You can’t exactly compare each place, every experience, or even month to month, but if we had to say October might have been one of our best months yet! In these monthly recaps we basically just hit the highlights and give a very brief idea of what we’ve been up to. Each and every day is full of activities, adventures, and the basic things too. We don’t write about it, but even the days where we do “chores” can be pretty great. For example, laundry day is one of our favorites. It’s nice to spend a few hours just sitting back, playing on the Internet while all your overly dirty clothes are cleaned to perfection! It sure does feel good to put on a smell-free t-shirt and start the day. Anyway, on to more exciting things…
1) Camping in the Alabama Hills
When we arrived in Lone Pine, CA we were not really sure what to expect or even where we were going to stay for the night. We quickly searched freecampsites.net and found free camping in the Alabama Hills area. We drove in and were amazed by the place. We found a campsite right off the road that was completely secluded and surrounded by crazy rock formations with views of Mount Whitney and the Eastern Sierras.
The first night there we had an awesome night photography session. The weather was warm, it wasn’t too windy, the moon was not out, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the Milky Way was arching above us. We couldn’t have asked for a better night photo session.
After the first night we explored the area some more and found an even better campsite tucked further into the rocks where we stayed for 3 more nights. When boondocking there are a couple of aspects that make it an ideal spot and the Alabama Hills had them all! Besides being in an amazing location with free camping, we were only 10-15 minutes from town where we could do laundry, take showers, stock up on groceries or grab a bite to eat at a local restaurant. What else could you need! We didn’t plan to stay as long as we did but the conditions were just right and we couldn't get ourselves to leave.
2) Summiting Mount Whitney
We didn’t exactly have plans to hike mount Whitney. We assumed October would be way too cold to hike up to 14,500+ ft, but we met a couple in Yosemite a few weeks prior who had just done it and said it was great. We were lucky enough to get a permit and were thrilled. We were a little nervous because we’d never hiked 22 miles in one day, nor hiked as high as Whitney. Plus we had been basically at sea level the previous month.
Well we did it and it was a blast! We hiked 22 miles in one day with an elevation gain of 6,150 feet to the tallest point in the lower 48 (14,508 feet). We had a blast doing it and somehow we felt really good the entire way. There were moments of “Type 2” fun during the hike, like when it was so cold our CamelBaks were frozen and we couldn’t drink our water above 12,000 ft, but otherwise it was pretty spectacular!
We started our hike at 2:00am. There is something special about hiking through the night. You get to watch the sunrise from 12,000+ ft and look out for miles.
3) Exploring Death Valley
Death Valley was an unknown treasure. Neither of us knew too much about the area except that it could be crazy hot! Well the weather was perfect, the views were incredible, and the landscape is like nothing else. We went from the highest point in the lower 48 the day before to the lowest point in North America the next day.
Death Valley is full of all kinds of amazing geological features. You can explore the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Badwater Basin (the lowest point in North America at 286 feet below sea level), hike through canyons, and watch the sunset from one of the prettiest spots in the world!
4) The Beauty And Weirdness Of Sedona, AZ
We left Death Valley planning to head straight to the Grand Canyon but on our way we saw a sign for Sedona, AZ. We heard from a fellow traveler that Sedona was one of their favorite places while on an 8-month road trip. We made the impulsive decision to take a right to Sedona rather than a left to Grand Canyon.
Sedona is insanely beautiful with tons to do and free camping in an epic area of the town. We were able to hike, mountain bike, and just relax while in Sedona. We planned to stay only 1-2 days and ended up staying for an entire week. It was just too nice to leave. The weather was perfect and the fall colors were just setting in.
We met a variety of very interesting people while in Sedona. We learned all about the energy vortex’s and everyone loved telling us how they channel into these energies. Our favorite comment came from our camping neighbor. His name was Alan, he had bleached hair (via hydrogen peroxide), a healthy beer belly, was originally from St. Louis, but lived in Sedona for the past 13 years. He told us when we get to the vortexes, especially when around a twisted juniper, “You will either feel a positive energy, a negative energy, or no energy at all… Sometimes I just sit in the juniper for hours.”
5) Off-Roading In Sedona, AZ
Neither Michael nor I have ever officially off-roaded. We met another fellow camper, Joseph, who was out doing a long trip based mainly around off-roading throughout the United States. He first took us up Schnebly Hill where we brought our bicycles and rode all the way down. It was pretty nice to get to cruise down and not have to work for the reward.
Next we went to an area called Broken Arrow, which is known for it’s off-roading. There were some pretty intense moments where we rolled over some huge rocks. Joseph’s Jeep was doing things I did not even know a vehicle could do! First Joseph let Michael drive the Jeep which was really exciting and next he let me go! We got to a spot and Joseph said, ok you’re going to drive up that. It’s hard to describe in words but it was at least a 45-degree incline with multiple levels and at least a 20 ft climb. It was insane!
There was a Jeep tour behind us and they stopped to watch. We were driving up a section that the Jeep tours were not even allowed to go on. Joseph said, “She’s (Katy) going to do it and she just started driving off-road about 200 yards back.” Everyone in the Jeep tour was cheering me on and even videotaping. It was exciting!
Of course I was pretty nervous and my hands were sweating but with a little guidance I was able to make it up! We have video, but the clarity is awful so sadly we can’t post it, but to give you an idea driving up this thing we had one tire off the ground and had to “floor it” to make it up. The whole thing was thrilling and unlike anything we had done before!
Thanks Joseph for trusting us! We can’t believe you did, but we are grateful and created a lot of panic-filled memories.
6) Backpacking To The bottom Of The Grand Canyon
This whole trip we have felt so lucky to have everything work out the way it has. We basically plan nothing and just show up and somehow it works out just right. Many of the hikes and activities we have done require reservations months in advance and are often booked out up to a year in advance. Well we were lucky to walk into the Grand Canyon permit office and get a permit to camp at the bottom, next to the infamous Phantom Ranch. The hike down was 7.8 miles and each step provided GORGEOUS views!
Hiking into the Grand Canyon gives you views and experiences you can't get when viewing from above. You’re observing the canyon, its contours and layers the entire way. As you hike deeper into the canyon your perspective and view is constantly changing.
Once at the bottom we found a perfect campsite along the creek. We played games in the cantina at Phantom Ranch, met fellow backpackers, hung out at the beach along the Colorado River, ate delicious camp food, went to the Ranger’s “camp fire” circle for a history lesson on the Grand Canyon, and slept under the stars where it stayed warm and cozy the entire night.
The hike out wasn’t too bad, 9.8 miles, and we were enjoying ourselves the entire way. We had hiked down on the South Kaibab trail and hiked back up to the South rim on the Bright Angel trail. Both were different, beautiful, and inspiring. It took the original explorers days to find a route through the Grand Canyon. Some said it wasn’t possible to hike down. We’re glad and fortunate for the hard work and effort it took to establish these trails.
Over 6 million visitors come to the Grand Canyon every year. It is one of the Seven Wonders of the World, however, this location hasn’t always been considered a desirable place. To quote Joseph Christmas Ives, an early explorer of the area, “The region is, of course, altogether valueless. It can be approached only from the south, and after entering it there is nothing to do but leave. Ours has been the first and will doubtless be the last, party of whites to visit this profitless locality. It seems intended by nature that the Colorado River, along the greater portion of its lonely and majestic way, shall be forever unvisited and undisturbed.”
Things have certainly changed over time and here we are, with millions of others, mesmerized by the beauty that has simply been etched out by water over time.
We would highly recommend hiking to the bottom and staying a night or two. Whether you camp outside or stay in a cabin at Phantom Ranch you are going to love it.
7) Photographing Horseshoe Bend
As we explore more of the Southwest we are seeing landscapes and geography that we’ve never experienced before. Horseshoe Bend is a 270-degree bend in the Colorado River. It’s an enormous and beautiful canyon. This area is packed with tourists like us because it’s easily accessible - just ¾ mile from the parking lot. Absolutely beautiful!
8) Zion National Park
Every national Park has it’s own unique feel and each one is full of beauty and adventure, but we would have to say Zion is one of our favorites. It’s truly a beautiful area with huge red canyon walls engulfing you, many over 4,000 ft tall.
Not to mention I turned 30 while we were there and it’s a pretty perfect place to spend your birthday :)
During our time in Zion we packed in a lot. Each hike we did was unique and thrilling! We were able to hike The Subway (permit required), Hidden Canyon, The Narrows (permit required depending on your route), and Angels Landing. We have done a ton of hiking during our travels, but the hikes in Zion are different.
We hiked through four miles of water and sand at the bottom of a canyon in order to reach The Subway. Hidden Canyon required us to hold on tight to chains as we walked on the exposed ledges. In The Narrows we hiked through freezing cold water the entire way and in some cases it went up to our hips. Angels Landing isn’t for those with a fear of heights. It’s extremely exposed to cliffs but the chains will get you safely to the top and it’s well worth it. These hikes were exciting, thrilling, and made us feel adventurous even though they were popular. Tip - starting at or before sunrise helps beat the crowds.
9) Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon might be the closest thing to Mars. This place is crazy! The colors casting across the hoodoos are astounding. It’s hard to comprehend how places like this were formed but it’s a perfect spot to sit back and be amazed. As you watch the light change during the day the reds, oranges, and pinks of the rocks change giving you a different perspective and scenery.
Bryce is a special place, but you don’t need too much time to get a good feel for it all. We spent 24 hours there and we saw a sunset, a sunrise, hiked through the Canyon, fit in 2 showers at the General store and had time to sit back and drink a beer on the back of the truck in the campground.
10) Taking in the Views of Capital Reef
We were pretty wiped out by the time we arrived in Capital Reef, but still the views were outstanding. I don’t think I need to say much here besides, can you believe these views?!
11) Moab and surrounding National Parks
As we are both outdoor enthusiasts visiting the National Parks has been a huge focus of ours. Utah has 5 national parks and it isn’t too difficult to visit them all and at the very least get a small taste for each one. Moab is a great little town and with easy access to Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park it makes for a nice place to post up.
By the time we reached Moab we were both feeling a little fatigued from all the hiking and adventuring we had been doing over the month. We honestly didn’t get out and do as much as we wanted in this area due to being tired, but we will be back! At least we had the opportunity to snap a view photos and capture some of the beauty here.
12) One Final National Park
We were finally making our way back to Colorado and it worked out perfectly to stop and visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in southern Colorado. Again this place was a treat! We knew nothing about this area and the timing was just right for us to catch sunrise. The canyon was carved out over 2 to 3 million years ago by the Colorado River and left behind is one of nature’s own pieces of art – the Painted Wall.
This was our 19th National park on the trip! We are proud to have covered so many parks and we now hope to eventually make it to all 60 National Parks in the United States. We’re fortunate to have explored so many of them this year and a great way to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the National Parks. Cheers to John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt for being pioneers of the National Parks!
13) Finalizing the loop and Returning To Colorado
We can’t believe the main part of the road trip has come to an end. We have been on the road for 4.5 months, we have learned a ton, we have explored more of North America than we ever have before, and we are forever grateful for every moment and every experience throughout our trip. It was bitter sweet to return to Estes Park. It’s sad not to be on the road exploring new locations every day but it does feel good to sleep in a bed, take untimed hot showers, and cook in a kitchen!
14) Meeting Baby Wyatt
We finally were able to meet the newest addition to the family – Baby Wyatt! Baby Wyatt is our newest nephew and we’ve been waiting to meet him for months! Not to mention how nice it was to spend time with Kyle, Lauren, Wesley, and my Mom. Being on the road is a blast but spending time with family is wonderful and certainly needed. I had to share a couple of photos because Wyatt and Wesley are just too cute!
When I finish writing these monthly recaps I am always amazed at what we covered. Looking back on the month we couldn’t have asked for a better list of adventures. October was a perfect combination of crazy explorations and time spent with family and friends. Now we prep for the next leg of our adventure - SE Asia!
Till next time!