When hiking at Catcoctin Mountain Park in Maryland, I felt like everything was easy. There were some rocky paths and steeper climbs, but I was just enjoying it so much that I didn’t notice the difficulty of the terrain or the 8 miles we walked. The things I noticed were the beautiful scenery, the great weather, and having good conversations with a friend. It’s easier to notice all the good things when you’re in a better mood, and I noticed these really cool flowers once we returned to the trailhead after a great hike.
It was late in the day when I decided to hike the Lost Mine Trail at Big Bend National Park. It had been a day without a lot of physical exertion and it was set to stay that way with possible storms coming. I felt like I really needed to do it, so I got myself up and hiked very quickly up the gently steep trail. The views along the way were incredible as well, but the nice payoff at the end had me viewing into the canyons that surrounded me and past our campground. It was a beautiful feeling and I jogged down the trail back to my car after taking in the view for a few minutes.
The dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Park are constantly changing. The sinuous lines that weave to the summits of these moving mountains of tiny granules are in perpetual motion though they seem to be a hard geological feature from afar. When you step on the line it dissolves beneath your feet. The screen of blowing sand from the tops of the dunes is blinding and rough while walking along the ridge. After a couple hours walking here everything is sandy including teeth, leaving you spitting small rocks for the rest of the day.
Great Sand Dunes National Park is a bit out of the way of anything in Colorado, but it is an impressive sight when you arrive. Out of the flat desert rise huge dunes in front of towering mountains. It is a strange combination, but the oddity is intriguing and calls for closer exploration. The hike to the top of High Dune was a long and strenuous walk of short steps sinking into soft sand which resulted in both of us spending the rest of the day trying to get tiny grains out of our eyes. What we could see between blinks and tears was beautiful colors, textures, and lines stretching out to the Sangre de Cristo mountains.
Arches National Park is one of my favorite places for several reasons. I love that you can walk right up to these amazing natural structures and interact with them. I’ve been coming here on every trip I take out west for the last five or more years and every time I manage to find something new. I’m not sure how I missed this one during my previous visits, but Double Arch is very close to a parking area and easy to climb up to. I checked out two other new areas while we were there also. I’ll always look forward to more when I come back.
Hiking in Utah has plenty of rewarding views, and they’re often mixed with amazingly fun climbs. In Capitol Reef National Park we did what we could with the short time we had there, but that was a good amount. We hiked up to a wide canyon between two high walls that allowed us to explore several side canyons to climb up into. It was enough fun just playing in those, but the climb back out to the main trail was this great silhouette of rocks in front of the colorful sunset sky. We are so lucky to get to see these things regularly.
Death Valley is an incredible National Park with so much more to offer than I ever knew. The sand dunes are some of the most surreal and amazing things I’ve ever seen in the morning light. The shadows play in such strange ways that it’s hard to tell what is real. This was an amazing way to start the day before hiking in slot canyons, up mountains, and along high ridges. This is definitely a place I’d love to visit more often.
Southern Utah has some of the most unique and incredible rock formations in the world, and Arches National Park is one of my favorite places to see them. Wall Street is lined with huge, narrow rocks that climb up on either side of the trail. I came a couple hours before dawn to catch the stars still hanging in the sky one morning. I had the park to myself and the silence was amazing. My eyes never adjusted to the point that the long exposure of my camera was able to see, but I could still feel the presence of the great structures that surrounded me.
This is one of my favorite spots to be in the world; well, the world I’ve explored so far. Double O Arch in Arches National Park is the one place I have visited one every trip I’ve taken west of the Mississippi. The trail is great, taking you past several arch formations and over giant rock fins. Part of the beauty of this park is being able to interact with the landscape. You can walk up to, through, and on top of this arch. The sunset does beautiful things to the red rocks, bringing out the colors that are more muted during the day. If you do visit this place for sunset, be prepared with a headlamp for the hike back. It gets dark fast.
Glacier National Park has tons of amazing hikes, and the Swiftcurrent Pass Hike is no exception. The trail winds through forests, across snow, and then up a rocky mountain to arrive at the Swiftcurrent peak where there is a fire tower lookout. The nature changes constantly with views of mountains, lakes, and wildlife abound. The strenuous hike to the peak yields views of the entire park from the center and a knowledgable ranger to speak with if you’re lucky!
The Hall of Mosses trail in the Hoh Rainforest at Olympic National Park is a short trail that’s packed with beautiful scenes like this one. Everywhere you look is lush vegetation old-growth trees. The hanging spanish moss gives the trees a strangely human quality; they seem wise. This is one of my favorite trails to walk (or run) and just clear my head. It’s hard to not get lost in the surreal landscape and feel like you’re exploring another world.
The multitude of ecosystems in Olympic National Park allows you to be in a tidal pool of marine life followed by a high mountain peak covered in snow and then in a temperate rainforest all within a few hours. The saturation of color and beauty in this little stretch of northwest Washington makes me imagine what this part of the country was like before the highways and Wal-Marts. We can be grateful for Parks preserving this amazing place along with so many others for us and future generations to enjoy and remember how precious and fragile the world really is. This beautiful scene is along the trail to Marymere Falls and I had to do some rock hopping to get here. It’s really a privilege to be able to immerse myself in something so beautiful and really feel a part of it.
The drive through Glacier National Park on Going-to-the-Sun Road is probably one of the most beautiful rides in the country. If you aren’t passing by waterfalls, you’re watching big horn sheep cross the road or staring out across the mountain range from the endless viewpoints or, in this case, watching the clouds gently roll over the tops of mountains at sunset while mountain goats chew at the remaining grass behind me. Glacier is a place like no other, and even just driving the park road is exhilarating in a few ways! There is so much wildlife and nature to explore in the massive park that I want to go back any chance I get.
Olympic National Park in northwest Washington has some of the most diverse landscapes and ecosystems all within a relatively small territory. Hurricane Ridge showcases the gorgeous Olympic Mountains, which are snow-capped most of the year. There is beauty everywhere you look from Hurricane Hill is magnificent. The mountains surround you, the flowers brush against your ankles, and the Olympic marmots scurry around, perching on rocks for better views and whistling to each other at any sign of possible danger. There’s nothing much like it.
One reason to brave the cold for a few more miles is the view at the end. Biking 20 miles from Philly had our fingers and toes cold, but the scene at Valley Forge National Park was serene and pure autumn. I wish we had time to explore more of the park, but the rain was starting and we had the same distance to cover to get back before dark. I’m glad we chose to keep pedaling when we felt like stopping. It felt good to get where we had planned to and with such a nice view for our rest, we almost didn’t notice the temperature.