Day 8: Rocky Mountain National Park

For the last day of our adventure, we decided to do the 7 mile loop up to Loch Vale. After an amazing breakfast of blueberry pancakes, eggs, and bacon at the B&B, we took the shuttle to the trail head, and started our trek up into the mountains. About a mile into the hike, we passed by Alberta Falls.
After a quick breather, we pressed on. Along the way we stopped a few more times for Nate so he could get footage for his project.
When we were almost to the lake, we turned the corner and ran into our friend Michi who we'd met in undergrad! I had known she was going to be in the area while we were there, but what luck to randomly run in to someone you know halfway across the country.
Right as we got up to the lake, another thunderstorm plowed through. Luckily we found another overhang to sit beneath. I didn't mind resting in the rain at all. When the lightening struck, it made the most amazing and scary noise as it echoed between the granite cliffs. It was a sound I'll never forget. We stayed underneath our overhang until the lightening stopped, and then started our hike down. It didn't clear up until we were about halfway back down the mountain.
It was a tough hike, but we had the motivation of knowing we were going to have some indian food for dinner when we got down to keep us moving.
We were a little sad too that our trip was almost to an end. We both agreed that if we were to do it again, we would spend twice as much time at rocky mountain and arches, and extend our trip by at least a week.
We waved goodbye to the park, and headed into Estes Park for some dinner. Indian food really hit the spot!
After walking around for a while downtown, we headed back to the B&B and made good use of the outdoor hot tub. The stars were out in full force, and there was a thunderstorm to the north of us lighting up the sky. It was the perfect way to end our adventure.

Day 7: Rocky Mountain National Park

After a good night's sleep at Aspenglen Campground, Nate and I had a wonderful breakfast of chocolate and banana pancakes. We packed up our gear and headed out on our hike. We did a 5 mile loop that took us to nymph lake, Dream Lake, and then Emerald Lake. After we got to the first lake, a thunderstorm came through, and we stopped under some boulders to take cover. After it died down a bit, we pressed on to Emerald Lake.
It was beautiful at each of the lakes, but Emerald lake was the prettiest of the three. It was too bad it stayed overcast the rest of the day, at least from a photography standpoint.
We stuck around for a while at the lake, and then made the hike back down the mountain.
When we first started planning the trip, Nate insisted on our staying at a bed and breakfast for at least part of our time, so we decided that there was no better time to do so than the last few nights. We stayed at the Gilded Pines right outside of Estes Park. The convincing part for me was the jacuzzi, swedish showers, no TV policy, and the huge breakfasts. When we got to our room after the hike, we cleaned up, and headed into Estes Park for dinner at the Wapati Grill. Nate had pulled pork, and I had some spicy (even for me) fish tacos. It was a wonderful day, but the long uphill mountain hike wore me out. I think I set some sort of world record for instantaneously falling asleep. :)

Day 6: Arches National Park

We were up early again to catch the sunrise and hike while the temperature was bearable. We were one of the few people at the park again, and we decided to hike to Landscape Arch first. On the way there we ran into another doe that was right on the side of the trail. We just slowly crossed each others' paths and moved on.
The arch was beautiful, we got there right as the sunlight started to get bright, and the moon was starting to set on the horizon. After the few mile hike, we decided to hike to Sand Dune Arch. This turned out to be a wonderful idea.
The hike to the dune meandered between large sandstone rock walls. It was nice and cool, and the ground of the thin valley was covered in fine orange sand. We had the trail to ourselves, and took our time getting there.
The arch itself was hard to get a decent picture of because I don't own a wide angle lens, so the best I could do was a shot of the side of it.
We stuck around for a while just relaxing before heading back to the car. Just as we were leaving the trail two giant busloads of high school kids got dumped at the trailhead. Perfect timing! At that point we headed back to Moab, packed up our gear, and hit the road towards Rocky Mountain National Park. It was a rainy and traffic filled drive through the mountains. As we started to head north of Boulder, the thunderstorms finally passed to the northeast of us. It was right as the sun was setting, and the light caught the thunderhead perfectly.
It was dark by the time we finally made it in to Estes Park, and we stopped for a quick pizza before heading to our campsite in the park. It was a bit of an adventure setting up our tent in the dark, but we got it up nevertheless and crashed for the night - our bellies full of delicious hawaiian pizza. :)

Day 5: Arches National Park

This may have been my favorite day of the entire trip. I got an amazing photograph (that I'd been planning to get from the beginning of the trip), got to explore a nearly empty national park, ate some delicious thai food, went to a yarn store that was right next to said thai restaurant, and then went on a hike to a swimming hole right as temperatures reached about 106 degrees outside. So much fun!
We got up for sunrise, and this is 'the shot' of the trip -- Turret Arch as seen through North Window.
Turret Arch Through North Window at Sunrise Turret Arch Through North Window
To get to this vantage point I had to do some creative rock climbing. There was another (super pro) photographer there that morning, so it was fun to chat about what we'd both already gotten shots of. We waited about 40 minutes for the sun to come out from the clouds, and it did for about 2 minutes before it went away again. Right as it came out a woman decided to stand right under the arch. Arrrgh! Luckily, she got axed by photoshop, bet ya couldn't tell!
After doing the short hike around the North and South windows, Nate and I headed to Double Arch to explore.
My 'explorer' pose:
Exploring under Double Arch
It was still before 7am at that point, so Nate and I had the place to ourselves. Arches was amazingly quiet and desolate. This was probably mostly due to the fact that we there so early. It was also nice going early because we missed the heat of the day.
Double Arch:
Exploring under Double Arch
There was no one else there when we got to the bottom of double arch. It was so peaceful and awe inspiring at the same time. Just so you can get a sense of the scale of the place, here is a shot of me under the front part of double arch:
Exploring under Double Arch
You can't even see the top of the front arch! After hanging out at double arch for a while, we went over to Delicate Arch. We had decided to do the upper viewpoint trail instead of the trail that goes right to the arch - it was starting to get pretty hot outside at this point. We were glad we made that decision. The trail was pretty easy, and there was a bunch of slickrock to the right of the viewing area. The rangers discourage people from going off of the trails unless you are on slickrock because it damages the ecosystems. We hiked the slickrock to the east of the viewing area for about a quarter mile, and were on the edge of a giant bluff with an awesome view of the arch.
Delicate Arch from Upper Viewpoint
There is no way to convey the scale of this shot. We sat down for a while to enjoy the view and I spotted a doe mule deer and her fawn frolicking around in a dried up creek bed. It was really amazing to watch them from our far away vantage point. The fawn was hilarious, you could tell it was just learning to jump because it bounced around like a super ball, unable to really control its direction. When we finally started to get a little hot, we headed back into Moab for some lunch. We had some amazing thai food at a restaurant that was a little bit off the main-street path (not a tourist hub like most places in Moab). There was also a cute little yarn shop next door! What luck! :)
After lunch we decided to hike to the Mill Creek Swimming Hole - a fun detour that is off the beaten path as well.
We hiked along mill creek for about 25 minutes until we got to the swimming hole. The water was nice, clean, and cool, and the whole area was in the shade. Unfortunately, we were too busy swimming for me to take pics of the actual swimming hole. There was a nice waterfall there as well. We hung around for about an hour and a half, and then hiked back to the car. That night we made some chicken, corn on the cob, and some smores. We slept like rocks!

Day 4: Mesa Verde and the Drive to Arches

The second main stop in our adventure was at Mesa Verde, which is right between Sand Dunes National Park, and Arches National Park. Nate had to drive in the park, the roads going up and around the mesas were 'hairy' as another couple we met from Wisconsin described them. It wasn't hard to spot the Wisconsinites, as soon as they leave the state, they are permanently donned in some sort of Wisconsin apparel (packers or badgers..). Sometimes people would be shocked when we magically knew they were from our home state. :)
Mesa Verde is a pretty neat place to stop through, unless you are afraid of driving on cliff sides. I am usually fine with heights, but for some reason driving on cliffs scares the bejesus out of me. Nate was fine driving though, which was funny because he is usually petrified of heights. I'm glad we are such a good team- hah.
Mesa Verde - 004
We went on the Cliff Palace Tour, which was alright, our guide wasn't the greatest, she had a poor storytelling ability... The best part about the tour was getting in and out of the cliff houses. We had to scale the sides of the cliffs via ladders and skinny ledge trails - my forte! (not so much Nate's....)
Mesa Verde - 009
Along the cliffs you could also see the original cliff dwellers' "paths" of footholds to enter the cliff houses. They were gutsy!
Mesa Verde - 007
There were a few of the cliff houses you could peep into as well, this one was in the cliff palace house, and it still had some of the original paintings on the walls.
Mesa Verde - 001
All in all, it was a pretty fun stop. If you are ever in the area it is worth the detour. I would recommend to do the tours early in the day -- after about 10 am it starts to get really hot, and really crowded. After we left, we hit the road for Arches National Park.
Mesa Verde - 006
It was nice to hit some flat and straight roads after all of the curvy cliff driving! On our way I was telling Nate that the last time I drove through southwest Colorado I saw a handful of dust devils. About two minutes later, we were driving through a valley, and I noticed a crazy amount of birds flying all around. Then we saw a huge dust devil that was moving parallel to our car. It was so cool, you could see it winding way up into the sky. It was like seeing a tamer version of a tornado. There was a bunch of debris (pieces of roofing and siding) swinging around it as well. It jumped right over the valley we were driving through, almost over the top of us, and then we lost sight of it. Pretty darn cool if you ask me.
We arrived unscathed to our awesome campsite in Moab, and set up our 'home away from home'. Isn't it just so cozy looking??
We decided to just lay low for the night and relax. It had been a very exciting day. :)

Day 3: Sand Dunes National Park

On the third day of our trip we drove from Colorado Springs to Sand Dunes National Park, set up our campsite, and hiked to the top of the Sand Dunes just in time for sunset.
The view was well worth it.

The hike to get there was grueling to say the least. Going uphill on loose sand is no fun. Each time we thought we were close to the peak, we would get to the top of the ridge and see about five more ridges!
For each step you would take, you sunk back about a half a step. Here is Nate trying to keep up with my unreasonable pace. :)
When we reached the top, and the reward was well worth it!
We were two of the four people at the summit as the sun set. It was so beautiful and quiet. We were a little tuckered out though...
The hike down was much easier despite the swarms of mosquitoes. We made it back to our car right as it started to get really dark, and drove to our campsite that we had set up earlier that day.
The campground we stayed at was extremely desolate, and there were only a few other campers there. That night we could hear coyotes for miles. It was a pretty amazing day.

Day 1 of the 'western trip': the drive to Colorado.

These are some snapshots from our drive. The first is a thunderstorm that we followed from northeastern Colorado. We decided to stop and have dinner and hope the storm blew over us - which it did. This is it as it passed just south of us
Clouds - 001
We had a very disappointing dinner at a local bar & grill as we watched the storm pass us. When we got our plates, the steak fries looked delicious (read: greasy) and when we bit into them it turns out they were soggy and not awesome at all. They were like eating wet undercooked potatoes. At least we knew the food couldn't get any worse from there!
After our quick dinner, we pressed on towards Colorado Springs. When we were about a couple of hours away, we stopped again to take pictures of the sunset. The big storms had just went through, and the fields were glowing against the dark skies. It was so beautiful!
Sunset - 011

Sunset - 008
Sunset - 004