†USS Lexington, stuffing yourself on fresh seafood, shopping in giant sandcastle gift shops, and exploring the Texas State Aquarium! It’s also home to the Island University: Texas A&M Corpus Christi— my awesome alma mater! ūüėÄ

3- Corpus Christi, Texas Texas State Aquarium

Dallas: SO much to do and see! The¬†exhilarating menagerie at the zoo, country music concerts at the American Airlines Center (the reason I’m standing next to Keith Urban is because I won a drawing to meet him backstage! BEST DAY EVER), funky fish and pugnacious penguins at the aquarium, art museums, symphonies, huge farmer’s markets, and even the chance to have a fancy dinner¬†in the rotating Reunion Tower overlooking the city (I never have but I hear it’s cool!).

4-Dallas Aquarium 5-American Airlines Center 6-Country Music 7-Dallas Zoo (1) 8-Dallas Zoo (2)

Fort Worth: Another zoo filled with lions, zebras and other magical creatures, cattle and horses clippity clopping down the brick roads at the stockyards, and the famous honky tonk, Billy Bob’s Texas!

9-Fort Worth, Texas

Galveston: Even though the waters aren’t crystal clear, there’s still a lot of fun to be had at the beach. Feeding seagulls Wendy’s French fries,¬†shell hunting¬†and meeting new crab friends, and gift shops galore. It’s also not far from Houston where you can check out the rodeo, NASA, and a lot of other attractions!

10- Galveston, Texas

Plano: Ogling at the colorful balloons at the yearly balloon festival and satisfying your wilderness bug at the Arbor Hills hiking/nature preserve.

Plano Balloon Festival (1) Plano Balloon Festival (2) Plano Wildlife Park

So come on down to Texas, y’all! You won’t regret it! ūüėÄ

 

Wanderlust Wednesday: Cathedral Mountain, Denali National Park, AK

Cathedral Mountain

Denali National Park, Alaska

June 2014

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My Alaskan hiking adventure series wraps up with one of the best hikes of my life. (Click to read part one and part two)

Was it the most beautiful? It was spectacular, but no.

Was the weather perfect? Definitely not.

Then why was it one of the best?

Accomplishing a mental feat. Overcoming what the “old me” would have succumbed to.

But I’m getting ahead of myself!

Grab your popcorn and pull up a chair, here’s the tale of Cathedral Mountain!

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We began our adventure at the Wilderness Access Center. My dad and I had a bus scheduled to drive us out to one of the stops on the bus tours:¬†Toklat River. There are multiple rides you can purchase, but we didn’t want to sit for 13 hours for some of the tours, and we heard about great hiking near Toklat. These buses are the only way to venture deeper in the park because the road is closed to cars and other traffic. This is because park officials didn’t want people to fly through the park at a million miles an hour, just for photo ops, and not appreciate the magnitude of wilderness that exists compared to other national parks. It also helps reduce pollution and emissions in the area, so the plants and animals can behave in a more natural, untouched way.

0- cathedral mountain hike

We talked with some guides and they said you could get off the bus whenever and wherever¬†you wanted to hike. There are no marked trails beyond the Visitor’s center, so you need a compass and maps or a GPS if you plan to do anything far from the main road.

I was excited and nervous at the same time. Excited to be away from telephone wires, cars, phones, and the hubbub that surrounds us on a daily basis…but nervous to be left alone in the wild.

The bus ride was fun! The majority of people on it were there for the tour, so we stuck out like sore thumbs with our homemade¬†hiking sticks (we found¬†branches by the railroad in the park and¬†my dad used a knife to make them smooth) and our hiking gear haha! Some kid in front of us played on his gameboy the whole time and missed out on seeing moose and some beautiful, mist-covered scenery. It was disappointing to think how a lot of¬†kids nowadays are so consumed by technology that they have lost touch with nature ūüė¶

0.5- toklat bus ride 0.6- toklat bud ride

After a rest stop at Mile 29, we talked to our bus driver about where the best place to get off for Cathedral mountain would be. She told us how she’d tried a few days prior to hike the same area but was forced to abort mission because of a huge grizzly in their midst. My heart spluttered a bit at that comment haha

0.7- toklat bus ride

The rain started coming down harder as the bus slowed to a stop and the driver told us this was where it’d be best to get off. (This was around mile marker 31 or 32)

We stepped off, waved at our fellow passengers who thought we were psycho for hiking in the cold rain, and watched as the bus disappeared into the hills.

So there we were.

Plopped in middle of nowhere with no communication to the outside world.

Amidst¬†the most quiet of¬†silences I’ve ever experienced.

Drip. Drop. Drip. Drop.

The only sound I could hear was my own breathing, the babbles of the Igloo Creek, beeps from my dad finding our coordinates on the GPS, and the rain sploshing on the hood of my poncho.

I felt scared. I felt alone. I felt exhilarated.

As someone who likes set rules and order, I was definitely¬†thrown out of my comfort zone. I even contemplated quitting and just getting back on a bus. My brain said, “Come on Alex, it’s raining, it’s freezing, you’re gonna get killed by a bear our here, so just quit.”

But no.

I grabbed my walking stick and started trudging up the river bed with more fire and determination than a lioness.

Sure, my breathing was more shallow, I was looking all around for wild animals every two seconds, and I was singing hilarious made up songs about moose poop at the top of my lungs to fend of bears. But I was doing it.   

1- cathedral mountain hike 2- cathedral mountain hike

One thing that got me out of¬†my funk of fear was seeing¬†a¬†HUGE snow drift frozen over the rushing water.¬†To think, snow this deep in June?! I tilted my head back, let the raindrops fall on my tongue and¬†just took a deep breath. I¬†knew this was¬†an adventure¬†of a lifetime and I wasn’t going to let fear, weather, or my own mind get in the way of that.

4- cathedral mountain hike

We¬†spotted a peak we wanted to climb and made our way up the riverbed towards it. We didn’t have crampons¬†or snow gear, so we didn’t attempt the larger, rocky, snow-covered peaks. The hills were STEEP though and covered in spongy, soft tundra terrain. I’d never hiked on something like that before; it definitely made you feel safer than loose gravel or twigs. I loved it!

3- cathedral mountain hike 10- cathedral mountain hike

My dad suggested we¬†side-wind our way up to the top and create our own “switchbacks” but¬†I ignored it and just took the straightaway approach. My dumb poncho kept tripping me, so I ripped that thing off and tied it around my backpack to keep it dry.

About halfway up the hill, something caught my eye on the crest of a neighboring ridge.

It slinked like a rodent or ferret, but it was¬†about the size of a large dog. I knew it wasn’t a bear because it was very¬†agile and¬†swift on the rocky outcropping. It perched on the peak and watched us. I thought at the time that it was a¬†wolverine, but made a mental note to consult a guide book when we got back to the hotel.¬† (Sure enough, based on what I witnessed, it definitely was!) I tried to take a picture of it, but my camera lens couldn’t zoom that far!

5- cathedral mountain hike

We kept heading upward, and I kept my eye on our wild friend. The hill was covered in burrows made by other mountain inhabitants and we saw a lot of Dahl sheep scat.

Eventually, we made it to the top!! It was breathtaking. The scenery was so calm and quiet as the rain temporarily let up. I’ll let the pictures do the talking!

6- cathedral mountain hike 7- cathedral mountain hike 8- cathedral mountain hike 9- cathedral mountain hike 11- cathedral mountain hike

On our way back down, we came across another huge snow drift and stuck our walking sticks in it to test for depth. Holy Toledo, it was at least two feet deep!

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We made it back to the riverbed and kept following it farther into the mountains for awhile before turning back.

We wanted to get in some other hikes, so we started heading in the direction of the road to catch a bus. Our driver informed us that we could catch any of the buses by waving them down from the main road.

The entire hike back, I was still singing loudly about moose poop and screaming my name at the top of my lungs It felt so freeing to be able to scream without having someone saying, “use your inside voice” or “don’t shout like that, someone will think you’re hurt!”

A lot of cool rocks littered the river bed, but one thing stuck out….

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A BIG BONE!! It was so cool! Even though I kinda got the heebie jeebies that the animal that killed the prey would be mad we touched his stuff.

Eventually, we made it back to the main road right as a bus was going by. We flagged it down and someone in the bus pointed and saw us, and the bus kindly waited. When we got on, we realized the driver was the same lady we’d had coming out!! Coincidentally, the same bus! It was hilarious because all of the passengers who’d seen us go into the wild¬†treated us like the celebrities of the bus! They asked us what we saw, how it was, etc etc. It was pretty funny!

We stayed on for a bit longer, saw another moose, but decided to try another hike near Primrose Ridge.

16.5- toklat bus ride

primrose ridge covered in fresh snow

primrose ridge covered in fresh snow

By that time, we were pretty soaked and the temperature had dropped to the 30’s. Fresh snow began to blanket the higher peaks as we started hiking again. The cold brush hitting our pants mixed with the freezing air was getting SUPER bone-chilling so we called it quits. We started walking the main road and waited to see a bus go by to flag it down.

On the way, we came across some random toilets and a tiny building. Next thing we knew, some lady came out and asked if we had a lighter haha! My dad had some waterproof matches buried in his pack, so she let us come in and warm up in her tiny information building. She told us she was part of an Native-Education program for the park–she grew up on trap lines in Alaska and her family made a living selling furs and hunting animals. Her name was Peggy and it was only her first week on the job! It was so funny and random, but she was really sweet! And it was nice to warm up for a bit before continuing on the road. We also said goodbye to our hiking sticks and left them for future hikers ūüôā

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We kept walking and singing, seeing buses going the other way, enjoying the scenery and looking for wildlife. 

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Eventually, we flagged down a bus and hopped on. We were pretty beat and were looking forward to a nice hot shower! The people on that bus had seen wolves, a bear, and some moose, but were shocked we saw a wolverine considering they’re one of the most ferocious animals in the park.

We crashed that night, reveling in our adventure and invigorated by the taste of the wild ūüôā

Sorry for the novel of a tale, but it was definitely an action-packed, mind conquering kind of day. One that I will never forget. I hope to return to Alaska to¬†backpack¬†the Stampede Trail to¬†the “Magic Bus” where Chris McCandless passed away¬†(from Krakauer’s ‘Into the Wild’), and experience even more wilderness hiking adventures. ūüôā

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