Simpsons Gap and Standley Chasm- West MacDonnell Ranges

Our first outdoor adventure Down Under was to 2 spots near Alice Springs: Simpsons Gap and Standley Chasm.  Both are just out of town (30ish minutes) and are just the intro to all there is to see and do nearby.  This was our first trip, “Out Bush;” a term that we’ve picked up quickly and describes the wilderness perfectly.  I used to say, “In the Bush,” or, “In the Outback,” but true Aussies just call anything out of town, “Out Bush.”

Some friends graciously offered to tour us around these two local spots and we had a great time with them and their sweet kiddos!  Emmylou was a little cranky on this day but we still had a great time seeing the sights, despite the usual baby party fouls (crying, pooping, etc…).

Simpsons Gap was absolutely gorgeous!  We even saw black-footed rock wallabies (which look like tiny kangaroos).  We didn’t get any pictures or videos because we had to leave the Gap very quickly…a certain baby was screaming her head off and scaring all of the wildlife away- hah!

After hanging at the Gap for a bit we headed to Standley Chasm.  We hiked in to the Chasm (very short walk) and finished off the day with lunch at the little cafe in the park.  We didn’t take many pictures that day but I did get some good video- enjoy!

Happy Trails,

K, J, EL & P

Sequoia National Park, California

Over spring break, Jon and I headed out to California for a fantastic week of adventures.  We began in LA, spent some time in Sequoia National Park, spent a day in Yosemite and headed to the central coast before driving back to LA to head home.  It was quite the week!  This post is about our time in the Sierras, which was amazing and wild!

The night before we headed to Sequoia National Park, we stayed in Visalia, California and tried out the Bravo Farms Smokehouse and the Sequoia Brewing Company.  We highly recommend both!  The food was amazing, beers were great and the brewery’s atmosphere really gets you into the Sequoia mind-set.  There are old photos of the park and the bar has trees behind it.  Even the beer names are inspired by famous sites in Sequoia and Yosemite!  It got us “in the spirit” and very excited to see the Giant Forest the next morning!

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We headed to the park bright and early to arrive just as the visitor’s center and museum were opening.  Our drive it was spectacular; the scenery changed from sweet-smelling farmland to the large foothills of the Sierra’s.  California has so much to see!  Since we drove a fair amount on this trip, we were able to see the variety of landscapes in the state and each was beautiful in its own way.

When we arrived in the park, the rangers at the visitor’s center were excited to tell us about the Giant Forest and mentioned rain having made the roads slick the day before.  We all agreed it was a beautiful day and they sent us on our way, up the mountain.

As we drove up the mountain and climbed in elevation, the temperature dropped from the mid-50’s to the mid-40’s.  It also got cloudy and started raining.  Giant Sequoias only grow between 5,000 and 8,000 feet of elevation, so you have to drive up to see them and they are very special!

When we entered the Giant Forest, the temperature dropped into the 30’s and the rain quickly changed to sleet and then snow.  SNOW!  In April!  We parked at the museum and got out to start our day.  At that point, a ranger drove up and asked if we had snow chains, since they were expecting a HALF-FOOT of snow in the Giant Forest that day…and of course, we did not have chains and our tiny rental car did not have snow tires…so, back down the mountain she sent us…away from the museum we had just arrived at, and out of the Giant Forest!  We both were looking at each other like- you have got to be kidding!  But, Mother Nature won out and we headed down the mountain to avoid being snowed in. :0

On our way down, we stopped quickly to snap a few photos with some trees on the side of the road.  These roadside trees were awe-inspiring but we felt disappointed to miss out on seeing the Giant Forest.  The snow was coming down heavily (there was already about an inch sticking to the road) so we hustled to get down safely.  We were pretty bummed but also realistic; we knew we would come back someday (in the summer, of course) and see the biggest trees.

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From Sequoia, we decided to head up to Yosemite.  We had hopes it may not be snowing there…but it was.  It snowed above 5,000 feet off and on, all day long.  It was a beautiful day at the lower altitudes, though, so we did a fun hike just outside of Yosemite and visited the South Gate Brewing Company.  We also bought snow chains for the next day in Yosemite, just in case! 😉

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Happy Trails,

K, J and P

Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite National Park is a place every one MUST visit in their lifetime.  It is SO spectacular!  We had the best day in the park and luckily the weather cleared up (no snow, unlike in Sequoia).  Since we had the time change working in our favor to be up early, we left for the park at 3:30 am to make it for sunrise at Tunnel View and to beat the crowds.  This was the BEST decision!

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708B97FC-8D9F-4852-BFF8-CBF7F26EFF01Side note, we arrived for the sunrise and it was SO cold.  Like 20 degrees cold (in April)!  We had over an hour to wait for the sun to come up, so, while Jon stood outside in the freezing cold/windy air, I sat in the car with the heat on and ate breakfast (#priorities).  This is yet another example of how tough and dedicated Jon is.  He stands fiercely for what and those he cares for.  He stood outside, freezing, to capture the first glimpse of the sun shining onto Yosemite Valley while I sat all warm and cozy in the car.  Man, do I love my husband! We have him to thank for these amazing photos (but I captured the best one with him in it). 😉 F55D6649-4ADA-4B5F-8DA5-67D5A26FD76D

On another note, I packed a variety of layers for this trip (fleece buffs, gloves, hats, warm pull-overs and raincoats).  Jon and I both wore every. single. layer.  In the beginning of the day we had on everything and as it warmed up, we slowly peeled off the cozy layers.  April in the Sierra’s is still winter (which surprised me).  Because of the high altitude, ice and snow are expected into May!  So, if you plan a springtime visit; take our advice and pack layers!  Also, we didn’t end up needing our snow chains, after all. 🙂

Obviously the sunrise was stunning; watching the sun breathe life into the valley below was unlike any other sunrise I’ve experienced (I did actually get out of the warm car to watch).  Tunnel View is a stunner no matter when you see it, but there is a certain magic that comes from watching the sun’s first rays illuminate the steep valley walls and gleam onto the valley floor.  It was a magical first glimpse at a truly, breathtaking place.

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See what I mean?!  Our head start on the day helped to make the rest of the day run smoothly.  We were the only people at Bridal Veil Falls and Lower Yosemite Falls when we went to visit (it was so easy to park and view, which is rare).  It was so great to see these sights without the crowds.

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We ended up leaving our car parked at Yosemite Falls and taking the bus to the Vernal Falls trail head, mid-morning.  This is when the crowds started to arrive and our pace slowed down.

The hike to Vernal Falls was moderate (paved but uphill most of the way).  Once we got to the falls, we decided not to trek up the stone steps that are covered in mist from the waterfall because they were a sheet of ice (#safetyfirst).  We enjoyed the view of the falls from the bottom (still amazingly beautiful) and ate for our picnic lunch.

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D9ED468B-D57B-4CA7-BDD1-9A522716E8EESide note:  “Popped” have to be my most favorite hiking snack and how about that view!?

After Vernal Falls and our lunch with a view, we made our way to Mirror Lake via the trail on the valley floor and then to the Majestic Hotel.  The hotel was amazing; it was so neat to see!  We then made our way back to the car and headed home.  We were exhausted and mystified by our day in Yosemite.  It is an incredible park!

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Yosemite Valley has been made super-accessible.  I can see how people mis-judge the wildness of the park just based off their experience on the valley floor.  At times, it almost felt like an outdoor version of Disney World because it was so visitor friendly.  Our day in the valley was amazing, but we know we were in the “tourist trap” of the park. Next time, we hope to explore a bit more but will do so with a rich respect for nature and the wildness of the Sierra’s.

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Happy Trails,

K, J and P

Camping at Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks, WV

This past weekend we headed out to camp at the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area in the Monongahela National Forest.  I had read about this area here and here, so it was at the top of my summer camping list!  There is SO much to do there; hiking, backpacking, camping, climbing…it’s also much less crowded than the places we usually go to (Shenandoah).

Penny was not going to miss this trip; she packed herself into the truck! 🙂

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We camped at Seneca Shadows campground, which is right next to Seneca Rocks.  We really enjoyed the campground and location!  We camped with Jon’s brother, Justin, and his girlfriend Britney. We had such a great weekend together!  There was no cell service at the campsite, so we really enjoyed relaxing and each other’s company (which is the best).

It was raining when we arrived Friday night, so we set up camp and ate dinner but I didn’t take any pictures (fail).  Saturday morning the weather cleared up and the “BioLite Brothers” made us some delicious breakfast burritos (or in Justin’s case, a breakfast quesadilla 😉 ) and coffee.

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After breakfast, we headed to the Seneca Rocks Discovery Center to plan our day.  We decided to go to North Fork Mountain for an out and back hike along the ridge (trail 501).  We decided to park and hike 1.8 miles up to the ridge from the 507 trail head.  This hike was mostly uphill/downhill and was moderate.  Much of trail 507 was overgrown, so we hiked through grass or thick brush most of the way.

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Once we got to the 501 trail, we only hiked along the ridge for a few minutes because a rain shower rolled in.  Luckily, we got to experience this, breathtaking view before the rain began.

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Penny (and the rest of us) were pretty tired after the hike, so we spent the afternoon relaxing around our campsite.  The “BioLite Brothers” made us some delicious tacos for dinner and the ladies made s’mores for dessert.  It was a great, relaxing day in beautiful Monongahela National Forest.  That’s what camping is all about!

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The next morning, we cooked breakfast, packed up camp and headed to the highest point in WV, Spruce Knob.  Spruce Knob is a must-see view!  It is easily accessible (drive to the trial head off of Forest Road 104, park and walk .2 (flat) miles to the ranger tower and the view was incredible!  After taking in the view and a picnic lunch, we all hit the road to head home.

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It was such a fun camping weekend!  We can’t wait to get back to the Monongahela National Forest to explore more (Dolly Sods, backpack around Spruce Knob/Seneca Creek); there’s so much to do in the area!  If you are not a camper, look into these cabins to stay on Spruce Mountain or these, which are closer to Dolly Sods and North Fork Mountain.  They looked so cute and would be a great alternative to camping.

I made my first movie of our camping weekend using the Google Photos App (which I’m obsessed with); check it out below!

Happy Trails,

K, J and P

Shenandoah Sunset Picnic

For our 2nd anniversary, Jon and I wanted to do something simple and fun to celebrate.  Since our anniversary was on a Tuesday, we couldn’t camp and were limited to after work hours.  We decided to head out to Shenandoah National Park for a picnic at sunset and it was the perfect anniversary date!

The weather cleared during the afternoon and we arrived at Signal Knob overlook, in the northern section of the park, just as the sun was beginning to sink toward the horizon.  We had a few minutes to eat before the actual sunset, which was great. Be sure to look up the sunset time before heading out and leave yourself a good hour to picnic beforehand.  You want to be sure to allot time to relax and get geared up to see every stage of the sunset.

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I prepared a simple picnic supper to enjoy.  Even though we weren’t the only ones at the overlook for sunset, we definitely had the best spread. 🙂  Packing the picnic was easy (we had veggie pasta salad, garlic bread and tuscan bean salad) and it was delicious!  We also brought a bottle of white wine and our GoVino wine glasses (which are amazing).

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Even Penny enjoyed the sunset picnic!  I packed her dinner and she sniffed around while we enjoyed the scenery (although she was fairly preoccupied with the bear that was lumbering around the woods on the opposite side of Skyline Drive #allthesmells).  She barked at deer, soaked in the mountain air and slept like a baby the whole way home. 🙂

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the Blue Ridge sunsets are truly special.  These old mountains pack a gorgeous glow in the last minutes of each day.

If you live near a park, farm, field or mountain, I encourage you to do your own sunset picnic!  It was the perfect, mid-week vacation to get out into nature and enjoy each other, away from the stress and distractions of daily life.  Jon even said he forgot it wasn’t the weekend! 😛

It’s hard to believe we have been married for 2 years; time does fly!  I would say this was a perfect date in both of our eyes and was the best way to celebrate of our anniversary.

Happy Trails,

K, J and P

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

To kick off our New Mexico weekend, Jon and I drove out to Carlsbad, New Mexico to see the famous Carlsbad Caverns.  We flew into El Paso, Texas late on Thursday night and got up bright and early Friday to drive out to Carlsbad.  As we drove out to the Chihuahuan Desert, it was pouring!  This surprised me, since it’s the desert and all, but it rained pretty much all. day. long!  Luckily, the caverns are the perfect place to visit in the rain, since you are underground!

As we pulled into Carlsbad, which is a tiny town, I saw this guy and HAD to have my picture taken.  I really wanted to visit the famed, Roswell, New Mexico but we didn’t have time.  So, this was the closest I got to an alien encounter. 😛

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After I cheesed with the aliens, it was time to see the caverns!  It’s funny, as you drive into the National Park, the landscape is no different from what you’ve seen for the past few hours on the highway.  The real views are below the surface!

After parking, we decided to hike into the caverns through the natural entrance (think walking into a giant cave) though they had an elevator straight to the bottom.  We highly recommend hiking in!  Most of the experience is made on your hike in.  It is downhill, a flat/paved trail (even fine for wheelchairs or strollers) and you can take the elevator back up, so it’s well worth the time and energy!  It was still pouring and we didn’t pack rain gear for this trip (go figure it would rain when we visit the desert), so we walked quickly to get underground!

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Looking up and back at “the hole.”  The natural light was SO bright and quickly faded as we hiked deeper into the cave.

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As you hike down and in, the atmosphere of the cave changes your sensory awareness completely.  It was SO quiet, dark and still inside!  They encourage silence or speaking at a whisper volume and it totally makes sense; you don’t have to speak loudly because it is so quiet!  The cave is void of any weather (no temperature changes, no wind, no rain) so it is in a constant state of peace.  I found this surprising (I have never been inside a cave before) but so refreshing!  All you hear is the dripping of water on the cave walls and a few bats.

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Along the way down, there are tons of stalactites and stalagmites that resemble things.  Some are labeled and it’s fun to imagine what the explorers were thinking when they first discovered the caverns.  This wonderful place was formed when sulfuric acid dissolved the surrounding limestone, leaving behind the magnificent caverns!  The constant dripping sound inside the cave reminds you that the caverns are continually growing and changing.  As rain water seeps down through the rock, formations are built, drip by drip.

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The “Lion’s Tail”

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This ladder was used by the original cave explorers…I’m not sure I’d want to go down that ladder into the abyss…

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Carlsbad is truly a place you have to see to understand; I’ve never been anywhere like it and pictures definitely don’t do it justice!  Jon had been to caves/caverns in New York as a kid, but said this was a whole new experience.  The sheer size and vastness of the caverns is awesome.  We both felt like we were on a different planet (maybe the aliens had gotten to us)! 😛 If you’re ever in El Paso, make the trek out to Carlsbad- it’s well worth the time!

Also, we stopped off at Guadalupe Mountains National Park on our way back to El Paso.  It was still pouring, so we weren’t able to hike, but the park looked really cool!  These two parks could make a perfect day trip from El Paso!

Happy Trails,

K, J and P

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

During our weekend in Las Cruces, we visited a remarkable natural phenomenon, the White Sands National Monument.  This place was SO cool!  I wish we could have spent more time exploring the visitor center exhibits and landscape because it is truly so unique.

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The dunefield is so cool!  It is a result of thousands of years of rain and wind, which weathered away the gypsum in the surrounding desert mountains.  This weathering resulted in the largest gypsum dunefield in the world!  The dunefield is home to many, unique desert plants and animals, which have all (very quickly) adapted to the unique environment.  The entire area surrounding the dunefield is your standard, desert brown (you can see the desert mountains in the distant background).  The plants and animals all camouflage with that color-scheme.  In the dunefield, however, the animals have evolved to camouflage into the white sands (think white lizards, rabbits, coyotes, etc.).  Though we didn’t see any wildlife, the visitor’s center had great exhibits describing this and it was so fascinating!

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We did see many plants (trees and cacti), which seemed so interesting!  The plants have evolved so that they can survive in the gypsum sand or grow extra-long roots to dig down, below the sands.  Another fascinating fact is that most plants are mobile…meaning, they can move as the dunes shift.  This national monument is ever-changing!  The dunes move a few feet every year as the wind blows them, so everything has to be flexible in this landscape.

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The dunefield is so vast, it makes you feel SO small!  Though there are hiking trails throughout the dunefield, we did not explore too far into the dunes.  Obviously hiking in the desert is a unique challenge.  We didn’t feel properly prepared or confident in our dune-navigating skills, though the trails seemed to be well-marked.  Also, even though it was early November and the morning started out chilly, it was quickly warming up on the dunefield!

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Big man looks small in the dunefield!  Just a quick side note, Jon forgot sunglasses for this day trip and it was SERIOUSLY bright!  He didn’t complain but definitely could have used some polarized shades to block the sun and reflection off of the pure, white sand.

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Let’s talk about hiking/walking in sand- it’s tough!  It’s literally two steps forward, one step back, the whole way!  We probably explored out and back a half mile but it took close to an hour.  If you’re planning on a day hike in the dunes, be sure to forget your mileage and just have fun.  Being in the dunes is such a unique place- no hiking can compare.

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After visiting White Sands, we hit the road to see the Valley of Fires, which is a New Mexico recreation area.  It took a couple of hours to get to and ended up being cool but somewhat of a let down (especially compared to White Sands).  We saw the lava flows, which consist of black lava called Malpais.  It was neat but not exactly worth the long drive.

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This day trip outside of Las Cruces was truly unique and we really enjoyed exploring the New Mexico landscape.

Happy Trials!

K, J and P

Weekend in Las Cruces, New Mexico

Jon and I spent a long weekend in Las Cruces, New Mexico in early November and it was fantastic!  We hiked, did some sight-seeing, beer tasted and ate the most delicious food!

Las Cruces is located about an hour from El Paso, Texas and sits right next to the Organ Mountains (they look like a giant pipe organ).  We woke up early Saturday morning and hit the trails in the foothills of the Organ Mountains.  We drove out of the town area and were able to find lots of trail heads around.  Many people were out running, mountain biking and hiking- the New Mexico lifestyle is to get outside and enjoy the activities the outdoors have to offer!  Las Cruces is a small town, so the natural playground is it’s best attraction!

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Jon and I hiked in on a trail and quickly found ourselves “off-trail.”  Since the brush is not super dense, you can really hike wherever you want.  Just be careful to not step on a rattlesnake taking a sun bath!  We got lucky and did not meet anything larger than a butterfly- phew!

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We loved adventuring together and exploring a new place.

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This trip was perfect timing for a kindergarten teacher- I had just finished the first quarter and loved using my extra-long, election day weekend to get out of my comfort zone and routine!

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The variety of mountain views we see in this country is really astounding.  Jon and I are so appreciative of our opportunities to travel and hike in new places.

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Here is the butterfly we saw- it was so beautiful!  We also saw some cool flying beetles and lots of cacti!  I was loving the desert flora!

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After our hike, we went back to the hotel to get cleaned up and explore Old Mesilla.  This small town features old Southwest architecture and great local shopping.  We bought some local pecans (yum) and spices.  We also rocked our new cowboy boots that we had bought the night before in El Paso…we had to dress the part!

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We tried out the Spotted Dog Brewery in Mesilla and really enjoyed it!  It had a very laid-back and local vibe.  It was small and had great beers.

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Spending time with this guy was such a blessing.  After a crazy fall at work we seriously enjoyed our adventure together!

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Another brewery we went to is the Pecan Grill and Brewery.  This was a cool spot and we tasted the most amazing Pecan Beer there!  It was SO good that we packed a six-pack in our checked luggage.  I’ve never had a better pecan beer (it tastes like pecan pie but isn’t sweet).  I was in heaven!

We ate dinner at all of our favorite restaurants in Las Cruces: Si Senor, Habanero’s, and Andele.  We ate New Mexican food every night and were in heaven!  Jon loves the salsa bars most restaurants offer (#sauceman) and I had chili relleno every night (Habanero’s had my favorite version).

Here is Jon with his favorite food in Las Cruces- Habanero’s “Macho Chimichanga!”  This dish fed both of us and we had left overs…oh my.  It was so delicious!  One thing to know about New Mexico style food is that it is seriously spicy!  Even when you get something with mild salsa, the peppers are hot!  I made sure to order mild everything to save myself from too much heat; on the other hand, Jon was in spicy heaven!

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After dinner we headed to watch the sunset.  Unlike a normal sunset, you watch the sunset in reverse in Las Cruces.  Instead of watching the sun dip below the horizon (which you can do…) you watch the sun’s reflection on the Organ Mountains.  It turns the red rock every shade of pink and purple- so beautiful!

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While this was the end of our time in Las Cruces, be sure to check out our posts about Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands National Monument to read about the other places we visited during our New Mexico weekend!  New Mexico is seriously beautiful and the food is to die for; we’ll definitely be back sometime soon!

Happy Trails,

K, J and P

Exploring Rocky Mountain National Park

During our fall trip to Denver, Alison and Todd served as excellent tour guides in Rocky Mountain National Park!  We got up before the sun to head to the park to beat the crowds.  This proved to be an expert tip and made for a fun and successful hike with less crowds.  I recommend getting to the park early to score a convenient parking spot near the trail head.

Another exciting reason to get up to Estes Park early during the fall is the chance to see the rutting elk!  I can’t find my photos of this, but trust me when I say, we saw them up close and personal!  The elk tend to rut any and everywhere early in the morning, so it’s hard to miss the view or sound.  It was pretty incredible to see such huge and powerful animals up close.  We love a good wildlife sighting. 🙂

The early morning views of the alpine lakes were dreamy.  We enjoyed this hike because it had non-stop views!

IMG_0235 We lucked out and hit the Aspen’s changing color.  The golden color they turn makes east coast fall look boring!

IMG_0255 Here’s our group shot from the day- Jon and I, Alison and Todd and my little brother, Davis.  When we stopped at this lake we saw a guy prepping to propose!  He was surprising his girlfriend (who was hiking up with a friend) and there were rose petals everywhere!  Alison and I were swooning!  We didn’t stick around to see the actual proposal but I’m sure it was perfect (how could it not be with that backdrop)!

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Here we are at another alpine lake.  I told you this hike had tons of views!

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Backstory- Alison and I have been friends since college.  She and Todd relocated to Denver (along with my younger brother) so we are always trying to get to Denver to visit.  We have now been twice during the fall, but late September proved to be perfect!  The weather was cool but not cold and it ended up warming up in the afternoon.

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I’m pretty sure Jon’s next statement after this view was, “This looks like the Alps!”  We both agreed that Rocky Mountain views are something special (dare I say, much more breathtaking than Blue Ridge views).

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IMG_0241  We picnicked at the edge of this lake and were in heaven.  After lunch, we hit the trail again!

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Rocky Mountain National Park in Fall is truly something special.  We so enjoyed our time there and look forward to another visit soon!

Happy Trails!

K, J and P

Charlottesville Weekend

Over MLK weekend, we had a family gathering in one of our favorite places, Charlottesville, Virginia. Family from Michigan, Chicago and Denver all traveled in for a belated holiday weekend (complete with Christmas presents). We stayed in a house/cabin in Wintergreen Resort and toured the Charlottesville region, fitting in as much as we could in a quick weekend.

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The first night we cooked in, celebrated Christmas with our annual gift exchange, had a dance party and played Bounce Off.  If you have not played this game yet, you should.  Anyone can play and it’s active but also easy.  I hate complicated board games, so this game is my favorite.  It’s simple, any number of people can play and everyone has fun without much thinking!  We played a few rounds before dinner and had a blast!

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Another highlight included our hike to White Rock Falls off of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Our hike was perfect for a crowd because it featured great views, water falls and was short and sweet. It definitely packed some down and uphill variety without being too challenging. For a crowd of visitors, it was the perfect way to get out into the Blue Ridge and experience its natural beauty.

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The fog that hung in the mountains all weekend made for a cozy feel but also made night driving tricky. Our house was at the top of Wintergreen and was difficult to find in the dense fog and darkness! I would suggest day trips to get home before dark in future trips.

We also visited Monticello and a few great restaurants in Charlottesville, which include Bodo’s bagel shop, Citizen Burger Bar and The Nook Restaurant. All were delicious and unique experiences!  Near Wintergreen, we stopped at Bold Rock Cidery and Devils Backbone Brewery (two of our favorites).

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Sharing the magic of Charlottesville with our family was a blast and we hope to have another chance to visit there together!

Happy Trails,
K, J and Penny