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

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.

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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: 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: 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! 🙂

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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! 🙂

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!

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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!

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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!!!!!! 😀 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.

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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!

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! 😀

 

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 😦

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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

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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.   

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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 🙂

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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 🙂

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. 🙂

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