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.

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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.

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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.

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My Night in The Ozarks

I’ve been trying to retroactively write about my New Zealand experiences, but I wanted to take a break and write about what’s been going on recently. My internship in Denver has just ended and I miss working with my polar bears and otters so much! I really missed my friends and family back in Florida though, so I decided to load up my car and take a little road trip home. This is a 2-3 day drive depending on how much driving you want to knock out in one day. I had nothing else to do, so I figured why not, I’ll do it in two. My goal was to make it to Arkansas on the first night, so I could camp in the Ozark National Forest. I found some pictures online and thought the area looked really beautiful, plus National Forests are predominately pet friendly and cheap when it comes to camping. I figured I would find a spot as I got closer and go from there.

This plan wasn’t my worst, but it definitely wasn’t my best. My phone screen at the time was completely shattered and it kept freezing every minute, so I’d have to lock it and re-open it to keep using the touch screen or read the screen. At this point I was entering Arkansas and getting really nervous I wouldn’t be able to find a place to camp with how long it took me to use my phone, so I just picked the first campground that came up in my search and that seemed close off the interstate. Long Pool Recreation Area was the ultimate destination.

The next hour of my life was one of a serious internal battle. It was late and it was dark. I had been driving for 12 hours and it was about 10 pm. I turned on to this little road leading into the mountains out of a town called Clarksville, and my one working headlight was all I had illuminating my way through the winding roads. It had just rained, making the scenario all the more gloomy. I had never been to the Ozarks and I had never really found a campsite and stayed at one all by myself before. So my logical brain was telling me I was absolutely crazy and that my actions were irresponsible and dangerous. I mean I had no idea what this campground would be like, I had no clue where I was, and I was driving deeper and deeper in to the middle of no where. I lost cell service a little bit later (thankfully the pre-loaded GPS was still navigating me) and my nerves were all the more on edge. Also, I feel it’s pertinent to the story that I add that I watch way too many murder mystery shows. Thankfully I made myself stop watching Criminal Minds a few years ago for this very reason or I might have really been freaking out. I mean, this did seem like a story straight out of a scary movie. Girl goes camping in woods alone, girl gets kidnapped and tortured in a cave in the mountains, girl is never to be seen from again. However, this is also where my idealist side came into play. I always love the adventure and as much as I get nervous, or stressed, or my mind wanders to the worst possible scenario, I do keep a very optimistic state of mind. I knew why I wanted to camp, and I kept that goal in mind, and we (Bella was with me of course) made it to our campground.

I felt immediately more at ease once I reached the campground. It was 11 by now, so the campground host and the two other campers were asleep, but the campground host had the coolest set up at their site. It seemed very welcoming and fun, and I was ecstatic to discover I had picked a campground with an actual bathroom that had flushable toilets and running faucets. Bella and I walked around a bit, but I really couldn’t see anything, so I started re-arranging my car for our sleeping comfort. When I’m out on my own like this, I do typically carry pepper spray and a small pocket knife with me, just in case. I find that I feel very safe with Bella near me, as I figure most people wouldn’t want to mess with a 90 lb beast of a dog. I hung some tapestries in my windows, so no one could stare in at us and we settled in for the night. Bella was very confused as to why we were sleeping inside the car and kept staring at me for an explanation, but she finally lied down next to me.

We woke up the next morning to a very low-lit, foggy day. I slept better than I had expected to in our tight quarters and was interested to explore the area before hitting the road again. It had been perfect temperatures overnight, in the upper 40’s, so I just threw on a sweatshirt and Bella and I started to move around. I walked out in front of where my car was parked and couldn’t believe my eyes. There was this beautiful turquoise colored river flowing right next to our camp site! It was incredible! I was absolutely not expecting to see water of that color out there in the woods of Arkansas. We walked around down by the river side, and there were so many spots where the water was slowly falling off the rocky edges next to the trail. It was breathtaking after such a nerve-racking drive in. I wanted to keep hiking, but I knew I needed to get back and my phone no longer had the GPS route saved and I still had zilch in cell service. This meant I was going to be driving back out, trying to remember how I got there in the dark of the night. The fog started lifting as I got ready for the long day ahead of us and as we started driving out, I was shocked to see that the road that we drove in to the campsite on had a steep drop off to the river below. Thankfully, the whole experience was a safe one and so much fun. I can’t wait to see where I’ll be camping on my drive back out to Colorado. I’m thinking Texas this time, but I have no idea just yet.

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WY oh my

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My first off the beaten path adventure after moving to Denver involved driving up to Medicine Bow, Wyoming. A couple friends of mine from back home were traveling in the area and I took the opportunity to meet up with some familiar faces. I got a later start than I would have preferred and wound up driving 12 miles down a very rocky dirt road through open cattle fields, just after the sun was setting. Thankfully, my two wheel drive car made it to the campsite especially considering Bella and I were in the middle of no where with no cell service what so ever. I picked a semi-secluded spot, started a small campfire, and waited for the guys to arrive. After they showed up, we set up our tents and got ready for the hike to Medicine Bow Peak, my first climb up a 12,000 ft mountain.

Medicine Bow is absolutely beautiful. It has many gorgeous reflective lakes, large white rock formations, and several different types of pine, fir, and spruce trees. Plus, it’s dog friendly which is an absolute must for my just as adventurous 90 lb pup. The day of our main hike was gloriously sunny but had significantly strong wind gusts. I couldn’t wait to get started on my first big hike out West and begin breaking in my new Ahnu hiking boots. We started out hiking around a lake and as we neared the base of the incline to the peak, we ran into a couple turning back due to the wind. It was a slight dilemma trying to decide whether to go for it or not, but we decided we would at least attempt the hike and turn back if it got too blustery. From here the trail turned very rocky and we had to be careful to keep our balance with the sporadic strong blast of wind. The views were incredible, extending past the rocky peaks and left over snow, into the vast plains surrounding Medicine Bow.  We made it with surprising ease to the summit and Bella had no issues scaling the large rocks at the very top. I think it was more the excitement of being out there that got me up to the top, as the altitude started to hit this Florida girl on my other hikes as soon as I got back to Denver.

We stayed at several different campsites around Medicine Bow, trying to escape the insanely strong surges of wind each night. It whipped through our tents, making it sound like someone was trying to beat the tent down. Despite the wind, I would definitely recommend this hiking location and camping spots, Wyoming is gorgeous! On our final day we put up our Eno hammocks and absorbed the fresh air and magnificent sunshine. We had such a great time and the trails were a lot of fun to explore. It’s always hard saying goodbye to good friends and this time  some personal matters made it much more painful and made my going back to Denver, my new home and city that was lacking in family and close friends, significantly more difficult than before.

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