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 😀

Horseshoe Bend Horseshoe Bend 3 Horseshoe Bend 1 Horseshoe Bend 2

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 🙂

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.

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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! 😀

Antelope Canyon FINAL

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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.

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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

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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 café 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! 😀

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 😀 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.

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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!

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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!

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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 😉

16-The Canyon

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

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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 😀 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!

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 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

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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!

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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! 🙂

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

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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 😉 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! 😀

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! 🙂

 

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! 😀

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! 😀