I consider this to be my last blog of this chapter; the defining moment. It has been 8 months, 12,000 miles, 22 states and 14 National Parks since i started this journey. In need of a drastic change i went far away to see anything different from what i knew as a normal life. I packed away my hoardings and filled my car with the "survival essentials". I thought of all the ingenius ways i could be efficient on the road. I had some what of a plan when i left, but essentially i "winged it" thinking that people do this all the time. Since departing I have been to wonderful places and have seen things only feelings can describe. Learned that it gets stressful and sometimes discouraging while you're on the road- One of many lessons along the way. Also seeing how many material things i could cut out of my life and still be perfectly happy was quite a shock. Overall, when you travel you learn alot about yourself. Something I didnt really think about. I learned that i missed my family a whole lot more than expected. And probably most of all i missed the feeling of being around people who already knew me; my FRIENDS. On our expedition back to NY i planned a route that would take me to as many friends' houses as i could fit in between national parks across the country. This provided an excitement unlike any other. Yes, mountains and rivers and bears are marvelous. But, seeing your friend at his/her front door after a long hiatus definitely brought bigger smiles. Anyone can get a parks pass and travel as far as their money will take them. But, I got so lucky to travel and reunite with people who mean so much to me. ((((So to JAIME AND MEL, HANNAH AND MEL AND KATE AND BIANCA, KATIE AND NOAH, DAN, KIRA AND ERIC, LIZ, JON AND THE OTHER DAN! TO LACEY AND NATASHA-- BOTH OF MY FIRST MATES.)))) I want to thank you for being a part of my quest, and im sending to cyber hugs to all of my friends NEAR AND FAR. My days just keep getting better. I feel full and LIFE IS GOOD. (and a huge thank you to everyone who followed us along the way)
After our wonderful adventure in the great smoky mountains we decided to take a detour to visit another good friend! we headed three hours East to CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA to visit JON MCHENRY!!!! It was so good to see such smiling faces. Jon prepared a buffa-love feast for us consisting of chiavetta's chicken, salad, and rice! As if giggling with our friends wasn't enough excitement; they have owls living in their front yard!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Went to sleep that night sore from laughing- must have been the selfie stick photoshoot. Our next stop was SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK. The last and sadly the least exciting of the trip. Don't get me wrong it is an amazing park, but spring has not sprung yet and the appeal of the bare mountains was just not there. We hiked a bit of the APPALACHIAN TRAIL, as well as a bit of the back country of the park. There are millions of hemlock trees as you pass, but only the noises of the leaves of last season. I assume i would enjoy this park once it is greener and filled with leaves. ((and maybe when im a bit more energetic)) Our second day in the park was a stormy one. We cut it short and were ready for some MOM love. Six more hours of driving and it was time to feast at my own house.
We were so close! After (around) five more hours of driving we were in the mountains! This was the first large park that was free to the public.. also the most visited park in the country. We caught a glimpse of the sunset and then set up camp aside LITTLE PIDGEON RIVER in Townsend, TN. We were smiling with mountain air in our lungs and the noises of a rushing river swooning us to sleep. It was the most beautiful, natural sound; i could sleep close to that river every night of my life!
Bright and early we were aiming to see the sunrise from CLINGMAN"S DOME, so we packed up and got out while the stars were still twinkling above! Had slightly underestimated the time it would take to drive to the spot, so we technically watched the sunrise from the car. after the car ride we started the hike that brings you to an overlook with the ability to see 7 different states! From the lookout, it is only a half mile walk up, but the thin mountain air at 6,643 ft makes the journey quite the exertion. And yes, some of the gasps were caused by the views! There was no need to explain why they call them the smoky mountains; fifty shades of blue/gray outlining each mountain. Breathtaking views of spruce-fir tree lined mountains surrounding us. We spent some time enjoying the OCONALUFTEE RIVER as well. The water was freezing cold and crystal clear, absolutely perfect. The three of us had this section of the river to ourselves. The smoky mountains are oddly the perfect habitat for wild rhododendrons as they were lining the forrest. ((we could only imagine how beautiful it will be when they bloom!) We happily took some time out of our day to just watch the water and let our minds wander to a peaceful state. Then took a trip to the visitor center which just made us run away from all the people and go back to the mountains. Incredibly grateful for the views to follow-- this might be my favorite place.
An early morning because we were headed to OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA to visit our good friend Liz!! We were so excited to reunite that the 10+ hour drive flew by! ((just kidding)) It was a tough drive, actually. Once you leave the Rocky Mountains and head East, the terrain does a complete change from snowy wonderland to drab, flat land. Most of the drive is through Kansas; a place that doesn't know what to think of two girls like us. haha It didnt take long to figure out we were in oil country, not only becuase gas was $1.99/gal, but also because the highway was lined with giant machinery. All the flat land was the perfect habitat to see hawks hunting from the power lines, too!
Onward to Oklahoma!
We have known Liz since our first days in Buffalo as college students. Last year she moved to Oklahoma to be a Pre-K teacher and has been going above and beyond in her career. It was SO GOOD to be completely comfortable with my girlfriends for a few days. She welcomed us with good food and better company! We had a girls night with drinks, makeup, and brain teasing games! Had such a good time that it didn't even feel like we were on the road. Keeping our fingers crossed that our Liz can find a teaching job in New York. We gotta get her away from the TORNADOES! Truly sad to leave, it was time for some more driving.
Travling East yet again, our destination was TENNESSEE - - Home of GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK. Met up with our friend Dan, he decided to join us for the last leg of the trip! The more adventurers the merrier! We drove as far as we could before stopping to rest in MEMPHIS!
Natasha and I woke up and went exploring in Denver for a bit. We went thrifting for clothes and also bought legal Marijuana!!! Oh, the joys of COLORADO! The decision was made that everyone goes to Colorado becuase its essentially a larger version of New York. Okay, so there are snow-capped mountains in the distance, and the people are dressed quite fancy; but the city felt familiar / not overwhelming. Shortly after shopping i got to reunite with my beautiful friend Kira and her man Eric, who both coincidentally are from New York, as well. Extremely passionate about health and happiness, she explained that her job goals are to help people, and it was so inspiring! A wonderful slumber followed our chat; and an amazing feast followed that slumber. Now it was time to go see ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK!!!! The mountains were so good. SO GOOD. Sadly only part of the park was open because of the winter season, but very happy I still experienced what i could. 2015 is the Centenial year for the park! Overall, we saw more animals at this park than any other! Including elk, birds, and muskrat! We hiked a few miles of the park around Bear Lake, Lilly Lake, and Bierstadt Lake. Lilly was the most impressive of the three. we zig-zagged up a steep mountainside for over a mile. About 3/4's of the trail in the view is spectacular! Never had such a feeling in my life! Mountain air in our lungs and our eyes could see for miles! Seeing the elk graze with the mountains as the backdrop was absolutely breathtaking, made us so happy that we were laughing. By the end of the day we were exhausted and went back to Kira's sweet house in GOLDEN, CO.
ARCHES NATIONAL PARK was the first on our list, which required an early rise. We were well rested and sad to leave. Then travelled onward towards the mountains! A couple hours later we were at the park. The road going through arches is like taking a trip to another world. First your car does climb up a rugged cliff, followed by a curvy drive through alien-like structures. In a slight rush, we saw what we could. This included the driving to the WINDOWS section, taking a hike to DOUBLE ARCHES and taking quite a few pictures along the way. Definitely a park i could spend way more time in. Rich red sandstone against the bright blue sky was extremely pleasing to the eyes. There are many arches throughout the park, you can also see the beginning of arches in huge sections of the rock. Our brief tour was soon over and it was time to continue East. Made it to DENVER COLORADO by nightfall to see my first snowflakes of the year! Met up with our friend Paul, who recently moved to the Denver area, and enjoyed burgers and beers on the westside.
I had attempted to keep this day a surprise for Natasha. Since we had to change our itinerary around a bit last minute, i had done some researching to find the coolest option! This brought us to relaxation in MONROE UTAH. Upon arriving Nat noticed the sign said MYSTIC HOT SPRINGS, and we were instantly excited. We checked in and decided to upgrade our camp to an old grateful dead tour bus-- SO AWESOME. We chose from an entire row of school busses-turned-campers and we chose the NATURE BUS! It was our own little sweet abode for the night with cozy, colorful details everywhere! Once we got settled a bit, it was time for some soaking! The hot springs run down the side of a mountain and stream into various tubs that each have a particular temperature. We had a view of snow capped mountains in distance, and the place to ourselves! The Natural hot springs are full of wonderful minerals like Magnesium, Calcium and Iron. And as the water flows down the mountain it cools and forms layers of mineral rock. As you can see in the pictures the rock has grown around the tubs. It was absolutely relaxing. We took shifts of soaking, eating, reading, and sleeping throughout the day. We even enjoyed a soak under the beautiful glow of the moon! So grateful i came across this little resort, such a special experience. We had a magnificent slumber, and it was time to move on. ((even though i wanted to move in))
When we woke up in our tent, the sun was rising on the wonderful red mountains in front of us. We had a very short drive to ZION NATIONAL PARK. It was a beautiful day and we were ready to explore! First we had to find a parking spot in town because Zion runs on a shuttle service. The reasoning behind this is to lessen the traffic going through the park so that it remains preserved for as many generations as possible. With that said it was a bit of a different experience. While on the bus there were sound bites teaching us about the mountains as we passed. Our first trail was to COURT OF THE PATRIARCHS which is a short and steep trail that brings you to a peak that overlooks the four famous peaks of zion. We also took the trails to the EMERALD POOLS. The highest emerald pool brought us up a rugged mountain with GORGEOUS views all around us. After climbing up cliffside boulders we arrived at the top; greeted by a happy misting from the waterfall way up high. Took a break to catch our breath and have some snacks, then it was back down the mountain! Also a hike to WEEPING ROCK where tiny plants take hold of the crevices and thrive off the water that dribbles down the mountain. It was one of the most whimsical places in the park for sure! We took our shuttle back to the car and travelled to another park close by, BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK. This park is mostly a driving tour, and quite similar to the feeling of the grand canyon. You could see for miles and miles with various sandstone colors painting the view. Overall we were least stimulated by this park even though it was amazing! I guess thats what happens when you jam pack so much amazing into one trip. We zoomed into the evening through Utah to RICHFEILD,UT to camp at the local KOA.
After a short drive, we entered the park. The first real "touristy" spot. haha! I know i am a tourist but think more like TONS OF PEOPLE EVERYWHERE kind of spot. Upon parking the car you can see the canyon ahead. Walking up to such a majestic spot we both had many feelings about it. We could see amazing colors in the canyon; almost an organized deterioration between layers. As we walked down the path we encountered people from all over the world. Most people that we could understand were talking about falling; about dying at the canyon. It is that kind of scary. Unexplainable. While i tried to take pictures that would show even a fraction of the beauty, it doesn't compare. The more National Parks i go to, the more i learn about how crazy the earth is! Like the erosion of the land due to the COLORADO RIVER, cutting through millions of years of stone.
This day we would meet up with our traveling friend, DAN! He is crossing the country going the opposite direction headed to Las Vegas for the Pizza expo!! We met up in Apache Junction, AZ and went on a real desert hike! Although we were in the desert the day prior it was again completely different. The wildflowers were all blooming spiratically throughout all types of cacti, and i could hear happy birds all around us! We were in TONTO NATIONAL FORREST and it was awesome! The trail was lined with Saguaro Cacti; and some with little holes for the birdies to live in! Naturally i was ecstatic and I have some new birds to look up! Also travelled to SALT RIVER for a dip before we realized there were baby leeches all over our feet! Gross but very interesting. People were fishing for huge karp in the river, it was a very calm and natural place. Finished our adventure with a trip to IN-N-OUT BURGER. Both of my companions had never tried it before. The end result was happy! everyone working there was happy, the food was happy, and so were we! Traveled in the evening a few hours to FLAGSTAFF, AZ where we yet again battled to find a hotel room the first weekend of spring near the grand canyon, what was i thinking?