Two Monumental Reasons To Fight: Grand-Staircase Escalante & Bears Ears

The 1906 Antiquities Act is under attack by the Trump administration. Help protect what's ours. What do the monuments mean to you?

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How To Safely Hike in the Dark

Autumn is upon us and the days are getting shorter. You know what that means. Hot cocoa, marshmallows, and hot cocoa with marshmallows.

What better place to enjoy your hot cocoa than in the brisk darkness of the wilderness?

Damn right! But when night creeps up on you sooner than expected, you'll be wise to take precautions to ensure you make it home safe.

About this time a few years ago, in Glacier NP, I miscalculated how long it would take me to get back to camp. As a consequence, I found myself staring down a hungry bear in the darkness of the forest. I was just yards away from the false safety of my tent when I heard a rustling sound in the bushes. I turned and before I knew it, was face-to-face with a grizzly three times my size, with only 5 or 6 feet separating us.

Eyes glowing yellow in the moonlight, it turned toward me, but remained where it was, sizing me up. This was the most intense staring contest I’d ever been in. Seconds felt like minutes. Hand on my bear spray, I remained as still as I could, wondering if the bear could hear my beating heart.

All of the skills I learned over the years were rushing through my mind, as I plotted my possible escape. At the same time, I was slowly resigning and thinking, “there are worse ways to die.” All of this probably happened in a matter of seconds, but it felt like hours.

Then, like a cacophony of knights, a pack of coyotes started wailing off in the distance. My adversary seemed to take this as a sign of distraction, and just trotted off like it was nothing.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little offended. What, I’m not delicious enough for you? A pack of howling coyotes miles away is enough for you to just scoff at my savory offering?

Pfff, whatever, bear. Whatever.

 

Hiking and backpacking at night don’t have to be scary or treacherous. The darkness of the nighttime provides an unmatched serenity you can enjoy. Getting past the fear of the unknown is itself a courageous reward. It also makes room for an added layer of exploration with heightened senses. Sort of like being (partially) blindfolded. You’re relying on all your senses and will pick up on things you wouldn’t usually notice.

Same world. Different world.

Desert in Moonlight -   Thomas Shellberg

Desert in Moonlight -  Thomas Shellberg

Trekking in the moonlight is cool because the it casts interesting shadows, offering a unique perspective on your surroundings. If the moon is bright enough you may not need a headlamp, allowing you to see the night landscape with a broader view. 

If you’re lucky enough to be far from any city lights, the stars will blow your mind. If you're really lucky, you'll be able to see the Milky Way shining bright like an astronomical angel in the sky. 

Sounds great, right?

It is. 

It’s even better if you’re not constantly worrying about whether you’re going to make it out alive. So here are some basic tips to make sure your amazing night trek is the best experience you can have:

Headlamp by Night - ©️  Teddy Kelley

Headlamp by Night - ©️ Teddy Kelley

Bring a headlamp, or flashlight (or both). And bring extra batteries (and know how to change them, in case you have to do so in the dark). Being able to see is pretty fundamental to night hiking.

Bring some type of navigation. GPS, map & compass, etc. Knowing how to get around is important. Even more so at night when you have fewer landmarks and clever tools at your disposal.

Start slow and familiar. Short hikes first, close to home. Make sure you like it (you will), then go hog wild thousands of miles away.

Bringing a hiking partner isn't a bad idea. Someone to calm you when you see strange things (like a tree stump suddenly resembling a forest creature). It's also someone to share their hot cocoa and marshmallows with you.

Bring extra clothing, food, and water. When it gets dark, it gets cold. Fast. Waterproof clothing is useful for dew or rain. You’ll probably get hungry (as most people do when they’re trekking), so food is a necessity.

And water… duh. Let the other person carry the cocoa.

Bonus: Grab a camera. You can get some badass pictures at night. Star trails, the Milky Way, moonlight pictures, long-exposure shots of landmarks. Taking pictures of familiar landscapes at night allows you to see them in a new and fun way.

Milky Way - ©️  Jakub Gorajek

Milky Way - ©️ Jakub Gorajek

 

So go! Frolic in the glowing moonlight (safely). And if you see that bear, tell him I'm so totally over it.

 

What’s your favorite night trekking experience? Tell us in the comments.

 

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Stop and Smell the Passionflowers

It’s that time of year again. No, I’m not referring to the anticipated return of Game of Thrones. I’m talking about the time people start gearing up for thru-hikes and brewfests. As much as I’d love to talk about brewfests, that’s a different blog.

Every year, people inevitably ask me one of these questions: “Have you thru-hiked any of the long distance trails?” “Which trail do you want to thru-hike first?” “If you could thru-hike just one trail, which one would it be?”

In-N-Out Burger - ©️ Nicole Atkins

In-N-Out Burger - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Apparently, the direct path from southernmost to northernmost In-N-Out isn’t an acceptable answer. Whatever.

And every year, people stare at me in shock when my response is a casual lack of interest for the thru-hike. It seems every backpacker should be a thru-hiker. I must have missed that day at the Super Secret Annual Backpacker’s Meeting. Most likely I slept in, from staying up to watch Game of Thrones.

I have nothing against the thru-hike. I definitely see the appeal and have a yacht-load of respect for people who do it. It’s a difficult feat to be proud of, on a physical, mental, and emotional level. These are people who make sacrifices so they can enjoy the splendors of the outdoors, in raw form. Awesome.

Kanye Loves Kanye - ©️  Jen Lewis

Kanye Loves Kanye - ©️ Jen Lewis

But if I were to hike thousands of miles in one fell swoop, it would take me longer than it would take Kanye to stop obsessing over himself. That’s a very long time.

You get my point.

It’s not because I don’t like the idea of thru-hiking, or because I can’t make daily mileage. But rather than speed hiking my way through my voyage, I prefer to stop and smell the passionflowers. Then take pictures of them. (I’m not lugging around 20 pounds of camera gear for nothing.)

I mean, sure. I can stop once in a while, get a quick whiff, and push through, barely glimpsing the immense beauty around me. I’d much rather take my time to sniff that bad boy long enough to clog my sinuses for a week. Everything in life is a trade-off.

Passionflower - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Passionflower - ©️ Nicole Atkins

I can also rush through life, failing to appreciate simple pleasures like a stranger’s smile or double ply toilet paper. I’d rather take the time to revel in the moments that remind me how fortunate I am to be living, so I can wipe my ass in comfort.

It boils down to passion. We all have different passions, even in the outdoors. Some of us focus on distance, some of us focus on strength, some of us on aesthetics.

I'm the person who has to pause and freak out over how amazing everything is. Hyperbole at its finest. I snap a few pictures lest I become senile and forget the majestic views I was privy to, and continue on my way.

Shoal Lake in the Gros Ventre Wilderness of Wyoming -  Nicole Atkins

Shoal Lake in the Gros Ventre Wilderness of Wyoming -  Nicole Atkins

Maybe I want to take a nap amongst wildflowers to let my muscles rest. Perhaps I enjoy watching insects engage in their strange mating rituals. Imagine if I did these things for thousands of miles.

I’ll stick to my weeks-long adventures and call it good. In the end, it’s a pragmatic decision.

That’s not to say thru-hikers don’t appreciate their journey. No doubt they do. If you’re in the middle of nowhere for months at a time, appreciating your journey is probably the only thing keeping you sane. All I'm saying is the thru-hike isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay.

Katahdin at Sunrise - ©️  Jeffrey Stylos

Katahdin at Sunrise - ©️ Jeffrey Stylos

Enjoying our passions is what brings purpose to our journey. If your passion is hiking 15 to 20 miles a day through the wilderness for several months, more power to you. I look forward to living vicariously through your pain. I mean pleasure. Pleasure.

If your passion is in the journey and you like to stop and smell the flowers along the way, you know where to find me. Backpacking is awesome. It doesn't always need to be a three-month commitment. We can even enjoy some In-N-Out to reward ourselves afterward. What’s life without reward?

For the record, my one choice for a thru-hike would be the Great Divide Trail. If I had to choose. But I'd still prefer to section hike it. :-)    

 

What’s your favorite thru-hike?

 

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Respecting our National Parks: It's Up To Us

Last summer I lived a stone's throw away from two of our nation's most pristine national parks. Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. As you can imagine, I saw a lot of tourists. And I do mean a lot.

Envision driving down the highway on your way to town. Routine grocery run. The Cheerios need milk and the cat needs kibble.

The Open Road - ©️ Nicole Atkins

The Open Road - ©️ Nicole Atkins

But wait! You're in Wyoming, where the buffalo roam free to nosh in the meadow next to the highway. Pretty cool, right? Yeah! The driver in front you agrees, so they slam on their brakes to get a better look. That's right, coming to a complete stop right in the middle of the highway. With you behind them, cruising at a healthy 60mph. Look, I get it. Buffalo are badass. But dude, the highway!!

 

 

The way I see it, you've got three choices:

  1. Slam on your brakes, hoping you don't take out their rear bumper, and chill in your car with some Bob Marley. After all, not everyone gets to see this level of awesome on the daily.
  2. Keep driving, right into the ass end of their rental car. Let's hope they're responsible enough to opt in for the coverage.
  3. Slide open that sunroof, stand up on your seat, and let loose a mighty roar fierce enough to make the driver and the buffalo retreat in fear.

Anyone who has lived near a popular park knows how maddening groups of tourists can be. I hate to harp on Yellowstone, and it’s not their fault. But, some of the most appalling behavior I've seen was in that park. I often feel like a renegade park Ranger when I'm there.

Roadside Bison -  Nicole Atkins

Roadside Bison -  Nicole Atkins

I've stopped counting the times I told people to step away from the very large, very wild, very dangerous bison. My favorite has to be the woman who was inching her way closer to a nursing bison. The murderous look in Momma Bison's eyes should have been enough to deter her. I calmly asked this woman for her address so I could show up to her own house next time she was nursing her child. Maybe she just needed to know how it feels. A little empathy can go a long way.

Or the time a teenage girl was dangling her grimy feet in a geyser 3 feet from a sign telling her to stay out of it. I was kind enough to warn her she should expect her skin to decay in the next 2-3 weeks (hence the signs- for her safety). Was I lying? Damn right. Kids, sometimes we have to lie for the advancement of the greater good. Life is complicated.

Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone - Nicole Atkins

Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone - Nicole Atkins

I don't think I've seen a teenager run that fast, outside of school sports or a mall sale.

More importantly, though, none of the fifty or more people standing around said a single thing to her. Many of them just stood and gawked, shaking their head. They knew it was wrong, so why not mention it? I’m sure several of them would have been more tactful about it than I was.

Why people feel the need to profess their undying love by carving it into a tree or boulder is beyond me. I can only hope that Cletus returns to the park with his future wife who will inevitably ask who the hell Tammy Mae is.

Prez Obama Selfie - ©️  Buzzfeed

Prez Obama Selfie - ©️ Buzzfeed

And don't get me started on selfie sticks. It's like walking through an obstacle course the way you have to dodge those things. Sometimes I imagine cartwheeling my way through the park, collecting as many selfie sticks as I can. Each one earns me coins, which I can then trade for something useful, like a waffle cone maker or Laserdiscs.

I could go on with the ridiculous things I’ve seen tourists do. I don’t need to because others have done it for me. Several lists of one-star Yelp reviews for national parks have come out. Yellowstone itself has seen their fair share of silly questions from the tourism crowd.

Crowd of Tourists at Old Faithful - ©️ Yellowstone NPS

Crowd of Tourists at Old Faithful - ©️ Yellowstone NPS

Tourism is a tricky beast. We’ve all been a tourist. Individually, most tourists are congenial creatures who just want to enjoy the beauty and awe the national parks inspire. But pack them into crowds and they morph into a mysterious force that strikes confusion into the heart of the most seasoned sociologists.

I generally don’t make a habit of teasing tourists, but I need them to help me make a point. The national parks are for all of us to enjoy. While I poke fun at tourists my point is it’s important to speak up. If you see someone violating our shared space, or putting anyone in danger, say something. Look, I get it. We’ve all fallen victim to the bystander effect at some point.

But really, if you see someone jamming their leg into a geyser full of bacteria, put a stop to that nonsense.

Artist Paint Pots Geyser in Yellowstone - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Artist Paint Pots Geyser in Yellowstone - ©️ Nicole Atkins

This way we can all keep being tourists at these amazing places that make our country unique. The longer we keep the parks pristine, the longer we can enjoy what they have to offer. It's up to all of us.

The good news is, Yellowstone is such a massive piece of land, it’s easy to get away from the crowds.  The backcountry is substantial. You can hang out with herds of buffalo when you tire of running with the herds of people. You should check it out sometime if you haven’t already.

Madison Valley in Yellowstone - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Madison Valley in Yellowstone - ©️ Nicole Atkins

 

Do you have any memorable tourism stories during your outdoor adventures? Tell us about them! We love stories.

 

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The Chutes and Ladders of Life: Shortcuts to Change

The hands of the clock tick faster the older we get. The places around us never appear the same twice. This is more likely a result of change within ourselves, than our actual environment.

Those who know me well can attest to the fact that I don’t just welcome change, I seek it out. Change helps me grow and gain a more holistic perspective of the world. I’m always looking for new opportunities to expand my limited perspective. How? By engaging with those who have differing viewpoints, traveling to new places, or ingesting various forms of psychedelics. (Just kidding?)

Another way I like to seek change is by experiencing new things. One way to do this without too much risk is to visit the same place twice, under different conditions. It’s like a shortcut to a new experience. I’m not going to call it an “adventure hack” because I don’t like the word “hack.” To me, hacking life indicates you’re too lazy to put in the effort. A matter of rhetoric, really. We’ll call it a shortcut to excitement and adventure by way of subtle change.

Chutes and Ladders - ©️  Ben Husmann

Chutes and Ladders - ©️ Ben Husmann

The Chutes and Ladders of life, my friends. I always preferred the ladders, myself.

I recently moved to the fine state of Utah. I’ve always loved southern Utah but have never seen it in the winter. I’ve heard of the winter wonderland Zion transforms into and I've seen pictures of the snow-covered hoodoos of Bryce.

Map of Utah Road Trip - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Map of Utah Road Trip - ©️ Nicole Atkins

 

 

So, I took advantage of a long holiday weekend and planned a 1500-mile solo road trip.

My first stop was the Bonneville Salt Flats because it was on the way. Timed just right, I happened by this place as the blazing sun rose over the horizon. I’m not a big fan of salt. That’s a long story for another time. Seeing this place is the closest I’ve come to being near salt without cringing. I almost shed my own salty tear. Almost.

Bonneville Salt Flats at Sunrise - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Bonneville Salt Flats at Sunrise - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Zion National Park was my next stop. Zion has always been one of my favorite places. It evokes a sense of grandiosity that has a way of putting me in my in my place.

The contrast between the colored sandstone and the starkness of the snow bewitched me.

Snow Covering Zion's Valley Floor - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Snow Covering Zion's Valley Floor - ©️ Nicole Atkins

It took me three hours to get from one side of the park to the other. This time, it wasn’t due to traffic, because there wasn’t any (which was nice). It's the constant eyeball-busting beauty of the place, at every corner.

West Temple, Sundial, and Altar of Sacrifice in Zion - ©️ Nicole Atkins

West Temple, Sundial, and Altar of Sacrifice in Zion - ©️ Nicole Atkins

The new-yet-familiar feeling around me was comforting and exciting. And let me tell you, if you haven’t camped in sub-zero temps, you haven’t lived.

Next on my list was Bryce Canyon National Park, the best or worst place to lose a cow, depending on your personal convictions. Bryce shuts down most of their higher-level viewpoints in the winter but you can trek to them if you have time. Even better, you can snowshoe among the hoodoos.

Snow-Capped Amphitheater in Bryce Canyon - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Snow-Capped Amphitheater in Bryce Canyon - ©️ Nicole Atkins

The starkest difference visiting Bryce in the winter is the absence of tourists. I didn’t see 30 people there. No need to yell at anyone for feeding Cheetos to the chipmunks (true story). The solitude was welcoming. It was just me, the rising phalluses that make up this wonderful place, and the wildlife.

The sun shining on the fresh snow gives the amphitheater a glow that’s unique to the winter months.

Snow-Capped Amphitheater Close-Up in Bryce Canyon - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Snow-Capped Amphitheater Close-Up in Bryce Canyon - ©️ Nicole Atkins

My last major destination was Capitol Reef National Park. Most people drive right by it when they’re in Utah, which is unfortunate. It's one of my favorite parks in the state. The landscape definitely looks different in the winter.

Capitol Reef in Winter - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Capitol Reef in Winter - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Change is good. It’s restorative. A good step toward change is to find those valuable shortcuts. Something that’s familiar, that you can make subtle changes to. We don’t always have enough time in life to make big, dramatic leaps. We also don’t have enough time to avoid change altogether.

Don’t risk falling down those chutes and landing somewhere at the bottom. Climb the ladders. Be cunning, and proud. When you get to the top, you’ll know you put in the work without being frivolous. While you’re at it, play a game of Chutes and Ladders once in a while. It’s a great metaphor for life.

 

Have you ever had the pleasure of seeing a place you love in a different light? Tell us about it in the comments.

 

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What Does Adventure Mean to You?

What is "adventure"?

I look down and feel a sense of lightness like I could float away any second. The wind blows locks of hair into my face, and I squint to see through them. I see the crepuscular rays shining down upon the earth, like razor sharp reminders of how small we are, and I feel humbled.

I close my eyes and fill my lungs with the cold, crisp air. It's so quiet. I’m reminded that a few thousand feet below, millions of people hurry about their busy lives. 

Breathe.

Yellowstone Lake from Avalanche Peak - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Yellowstone Lake from Avalanche Peak - ©️ Nicole Atkins

I can feel my heart pumping hard in my chest, the excitement of standing on top of the world rhythmically beating, wanting to escape, and I smile.

I lean forward, knowing that one wrong move will end my life. This realization sends a rush through me. I back away, instead opting to sit with my feet dangling over the edge as I reflect on the world below.

This is a question I’ve asked myself many times and rarely do I come up with the same answer twice.

Is adventure taking risks? Does it require trying new things? Is it staring fear in the (proverbial) face and just going for it? This article asserts that the formula for adventure is novelty + courage. Maybe. By that logic, are those with a natural openness to new experiences more adventurous?

Further, is adventure an activity, or a characteristic of an activity? Is it an innate part of our personality? Can it be learned or harnessed? Is it a mental state that’s salient or dependent on context?

Adventure is something that I crave in my life, just as much as I crave profundity, awe, variety, and love. It’s the driving force of my motivation to keep searching for new, meaningful experiences. It's the hallmark of my most memorable stories.

Angel's Landing View - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Angel's Landing View - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Sometimes being adventurous is about taking risks and facing fears, but it doesn’t have to be. I can find adventure standing on the edge of a cliff, pebbles dropping beneath my feet.

I can find adventure frolicking through a golden meadow in the warm afternoon sun. For me, adventure is a state of mind. It’s salient. It’s something I decide to own when I go out into the world and do my thing (whatever that thing happens to be).

My adventure can be as grand as the terrifying newness of falling in love, or as simple as the first sip of a new craft beer I’ve never tried. Maybe I’m trying a new beer while sitting across the table from someone I’m falling in love with.

Whoa.

Adventure doesn’t even have to be one specific activity. I’ve lived entire years that I would consider an adventure and been in relationships with people that I would call adventurous.

And the greatest adventure of all? Life. The collective emotions, experiences, relationships, and lessons that make up this journey we call life. Up until the end, life will be the best damned adventure I’ve ever had.

 

What does adventure mean to you?

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Mother Nature’s Grasp: The Wild Ride of Life

Roller Coaster of Life - ©️  Jordi Payà

Roller Coaster of Life - ©️ Jordi Payà

Life is a roller coaster. For some of us, it’s an exciting ride with twists and turns that leave us overflowing with joy by the time we get off. For others, it’s a terrifying journey, where no attempt at salvation will protect you from what lies ahead, and you’re left puking all over yourself, and probably the people around you.

Most of us live somewhere in between. Life has a way of taking you through periods of excitement, and periods of terror. The problem is, you can’t just throw up your arms and ask to get off the ride.

Before this blog was born, I fell in love. For the first time in my life, I saw a future with someone. So much so that when he asked me to marry him I said, “yes.”

And then one day, not long after his proposal, he just walked out without offering any explanation. Poof. Just packed his things and left, refusing to ever speak to me again.

Life. It happens to the best of us.

When one endures an event like this, it rocks our foundation. I had a choice. I could let it ruin me, or I could learn and grow from it. With some effort and hard work, I chose the latter.

The first month was the hardest. I felt completely lost. I couldn’t find a moment of peace, no matter what I did, or where I was.

Until one day, I found myself standing in the woods, staring into the deep sapphire reflection of Crater Lake.

Crater Lake - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Crater Lake - ©️ Nicole Atkins

This was the first moment I’d had in the midst of this immense pain and chaos that I felt at peace.

I’ve always been a child of the wilderness, but it was at that moment that I became distinctly aware of how profound Mother Nature’s grasp on me is. She reached out, wrapped her comforting arms around me, and told me that everything was going to be all right.

Tree hugger - ©️ Rob Coleman

Tree hugger - ©️ Rob Coleman

Before I knew it, I was hugging her trees right back, splinters be damned.

From that moment, I made a promise to make my relationship with her more prominent in my life. It’s clearly one that is meaningful and reciprocal; it doesn’t get much healthier than that, does it?

For the next several months I took steps to building this relationship, even going so far as moving from my home city of Portland, Oregon to a cabin in the middle of nowhere in Wyoming, to explore a whole new area of wilderness. Out of the city and into the wild (though I don’t recommend this for everyone).

The intensity of comfort I experienced surrounded by nature surprised even myself. The support I had from the people in my life was nothing short of amazing. Even so, there’s no match for that feeling of deep connectedness one experiences being completely alone in the wilderness; the ultimate paradox that only Mother Nature can provide.

I’ll be getting back on that roller coaster now, ready and prepared for the next turn ahead.

 

Have you ever experienced a pivotal moment in the wilderness? I’d love to hear about it.

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