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! 😀 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! 😀

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! 😀

 

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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.

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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 😦

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!

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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 🙂

18- primrose overlook

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

19- primrose overlook 20- primrose overlook

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 🙂

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. 🙂

21- cathedral mountain hike

Time of Discovery

So, I have a confession to make.

Something’s been eroding away my confidence and happiness lately. The thoughts that have been filling my mind aren’t friendly–they are filled with fear. Anxiety. Confusion. Guilt. Each thought desperately tries to sabotage my progress by whispering words of doubt in my ear.

What is the source of this stress?

Graduating college.

It’s thrown me for a loop.

I’ve always centered my life around my education and I’m having a hard time coming to grips that it’s all finished. I devoted 110% of myself into my schoolwork; my summa cum laude degree on the wall proves that. People assume I’m going to continue my education with a Master’s or PhD, but I don’t want to go back. I’m done. Burned out.

It’s time to live in the real world, but I’m not sure I’m ready for that.

I feel guilty when my classmates and peers post online about already having jobs…while I’m still looking and applying like mad. I know it’s only been 2 months since I graduated, but I feel like it’s been longer. I don’t want to be a burden to my parents. I don’t want to have to rely on them; they’ve already provided me with so much.

So I guess it’s safe to say, I’m in that post-college, “what-now?” phase of life and it’s a lot harder than I imagined. I don’t know what I want to do with my life. I’m thankful to have a science degree to allow me to have more job opportunities, and thankful I have no student loans to pay off, but I’m at a stand-still with what I want my life to become. I have to realize that it’s okay not to know RIGHT NOW.

But, I do know a few things…

I have dreams. Big dreams. I want to make a mark on the world. I want my life to have meaning and impact.

I love weightlifting, the gym, and bodybuilding.

I love the outdoors and hiking.

I love nutrition and fueling my body as an athlete.

I love meeting new people and seeing new cultures.

I love traveling.

I love animals of all shapes and sizes.

I love fighter jets.

I love biology and taxonomy.

I love writing.

I love Egyptology.

I love photography, even if I’m not the best at it. 😉

I love reading and learning new things.

I know what I like and what I don’t like. These dreams make me who I am. In the past, I wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing what I love for fear of mockery or judgment. But that’s the past and I like the person I’ve become. So, it’s not a matter of finding myself or passion, it’s more like…the difficulty of deciding which passion to pursue.

I’m thankful for my parents for allowing me to have this time to think and pray. I know God has a plan for my future and I’m excited to see what that entails, but sometimes I get impatient. I want it to happen on my timeline, but I have to have faith that He is in control. I know I’ll make mistakes along the way, but I’ll get back to the path and plan He’s set in place.

I want to live my best life.

So although I don’t know what I want to do right now, I’m excited to see what unfolds.

Life isn’t a race. It’s about finding yourself, being imperfect, embracing the confusion, channeling stress into something productive.

This post is all over the place, but basically, my plan of action for this confusing phase of life is to #1 keep praying and trusting God #2 travel as much as possible to learn more about myself #3 continue applying to jobs and #4 RELAX. And until this phase is over, I’ll use my present actions as a weapon against my anxious thoughts about the future.

It’s time for me to embrace the now and relish this time of discovery.

Wanderlust Wednesday: Mount Healy, Denali National Park, AK

Mount Healy Overlook Trail

Denali National Park, Alaska

June 2014

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Part two of the Alaskan hiking adventures features the STUNNING Mount Healy Overlook trail in Denali National Park.

24- mount healy trail

I’d heard many great reviews of this day hike from numerous websites and hiking books, so I forced convinced my dad to go on the adventure. Like our hike in Girdwood, we were nervous about the rain, but we had faith in our trusty rain gear! Thankfully, it didn’t start pouring until the end of our hike, so we lucked out!

Before I being, here’s some stats about the Overlook trail from a sign at the Visitor’s Center:

1-mount healy trail info

We took a bus from our hotel to the Visitor’s Center around 7am (nice because the sun rose at 3am for summer solstice haha). After consulting our maps, we began on the Taiga trail near the Visitor’s Center. At the beginning, there was even snow!! We wound our way through the dense birch and pine trees until we made it to the Mount Healy junction. It was foggy and drizzly when we left, so my dad and I made sure to sing annoyingly loud to ward off any Sasquatch, rogue moose, or grizzly bears haha The path started out gravelly down by the Visitor’s center, and eventually led into a dirt path that was fairly easy to follow.

 

2- mount healy trail 3- mount healy trail 4- mount healy trail 5- mount healy trail 6- mount healy trail

The grade got really steep REALLY quick, and despite the 40-50*F temperature, we were on fiya! The rain let up and a nice, cool breeze took it’s place.

Eventually, we made it above the clouds and trees and got to rocky switchbacks.

7- mount healy trail 8- mount healy trail

After making it to the top, I think the endorphins were getting to me because the pictures got really hilarious, really fast 😀

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The landscape was shrouded in clouds when we initially made it to the summit, but whenever a mountain would peek through, it’d take our breath away. After hanging out at the top for a snack, we noticed a few sister hills nearby and we decided to hike over to them.

Our eyes deceived us a bit–they were farther than we thought and fairly steep. I had a “dig deep” moment as I was climbing the final peak. Everything in my brain was telling me to stop: my quads were screaming, my dad was asking if we could take a breather, and I was tired, but I told myself I was going to make it with no breaks. I overcame my mind and conquered the deceivingly steep hill. As I realized this, the fog and clouds blew away to reveal the majestic valley and mountains in the distance. It was incredible!

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While I was being a paparrazzo and stuffing away almonds like a ravenous chipmunk, my dad decided to hike over to another peak (which was a lot farther than he though as well haha) and I got some cool pictures of him when the fog rolled away!

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I couldn’t leave without a few more pictures of the landscape 🙂

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On our way back down, we finally saw some other people hiking, but besides that, the trail was very calm and serene. We didn’t see any animals, but we were okay with no bears haha

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We continued to hike another 6 miles that day in and around the valley, but Mount Healy was definitely something we won’t forget. Killer views, peacefulness, and landscapes that make you wonder if you’re inside a postcard make the strenuous hike worth every moment. I encourage you to check it out if you’re in Denali!

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Kangaroo Sweet Potato Chili

Wait. I know what you’re thinking. KANGAROO MEAT?!?! HUH?!!?!?!

Yes my friends. The delicious, nutritious kangaroo. What can I say, exotic food owns a piece of my soul 😀

I first tasted this tastebud-tingling delicacy in Australia (although it was in filet steak form) and my tastebuds haven’t been the same since. I love the stuff!! When my local Sprouts grocery store started carrying exotic meats, and my eyes stumbled upon “roo” peeking out from underneath some wild boar, I went baboon crazy. The ground meat is a little different from the steak version I had Down Under, but it’s still tasty nonetheless!

Kangaroo also has a lot of health benefits including:

  • Low in fat and high in protein with macros similar to chicken or other lean poultry
  • Low in saturated fats
  • Contains CLA which has antioxidant properties
  • Rich source of iron and zinc
  • Source of several B-group vitamins, namely riboflavin, niacin, Vitamin B6 and Vitamin B12

My dad is a big fan of the meat as well, so I thought I’d make him something other than the usual hamburger patty.

So, I give you chili. Yes, chili in the midst of a hot Texas summer haha Guess you’ll just need some ice cream to cool off afterwards 😉

Feel free to add other vegetables or sub in your favorite ground meat. Enjoy!

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Kangaroo Sweet Potato Chili

(adapted from this recipe)

kangaroo chili close-up

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb ground kangaroo meat (could sub beef, chicken, turkey etc)
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 3 tbsp. cooking oil
  • 3/4-1 tsp. garlic salt (or 3 garlic cloves)
  • 1 cup diced baby carrots
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed
  • 2 tsp. spice blend (pictured below)
  • 2-2 1/4 cups water (or chicken stock)

kangaroo chili ingredients

seasoning

Instructions:

1. Brown kangaroo meat in a pot and drain off extra grease. Season with salt and pepper.

2. In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat and add garlic salt and carrots. Saute until semi-softened.

3. Add ground kangaroo meat with spices, stir well.

4. Add in sweet potato cubes and water.

kangaroo chili process

5. Cover mixture and bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium/simmer and cook covered for 15 minutes or until sweet potato cubes are soft.

kangaroo chili

6. Serve on top of rice, or accompanied with chips, cheese, sour cream, or whatever your heart desires! 🙂

Enjoy!!

Hunka Chunka Chocolate Brownies

The 4th of July calls for ice cream. Ice cream to vanquish the blazing Texas sun.

Lots and lots of ice cream.

But sometimes, ice cream gets lonely and needs a hunky companion…

Behold the most dapper dessert of all: a chocolate chunk filled hunk named Mr. Brownie! 😀

I came across this awesome recipe, but was lacking a few of the ingredients, so I made some substitutions. They came out fantastic! Enjoy!!

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hunka-chunka-brownies-closeup

Hunka Chunka Chocolate Brownies

Gluten free

(adapted from this epic recipe)

Ingredients:

13 squares Ghirardelli 100% cacao chocolate

1/2 cup ghee or butter

1/2 cup + 2 tbsp. raw honey

2 eggs (beaten)

3/4 cup all-purpose gluten free flour

vanilla stevia

hunka-chunka-gf-brownies-ingredients

Instructions:

1. Preheat your oven to 350*F.

2. In a bowl, melt ghee and 6 squares of the chocolate in the microwave. It took my microwave about a minute and 30 seconds. Stir well.

3. Add in the honey and stir until it’s a smooth consistency.

4. Stir in the beaten eggs, flour, and vanilla. I used about 20 drops of vanilla stevia.

5. Break remaining 7 squares of chocolate into tiny chunks. I put them in a plastic bag and used a hammer 😀

6. Fold the chunks of chocolate into your brownie mixture.

hunka-chunka-gf-brownies

7. Spray an 8×8 pan with nonstick Pam and bake mixture for 20-25 minutes. Depending on your oven, this will vary, so be sure to do the “toothpick” test and bake until the toothpick comes out clean after poking it in the center.

8. Cool and cut into 9 brownies.

hunka-chunka-brownies

Enjoy plain, crumbled in a smoothie, or topped with ice cream and sprinkles! You could also add walnuts, chocolate chips or pecans to bring in another texture element. They have a rich flavor with hints of intense dark chocolate from the chunks. Very dense and delicious! Hope you enjoy!!

hunkachunka-brownies

Wanderlust Wednesday: Winner Creek Trail in Girdwood, Alaska

Winner Creek Trail

Girdwood, Alaska

June 2014

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For my college graduation gift, my family and I traveled to the last frontier…Alaska! Words can’t even begin to describe the stunning and magnificent grandeur that state possesses. For the next few Wanderlust Wednesday posts, I thought I’d spotlight some of the hiking my dad and I did over the trip. We went on three major hikes: Winner Creek trail in Girdwood, Mount Healy in Denali National Park, and Cathedral Mountain also in Denali.

So without further ado, I give you the first hiking recap…Winner Creek trail! 🙂

Girdwood is a town in Alaska located about 50 minutes outside of Anchorage inside Chugach State Park. After driving around, we stopped at a lodge called the Alyeska Resort to explore. To our surprise, a lot of day hiking trails started at the resort. My dad and I planned to do an easy/warmup hike that day, but didn’t want to ditch my mom in some random Bigfoot cave or port-a-potty, so it worked out perfectly–she got to relax by the fireplace while we ventured out into the rainy/misty woods. 🙂

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A little info about the Winner Creek trail:

  • Roughly 5.5 miles
  • Easy, level terrain (perfect for a warm-up hike)
  • Lots of dense forest, gorges, and some wooden bridges
  • Boasts a hand tram at the end of the trail that takes you out over the rushing water!

I was a little hesitant to go hiking since it was raining pretty hard when we arrived at the resort, but my dad and I had rain gear and I wasn’t going to let it interfere with vacation fun! The drizzle let up a little and the trees helped block most of the moisture, so it turned out to be really pleasant.

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The path was extremely well-groomed–wooden steps and walkways over mud-prone regions, steps created from tree roots–very easy to follow.

The first bridge we came to spanned a rushing creek. It was so serene and beautiful–my eyes were overwhelemed with all of the greenery, especially coming from brown, dead-grass-riddled Texas haha

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We ventured on, saw a few squirrels dart across the path, and eventually saw the hand tram sign.

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After walking another 1/2 mile or so, we made it to the wicked cool hand tram!! 😀 I hopped in the cage first and pulled myself out over the water. Standing at the station, I thought I would be nervous when I got out over the water in such a rickety, sketch cage, but it wasn’t creepy at all. The view was spectacular and the rushing water drowned out all other noise. My dad and I really enjoyed it–talk about a unique hiking destination!

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The rain started to come down hard again while we walked back, but the cloudy, overcast sky made for the perfect spooky backdrop amidst the mountains. 🙂

17-misty mountains

Even though it wasn’t a strenuous hike and we didn’t get to see Bigfoot, it sure was a unique, gorgeous trail. So, if you’re in the Chugach area and are itching for a scenic hike, this is definitely one I’d recommend! 🙂

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