January 30, 2015

Rock City, Kansas

File this one under awesome roadside attractions! 

After spending the previous day exploring the prairie by foot, we were ready to cover some miles in our car, but first we just had to check out nearby Rock City Park in Minneapolis, Kansas. Touted more as a roadside attraction than a geologic park, we were delightfully surprised to find that it was actually more like a roadside playground! This was particularly exciting because it being the middle of winter on a Wednesday, we were the only ones there.

So on the two acre spread overlooking patchwork fields of ranch land and winter wheat, we began climbing all over the 200 round sandstone concretions, formed by calcite from Kansas' prehistoric inland sea and differential erosion, that littered the park. And yes, it was just as cool as the pictures make it look! All around us were rock formations, varying from 3 feet high to 12 feet high and easily climable. In fact, the park encourages climbing!

We spent about an hour exploring and climbing until it was time to hit the road with our sights sent on Colorado. It may seem crazy to say, but if you are ever in the area, I highly suggest stopping by the park for some geology-themed excitement.

(Ps, I may be writing this to you in Tucson, Arizona after a million adventures, but my heart is still in Kansas!)

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

"You must not be in the prairie; but the prairie must be in you... He who tells the prairie mystery must wear the prairie in his heart." William A. Quayle, The Prairie and the Sea (1905)

Some of my most favorite times have been in Kansas, and that is not because my excitement about arriving colored it in anyway - but because it was totally awesome! Kansas gets a bad reputation from pretty much everyone. The only things I hear about the sunflower state is that it is flat, monotonous, boring, or something about the Wizard of Oz. I rarely hear anybody praising grasses singing in the wind or the overwhelming feelings of isolation you can get standing under a sky with no end and how those feelings are like nothing else in the world.

Good thing I am here to tell you about those things!

Driving through Kansas caused quite a spiritual stir in us - every mile we exalted the Lord above: Oh, my God. The plains they never ended. From careful rows of corn and sunflower stubble, to gently undulating ranch land, to the vast scorched earth of the Tallgrass Prairie National Park and Preserve, as far as the eye could see was as far as the eye could see.

We made a beeline to the Tallgrass Prairie in the Flint Hills, first and foremost, on a very chilly yet calm day. Bundled in our hiking layers and eager to stretch our legs after three days on the road, we set off on a seven mile hike through the winter worlds of some of the last tallgrass prairie in America. The natural prairie remaining here is only 4% of the original 170 million acres that didn't fall under cultivation or development just within the last generation. Wow.

And what should appear on the horizon less than a mile in? A herd of bison, plodding staidly along like a glimpse back in time. The majority of the prairie we walked through had recently undergone a controlled burn, so we didn't really get a good idea of what it would have been like to be standing under prairie grasses upwards of eight feet high, but we did get an amazing sense of isolation - with the winds at an atypical hush, the silence of the winter prairie was nearly deafening with not a tree, house, or power line to break the line of sight.

Watch out for the occasional bison poop!

"Native tallgrass prairie is the rarest of all North American biomes... [It] is a singular system defined by climate, weather, size, and the interactions of fire and grazing bison. Because those factors are no longer functioning in a balanced whole anywhere in North America, true tallgrass prairie can be considered to be extinct as a natural functioning ecosystem." John Madson, On the Osage (1990)

With our legs aching and the sun setting in the overcast sky, we headed into nearby Cottonwood Falls, Kansas, to soak up a little history. I am in the middle of reading William Least Heat Moon's PrairyErth, which covered Cottonwood Falls and Chase County in the first chapters, so I was thrilled to see the quiet little town through the eyes of the author, including the Emma Chase Cafe and the Cottonwood Falls infamous red roofed courthouse.

But like most prairie towns on a Tuesday in the middle of winter not much was open and as I sometimes do when I stand next to my Subaru with Vermont plates pointing my camera about, I began to feel more like a voyeur than a well meaning tourist. We hit the road towards our accommodations for the night in Salina, watching the sunset on oil derricks down on the prairie.

January 16, 2015

Celebrating Kansas & All 50 States!

Hello from Colorado! AGP and I have had an amazing time making tracks across this beautiful country of ours, although working from a tablet with only WiFi connections has made it admittedly harder to post from the road. But don't worry, I have been taking a TON of pictures. And you can always follow my Instagram or Twitter for daily updates on my location and adventures.

Its been only a week since we left Vermont and we have covered a lot of miles! From Albany to Buffalo through snow, wind, and dirty windshields, and then on through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri until, finally, Kansas! 

We took a day hike through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio (which you may remember reading about here) to the frozen Brandywine Falls - and even though the bridge was out, we were able to complete a short loop through the snow.

We also enjoyed the more touristy side of things like checking out the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri, which is pretty damn impressive in person!

But why is Kansas so special? Because it means that I have officially been to every state in the Union! That is a pretty big deal for a girl who has pretty much devoted her young adult like to driving around the country to see all there is to see.

Congratulations to me!

And as for Kansas, it was everything I could have hoped for and more. Awesome, expansive, vacant, and with a sky so big it only really hits you until the eighth straight hour you've been driving through it. We hiked in the last remaining Tallgrass Prairie in the United States, drove through a million miles of rural ranch and farm roads, and made eyes at pretty spectacular geologic formations - yes, they have those in Kansas too!

Yesterday we finally landed in Golden, Colorado to spend some quality time with Kyla and Ben, our friends who have recently moved here. Aside from the Rocky Mountains rearing up and smacking us in the face, the best thing about being here is that it is 50 degrees outside!!! A wonderful reprieve from the near-Arctic conditions we have so far endured. Our spirits climb higher and higher with each mile westward we eat up, and as nice as it is to take a few days off from traveling, I am excited to get back on the road!

January 7, 2015

Road Trip Resolutions

I don't usually make resolutions with the new year (except to visit Canada!), but with my road trip looming and my desires to blog about the whole trip while it's happening led me to agree on resolutions of a different kind: road trip resolutions!

My road trip transparency has been pretty lacking in the past. I usually use the time to unplug from the world and immerse myself into the fantasy and romance of the trip. Aside from ignoring my daily troubles and responsibilities, that often means forgetting to take pictures or the exact locations of some of the pictures I did take. It makes memories harder to recall. I have also realized that I enjoy writing about my adventures, so thorough documentation would be very helpful. Don't fret though, I ALWAYS remember the exact route of each trip.

Like I said, I often go through phases during trips where I will stop taking photos for a while. Sometimes it's because I'm trying to live "in the moment" and step away from the viewfinder, and other times it's because I am SO inspired by the travels that I find my camera just doesn't do it justice. Because of this, my photo galleries often experience huge gaps in destinations. For example, when I am home, I'll realize that I didn't take a single picture in Montana, or maybe just one really bad one, and then I get all disappointed about wasting the opportunity.

I do not want this to happen on this trip! I am going to set a goal for myself to always have my camera with me - even when it seems inconvenient. And even on those days where we are trapped in the car getting from A to B, I will transform these moments into inspiring memories. AND I will do better at taking pictures of signs and place names to add a bit of chronological order to my snapshots.

For the most part, my mind is a treasure trove of memories - memories I can call up on a moments notice to recreate some of my favorite travels. Whether it's a warm, dry breeze on a roof deck in South Dakota while a vulture flies over head or shuffling through a parking lot dusted with snow at night in Arizona, I keep a lot of textural emotions protected from the abuse of time. However, I have never kept a travel journal, so most of these memories are tenuous at best and perhaps lend more to whimsy than reality.

For this journey, I want to record even the nitty gritty of each day. I am mostly interested in keeping better tabs on the weather and how that might have affected my mood or activities for the day. Either way, I want to do better at recording the atmosphere of my trip, so instead of using an atlas to recall pivotal moments from the trip and arguing about what happened where, I can easily refer to my notations and conjure up memories supported by cold hard facts.

Guys, you would probably be horribly disappointed to learn how introverted and private I really am. Color me more the observing, wallflower type than the "grabbing life by the testes" type. Not that I would ever shun an uncomfortable or spontaneous situation for the sake of adventure, but I kind of super hate meeting most people. Hell, the last time I met people during a road trip, they nearly left us in the woods to die! However, I really want to be better at making new friends and taking advantage of local opportunities, within reason.

Thankfully, AGP is more extroverted than I, so I will try to use his enthusiasm and easy-going nature to reach out to people I may normally just ignore: fellow tourists, bar patrons, local business owners, friends of friends... this time, I will say, Hello!

I am aware that this is a rare and special opportunity for me. Not many people have the chance to spontaneously take two months of vacation to do what they are most passionate about. And I am also aware that this probably won't be my lifestyle forever. Therefore, despite the challenging weather conditions, I want to be totally conscious during this trip and make a better effort to be grateful and present throughout the adventure. Whether that means picking the camera up (or putting it down!), living spontaneously, or rethinking my idea of "live documenting" the whole thing, I just want to make sure I am doing justice for this majorly awesome season of traveling!

Does anyone have any other tips on how to best capture the spirit of a road trip?

January 6, 2015

Day Drunk in 2014

In 2014, I lived in Vermont for a whole year, started a tiny house business, and turned 27. It also marked a year of collaborating with Nessa and I even got to introduce you to my friend Kyla! Aside from finishing up documenting my cross country road trip with Nessa (just in time for my upcoming trip!), I really feel like this year was a great stab at truly finding my blogging voice and confidence!

Here are a few of my favorite posts from 2014:
(You can find other faves on the sidebar!)

And my favorite collaborations:
The Beetle Who Thought he was a Dragon by Kyla

Thanks for reading, everyone!