PCH Pit Stops

Kendra and I were making our way to Whakatane to take part in a White Island boat tour. I know I previously mentioned I’m not a fan of tours, but this one was a definite exception as it’s a tour of a dangerous, remote volcanic island, only accessible through a charter company. We were traveling up the East Coast via the Pacific Coast Highway and made several pit stops along the way. And no, California is not the only place to have a PCH.

We started our journey on the PCH after finishing up our tractor ride at Cape Kidnappers. We did make a quick stop at Te Mata Peak before getting too far out of the Hawke’s Bay area. Te Mata Peak offers spectacular 360 degree views of the city, coast, and a couple mountain ranges. We watched a couple paragliders take off from the steep edge and relaxed in the shining sun. I snuck in some quick yoga stretches and head stands, and we hit the road again. The rest of the day was pretty uneventful, and we stopped in Gisbourne for the night.




Gisborne is a unique spot because it is the place where you can see the sun rise before anywhere else in the world. Luckily we were staying at a cute Airbnb right on the beach so we didn’t have to go far to catch the sunrise. We were even lucky enough to see it set right from our balcony as well. We awoke at 5:30 and made our way to the patio to catch the sun steadily ascend into the sky. It was a gorgeous morning with orange and pink soaked skies.




After making some breakfast, we got on the road again. Our next stop was the Tolaga Bay Wharf. It is the longest wharf in New Zealand, totaling 660 meters in length. That’s roughly seven and a half football fields! It was such a beautiful day, and walking around in the warm sun along the warf and the coast was a real treat. At one point in a daze, I walked out to some rocks looking for a small cave like opening in the cliffs I had seen from the warf. All of a sudden a massive wave came crashing in, and I had to run back to the safety of the shore to avoid being stuck out in the rising water.







Our next stop was in Tikitiki to see the Maori church called St. Mary’s. This church was built in 1924 to commemorate the fallen Ngāti Porou soldiers during World War I. It sat up on a little hill, surrounded by colorful flowers and trees. The church is unlocked and you may enter free of charge, remembering to be respectful of the sacred space and to turn off the lights when leaving. The Maori architecture, stained glass, and carvings in this building are beautiful. I will talk about the Maori a little more in a minute, but their artwork, mythology, and culture within New Zealand is fascinating. I am ashamed to say I did not do a good job of getting pictures of this place. I have this horrible habit of not being able to stay awake in moving vehicles, so I was incredibly groggy during some of these stops, and not completely with it. A big thanks goes to Kendra for the picture of the pulpit section of the church (and for the last warf picture above).



We veered off the PCH again to see the world’s largest and oldest Pohutukawa tree in the township of Te Araroa. New Zealand is incredibly culture oriented. So, this tree has a name, and a story behind it. That’s how pretty much everything in NZ is though; behind every landscape or archaic architectural structure, there is a Maori story of how it came to be. The Maori were settlers from Polynesia who came to NZ around 1280 AD. You can see evidence of their culture all over the island. There are pous (similar to a totem pole) carved in many places as well as churches, and sacred land areas (we came across one while hiking the Tongariro crossing.) The All Blacks even do the Maori “Haka” dance, a war dance, before each rugby game. Any way, this Pohutukawa tree is around 600 years old and its name, Te Waha-o-Rerekohu, means “mouth of Rerekohu.” Rerekohu was an ancestor from the area who would store food near the pohutukawa.




For our last stop on this road trip, we headed down to see the East Cape lighthouse. The road to the lighthouse is 22km long with no outlet, the end being where the lighthouse stands. This also marks the most easterly point of the New Zealand mainland. We made it a pretty decent ways along before we hit construction that closed the road down. I believe there was a washout or something of the sorts that made the road impassable. We were pretty disappointed, turned around, and headed back along this curvy, coastline road. The rest of our travels along the PCH were just as beautiful. The road was winding and narrow, with incredible views of the rugged coast. However, I was excited when we reached our final destination of Whakatane, and could start getting ready for our adventure on White Island.


My “Almost” Lion Encounter

*First off I’d like to start by saying if someone would like to prove me wrong and tell me this is a paw print from an extraordinarily large dog, please do so! Otherwise, after comparing to many pictures online, and from the sheer size of it in person, I’m going to go with what I know and say it’s a mountain lion print.

Today I decided I wanted to take Bella on a nice long hike. It was another beautiful day here in Denver, not to mention I’m going up in to the mountains this weekend for Winter Wondergrass, and unfortunately Bella cannot join. So, I wanted to get her outside and have a nice fun filled day before the weekend. I had been wanting to check out the Beaver Creek Trail out of Genesee Park, so without much thought we jumped on 70 and headed west.

To give you an idea of where my head was at, a few days ago, Bella and I did a quick hike up in Golden, to the top of Lookout Mountain. I ran into a couple guys before we started the trail who had been hiking up from the lower Chimney Gulch trail. They stopped me and asked if I knew about the mountain lion advisory as there were several signs posted in the gulch about a recent sighting in the area. I replied, “Nooo… but running in to a mountain lion is a big fear of mine.” We talked for a minute and decided we would all kind of shadow each other on the trail, just in case. The walk was uneventful and Bella and I climbed down by ourselves after I was fairly certain there was enough foot traffic and actual road traffic sounds to keep any animal from wanting to make its presence known to a human. A few days later we hiked up in Pike National Forest, the story of which I’ll save for another post, but here I came across a rather large paw print. If you’ve ever seen my dog’s paws in person, you will know she has rather large ones. So, for her paw print to look “tiny” is saying something. I didn’t have cell service at the time and was unable to look up what a mountain lion paw print looks like, so we just rerouted our hike to a more open and populated area. Later, when  I got home I looked up all the details on identifying mountain lion tracks and signs that they could be in your area.

Any way, needless to say I had already had mountain lions on the brain, so when I saw the sign at the start of the trail saying that the trail was in a known mountain lion area- pretty much every trail has a sign that says watch out for lions but this one was a little more specific- and to leave the pet at home- even though pets are allowed on the trail- made me very uneasy. Here I was again out all by myself, which is what every tip on hiking in lion country says not to do. From where I had parked, it was a .4 mile walk to the start of the trail head…I think I walked maybe half a mile in to the actual trail before my anxiety and nerves got the best of me.  I paused for a bit, made a phone call to a friend complaining that I didn’t know if I was psyching myself out or what, but ultimately decided I wasn’t going to have fun no matter what at this point, so I might as well just go back. Because let’s face it, if you’re going to hike a strenuous up hill climb, you better be having a damn good time. Oh and the fact that a few minutes before we turned around, Bella wouldn’t stop staring in to this one section of the trees and growling. I couldn’t shake the anxiousness, so I stayed on the phone with my friend, checking behind me and around me as we walked out of the woods, until we got to the open dirt road area. I thought alright we’re good, we just have under half a mile to the car. Bella brought me a giant stick, we played fetch for a minute and started up the road. No sooner had we walked 20 yards from where we were playing, we came to this iced over section of the road. I veered over to the left side where I had came down 30 minutes earlier and saw a massive, what I’m assuming was a deer leg, that had been completely stripped to the bone. That was not comforting. About another 20 yards later were the paw prints. They were probably 3-4 times bigger than Bella’s and perfectly matched the descriptions and pictures of tracks I had read about earlier in the week. I wish I had snapped a picture of Bella’s paw print next to these prints, but I was in a hurry at that point to get to the car as quickly as possible. The bone, nor the prints had been there before, of that I’m mostly certain. I typically walk with my eyes on the ground; it’s a habit from looking for snakes back in Florida when I’m out hiking. I noticed both immediately, so I’m 98% sure I would have not missed them the first time around. Bella also came running over to inspect the bone before I reached it, so I doubt she had missed it the first time around either.

After I had reached the safety of my car, I thought it would have been really cool to actually see the lion. Although, for human safety, I know it’s a good thing it never made itself visible to me, as long as it wasn’t stalking me that is. I don’t know too much about mountain lions, the only ones I’ve worked with were pretty lazy and docile. They would hang out in their dens and generally keep to themselves, unlike the other big cats who would stalk the sides of their enclosures when someone walked by. Mountain lions are also the biggest feline that can still pur, which is a pretty cool thing to witness. However, out here in the mountains and from stories my family in Canada have told me, they definitely take on a much more menacing vibe. I definitely do not want to ever have an issue with one of these powerful creatures. So for now, I’ll try to remain comforted by the fact that this lion kept hidden and seemed to want nothing to do with Bella nor myself, and that my encounter remained an “almost.”





In another track I found, you could see the 3 lobes at the bottom of the paw pad, like in the drawing above. However, I was not concerned about picture quality at the time I took this. If you do look closely you can kind of see where the ridges of each lobe are. One toe is supposed to be slightly longer than the others (like a middle finger for us), but I think the deep mud kind of distorts that aspect of the track. I think the mud may also be why you can kind of see claw marks in front of the toes.


These tracks made Bella’s big ole paws look tiny in comparison.



Camping and Car Accidents

My drive from Colorado to Florida was much less eventful than my trip back to Colorado. After a pit stop in New Orleans (and an unfortunate missed turn that had me stuck behind a celebratory and rambunctious crowd of Mardi Gras parade watchers) to see a couple friends, I headed out to Texas. My goal was 13 hours away, Palo Duro Canyon State Park. I wasn’t going to get there until about 11:00 pm, another late night arrival to a campsite I had never been to before.

I called ahead to reserve a campsite and the park ranger gave me the gate code so I could get into the park later that night. That day of driving was miserably long, but thank god for podcasts. I started listening to True Murder…why I do these things to myself, I have no idea. Of course the first and second episodes had cases that took place in Texas. By the time I arrived it was frigid outside, an icy 23 degrees. I was decently prepared for cold weather, having packed my sleeping bag, a fleece blanket, and a down comforter when I had originally left Colorado. Blankets and pillows are a must have for me when on a long road trip. Bella also has a really comfy dog bed which I had layered on the back seat for extra sleeping comfort. After a few trials, I am starting to get the hang of making a decent sleeping spread in the back seat of my car; although I’m still hoping for an SUV asap.

My campsite was 5 miles from the entrance of the park, where an electric gate opened up after I punched in the correct code. There was not a cloud in the sky or any light pollution from the city of Amarillo. The stars were breath taking as the crisp air seemed to make them appear even brighter. We saw several mule deer fawns running across the steeper sections of the canyon roads. It was eerily dark around my campsite and I was the only one camping out there. The first spot that I pulled up to seemed like a nice spot to stop. That is until I got out and something screeched at me from the bushes. Yeahhh that wasn’t going to work. I drove a little bit farther down the road, found a suitable site with no screeching critters, and prepared for our wintry night in the car. Under the safety of my blankets and with Bella lying right next to me, I slept fine despite the below freezing temperatures. We awoke to frost across all the windows, and a still cloud free, beautiful, blue sky.


I drove up to the visitors center to acquire a park map so we could do some hiking before heading back to Denver. The guy behind the counter was friendly and we had a great conversation before I hit the trails. I wanted to see the popular “Light House,” so that’s the trail we hiked. It was 6 miles through the bottom of the canyon up to this beautiful stone pillar. Bella was having a blast and making lots of friends, they were shocked to see her climbing some of the rocks along the trail. I chuckled to myself and explained that this was fairly mild compared to what she’s used to doing back in Colorado. By this time it had warmed up to a very nice 55 degrees and there were a lot of people showing up as we headed back towards the start of the trail. I was impressed with the amount of younger people who were there. I like seeing young kids and teens out exploring and enjoying nature.


On our way out of town, I was going to make a pit stop at Cadillac Ranch. However, I never made it over due to the large truck that came crashing into the side of my car. It was a very minor accident, although the right side of my car will need to replaced and I cannot currently open my front passenger door. The police took 2 hours to get to us, pushing my arrival time in Denver to 10:00 pm, which was midnight back home in Florida. I was exhausted and hungry and couldn’t wait to get to my bed. We did make finally, the third installment, the absolute saddest story I’ve heard in a while, of the True Murder podcasts, kept me awake for the end of the drive.











My Prairie Love

There is a hidden gem located in my favorite town, Gainesville, Florida, which I will get to in a minute. Gainesville was my birth place and my home for a total of 11 years. My first memory was after a Florida Gator basketball game and my first time living on my own was in this amazing town. I lived in Gainesville with my family for the first 4 years of my life before we moved around a bit. I circled back for college after I was accepted to the University of Florida. Needless to say, I have so many incredible memories in this town and it is the place I will always call “home.”

My first few years of college were really emotional for me, as I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I mean I still don’t really know, but I have always found peace and comfort in the outdoors. It’s also worth noting that it was in my second year of college that I brought baby Bella home. 🙂 Back to the point though, Gainesville is full of fun outdoor activities. Two of my favorite outdoor things to do is to go shark teeth hunting in the creeks around town, and that hidden gem I mentioned, Payne’s Prairie State Park.

Payne’s Prairie is a gorgeous swampland that hosts several trails where you can potentially see wild Florida Cracker horses and bison! A trek down the La Chua trail on a warm summer day will leave you speechless. The number of alligators I have seen on this trail is unreal. I once counted just over 100 gators before losing track. I’ve seen alligators fighting, stalking and eating prey, and lazily lounging on the trails right next to me. The horses are beautiful and the bison are always a treat when you get to see them, as they are incredibly elusive. From 100 degree hikes, to watching sunsets, to hula hooping sessions, and wine drinking, to bike trips, and to countless hours spent with friends, this place will always have a very special place in my heart. I got to take a quick visit here with some close friends while I was home visiting and it was as magical as ever. There’s nothing like sharing memories and laughing with old friends while admiring the power and beauty of the outdoors. Payne’s Prairie is such a magnificent place and if you are ever in the area, it is definitely worth the stop. I’ve included several pictures from random adventures throughout the years and a picture of baby Bella for good measure.