Finding My Parks, Finding Myself

I went from 0 to 5 pretty quickly this year, visiting National Parks for the first time from the east to the west side of the US. Some made me gasp, some made me cry, and all of them helped me learn a little more about myself.

1. Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
The grandest view you ever did see. Met some people who were back for the 6th time, and met others that referred to it as a giant hole in the ground. Also met some elk in the parking lot. This canyon was massive, and despite the giant crowd behind me, as soon as I got to the first overlook, it was so. silent. Beautiful, overwhelming and awesome! Isn’t it one of the seven wonders of the world? It should be. And for someone that likes the mountains so much, no issues with chairlifts and gondolas, I was absolutely shaking as we stood on the edge for a photograph, frozen trying to hike around rocks and couldn’t look at other people daintily hopping through crevices. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t sitting on a chair with a flask full of fireball with soft powder (east coast ice?) beneath me.

Grand Canyon | ChristinaSkis.com Blog

2. Shenandoah National Park, VA
Nearest, so the dearest to my heart. Only a 3 hour drive away, I can get a glimpse of beautiful Shenandoah whenever I fancy, without layovers at an airport. Lots of bear press here, I saw my first one up close here, and yes, I must admit I embarrassingly almost pulled what is called a “bear jam” along Skyline Drive. Sorry!

Shenandoah NP

4. Petrified Forest National Park & Painted Desert, AZ
Definitely the most colorful! Purples and blues you didn’t think existed in nature exist here. Gorgeous dunes and rocks of pink and magenta, and the petrified wood was honestly breathtaking with yellow, red, green quartz. But, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that it was all a joke and these ancient, dinosaur trodden logs were just here because someone put them there. I mean, this used to be a rainforest… I can’t fathom it.

Petrified Forest NP

4. Saguaro National Park, AZ
My least favorite, but beautiful in its own way. It was surprisingly barren, and by they time this was made into a national park, many of the giant saguaros were old, and then either ravaged by fire or snow (can’t remember the sign), probably both, because AZ weather is crazier than you’d think. However, I did still find something about myself there. I felt bad that I thought this way, that I should be grateful to be in one of what our country has deemed National status. But I hated hiking the desert.

Quick AZ Escape | ChristinaSkis.com Blog

5. Rocky Mountain National Park, CO
Now this, this place gives you the feels, hands down. Estes Park, one of the larger mountain towns to stay in near one of the many entrances of the park, had the most astounding views I have ever seen in my life. I literally cried out loud in my rental car as I ascended into town. And the next day, I sat around Dream and Emerald lake for about 3 hours. I was in love. I learned that I actually will altitude sickness, even if I didn’t feel effects in Winter Park 3 years ago. Tip: Don’t drink so much water that you flush your electrolytes and feel worse, get Gatorade in there. And Advil will save you. Anyway, highly recommend and can’t wait to explore again.

rmnp

Unfortunately, that’s all for now. I will probably visit Shenandoah again before the year is up, but I think next year only holds more opportunities. Here’s to 101 years (and many more)!

#FindYourPark

Dreamin’ at 10,000 Feet

I had the opportunity to travel to Denver on business, so what other choice to extend this trip into a solo-tour of some of Colorado’s most recognized places?

Day 1 – Denver – 5,430′
Spent a night in the new, super modern the ART, a hotel. I was too busy swimming in the bed and the shower to take pictures… plus, it was a business trip, I wasn’t supposed to be having fun yet, right?

Day 2 – Denver to Colorado Springs – 6,035′
I was set free during the late afternoon and I pretty much drove straight to The Broadmoor upon arrival to Colorado Springs, pretending I was staying in the elegant, historical mountain resort (not the $68/night motel 5 minutes down the road).

 

This place is phenomenal! Feeling the history here. And the mountains… ?

A photo posted by Christina Skis (@christina_skis) on

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Day 3, Morning – Colorado Springs – 6,035′
Stuck on EST, I rose at 5 am (if only I could do that for work) and decided to see Garden of the Gods at sunrise. Please do this. Morning must-see.

Rocky Mountain National Park - ChristinaSkis.com Blog

Rocky Mountain National Park - ChristinaSkis.com Blog

Excited to see some waterfalls, I visited Helen Hunt falls and hiked the trail to take a peak at another on Silver Cascade Trails.

Rocky Mountain National Park - ChristinaSkis.com Blog

9:00 am, opening time, I grabbed a shuttle to see Seven Falls, owned by The Broadmoor. A civilized little walk brings you to a giant sight to behold, and 224 steps up a cliff to get close and personal. I continued on the trail at the top to see Midnight Falls. Let me warn you, this has a decent amount of crowd at opening time. Go early if you want to see. Plus, you can eat at the Golden Bee afterwards!

Rocky Mountain National Park - ChristinaSkis.com Blog Rocky Mountain National Park - ChristinaSkis.com Blog

Day 3, Afternoon – Colorado Springs to Estes Park – 7,522′
Denver traffic is a nightmare, and I was a bit nervous to go the Peak to Peak Byway through the mountains via Nederland, CO. So, I went the opposite way and I ran into the cute Castlewood Canyon State Park – I wish I had time to stay longer!

Colorado State Park - ChristinaSkis.com Blog

Day 4 – Rocky Mountain National Park – 9,450-10,110′
My final day I went all out. I booked a guided hike from Kirk’s Mountain Adventures, and set out at 7:00 am. We hit one of the most popular areas in the park, which also serves as a great first-day hike for visitors to RMNP.

Shortly from the Bear Lake Trailhead (parking fills early!) you will run into Nymph Lake.

Rocky Mountain National Park - ChristinaSkis.com Blog

Dream Lake is not too far after, and one of the most beautiful areas on this trail.

Rocky Mountain National Park - ChristinaSkis.com Blog

After hiking just 1.8 miles up, we hit Emerald Lake at 10,110′ feet. And I was out of breath.

Rocky Mountain National Park - ChristinaSkis.com Blog

My guide was so passionate about fly fishing, and I am grateful he brought his gear. We hiked down near the stream looking for spots to fish (which I pretty much have never done), but it was a welcome break and they were pretty and wild!

Rocky Mountain National Park - ChristinaSkis.com Blog

After we were done, I did some shopping in downtown Estes Park, more like a boardwalk of t-shirts and nicknacks. Then it was time to see some wildlife with Wildside 4×4 Tours. And we lucked out beyond what I even thought I was going to see. Bear AND two bull moose! I mean, that’s once in a lifetime!

Rocky Mountain National Park - ChristinaSkis.com Blog

I definitely would say, go with family and friends so you can share the magic of Estes Park and all of Colorado together – it’s not to be kept to yourself. I can’t wait to go back.

Rocky Mountain National Park - ChristinaSkis.com Blog

A Quick Arizona Escape

This trip explores the three National Parks in Arizona, from north to south and some nice national forests, canyons and scenic drives in AZ. I am sure there are many, many more to explore, and visiting Arizona again is not out of the question. The only thing of popular note we missed is visiting the Havasu Falls area, which I heard inquiring a permit for is extremely difficult anyway. That will be for another time.

Day 1 – I landed in Tucson early morning and hopped in a car filled with friends, veggie wraps and cupcakes. We drove towards the Grand Canyon via Sedona’s Red Rock Scenic Byway. Taking this short 7.5 mile byway is well worth the extra half-hour.

Sedona Red Rocks

Going the scenic way takes five and a half hours, no stops. But, we got out and hiked around for a quick bit, enjoying our first bits of AZ sunshine. It gets cold up north.  We got to the Grand Canyon with dwindling crowds, not to mention it was a Wednesday, and we stayed for a most awesome sunset. The whole thing absolutely breathtaking, never ending, and bigger than anything I’ve seen here.

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We stayed in Flagstaff for the night. It took little over an hour, but the hotels are probably cheaper – I never checked lodging pricing near the park, but the mountain-town feel of the hotels seem to be a tourist trap. Forgive me if I’m wrong.

Day 2 – Good morning! If you have an extra day and can successfully plan and get a camping permit for Havasu, go. It’s very close to the Grand Canyon. On our end, we picked through the complimentary breakfast and filled up our water bottles and bladders for the 3 hour drive to to Petrified Forest National Park. We followed Route 40 to the the north end, beginning at the Painted Forest Visitor’s Center.

Painted Desert, AZ

The drive is 26-miles of pristine road with perfect overlooks and paved trails. The most astounding thing is just how much the scenery changes. From red desert to rainbows of blue, the views are always different from each stop. Take the marked trails and explore what you wish, there are many.

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Blue Mesa, the beginnings of the Petrified Forest
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Crystal Forest, where the petrified wood shows off colors of Quartz.

I was pleasantly surprised. I did not think the petrified wood would spark my interest, but it was gorgeous! And to think the area used to be a lush rainforest for the dinosaurs. All in all, it took us to about mid day, choosing to hike only Blue Mesa and Crystal Forest, but stopping plenty of times. Time to drive south. We were pretty exhausted by the time we stopped in Show Low for food and gas, and I had to pull over on the drive home via Route 60 for the gorgeous views of Salt River Canyon – both to take pictures and to switch drivers. The elevation got me for the first time here.

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Straight out of Jurassic Park – definitely can see dinos here.

Finally, we land just south of Tucson, popular for Saguaro National Park and birding.

Day 4 – We visited some short, uphill hikes where I was pushed to my limits and realized I hated hiking without the shade of trees when the weather is 85+. With trees, hiking a mile up Ramsey Canyon’s steep switchbacks and a ton of birders at the base had me looking up and around and everywhere. Hamburg trail led to a beautiful overlook at 6,200′ and also had me stopping every hundred feet or so to catch my breath. Again with the elevation. Nearby, we made another stop at Corondo Cave Trail for a short half-mile hike to the open cave and had some fun exploring. Past that, we took the dirt mountain road to the Coronado National Memorial scenic overlook at 6,700′. Mexico was on the other side.

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Did I mention southern Arizona had wineries? It does. I drowned my sunburn with crisp whites late into the day.

Day 5 – There was a rest day shoved in there somewhere. My flight was in the late afternoon and that means I can fit in just one more park. I went to see what Arizona looks like in the movies – Saguaro. These suckers are HUGE! And old. This is a short and sweet 8-mile drive through some scenic views and quick hikes. Unfortunately, it put the nail in the coffin for my hate of hiking in the desert. I feel bad for it, like I should be more grateful, but would you really think someone who loves the snow would love the desert, too? It doesn’t mean it wasn’t beautiful… I just liked it more from the car, with AC blowing in my face.DSC_1470DSC_1445

That’s it, thats all. See more fun posts of wineries and rainbow wood on Instagram – @christina_skis and let me know what else I should have visited on my way! Maybe I’ll come back after Monsoon season.