Friday, August 15, 2014

The Way Home

Here's our (much-delayed) final post...

We said our goodbyes to Colorado after a nice night with James and Maureen, and set off to the east across the great plains. It felt good to be on our way back home. By the time we reached Iowa the landscape seemed positively lush, with big leafy trees breaking up bright green fields. Iowa was somewhat less flat than I had expected. We turned north and meandered our way to Minneapolis, stopping along the way to play tennis and try some local food, which turned out to be standard greasy diner fare. Minneapolis itself was lovely, especially near the river downtown. The softly setting sun lit up the skyline above the water, and there were lots of happy-seeming young people running and biking across the river bridges.

Looking down at the mighty Mississippi in Minneapolis. The falls were impressive.
We continued east, traversing Packer-country in northern Wisconsin, and arrived in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, which we explored for several days. It is a strikingly isolated place, with plenty of natural beauty, local pride, and very very cold water. 

Residents of the U.P proudly refer to themselves as "Yoopers". They even put the name on a chocolate bar.
The highlight of Yooper cuisine is the pastie (see below). They're kind of like empanadas, but have lots of potatoes in the filling and have less flavor.

We spent a day in the Porcupine Mountains, or "Porkies", which are a small range on the southern shore of Lake Superior. They looked like tiny hills compared to the peaks we had just left in Colorado, but it was really a nice change of pace. We hadn't seen rolling hills with unbroken forests of deciduous trees in far too long :)

An overlook above Cloud Lake. This place really could be a National Park.
A sight for sore eyes. 
We had a nice campsite by Lake Superior. The UP is actually at the extreme western edge of the eastern time zone, so the sun didn't set until 10. 
After leaving the Porkies we continued east along the shore of Lake Superior. The highlight in this area was the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. We explored a beautiful green forest and found a stretch of white-sand beach that stretched for miles with not a single person there. This area is really a hidden gem. 

White sand and crystal-clear water with nobody else around. But the water was absolutely freezing.
The view to the west...
... and to the East.
As we left the UP the pull to get back home became stronger. We definitely had some travel fatigue after weeks on the road.

We cut across Ontario to avoid setting foot in Ohio, and stopped at a bar to watch the US play Ghana in the world cup. The bar was quite empty and we were the only ones watching the game, so my exuberant celebration after the late US goal really shocked the bartender. 

Back in the US we found a calm campsite on the shore of Lake Ontario. At this point we were really pros at car camping. The key is to arrive a bit early as the sun is setting, and then to have a nice fire, a beer or two, and a good book to read. The next day we saw Niagara Falls, the Buffalo Zoo, and Nellie's childhood home in Rochester. It was a bit sad to see the animals in the zoo, which definitely isn't as nice as the San Diego wild animal park. 

We spent our last night on Lake Oneida, and were hit with a crazy thunderstorm. We crossed into Vermont near Bennington the next morning. It was great to be home.

Grilling sausages over our fire near Lake Ontario. 
Niagara Falls! It was huge, but not my favorite attraction. 
And Nellie's childhood home in Rochester.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Santa Fe with the Woods ... and Mountains

Road Trip USA! | My new trip on!

May 31-June 11

As you can see (again, spoiler alert), Mike and I have finally finished our travels and are happily back in Boston. We can't believe it's over! We admittedly got pretty behind on the postings, but we plan on finishing them up, if only to have the documentation for ourselves in 10 years :)

After a couple of days in Durango, CO, we drove down to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where my parents had rented a house for week. All of the Wood siblings joined in on the fun! We spent six nights there, which was much more than we were planning on, but it was just so fun and relaxing, that the time flew by without so much as a thought of leaving. Santa Fe is extremely dry and sunny, but the adobe house we were staying in stayed cool and lovely. Almost every house in Santa Fe is made from adobe, and now I see why. Much of the week was spent just relaxing together and eating great meals, but we also went golfing, played tennis, browsed incredible art galleries along Canyon Road (just minutes from our rental house), and even went on a family hike around the local ski mountain. Once we got some elevation, the temperature cooled down to perfection, and the aspen forests made for a blissful setting. There was even some snow! Perhaps the most time consuming activity of the week, however, was playing (and teaching ourselves) bridge. We got sort of obsessed.

Our rental house. It was up on a hill with an amazing view from the back patio. Look at those license plates!
Home-made margaritas and bridge. Yum. Note computer and tablet with bidding conventions.

Everybody at the end of the hike! Mr. Wilbur the dog especially enjoyed belly flopping in as many streams as possible.
This probably isn't what you imagine when you think of Santa Fe!
Happy 22nd Birthday Tessa!
This is one of my favorite pictures so far. A one-try selfie, no less.

After Santa Fe, we headed back into the San Juan range in SoCo for one last tryst with the mountains. We were based out of Silverton, an old mining town at 9300 feet that is definitely the most "cowboy" we've seen so far. It sits in this open valley with few trees, and the houses are brightly colored. A coal-powered train chugs around the perimeter. When you're looking down on it from the mountain pass, it looks exactly like a model train set. There are only two roads to Silverton: a mountain pass or a mountain pass on which you are likely to die. As a hitchhiker told us, "oh, they don't have guardrails because the avalanches will just knock them out anyways." Oh, ok, great.

Silverton, CO. Population, 600.
With my feet finally healed, we were ready to go for one more longer backpack. We spent four days and three nights in the Weminuche Wilderness Area, and saw a grand total of zero people until the last hour of the hike on the last day, when we saw two people. One of the reasons we probably didn't see anyone was because the weather was pretty shitty and highly unpredictable. Nevertheless, we had some incredible views and finally summited a "13er."

Note: the pictures below are in chronological order. Seriously. So weird.

We started the hike in a beautiful valley (we missed you, trees!) and then on the second day, went off-trail for awhile to cut a corner. Hence the map and the face.

Our view from campsite #2. Above tree line. Good idea? "But that's how you get a good view!" The night was calm and windless.
The next day, 11:22 am. That's hail on the ground. Those are really dark clouds. We got caught in a lightning was very scary. 

The view off the other side of the ridge. 11:36 am. "Thank goodness that storm passed!" 
12:58 pm. This is right after we decided we should find a new campsite for the third night. I guess we should have acted more quickly. I preferred snow and wind to lightning, though. 
2:36 pm. What the...sun!
3:50 pm. The wind was wicked cold. 
Our first 13,000 foot peak in the US!
5:24 pm. After a surprisingly beautiful hike, we were incredibly relieved to get back below tree line and even set up camp before this rain started.  Or is it rain?
6:32 am, the next morning. June 9th snow!!!! 
It got seriously hot as we climbed back down to 9000 feet. 
We made it! That lightning storm really was one of the more scary moments of our trip for me. Lesson learned. At least we learned the importance of a good stake job on the tent.

At this point, we finally said goodbye to the mountains and started our trek east. The first stop was Denver, to visit friends James and Maureen. We had a BBQ, which Mike and I had been craving ever since we realized, in the middle of our June 8th snowstorm, that it was perfect summer weather in New England.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Mountain West fun siblings!

May 21-31:

Post-mountain biking through Red Canyon, we were about ready to collapse. We ate some pie and went to bed at a nearby campsite. We decided to save nearby Bryce Canyon for the next day so that we could really appreciate it. Unfortunately, when we woke up it was freezing and raining (for the first time in awhile), so we opted for an old person style drive-by tour along the 17 mile road through the canyon.  

Mike's general state throughout the morning. It was still beautiful despite the snow and freezing fog.
After a scenic drive through the heart of southern Utah, we arrived in Heber City, in the mountains just outside of Salt Lake City. The next day we golfed nine holes and then drove up Bald Mountain Pass in the Uinta Mountains, which are the highest in Utah. We camped near the pass in our classic style: drive to altitude, snowshoe a short distance, and camp in a spectacular place that looks hard to get to. The approach maximizes the vista to effort ratio and avoids aggravating Nellie's many foot problems. Snow hiking and camping is so great because you can pretty much go wherever you want; plus, there are no people around. 

Mike made a fantastic fire in the snow! We had some wind problems the next morning - the price we pay for the view.
Someone brilliant fashioned seats out of stones on this summit. It felt like the roof of the world. Can't imagine a better place to sit back with a good book.
On Sunday afternoon we excitedly headed to Salt Lake City to pick up Libby and Billy. On the way we went to REI and splurged on awesome backpack-ready camp chairs. At this point Mike designed a crude but crafty bungie-and-rope roof rack system in order to accommodate all the additional stuff and people that would soon be arriving. It was pretty hilarious watching him work alongside another dude in the parking lot who was putting on a brand new car rack from the store at the same time.

Airport! The bags never fell off...
The next four days were jam-packed with a slew of awesome adventures. It was so much fun having two more companions! Activities included: Arches National Park, watching the Thunder-Spurs basketball games, car camping, white water kayaking down the Colorado River, and a snow-shoe hike/overnight in Colorado's San Juan Mountains. See pictures below!

The sibbies gazing out at the top of Double-O Arch.
The whole team!
Brothers conquering mountains...
And puddles. Billy face-planted the landing.
Glorious campsite along the Colorado. 
I guess I have to mention here that I, um, locked the keys in the car again. Also our food, phones, etc...which we realized at like 7 am (trying the beat the heat). We had to trust young Billy to go on a solo rescue mission into town with some nice camper neighbors. Luckily he returned with Trusty Dusty from AAA an hour later.
Since we don't have any photos from kayaking, I'll just mention here that it was SO FUN! The rapids were exhilarating. The non-rapids still carried you down the river at a good clip, and were smooth enough that I actually fell asleep in my big inflatable kayak for awhile. The sun was warm and bright, the canyon walls were towering, and it was all together pretty darn idyllic. 

After two days in the desert of Utah we drove about four hours to the mountains of southern Colorado. It was quite the change in scenery. 

The team again!
Beautiful spring growth peaking up

Billy looking good on the way up. He is exhausted (12,000+ feet of elevation), but is hiding it well.
Another amazing snow campsite. Really prime 270 degree views.

After we dropped Libby and Billy off at the Durango airport on Thursday, we were pooped. We spent two more nights in Durango, but didn't really do much of anything (camped, played tennis, ordered in Chinese food and watched basketball). Oh, and accidentally threw out all five of our Sporks. Oops. 

One of the unique parts of a trip this long is that, despite being in an incredibly novel and stimulating part of the country, and despite being fairly hyperactive people, we still have enough time to happily spend a morning lying in a park reading, sipping coffee in a local coffee shop (can't get enough. yum), and shopping for new Sporks. 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Wild West

Since leaving the prairie of Oklahoma, we've spent eight days exploring the peaks and canyons of Colorado and Utah. The natural beauty of the West was our main motivation for the road trip, and it hasn't disappointed so far. The variety in landscapes has been striking. With a half a day of driving we went from snow-covered peaks to the Navajo desert filled with red mesas.

Another theme has been consistently great campsites. We spent much of the first leg of our journey staying with family and friends, which was great, but we're now in full out camping mode. We've had six camping nights already. A few of the sights had incredible views and peaceful solitude. And we've had lots of time to read at campsites.

Daisy made it to the rockies! Our first range was the Sangre de Cristo mountains, which are a perfect line of snow-capped peaks. We tried to take her up a Jeep trail in an effort to make it to the high alpine, but she didn't make it. 
Above 10,000 feet the snow was deep, but we were prepared! Nellie was sorry that she ever laughed at me for bringing the snowshoes.
After leaving the Sangre de Cristos we camped above Monarch Pass on the continental divide. We were totally alone with the incredible views .
The snowshoes were critical again. I climbed the peak in the background just after sunrise.
Post-faceplant on snowshoes. I tried to slide down like skiing, but tripped.  A heavy backpack makes for a hard faceplant
After three days/two nights in the mountains of Colorado, we set off for the red deserts of Utah. The transition was fast. All of a sudden it was eighty degrees!

Four corners was closed! Blast!
After several hours of driving through northern Arizona we snaked up into Utah to Zion National Park. Apparently May is already high season for the park (there were so many old people!), and several of the campsites were full. But we managed to grab a campsite along the river just outside the park.

The park has impressively tall canyons, but the real attraction is the Virgin River, which is a cold creek that supports a lush green valley. It is really soothing to see water in the desert.

Nellie wading in the narrows of the river. It was a great way to hike in the heat.
On our second day in the park we hiked away from the crowds to a smaller creek in the far corner of the park. We camped right next to the babbling brook, and spent most of the afternoon reading with our feet cooling in the water.

The creek, babbling and beautiful. It is a spring-fed river, and the water was cool but not cold.
Nell making lunch.
There is a famous arch on the side of the valley. It is big (the second-largest in the world) but kind of hard to get a good view of.
Nellie surveying the landscape.
After Zion we made our way toward Bryce Canyon National Park. We'll cover the park itself in the next post, but we rented mountain bikes on the way in and rode a fifteen mile loop in a place called Red Canyon. It was awesome! We had never mountain biked before, and were definitely in a little over our heads, but I can't imagine a prettier place to bike.

Zoom in to see Nellie on the ridge.
On top of a Hoodoo!