New new new England

East Coast represent.  I was born and raised in upstate New York, not western New York, not New York City, but the whole state that exists above it.  It’s pretty big, you should look it up sometime.  I have never loved going ‘home’ but as I grow, mature, and develop into a woman my relationship with the family I estranged myself from for so many years is growing strong, and this means more frequent and longer visits.  This was the best visit I have ever had and this post will document my time hanging with the fam.  I will do a separate post which will cover my climb of Mount Washington in New Hampshire.  I visited New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine over the past two weeks and many an activity was had.

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making friends with the pilot


I flew into Albany, New York on a clammy Tuesday evening.  My father and his girlfriend Laura picked me up from the airport.  He brought me to his charming New England bed and breakfast.  The amenities were nice, although I thought the pool could use a bit more chlorine.

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My father and I did a lot of straight up chilling.  He is a really fun person to spend time with.  He has a PhD in mechanical engineering from RPI and now that I am neck deep in engineering school we have even more to talk about.  We see eye to eye on everything including the big X on marriage and kids.  I am absolutely my fathers daughter, 100%, adult tantrums and all.  He will forever be my favorite human.

We explored the abandon house across the street from his house.  There are eight barn cats that I attempted to make friends with.  The house was super nasty inside.  Food was left in the fridge (which I opened) and a curious black fungus blanketed everything.  I wanted to sample it and bring it to the biology lab at school but refrained.

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the American dream

My brother came up from the dirty Jerz on a Saturday and we all went to Doc Browns, a bar on Saratoga Lake.  Saratoga Lake is so much fun and my father’s life long friend Karl has a house (dock included) right on it.  This is the center of all summer chills.  There is boating, kayaking, sailing, napping, and most importantly floating in a tube while drinking beer.  There’s no app for lake life.

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brother

One of my favorite days in New York, my father and I whipped around his 86’ mustang and then he took me sailing on the sunfish he has had since he was fourteen years old.

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sailboat

I also ran a marathon.  It is called the E.B. Jeb marathon and consists of drinking PBR for 7 hours at The Mill (a biker bar) while listening to the greatest southern rock cover band my ears have heard.  I met some members of The Rolling Pride motorcycle club and learned all about The Hells Angels.  I also drank 15 PBRs and danced my face off.  As my father said, “all the mutants come out for E.B. Jeb,” and he was right.  It was one of the most fun parties I have attended to date.  And getting drunk with your dad is always better.  This is the only photographic evidence.

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Dad time is the best time.  Also, upstate New York is beautiful.  Never thought these words would come out of my mouth, but I miss the humidity, the rain, the old charm, and the out of control greenness.

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My father let me drive my grandparents (now his) 1995 Honda Accord from New York to Maine where my mother retired to an absolutely gorgeous log cabin.  She has always had good taste and everything she owns is well thought out.  I had not seen my mother in a long time and I was incredibly excited to spend some good quality time with her and my stepfather Ty.

On the way I stopped in Willmington, Vermont and ran up Haystack Mountain in a down pour.

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I continued on through the back-wood roads of New England.  Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine are old states.  There is a lot of history, a lot of trees, and a lot of charm.  The driving is enjoyable but goes from 55 to 30 and back up to 55 in a matter of seconds.

In New Hampshire I stopped and had a snack at Lake Winnipesaukee.

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no sales tax!

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I wanted to go for a swim but the moment was not right.  It took another hour or so of me falling into the deep driving trance to realized I needed to run.  I pulled down a random dirt road in Tamworth, New Hampshire and ended up at White Lake.  I ran two miles around the lake and realized I was completely alone.  I dipped my feet in the water and it was just the right temperature.  I was still alone.  I decided to cross skinny dipping off my bucket list.  It was the perfect moment and thirty minutes I will never forget.

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My visit with my mother was absolute perfection.  We had all the talks we needed to have and resolved all the issues we needed to resolve.  I feel like a piece of me has returned.  I feel whole again.  There is only forward and I see us developing the relationship we both always wanted to have.  My mother and stepfather are active and love adventure so they were eager to show me around.  My mother lives in a small town in Maine that borders New Hampshire.  I would retire to this area.  There is SO much to do.  There are SO many pristine waterfalls and creeks.  There is SO much wilderness and the White Mountains are in her backyard.  She picked the perfect spot to settle down.  I cannot wait to go back for Christmas and see it with snow.

Sabbatus Mountain is in my mother’s backyard so we all hiked it.  It was really nice to share something I love doing with my family.

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mommy and Ty

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The same day we did a beautiful hike to a place called Diana’s Bath in New Hampshire.  I had my hand at some water photography.

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The next day we drove up Mount Washington, king of the White Mountains, Emperor or the Presidential Range.  Mount Washington is iconic and the proud owner of the some of worst weather in the world.  The highest recorded wind speed (231 mph) was clocked on the summit.  All the buildings are chained down.  The road is super nasty and my mother and Ty said they would never drive it again.  This is the day I got the brilliant idea to climb the beast and I will write a separate blog with lots more photos on how I did just that.  It was about 40 degrees with howling winds the day we milled around the summit.

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Next my mother and Ty showed me Jackson, New Hampshire, a favorite of theirs.  I nailed my head on the covered bridge trying to take photos.

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I wanted more water so they brought me to Kezar Falls (in Maine behind my mom’s house) where we saw a moose!

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Kezar Falls

On the final day, Ty took my mother and I canoeing on Kezar Lake in Maine.  It was my first time and I absolutely LOVED it.  This was my favorite day with my mom and Ty.

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Kezar Lake

 

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Residents of my mother’s town have private access to an exclusive beach.  We went and put our feet in the sand and observed a small child bathing in the water.  Gotta love people!

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They also treated me to two different breweries; Moat Mountain and Seacrest which both had vegan options and delicious beer.

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this is what gondolas used to look like

After some tears were shed, I left my mother’s and made my way to the base of Mount Washington which is where I will pick things back up….


I had a wonderful and necessary extended visit with my family.  I am so happy I grew out of my bratty younger years into someone they can be proud of.

“Time as he grows old teaches all things” –Aeschyuls

White Sands National Monument and Oliver Lee State Park (New Mexico)

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Cheers to the end of a beautiful adventure.  The very last bit of my southwest exploration included White Sands National Monument and the neighboring Oliver Lee State Park (where I stayed).  It was a beautiful warm evening and I knew I wanted to sit on a dune and watch the sun go down.


At the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert lies a mountain-ringed valley, the Tularosa Basin.  Rising from the heart of this basin is the glistening white sands of New Mexico.  These sand dunes have engulfed 275 square miles of desert creating the largest gypsum dune field in the world.  The dunes are next to the White Sands Missile Range and Holloman Airforce Base outside of Alamogordo, New Mexico.


There is not much to say about how beautiful this place is so I will let the photos do the talking.

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Lola my mobile home

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noodle time

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At sunset I parked my ass on top of a dune and listened to some guy a few dunes over play the guitar.  It was like something out of a fairy tale.

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glory rays

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stranger danger (I eventually got them this photo)

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After the sun kissed the sky goodbye I headed back to Oliver Lee State Park to pass out in trunk bed.


Driving into Oliver Lee I saw some super greasy hitchhikers and then some meth houses.  The park was deep enough in the canyon that I felt the chances of robbery or attack were minimal.  Still, the surrounding area did not feel that safe.

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I stopped and investigated an abandon meth house, it was gnarly.


I decided to hike Dog Canyon early in the morning before hitting the road for the long push home.

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The entire Dog Canyon trail is 5.5 miles one way and climbs over 3,100 feet to Forest Road 90.  This would have been fun to do but my legs were dead, so I settled on an out and back to Line Cabin (6 miles/1,700 feet of gain nonetheless).


Because of the spring fed stream in the canyon, native people moved from the Tularosa Basin into the Sacramento Mountains using this trail for thousands of years.  The canyon was the site of several skirmishes between the US Cavalry and Apaches between 1850 and 1881.  After the settlers arrived, the trail was used to move cattle from winter basin pastures to spring and summer pastures in the canyon and on the ridge top.  The ruin of the Fairchild Line Cabin is a landmark at the box-end of the canyon.

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Even at 6:30 a.m. the temperatures pushed 85 degrees in the shade.

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The trail initially climbs 600 feet in .6 miles to the first bench which plateaus.  At 1.9 miles the trail climbs once again to the second bench and the typical desert shrubbery changes to lush grass with scattered alligator juniper.

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From the second bench the trail descends back into the canyon to the Fairchild Line Cabin.  Large juniper and cottonwood dominate the stream side habitat.  This riparian zone is beautiful and delicate.  There are some nice camp spots here.

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Here is where I turned around, headed back to my car, and drove back to Golden.

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Summary, Conclusion, and Advice:

I had an absolutely beautiful adventure.  I drove 1,786 miles in 16 days, explored two states, 2 national parks, 3 national monuments, 4 state parks, countless mountains ranges, and 4 new cities.  The bed I engineered in my car and all the small details I installed worked perfectly.  There are only a few minor tweaks I will make to the curtains and initially I will bring less food with me (on my big trip).

I had reserves about traveling and climbing alone.  I had reserves about whether or not I could actually live in such a small space.  I had reserves about doing ALL the driving myself, I had reserves about getting lonely, but….my father and I have a saying, “imagining what it might be like is a poor substitute for actually knowing.”  It is healthy and necessary to have a certain amount of fear (it is what keeps us alive), it is restrictive and sad to let it prevent an incredible life experience.

I found it difficult to return home but I have so much traveling ahead of me, not only this summer, but for the rest of my life.  I blog because it’s a way to relive the beautiful places I go and because it allows my family and friends a rare glimpse into the life I lead.  I do not wish to make a career of it.  This trip opened my eyes to the kind of job I DO want.  By earning a masters degree in Biochemical engineering from Colorado School of Mines and being single and without children (I never want them), I have opened the door to so many future possibilities.  I have the ability to say yes to a lot of opportunities most don’t.  I see myself as a traveling engineer working in the renewable energy or Bio-plastic field jumping from country to country, project to project.

Society puts a lot of pressure on humans (especially women) to get married and have children, but for a select few the “American dream” seems more like a nightmare (nothing against those who find happiness in marriage and kids).  People often assume I am defective because I choose to distance myself from red-flag relationships and because I don’t want to birth and raise another human.  And for a minute there, I was starting to think maybe I was.  The open road, the mountains, and the trails have a way of showing you truth.  I am exactly where I should be and I am honestly happy.

Simply put, this journey made me see that I could never exist in one place doing one thing.

What is the killer of adventure and romance?  Monotony and commitment.

If there is something you want to do, do it, right now.  There is no guarantee of tomorrow.

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“She is free in her wildness, she is a wanderess, a drop of free water.  She knows nothing of borders and cares nothing for rules or customs.  ‘Time’ for her isn’t something to fight against.  Her life flows clean, with passion, like fresh water.”

Baylor Peak and The Organ Mountains

The Organ Mountains show up as a blurb of green on a map in the southwest corner of New Mexico right outside La Cruces.  From the summit of North Franklin Mountain they sit in the background as an ominous dark shadow.  My first thought was that I would visit and have my hand at night time mountain photography because it is SO dark in this area, but who am I and what do I do?  I’m always going to choose to climb.

The Organs are volcanic in nature and the name is derived from the fact that a major section resembles, you guessed it, the pipes of an organ.

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This range has two established trails; the Baylor Pass trail and the Bar Canyon trail.  The Organs have a reputation for being inaccessible, steep, and rugged.  In addition they are desolate, eerie, creepy, beautiful, and a new favorite.  There are four access points and I chose to start the Baylor Pass hike from Aguirre Springs recreation area (on the east side 32.37180N 106.56163W).  There is a beautiful campground, no people, and so many opportunities for climb-climbing.  I want to return with a partner and climb Rabbit Ears, Organ Needle, Organ Peak, and Baldy Peak.


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When I arrived at the trailhead I was pretty burned out from a huge week in the Guadalupe and the Franklin Mountains and it was already noon.  I made the decision not to run the peak but instead lugged all my camera gear to the summit.  Initially I had no intention of even attempting to summit but once I got to the top of Baylor Pass my curiosity took over and ran the show.

Baylor Peak (7,721’)

6.2 miles/2,400 feet of gain

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look at those topo lines!

Starting up the trailhead there are a few very reassuring signs.  If you don’t get eaten by a mountain lion or bitten by a rattlesnake, you’ll probably fall or get lost, so don’t travel alone. Sometimes I wish I had a partner who was willing to travel and run around like an idiot with me but then I remember how much I enjoy the freedom of being alone. 

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The Baylor Pass trail is well established and smooth up to the top of Baylor Pass (32.3814N 106.57915W).  I am not sure where they came from but there was a family of cows that scared the s right out of me.

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my grandfather was a knight, his name was Sir Loin

Since I was in no rush at all, I took it all in and tried to muster up the patience required to take decent photos.

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This lizard flexed hard by showing me how many pushups he could do.  I was impressed since I’m up to five in a row.

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From the top of Baylor Pass I could see what I thought to be Baylor Peak.  My mind said, “well it’s just right there.”  There was a very faint path leading north to the “summit.”  It didn’t take much convincing to go for it.

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the illusion of Baylor Peak

The trail was not established and difficult to follow.  It became very steep and loose with intermittent sections of easy scrambling.  Every stabbing plant was out in full force and every stinging bug was looking for blood but I didn’t hear any rattle snakes and that is what kept me going.  Like Hansel and Gretel dropped bread, I dropped pins for myself on my topo map app and built cairns because getting off route would have been a pretty serious issue.

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It was not long before I realized what I could see was the false summit and the actual summit was higher and farther away.  I also grabbed a hold of a dead stick covered in small prickers.  That felt really good.

At least the views were nice as I de-thorned my hand.

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From the false summit I remained on top of the ridge until the summit.  There are a few sections to scramble and careful attention must be paid to the plants as they will stab and demoralize you.

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some scrambling

I was so excited to summit and partake in the late afternoon bug orgy.  Good thing I was completely immune to being covered in gnats, flies, and mosquitoes by this point.  I just let them eat me.

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there is a register!

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I am way better at climbing than descending, especially since my ankle injury.  I put my head down and navigated the steep loose sections without incident.  I did get off route once and had to climb back up to the last cairn I had built.  As I said before, getting off route is not an option.

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This is a beautiful area with plenty of challenging terrain.  I loved this impromptu climb.  If you are ever in the area check out the Organs!

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”Don’t be scared to walk alone.  Don’t be scared to like it.”

El Paso, Texas and The Franklin Mountains

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I added El Paso to the itinerary only a few days before I left Colorado and headed to New Mexico.  I was drawn to this particular corner of Texas because someone mentioned the Franklin Mountains.  What kind of mountains could there possibly be in western Texas almost Mexico I asked myself?  The kind that make you question your own sanity is the answer.

I decided to use Airbnb because A) It was far to hot to sleep in my car and B) I don’t feel comfortable sleeping in my car in a city.  If you don’t know what Airbnb is, check it out, it’s rad.  I ended up staying with a lovely couple (Donna and Carey) just outside the city.  Their home was immaculate and I had the entire upstairs to myself.  Donna made me coffee and fruit each morning and we would sit by her pool and chat.  In the evening she let me go outside and cut fresh vegetables from her garden (which is huge).  Anyone who knows me knows that fresh greens are the fastest way to my heart.  It was such a pleasure getting to know Donna and Carey that I extended my stay.

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you have my heart

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So the mountains…..

Franklin Mountains State Park is the largest urban wilderness park in the nation.  It is comprised of 24,000 acres of hot sweaty rugged terrain and encompasses an entire Chihuahuan Desert Mountain Range.


North Franklin Mountain (7,192’)

8.4 miles/2,628 of gain

North Franklin Mountain is the tallest peak in the park.

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I had the worst time ever finding the trailhead, so my brilliant plan to get an early start (which is mandatory in this part of the country) was flushed right down the toilet.  Since I don’t plan things, I rarely get bent out of shape when I find myself lost but this f’er tested my patience.  Iphone GPS failed yet again and took me to the entrance of McKinley Canyon.  In order to climb North Franklin Mountain go to the Tom Mays park entrance off Transmountain Road.  Once I figured this out I thought my frustrations were behind, right? Wrong.  There was no one at the entrance building, no envelopes to pay the 5$ entrance fee, and no trail maps.

After a short run in with some super creepers that came up to me and started asking me all sorts of questions while peering into my car, I decided to drive in and hunt the peak down.  ***Word of advice:  If you are a woman traveling alone and weird men approach you, stand your ground, act like you know where you are and what you are doing (even if you don’t), and have a weapon near by (I always carry mace and a knife).*** If I could carry a gun I would but there are laws against crossing state lines and what not.

Through trial and error I found the trailhead (31.91682N 106.50956W).  It is the first right after entering the park.  From there it is easy to follow.  I took the Agave Loop to Mundy’s gap to the North Franklin Peak trail which leads to the summit.  I started at noon so imagine 110 degrees, zero shade, and I was wearing long sleeve to prevent my skin from burning off my body.  The trail is extremely difficult steep loose rock, perfect for rolling an ankle.  This was one of the more trying mountain summits I have attained because of the heat but it is a dangerously beautiful range.

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On the way down I met three rangers and a police officer, all real cowboys.  We talked for a little while and I exchanged phone numbers with Xavier in hopes that he would climb Mount Cristo Rey with me.  Mount Cristo Rey caught my attention on the drive into El Paso because of a large visible cross on top.  I asked a few employees in Sprouts if it was climbable.  Some said yes, some said no.  After a bit more poking around I learned it sits in New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico making it all the more interesting.  I wanted it bad but was warned that people more often then not get robbed trying to climb it.  Ciudad Juarez is the murder capitol of the world and borders El Paso.  El Paso is safe but again because I am a female traveling alone extra precautions must always be taken.  I did find someone to climb it with but ultimately decided it was not worth it.  None the less the mountain has an interesting history.

After returning to my car, I went and had a memorial day picnic in the park and saw two more rattlesnakes.

I wanted some views of El Paso so I drove Scenic Drive.

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I went back to Donna and Carey’s house and did some pool side yoga before making dinner.  I returned to Scenic Drive to watch the sun set and give night photography a shot.  My camera tumbled down a mountain in New Mexico so the 18-55 mm stock lense I normally use is struggling.  I noticed the most issues with night stuff.  I need a new lense.

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trains everywhere trains

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Mount Cristo Rey

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UTEP


The next day I returned to the sauna and attempt to climb South Franklin Mountain.  I never summited but I did stumble upon “The Window,” completely on accident.  Once again, no planning, sometimes leads to confusion, but always ends in satisfaction.

The Window (6,384’)

2.7 miles/1,400 feet of gain

I started from the Ron Coleman trailhead off of Transmountain Road.  I immediately lost the trail as there are social trails everywhere.  I am not sure when it happened but I found myself in difficult class 3 terrain with twenty pounds of camera gear.  There was some fear but I ended up topping out at the window which presented some nice views.  I could see South Franklin Mountain but could not locate a viable route up.  I had zero desire to do any more scrambling on the unstable desert rock.  The terrain in this part of the park is very dangerous and confusing, exercise extreme caution.  There is also a lot more trash and graffiti.  I took in the local art which included a fifty foot dick spray painted on the side of South Franklin Mountain.  

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look at those topo lines !!!

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the window in the distance

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South Franklin Mountain

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The Window looking at North Franklin Mountain and some toilet paper

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airing out


I wanted an El Paso tee shirt so badly that I spent the next 2 hours searching. Turns out the local Walgreens has the best selection and I got this little ditty for $2.99…boys size large.

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I then stumbled upon vegan pizza which was delicious.

File Jun 02, 7 42 41 PMThe last order of business was to explore down town El Paso.  Donna had told me about the digi wall at the Museum of History.  It is one of two in the entire world (the other one is in Copenhagen, Denmark).  I had to see it.

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The keeper of the digi wall came out and showed me its power.  He then offered to show me around El Paso and gave me a walking tour, history included!

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The last thing I did was walk to Mexico and lose my drivers license.

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I really enjoyed my time in El Paso, culturally it is very different than anywhere I have been in the US.  It is a city with character and the mountains are fierce.

Next, back to New Mexico and the Organ Mountains….


 

“Conformity is the enemy of growth and the jailer of freedom” ~~ JFK

Guadalupe Mountains National Park (Day 3)

Ranger Mike not only knows his park but is incredibly passionate about the outdoors and protecting our planets wild places.  We had many wonderful conversations and his advice on where I should go and what I should see was priceless.  He suggested I climb The Notch via the McKittrick Canyon day use area.  This entrance is 7 miles north of the main park entrance and does not open until 8 a.m., but because I made friends with the rangers one of them came and opened the gate for me at 7:30.

The McKittrick Canyon trail is the best trail I encountered in the park.  It is mostly flat, wide, and rock size is consistent.  It crosses wash after wash after wash and then a pleasant stream until it arrives at The Grotto.  There is very little shade and it was one of the hottest days I experienced.

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this is what hot looks like

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The sun is a different kind of hot and bright in this part of the country making it very difficult to take photos that are not completely washed out.

At about 2.4 miles the trail arrives at a short out and back to Pratt Cabin.  It is worth a look.  In the 1920’s geologist Wallace Pratt bought land in McKittrick Canyon, and in 1959 donated his land to the National Parks service.  Thanks Wallace, sweet cabin!

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The trail continues until it hits The Grotto and Hunter Line Shack at 3.5 miles.  This is where most stop but I continued up McKittrick Canyon Trail to The Notch (6,376’).  The trail eventually leads to McKittrick Ridge (7,716’) and into some deep Texas backcountry. Someday I will turn this into a long run.

All of the 1,800 feet vertical gain comes in a short 1.3 miles.  At one point there are crazy steep steps built into the side of the mountain.  This part of the hike reminded me of Hawaii as it has a very junglesque feel.

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The Notch opens up to a picturesque view.  I could not take a photo that would accurately depict how beautiful it was from this small opening in the ridge.  It was difficult to set up a good shot because the area was steep and far to expansive.

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I continued up the trail a bit farther just because I loved the view so much.

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On the way back I made the short out and back to The Grotto and Hunter Line Shack where I had a snack.

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My favorite plant of the trip is this wiry fake Christmas tree looking thing called Ocotillo that produces pretty red flowers.  It is also a favorite of fist wasp.  Like a two year old, I like to touch things.  For example, I don’t like the taste of rice crispy treats but I love to squish them in my hands.  The whole trip I wanted to bend Ocotillo’s green arms into designs of my choosing, so I tried.  I was immediately stabbed a dozen times.  It is covered in daggers.  If you get the urge to play with this plant, resist….you’re welcome.

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As I drove out of the park a massively colorful stalk jetting out of the desert landscape like a sore thumb caught my eye.  At first I honestly thought it was a radio tower but then I saw multiples so I pulled over to investigate.  My eyes could not believe what lay before them.  That horrid Agave plant grows out a 6-8 foot stalk that produces the oddest looking flowers I have ever seen.  The dead ones are all over the place but this one was alive!

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As a complete and total Biology nerd I had to research how the Agave plant carries out its demon life.

Although it is called the century plant, it typically lives only 10 to 30 years. It has a spread of about 6–10 ft (1.8–3.0 m) with gray-green leaves of 3–5 ft (0.9–1.5 m) long, each with a prickly margin and a heavy spike at the tip that can pierce to the bone. Near the end of its life, the plant sends up a tall, branched stalk, laden with yellow blossoms, that may reach a total height of up to 25–30 ft (8–9 m) tall.

Its common name derives from its semelparous nature of flowering only once at the end of its long life. The plant dies after flowering, but produces suckers or adventitious shoots from the base, which continue its growth.

Well that wraps up Guadalupe Mountains National Park.  I spent the entire Memorial Day weekend in the park and it was void of big crowds.  This part of the country is overlooked giving it a super raw lawless vibe.  It matches my personality well.

Onto El Paso…..


 

When a new day begins, dare to smile gratefully.

When there is darkness, dare to be the first to shine a light.

When there is injustice, dare to be the first to condemn it.

When something seems difficult, dare to do it anyway.

When life seems to beat you down, dare to fight back.

When there seems to be no hope, dare to find some.

When you’re feeling tired, dare to keep going.

When times are tough, dare to be tougher.

When love hurts you, dare to love again.

When someone is hurting, dare to help them heal.

When another is lost, dare to help them find the way.

When a friend falls, dare to be the first to extend a hand.

When you cross paths with another, dare to make them smile.

When you feel great, dare to help someone else feel great too.

When the day has ended, dare to feel as you’ve done your best.

Dare to be the best you can –

At all times, Dare to be!”

-Steve Maraboli

 

Guadalupe Mountains National Park (Day 2)

There was one other mountain I wanted to climb in the park, Hunter Peak (8,368’) and that is exactly what I spent the morning doing.  In 2013 there was a massive flood event which closed down Bear Canyon Trail and access to the Dog Canyon park entrance.  Because I am a runner, Ranger Mike suggested several 19-25 mile loops out of Dog Canyon and for this reason, I must return once it re-opens.  The Bear Canyon trail closure restricted access to Hunter Peak making it 11 miles round trip with 2,800 feet of vertical gain via Tejas trail.  Per usual this deterred people and I had the whole experience to myself.

The morning began as most except I immediately got lost in a wash.  The Tejas trail starts out of the Pine Springs camp ground but the flood took out a nice chunk.  There are cairns that lead you across the wash but I missed them and ended up walking through a bazillion rocks to the visitors center.  I finally found the crossover (31.89810N 104.82517W) and the real fun began.  The Tejas trail is extra loose but the views are jaw dropping.  It was 90 degrees by 9 a.m.

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I had my running pack on so I was moving but so many of the Texas trails are un-runnable because my ankle is in kindergarten learning its alphabets.  My motto is you do what you can with what you have.

At the top of the Tejas trail there is an obvious junction (31.91574N 104.84496W).  Left goes to Bush Mountain, straight continues on the Tejas trail, and right starts up the Bowl trail which leads to the Hunter Peak spur.  There is no sign that specifically says Hunter Peak.  The Bowl is nice and meanders through the high country forest of pine and Douglas fir.  I welcomed the shade.  With a little effort I reached the sign that does say Hunter Peak.  The Bowl continues around in a loop.

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It’s a steep push to the summit which raged with some of the most extreme wind I have ever experienced.  But fierce wind produces action hair!

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In the southwest there are lizards everywhere.  They dart out and try to trip you, they rustle in the shrubs to scare you, and sometimes they do pushups and flex at you.  But they rarely sit still.  On the way out a very special lizard let me put my phone all up in his grill and snap a photo.

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When I was almost back to the wash I passed a group of backpackers and talked with them.  Mid sentence a rattler popped off.  It was in the cliffs above us.  Terrifying.

I went back to camp, ate lunch, and headed out to do a high noon run of the Smith Spring trail.  This short 3 mile loop with 500 feet of vertical gain starts out of Frijole Ranch which is two miles north of the main park entrance.  It was incredibly hot but led to a nice watering hole.

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At this point it was late afternoon but activitying was far from over.  I headed back to camp, packed my camera gear in my Lowepro bag, and set out to do Devil’s Hall.  I heard mixed reviews about this hike from my French Canadian neighbors.  The general consensus was “eh.”  I knew it was not runnable because 80% of the “trail” is the wash.  I really had no idea what to expect but it ended up being my absolute favorite part of Guadalupe Mountains National Park.  This one is a must do.

There is a definite trade off to carrying camera gear.  It would not be a big deal to most but I like to move it move it…I like to move it, MOVE IT!  I am a runner…we like to run and I cant with 20 pounds of camera gear on my back.  Having already had my fill of running for the day I treated this evening exploration as a casual stroll.  Much to my surprise, casually strolling is super lax. Perhaps it was the evening light, the cooler temps, and the night birds song, but I was the happiest I had been in a long time.

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The trail dumps into the wash at 1.2 miles and from there it is a really fun scramble.  Follow the cairns, or as they call them in Texas, “the zen rocks.”

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Eventually the wash leads to an intimidating set of natural stairs.  It is not obvious to go up them but if you want to get to Devil’s Hall, you must.

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Devil’s hall is a passage and there is a sign.  Although there are cairns beyond the hall they ask you please stop because it is a protected wild life area.

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On the way out I found a nice place to sit and try to take a decent photo of a Turkey Vulture.  Wild life photography is incredibly difficult and requires patience.

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The Devil’s Hall hike was 4.8 miles with 1,300 feet of gain bringing my total for the day to 19 miles with 4,600 feet of gain.

With day two successfully under my belt I had a beer and star gazed with my neighbors.  I probably should have tried my hand at star photography but sometimes I have to be present in the moment.  Some photos I only need my brain to take and my memory to process.

Next up…my last day in the park.

“Never did the world make a queen of a girl who hides in houses and dreams without traveling”

Howdy Texas–Guadalupe Mountains National Park (Day 1)

Welcome to Texas, where everything is bigger, right?  I debated how to present Guadalupe Mountains National Park to my readers (I decided by the day) because I spent three and overwhelmed myself with activities.  Regardless, I barely scratched the surface. This is a park I will certainly return to.

From Carlsbad I drove to middle of no where Texas in the rain. Literally, I think the closest “town” is 35 miles away.  Iso-Iso-Iso-lation.  Love it.

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i was wearing my “so much excite face”

I immediately went to the visitors center, picked out my RV spot, awkwardly bungeed a tarp up in a 50 mph wind storm, and made friends with the rangers.  Because the weather was less than ideal, I took a rest day and blogged from the welcome center (they had free wifi, rad)!

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i’m one of those people who likes taking photos of signs

A little history (I watched the video in the visitors center):

The Guadalupe Mountains are an example of an ancient marine fossil reef that formed 260-270 million years ago (that’s a really long time)!  During that time the tropical ocean covered portions of what is now Texas and New Mexico.  It took millions of years to form the 400 mile long horseshoe shaped Capitan Reef.  Eventually the sea evaporated and the reef was entombed in a thick blanket of sediments and mineral salts until one day a mountain building uplift exposed the parts of it we see and can climb today. I mean how cool is that?  This is why we need to protect our planet. Congress designated 47,000 acres of the Guadalupe Mountains for protection under the 1964 Wilderness Act making it the largest wilderness area in Texas.


The next day…game on.  I had things and stuff I definitely wanted to do.  Climbing Guadalupe Peak, the Texas high point (8,749′) was top on that list.

During this trip I went to sleep with the sun and awoke with the sun, which is good because Guadalupe Mountains National Park cannot decide if it lives in mountain time or central time, so I never quite knew what time it was.  I have never felt so healthy and in tune as I did when I was living in this natural circadian rhythm.

I joyfully started up Guadalupe Peak in a heavy fog/light drizzle.

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trail starts right out of Pine Springs campground, so super convenient

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I wore many layers, like I was starting up a Colorado 14er on a crisp morning but it was jungle humid and reminded me of Hawaii.

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The gains were no joke.  Texas trails are sustained steep and loose with zero reprieve. Despite having my heavier camera pack and the difficult trail conditions, I moved quickly and made good time to the summit. The fog lifted as I climbed which made for a spectacular inversion. I later discovered this is rare and I am lucky to have experienced it.

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yay inversion!

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paint brush

I had the trail and the summit all to myself.  In Texas early start times are not a thing, win for me.

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summit

So of course I danced around like a dip shit.

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It was only 8:30 in the morning and I only had one thing on my mind, El Capitan which sits next to Guadalupe Peak.  I am a bush wacker, I see something I want to climb, and I climb it.  Trails be damned!  Unless you are in Texas and then it’s totally normal to be shut down.

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the capitan rejects the pint

I am still nursing an ankle injury.  It’s still shaky situation but I had to at least try to get El Capitan.  Initially I descended off the wrong ridge because the terrain appeared a little more lax.  It was not, and dumped me back onto a switchback of Guadalupe Peak trail.  I then re-climbed 400ish feet to attempt the other ridge I had been eyeing.  I broke out my one pole and started the most disgusting bush-wack of my life.  Immediately, I was stabbed by that horrid Agave plant.  Injected in the calf with an inch long dagger, I stopped on the ridiculously steep slope, broke out my first aid kit and pulled the thorn out with tweezers.  I could not get it with my hand because it has a super slippery outer texture.

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i hate you

This is a rather large one, the smaller ones hide themselves, are easier to brush up against, and have stabbers equally as terrifying. I was making little progress as the desert shrubbery is impossible to navigate.  I was zig-zagging at the same elevation which went on for eternity.  Next I ran into an Agave that stabbed through my shoe. Once again I had to preform thorn removal precariously perched on the side of an unforgiving slope.  But on-wards I stubbornly continued, fueled by determination.  I then heard the unmistakable sound of a black tailed rattle snake. Nope.  I slowly climbed out of hell back onto the trail where I proceeded to re-roll my ankle.  Winning!  It popped back and only hurt for 5 seconds, YAY!

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I tucked my tail between my legs and bopped back down to camp listening to my favorite playlist.  Rejection is a funny thing, it only hurts when you don’t try.  Guadalupe Peak and my failed attempt at El Capitan gave me 9.6 miles with 3,500 feet of gain.

I made lunch at camp and decide more exploration was in order.

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i’m a classy gal

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pasta and veggies…i eat like a queen

I made friends with one ranger in particular, Mike, who is lovely. He advised me to go do the Salt Basin loop trail via an old road a little ways outside the park.  I had a hard time finding it but when I did I was very pleased.  Coordinates are 31.86331N and 104.83668W. Once again I had the whole place to myself.  This loop gives incredible views of El Capitan and Salt Basin.

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old trailhead worth finding

This was one of my favorite trails.  I was able to find some scrambling and sit and eat snacks while enjoying tremendous views.  Some of my best times in the park did not come from planned activities but from random things Mike suggested.

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mean muggin’ El Capitan

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salt basin

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glorious moments in time

This loop is 5.2 miles with 900 feet of gain and was on the more runnable side of trail I met in the southwest.  Ranger Mike later shared these photos with me, taken from an area I ran through.

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look closer…..

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pissy

I went back to camp and made friends with all my neighbors.  My first day in the park was a delight.

“Real freedom lies in wilderness, not in civilization”

 

 

Carlsbad Caverns and the like…

Blogging while adventuring is incredibly difficult.  I have hundreds of photos to go through, rarely have wifi, and quite frankly I would rather be activity-ing.  But alas my friends the adventure of the pint continues…

I left you in the Sandia Mountains, from there I went to Bottomless Lakes State Park in Roswell, New Mexico.  I used to watch the television show “Roswell” so I was excited to see the city.  It was quite normal sans alien everything, everywhere.

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everywhere….

Bottomless Lakes State Park was an absolute s-show to get in and out of because of extensive road work in the area.  The Bottomless Lakes are a chain of eight lakes that are actually sinkholes ranging from 17 to 90 feet deep.  They were formed when circulating water dissolved salt and gypsum deposits forming subterranean caverns. Eventually the roofs of the caverns collapsed under the pressure of their own weight and filled with water forming the existing lakes.

I had lunch before going on a high noon run in the hot desert sun. The reward was a half hour swim in Lea Lake (the only one they allow visitors to swim in).  I have mixed feelings about state parks. Some are gorgeous and well maintained while others are riddled with trash and graffiti.  This park was full of rowdy street youths.  I cut my run in half and spent 45 minutes picking up trash.  If you want to party in protected natural places, clean up after yourself, it’s that simple.

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it’s vegan

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after being viciously attacked by an angry gang of horse flies

From Roswell I drove to Brantley Lake State Park which is just south of the town of Artesia and about 20 miles north of Carlsbad. I chose to camp here because the RV joint in Whites City (right outside Carlsbad Caverns) got terrible reviews.  I hit the jackpot, my camp spot was perfection.  There was a large covered picnic table and I had a prime time view of the lake which is at an all time high.  I have grown very fond of picnic table top yoga. My view as I cooked and yoga’d.

File May 28, 6 50 58 PMFile May 28, 6 48 19 PMIn the morning I went to Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

DSC_0371The cavern is the kind of place where a person can really hear themselves think.  I did the entire walking loop and ran back up (there is an option to take an elevator but I don’t pass on vert, especially not the opportunity to run out of the interior of the earth).  I believe the whole endeavor was around 4 miles with 1,200 feet of gain.  I walked nearly two miles into the earth which I am still trying to wrap my head around!  Human beings are inherently self driven and therefore incredibly self centered. Nothing will compare to how small and insignificant I felt standing below the massive Stalagmites.  The entire experience was truly humbling.

A word of advice, if you are a photographer and want really good photos, take your tripod. I was wearing my small running pack and had my Nikon in my hand.  The cave is VERY dark, meaning I had to shoot at a higher shutter speed, meaning I had to hold the camera super steady and I have very shaky hands.

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entrance

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the only flash photo I took, going down

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whales mouth

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column

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stalagmites

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stalactites

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big room

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aragonite crystals

Once I was done getting my cave on I went and talked to the ranger about possible running/hiking trails in the area.  We came up with Slaughter Canyon, but first I needed some lunch.  I went to Rattlesnake Springs and made myself noodles and proceeded to pass out in the shade for about an hour.

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all to myself

The ranger warned me I would not be running Slaughter Canyon, she also warned me of some evil plant (called lechi leechi, century plant, or agave) that sends people to the emergency room by injecting an inch long thorn strong enough to puncture a car tire into the shin bone.  She even made a point to bring me outside and show me what it looked like.  If you follow my journey I will document my numerous run-ins with this hellacious beast (I wasn’t stabbed until Texas). I would be lying if I wasn’t saying in my head, “clearly she doesn’t know what I am capable of running” and, “plants don’t scare me.” Well….this was my first experience with desert “trails”….and…there was no running.

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road to slaughter canyon

File May 28, 6 54 02 PMThere was no one at the trailhead.  It was the definition of desolate.  It was 90 degrees with zero opportunity for shade. I started off with a light jog and immediately tweaked my ankle. The trail was comprised of every sized loose, polished stone.  I settled into a fast hiking pace until I hit the flowery field of doom. Here is where I first encountered the “fist wasp” as I so accurately named it.  This thing is as black as my hair, the size of a fist, and flies directly at your face.  There were hundreds of them.  I run for many reasons, sheer terror is not one of them, but on this day it was.  I never found out what fist wasp actually is, but it definitely pollinates.  It got to the point they didn’t phase me anymore.

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field of terror

The desert is full of the most horrifyingly beautiful species of plant and animal and I am pretty sure I encountered it all.  Incredibly difficult terrain is an understatement.  I did an out and back through the canyon but decided I wanted more vert so I hiked up to the barred off Slaughter Cave.  Here the rangers give tours of the Christmas Tree formation for an extra fee.

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looking down on slaughter canyon

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I absolutely love New Mexico.  Stay tuned because next is Texas.  I can’t wait to share the Guadalupe Mountains with all of you ( :

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there’s more to come….

“I’m attracted to your rawness, your unguarded way of living.  There’s life in that.”

Albuquerque’s Backyard: The Sandia Mountains

Today is a rainy travel day, so I decided to relax, drink some coffee, and write about my time in the Sandia Mountain Range which backs up against the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico.  This range looks unimpressive from the road but once I went in, well mind blown.  The La Luz trail is rugged and lonely…just the way I like it.

I stayed at the Turquoise Trail Campground on the east side of the range, meaning it was a bit of a drive to the trailhead but well worth it.  For 18$ a night I had a nice little camp spot, with electricity, clean bathrooms, a hot shower, laundry, wifi, and Bradley and Deb who run the place are the kindest people I have ever met.  A large group of college students surrounded my site a few hours after I arrived.  They were very loud and I needed to wake up early to climb.  Deb allowed me to pull my car in a quiet RV spot and I had a wonderful (albeit cold) night of sleep.  During my two night stay I got to know Deb and Bradley and deemed them my new favorite people.  I am learning that this road trip is not just about the things I do but about the people I meet.

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that camp life

food

culinary camp artist

The goal was to climb Sandia Crest Peak.  I ended up summiting Sandia Crest Peak and Sandia Peak due to an unforeseen snow/ice event.  Read on my friends, this is one you don’t want to miss.

Sandia Crest Peak (10,678′)

Sandia Peak (10,378′)

13.4 miles

5,300 feet of vertical gain

6 hours

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the mess I made

I started at the La Luz Trailhead on the northwest side of the mountain (35.21966N 106.48073W).  It was a chilly morning but I melted away miles as the birds chirped and the woodland creatures yelped at one another.  There are a lot more birds in the desert and they are far more colorful than in Colorado.  I enjoy bird watching. I carried my new Lowepro bag which holds all of my camera gear.  At some point I will do a review.  I cannot run if I carry my camera gear, so fast power hiking was the name of the game, although this trail is very runnable…until…we will get there.

There is actually an infamous trail run that does the La Luz trail in its entirety.  Will I be back to run this?  You bet!

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The surrounding terrain is stunning.

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shark fin

I became obsessed with that shark fin looking thing. There has to be a route up it?

Around five miles in, things changed.

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3 more miles of treachery

The trail went from dry and easy to follow to the most dangerous hard packed ice-snow I have ever encountered.  Traction was a must and I did not have any.  To make things even nastier the trail switch backs up (straight up) a boulder field, so the ice and snow precariously covered loose rock.  My progress slowed to a snails pace and all my attention went towards keeping my ankle safe.  It was also necessary to keep from slipping off a cliff.  I guess they lose a few people on this trail every year (that’s what a ranger told me).

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the start of the difficulties

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stairs of death

It basically got worse and worse until I finally topped out in the parking lot of Sandia Crest Peak, you can drive up this mountain. There is also a large restaurant and gift shop on top.  What is so crazy is the La Luz trail is about as back country as you can get and then boom urban decay.

summit

viewGoing back down the La Luz trail was not an option, self preservation.  After a brief conversation with a ranger I decided to take the tram down.  The Crest Trail brought me through two miles of absolute slop to the summit of Sandia Peak which also triples as the top of the Sandia Ski Area and the top of the tram ride.

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Sandia Ski Area

I believe the best adventures happen when nothing goes as planned.  If I did not hurt my ankle, I never would have taken this trip which has been amazing.  If there was not treachory on the north side of the mountain I never would have stumbled upon the radical tram ride down.

tickettramThe last thing I needed to do was connect the bottom of the tram back to the trailhead where my car was parked.  Conveniently enough the Tram Trail does just that.  This tacked on another 4 miles and 1,000 feet of gain.  I ended up with nearly the same mileage and more vert for the day.  This makes for a happy halfpint.  Also the desert is in full bloom which is hard to describe stunning.

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I stood atop only to come back down.

flowerAfter some much needed food and a little picnic table top yoga I decided to head into Albuquerque to try my hand at night photography.  It was absolutely tornadic, complete with lightning bolts to the head but it was fun running around the empty city trying to get “the shot.”

skyline

wittle skyline

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Until the next time my friends…stay tuned ( :

“All I want is an open heart on an open road”

Exploring Santa Fe

It was a little hard for me to settle into the idea of exploring Santa Fe.  The mountains are always calling.  Having had the biggest mileage/vert week since my ankle injury, and planning some bigger climbs in the coming week, a rest day was in order.  In the end I am super happy I wandered Santa Fe, it is a very unique city.

image1 Santa Fe

So there is this church, The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi and it is gorgeous.  It was top on my list to see.  I made three passes before I actually got in (strange hours and mass) but did not take any indoor photos out of respect, although I think you can.

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Church door

Next, I climbed to the top of Cross of the Martyrs Park, there are nice 360 degree views.  I imagine this would be a great spot to watch the sun set.  At the top is Fort Marcy.

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At this point I had been up for a while and wanted some coffee and food.  A quick google search produced Betterday Coffee Shop, an off the beaten path hipster joint.  The latte was great, the super dank vegan burrito was even better, but the music was the absolute best (ya Tupac).  They also have nice restrooms, strong wifi, and an interesting flow of patrons.  I met a older man who told me to go check out Loretto Chapel.  It did not open until 10:30 in the morning so I killed more time in downtown Santa Fe.

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Shops, restaurants, and weird art make up Santa Fe.  I aimlessly wandered around as I waited for Loretto Chapel to open.

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I am not sure about other days but on Sunday’s there are vendors selling jewelry and art EVERYWHERE.  I found some beautiful $130 rings and laughed out loud about spending that kind of money on something I was guaranteed to lose.  There was a lot of activity in the center of the city at Palace of the Governors.

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My last stop was the Loretto Chapel and it was well worth the three bucks to get in.  Back in the day the chapel was a Romen Catholic church, now they do weddings and pack people in like sardines.  But it’s beautiful, seriously, and there is an epic stair case that enshrouds a mysterious construction.  It is a miracle I was able to snap a few photos sans people.

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And that’s the fast and fun way to do Santa Fe.  Now back to the mountains……