Friday, March 25, 2016

Itinerary: Colorado | March 25-28, 2016

The first thing I do when I turn 26? Travel to Colorado for four days. Not a bad plan to ring in my birthday, right?  It's March 25 and I'm a year older which my body has been sending me subtle reminders of for the past few weeks. Why is it suddenly harder to roll out of bed each morning? Is this some correlation as to why my daily consumption of coffee has skyrocketed? Who knows.

Colorado is a very special place to me and was an important milestone in my mid-twenties growth period. I recently lived for six months in a tiny town called Granby, located at some 8,700ft up in the snowy Rocky Mountains, working a seasonal job at a local YMCA ranch and indulging fully in the glorified ski-bum lifestyle. It was one of the best, beneficial experiences of my life that I'm so grateful for. I met some of the most inspiring people I now call best friends and got to explore the west. I've been back in Wisconsin for alittle over a year now and there hasn't been a day that's gone by where I've thought about CO. I miss it dearly, and now I'm going back. It's hard to find the words to describe just how important Colorado is to me, and how insanely stoked I am to return.

The itinerary is fairly flexible, with skiing happening at Winter Park and Granby Ranch mixed with tons of reunions with familiar loyal faces and continued exploration. Hopefully I'll be able to check out a fascinating wildlife refuge, Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge outside of Denver, which has been on my adventure bucket list. Per usual the airline of choice is Southwest who I'm begging not to loose my brand-new cherished pair of skis. Colorado here I come! It'll be so good to be back in the valley and my home-away-from home.

Side note, do not bring a multi-tool that fits in your wallet through airport security, when TSA sees there's a blade on it, they get pretty mad. Whoooooops.   


Monday, March 14, 2016

Happy 113th Birthday, National Wildlife Refuge System!

Today's an important day for the National Wildlife Refuge System, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The system turns 113! On March 14. 1903 then legendary conservationist and President Teddy Roosevelt declared a three acre island off the east coast of Florida a safe haven for egrets, pelicans and other birds that were at the time being hunted for their feathers (plumes) to be used in ladies' hats. Fast-forward a century later, the NWRS has grown to protect some 150,000,000 across 563 designated refuges and 38 protected wetlands. Some 46.5 million people visit national wildlife refuges and partake in numerous outdoor recreational activities from kayaking, hiking, photography and hunting. They're essential for the study and protection of nearly 280 endangered and at-risk species and many serve as a key check point for migrating birds and butterflies. By the numbers. refuges are home to 220 types of mammals, 250 species of reptiles and amphibians, 700 varieties of birds and 1,000 kinds of fish. Like our national parks, national wildlife refuges are so important and beneficial to our lands. I volunteer at one each week, Horicon National Wildlife Refuge, located on the top portion of a 33,000 acre marsh. Why? Because after spending time exploring its never-ending, undisturbed beauty and seeing first-hand how big of a positive impact it makes on the species and surrounding environment, I felt it was a must to give-back.

Take advantage of these stunning places. I'm pretty confident you'll do some of the best hiking and adventuring you'll ever do, could be done in a national wildlife refuge. There's a  refuge in every state, find your nearest one and go explore: 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Bryce Canyon National Park, UT

So to recap, on this epic trip thus far I've been to three of the five national parks in Utah. Starting off with Arches, Canyonlands, recently Capitol Reef and now Bryce Canyon. Months before taking this adventure, friends and family who had also luckily had the chance to get out to Utah constantly harped about Bryce. "Dude you've gotta get to Bryce" or "The Hoodoos will blow your mind," were common remarks that came up in travel conversations. More on what a Hoodoo is later in this post. After checking out Calf Creek Recreation Area's massive waterfall, I continued on Utah State Route 12 towards the towns of Cannonville, Tropic and finally Bryce until I arrived at the park entrance.

What's the biggest difference about Bryce Canyon National Park compared to its siblings? The elevation. At its highest point, Bryce sits at 9.115-ft. The temperature here in the evening were definently a bit more chilly than other parks. The park itself is close to 57-miles long and you'll need at least two days here to see soak it up. Some of the best hiking I did out in Utah happened at Bryce. And I regret not spending more than two days here. A good friend and coworker from the Wisconsin DNR is spending a few nights backpacking there this spring which makes me insanely envious.

Start off by parking north of the General Store and descend almost a thousand feet into the amphitheater littered with thousands of pink coral-colored rocky daggers, aches, hoodoos and formations joined by a fleet of junipers. Hike along the upper rim trail until you get to Sunrise Point and dip down along the Queens Garden Trail which eventually connects to the Navajo Loop Trail. Combining these two trails allows your for a few hours of awe-filled exploration as you meander through the slot canyon that is Wall Street and past landmarks like past Silent City and Thor's Hammer. One of my favorite surprises of this park was just how rich in trees Bryce was. Green, giant junipers and bristlecone pines everywhere! I want to hug all of them. This high desert and its pallet of colors intrigues your mind.

Okay, what's a hoodoo? According to the National Park Service, said hoodoo is a tall -up to 150-ft-, skinny spire of rock protruding from the bottom of arid basins and broken lands. Hoodoos are often seen in the High Plateau region of the Colorado Plateau and in the Badlands regions of the Northern Great Plains. Read more about them here.

The best tip I can offer, is that during the day, the trails aforementioned above can get obnoxiously busy and crowded...but for whatever reason once the sun starts to hide- they're a ghost town. During sunset I had the entire iconic amphitheater area to myself. Maybe the cold freaked people out but getting to hike among the glowing hoodoos under a Utah sunset claims a spot in my award book for the most beautiful things I've ever seen.  Looking back at the pictures below I can't help but just 'Wow'. Take your absolute, sweet, merry relaxed time and stay in the amphitheater until it's dark. This could be the most memorable thing you do in any Utah national park. Bury yourself deep in the hoodoos once that sun starts to fall west.

In the morning, get in your car and drive the 18-mile long Rim Road Scenic Drive which takes you south you up to the highest point in the park, Rainbow Point. Here you'll really get a prized view of the grand amphitheater, Utah's Paunsaugunt Plateau which Bryce sits atop of and the wash of forests below. On the way back, stop at all the viewpoints and overlooks, especially the 85-ft Natural Bridge for a few great pictures. Bravo, Bryce Canyon, Bravo. I'll be back very soon.