“Is it safe to go there?” is the first question people asked when we said we were going to Colombia.  When answered in the affirmative the next question from our genuinely baffled acquaintances was, “Why would you want to go to Colombia?” As lifelong itinerants our incredulous response is always, “Why the heck wouldn’t you go?”

Inglesia de San Pedro Claver in the Old City of Cartagena

Truthfully, I’ve had dreams and eventual plans of going many places in South America, but Colombia was never really on the short list.  Opportunity arose to finally visit the South American continent when, bored of the usual stateside venues for my continuing education, I searched for something a little more exotic and found a veterinary conference that was being held in Cartagena, Colombia.  The sum of my pre-travel knowledge of Colombia came from occasional news reports of the long-standing guerilla war and drug trafficking and what I gleaned from “Romancing the Stone” (which I discovered later was actually filmed in Mexico).   We ordered a few travel guides (which we didn’t really use as none are very good for Cartagena), did some googling and watched an old episode of Anthony Bourdains travels to Colombia.  In all, we weren’t terribly prepared, and having no real preconceived notions about the country and its people turned out to be a good thing.  Cartagena is a city for wandering and discovering, not for planning and schedules.

Bougainvillea vines drape over many of the old Spanish buildings.

Cartagena is most of all a Spanish city.  Like something out of a fairytale, its streets are graced with colorful colonial mansions dripping with bougainvilleas and grand old stone churches watch over every square.  The old city is ringed by an imposing 7 mile long stone wall and the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, a typical Spanish fort, served to protect the city from attack by land or sea.   A port city settled and built by Spaniards in the 1500’s, Cartagena grew rich on the trading of gold and slaves.   While the indigenous cultures were largely wiped out by the settlers and are a small minority today, the Palenqueras, those colorful ladies balancing bowls of fruit for sale on their heads, are descendants of escaped slaves and are a very visible reminder of the cities past.
Being a low lying equatorial city, it’s hot.  So hot, the sweat starts streaming down your skin the moment you step outside into the tropical air.  Part of that is because, though we grew up in humid swamp that is Florida, both of us are now cold-adapted mountain girls.  The other reason, is that it’s just that stinking, crazy hot.  As you wander the city, you find the heat is a little less brutal closer to the walls, with the inner areas harboring still, stagnant air.  Tall buildings and narrow streets allow no trace of ocean breeze to pass.  There is no relief from the heat until the afternoon wanes and the sun begins to set behind the city walls.    It’s still hot, you’ll still sweat, and the ocean breezes are warm, but it’s far more comfortable than in the daytime.  Sunset most often found us up on the walls of city, enjoying a cold cervesa from a street vendor and savoring the salty breeze.

By chance, we were in Cartagena for the signing of the peace agreement between FARC and the Colombian government.  Ultimately, the people of Colombia voted against the agreement, but it was still a remarkable piece of history to witness.  This was a candle-lighting ceremony in one of the city squares the night before the signing.

After dark, the city really comes alive.  Too hot to be active during the day, the nightlife in Cartagena is robust with tourists and locals mingling in every square.  Just follow the voices and music and you’ll find yourself being entertained by talented street performers or stumble upon a local bar where you can grab a cervasa and find the people of all ages salsa dancing.  One of our favorite finds was the “Cuba 1940’s” bar where you can dangle you feet in a cool indoor pool while sipping Mojitos.  Plaza de La Trinidad, in the Getsemani quarter, was steps from our hotel and swarming with people every night.  Located in a working class neighborhood that is undergoing gentrification, and awash in expensive boutique hotels alongside hostels and modest local homes, a gathering of people from all walks of life occurs on the square.  Grab some rum laced fruit punch from a street vendor and find a spot to sit and watch the show.


A wonderful way to spend the day and escape the heat on Isla Grande.

To escape the heat of the city, a trip to one of the many island beaches is in order.  Though it’s a coastal town bounded by the ocean, the beaches near the city tend to be avoided by tourists, for good reason.  Within moments of stepping onto a local beach you will be bombarded with people trying to rent you a cabana, or sell you a massage, jewelry, or questionable food.  It never lets up and makes a peaceful day enjoying the surf impossible.  Good thing there are lots of private or semi-private options on the islands off the coast.  The charming hosts at our hotel, Casa Lola, set us up with a day trip to the beach at Eco-hotel Isla del Sol on Isla Grande.  A privately owned resort, you get a boat ride to the resort, a hearty lunch and a peaceful day in the sun and sand.  We also arranged a day at the Beach Hostel on Tierra Bomba, the closest beach to the mainland, accessed via a short 10 minute boat ride.  It’s a laid back, casual atmosphere and there are a few peddlers offering their wares, but not so many to become a nuisance.  I imagine that it might get pretty busy on the weekends, but we were there on a quiet weekday and enjoyed the beach with just a few other people.

Marybeth enjoying a relaxing day in her hammock at the Beach Hostel on Tierra Bomba.

While there certainly are American tourists, most of the tourists we encountered were from South America which means, few of the locals speak English other than what few words are needed to sell you stuff.  It also means there are no Starbucks or McDonalds and when you speak as little Spanish as we do, it makes ordering food and getting information an interesting challenge.  Most often, we would find a restaurant or food stand, and we would point to something that looked potentially tasty and say “Uno, por favor” to order. Eating mystery pastries and empanadas worked out pretty well most of the time.

Trying fresh fruit juices at the Mercado

We hooked up with Cartagena Connections for their Street Food and Mercado Bazurto tours.  The Mercado Bazurto is not on the agenda for your typical tourist, but it’s on our “don’t miss” list.  A sprawling, dirty, bustling market, the Mercado Bazurto is an assault on the senses.  Music is blasting from all corners as you navigate the maze.  Sanitation is in short supply and the pungent sour odors of fish and meat, decaying vegetables, and piled trash are pervasive.  Shopkeepers stalls are made from whatever materials could be cobbled together and roofed by old grain bags, netting and cardboard.  The Mercado is the go to spot for locals to purchase just about anything you might need for your home or kitchen.  Our guide, Jan, led us through the cacophony of sights and sounds and purchased some of the exotic tropical fruits and foods for us to sample.  We shared a lunch of steamed plantain, deep fried fish and Aguapanela, a local drink made from sugar cane that tastes remarkably like Southern Sweet Tea.  The intense heat of the day was made hotter by the blasts of heat coming from the cooking fires in that part of the market, but it was an experience not to be missed.  We met up with Jan again later that afternoon for the Street Food tour, and got to try a variety of local foods along with learning a bit more about the layout and history of city.  The arepas choclo were my favorite!

Local kids congregating at the church entrance during a wedding we happened by.

There is no shortage of things to do in Cartagena.  Put on your shoes (and sun hat) and start wandering.  Hungry?  There are a myriad of restaurants and street foods to try.  Want some culture? Several museums are located in the old city and are easy to find or book a tour to visit the village of Palenque (something I wish we had time to do).  Hot?  Head to the beaches.  You don’t need to plan your time, just enjoy the city as it presents itself.   In our wanderings, we encountered a fabulous parade of Colombian senior citizens, a neglected but beautiful cemetery (you need to wander a bit outside the city to find that one), and the warm, welcoming hospitality of people of Cartagena.
We are already dreaming of returning and expanding our travels beyond Cartagena.  In the words of Anthony Bourdain, “It’s ludicrous that this place exists and everybody doesn’t want to live here.”
Happy Trails,
Katie and Marybeth
Some more photos from our adventure…

Mount Elbert…or 14ers are hard.


Mount Elbert beckons.

2016 has been a great year for adventure, but finding time to sit down to write has been a bit of a challenge.  Mother Nature has decided to intercede on behalf of our tiny blog audience by laying me low with a nasty cold that has made my biggest adventure of this week being a trip to the grocery store for chicken soup and cold medicine.
Today I have the chance to reflect back on a late July hike up Mount Elbert.  At about 14,440 feet in elevation at its peak, Mount Elbert is the tallest mountain in Colorado.  The cute mountain town of Leadville is nestled near the base of Mount Elbert and her neighbor, Mount Massive.  There are 4 routes to the top and I chose the East Ridge as it is the shortest route with the least elevation gain.  It’s probably the easiest route, but when you’re talking about 14ers, there are no easy routes (unless you drive up Mount Evans or take the Cog Railway up Pikes Peak)  A beautiful drive past the Twin Lakes takes you to the a nice camping area and the trailhead.  Those without 4wd need to park near the campground and hike to the trailhead.  This will add 4 miles and 900 feet of elevation gain to the hike, so 4wd is highly recommended.  The trail starts to climb about 1/4 mile in and rarely lets up until you get to the top.   Up, up, up you go, through a pleasant mixed confier/aspen forest.

An early morning start is needed in order to summit before the storms roll in. The reward for the lack of sleep is a lovely sunrise on the trail.


Fluffy Dog is not letting the altitude slow him down. He spent some time bounding through the trees while waiting for me to catch up.

As soon as you break tree line, the views of the surrounding mountains and valleys below open up and become more beautiful and impressive the higher you go.  Of course, once you get above tree line, trying to breath in air devoid of oxygen, the views become secondary to trying to oxygenate your body while performing strenuous exercise.    Everyone has a different level of fitness, but the oxygen deprivation becomes a great leveler.  With the exception of a few super-athletes, the closer to the summit you get, the slower the going gets.  Above 13,000 feet, you start to wonder why the hell you’re doing this.  You concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other and are acutely aware that your hiking pace has slowed dramatically and continues to slow the closer to the summit you get.  14ers are a beast to hike and that last 1/2 mile to the summit is always an excruciatingly slow struggle.

A great mid-mountain place to stop for a snack and to take in the views.


Fluffy Dog is enjoying mid-hike his snack.


Fluffy Dog making new friends on the mountain.


Fluffy Dog was happy to find a snow field to play in near the summit.


Getting closer to the summit, I was hiking at a snails pace, while the altitude didn’t slow Fluffy Dog down at all.

It’s all worth it when you reach the summit.  The summits of 14ers in Colorado are rarely lonely places.  I’m always amazed by how many people are willing to make the trek.  There’s always a jovial, party type atmosphere at the summit, with people bounding over the rocky terrain to take in the views and groups of hardy hikers rewarding themselves picnic lunches.  Fluffy Dog and I enjoyed our own summit sandwich and cookies before heading back down.

Fluffy Dog savors the triumph of his first 14er.


The views from the summit are always awe-inspiring.

Getting a little older means more aches and pains going down than up, but after a bunch of Ibuprofen and hot tub time, I’ll be ready to tackle another of Colorados amazing 14,000+ foot mountains.
Happy Trails,

Segment 10 runs along the base Mount Massive.

A little synchronicity happened in our schedules allowing Marybeth and I to embark on a short backpacking trip to tackle segment 10 of the Colorado Trail.  It was a good chance to test out our gear and have a little adventure.  We started our trek in the great little town of Leadville, where we met up and had dinner at the Tennessee Pass Cafe.  I popped into the Leadville Outdoors & Mountain Market to pick up a dehydrated meal for our trip and ended up walking out with a new air mattress and a bunch of maps.  The Market is a small but well-curated shop and the owner was very helpful and knowledgeable about her products.  I can definitely recommend stopping in if you’re in the area and need some gear.


Fluffy Dog along the trail.  Most of the trail is nicely shaded in pine forest.

Segment 10 of the Colorado Trail meanders through a pine forest along the base of Mount Massive, and aptly named 14er that is the second highest mountain in Colorado.   There are two long up climbs going either direction on the trail.  We started from the Mount Massive Trailhead, hiking “backwards” from the way most people choose to do it.  The grade is not too bad on the legs and lungs (and about the same whichever direction you choose), though I think we both were a very happy when we completed the second uphill portion.  Water crossings are abundant which made this a good section to go lighter on the amount of water in our packs and I didn’t need to carry extra water for Fluffy Dog which was a welcome change from most of my hikes.  The trail winds mostly through pine forest and grants you occasional glimpses of Mount Elbert (which is right next to Mount Massive).   After 10 miles on our feet, we found a good campsite at a large clearing with views of Leadville and the surrounding hills just inside the Mount Massive Wilderness.


Fluffy Dog is guarding the tent.

The lack of good rain this summer and subsequent burn ban meant we couldn’t build a campfire, so we made quick dinners from our dehydrated meals.  It would have been perfect except we were swarmed by mosquitoes for a couple of hours before the sun went down.  We took shelter from the pesky bugs in Marybeths tent until they settled down for the night.  We broke out the campstove again to toast marshmallows for ‘smores, my favorite camping treat.


You can enjoy ‘smores, even if you can’t have a campfire!

While Marybeth and Fluffy Dog spent the night in her tent, I brought along my hammock and rainfly for a trial run.  In one night, I’ve become a hammock camping convert!  I spent a very comfortable night (even when it rained) with the exception of my sleeping pad shifting.  A new sleeping bag with a pad holder is now on my wishlist, along with a bug net.


My morning view from my new favorite piece of gear, my hammock!

My pack weighed in at 28 pounds including 1 liter of water and all my food.  I’d like to get that pack weight down a bit (under 20 pounds if I can) when my budget allows buying lighter gear.  I have a toasty warm sleeping bag, but it weighs in at 4 pounds and takes up an extraordinary amount of pack space.  A lighter, smaller sleeping bag is first on the list!  Fluffy Dog is also going to learn to carry his own food, dog booties, some of his water and few other pup supplies.  His gear and food (not counting water) adds nearly 3 lbs to the pack so I’ll be searching for a pack for him soon!


Fluffy Dog got to take it easy this trip, but soon he will be outfitted with his own pack.

I’m loving my Osprey pack (3 lbs) which is big enough to carry all my gear, but not terribly bulky.  My spur of the moment purchase of a Thermarest NeoAir sleeping pad was a welcome upgrade from my old foam pad.  I cut the foam pad down to Fluffy Dog size so he could have his own backcountry dog bed. My trusty Down Under oilskin hat, my trekking umbrella and my versatile shemya, round out my 3 favorite pieces of backpacking gear.


All my gear.  Note the size of my sleeping bag!  It’s definitely time for a smaller one!

We packed up our gear the next day and had a quick 3 mile hike to the Timberline Trailhead.  It was time to get back to civilization and our jobs (so we can buy more gear!).  We’re already dreaming of our next journey!

But first, a few more pics…

Happy Trails,







Pryor Mountain Mustangs, 2016

In a remote region of Northern Wyoming and Southern Montana, the Pyror Mountain feral horse herd roams free over vast high mountain meadows.  The Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range is one of those very special places where it feels like your soul has found home.  I first visited this area in 2003, then again in 2004.  A return visit had been on my mind for a while and I finally had the opportunity to visit my old friends again last week.
At the top of the mountain, the views of the Big Horn Canyon and surrounding public lands are stunning, but the horses are the main attraction.  The Pryor mustangs tend to be small in stature and many have primitive markings such as dorsal stripes and zebra striping on their legs.  They are accustomed to gawking humans and their inquisitive nature often leads to close encounters.
2004-09 Pryor Mountain 2 - Pryor Mountain (142)

The foals are especially curious about humans.  2004

Several local groups (along with the BLM that manages the herd) keep close track of the herd, including naming each newborn foal and keeping track of lineages and deaths.  The most famous of the horses is White Cloud, a pale palomino stallion that stands out for his unique coloration.
2003-07 Pryor Mountain 1 - Wild Horses (4)

White Cloud and his harem, 2003

On my first visit to the range, in 2003, I had the mountain top and horses to myself.  It has since become a more popular destination, but there are still plenty of opportunities for alone time with the horses.  The bulk of the human visitors only come up for the day, so if you camp out overnight, you’ll find more solitude.  There are several good locations for dispersed camping on top of the mountain.  If you’re lucky, a few of the horses will come over to check out your tent.
There are three roads that access the mountain range, Pryor Mountain Road (aka Sage Creek Road), Burnt Timber Ridge Road and Sykes Ridge Road.  I have driven all three on different trips to the area.  The Pryor Mountain Road is a (mostly) well-maintained gravel road that is passable by passenger cars, but it does get a bit bumpy over the last few miles.  Burnt Timber and Sykes Ridge are 4WD roads.  Burnt Timber is a bit easier on the suspension than Sykes.  Keep your eyes peeled on both roads for horses grazing at lower elevations.
2003-07 Pryor Mountain 1 - Wild Horses (112)

An old tractor lies at rest on Burnt Timber Ridge Road.

Sykes Ridge Road was the first real 4WD road I ever drove and it can take a toll on your vehicle.  On my first trip up Sykes in my old pick-up truck, I managed to blow out a sidewall on one of my tires, destroyed my power steering gear box and seriously damaged my alignment.  It’s not a road to travel unprepared.  It is 16 miles of very rough road and a high clearance 4WD vehicle is required.  While it doesn’t have any particularly dangerous sections, there are stair-step and rock garden obstacles along with steep, rocky ascents that will require use of 4-low and your skid plates will likely takes some hits.  This trip, my trusty Jeep made it just fine.  Whichever road you chose, take a good map.

They aren’t kidding about the 4×4 recommendation!

This is a place that is better described in photos than words, so on with the show!
2003-07 Pryor Mountain 1 - Wild Horses (6)

Scratching an itch, 2003

2003-07 Pryor Mountain 1 - Wild Horses (26)

A stallion and his mare, 2003

2003-07 Pryor Mountain 1 - Wild Horses (104)

Hey friend! 2003

2003-07 Pryor Mountain 1 - Wild Horses (173)

A foal in a meadow of lupine, 2003

2003-07 Pryor Mountain 1 - Wild Horses (133)

Damage acquired on Sykes, 2003


Overlooking Montana on the Pryor Mountain Road, 2004

2004-09 Pryor Mountain 2 - Pryor Mountain (96)

Mares and foals, 2004

2004-09 Pryor Mountain 2 - Pryor Mountain (108)

Just 3 little buddies, 2004

2004-09 Pryor Mountain 2 - Pryor Mountain (174)

Nap Time, 2004

2004-09 Pryor Mountain 2 - Pryor Mountain (175)

Mustangs at a salt lick.

2004-09 Pryor Mountain 2 - Pryor Mountain (190)

Evening is settling over the range, 2004

2004-09 Pryor Mountain 2 - Pryor Mountain (215)

Foal friends, 2004

2004-09 Pryor Mountain 2 - Pryor Mountain (237)

Must be love, 2004


Sunset in the lower reaches of Sykes Ridge Road, 2016


Relaxing with Fluffy Dog on top of the Mountain, 2016


Even the “good” parts of the road are rocky, 2016


Views of the Big Horn National Recreation Area on the way up Sykes Ridge Road, 2016


Typical coloration of these mustangs, 2016


Hello there! 2016


Views of Wyoming from the top of the range, 2016


Resting among friends, 2016


Curiousity, 2016


A very angry marmot.  He didn’t like Fluffy Dog coming near his den. 2016


A foal in evening light. 2016


Grazing in the last light of the day, 2016

For more information about the Pryor Mountain Mustangs check out:

KBRHorse.net has directions for getting there, but still take a good map, the directions are a little off.
Wild In The Pryors Nice blog from a gal that takes people on tours of the mountain.
BLM Website but, don’t rely on their maps to get there!
Happy trails!

Panorama from Section One of the Colorado Trail

Hitting the trail again, I backtracked to Section One of the Colorado Trail and tackled it in two very different days of hiking.
June 3, 2016 – 16.2 miles.  Laced up my hiking boots and packed up plenty of snacks and water for what I knew was going to be a long, steep, and mostly dry hike.  The plan was to start from the South Platte River and hike 8.1 miles to Bear Creek and then back.  The first 4 miles are switch backs up and over a rocky ridge.  It was definitely strenuous going up, but my legs were fresh and the weather was lovely.  Once you gain the ridge there is a beautiful view of the valley bellow.  Another 4 miles and 1000 feet of elevation loss, brought me to the first crossing of Bear Creek, a nice place to have a snack and refill the water bottles before turning back.  Fluffy Dog was very happy to have a little water to splash around in.  The climb back up the ridge wasn’t too bad as the grade going back was gentler on my legs and cardiovascular system than the switchbacks from the other side.

Fluffy Dog is leading the way.

The wildflowers of summer are just starting to bloom.  Colorado wildflowers don’t tend to be as showy as those you find in moister regions, and you’ll miss a lot of them if you aren’t paying attention.  I spied quite a lot of berry bushes, mostly thimbleberries, raspberries and currants, at the lower elevations.  In a month or so, hikers will be well-rewarded with natures best trail snacks.
I was dreading this 1/2 of the section a bit because of the long switchbacks, but overall it was pretty pleasant, with plenty of shade, unlike Section Two.  If you have a car, there is a great tubing spot on the Platte River (at the Platte River Campground) near Deckers that would be a great activity/reward at the end of this section.
June 17, 2016 – 12.6 miles.  Bringing Fluffy Dog along for the hike, meant starting at the Indian Creek Trailhead for the second half of Segment 1, instead of the “Official” starting point near Waterton Canyon (no dogs allowed there).  I got an early start and found a very helpful volunteer at the trailhead that gave me a map of the trails in the area put together by the Parker-Elizabeth Riding Club.  There is an equestrian campground at the trailhead run by the forest service.  It looks like a great place to camp out with the horses and do some trail rides.
I started out from the Indian Creek Trailhead with a spring in my step and was thoroughly enjoying the meandering trail as it wove it’s way through the forest and along Bear Creek for the first 1.5 miles.  If I had been planning to hike this section in one direction, the fact that I was going downhill for so long wouldn’t have concerned me too much.  Knowing I would have to come back the same way, I took note of how much uphill hiking I would have to do to get back to the car.  I didn’t ponder it too much though, because the grade seemed reasonably gentle and the overall distance would be shorter than what I did just a couple of weeks before.  I was delighted to find even more wildflowers were blooming.


Soon, you leave the lower forest and gain a ridge, hiking the rolling terrain of the ridge for another 1.5 miles.  Quicker than I thought I would get there I made it to Lenny’s Rest, and was officially back on the Colorado Trail.  Three more miles of hiking up and down drainages (with several water crossings) finally found me at my turnaround point.  Fluffy and I stopped for a bit and had some snacks and I refilled my water bottles at Bear Creek.  This part of the trail is really lovely, and the moisture from the creek supplies plenty of water to support lush vegetation.

All too soon, my snack break was up and it was time to head back.  I checked my stats on my Iphone and found I had come 6.2 miles, ascended 1255 feet and descended 1798 feet.  I wasn’t looking forward to the 1798 feet I would have to climb back up, but figured it wouldn’t be too bad.
I was wrong.
The temperature was creeping up, I could feel some fatigue setting in, and I was almost out of trail snacks.  Packing up my backpack, in my early morning haze, I had forgotten to grab half of my planned snacks for the day.  I usually, keep an emergency high calorie trail bar tucked somewhere in my backpack, but I ended up eating it on another hike and forgot to replace it, so it was a long, hot, hungry hike back.
I was doing okay until I hit the “Ridge” again.   At the bottom of the ridge, there is a trail intersection.  I had to make a decision, I could go back the same way I came or take a connecting trail to Stephen’s Gulch to reach the trail head.  It was very tempting to take the connecting trail, as it was very clearly going downhill.  I didn’t have a topo map with me so I wasn’t sure which way would have been easier on the legs.  In the end, I chose the “Devil I know” and prepared myself for the ridge ascent.

The Ridge

Half a mile into it, I was cursing all the ice cream I had indulged in over the winter, as I still haven’t shed all my “winter weight.”  Lugging extra pounds uphill, the grade was tougher than usual.  Three quarters of a mile into the ridge, my feet felt like I had lead weights in my shoes and the heat was becoming a problem.  I deployed my handy hiking umbrella to to get some relief from the sun, but it was of little help.  The heat radiating from the ground was far more potent than what was coming from above.  I felt like I was hiking through some level of hell.  Then came the chills and goosebumps.  I’m medically and outdoor savvy enough to know that chills, when you’re sweating it out in hot weather is an early sign of heat exhaustion, so I found a nice patch of shade to rest and for a bit and drank a lot more water.  Unfortunately, my sawyer filter was beginning to clog up and it took some effort to get a decent flow of water from it.  I had to stop a few times to rest and rehydrate over the next mile.   What was a gently rolling ridge on the way in, turned into 1.5 miles of drudgery and hill climbing on the way back out.    Thoughts of the ice cream I would get at the end kept me going.
Finally, I descended the ridge and was delighted when the trail began to once again follow Bear Creek.  I was hungry, hot and tired, but at least I had plenty of water!  The hard times were over…or so I thought.  The last 1.5 miles (that seemed to be a gentle grade going in) were pretty miserable.  My Motion tracking app on my Iphone was very helpfully telling me every 0.5 mile that I was going the blazing speed of 1.7 miles per hour.  Fluffy Dog, however, was still full energy, chasing butterflies and practically dragging me uphill.
In what seemed to be a million years later, I finally made it back to the trailhead, drove up the road to the nearest market, only to find they were out of ice cream!  Well, it’s probably better for my waistline, that I didn’t get to indulge in my favorite treat.  Lots of lessons learned on this hike…don’t forget to pack all your food, bring a higher volume water filter (I have one, I just didn’t bring it), and stop eating so much ice cream!
I’m feeling the need to leave the heat of lower elevations behind, so next up, I’m probably skipping ahead to Section 6.  It’s 32 miles, so it might take me the rest of the summer to get it done, unless I convince Marybeth to backpack some of it with me, but I’m looking forward to getting out of the foothills and into the real mountains!
Happy Trails,

A “Swell” Time


Temple Mount in the San Rafael Swell.

Snow is still blanketing the high country in Colorado, so we packed up the Jeep for Memorial Day weekend to spend some time with friends and visit one of our favorite places, the San Rafael Swell.  The Swell is a unique geologic feature rising out of the high desert near Green River, Utah.  It’s full of twisty slot canyons, adventurous 4wd roads and unusual rock formations.

We picked a campsite at the head of Crack Canyon that we had scouted on previous adventures.  It’s a great spot off the beaten track and only accessible if you have 4wd vehicle.  The Swell receives a lot of visitors on holiday weekends so we were pretty happy to score our secluded campsite.


We were lucky to get this awesome campsite at the head of Crack Canyon.

Visiting places like this feel like entering another world.  All your cares and worries fade away the moment your feet hit that red dirt.  Though we’ve visited the Swell on multiple occasions, there is always something new to explore.  This time, we used our base camp in the Swell as a jumping off point to explore some of the surrounding territory.

We started out by driving down to Hanksville to the maze of canyons in the North Wash.  Leprechaun Canyon provided a fun, easy hike to help us break-in our hiking legs.  This is definitely an area to visit in the cooler times of the year as even in late May, the heat was oppressive.  Fortunately, once you get into the canyons it’s much cooler.

On the way home, we took a side trip down a long dirt road to the Burr Point overlook.  We got a good preview of what our hike the next day into Happy Canyon would entail.


Fluffy Dog and the Jeep at Burr Point Overlook

Happy Canyon is in the Robber’s Roost area near Hanksville.  The canyons of Robbers Roost were used by Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch gang to elude capture and it’s easy to see why.  There are very few trails down into the canyon and the top part of the canyon is largely bounded by vertical walls of rock.  If it weren’t for the remote location, Happy Canyon would probably be swamped with people.  Lucky for us the long drive up an unmaintained 4wd road with some pretty sketchy sections and exposure to shear drop offs keeps out all but the most intrepid travelers.  The hike itself is an easy (but hot) walk few miles along a canyon shelf before dropping down to the bottom of the canyon with a brief, refreshing ford of the Dirty Devil River.  The heat was searing (don’t even attempt this hike in summer), there were biting flies at the river and the climb back up to the Jeep was a bit grueling, but it was worth it.


The views along the way to Happy Canyon are impressive.

We spent our last day in nearby Moab to put the Jeep through it’s paces on the Fins ‘n’ Things 4wd trail.  It was great fun testing the capabilities of the jeep, with the bonus of amazing scenery.

Too soon, it was time to go home.  We’re already planning future adventures and I’m sure some will include more of the slickrock trails around Moab!

Happy Trails,



Fluffy Dog is happy to be on the trail again.

One of my many hiking goals is to complete the Colorado Trail.  I’ve made a slow start of it, but have some ambitious plans for the summer.  Taking off work a month or more is not a financial possibility so I’m planning to tackle it section by section as time allows.  I’m also planning nearby side trips to do a few 14ers and visit other interesting places I find along the way.  I started with Section 2 to get my “feet wet.”  It’s the nearest section to my house and is familiar territory.  I started this section way back in November, with a 12 mile out-and-back hike from the Platte River to Raleigh Peak Road.  Then, I got insanely busy with work and other trips and didn’t make it back to the trail until yesterday.  To complete the trail, I started from the Little Scraggy Trailhead side and hiked to my previous turn around point on Raleigh Peak Road.

The Colorado Trail Guidebook (available at the  Colorado Trail Foundation), describes this section as “brutally hot” and they are not kidding!  Large portions of the trail meander through the Buffalo Creek Fire burn area and there is little shade and no water.  Even though I hiked it in the cooler months of November and May, it was still uncomfortably warm.  I would not recommend doing this section in the heat of Summer unless you enjoy being miserably hot.

Overall, it’s not too strenuous, mostly gently rolling hills, though the beginning near the Platte River has a short switchback climb that’s not too fun.  There are some interesting sights along the way including and old abandoned quartz mine.  The vistas are pretty wide open in the burn area and you can see Mount Rosalie to the north and Pikes Peak to the south.

Somewhere along the line I must have delete pictures I took in November, but here’s few from yesterday along the trail.

I’m planning to do some of the low elevation segments before the full force of summer heat is upon us.  Stay tuned!

Happy Trails,


Happy Earth Day

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. – Edward Abbey
It is Earth Day, go hug a tree and thank Mother Nature for the beautiful views.    Be kind to our planet, it is the only home we have.   xo, MB

Katie enjoying the view at Bryce Canyon National Park

It’s Friday which means most of us are waiting for our work day to end so that we can head out for the weekend.  In that light here are some pretty pictures to make 5pm come a little faster.  It’s a Friday Photo Frenzy! This week’s Frenzy is from a trip to Isla Mujers, Mexico that Marybeth took last year.  Hasta luego, mi amigos.



On Being Prepared


Hey lady what’s in that pack?

I have heard that you don’t need to invest a lot of money into gear to start hiking.  At least I think I have heard that, but then again REI is a thing that exists, so I am not sure that is the truth.  In any event, it is a fact that you don’t need much to head out to your local open space park for a short hike.  However, if you are planning a longer hike you will want to bring more than a hat and a water bottle.

Below is a picture of my backpack and its contents.  It should be obvious that I don’t subscribe to the ultralight movement.  I like to think that the heavier the pack, the better your butt looks after hauling it up hill.  What do I carry? I always have the ten essentials with me, but I also like to have some additional “luxury” items like the InReach and umbrella. Read on for my take on outdoor essentials.

Gear photo

Why yes I was a Girl Scout, why do you ask?

What is in the bag from left to right:

  1. Knife – one of the ten essentials.  Mine is really big, I could buy a smaller one, but the “old timer” always impresses the boys so I keep carrying it.
  2. Potty Bag – Hey we all have to go, it pays to be prepared.  Bag includes: trowel, toilet paper, hand sanitizer and extra bag to pack out trash.
  3. Snack Stuff Sack – Food is one of the ten essentials.  Also hiking is really just an excuse to eat all the M&M’s out of the trail mix.  P.S. When on a hike together you probably shouldn’t offer me any of your trail mix, I will eat the chocolate and hand you back a sad bag of peanuts and raisins.
  4. Hat, gloves and buff – Weather changes on a dime in Colorado, bring extra layers.
  5. InReach Satellite Communicator – The InReach allows you to send messages to loved ones and allows them to track your progress on-line.  It also includes an SOS function that alerts search and rescue in the event of an emergency.
  6. Sunscreen and Lip Balm – Sun protection is one of the ten essentials, also sunburn sucks.
  7. Emergency Tarp with pre-tied paracord – This tarp can be used to build an emergency shelter in the event of an unplanned night out in the woods.  It can also be used to build a shelter to wait out a storm, create a wind block or sunshade.
  8. Emergency Bivy Sack – The bivy sack, combined with a well built emergency shelter will make an unplanned night out less horrible.
  9. Umbrella – The umbrella is a luxury item, but it is nice to have on a rainy day or to provide some shade on desert hikes.
  10. Whistle – One of the ten essentials and useful for alerting rescuers or your hiking partners to your location.
  11. Flagging Tape – Very useful in an emergency situation.  If you need to send hiking partners out to get help, the flagging tape can be used to mark the trail for search and rescue.
  12. Map and Map Case – Paper doesn’t require batteries, always take a physical map with you.
  13. Compass – Just like a map, a compass doesn’t need batteries.  Learn to use one and never be in a bad situation if your GPS dies.
  14. Sawyer Water Filter System – On longer hikes, with good water sources, it is nice to be able to carry less water (water is really heavy) and filter more when needed.
  15. Headlamp – One of the ten essentials.  If you end up out after dark, it is good to have illumination.
  16. Fire Starter (cotton balls in vaseline) – cheap and easy fire starter.
  17. Storm Matches in water proof case – These matches stand up to wind and rain.
  18. Field Notebook and pen – Sometimes you need to take notes.
  19. Flint and Steel – Because starting a fire with a flint and steel makes one feel like a badass.
  20. Esbit Solid Fuel Tablets – These work great for starting a fire.
  21. Sam Splint – Lightweight, moldable splint for medical emergencies.
  22. First Aid Kit – Ok, you don’t need one this big.  I took a wilderness first aid class and promptly freaked out about all the terrible things that could happen on a hike, thereby causing me to buy a ridiculous first aid kit.
  23. Soft Shell Pants – Insulating layers are one of the ten essentials.
  24. Soft Shell Gore-Tex Jacket –  Insulating layers are one of the ten essentials.
  25. Down Sweater – Packs up small and weighs nothing.  It is great to have when hiking in the variable weather conditions of the mountains.
  26. Water Bottle with holder – self explanatory.
  27. Keffiyeh style scarf – This has multiple uses, primarily I use it as a handkerchief, but it can be used as a sunshade, a sling for an injured arm, a towel, etc.  Also it looks way cooler than a regular bandana so it has that going for it.
  28. Pack – Gregory Jade 30 liters.  I have had this pack for about 6 years.  It has held up to some pretty good abuse and is comfortable for long days on the trail.

Not pictured:  Hiking Poles, Peak Designs quick clip for DSLR camera on chest strap of pack, small foam seating pad, cell phone, extra battery with charging cord and my cat.  Just kidding, the cat doesn’t come hiking with me (yet!).

Written by: Marybeth