Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Happy Holidays!

Hello! The holidays are here and steaming through in full-gear.

How was your Christmas? Was it filled with snow and endless amounts of cookies? Hopefully Santa brought you a few goodies and you all were able to spend some quality time with family. My two younger brothers and I spent about five days back at our parents home. It was a full house and it was wonderful. That prolonged time together  with all five members of my immediate family was the best present I received this year. When shopping for Christmas presents, at the very last-moment per usual Robby, I decided to focus on a theme of 'getting outdoors.' So I bought everyone annual admission stickers to our incredible batch of Wisconsin state parks and forests. Needless to say it was a big hit with everyone. My brothers and parents were stoked, thrilled to have unlimited access to all these cool places to adventure in until the end of 2017. I've always advocated that giving the gift of exploring is always an excellent and meaningful act. Plus, since Wisco has a self-sufficient park system, the funds from every sticker sold goes right back to supporting the state parks and forests. It's a win-win. If you're looking to buy a 2017 Wisconsin State Park online, you can do it here. My middle brother and his girlfriend recently also share a common lust for traveling, having lived in Spain for numerous months teaching English and recently trekking around the Midwest too. To my surprise, neither one of them own a tent. That changed on Christmas morning when Chris smiled when he saw his very first tent. I wrote "Home is where you pitch it" on the candy cane colored wrapping paper to spark some enthusiasm. Tents also make perfect gifts. You don't need to give a super expensive backpacking tent, rather, a simple basic starter tent from Walmart or Target is a reliable fit for casual camping a few times each year. My first tent I ever had was a two-season, cheapo $40 Coleman four-person tent I bought from Walmart and it lasted great for quite a while! Whether it be fore the holidays, a graduation or birthday- helping someone get into the outdoors and making it easier for them to recreate is an amazing gift. Which reminds me, I need to think of something to get myself for Christmas this year. Maybe a new kayak I can take on overnight paddle trips? Or more rock climbing gear to set top-rope anchors at Devil's Lake State Park once this summer rolls around? Maybe another annual pass to access all the U.S. National Parks, Forests, Recreation Areas and Wildlife Refuges? We shall see.

So 2016 is wrapping up and coming to a fast close. I mean, let's be honest, this year just flew by crazy quick. There are a lot of great things I'm looking forward to next year. Lots. I'm counting down the days and eagerly awaiting 2017 because it's a new year of adventure and personal growth both personally and professionally. There will be a blog post about that with new year's resolutions and the annual adventure trip bucket list. Thanks for continuing to follow along with my travel blog the past year...traffic to the blog continues to rise and I do very much appreciate it!



Friday, December 23, 2016

Zion National Park, UT

Whoa! So I realized I've had this post sitting in my drafts file and haven't yet published it. Better late than never. Enjoy! This is a segment from a past trip I made out to explore Utah's five stunning national parks.

Last but not least on this grand, Utah adventure is Zion National Park. It's Utah's biggest, most-visited and oldest national park...and it's definently a winner. It's called the "heavenly city," and at a whopping 229 square miles, you can't stand in one part of this park and not awe at its triumph. Unfortunately I didn't get to spend anywhere close to enough time here than deserved, mostly because of the crowds. In 2015 alone, Zion drew some 3.6 million visitors or some 9,863 people per day. That was my single biggest complaint about Zion, it was way too crowded for my liking. But this didn't stop me from exploring. Next time I return to Utah, I'll go during the way off-season to Zion to avoid the hordes of selfie-sticks and strollers.

Zion is crazy-beautiful. It's a massive set of canyons filled with waterfalls, rivers, thriving forests and vegetation and other surprises. Many upon many viewpoints and look outs, you just stare between the canyon's towering, copper walls and ask yourself, "Is this real?" I drove in through the east entrance to the park, coming from Bryce Canyon earlier in the week. You cross the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway which weaves through the national park, straddling along side some of the tall walls as you descended downward to the park's headquarters. I hopped on the free shuttle (yeah public transport, thanks for providing that!) and headed to the trailhead for Emerald Pools Trails. The hike doesn't take too long as you climb higher into Heaps Canyon. The terrain becomes denser with thick vegetation and gorgeous trees, not to mention  jaw-dropping views. Oh those views, so, so, so epic. I spent about 90 minutes exploring the Lower, Middle and Upper Emerald Pools. It's definently a surprise when you reach the top Upper Emerald Pool, quietly placed in the shadows of skyscraper-high cliffs above it. It's tranquility will definently move you. I headed back down the trail towards the Lower Emerald Pool, where the trail takes you behind a few waterfalls pouring out from the Middle Emerald Pool above. Super cool.

I had hoped to hike up Angel's Landing next but signs and alerts throughout the park noted it was closed. Bummer, sad face. The plus side of that however, is that it allowed me to divert more time to a particular hike I had been looking forward to accomplishing this entire trip; The Narrows. The Narrows at Zion is one of those hikes that are just legendary. The type of hike you tell stories about to all of your family, friends and future kiddos. You hike in-and-out, wading through the Virgin River that carves through the narrowest part of the canyon. According to the National Park Service, walls on either side of the gorge you pass through reach up to a thousand feet tall. You've got two options for tackling The Narrows, going from the bottom-up and vice-versa. The later requires a permit to do so. I started at the base of the Temple of Sinawava area and hiked a few hours upstream. It's an incredible hike- just so, so, unique and fun. Your'e crossing parts of the river by hopping across rocks or wading in the water up to your knees or even waist at times. Being October, the water was moving at a moderate to slightly-quick pace in places and the temperature was freezing. Totally worth it! I went up probably a little over three miles into The Narrows (making it a six-mile return trip) before the sun started setting. It was like you're in some dream. Every bend you peak around is just this massive display of impressive rock. You can see where and how the Virgin River changes depths and speed, eroding away the canyon's sky-high walls. It's like an on-going art museum. The colors and shapes of the canyon walls are constantly changing. If you're going to hike The Narrows bring three things: a walking stick or hiking pole (trust me you will need this), a down jacket or warm layers if you're hiking in the fall (once that warm sun goes down and you're still in the river up to your waist you're at risk for hypothermia, yes, even in the desert) and solid hiking boots. Even waterproof boots will get soaked through. Oh and bring your camera, you're going to want to snap a million photos. DO THIS HIKE!

Thanks for a fun day Zion, I'll be back again soon.



Sunday, December 18, 2016

That Time I Got Charged By a Bison

So you know what are really cool? Buffalo. Buffalo are awesome. A few months ago however, I got charged by a big buffalo. It was both terrifying and fascinating, yes, fascinating. Thankfully quick thinking kept me out of a potential search-and-rescue call.

(While they are technically bison, the term buffalo is also used in today's culture so I'll be dishing out this post using both words).

This past fall I made a trip out to the Dakota Badlands and Black Hills, a jaw-dropping part of the country that I often find myself dreaming of. I spent days at Devil’s Tower National Monument, Wind Cave, Badlands and Theodore Roosevelt National Parks. All five places above required me to limit myself to the amount of superlatives I used to describe their sheer amazingness. When I was at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, I spent a full-day hiking in the Northern Unit of the park, just twenty-miles shy of Watford City, North Dakota. This region of the national park is much quieter, remote and sees way less visitors. All three pre-requisites I envy for. The northern section of the park is also home to the Theodore Roosevelt Wilderness, a primitive wilderness area in the national park.

When I was hiking, I saw a big bull (male bison) grazing (which they do up to 11 hours a day!) off in the distance, probably if I had to guess maybe 15 minutes away. Close enough to be cautious yet far away enough to continue on. The path I was on, the Buckhorn Trail, took me farther away from the bison, so I kept on trekking. Going into the hike, I was aware that yes, there would be wild buffalo hanging around as it’s their home. Cool, I didn’t have any intention of bothering any of them or encroaching on their turf too closely. They’re majestic animals that I adore. I’d rather observe them from a safe distance and let them roam free than end up like one of the many foolish tourists who purposely provoke or take selfies with them and end up getting seriously injured or killed. Idiots.

But sir buffalo didn’t seem to particularly agree with my presence, even from afar. I looked over my shoulder about ten minutes later and saw he was walking towards me at a moderate pace. I continued pressing forward along the trail. Minutes later, I glanced again and he was even closer. “Cool. I’m getting stalked by a massive bison. I’ll just keep on walking away from it and not bother him,” I thought. The situation grew more serious. When I crossed through a small gulch through the Squaw Creek and climbed to the top, I turned around and he was only probably 30 feet behind me at the top of the other side I had just gone down. We made eye contact and in a flash of a second, he charged. Grunting and running towards me at full-speed down and up the gulch. I panicked on the inside and took off running for my life. I remember just hearing grunts and heavy clambering of his feet on the dusty ground. I found a branchy juniper tree and crawled as far into it as I can, getting scratches all over my arms. The bison ran past the tree and down the trail, while I cowered in the juniper waiting. I happened to have my camera in my hand while running so as soon as I hid in the juniper, I was lucky to snap a photo of him running by. I remained crouched there, for probably ten minutes after he ran by. Patience Robby, breathe, breathe, compose yourself. My heart was racing at a million-beats each minute. I just thought back to when I lived out in Colorado, where they told us that the best way to survive a moose charge (and I saw plenty of them on guided snowshoe hikes I led with families) is to put yourself between it and a tree, so I hoped that would be the similar solution with said bison. I would think this could work during the majority of bison charges if there are good trees around… but they’re crazy fast and agile… and if they do get to you- you’re getting hurled up high in the air, gorged or trampled. Cover your essentials if this is your fate. Was I scared? Oh hell yes, it was absolutely alarming. But it was just, just, just mind-blowing to see a giant, wild animal jump into a sprint.

So let me put some numbers on paper real quick…a bison can run more than 40mph, can jump up to six-feet vertically and weigh between 1,000 and 2,000 pounds than. Some are also taller than I am, and I’m 6’2.  a I’m a big fan of bison, they’re my favorite animal and recently, the Department of the Interior agreed. As of May 2016, the bison is now our National Mammal! Yeah! America! P.S. you know what’s really funny to watch? When a buffalo rolls around in a crater of dirt to help shed some its thick fur coat and thwart off some flies. It’s called wallowing.

Want to learn some even more rad facts about bison? Check out this list from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s blog.

There’s something intriguing and moving about seeing buffalo in their natural habitat. They’re strong, bold animals with an unstoppable amount of power. I feel like I could just sit and watch them for hours, well…I kind of did that when I was at Badlands National Park a few months ago and it was like a dream. You should probably do that too.


Thursday, December 8, 2016

Iceland 2016: Driving An F-Road [Video]

So one of the bunches of reasons you should always opt to rent a capable 4x4 when traveling, is that you get access to some of the bumpiest, craziest and yet most serene roads you'll ever drive on. In Iceland (otherwise known as the most beautiful place on Earth), there are countless detours off of Route 1, 'The Ring Road' that take you to small towns, along scenic fjords and up mountain passes. There are also F-Roads, rough, rugged roads only accessible via a vehicle with high-ground clearance and four-wheel drive. In fact, you have to have a 4x4 by Icelandic law to drive on an F-Road. Here's a video I took of me driving an F-Road in Sn√¶fellsj√∂kull National Park. The whip is a Suzuki Jimny 4x4 with a proper manual-transmission. Oh! And since I've had a few requests to write a blog post on the cars I saw in Iceland, that's coming up soon. Stay tuned.



Tuesday, December 6, 2016

2017 Free Admission Days to All U.S. National Parks

A new year marks a new year of getting out and visiting our nation’s awesome national park system. It’s also a new year for free days from the National Park Service at all of its 413 properties. While I 100% advocate and strongly encourage you to purchase an annual 'America The Beautiful' National Parks Pass (in which all funds go directly back to support the upkeep and preservation of our parks), this list of fee-free days is perfect for someone looking to try-out a national park for the first time. If you’ve never been to a U.S. national park, now is the time. Across all fifty states and beyond, there are tons of national parks, monuments, historic sites, lakeshores, recreation areas....oh the list goes on and on! With over 400 options to choose from, you can definitely find something that fixes your taste for adventure.  If you’re going to visit anyone of the NPS places for free, do consider making a small donation in return as a meaning of thanks. These are our vast public lands we're lucky to own and have the ability to recreate on. We owe it to go and support them and experience their sheer, raw beauty. Here’s the upcoming calendar for free admission days:

January 16, 2017- Martin Luther King Jr. Day
February 20, 2017- Presidents Day
April 15 to 16, 2017- National Park Week Weekend
April 22 to 23, 2017- National Park Week Weekend
August 25, 2017- National Park Service Birthday…they’re turning 101 this year!
September 30, 2017- National Public Lands Day
November 11 to 12, 2017- Veterans Day Weekend

Miss out on a free day? Fear not, there are over 275 places run by the National Park Service that don’t charge an admission fee at all every day of the year, like the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site right outside of Badlands National Park.

So get out there and go #FindYourPark, I know I plan on making a trip down to Big Bend National Park in Texas, the Grand Canyon and hopefully out to the PAC-northwest too to check out Olympic or North Cascades National Parks.



Sunday, December 4, 2016

Natural Bridge State Park, WI

If you’ve been following along with the past few posts about traveling about Wisconsin, you’ve hopefully realized a key message coming across- we have some truly hidden gems of state parks here in the cheese state. Recent visits to places like Aztalan, Havenwoods State Forest, Buckhorn and Perrot State Parks have flat-out wowed me. We really are lucky to have such a diverse array of places to explore- which leads me to my next trip, Natural Bridge State Park.

You’ve got arches and you’ve got natural bridges. In essence they’re the exact same thing and each type of rock formation can look almost identical to each other. According The Natural Arch and Bridge Society, a natural bridge is a type of arch usually noticeably created by way of strong, flowing water underneath. A natural bridge can also be classified as such if the top of it is flat like you’d see on a man-made bridge, whereas most arches are more curved at their peak. Whatever you want to call these geological masterpieces, they’re incredible to see up-close in person.

I’ve actually seen probably a couple dozen natural arches and bridges across the country predominantly out west, especially in some of Utah’s national park properties like Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef and Canyonlands. Then there’s the motherload at Natural Bridges National Monument which is SO cool. But good news for us Wisconsinites, we don’t have to even get on an airplane to see one! We’ve got a great, small state park just outside of Baraboo that preserves one.

Natural Bridges State Park is nestled away, hidden in the wooded Baraboo Hills a.k.a Aldo Leopold’s stomping grounds (one of my absolute favorite areas in the state). This state park has been on my bucket list for years now and gosh I’m glad I went to check it out. It’s home to the largest sandstone arch in the state, spanning some 25ft high and 35ft wide. It’s beautiful and bold, carved away by means of air and water erosion. Park at the main lot and hike about ten minutes into the tree line to reach the arch. Your mouth will drop in amazement, I can guarantee that. At the foot of the natural bridge is a dark, cave or rock shelter where ancient artifacts from Native Americans found by archaeologists in 1957 dating all the way back 10,000-12,000 years ago. It's one of the earliest document sites of human occupancy in the nation. Please, don’t climb up on the arch because you’ll be damaging this fragile stonescape, but do take loads of pictures.

There are four easy hiking trails throughout the 530-acre, including some on the farmland side of the park across the road, you can tackle when you’re finished drooling over the big natural bridge. My favorite is the Indian Moccasin Nature Trail, an interpretive trail that continues on from the natural bridge, taking you back, deeper into the park past signs that describe the almanac of various trees and vegetation you’ll walk past. Fun fact, juniper berries when crushed and dried can be used to relieve cough and urinary blockage. Yep, learned that one. The trail traverses the wooded hills and if you look out through the collection of tall trees, you’ll see big bunches of big rocky boulders protruding from the hillsides. I capped off the hike by checking out the viewpoint at the terminus of the trail. The sun was slowly setting, flooding the forest with a soft orange glow and everything around was silent. I admire and appreciate that kind of solitude in the outdoors. It was a nature geek’s paradise. I’m very grateful for state parks like this. You win, Natural Bridge State Park, you win.