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.
Passing through places I’ve never been I often find unexpected areas of beauty that lead to quiet reflection. This barn scene at Capitol Reef National Park was a place that caught me off guard on a day where I needed some time to think about myself and why I had been feeling the way I was. The serene meadow surrounded by the red rock cliffs was a perfect place for a time out among the horses and light traffic before heading up into the canyon for more adventures.
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.
Being up before sunrise has an energy that is invigorating. There is potential to the day while you wait for the sun to break the horizon. Staring at snow-covered mountains towering in every direction around you in the blue tones of early morning is magical. And when the first warm glow hits the peak of the tallest point, it radiates with life-affirming color while it slowly swallows up the darkness and ushers in the morning.
The landscape of southern Utah is so varied that it’s hard to identify at times. This shot is from somewhere near Buckskin Gulch near the Arizona border. Watching the road curve ahead into the distance is always exciting, especially with views like this. We took several dirt roads to get where we were going as you often have to in the backcountry of this area. They are often washboarded or covered with soft sand so travel becomes a gamble. We made it in and out of every one without incident somehow.
While I was in Florida briefly I decided I was much too close to Everglades National Park to not go visit. Unfortunately I didn’t have a lot of time to get to the places I’d really like to, but I did go to Shark Valley Visitor Center where there are a few short trails on boardwalks and paved road through the protected area. The amount of people on bikes and trams didn’t seem to bother the gators at all. They were out in full force. Along with the many gators I also saw a lot of turtles, fish, and birds, including a giant crane that took off while I stood a few feet away. It was a brief visit, but it was a great escape from work and the city.
The desert regions of the southwest aren’t nearly as barren as one might think. Besides the incredible structures and canyons there are myriad plant species that line trails and backcountry throughout the area. Wildflowers are abundant in warmer months, and blossoming cactuses are some of the more strangely beautiful flora that you can find. The exotically intriguing flowers beckon while the sharp points encourage you to keep your distance. That’s what zoom is good for.
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.