April 27, 2015

Chiricahua National Monument, Arizona

In my humble, yet well-informed opinion: drop everything and go to southeast Arizona's stunning National Monument, Chiricahua. This isolated "sky island" mountain is surrounded by an ocean of desert grasslands that protect the wonderland of rocky sentinels that call Chiricahua home. Forget the Badlands*, forget Mono Lake**; if you are in the market for several thousand acres of pinnacles, hoodoos, and precariously balanced spires secreted away at 9,000 feet above sea level, Chiricahua is the national monument for you.

The moment I traced our path from Silver City, New Mexico, towards our next destination in Tucson, Arizona, and noticed the attractive swath of green on our atlas that represented the monument, I knew it was fated. Even more so as we felt the predictable lull of road trip weariness settle on our shoulders as we careened down I-10 after the setting sun, trying to put car troubles and freezing temperatures behind us.

A hike will do us good
I thought.  
Some rocks will cure us.

We drove the long and lonesome road through cresting waves of grass towards the looming mountain as the sky dimmed, anticipating a hopefully mild night in our tent. Forty solitary miles later and we were enveloped in the comforting familiarity of a National Park campground, whose completely average yet consistent facilities are among my favorite lodgings in the country.

A warm morning welcomed us with the delight of choosing our hiking trail for the day. We decided on something long and hopefully epic, making sure the Mushroom Rock Trail, Big Balanced Rock Trail, and Heart of Rocks would not be missed. In the end, we chose a 7 mile hike out of the possible 17 to explore.

From the campground and the Welcome Center, there were no interesting rock formations to be seen, but as soon as we boarded the bus to Massai Point - climbing ever higher into the sky - the tantalizing blanket of unique geology began to unfold before us.

Twenty seven million years ago, the nearby Turkey Creek Caldera laid down 2,000 feet of volcanic ash that fused into rhyolite tuff, an event similar to the recently visited Bandolier National Monument. Over time, additional uplift paired with erosion caused by wind and water wore cracks into the tuff, leaving behind the carefully sculpted masterpieces that make up Chiricahua today. 

As an added bonus, Chiricahua is one of the only places in the US where you can see a native coati... and we did!

And as I expected, walking beneath the towering spires, under an overcast sky was just the balm we needed to sooth our traveling bones and ready us for what's next: Tucson in the rain.

*NEVER forget the Badlands
**Long live Mono Lake!!!!!

April 23, 2015

How to Deal with Car Troubles on the Road

Not everything goes perfectly on the road. While we may set off for the idealized adventure of picturesque road tripping - from the sun on our backs to confidences around a campfire - sometimes the road gets bumpy in between. Such was our case on the beautiful morning we wound through the breakneck elevations of the Gila Mountains in southeast New Mexico. Our Truth or Consequences hot springs and camping high was quickly dashed as our car welcomed the new day with a terribly pessimistic grinding noise.

Nothing quite raises the haunches of worry like car troubles - especially when you are 2,200 miles away from home - but these are the chances we take when we road trip. This isn't my first bout of car troubles while on a car-reliant vacation, and I doubt it will be my last. But the important thing about facing the potential loss of time and money on the road is to 1. be prepared and to 2. stay calm. These two maxims have always helped me turn my travel frowns upside down.

1. Be prepared for car troubles

Duh, right? Hopefully we are all prepared for car troubles on the daily with a reliable car, an active subscription to AAA, and a savings buffer that can cover repair costs. But when you are miles away from home, it's also important to have the necessary supplies in your car to help you survive your location comfortably and the extra time to play the waiting game.

For example, the grinding noise in our car that morning intensified as we tried to take it over the Gila Mountains toward Silver City, where the promise of a "city-like atmosphere" would provide choices for auto repair. Up in the mountains, we found ourselves predictably without cell service on an isolated stretch of 75 hairpin miles. Luckily, we had all our camping gear, so spending a spontaneous night in the car while waiting for help wouldn't have been a big deal. However, we were running low on food and water. If you are heading off to extreme areas, always have enough supplies to support your party through a night or so of accidental isolation.

Don't forget that if you have to wait for repairs on your car, you will most likely have to find additional and last minute lodging in the area that can also run you a few extra and unplanned for bucks.

Which also leads me to the ever-so-important budget of time. I, for one, and hopelessly guilty of over scheduling my trips, which leads to the heartbreak of losing precious travel time and having to give up much anticipated activities. Even simple car repairs in remote regions can take up to three days, not including weekends.This is not good news for the busy traveler.

2. Stay calm

It's not always easy, right? Especially when faced with budget woes and time loss. And believe me, I am not always one to hold true to this little nugget of advice. I barely remember anything about the Gila's beauty because I was so focused on the grinding noise and all possible, terrible outcomes. Not fun. But I was lucky enough to have my boyfriend by my side who balanced out the yin of my over-the-top worries with the yang of his zen. He had to nicely keep reminding me that mechanics exist for a reason.

And never forget that unscheduled delays may be the most exciting things to happen to us on our trips. In Silver City, we had our lunch paid for us by a friendly patron who took sympathy on our car woes and then we ended up biking around the city on free rentals a friendly bicycle shop owner loaned out to us! When my car broke down in Arkansas, where we ended up stranded for three days, I ended up meeting wonderful friends, hanging at a motorcycle club, and experiencing Hot Springs, Arkansas, in a way I never intended. I still consider that "layover" as one of the most fortuitous moments of traveling I have ever had!

Truthfully, unless you are traveling in a beater who on its best day is on its last legs, car repairs should not be too surprising. Some repairs are just the predictable maintenance and responsibilities of car ownsership. When we finally got my car checked out in Silver City, the problem was a simple broken pulley that took no more than three hours to repair. Anderson was completely right to stay calm. Some cases may require more due alarm, but we shouldn't let a little bump in the road prevent us from being aware of our surroundings.

There is magic in traveling; some of the best experiences lurk in the unscheduled ether. Embrace travel interruptions and let the road guide you! Besides, there isn't much a car rental agency can't fix!

April 21, 2015

A Yurt in the Enchanted Forest

Yes, it's actually called the Enchanted Forest and I can vouch for its bewitchery.

For those of you keeping score, we are still in New Mexico. Actually, we decided to take a detour to northeastern New Mexico to visit the artist enclave of Taos, where we were lured by the promise of yurts and cross country skiing.

Just a little beyond Taos, located 10,000 feet into the Carson National Forest, is the Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski Area, replete with 30k of skiing trails that wind through towering and lichen filled pines to stunning views.

Inside the winding trails are two yurts that are available to rent throughout the year, the only catch being that you have to ski yourself and your belongings there. That's cool - if you are a good skier, which I am not. Actually, I had only been x-country skiing once before and downhill skiing never before this.

But it was an impossibly beautiful day and the allure of a yurt hidden in the woods was too good to pass up, so we loaded up our pulk sled (a sled that hooks around your waist and you town behind you) and headed up the slopes.

It was the beginning of a freeze/thaw cycle, so the trails were a bit icy, but since we were there at close to the end of the season, we had the whole course to ourselves - so we could fall down without feeling embarrassed.

After a good mile of uphill skiing, we finally found our little yurt, quickly unpacked and then headed further up the trails to the spectacular birch trees that lead to one of the most breathtaking views of the trip. If only we had been skiing (and falling!) with our nice camera, we might have been able to share the love a bit better!

Eventually we had to stop skiing for the day as the temperatures dropped because the trails became too icy to navigate safely and dusk fell on our little hideaway. In fact, we ended up having the whole forest to ourselves! Since the Enchanted Forest trails close at 4:30pm, we enjoyed the haunting calls of owls and a very cold night with a little bit of whiskey, campfires, and a lot of solitude.

Enchantment, indeed. 

The next day we skied out and began the drive towards more desert regions.

My review of the Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski Area is a 6.5/10. However, this has nothing to do with the quality of the trails, the pristine beauty of the forest, or the awesomeness of the location. 

For a small building that is serviced easily by snow mobile and is only one of two rentals on site, the yurt was actually a tad under-stocked and uncared for. The under-stocking wasn't too much of a problem since we had all our camping gear in the car, but we were in no way informed of this by the two people who were running HQ that day, so we had to waste time skiing back down to get more stuff even though the website tells a different story of its amenities. 

I was disappointed to find that the mantles on the propane lanterns were all broken with no replacements even at the store (we had to use our own or be stuck in darkness), the wood stove was a bitch to use with no instructions (and we are wood stove users at home), and that the two port-o-potties (that we were asked nicely to use instead of the nature potty) were filled above the brim with poo. For the price ($85/night), I would have expected a bit more upkeep - and a bit more information from the people in the shop, one especially who giggled when we tried to explain we were beginner skiers instead of offering us advice, tried to charge us for an additional day of skiing even though it is included in the rental price, and who didn't offer us the free for use pulk sled until our second time back down though she watched us shakily ski off with overstuffed backpacks the first time. 

But aside from that very unhelpful person, the excitement of sleeping in a yurt under the stars surrounded by the melody of owls and the thrill of skiing in tee shirts is enough to make me go back for more. Plus, I'm a better skier now.

April 17, 2015

SPRING!! Crocuses + Tussilago

Spring is life. And spring is FINALLY HERE!

Spring comes late to my part of Vermont. Especially this year since we've received the most snowfall in the country. Especially when you live in a valley inside a valley like I do. You know, where all the cold air goes to linger. 

But, at last, the snow is just beginning to recede from the yard and like a beacon of hope for many happy spring days to come, my crocuses have bloomed! Crocuses are my favorite spring flower. They are just such a cheerful spot of color in the groggy moments of a landscape awakening. 

I planted these crocus blubs last fall and it's awesome to see them popping up! I can't wait to plant more this year. 

Another sure sign of spring in Vermont is the emergence of tussilago, a wildflower also known as coltsfoot. I'll admit, I might have done a little happy dance when I first spotted these babies.

Like spring, Day Drunk is coming back with more travel stories, spring adventures, and other exciting tales!

March 18, 2015

Exploring the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico

Still shaking sand all the way out of Colorado, we were pretty excited to finally get to New Mexico and find some (hopefully) warmer weather. Our first stop was Santa Fe, where we checked into our base camp, the Santa Fe International Hostel. The hostel is a really friendly place where you can stay in same-sex dorms or rent private rooms with up to five beds inside! We chose the private room route so we didn't have to split up for a very reasonable price.

We had two main goals in Santa Fe: eat chile relleños everyday and check out the Jemez Mountain region. You might remember the story about how Nessa and I nearly got stranded in the woods here at night while looking for hot springs a few Septembers ago. Despite the brush with disaster, I just had to give it another chance! (Spoiler alert: We found them this time!)

On a sunny and moderately warm day in January, we headed off into the mountains to first check out Bandelier National Monument, an Ancestral Pueblo archeological site protecting the impressive canyon homes of the native peoples of the land. If you are thinking "cliff dwellings", than you are on the right page.

Once we took the windy, pine and snow speckled road into the Cañon De Los Frijoles, we grabbed a guide book for a buck and hit the trails along the canyon walls towards the noteworthy Alcove House. The trail, albeit leisurely, is an awesome way to explore the dwellings, sometimes reaching three stories high and accessible by ladders. There are also a lot of friendly rangers walking about to make sure you didn't pass by any petroglyphs without noticing.

The pinkish canyon walls of the Frijole Canyon are made of a volcanic ash called tuff that was deposited from the eruption of the adjacent Valles Caldera over one million years ago. The Ancestral Pueblo people were able to carve homes into the soft tuff and use the harder pieces as bricks. 

See the turkey?

At the end of the trail is the Alcove House, which you can reach by climbing 140 feet into the air on a few narrow ladders. The ladders are very sturdy and I wouldn't hurry to say that the climb was all that scary, but then again, I definitely didn't look down - a steady hand over hand was the perfect method for me.

The whole Jemez Mountain region was formed from volcanic activity triggered by an intracontinental rift (not associated with any fault lines) which also affords the area its many hot and warm springs. And I wasn't just about to give up on those elusive Spence Hot Springs!

Finding the Spence Hot Springs this time was a breeze and not at all as challenging as it should have been for me and Nessa last time! And yes, there is even a sign to the springs on the path and a bridge!

Now I wish I could rave about what a thermal paradise the pools are, but fresh from a few days at the paradisaical Orient Land Trust Hot Springs, these heavily used yet poorly respected pools didn't have the same spark that the might have had if I had found them during an adventure with Nessa.

The best thing about the pools is the spectacular view and the fact that the warm spring is fed from the mouth of a small cave - just the right size to squeeze into and maximize the warmth. Otherwise, the layers of soggy trash that surrounds the whole area kind of kills the vibe. Considering how easy it is to reach from the main road, that is not totally surprising, but still a bummer for someone trying to enjoy nature. Although I certainly was able to get a little relaxing in!

We looped around south of the mountains and back into Santa Fe in time for chile relleños and a little bit of dancing before resting up for more New Mexican adventures.

March 16, 2015

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Southern Colorado had a two for one special - Orient Land Trust Hot Springs and Great Sand Dunes National Park!

You know anything with the suffix "national park" will pique my interest, but I had also read a few interesting things about the Dunes like that you could ride a sled down them so we made sure to budget a good day to explore the area.

And wow - it wasn't until I actually laid eyes on the dunes that I realized that I had never seen anything like it before. If it weren't for the abutting Sangre De Cristo Mountains pocked with friendly evergreens, one might think they were in the middle of a desert, which I guess once you are standing atop a 700 foot pile of sand overlooking 19,000 acres of dunefield, you pretty much are.

The dunes here are the largest in North America, rising about 750 feet from the floor of the San Luis Valley. The wind is the architect in this special case; after the glaciers that formed the valley melted, westerly winds picked up loose particles and began piling them up against the wall of the mountain. This process continues today. Sand is still moved across the valley floor to the dunes, making them bigger, and changing their shape daily.

We arrived at the dunes on a clear and chilly day, still warm and pliable from two days in the hot springs. With our intentions set on sledding, we were immediately disappointed to learn that, despite several internet resources telling me otherwise, sleds were not for rent at the Visitors Center within the park and that we would have to drive 40 miles out of the way to a satellite Visitors Center in Alamosa to get them - and then drive back. Nah. So we hiked.

From the first step into the soft, shifting sands, we knew we were in for a challenge. Climbing nearly 750 feet in elevation in sand that forever sank away from us took nearly two hours. And it certainly didn't help that because the dunes shapes are flexible and constantly changing there are no obvious  trails. We were advised to stay on the ridge lines to make walking easier, but we didn't always follow that advice and would more often than not end up scrambling (hopelessly) up sheer, crumbling dune faces and cursing ourselves for making the journey harder on ourselves that necessary!

After busting our glutes into smithereens, we eventually made it to the top of a tall dune ridge, but the chilly winds whipping stinging sand all around us quickly inspired us to turn around.

The best part? After the slow, painful climb up, the reckless running, tumbling, and jumping our way back down the soft, pliable sands almost made up for the fact that we never got to try it on a sled!

And I was no doubt shaking sand out of my hair for days!