What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
Fulford Cave sits in a national forest near Eagle, Colorado. It’s huge! The entrance is an awkwardly-angled pipe, but once you’re past the uncomfortable wiggle down the aluminum ladder, the cave opens up into several enormous rooms, passages and even a waterfall. I climbed and explored for around three hours, and didn’t even reach the halfway mark. Places like this are astonishing for how well hidden they seem. Walking around the forest, you’d never suspect there’s such a cave right under your feet.
Describe a typical day:
I wake up when the sunlight has become too bright to ignore through the walls of the tent. My boyfriend and I do an hour of yoga, eat a bacon-and-egg breakfast, wash dishes, pack up the tent, and are on the road by the crack of noon (getting up early is not our forte).
We drive three to four hours per day, stopping along the way to photograph brilliant gold aspen trees covering the mountains. We listen to podcasts and audio books, restock the cooler, and curse our GPS for freezing up and leading us the wrong way. We hunt down camping spots as far away from paid campgrounds and people as possible–back country solitude is the name of the game. Nights are for camp fires, hot tea and music through our portable stereo.
Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local:
On our second day of the trip, we noticed we were eating breakfast inexplicably alone in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park. As we approached the park exit, our trip literally came to a screeching halt as we found a ranger’s truck blocking our path.
This is when the ranger told us the government had shut down. All the national parks we planned to visit over the next two weeks, including the Grand Canyon, Arches and Zion National Parks, would be closed. The ranger seemed incredulous that we were just learning about the shutdown, but I’m sure my shock factor was way higher. We had to completely redesign our itinerary after that conversation.
What do you like about where you are? Dislike?
On one hand, spending more hours brainstorming places to go and looking up maps and directions mid-road trip was a pain. But on the other hand, having the main attractions closed prompted us to find the lesser-known wonders of the southwest that we otherwise would have overlooked. The region holds so much undiscovered beauty: slot canyons, natural hot springs, red rocks, and even a castle. What would we have missed by staying on the traditional tourist path?
Describe a challenge you faced:
My boyfriend heard of a natural hot spring forty miles south of our camp in Sedona, Arizona. After driving twenty miles on a rough dirt road, I cringed as we cleared the last rocky bump into a campground. Because sunset was fast approaching and we wanted to find the springs before dark, we got out of the car and speed-hiked another mile up the nearby stream. We reached the springs with barely a twinge of daylight left in the sky; the only problem was that the springs were across the river, and there was no bridge in sight.
We tried gripping hands and taking cautious steps across the river, but three steps in, we fell and got soaked by the strong current. Intuition told me this was not the safest idea, especially with impending nightfall and my swimming skills not up to life guard quality.
Luckily, the people already soaking in the springs shouted across the river to us and directed us to a shallow crossing upstream. We waded safely to the other side, where we were rewarded with steaming pools and a sky bursting with stars.
What new lesson did you learn?
I learned to appreciate the incredible, vast landscape where I come from (Denver area, Colorado). After traveling in Asia for a year, I’ve come to recognize that the southwestern US is a special place to be treasured and protected. Not everywhere in the world has this kind of openness. I’m grateful for wide views of the sky, clean air, and access to back country hiking and backpacking.
Somewhat bittersweetly, my travels have come to an end for now. I’ll be living and looking for work in Denver–but who knows when the travel bug might bite me next.