End of Winter on Mount Tecumseh

Winter hiking comes with it’s own unique challenges, depending on how popular the trail is and how recently it has snowed you may need different gear. This was my first winter hike and I only own microspikes so I tried to find information online and while there are some good sources you have to make the call yourself. I decided to risk it and drove myself and my dog Behr the 2.5 hrs from Boston to the White Mountains to hike Mount Tecumseh. Mount Tecumseh is so named for the leader of the Shawnee Native American tribe.

The hike begins from the Waterville Valley Ski Resort parking area. It is an out and back trail, in the off season you can hike down the ski trail instead but not in the winter! It is listed as 5.2 mile hike, however, my fitbit said I hiked 4.75 mi with 2,450 ft of elevation gain. Mount Tecumseh is a 4,003 ft mountain. Given the amount of elevation gain in such a short distance despite it being a well made and wide trail for the most part it is very steep and a lot of work on the calves, especially in the snow! My 9 year old dog plowed ahead of me while I trudged along behind him.

We had fun hiking this trail, I’m slowly trying different trails throughout New England and trying to hit all 48 of the 4K mountains in NH. Afterwards I tend to reflect and decide for myself if it’s some place I’d like to revisit. While I had fun hiking this trail and it’s a good trail, it didn’t blow me away of have enough points of interest for me to likely hike it again any time soon.

Mount Tecumseh

4,003 ft mountain
5 mi, out and back
2,500 ft elevation gain
dog friendly

Hiking Humpback Rocks Blue Ridge parkway trail in summer with friends and making fallen trees our playground

Hiking Humpback Rocks and Driving Blue Ridge Parkway

To leave Shenandoah we drove the last part of Skyline drive stopping at any overlooks that interested us and continued straight on to Blue Ridge parkway, another scenic drive across the mountain tops. We had planned to stop early in the drive and hike to Humpback Rocks.

We stopped by the visitor center poked around and also changed as it was turning out to be a beautiful morning. We then drove over the the trail head and parked. This hike is short but with a decent amount of elevation gain. Alexis and I soon found ourselves ahead of our friends so we stopped at a bent over tree to use it as our personal playground while we waited for them to catch up.

Once at Humpback rocks we lingered at the view, took a lot of photos, and had a snack. Then we headed back down to continue our long drive. We made several other stops along Blue Ridge Parkway and it quickly became later in the day, the weather also grew wetter and foggy so we were driving carefully. There are a limited number of places to get off the parkway so we found ourselves leaving the area late and in the rain. Since we didn’t have a campsite booked for the night we decided to stay in a hotel instead of setting up in the rain.

Humpback Rocks

Milepost 5.8 on Blue Ridge Parkway
2 miles out and back hike
700 ft elevation gain

Shenandoah National Park Skyline Drive Overlook

Old Rag Mountain and Luray Caverns

After some obsessive planning May saw myself and a few friends heading on a road trip through Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and back through Virginia along the Appalachian Trail.

We planned things down to the minute using Excel / Google sheets. We estimate distance and time for travel, time spent at each location and costs of each little piece. Of course life doesn’t quite work that way but it was nice to have a plan! I also created information sheets on each location we were going too which for some places was key.

As we began our road trip with a first 8–10 hour drive we were all in good spirits despite a forecast of rain for our entire trip!

Shenandoah National Park is basically along one mountain top winding road, Skyline drive, with overlooks and trails along the way. You can enter at the top, middle, or bottom; those are the only entrances / exits. We started at the top and did all the overlooks before getting to our campground. We stayed at Matthew Arm Campground, a more primitive site in the park because we arrived on a weekend and the sites were busy.

This was not my first visit to Shenandoah and I will say the drive gets to me, I don’t love driving on winding roads with lots of cliffs so I hadn’t thought I’d be back. In all reality, since it isn’t too far from where I live, I will probably be back again one day. However, I will enter the park in the middle (Thornton Gap) next time. The only thing I will miss is the overlook Range View which has beautiful rolling hills.

Shenandoah National Park

Old Rag Mountain is NOT off Skyline drive, you have to approach from outside the central park area or exit. A pass is still required for parking.
9 mile loop hike
2,355 ft of elevation gain

Shenandoah National Park Skyline Drive Overlook
Shenandoah National Park Skyline Drive Overlook

We ended the first day a bit early after the long drive. We had a busy schedule for our days in Shenandoah and ended up missing quite a few hikes we planned because there was so much. We did not end up making it to any of the sunset hikes, often due to rain and total exhaustion / laziness.

We started early the next day and almost made sunrise…

Shenandoah National Park Skyline Drive Overlook just after Sunrise

Our next hike is part of Shenandoah National Park but you have to exit the park at Thornton Gap to get to the parking area. We drove to Old Rag Mountain parking. Old Rag Mountain from what we had read is a 9 mile hike with 2355 feet elevation gain and we had set aside 8 hours to hike it (we were running a little late). It was unclear if this mile total included the walk from the parking lot to the trail head. In the end my Fitbit (using my phones GPS) said we hiked 9.4 miles. At the end of the trip this was still a favorite hike in our group and our longest (in miles walked) day!

The greenery was both very similar to home and not. There are a great variety of ferns, a large amount of wild rhododendrons, and other differences.

We started the hike with the knowledge that thunderstorms were expected around noon so we wouldn’t want to be on the top of the mountain then. We all prepared with rain gear and set off.

We had hoped during our visit for some May flowers but found only a few type in bloom while we visited.

As we got closer to the rock scrambles this hike is famous for we started to believe we were near the top. While out of the tree line at this point we were not actually that close to the summit yet. At first the view was a bit cloudy. Given the weather the fog that gives the Smoky Mountain range it’s name often rolls through in different patterns creating different levels of visibility. While hiking along the mountain ridge there were making views of the surrounding country side. To one side we often found trees and fields with peoples homes, and the other mountain ranges.

I don’t have a great photo of it, but one of the scrambles often seen when researching this hike is this, it’s a narrow space you have to climb down into. From above it looks much deeper than in this photo. There is an arrow pointing down on the rock that is very literally telling you where to get down, there are almost stairs in the rocks to help you so it isn’t very difficult.

With frequent rock scrambles, stairs, and other formations we continued to wonder were the actual summit was. We finally made it to the summit with some rushing as we got nervous the closer to noon it got but luckily the rain held out.

Afterwards we took a short rest, hopped in the car, and drove back through Thorton Gap to the exit on the other side of the mountain range and visit Luray Caverns. Luray Caverns is the largest cavern in the eastern US and a popular site to visit. It cost $28 and you join a tour which leave above every 30 minutes.

The caverns are full of these beautiful formations throughout. The tour guide gives information about these particular caverns, general information on how they are formed, and little spots to stop along the way with stories. They ask you not touch the formations to help preserve them for future generations.  Sadly our group was not as respectful as we might have hoped and we often found ourselves telling both adults and their children not to touch. The images of the caverns with reflections in a popular stop and photo of Luray. The small pools of water create these very realistic looking reflections.

Afterwards we headed back into Shenandoah. We found the road getting foggier and foggier and we got back into the mountains. This turned out to be the scariest part of the trip, we were in white out conditions and barely able to see in front of the car. We drove in the middle of the road to avoid the cliffs and barely 5 mph. I would highly recommend getting back early to avoid this!

Luray Caverns

101 Cave Hill Road,
Luray, VA
Open 9:00 – 6:00
A tour is about 1 mi and 1 hr, $28.00 / adult

Autumn on Mount Major

Mount Major in New Hampshire on Lake Winnipesaukee is known for the view at the top and it does not disappoint. This easy 3.8 mi hike to the top of a 1,785 ft mountain is worth the trip no matter your skill level. The hike itself has as easy gradual incline at the beginning and picks up a little more toward the top but I would never consider it steep.

A few friends and I decided to check it out during the fall 2017 to see some foliage. While there was not a large variety of foliage along the hike when closer to the tree line there was more color. At this point some of my friends decided to play in the trees.

Once you reach the summit the view in one direction is mountains with beautiful fall foliage and the other direction is the lake. When continuing on the looped trail it can be a little confusing to find where it continues, you do have to go past the old lookout spot and find the trail on the other side.

Mount Major

1,785 ft mountain
3.8 mi loop hike
1,148 ft elevation gain
dog friendly

Couple at the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve in San Diego California

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

While in San Diego in May 2017 Alexis and I decided to visit Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve for some beautiful coastal scenery and to take a few photos of ourselves as well. It took us a while to find our way there, one of the roads had been closed and we had to drive in a large circle to get to the park but it was worth it! Upon first arriving it was a very cloudy day but the sky cleared up and made for some beautiful photos.

Torrey Pines for me was just one of those places; where it’s hard to stop taking photos because everything is breathtakingly beautiful and creates a space for this feeling of calm, peace, and contentment. I wish we had spent more time here but we had to get to Balboa Park and see the dinosaurs before the Museum of Natural History closed so we did about 1.5 miles in 1-1.5 hours.

Torrey Pines is named so for the endangered Torrey Pines that are common throughout this protected landscape. We found an endless amount of lizards running around in the area during our visit.

I used a trigger release and my trip to take photos of Alexis and I anticipating a beautiful location (you can kind of see me clicking the release in some photos).

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

12600 N Torrey Pines Rd,
La Jolla, CA (near San Diego)

Trail Map
2,000 acres
No dogs, smoking, food, or drones allowed

Antelope Canyon slot canyon walls in Arizona

Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and Bryce Canyon in a Day

On Saturday we woke up in Zion National Park and packed up our campsite to head to Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and Bryce Canyon National Park. We had a tight schedule to keep and lots of driving to do. Antelope Canyon is back in Arizona and there is a time change so we planned accordingly and get to leave a little later.

Antelope Canyon

To visit Antelope Canyon you have to schedule a tour ahead of time, especially if you want one of the prime times. Antelope Canyon is made up of two parts upper Antelope Canyon and lower. Upper is where you may get to see the famous light beams. Most website will forewarn you it is a very popular tourist destination, crowded, and you will be moved through fairly quickly by your guides. We used Adventurous Antelope Canyon tours, getting a good guide has less to do with the company per say than it does with luck and we got lucky. Our guide was not there to rush us, even when pushed to by others, they all help set camera settings but he also showed us his favorite angles for photos and took our pictures for us. Lower Antelope Canyon is said to be less crowded, as are many of the other slot canyons in the area, if that is the experience you are look for go to a different canyon. That said Antelope Canyon is as beautiful as the famous photos we’ve all seen.

A side note, I did NOT do one of the photography tours. They do not allow guests who do not have professional cameras and I was visiting with my fiance. Those on the photography tour were given more time and the area was cleared to help them get the shots but once they set up the guides counted down from 30 I believe or lower and they only had those seconds to shoot before moving on.

We did briefly catch a light beam on the way out. The guides take you through slowly on the way through and let you take photos, on the way out you are supposed to experience the canyon without taking photos, which also helps move you out of the way of others. These are the only photos I got where you can kid of see the light beam, the photographers were stopped in this area and shooting.

Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend Arizona

Horseshoe Bend and Lake Powell are very close to Antelope Canyon so we did the short hike to Horseshoe Bend afterwards before deciding to drive to Bryce Canyon (back in Utah and with a time change again).

Horseshoe Bend is a very crowded location and out in the hot sun, they warn you to bring water and you should! It is such a strange formation and way for the water to have moved we took some time exploring here but not too long since we had more driving and a time change ahead of us.

Along the way we saw a small dinosaur museum off the highway and decided to stop. It was full of an assortment of dinosaur foot prints from Utah, some fossils, native artifacts, and a rock collection.

Fossilized animal
Dinosaur food prints

We made it to Bryce Canyon around 4:30 pm and checked out Sunrise point and then Sunset point. We tried the short hike Navajo loop there only to find half of it was closed from rock fall and have to turn around.

These strange sandstone formations are called the hoodoos, they were created by and are changed each year from the spires freezing and then thawing. Melting snow gets into the cracks in the spires and freezes at night, when water freezes it expands which enlarges then cracks making them wider.

After this we headed back towards California with San Diego as our next destination. In California we did much more relaxing and visiting friends but I will have a few more photos!

The Hoodoos in Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

Just to note, I would never recommend spending so little time at all these locations and so much time traveling in one day but sometimes a road trip calls for it! I can’t wait to get back and get to spend more time in this part of the country.

My boyfriend proposing to me at the top of Angels Fall Landing trail in Zion National Park

A Day in Zion National Park hiking Angels Fall Landing

For our second day in Zion National Park we tried to wake up early and start Angels Fall Landing in the morning, but it was a cold morning and we slept in a bit. Heading out we followed a path with beautiful views to the second bus stop on the shuttle. We picked up the shuttle and headed back to the fourth stop from the previous day. We had turned left to go toward Emerald Pools and today we were turning right to head towards Angels Fall landing. Angels Fall Landing is about a 5 mile hike round trip, it is not a loop, you hike up and back down the same trail.

We got stopped early in our hike by a ranger who was mapping out the area and waited a few minutes to continue up.

For those of you who haven’t heard of Angel’s Fall Landing its a scary hike, you need to have good balance and not be too afraid of heights (you’ll see why below). At least hundreds of people a day if not more hike the trail. The beginning is just switch backs up the mountain and fairly easy. It is paved though so it’s harder on your calves!

Eventually you hit this area closer to the end of the “easy” part with shorter switchbacks that are a bit steeper and the sandstone has been made to look like bricks. Once you reach the top of this area you are at the beginning of the real nerve wracking and challenging part of this hike.

There are signs along the way warning you not to do this trail if your balance is off, you are scared of heights, have the right shoes, and so on. They also let you know that 7 people have died in the last 9 years on this trail, 15 since the trail opened. Until this year (2017) it had been 5 years since a death. The trail has had a reputation as one of the deadliest in the world but each year people flock to the trail. They do really try warn you off with the signs and warnings on the bus rides. The trail is on sandstone with cliffs on one or both sides of you the rest of the way up. There are people passing you in both directions and you often have to pause to let others pass, even while holding on to chains or in the way of others. Over the years they’ve added more chains and carved the stone more to help with footing.

The “hump” looking edge of that mountain is part of the trail (after we’d already done some of the trail). From what I had seen before taking this trail I was pleasantly surprised that there was often only a cliff on one side of you, I had expect cliffs on both sides of you the entire way. I’ll admit I have a mild fear of heights so when planning out this hike I knew I might turn around at some point.

Towards the peak of the trail where you would turn around and head back there are cliffs on both sides of you. Right before this point I stopped to rest under a random tree here and psych myself up for doing the end of the trail. Being so close and seeing the trail was a bit wider than I’d expected I pushed myself through to the end.

It’s at this point that my boyfriend proposed. He had clearly been trying to decide where to propose all day, so thinking this was a big accomplishment and a beautiful location he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him.

This hike is both not as hard as you imagine and just as hard. If you plan on doing it have the right gear, a healthy dose of fear but not too much, and good balance. The hardest part is often just the sheer number of people on the trail, be courteous and I suggest start the trail early before it gets too hot!

Bridge over the Virgin River in Zion National Park Utah on the trail to Emerald Pools

A Late Afternoon in Zion National Park

When heading to Zion National Park we didn’t have camping reservations but we were lucky enough to have friends also going. They left Vegas before us and waited in line forever to get a campsite which we were lucky to join. The National Park campgrounds fill up fast!

We left Vegas a bit later in the day and got to Zion in time to visit the Visitor’s Center, set up camp, and do one of the shorter trails.

We took the shuttle down to the fourth stop where the trail to Emerald Pools began, you can also get off at the 3rd stop but that trail to lower Emerald Pools was closed due to rock fall. This version of the trail is about 3 miles if you do lower, middle, and upper Emerald Pools.

On our way up the trail we had beautiful views of the Virgin River and the canyon. The Virgin river is very small but it has carved it’s way through the entire canyon and still removes tons of debris each year. We ran into our friends Rachel and Chad who we were camping with on their way down from the trail and said hello but continued on.

A bit further along we ran into a woman who quickly shushed us and directed us to look up off the trail a bit. There we could see a mule deer. Mule deer are very common at Zion and not too afraid of humans. On the bus we had seen them next to the edge of the road as well. Continuing on the trail we visited lowers pools, then middle, then upper and hiked back down the same trail.

Zion has a highway running through it and it’s gates are open all night because of this. After our hike we decided to check out the small town we had passed on the way in. Outside the park you will find a bunch of cute stores for souvenirs, a grocery store for food to cook over the fire, restaurants, and hotels. It’s a really cute area and made it even more fun to stay here since there was a variety of things to do at night.

Campground dog sleeping outside or tent all night at the Havasupai Reservation

Backpacking out of Havasupai

Saying goodbye is never easy. We found the experience no different when leaving the campground at Havasupai. We rose early to pack our things and begin backpacking out of the canyon before temperatures rose. I found Kumkuat (the honorary name we had given one of the dogs who live here) sleeping outside our tent where he had apparently been all night. Not enjoying our packing he kept trying to distract me lying on top of the tent as I broken it down trying to get me to pet him. He visited everyone while they packed trying to distract them until as we were finishing up he left.

Not eager to leave but concerned about backpacking in the full heat of the sun we set out by 6:30am for the village. The two miles to the village uphill in full sunlight with the packs weighing us down was not an auspicious start to our journey, even though it was cooler this time. We stopped for a short rest on the trail and one last viewing of Havasu Falls, here we were greeted by four sleepy dogs who had chosen the path way as their bed. They took a liking to Alexis became his companions, following him as far as the village. Before we continued on a mule train passed us along the way heading down to pick up their load.

Our last sighting of the Havasupai falls and cascades along the way was a sad and it felt like a final goodbye. As we left this otherworldly place and headed on we knew more adventures were ahead of us but that what we left behind would be sorely missed.

We all struggled through the first two miles of the hike at different paces. Meeting up again at the same village area where we had checked in. A few of our group had stopped to inquire about having mules carry the bags out, but they require 24 hour notice. The general store had frozen Gatorades, other drinks, snacks, and ice cream so we all grabbed a cold treat and continued our trek.

The rest of our journey was a struggle for most of us. Carrying our heavy packs back up out of the canyon. What is easy to forget with the excitement of the journey to Havasu Falls is how the entire path there is either slightly or significantly down hill, and more often than not involved walking on sand or little stones which makes for challenging footing. Leaving as well as having to hike uphill this time had our spirits down a bit. We often split up all moving at our own paces and stopping frequently.

When we started the final ascent, 1.5 miles uphill with switch backs, at this point in midday sun, despite it all we were relieved to be able to see the finish line. We passed frequent travelers and mule trails on this part of the trail.

After our long hike out of the canyon we grabbed snacks from a woman selling chips, candy, drinks, and hot dogs at the top then began the drive to Las Vegas, NV. Vegas was just a stop in our journey to rent a hotel, shower, and eat some real food. Then we would continue on to Zion National Park in Utah.

Lower Navajo Falls on the Havasupai Reservation

A Day at Havasu Falls, Fifty Foot Falls, and New Navajo Falls

For our last full day at the Havasupai Reservation we decided not to plan out our day but let it take us where it would. There are many other trails in the area but we wanted more time to enjoy our stay without rushing to try to see everything. In the morning Rachel, Myle, and I set out to explore the two falls we had seen while hiking into the campground.

First we had breakfast with the group at our campsite. The Havasu Creek ran on both sides of our site and we had beautiful views. A small wooden plank lead us across the Creek on one side and on the other we had a picnic table in the water.

Fifty Foot Falls

Then we hiked up, a bit later than was ideal given the sun and heat, toward the first falls we had seen on our hike in, passing Havasu Falls along the way. In many photos you can see the stunning travertine formations all along Havasu Creek.

A major storm a few years ago changed the waterfalls. Two old waterfalls dried and two new waterfalls were made. This includes Fifty Foot Falls and New Navajo Falls (the first you pass on your way down or last you pass on your way out).

New Navajo Falls

After spending a chunk of time photographing and enjoying Fifty Foot Falls we moved on to New Navajo Falls. These falls appear split in two, the middle doesn’t have any water flowing over the travertine formations any longer.

Here I decided to experiment with a quick conceptual photo. We ended up timing our visit to this falls with a group who was watching their friend propose at the same location. My friend Myle was kind enough to model for me and then I also jumped in a took a few with myself as the model.

Havasu Falls and the Sweat Lodge

On the way back towards the campsite we found the guys hanging out by Havasu Falls. We took a quick group photo but were missing Rachel. She had wandered off by herself towards the village and ended up metting back up with us at Havasu Falls. She had been invited to a spiritual ceremony by one of the locals. We all decided to check it out and headed back up towards the Reservation.

Here Roland Manakaja explained a bit about the reservation and the sweat lodge ceremony to us. They invited us each in groups to sit in the sweat lodge for 10-20 minutes; they don’t keep track of time. During this time you are supposed to sweat out all sickness, they sing healing songs in their native tongue. They only sing four refrains, too many is considered asking too much. They also told stories and explained their stories of coming to this location, being invited by god to kill the first buffalo and how to use it well, loosing the animal tongues, and such. They ended by singing more songs of harvest and the sun and moon. Traditionally they would repeat this experience four days in a row, they now usually do it four times in a row the same day. We all took a turn once, thanked them, and headed back to camp for dinner.