Oh, Canada: Banff National Park

Oh, Canada: Banff National Park

Exploring the city was fun but we were feeling ready to head back into the forest. In hindsight I feel like Banff was a happy medium- more remote than the city but still very commercialized for a forest and natural resource. The campgrounds in Banff National Park fill up very quickly during summer, but I was lucky to score 6 nights in the park’s Trailer Court Campground when I booked our reservation months ago. Our site had full hookups which was great because we got quite a bit of warm weather during our stay and we were able to run our air conditioning. It wasn’t my favorite campground because sites offered little privacy but it was still a nice stay in the park. We felt a bit compelled to stay indoors more often because of poor air quality advisories and looming smoke from a forest fire in nearby Kootenay National Park. Although the smoke hid the mountains and kept us from some of Banff’s amazing scenery, we still tried to make the most of our visit.

On our first day in the park we hiked the Johnston Canyon Trail to the lower and upper falls. In was after 5:00 p.m. so we had no trouble parking in the large lot at the trailhead. About a 1/4 mile into the trail we saw people grouped up taking pictures of something across the stream. Then we saw it, a large black bear. Unfortunately, I was not quick enough to snap a picture of the bear as it climbed up from the water and disappeared into the thick forest vegetation. I was surprised we spotted a bear on such a heavily-trafficked trail but was thankful for the experience and a safe viewing distance.

The falls were gorgeous and well-worth the easy hike. There are many places to stop along the river for photographs and a few benches, logs, or large rocks suitable for sitting and taking a break.

The beginning of the trail is paved but further in becomes gravel and even further includes stairs. Overall this trail is not accessible but I saw a few people who had strollers, one person with a cane, and one person with a rolling walker. I admired the person who was using a walker but felt awful seeing them struggle somewhat to get their wheels over rocks and ruts in the trail. I recently read someone’s rant on social media about how paved trails and handrails ruin the naturey-vibe in nature. It was pretty disheartening to read. This person obviously doesn’t know anyone with a disability and I doubt they have considered what it would feel like to be essentially denied access to nature’s most grand attractions because there were no walkways or handrails. To this day I’ve yet to find a paved trail or handrail that stood in my way of a experiencing a beautiful view or snapping an excellent picture. Accessibility accommodations have never ruined my experience and they have made experiencing nature and the great outdoors possible for so many others.

Banff does have a few accessible trails, but not as many as I would have hoped for. Most of the viewpoints and overlooks along the roadways throughout Banff are accessible and most include accessible parking.

The 13-mile, paved Banff Legacy Trail connects the nearby town of Canmore to Banff and is very accessible. Though mainly used by cyclists the trail is open for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. We biked the trail from Banff to Canmore, then had dinner in Canmore and caught a shuttle back to Banff.

Many cyclists ride the trail one-way then return using the shuttle which runs until around 10:00 p.m. daily. The shuttle is accessible, only $6 per person, and they accept Canadian or U.S. dollars on board (cash only), but cycling back is also an option. I thought it would be a fun challenge to cycle there and back but after 13 miles into Canmore my legs were pretty sore and the wind had really picked up so we decided the shuttle was the best option for us. The trail from Banff to Canmore provides a pretty easy ride overall with only a few quick inclines.

The ride from Canmore to Banff is more difficult because it’s against the wind and has a few longer, gradual uphill climbs. There’s a wonderful day-use area with restrooms at the halfway point and a pair of red chairs overlooking the Bow Valley. Unfortunately there is no running water along the trail so its important to pack enough and refill in either Banff or Canmore.

I was really proud that I only took a few short breaks to catch my breath and did not hop off to push my bike uphill at any point (although I really wanted to a few times). The trail runs between the Trans-Canada Highway and a railroad, so it’s fairly loud most of the way. The scenery is still beautiful and closer to Canmore the trail veers off into the forest.

I saw that the Hoodoo Trail was located close to our campsite and wanted to check it out. Parts of the trail that stem from the parking lot are paved and accessible and lead to scenic vistas.

I learned that Hoodoos are thin, usually delicate, rock spires formed over thousands and thousands of years. Hoodoos are common in parts of Utah and in the Canadian Badlands, but we hadn’t seen any on our trip yet. So, we packed Gaius is his backpack and went out to explore these interesting geological formations.

Although leashed dogs are allowed on most trails in Banff, which is wonderful for pet owners like us, dogs aren’t exactly always great for the environment. Urine and feces left by dogs can damage delicate ecosystems and their scent can deter wildlife from inhabiting the area. This is why many parks don’t allow dogs on trails. Dogs are also known to attract coyotes, wolves, bears…oh my. I love bringing Gaius out to explore when he is allowed, but since all six pounds of him would probably try to charge at a bear if we encountered one, we decided to carry him in his backpack and limit his on-leash adventures in Banff to campground areas.

Since we left Texas we’ve been traveling north hoping to escape the heat but it appears to be following us. With temperatures in the low 90s we decided to find a place to cool off. A scenic drive to Johnson Lake and a dip in its chilly waters sounded perfect. We arrived just in time and snagged one of the last parking spaces available in the lot. There are a few accessible parking spaces and a concrete path leads down the lake’s beach. The trail that travels around the lake has stairs and is not accessible. There are several porta-potties available in the parking area though none are accessible.

There were a lot of families enjoying the beach near the parking lot and to was a bit overcrowded so we hiked along the water hoping to find a more secluded spot to relax. The trail around Johnson Lake heads off through a small picnic area then into the trees before reaching another beach. This beach, though steep and more grassy, was not as crowded and seemed to be where all the young adults were hanging out. We spread out a blanket in the shade, went for a swim, and relaxed in the warm breeze. Our view of the surrounding mountains was obstructed by smoke but I imagine would be stunning on a clear day.

We splurged on tickets to ride the gondola up to Sulphur Mountain and stay for dinner at the Sky Bistro. I learned that the gondolas are accessible and can accommodate most power and manual wheelchairs, though depending on the size of the chair, there may not be room for additional passengers. The gondolas can be taken off of the track, allowing guests as much time as the need to load or unload.

I had purchased nonrefundable tickets in advance but probably would have saved the excursion for another visit when wildfires weren’t a factor. Still, the smoke might have actually played to our advantage a bit since Mitch is not fond of heights and he felt more relaxed not being able to see the depths below us.

The summit was beautiful even hidden in the smoke. A long boardwalk leads from the visitor center and restaurant to several overlooks. Unfortunately the boardwalk includes stairs and is not accessible.

I became so angry when I was walking the boardwalk and saw a grown woman tagging graffiti onto the wooden handrail. Even more so because she was with two kids who watched on. I should have said something but you never know how people are going to react these days so I kept my mouth shut. What she was doing was wrong and pissed me off but she wasn’t harming nature at least, so I decided to just let it go. When I passed by again I saw that this was no ordinary tag job with a marker— she had actually used a lighter to burn the graffiti into the wood. This woman was up here playing with fire on top of a mountain that was covered in smoke from nearby wildfires and all while Banff is under a fire ban. I was fuming mad at this point and kicking myself for not putting a stop to her deplorable behavior when I had the chance. She tagged the name of a Canadian vape/smoke shop. Apparently it’s a trend for some businesses to tag their name or logo along the boardwalk at Sulphur Mountain. I assume the woman who did this is affiliated with the business because who else would go to these lengths for a sleazy shot at free promotion? I redacted most of the graffiti in the image below because I’m told staff will cover it up soon and I refuse to let it live forever here on the internet.

After taking in some of the views we went to the restaurant for our dinner reservation. Mitch said it was like dining in the clouds. The food was pretty expensive but really good. We purchased a package that included gondola tickets and dinner where were each allowed to choose an appetizer and entree. For appetizers we had scallops and bison tartar, then for entrees we both chose the bison steak with potatoes. We’ve been eating a mostly vegetarian diet lately and it was nice to get in some extra protein.

I think my favorite experience in Banff was visiting Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. I had heard these were a “must-see” but very popular and that parking lots fill up as early as 7:00 a.m. Given that we aren’t exactly early birds, we decided to head out in the evening hoping to avoid the crowds. When we passed by the road to Moraine Lake at around 6:00 p.m. it was closed with a sign that indicated the parking lot was full. Parks Canada staff were onsite flagging cars away and ensuring that no one entered. We continued on the main road to Lake Louise and were able to park without any issues. There were still a ton of people around the lake at this hour but crowds thinned out as we started hiking the trail.

We hiked just under 4 miles along the shore and started on the Plain of the Six Glaciers trail, which leads to a tea house up above the lake. Since we were losing daylight and still wanted to see Moraine Lake we turned back but I would love to hike the full trail someday. From the trail we could actually hear the loud booming sound of the massive glaciers moving. The water from the creek that feeds the lake was quite literally ice cold and chilled my hand to the bone with one quick plunge.

The trail around Lake Louise’s shore is accessible and mostly paved, although about halfway through it becomes packed gravel and there are a few gradual inclines. The Lake Louise trail ends and becomes Plain of the Six Glaciers trail, which is not accessible. There was accessible parking and a unisex accessible restroom stall near the parking lot.

It was just past 8:00 p.m. so we headed back to the Moraine Lake road but it was still closed. We went into the small Lake Louise Village for some gas then ended up parking in a lot across the street from Moraine Lake Road, where we saw people watching and waiting for the Parks Canada staff to remove the barricades. We watched as car after car drove up to the road only to be turned away. A line of cars began to form along the shoulder of the road. At around 8:40 p.m. staff removed the barricades and we were all free to visit the lake. I expected to see a tiny parking lot packed full of cars but it was actually a large lot and only about 1/4 full, which made me really wonder why Parks Canada did not open the road a bit sooner.

The lake was definitely worth the wait and I was so glad we stuck around for the road to open. The areas near the parking lot were paved or packed gravel and accessible, however the trail along the lake quickly turns to rougher gravel and then dirt with many protruding tree roots and rocks.

Moraine Lake was a deeper shade of blue but the water still had the same gorgeous glowing quality as Lake Louise. The water was so smooth the icy mountains in the background were reflected. We only made it about a mile down the trail before we decided to turn back. The trail travels along the shore through a thick forest of trees and it had started to get pretty dark. Still, even after the sun had set the lake was absolutely stunning.

There’s a ton more to do and see in Banff but it’s extremely crowded during summer and with the smoke-filled making it more difficult to breath we found ourselves spending more time relaxing in the camper catching up on Netflix. We agreed we’d love to visit again during the off-season and hopefully with clearer skies. Next we’ll travel north via Canada’s Icefield Parkway to Jasper National Park. Thanks for reading!

Oh, Canada: Waterton Lakes National Park and Calgary, Alberta

Oh, Canada: Waterton Lakes National Park and Calgary, Alberta

For the month of August on our RVing adventure we’ll be exploring the southern regions of Alberta and British Columbia, Canada. We entered the country via the seasonal Chief Mountain International Highway, crossing from Montana’s Glacier National Park into Alberta, Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park. I had heard a lot of hype over crossing the border in an RV and with pets. Others talked of long wait times, their food and houseplants being thrown out, pets being turned away, and intense, interrogation-like questioning. Much to our relief and surprise it was quick and easy and the only thing thrown out was our worry. We pulled up to the Border Inspection kiosk with only one vehicle ahead of us. Moments later it was our turn. We were greeted with a firm but welcoming “Bonjour” and after a show of our passports and pup’s vet records, we answered a few questions about our travels and belongings and were on our merry way.

We’ve crossed enough state borders to know they are just invisible lines separating a continuous landscape, but oddly, after we crossed Canada’s border everything started to look really different. We had a strong feeling that we weren’t in “Kansas” anymore. This national park was also unlike any other we’d been to. Most U.S. parks have little gift shops and lodges with restaurants or cafes but Waterton had a steakhouse, pub, pizza parlor, Subway, coffee shop, small boutiques, and a small shopping strip all within its boundaries.

We spent two nights in the Townsite Campground within Waterton Lakes and thought we had a site with full hookups. When we arrived we found the electric and water hookups but did not see a sewer drain anywhere, which was a problem because we were not able to dump our tanks at the last site and they were nearly full. I started to look around at the other campsites and saw the sewer hoses were running underneath the RVs. We found our sewer drain under the middle of the trailer and it was in a spot that would still be under the trailer no matter how we parked. We have been RVing since late January and have never come across a sewer pipe that was under the rig- typically they are off to the side. We figured the only way to hook up was by carefully getting getting underneath the RV to connect the pipe. A task that must be performed with caution since sewer hoses carry, well, raw sewage. I looked around and did not spot anyone taking photographs or snickering at us while Mitch was on his back wearing rubber gloves and holding a sewer hose in hand, so I can only assume we were correct.

Due to a fire last year, many of the park’s trails are currently closed for restoration. We went out in search of a good, open hiking trail and learned that several other trails are temporarily closed because bears are active and feeding in the area.

We hadn’t seen any bears on our trip so far. But here in Waterton Lakes, while driving through the park we spotted our very first bear running along the side of the road. I was too busy staring at the bear with my own eyes to focus on my camera so the only pictures I managed to capture are pretty blurry.

We drove up to the Prince of Wales Hotel and hiked the short but steep hill down to the lake. The beach was rocky and the water was was quite choppy but reflected stunning shades of blue and green. Wildflowers and berry bushes were blooming all around and we saw that another trail in this area was closed due to bear activity.

The campground had accessible campsites and washrooms (that’s Canadian lingo for restrooms), but unfortunately most trails were not accessible. An accessible paved and packed gravel trail leads from the campground towards and along the lake. There are also paved sidewalks and pathways in the area with restaurants and shopping.

Our next stop on our Canadian journey was the city of Calgary. Ever since Taos, NM Mitch has become a fan of sampling craft beer. Here in Calgary we went on our very first brewery tour at Minhas Micro Brewery. The tour included generous samples of Minhas ales and lagers, an informative overview of the company’s history and their brewing process, and complimentary souvenirs including a pint glass, beer, and soda to-go. Mitch took a bite of the aromatic, fresh hops used to make beer, but instantly regretted it. Luckily he was able to forget the taste by indulging in a delicious pizza and tempura-fried green beans from the fantastic little pizza parlor housed in the brewery.

Back when we lived in Austin, Mitch and I loved going to see Broadway musicals or the symphony. We haven’t been able to catch any performances since we’ve been on the road so I was really excited when I learned that the opera Carmen would be performed in the outdoor Badlands Amphitheater in Drumheller, AB. Tickets were very reasonably priced so we took the plunge. The drive out to Drumheller was quiet, through country roads with very little traffic. Along the way we stopped at the Orkney Viewpoint overlooking the Red Deer River valley. We had a nice time at the opera, enjoying the beautiful weather, and exploring more of Canada’s countryside.

We spent a little time exploring downtown Calgary too. Heading downtown in any larger city can be a traffic and parking nightmare, especially in a bigger vehicle. Downtown Calgary was actually very easy to navigate and we found cheap parking in a large lot with no problem. We had brunch at the popular OEB Breakfast Co. and thoroughly enjoyed their breakfast poutine dishes. Poutine, I learned, is a popular Canadian dish that consists of french fries smothered in cheese curds and brown gravy. Our breakfast-style poutines were thick potato wedges sautéed in duck fat, topped with cheese curds, poached eggs, veggies, avocado, and hollandaise sauce, all over a bed of fresh spinach. It was absolutely delicious!

We took a stroll through the downtown area to the beautiful Prince’s Island Park. The park was very clean with grassy picnic areas, colorful landscaping, and accessible paved pathways.

After about 2 miles I started to develop blisters on the back of my heels. Just more proof that my feet belong in hiking boots. I tried bandages but they didn’t want to stick, so Mitch offered me the socks off of his feet. The last time he gave me his socks to wear it was after we had been walking around the Vegas strip the night before our wedding. I sure do have a sweet husband.

Overall we liked Calgary a lot. Our stay was brief but we had a great time relaxing and getting out to explore. The downtown area really reminded us of Austin, TX but not nearly as weird and a lot less hot. We experienced warm but comfortable temperatures in the low to mid 80s and heard our friends and family in Texas have been sweltering in the hundred-degree heat. We’ve been heading north in an attempt to escape the heat but it’s been following us. Hopefully cooler temperatures await us at our next destination: Banff National Park. Thanks for reading!

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

I had no idea what to expect from our trip to Glacier National Park. Before our visit I knew there would be glaciers and wildlife, including grizzly bears, and that people say the park is really beautiful. I can now report that “beautiful” is truly an understatement. This place is amazing and quickly jumped the ranks to my second favorite national park (Yosemite is still my #1). Since the summer sun doesn’t set until after 9:00 p.m., for our first visit we decided to head into the park after 4:00 p.m. when it would hopefully be cooler and less congested. We drove the narrow, winding Going-to-the-Sun Road through the forest and up into the mountains. All along the road there are overlooks with absolutely stunning views.

Though an incredibly beautiful drive, the road is extremely narrow and larger vehicles are restricted. Anything larger than a 15-passenger van would likely be too big- RVs and trailers are definitely not allowed. Heading eastbound, drivers skirt the winding road with steep drop-offs and short stone barriers, while drivers headed westbound hug the jagged inner cliffside with rocks jutting out into the lane. The road passes by streams that pour down the cliff walls like waterfalls, close enough to reach out and touch. Mitch, who is not a fan of heights, handled the drive like a pro, although with white knuckles and maybe a little sweat.

For our first hike, I wanted to try the three-mile out-and-back trail to St. Mary and Virginia Falls. Because we were entering a grizzly habitat and saw that the trail was lined with yummy berry bushes and a nice cool stream, we went in armed with bear spray. Rangers caution visitors to always carry bear spray and to hike in groups of three or more. Though we started the trail just the two of us, we soon met a woman who had been hiking alone, became quick friends, and decided to tackle the rest of the trail together. Our new friend, Elyda, was a retired speech therapist and shared a ton of knowledge about the park and nature along the trail. She also became our personal hero, saving the day (and possibly the forest) when she tactfully told a man who had been puffing a cigar on the trail, that smoking was not allowed and could be very dangerous for the park and his pocketbook. He apologized, thanked her, and put it out. Go, Elyda! As we hiked along and chatted with each other we saw no shortage of wildflowers, dense forest, green ferns, and meandering streams. The trail was spectacular and smelled amazing. I learned the park is home to 62 species of ferns, giving some areas a very rainforest-like appearance. Just before we reached the teal-blue St. Mary Falls we crossed a sweet mule deer on the trail.

We continued on the trail following the creek, until it veered off into quiet, thick forest for a bit, and rejoined the river at the tall, cascading Virginia Falls. Elyda thanked us for making her follow the trail all the way to the end. Although she had hiked the trail in the past, this was as far as she’d ever been. We noticed a few hikers who seemed to turn back before reaching Virginia Falls. We hiked right up to the base of the upper falls and were rewarded with a refreshing breeze and cool mist. It was beautiful to experience it all together.

On our next visit to the park we decided to take advantage of the free shuttle service up Going-To-The-Sun Road. This time we arrived in the morning, parked at one of the shuttle stops, and hitched a free ride to the trails. The shuttles are accessible and can carry up to 14 passengers. I wanted to check out one of Glacier’s accessible trails, so we started with a hike on the Trail of the Cedars. According to the park’s Accessible Facilities & Services guide, this is one of Glacier’s six accessible trails.

The trail is mostly flat with a combination of cement and wooden boardwalk. This gorgeous trail travels through lush, green forest, crosses creeks and streams, and carries the lovely scent of cedar and pine. We spotted lots of chipmunks and squirrels on the trail and several beautiful butterflies.

The Trail of the Cedars also leads to the trailhead for Avalanche Lake. This trail was approximately 2.3 miles one-way, with plenty of short inclines. Avalanche Lake’s smooth, reflective waters were a beautiful foreground to the surrounding mountains and delicate, cascading waterfalls.

Next we decided to tackle the trail to Hidden Lake. The trailhead is located behind the Logan Pass Visitor Center and travels through absolutely beautiful terrain. Though the first bit of the trail is accessible with a wooden boardwalk, it begins to climb the mountain with stairs. Patches of ice and snow, wildflowers, and rocks sit along the trail.

We saw a ton of wildlife including mountain goats, bighorn sheep, marmots, and overly-friendly and socialized chipmunks and squirrels. We stopped for snacks at the overlook and were surprised to have chipmunks and squirrels climb up onto us looking for grub. There were several signs asking visitors not to feed the wildlife but we knew critters were still getting food somehow when we saw a big chipmunk running across the trail carrying an apple. Mitch gestured with open hands that we didn’t have anything but that did not stop these furry little guys from trying to get a closer look.

Though our time here was short, we really enjoyed this park. I learned that most of the trails are considered moderate or difficult, with fewer easy waking trails. All of the visitor centers appeared to be accessible with parking and restrooms. There’s still a ton more I want to explore in Glacier National Park and I’m definitely looking forward to coming back.

We also spent some time in Kalispell, MT and volunteered with Samaritan House. The mission of Samaritan House is to “provide for the basic needs of homeless people, while fostering self-respect and human dignity.” Partnering with United Way and other community organizations, the non-profit provides food, housing, case management, and resources for individuals, families, and veterans who are hungry or homeless. For a few hours in the morning we worked on detailing and organizing the kitchen, where last year alone Samaritan House provided 34,860 meals. We slapped on some rubber gloves and put in some elbow grease scrubbing walls, sinks, stoves, ovens, and appliances. It felt good to be volunteering again after not being involved all month. I had volunteer work lined up with a few state parks in Colorado and Idaho but unfortunately they all fell through. It’s also been challenging to find community organizations and non-profits in some of the more rural areas we’ve been visiting. My goal is to volunteer at least once a month and so far we are still on target.

Next stop- CANADA! We’ve traveled about 3,000 miles since leaving Austin,TX and are excited to explore Canada during the month of August. Thanks for reading!

Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Henry’s Lake, and Lewis and Clark Caverns…OH MY!

Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Henry’s Lake, and Lewis and Clark Caverns…OH MY!

Turns out, blogging without a reliable internet connection is difficult! Since my last update we’ve been to Grand Teton National Park, Henry’s Lake State Park, Yellowstone National Park, and Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park. We are currently stationed just outside of Glacier National Park, so it looks like I’ve got some catching up to do. Three…two…one…go!

Grand Teton National Park:

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Generally, RV parks in the Grand Teton/Yellowstone vicinity are super expensive and overcrowded during summer. Back in April when I was making reservations (yup, I had to book that far in advance), I found that many campgrounds were already filled to capacity for the busy summer season and what remained had a going rate of $70 to over $100 per night. For perspective, when we pulled the trailer out of storage back in Austin, TX and booked out first RV park, we paid approximately $20 per night plus metered water. Many RV parks offer discounted rates for longer stays. The daily rate is usually highest, but if you book a full week, or even month, the price is reduced. Typically, I look for sites that fall under $40 per night for full hookups, so the going rate of $70+ per night just wasn’t going to work for us. I expanded my search area to neighboring communities and found the perfect RV park in Swan Valley, Idaho. This little hidden gem, in a town with a population of just over 200, was the smaller, quieter place we were looking to relax in after facing the crowds and traffic between Denver and Salt Lake City. With shaded RV sites, full hookups, free wifi, and only an hour’s drive from Grand Teton National Park all for around $35 per night, it felt like a bargain.

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Grand Teton National Park is gorgeously rugged, surrounded by lakes, ponds, tall trees, and green meadows. Wildflowers were blooming in every color and growing just about everywhere. There was something beautiful to marvel at around every single corner. I found myself soaking it all in and realized after our trip I didn’t take many pictures. Despite all the feelings of awe I managed to capture a few, at least.

When we passed through the entrance station for a park map, I was a bit concerned when I saw the map and its legend did not include wheelchair accessibility icons. I learned that the park has a separate accessibility guide that is available on request and includes information on accessible facilities and trails. We hiked the Jenny Lake trail and trail near the Jackson Lake Dam which were partially accessible, paved in areas closest to parking lots, and provided grand views. We also saw accessible parking and restrooms during our visit. 

Henry’s Lake State Park and Yellowstone National Park:

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Our next stop was Henry’s Lake State Park. I chose this park because I wanted something affordable that was still close to Yellowstone National Park. Henry’s Lake sits only 20 minutes away from the West Yellowstone entrance station for half the price of the private RV parks in the area. I wasn’t expecting much since Yellowstone is considered the gem of the region but Henry’s Lake was surprisingly beautiful and very quiet. Our campsite, like most in the campground, was right on the water. Every night we were treated to some of the most beautiful sunsets I’d ever seen and we had an awesome view of the lake from our dinette. The campground was also very clean with new showers and restrooms. 

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Accessible campsites, parking, showers, and restrooms are also available. A paved trail runs the length of the campground along the shore and continues as a thin rocky single-track trail through the grass. We took Gaius out on the trail for a bike ride one afternoon. 

Not far from Henry’s Lake State Park is Mesa Falls. This place was stunningly beautiful and I was so glad we made the trip. Accessible trails lead to the falls overlook but unfortunately getting closer is only possible via stairs. When we reached the upper falls we were treated to a magnificent rainbow.

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We made our first trip into Yellowstone during the late morning and realized quickly the mistake we had made. We sat in long lines of traffic and struggled to find parking at every turnout and parking lot. I worked hard to capture pictures without cars or other visitors in the frame. I wasn’t sure what exactly to expect during the park’s busiest month during the busiest time of day, but now I knew. It was bad. The crowds wouldn’t have been so bad on their own, but what ruined the experience was seeing how people completely disregarded nature and each other.

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I try to keep things positive, in life and on my blog, but let’s be real, life isn’t always positive. Social media is tricky because it’s easy to make it appear that life is always peachy, but we all know it’s not. Although I am grateful my experiences out on the road, I would be lying if I said every day has been perfect, happy, and fun. We have down days and off days and plain old BAD days just like everyone else. Our initial visit to Yellowstone was was of those days. It was disheartening. We saw visitors honking and narrowly avoiding altercation over parking spaces, people smoking cigarettes and bringing pets (not service animals) in areas where they are not allowed, litterbugs tossing their rubbish on the ground instead of taking it to one of the many trashcans, eager sightseers ignoring posted signs and running across protected areas that were closed for restoration, cars speeding to get to the next attraction with no concern for pedestrians or crosswalks, and far too many folks jumping out of their vehicles and getting way too close to wildlife. Instead of people taking care of each other and the park, it felt like it was every man for his selfish self. Mitch described the experience as “drive-thru nature for people who don’t care about nature.” It did feel like that and it was draining. I begrudgingly snapped photos as we toured the overcrowded park. 

Of course this was just one experience and we knew it wasn’t representative of all people, the world, or the park as a whole, so we decided to head back into Yellowstone another day, this time in the evening when we hoped for smaller crowds. At this hour things were much more peaceful and we were able to really enjoy the beauty of the country’s first national park and its rich ecosystem. We saw colorful geothermal pools, steaming geysers, bubbling pots of boiling mud, waterfalls of every variety, massive canyons, vast green valleys, and plenty of bison, dear, elk, and moose.

Most of the park’s major attractions are also accessible, allowing everyone the opportunity to enjoy. Visitors can request a detailed accessibility guide from any entrance station or visitor center. Accessibility information can also be found in the National Park Service’s free Yellowstone National Park app. The park has accessible parking, restrooms, dining facilities, campsites, picnic areas, gas stations, fishing piers, and an accessible boat launch. Most of the park’s major attractions are accessible and many of the park’s trails have accessible routes. By reading the accessibility guide I learned that loaner wheelchairs are available from visitor and medical centers within the park for “$15 per day, with a $300 refundable deposit (cash or credit card).” This price seemed a bit steep considering that wheelchairs are necessities, not options, for most of the people who need them. The deposit also seemed steep since the wheelchairs provided appeared to be in the hundred-dollar range. I saw more people using wheelchairs in Yellowstone than any park we had been to but I was saddened when I came across a man who was sitting in a loaner wheelchair on the side of a trail. Evidently, his family members were taking turns pushing his chair but had become tired and continued on the trail without him. I thought, why aren’t wheelchairs free to use for people who need them, and better yet, why aren’t all-terrain power chairs available for rent? Someday I would love to start a non-profit organization and this might just be the perfect cause. Stay tuned. 

Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park:

I love visiting a good cave and did not want to miss Lewis and Clark Caverns, Montana’s very first state park. Entrance to the caverns is only permitted through the park’s guided tours. Three tours are available- classic ($12), paradise ($12), and wild ($30). After a moderate hike up a paved switchback trail, the classic tour guides visitors through the lighted cave along mostly paved pathways and stairs. The paradise tour is accessible and follows a level, paved pathway to the cave leading into the large paradise room. The wild cave tour is conducted in the dark and travels through areas of the cave not visited in other tours.

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Hoping for an adventurous and more private experience, we opted for the wild cave tour which involves a lot of climbing and crawling and is limited to 10 visitors. Admission for the 3-hour excursion includes use of coveralls, kneepads, gloves, helmet, and headlamp.

We had a blast getting dirty, crawling around on the cave floor, and climbing through narrow passages. We also learned a lot about the cave’s history and some of its prominent geological features.

The area surrounding the cave was also beautiful and when we emerged from the tour around 8:30 p.m. the sun was just setting. We camped for the night in the park’s campground, a great place for families with fire pits, picnic tables, restrooms with showers, a playground, and accessible campsites. Our next destination- Glacier National Park.

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Thanks for reading.

Salt Lake City, Utah and Craters of the Moon

Salt Lake City, Utah and Craters of the Moon

When I initially started trip planning I had wanted to visit all of Utah’s beautiful parks before heading into the northern states. That is until I realized I had us scheduled to be in Utah during July when the temperatures are in the triple digits. Instead of visiting Bryce Canyon, Aches, Zion, and Canyonlands (to name only a few on my list) in the heat of July, we decided to make a quick stop in Salt Lake City to visit my cousin Allison, then plan to head back to Utah in the cooler spring of 2019. As soon as we arrived in SLC we headed off with Allison to explore downtown. We saw the Utah State Capitol and walked through the beautifully-landscaped Temple Square.

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We visited the free exhibits at the Clark Planetarium and ran around playing like a group of big kids. The planetarium had accessible parking and restrooms with wide aisles throughout.

The planetarium featured a lot of interesting shows but unfortunately we weren’t able to see any this visit. Even without seeing a show there was plenty to do and see. We also spent a lot of time browsing the cool stuff sold at the gift shop and snagged some freeze-dried astronaut ice cream sandwiches on our way out.

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While we’ve been loving life out on the road, it can be difficult to take care of business and chores when you don’t have a home base. We took advantage of city amenities during our visit and scheduled our truck for service at the Toyota dealership and took Gaius to the veterinarian for his heart-worm prevention treatment. I’m pretty sure this guy working the doggy daycare has the best job ever.

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Allison and I snuck away for a quick trip to Antelope Island State Park where we saw herds of grazing buffalo, beautiful antelope, and swarms of brine flies down by the Great Salt Lake. The beach with it’s salty scent, buzzing flies and still, shallow waters had an otherworldly kind of feel. A metal ramp leads partially down to the beach. Accessible parking and restrooms are available.

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We also visited Mrs. Cavanaugh’s, a chocolate factory right down the road from our RV park. For $1 visitors can tour the factory to learn a bit of the company’s history, see how the chocolates are made, and taste free samples. Mrs. Marie Cavanaugh started the company back in 1964 when a taste of her chocolate not only convinced the banker to approve her loan to open a candy shop, but also made him her first customer.

If you’ve been following my blog or instagram feed you know I love a good hot spring. Allison made reservations for us to visit Homestead Crater, a very unique geothermal spring that sits inside a 55′ tall limestone rock formation. The teal-blue, deep water stay between 90-96 degrees year round, making it the perfect temperature for a relaxing dip no matter the season. The pool is also popular among scuba divers who explore the waters below while soaking guests float wearing life vests at the surface. Visitors who come to soak pay $13 ($16 on weekends) for 40 minutes and must wear the provided life vests. Although there were many visitors who soaked with us, the pool was large enough to not feel crowded. I was hoping the pool would have felt a bit more natural with its ambiance. There were orange and white floating buoys, bright lights hanging over the water, and wire caging covering the skylight. Even still, it was a fun experience and we had a nice time.

On our way back to SLC we stopped in Park City, home of the Sundance Film Festival and the 2002 Winter Olympics. Nestled in the Wasatch Mountains, the town offers lots of restaurants, bars, shopping, and when the weather is right, snow activities. I saw lots of accessible parking on the streets and in lots and garages.

Back in Salt Lake City we indulged in some edible cookie dough from the Dough Co. I tried s’mores, birthday cake, and mint chocolate. They were all amazing. When we first entered the shop I noticed a set of stairs with no ramp but then saw the mechanical lift.

We said our goodbyes and made our way to Idaho to visit Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. This place was awesome! Packed with volcanoes, caves, and lava rocks galore, this site was last active only a mere 2,000 years ago.

The park is relatively small with one main loop and can probably be explored in a full day. The park is also awesomely accessible. Most of the trails are paved and each trailhead has a sign with details about the accessibility of the trail, including length, width, surface, and grade. There were also details about any obstructions along the trail, such as steps, ruts, or large rocks. I would love to see this level of detail provided for trails at other parks. Accessible parking and restrooms are also available.

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We hiked most of the trails and obtained a cave permit to explore the wild caves and tunnels. Cave permits are issued for the protection of bats, which are dying from exposure to fungus that can be spread by visitors. Upon request, visitors are screened and provided a permit to enter and explore the caves, although there did not appear to be much regulation. I hope this means the bat population is thriving. Walking through the lava fields and up the giant inferno cone was cool but my favorite attraction was definitely the caves.

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Flashlights and sturdy shoes required! The entrance to most of the caves was just an opening in the ground. Bending and stooping is necessary for those over 3 feet tall. Below all that lava rock the temperature of the caves was divine and a provided a great cool refuge from the heat. One cave was so cold there was a slick layer of ice on the ground.

We had so much fun exploring craters of the Moon. I would highly recommend a visit and I’m really glad we made the short detour west. Next stop, the Grand Tetons!

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

Hitched Up: Estes Park, CO and I-70 Through the Eisenhower Tunnel to Utah

Hitched Up: Estes Park, CO and I-70 Through the Eisenhower Tunnel to Utah

I was really excited to break away from the city and spend some time in Estes Park. The drive in was beautiful and after setting up camp in our RV park near the west side of town we scouted out a place to grab a bite to eat. We were hoping to find something away from the hustle and bustle of the congested downtown area, which we were routed through on our drive in. We found Antonio’s Real New York Pizza, the perfect little spot for dinner right along the Fall River with views of the mountains.

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Our RV park had a small, free mini-golf course that sat right on the river. Naturally, we had to play a round after dinner.

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Our schedule only allowed us a few days in Estes Park and I knew there was a lot I wanted to see in Rocky Mountain National Park so I booked an all-day jeep tour. Though it was a bit of a splurge, the excursion in a green, open-frame jeeep turned out to be the perfect way to see and lean about the park with an experienced, local guide. The tour also gave Mitch and I both the opportunity to sit back and relax while someone else drove and fought for parking at crowded overlooks and trailheads. We began our journey in Estes Park, traveled into RMNP where we hiked a few short trails to view waterfalls and meadows with flowing streams.

We then headed up the seasonal, one-way Old Fall River Road reaching the Alpine Visitors Center at 11,796 feet elevation. Next our guide took us to the town of Grand Lake for another waterfall hike and lunch. Grand Lake was a cool little town with restaurants, and shops along long wooden boardwalks, and of course, there was a grand lake full of boaters and fishermen.

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The ride home took us up to 12,183 feet elevation on the scenic Trail Ridge Road. We learned a lot about Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park from our guide, saw moose, elk, deer, marmots, and a coyote, and made friends with an Italian PhD student named Marco and his father Malbro.

We ventured back into the park one more time to catch a few more hikes. I was really impressed with the accessibility of Rocky Mountain National Park. There are multiple accessible trails, lots of accessible parking, and accessible restrooms. Some of the trails also had signs posted to alert visitors who use wheelchairs of steep grades.

 

 

We also spent a day exploring downtown Estes Park via the town’s free shuttle system. Between the five routes that travel throughout the town and a sixth that travels into Rocky Mountain National Park, you can pretty much get to wherever you need to go. The shuttles all have wheelchair lifts and accessible seating areas.

 

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A shuttle stop was right outside the entrance to our RV park so we hopped on and rode to the visitors center where we took a connecting shuttle to the Stanley Hotel. The hotel was built by Freelan Oscar Stanley, inventor of the Stanley Steamer, in 1909. Stanley came to Estes Park after being diagnosed with tuberculosis in his 40’s and advised by doctors to treat the condition with fresh, dry air. Though he was told he wouldn’t live long, Stanley went on to see the ripe age of 91.

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The Stanley Hotel is probably best known as the inspiration for the fictional Overlook Hotel from Stephen King’s horror novel, The Shining. The Hollywood production starring Jack Nicholson and directed by Stanley Kubrick was actually filmed at a hotel in Oregon. I learned King was not happy with the film’s location or the way Jack and Wendy were portrayed on the big screen. In an interview, King said “Wendy is really one of the most misogynistic characters ever put on film, she’s basically just there to scream and be stupid and that’s not the woman that I wrote about.” He also disapproved of Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of Jack as disturbed from the beginning, in contrast the the book where Jack’s descent to madness slowly unfolds. King hated the movie so much he bought back the rights, recast the roles, and shot a miniseries at the Stanley Hotel. I haven’t seen the miniseries yet but now it’s on my list.

The movie Dumb and Dumber was also filmed at the Stanley although the story takes place in Aspen, CO. For a closer look at the Stanely, visitors can take a historic tour during the day or ghost tour at night. Tour admission starts at $20 but visitors can also do as we did and grab a “redrum cherry latte” and stroll the lobby and grounds for free. I spotted accessible parking, elevators, and sidewalks during our visit.

Estes Park is also home to a cool little riverwalk that includes picnic tables, benches, and fun percussion instruments. The riverwalk and downtown area had accessible parking, restrooms, and pathways.

After our stay in Estes Park we traveled to I-70 and drove through the Eisenhower Tunnel, the highest vehicular tunnel in the world at over 11,000 feet in elevation. Some RVers have hyped up this route to be dangerous and deadly while others have reported the drive being one of the most scenic in the country. We drove through cautiously as we always do and thought the drive was pleasant and beautiful.

Also pleasant and beautiful was our quick stay at the Prospector Campground in the White River National Forest. This was our first campsite where we would have no hookups- this means no electricity, sewer, or fresh water. Luckily our home is equipped to handle such situations. We have solar power capable of charging our batteries and running our water pump, lights, and fan. We also have propane gas to run the stove, oven, heater, water heater, and refrigerator. We can carry 45 gallons of fresh water, 45 gallons of water waste, and 45 gallons of toilet waste in our holding tanks. We’ve gone two weeks on 45 gallons of water so we knew that wouldn’t be an issue and fortunately it was cool in the mountains so we didn’t need to run the ac. We ran into trouble with our refrigerator and couldn’t get it running on propane, possibly due to the high altitude. We didn’t have much in the fridge and everything was still cool in the morning. The campground was beautiful at sat high on top of a lake. We had a large campsite spaced far away from neighbors and enjoyed a gorgeous view of the colorful mountains.

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The next morning we were headed west to the Colorado National Monument where we would camp overnight at the Saddlehorn Campground. Our campsite backed up to a canyon ledge and had panoramic views of the rock walls and valley below.

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The area was beautiful but oh so hot. Too hot. The campsite we were in was also on a steep grade and very far from being level. Being level front to back and side to side is required or else we could damage our trailer. We struggled for 20 minutes trying to get level using two packs of leveling blocks. Just when we were ready to give up, a camping angel appeared and blessed us. A couple in an SUV drove up to the neighboring campsite and offered us their spot. The couple stated they had been camping all week in Utah and booked a nearby hotel because their kids were tried of being out in the heat. Their site had partial shade, was flat, and was much more level than ours. Sweltering in the 100 degree heat, I glad accepted with many “THANK YOUs.” Still, it was a rough night with the temperature cooling to a sticky low of 85 degrees around 2:00 a.m. We tossed and turned without much sleep, but at least we got the refrigerator to work in the lower altitude. When morning came we were ready to hop in the car and leave. On the way out I saw an awesome recycling station- somewhat of a rare sighting in RV parks and campgrounds.

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Salt Lake City, here we come!

Hitched Up: Denver, CO

Hitched Up: Denver, CO

Because driving through a big city and its traffic is usually not a lot of fun in an RV, I chose Cherry Creek State Park as our home base during our stay in Denver. Located just outside of the city, Cherry Creek State Park offers hiking, biking, boating, swimming, and even has a model airplane field. I always prefer staying in federal and state campgrounds over privately-owned RV parks because most RV parks resemble parking lots and pack visitors in like sardines. One minor drawback is that most federal and state campgrounds don’t have amenities that most RV parks have, including wi-fi and laundry facilities. Surprisingly, Cherry Creek State Park has both! I was also really happy to see accessible parking, restrooms, showers, and campsites. 

 

My friend Patti drove up from Colorado Springs with her kids to camp with us for a night. We set up her tent, enjoyed dinner out on the picnic table, and slept out under the stars.

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The heat woke us up the next morning so we visited the swim beach to cool off. The sandy beach gradually descended into the water with the deepest area being about four and a half feet. 

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After our dip, we loaded up into the truck and went into town where we had asian hot pot for lunch. I have always wanted to try an asian hot pot, which is basically like cooking your own bowl of veggies, noodles, meat, or seafood in a boiling broth right at your table.

 

With temperatures in the 90s, Denver was really starting to feel like it belonged in Texas, except it was DRY. I never thought I would miss the humidity of the south until Colorado reminded me why lotion was invented, a product I’d rarely used in my 10 years of southern living. One morning we woke up to the usual heat with an unusual situation at our campsite. Mitch took Gaius outside for a morning walk and saw a group of young adults in their mid-late twenties had been sharing our campsite with us overnight. There was a nice Acura parked right behind our RV and a cute new pink tent pitched in the grass with a young couple asleep in each. We asked our neighbors, who were tent camping with kids, if they knew the people or saw when they arrived. Our neighbors told us the group arrived around 2:00 am and noisily set up camp. They also admitted they were concerned by the new arrivals, stayed up all night on-guard, and had wanted to call a ranger but didn’t, assuming the noisy bunch was with us. We thought about just letting the group stay and hoped they would leave when they woke up. Heck, I remember taking road trips when I was younger, driving all night, and pulling over to sleep for a few hours in the car. We’ve never had anyone camp out on our site before and normally I would be inclined to start a conversation and see if we could become friends. On the contrary, my gut feeling was to call the park ranger. The group didn’t appear to have a park pass and were not covered by our reservation. We also saw they had lazily littered their trash, bags from McDonalds, and cigarette butts all over. This didn’t feel like a respectful group of people who were just looking to quietly camp somewhere safe and I felt terrible that the neighboring campers were up all night worried. I called for the ranger who arrived and woke everyone up asking them to leave. Unfortunately the ranger did not stick around to ensure their departure and it was an hour before the group was gone. The young woman in the tent, very unhappy with being asked to pack up, refused to move and started throwing makeup, clothes, and other belongings out onto the grass at who we assume was her boyfriend. They argued while he tried to tear down the tent with her still sitting inside. She finally emerged, shirtless, and whipped her blonde hair in her boyfriend’s face before storming off to take a seat in the car. I felt officially old, snacking on popcorn while spying on the “neighbors” and watching their drama unfold through the blinds of our window. They didn’t pick up after themselves so once they left Mitch went out with a garbage back and collected their trash. After an interesting morning we were off to Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. 

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Three things I absolutely love about Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge besides the animals— it’s free, it’s super accessible, and it’s no longer an arsenal. This unique wildlife habitat sitting to the northeast of Denver was formerly known as just the Rocky Mountain Arsenal and served as a chemical weapons production facility during Word War II. The site was later repurposed for manufacturing agricultural chemicals and then brought back to its roots for weapons manufacturing during the Cold War. The arsenal’s transformation from birthing chemical weapons to sustaining lush and thriving wetlands, woodlands, and grasslands began in the 1980s and was completed in 2010.

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Before taking a tour of the refuge we popped into the Visitor Center. I was thrilled to see so many thoughtful accessibility features including paved sidewalks surrounding the building, paved nature trails, wide aisles and lower signage throughout the exhibits, and accessible parking, restrooms, and picnic tables. All of the signage and exhibits include braille and 711 telecommunications relay services are offered as a resource. 

 

Although several hiking and walking trails are available, it was a hot day during our visit and we opted for the 11 mile Wildlife Drive. We saw bison, deer, and a ton of birds and prairie dogs all from the comfort of our vehicle. 

IMG_3169.jpg We didn’t do as much in the city as I thought we would. I think being out in the forest and camping away from the city so often made us realize we don’t miss all the cars, traffic, noise, and congestion. We visited downtown Denver to retrieve our mail (we use a mailing service and can get mail and packages on the road) and to have lunch a few times but didn’t feel much like exploring the city. 

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On our way out of Denver we camped out at St. Vrain State Park. I wasn’t expecting much out of this small park located right off the highway, but it was refreshingly beautiful and peaceful. Our campsite backed up to one of the park’s many ponds and we enjoyed taking Gaius for a nice walk at sunset.

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St. Vrain also has accessible parking, campsites, restrooms, showers, and fishing piers. I love that everything is accessible, I only wish the language used on their signs was person-first. Person-first language is a thoughtful way of communicating where the person is emphasized and put first, instead of their disability.

0A8B5520-A61B-4EE0-9A14-F485802AB419.jpgA person-first sign would read “allow access for people with disabilities” instead of “allow access for the disabled.” Other examples of person-first language include saying “person who has autism” or “person who has seizures” instead of “autistic person” or “epileptic.” I think a big part of including people with disabilities in the community is recognizing that disability is a normal part of life and that people who have disabilities are people who deserve respect. You can learn more about person-first language here.

 

 

 

Thanks for reading!

Hitched Up: All Around Colorado Springs, CO

Hitched Up: All Around Colorado Springs, CO

Mueller State Park:

We bounced back from a not-so-pleasant stay at Lake Pueblo State Park with an awesome visit to Mueller State Park, just west of Colorado Springs. We stayed for two nights nestled up the mountains and tackled about 12 of the 55 miles of hiking trails. The trails system was beautifully intertwined, making it easy to hop between trails and see a variety of terrain. Steep climbs led to scenic overlooks with views of Pikes Peak and green mountain ranges, while switchbacks descended into groves of aspen trees and traveled through grand meadows with reflective ponds.

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The trails and campground were green and pristine. I don’t think I saw one piece of trash on the trails or at our campsite. Pets are not allowed on any trails, so Gaius enjoyed the view of the forest from the trailer.

Accessibility Notes: The 1/2 mile Dragonfly Nature Trail is Mueller State Park’s only trail designated as wheelchair accessible.  However, several other trails are smooth and wide and could be accessible for some (see image below). There is accessible parking at each trailhead and restrooms include wide doorways and grab bars. There are also a few large, fully paved campsites reserved for visitors with disabilities. 

The Visitor Center has accessible parking, including a few long parking spaces for RVs. Just outside the Visitor Center, sits a scenic overlook with an accessible shaded gazebo. Inside the Visitor Center there are nature exhibits with wide aisles and accessible drinking fountains and restrooms.

After our glorious but short trip to Muller State Park we headed to Colorado Springs for a visit with my long-time friend Patti and her family. I hadn’t seen Patti in seven years, but she was just as I remembered her- FUN, funny, bubbly, and so sweet she would give you the shirt off of her back. She and her husband invited us over for dinner and we spent the night chatting and catching up. Mitch’s sister Elee happened to be passing through Colorado Springs with her two pups and Patti invited her to stop by and join the fun.

The next morning we ventured out to explore Garden of the Gods and historic Manitou Springs.

Garden of the Gods:

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We took Gaius to the very pet-friendly Garden of the Gods for what was supposed to be some light hiking. Even with maps in-hand and posted every 50 yards we still ended up getting lost on the paved trails and found ourselves endlessly circling around the same rock formations. Gaius was a little trooper and carried on through the crowds receiving lots of attention and praise from kids and other visitors.

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The park was beautiful- but for whatever reason I didn’t snap many photos.

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Accessibility Notes: Several of the parking areas, including the high Point Overlook, include accessible parking. The large North Main Parking Lot includes accessible parking and restrooms. There’s also a small parking lot designated as “handicap only” with easy access to the paved Perkins Central Garden Trail.

The Perkins Central Garden Trail is wide and flat, located in the heart of the park, and guides visitors to 10 of the 19 notable rock formations. By far, the coolest thing I spotted in the park was an accessible parking space with sign labeled, “Think of Me, Keep it Free.”

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What a brilliant idea! Of course I had to know more, so I did some research and learned the signs can be found statewide and are an initiative of the Colorado Advisory Council for Persons with Disabilities. The Council identified that people who have disabilities face challenges parking due to able-bodied drivers occupying designated accessible parking spaces. The signs help remind drivers that by occupying an accessible parking space, they have denied a person with disabilities their civil right to access. “Think of Me, Keep it Free” signage can be downloaded from the Council’s website for free and posted along with ADA signage in front of accessible parking spaces. The Council has worked on other public awareness initiatives to improve access for people with disabilities, including their creative Excuses vs. Reasons campaign that uses real excuses able-bodied people have given to justify parking in accessible parking spaces. The takeaway- No plates. No Placard. No parking.

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We dropped off our tired pup back at home base and then met Patti and her kiddos in historic Manitou Springs for more adventuring. We set out on a mission to sample all eight of the public mineral springs scattered throughout the town. It felt almost like a scavenger hunt trying to find dribbling springs that were sometimes quaintly hidden behind shops or tucked away down ordinary streets. We picked up a handy brochure which revealed the mineral content of the springs- bicarbonate, calcium, chloride, copper, fluoride, iron, lithium, magnesium, manganese, potassium, silica, sodium, sulfate, and zinc. Yum! We saw lots of folks filling empty jugs with spring water and others taking small sips from their hands. A few of the springs had a strong chalky or metallic taste, especially those with the highest mineral content. However, most of the springs were mild with a natural carbonation. Think Topo Chico on tap! We bottled up some of our favorite water to go.

Unfortunately, I became wildly ill that night after indulging my palate with the healing mineral waters. I’ll spare you the details but assure you it wasn’t pretty. But, before the long night I spent in our tiny RV bathroom we made happy memories playing games at the Penny Arcade.

Seven Falls:

We also took a trip to the cascading, not-for-the-faint-of-heart Seven Falls.

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I wasn’t exactly thrilled when I learned the falls can only be viewed after taking a shuttle to the trailhead and purchasing admission. Can you say “tourist trap?” However, I have to admit the falls and surrounding grounds were beautiful and I had a lot of fun.

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As the name implies, Seven Falls consists of seven cascading waterfalls. After taking a quick (and free) shuttle ride up into the mountain, visitors hike about one mile to reach the base of the falls. A tram to the falls is also available for $2 roundtrip. The Eagle’s Nest viewing platform provides a full view of the falls and can be accessed by taking two flights of stairs or hopping in the elevator.

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View from the Eagle’s Nest.

Reaching the top of the falls requires climbing the two very steep flights of stairs seen in the photo above.

Accessibility Notes: Accessible parking is available in the parking area for the shuttle. The shuttles are all equipped with wheelchair lifts. The trail to the falls is a wide paved road with a few gradual climbs. Accessible restrooms are available. There is elevator access to the Eagle’s Nest viewing platform situated across the falls, but unfortunately stairs provide the only access to the top of the falls.

Overall, we had a great time visiting the Colorado Springs area and really enjoyed seeing family and spending time with friends. With fond memories and our RV in tow, we’re hitched up and headed towards our next destination: Denver.

Thanks for reading!

Hitched Up: Lake Pueblo State Park

Hitched Up: Lake Pueblo State Park

Next on our journey was a short stop at Lake Pueblo State Park. Lake Pueblo was supposed to be a vast body of water with excellent fishing, boating, swimming, kayaking, biking, and camping. When we arrived in the afternoon and set up camp everything looked pretty swell. Ah, our first waterfront campsite. I walked down to the water just across from the doorstep of our RV and captured a few pictures of the blue lake at sunset.

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Unfortunately, the good vibes set with that sun and by the next afternoon we had discovered Lake Pueblo really wasn’t our cup of tea. The dust started to settle and I started to become aware of the environment. It was like when Hansel and Gretel realized they were DOOMED. Cigarette butts and beer bottle tops littered our campsite. I spotted a few empty beer cans and pieces of garbage in the bushes. One-hundred degrees out and the hot, humid air stood still as the sun beat down relentlessly. The only relief, a lukewarm breeze adulterated with the stench of decaying fish and trash from the nearby dumpster. And this was only an observation of our campsite. As we explored the rest of the park it looked equally (gulp) trashy, and energetically, it felt sticky. Perhaps I’m being a little dramatic. Lake Pueblo really is a great place for fishing and boating (two things we’re not into), it just isn’t our style. Nevertheless, we tried to make the best of the 4 nights we were here.

There is one thing that really stood out and I absolutely loved about Lake Pueblo— Accessibility! Let’s start there.

Accessibility Notes:IMG_2730.jpgAfter visiting a few state parks with very limited accessibility, I was pleasantly surprised by Lake Pueblo. All of the restrooms, showers, drinking fountains, picnic areas, and barbecue grills around the park are accessible. There are plenty of accessible parking stalls in every parking lot and there are several accessible camping sites in each campground. Kudos, Lake Pueblo State Park!

There are also two accessible fishing areas. The Anticline Fishing Pond is surrounded by a paved trail and has a packed gravel beach that gradually reaches the water, allowing people who use wheelchairs or scooters direct access to fishing on the shore. There are two accessible fishing piers with ramps at the Anticline Fishing Pond and the Arkansas River.

A wide, paved trail also travels through the park an connects with a longer trail to the city. We liked the paved trail and went for a bike ride along it one day. Unfortunately at about 4 miles in I got sick and poor Mitch had to ride back to camp for the truck to bring me home.

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We also visited the swimming beach one day to cool off. In Hawaii you can swim with the dolphins, but at Lake Pueblo State Park you can swim with the geese and their goslings. The Rock Canyon Swimming Beach had families of geese around the picnic tables, on the sand, and in the lake. The swimming area was limited and roped off by a floating barrier. The water was refreshing on a hot day and fairly deep at one end (at least 6 feet from what we could tell). The rough sandy beach was also nice but unfortunately there were cigarette butts scattered everywhere. 

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Thanks for reading!

 

Hitched Up: Alamosa, Colorado

Hitched Up: Alamosa, Colorado

After leaving Pagosa Springs, we headed north for a short stay in Alamosa, Colorado. The scenery changed from meandering streams, colorful wildflowers, and lush green trees that scaled the sides of mountains, to flat plains of tumbleweeds, distant purple hills, and in the foreground, every imaginable shade of beige. We would only be in Alamosa for a day and decided to check out Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, home of the tallest sand dunes in North America. But first, more hot springs.

Valley View Hot Springs:

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Over the past month we’ve visited four different hot springs. Two required a hike and were located right on the bed of a river, one had multiple tiled pools and felt more like an upscale resort, and the fourth was somewhere in between. Valley View Hot Springs is located on a non-profit land trust and is a very popular spot for naturalism. There are a few developed pools, a swimming pool, and a few natural pools that require a short hike to reach. Admission was $15 per person and because only a limited number of daily passes are sold, reservations were strongly encouraged. The vibe here was definitely peaceful and we had a wonderful time relaxing in the springs and talking with other guests. I didn’t take many pictures out of respect for most guests who were enjoying their day in the nude or semi-nude.  If you look closely you can spot a deer on the right in the photo below.

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Next we decided to hike to Zapata Falls, possibly the worst idea ever after relaxing our muscles in the hot springs all day. Nevertheless, we hiked up a somewhat steep trail and then through an icy, cold creek to get to the falls, which were housed in a narrow, cave-like crevasse. Our feet were completely numb but the chill was definitely worth the thrill of seeing the falls up close.

Soon we were off to see the dunes.

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve:

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It was pretty spectacular to see the massive dunes in front of the gorgeous San Juan Mountains. This year Medano Creek was dry by May, but usually during June, visitors can enjoy a shallow beach with gentle waves. We arrived a little before sunset and were exhausted at this point in our day but we managed to hike up to the dunefield. It was windy on the dunes and when the sand takes flight it can be brutal. We soaked in the scene for a while and watched people barrel down the dunes on sand sleds before heading back to our home-on-wheels.

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Accessibility Notes:

Zapata Falls and Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve are somewhat accessible. The Zapata Falls Campground has accessible parking spaces, restrooms, and campsites. A paved scenic overlook offers stellar views of the sand dunes, San Luis Valley, and the San Juan Mountains. However, the trail to the waterfall itself is not accessible.

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Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve has two sand wheelchairs with inflatable wheels that can be checked-out and used on the dunes. One wheelchair is available for children and the other for adults. The screenshot below is from their website and shows the sand wheelchair in use. How cool!Screen Shot 2018-06-16 at 3.58.36 PM.pngThe park also has accessible parking, restrooms, changing rooms, and a plastic mat that serves as an accessible path leading partially down to the dunes.

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Thanks for reading!