Leafy-green mountain majesty

I remember my sixth-grade teacher telling a story about a college roommate from one of the plains states. When they got to our rolling hills of southwestern Ohio, they were incredulous.

“Are those mountains?” they wondered. Obviously, I have no way of verifying this. But my teacher swore they thought our hills and ridges were mountains because the geography they were used to was flat as a pancake. I wonder what they would have thought the first time they saw actual mountains – like the Great Smoky Mountains. I grew up bouncing up and down hills – carsick half the time – and I was incredulous the first time I saw a real, live mountain.

My first trip to the Smokies was in 1998. My family – aunts, uncles, cousins and grandfather – rented a chalet in the mountains for Labor Day weekend. It was the first time we experienced the stop-and-go traffic of the Parkway and the fervor of Tennessee Volunteer fans. I was 13, and when the adults went to bed, my cousins and I had the run of the place. It was fan-freaking-tastic.

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But the mountains – they were the show stopper. The first night there, we got in after dark and had to feel our way through the switchbacks to get to our chalet. We got turned around a couple of times, but we managed to get there without going over the side of the mountain. By the time we arrived, if our ears weren’t popping, we wished they would.  We couldn’t really see anything until dawn broke the next morning. Once everyone started getting up and looking out the windows, they were amazed.

My family visited the Smokies several times before we decided to go West to see the Rocky Mountains. Let me tell you, once we saw those towering, rugged, behemoths, well, the Smokies just didn’t seem all that grand anymore. Poor Smokies. I suppose older mountains are like older people: All the things that make them seem super cool gets worn away until we forget just how spectacular they really are.

It wasn’t until we went down in March, after the fires ravaged the Gatlinburg area, that I got a reminder of just how majestic those smaller, rounder mountains really are. You see, when the fires coursed over the mountains, much of the underbrush burned away exposing the bare rock underneath.

Here on the eastern side of the country, where water is much more plentiful and the elevation is lower, we have dense foliage that grows up between trees. It creates a lush, green curtain shrouding the true majesty of the Smokies. But in the Rockies, the higher elevations and drier climate makes it more difficult for that kind of growth to gain a foothold.

So, while the Rockies display a sort of “in your face!” kind of strength – daring you to try to tame them – the Smokies kept their strength and ruggedness hidden, inviting you in for an adventure. That is, until a fire burned away its shroud and reminded me that just because these mountains do not tower over 14,000 feet, they are no less majestic.

 

Check out my YouTube channel for additional video content of driving through the mountains!

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Zion National Park

Featured image: I wish I could claim credit for the photo, but that goes to Wolfgang Staudt. Thanks be to him for making this photo available via Flickr Creative Commons. 

One of the best things about a road trip is stumbling onto things you didn’t even know existed – and loving them. Of course, on the other hand, you spend the following five years of your life kicking yourself for not seeing what was right in front of your face.

I’ve mentioned our serendipitous journey to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon when we intended to go South, but that wasn’t the only twist of fate for the day. When we left the wrong rim, the route we had planned to take to Las Vegas obviously wasn’t going to work. So we fired up the GPS – dubbed Sheila – and followed her lead.

Now, you have to know this was the most ridiculous GPS unit I’ve ever used. She was something built into the rental car that they threw in for free. It was nearly impossible to tell it where we were going unless we were headed to something preloaded, and of course nowhere we went was loaded in the thing. We didn’t call on Sheila and her split personality much. When we did, she got us lost more often than not. But on this day, Sheila came through in a big way: She introduced me to Zion National Park.

Our path from the Grand Canyon took us along State Route 9, which cuts across the southeastern corner of the park and takes you to the main entrance. Honestly, I had no idea we were passing through another park. For once, I wasn’t looking at the map; I was just letting the GPS do its thing. I can’t remember if I picked up the camera before or after I realized we were in Zion, but I know I couldn’t put it down the entire drive through.

As we passed through canyons in just a small corner of the park, our breath was constantly taken away by the view. This section of highway will take you through the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, a 1.1 mile tunnel that was completed in 1930, according to the Park Service. This tunnel was created to connect Zion with Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon. Its long. It feels long when you’re going through it and if you’re like me you have to push that panicked feeling to the back of your mind when you start thinking about how much is on top of you. This tunnel kind of skirts the edges of the rock and you get gargantuan windows that let in blinding natural light, providing a glimpse of the vista outside.

As with everything else in the Gypsy Trip, we only got a tease of what the park had to offer. Since then, I’ve been dying to get back and explore more. Zion offers backpacking, hiking, bicycling, camping, canyoneering, boating and more. When you go – because you know you want to – you may as well hit up Bryce Canyon and Monument Valley.

Going to the Sun Road

Featured image: St. Mary’s Lake, Glacier National Park 

I do a lot of raving about Montana and Glacier National Park on here, but I promise it’s for a good reason. The place really is spectacular. We only got to spend about two days there on our trip, and the only reason we could tear ourselves away from the state was because we knew we were headed to Yellowstone National Park next.

One of the views you get from Going to the Sun Road.

One of the views you get from Going to the Sun Road.

At Glacier, more than 93 percent of the park is wilderness, so it is totally unspoiled. Hundreds of miles of trails cross the backcountry, and the most beautiful parts of the park can’t be seen from a car. I absolutely will to get back to this park to do some hiking once I’m in a little better pulmonary health. I need to see Avalanche Lake and Grinnell Glacier, just to name two, before I die. If you are interested in more about hiking in Glacier National Park I’ve read Hiking in Glacier backwards and forwards.

But the way most of the park’s visitors see it is from their car. Going to the Sun Road, so named either because of an Indian legend or a story some guy made up about an Indian legend, depending on who you ask, is a marvel of modern engineering. The road is about 50 miles long and east-to-west across the park. It curls around and cuts through mountains and it hugs cliffs and traverses valleys.

It’s a great way to get a slice of what the park has to offer, especially for people who aren’t otherwise able to get out onto some of the trails and experience the park. But, for the love of all that is holy, if you have working legs and lungs, GET OUT AND HIKE THIS PARK. Do it. Do it for me. Do it for yourself.

If you have a fear of heights or falling, I'd suggest you lay down in the passenger's seat while someone else drives.

If you have a fear of heights or falling, I’d suggest you lay down in the passenger’s seat while someone else drives.

When we – Lacey and I – visited this park we did not hike. It was a travesty. But we didn’t hike because we got robbed of a day’s worth of visiting in the park because of a blown-out tire and incompetent rental car company. We had just enough time for an awesome horseback ride – that I can still feel in my back – and a trip across Going to the Sun Road.

It was enough to whet our appetites. We’ve been dying to go back since then.

Parts of the road are open year-round, so there is always something to see or do at the park, even if it’s snowing at the upper levels. Just but sure to check the vehicle requirements if you are driving an oversized vehicle on the road because there are some restrictions. If you don’t want to drive, there is a shuttle service that operates in the park and it is included in the price of admission.

But enough of the boring details. You can find all of these things out for yourself from the park’s website. For now, I’ll leave you with some meh video of the Crown of the Continent.

TBT: Yellowstone National Park Part 2

This is one of the many crystal clear springs in Yellowstone. The water is so transparent, you can see several feet down into the pool.

This is one of the many crystal clear springs in Yellowstone. The water is so transparent, you can see several feet down into the pool.

This Throwback Thursday is more of a Flashback Friday, but instead of finishing the video and posting this entry last night, I decided to go see the Minion movie. (It was hilarious and adorable, by the way.) But, hey! At least I finally have it finished. It only took two years.

In the world of Vagabond Girls adventures, I last left you in Cody, Wyoming, on the last full day of adventuring in our trip cowboy hunting out west in 2013.

Spoiler alert: We never found cowboys – or at least not the kind we were looking for. Apparently they go out of season, along with everything else in Wyoming, and Cody turns into a ghost town. The only cowboys we ran into were of the retired variety, and while they seemed to be pretty awesome in their day, we would have preferred to find cowboys still in their day.

You can look just about anywhere in the park and see steam rising from the ground.

You can look just about anywhere in the park and see steam rising from the ground.

It was the last day of our trip, we had one more day to adventure and then head back to Denver to fly home the next day. Our goals were twofold:  To have plenty of time to explore the park, and to get back to town before all the restaurants closed up for the night. We really wanted a dinner that didn’t come from a cooler or a fast food window. The night before, the only place we could find open past 8 p.m. was an Arby’s; everywhere else was observing off-season hours.

So remember: If you visit Cody, Wy., after peak season, be prepared for nothing to be open.

The day before, we had a sleep-shortened visit to Yellowstone National Park where we got to see some bison and do some light hiking before heading back to town. The second day, we got to check out some more wildlife and more of the geothermal spots around the park – including Old Faithful.

Old Faithful! This time, I got to see it from the front row with all the other off-season travelers.

Old Faithful! This time, I got to see it from the front row with all the other off-season travelers.

The last time I visited the historic geyser, it was August and the place was so packed we were practically in the parking lot watching it erupt. Thanks to our off-season vacation, we were able to get front-row seats with the AARP crowd, all of them taking pictures with their iPads.

It was awesome.

Yellowstone is a place everyone must see before they die. It was America’s first national park and it’s the crown jewel. I haven’t seen all of the national parks, but I’ve seen many of them, and nothing I’ve seen come close to this.

Seeing bison is almost a given at Yellowstone. But don't be that guy who walks up to them and ends up getting gored. They're still wild animals, yo.

Seeing bison is almost a given at Yellowstone. But don’t be that guy who walks up to them and ends up getting gored. They’re still wild animals, yo.

Both times I’ve visited Yellowstone, first in 2010 and again in 2013, I’ve gotten to see bison herds and elk. Once, I saw a moose and antelope. No bears yet, I’m happy to say. As cool as it would be to see one, I’d rather not have to test my survival skills.

Then there are the crows, following you around until you are about to lose your mind from the ca-cawing.

And of course, the geysers. You could be in the middle of a field of wildflowers, and a vent will be right next to you, spewing steam into the air. It’s a constant reminder that under all the beauty, a wild, uncontrollable force continues to shape the land.

TBT: The lake that isn’t there

DSC_8049

This is not a scene from Bonny Lake, this is the Rocky Mountains, which distracted us from enjoying Bonny Lake while it still existed.

Our Gypsy Trip across the country in 2010 was so named because we decided to camp our way across the country, but it wasn’t until our second night that we actually camped. What a first night it was.

Unbeknownst to us, we were camping on land in the middle of an Old West Style war about water. Coming from a water-saturated part of the country, we were all unfamiliar with the water wars that still rage in the western United States today.

Basically, there was an agreement established in 1942 between Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado that required Nebraska and Colorado to supply so much water to Kansas. Decades went by and finally, one day someone realized that Kansas wasn’t getting all the water they were supposed to be getting. So a court case went all the way to the Supreme Court and Colorado had to pay up.

What does this have to do with us camping in 2010? Well, we stopped at Bonny Lake State Park, in Colorado, on our second night of the trip. It was a stopover for us – we didn’t put much thought into the location except that it set us up to get exploring the rest of the state the next day. Not thinking about this more was our loss. I believe there was a lake there, but we never saw it. We arrived late and left early, eager to get moving checking things off our To See List.

The first telling of our Bonny Lake story included the parts about the rowdy neighbors and putting up the tent after dark in a thunderstorm. I’m kind of impressed with us putting that sucker up in the dark and rain; I don’t know if I could do that now and I must have pitched it 50 times since then. I’m also impressed that it stayed staked into the ground with only the corners pinned down. Way to go, little Wal-Mart tent!

The part of the story that didn’t make the first cut is what happened between the time we set up the tent and when we went to sleep – and what happened to that park since then.

We’d been on the road all day, it was late and we’d just put up a tent in the rain. We knew we’d need an early start in the morning, so Amanda and I decided to hit the bathhouse that night so we could pack up and head out quickly. We took the car and drove to try to avoid some of the weather, and left Cory, my brother, in the tent at our campsite.

Hindsight being 20/20, that was a pretty inconsiderate thing to do. See, Cory never complains about anything – or even expresses much of any emotion. He’s someone you never notice there until he cracks a joke about something. He never said a word when we left.

I don’t know how long we were in the bathhouse, long enough for us to pump a few dollars in quarters in the showers. I’m sure we’d been there close to half an hour, and that felt like hours to someone who was alone, in a half-staked tent, in a torrential thunderstorm, a few dozen feet from five or six drunken campers, hundreds of miles from home.

I was finishing up when I heard a knock at the bathroom door. Now, Cory has some big, hazel peepers on a normal day, but when I opened that door his eyes were all I could see.

“Uhhhh, how much longer are you going to be?” He was obviously nervous, shifting his weight.

I guess waiting in the tent while the wind tried to rip it from the ground got to be too much for him, so he braved the weather to walk to the bathhouse.

He hung around for the last of the 10 minutes or so Amanda and I took to finish and we all went back to the tent and crashed. Or at least I did. I always sleep like a baby in storms. (And that time, the tent didn’t leak.)

So we – along with those drunkies a few spots down – made some pretty good memories at this park. But what about that war over water?

The entire dispute reminded me of a standoff in the west. I could just see John Wayne and Robert Duvall standing off on either side of the state line. (Hey! I know they are different cowboy generations, but it would make a great standoff, no?)

“That’s our water you’re holding over there,” Duvall would calmly state from the Kansas side of the state line. He’s on horseback, slouched a little, his hands on the saddle horn.

“Yeah?” Wayne would be casually smoking. “Well, come and get it then.”

Then he would flip the cigarette, probably starting a wild fire that would then require the use of all the water to put it out and no one would have any water and all three states would start hounding Montana or something to send them water.

Whew. That kinda ran away with me, but you get the idea. Instead of a wildfire inducing cowboy standoff, Colorado ultimately decided to drain Bonny Lake and let the water flow away to Kansas. Today, the state park now operates as a nature preserve and is still open to hunters, and I wish we’d taken just a couple of hours to visit the lake.

Let this be a listen to you: When traveling, if you stop to camp beside a lake, make time to actually see the lake. It may not be there the next time you pass through.

TBT: Land of Enchantment?

My beautiful picture

Just one example of the beaut of New Mexico – and this is just the side of the road. These are the kinds of things I missed the first two times through the state.

“The land of enchantment” is New Mexico’s state slogan. It sounds like something from a fairy tale, right? Well, my first experience with New Mexico was more like a nightmare. I was 16 and we were on our way to the Grand Canyon.

We were logging major miles to get from Cincinnati to Arizona in a couple of days, and we rolled into Tucumcari, New Mexico late one night, ready to get a few hours of sleep and then carry on our way. We’d been on the road about 12 hours that day and we were all sick of being in each other’s faces.

My beautiful picture

One of the places we visited was the Cathedral Basilica St. Francis of Assisi in Santa Fe. There are beautiful sculptures in the prayer garden outside.

We checked into the hotel and immediately began questioning staying there. It looked sketchy, it was dirty outside and had some obvious damage to the building. But we were tired and needed to sleep before driving any more. So we went inside.

The room was dank, it was old and hadn’t been updated since, well, ever. Still, nothing seemed bad enough to warrant trying to find somewhere else in our half-comatose state. The bathroom seemed clean enough – despite the water stain on the ceiling – so I thought taking a shower was a good idea, until I realized I had an audience of the six-legged variety coming out of that water spot in the ceiling.

There was no hair-rinsing, there was only putting on enough clothes to get out of the bathroom and screaming about the bugs. Of course, by the time Mom went into the bathroom, they had all retreated and no one believed me. Just more ravings of a self-confessed bugophobe.

Oh, but I had the last laugh after an abrupt departure at 1 a.m. when Dad woke up and found bugs crawling around the room. I don’t know what kind of bugs they were, and I didn’t care. My stuff was already ready to go. If Dad was good to drive on two hours of sleep, I was fine with sleeping in the backseat. At least then I knew there wouldn’t be things crawling on me in my sleep.

So the only thing I experienced in my first trip to New Mexico was a crappy hotel room and sleep in the back seat of the car. We drove through it again about a year later and the only thing I remember about that drive is a heckuva dust storm scaring the life out of me. I didn’t have high hopes for it during the Gypsy Trip, but that was Amanda’s Mecca of our pilgrimage. She was an anthropology student, and New Mexico is full of history and culture.

She planned all our explorations for the state, I had no scruples – except avoiding Tucumcari at all costs. The second time around, I wasn’t disappointed. I got to find out why New Mexico is called the Land of Enchantment. We hit several things that day, it was probably one of the most packed days of the trip as far as sightseeing. Here’s the list of places we saw, and I’d recommend visiting them when you go:

  1. Capulin Volcano National Monument: A road circling the volcano takes to you to the vent of an extinct volcano. At the top, you can hike into it’s mouth and take in views of the surrounding volcanic field. Even though they say this is extinct, I still had prickles on my neck while we were up there. “Extinct” volcanoes have erupted before.
  2. Taos Pueblo: These pueblos have been continuously inhabited for more than 1000 years. There are still about 150 Taos Indians living in the pueblo, according to their website. The historical significance of this location earned it the distinction of becoming a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  3. Taos, New Mexico: We only spent a few hours in this city, but you could easily spend days getting lost in the art and culture scene here. It has a great history – and super cool architecture.
  4. Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi: Not to be confused with San Francisco de Assisi in Taos, which I just did when trying to remember the name of the place we went. They are both super cool, but I didn’t visit the Mission in Taos. St. Francis however, was full of sculptures and art in the beautiful prayer garden in front of the church.

TBT: Point Pleasant, W. Va.

Point Pleasant's mothman is said to have tried to warn townspeople of a looming tragedy.

Point Pleasant’s mothman is said to have tried to warn townspeople of a looming tragedy.

Writing about our old camping adventures got me remembering more about one of those trips. The first camping trip was more than just Babcock State Park; we started in Point Pleasant, W. Va., a small town on the Ohio River.

First of all, I kind of loved this place. I consisted of little more than a Main Street, Bennigan’s and a riverwalk. The town’s claim to fame stems from tragic bridge collapse in 1967. Before the Silver Bridge fell in, some of the locals reported seeing a red-eyed “Mothman” outside town. Some believe this apparition was a warning of a coming disaster. (Side note: I’ve been waiting for Mothman sightings to start around the Brent Spence Bridge. None so far.)

The Mothman, bridge collapse and subsequent movie, “The Mothman Prophecies” are their claims to fame. We visited the Mothman Museum and stayed in the Historic Lowe Hotel, which had a nice, welcoming staff, but a kinda creepy feel. It was awesome. The entire place looked like it was stuck in time, right down to the old, metal room keys.

We arrived mid-afternoon on a weekday and I swear the only person we saw until dinnertime was the hotel concierge – except for this one girl, who almost literally fell at our feet.

We were all walking around before dinner, you know taking in the town, checking out the Mothman exhibits, when we paused to sit on Main Street and discuss dinner plans. A car came to a sudden stop right in front of us and a girl tumbled out, screaming at her boyfriend. Ah, to be young and in love.

So she starts crying and walking up the street and sees me – the nut magnet – sitting there, holding my cell phone.

“Hey,” she calls out, sniffing. “Can I use your phone? I need to call someone to come get me. My boyfriend left me here.”

Oh, is that what happened? And here I thought you were just playing a twisted version of hide-and-seek.

It is impossible for me to tell someone no, even when common sense is telling – no screaming – at me to deny her request. So I handed her my phone, and she started walking down the street with it. It’s also not in me to confront people, so I just watched, with a stupid look on my face, I’m sure, while she walked away with my phone.

Fortunately, her boyfriend was crazy jealous and she came back a minute later, giving me my phone back – so I could tell her boyfriend that I’ve never met her before, I’m just some random stranger who let another random stranger use my phone. Because, yes, I’m that stupid.

I don’t know if he believed me or not, but he got off the phone, I got my phone back and he came back for his girlfriend. We had dinner at the local restaurant, dessert at Benigan’s and continued on our camping adventure at Babcock State Park.

#TBT Manhattan Beach

I have a confession to make: I am terrified of the ocean.

Stepping into a large body of water – with or without a life jacket – creates a silent kind of mind-numbing terror. Part of this is that I literally sink like a Stone – its not just my last name, it’s what I turn into in water: total dead weight. I don’t even panic, I just fall into a calm state of giving up. I accept the water as it wraps its cold arms around me and drags me to the bottom of the abyss.

When we reached the Pacific Ocean on this trip, it was late at night. Around midnight, I think. We were bone-tired but we knew that we wouldn’t have much time the next day to spend at the beach, so Amanda and I dropped off our bags and my brother at the hotel and set off for a late night rendezvous with the Pacific. Our hotel was only a couple of blocks off the shore, so we didn’t have far to go. I had been to the beach before, but in Florida several years before. That did not prepare me for the sight of the ocean at night.

Ink and infinity is how I remember it. It was a cloudy night, so the only light came from the shore behind us. Everything was black: the sand, the water, the sky. There was really no way to tell where one thing ended and another began. We stayed a safe distance from the water, but when we stopped to sit, I couldn’t shake a nervous feeling. If that water came up just a little too far and swept me off my feet, I knew I’d never be found. I would give up and let the water take me where it willed.

We walked quite a distance on the shore that night, stopping at a couple of guard stands. We passed few others enjoying the quiet night – if deafening waves can be considered a “quiet.” Despite the terror playing on the edges of my consciousness, I could have stayed there all night. But sleep overcame us and we crawled back to our warm beds.

#TBT Monument Valley

When you think of the American Southwest, you probably see a place like Monument Valley. You wouldn’t be the only one; it is one of the most photographed places in the West. With its sweeping vistas, towering rock formations and dry, dusty wind, it’s the perfect place to set down a saloon, strap on some spurs and sidle up to the bar for some whiskey to wet your parched throat. But what you will find missing from one of the most recognizable places in the American west is the cowboys.

Monument Valley rests entirely in Navajo Nation and straddles the state line between Utah and Arizona. Today, the Navajo Nation is the largest Tribal group and has the most sophisticated tribal government, but, like other Native tribes that faced relocation and forced assimilation, it has been a long road.

Their government was formed in response to requests to lease Navajo land after oil was discovered in the 1920s. But the reservation didn’t gain widespread notoriety until its first brush with Hollywood when John Ford directed “Stagecoach” there in 1939. Since then, 12 movies have been filmed in Monument Valley.

Part of the fun of visiting the valley is getting to travel through Navajo Nation. I’m a sucker for any kind of roadside stand – you can find the coolest things there. Monument Valley does not disappoint; there’s a market not far from the park entrance.

There is one main road – US 163 – that snakes its way through the valley.  Once you get into Monument Valley, there is a large visitor’s center that has a panoramic window with a view that doesn’t even look real. I’m not kidding. I looked out the glass and thought I was looking at a picture. I can try to wax poetic about it, but I’ll just sound silly and won’t do it justice. Just go see it. Put Monument Valley on your bucket list, push it to the top and go.

There are a couple of ways to see the valley: drive yourself or take a guided tour. We decided to drive ourselves. There’s a great visitor’s center before you drive the loop. We ran a little Toyota Corolla through and it handled it like a champ, even if we didn’t. When I make it back, I’m definitely checking out one of the guided tours. There are a few reasons for this. First off, I can still feel my bones jarring from the drive. I’m not complaining – a smooth, paved road would seriously detract from all that natural beauty. I am warning you though. If you have back problems, this may not be the drive for you. Also take advantage of the facilities before you start jarring your bladder.

Yes, if you drive yourself you get the freedom to go at your own pace and you don’t have to interact with people if you’re not feelin’ it. But you’re restricted to the road and can’t venture far from it. If you take a tour with one of the many tour operators you get insider backstory and access to more locations within the park – including sites off the main road.

Another option we did not take advantage of on this trip was the Piute Farms Road route. According to The American Southwest, this road leads to the site of a former Navajo Marina on Lake Powell. The marina was destroyed by flooding in 1989, and the lake has receded from the road, but the little-traveled dirt road offers a less populated perspective of the valley. The link above gives more information about how to find this road and warns that four wheel drive may be needed for part of it.

A good remedy for working out the kinks after a bumpy ride could be hitting one of the hiking trails in the valley. There is only one official trail. The Wildcat Trail around the West Mitten Butte.  Just remember that there are private residences in Monument Valley so it is important to be respectful of posted boundaries.

 

#TBT: Yosemite National Park

When I was going back through the video for this part of the trip, I didn’t come across many clips. I also couldn’t remember much about visiting the park. I remember Bridal Veil Falls and that was about it. So I looked up the first telling of this story.

Not much there either.

By this point of the trip we’d gone as far west as we were going to and had started the return trip home. With only a few days left on the trip, we were tired and tired of eating out of the trunk of the car. We were tired of sleeping in tents. And we were disappointed that we weren’t able to finish going up the West Coast to Washington.

After the excitement the night we arrived in San Francisco — the night we thought we had enough time to drive to Seattle — we just crashed. In the time it took to try to map out a route from northern California to Seattle, we realized there just wasn’t enough time. We went from being at the top of El Capitan to the bottom of Death Valley. The Gypsy Trip had switched from embarking on an exciting adventure to finishing out a list of places to see on our way home. That was how we treated Yosemite: Not as a place to explore and experience, but as a place to come in, check out the high points, and high-tail it out to the next destination.

in retrospect, I wish we’d taken the extra time to go up the coast. It would have been impossible to do it on the timeline we agreed to, and I would never have been able to get back to work on time. I was worried about getting in trouble for attendance, but I shouldn’t have been. I came back to work for about two weeks before leaving permanently for an internship. What’s the worst they could have done? Fire me for my last two weeks? So here’s the lesson to take away from my trip to Yosemite: Take the extra days NOW. You never know where life will take you, so enjoy the sunshine while it lasts.

Featured image credit: From Flickr Creative Commons, By Edward Stojakovic.