Monday, May 1, 2017: Day Ten

Monday, May 1, 2017: I woke up with the sun in Grand Canyon National Park at 5am and was so proud of myself I couldn’t help but smile. And then I went back to sleep and awoke again at 7:30am.

We checked the weather later, and according to the National Weather Service, temperatures got down to 25 degrees. This time, I didn’t realize it was ever that cold [I’m not convinced it actually did]. My two layers of North Face jackets may have made the difference this go-around.

As we packed the tent into the car and closed the trunk, we turned around and a pack of mule deer passed directly though our sight. Nathan and I silently grabbed our cameras and phones and grabbed a couple of photos and enjoyed watching the park’s big-eared deer pass through our site. [By the way, we have actual cameras with us. So far, I’ve only posted phone photos on this blog.]

Mule deer creeping though our campsite

We wanted to make sure we didn’t leave the Grand Canyon without getting the full experience. So, we decided to hike down into the canyon on the partial South Kaibab trail which stops by Ooh Ahh point. After we “ooh-ed” and “ahh-ed” and dragged our legs up the equivalent of walking up 76 stair steps. Once we made it back to the top of the canyon, I was beyond ready to wash my hair.

The view from Ooh Aah point

So, we waved goodbye to the Grand Canyon, feeling proud and expressing our great appreciation for the park surrounding the canyon, which was about as impressive as the canyon itself.

We made it to Flagstaff in the early afternoon. Nathan and I spent the remainder of the day trying not to fall asleep.

Flagstaff is a neat little city, not much bigger than Jackson, TN (my hometown). The Route 66 city located at the foothills of the San Francisco Peaks has more local coffee shops than I’ve ever seen in such a small region. Its downtown gave off a more hipster/hippy vibe than I would have expected. I think we drove around the entirety of Flagstaff before finally grabbing a meal at night.

View from outside the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, AZ

We’ve bounced around through different time zones for the past couple of weeks, and the impact of these changes is just now starting to catch up with me. Only two months ago, I was living in the Eastern Time Zone. In March, I moved back into Central. When we made it to Denver, we adjusted to Mountain Time, which we enjoyed in Moab and Monument Valley. The Grand Canyon is in the Pacific Time Zone this time of year, and so now we’re all Pacific and my brain hurts.

Needless to say, with all the camping and hiking, I was excited for a solid night’s sleep and a shower.



Sunday, April 30, 2017: Day Nine

Sunday, April 30, 2017: After attempting to sleep in 29°F, Nathan’s alarm went off at 6:00am so that we could catch the sunrise. This made my night of freezing worthwhile.

Sunrise over Monument Valley

The sun rose directly behind the monuments. The whole experience was overwhelming. I knew I was blessed, but it settled in with me even more just how blessed our country is to have access to these kinds of experiences. We complain a lot about the state of our country [I know I do anyway], but I cannot complain about the diversity of geography, biology, and cultures within our boarders. Friends, we have access to a lot, and I encourage you [and continue to force/encourage myself] to get out there and see it. Get to know that which is unfamiliar to you. You’ll be better for it, even if you continue to disagree with it or dislike it.

Camping was unfamiliar territory for me, and to tell you the truth, I found it scary and difficult. I am eternally grateful for having experienced Monument Valley, but my lack of sleep was getting the best of me.

After an early morning in Monument Valley, we took Nathan’s Altima on a wild 17-mile ride through rocky terrain of Valley Drive. While I was excessively nervous about the ride; however, we were surrounded and blown away as we passed by even more deep red-colored monuments.

We left Monument Valley later in the morning to begin making our way to the Grand Canyon. Our first stop along the way was to check out Horseshoe Bend. We caught it at a busy time, but there was no denying just how incredibly beautiful the Colorado River looked in the giant horseshoe-shaped canyon.

Photo credit: Nathan (iPhone) of Horseshoe Bend

So, here’s the thing, we were planning to camp in the Grand Canyon the day after we camped in Monument Valley. I had not showered in nearly two days at this point and was exhausted to tears and nervous about what kind of wildlife might trap me in a tent this time. I’ll admit that I had a bit of a nervous breakdown. I almost gave up on camping in the park entirely. My lack of sleep made me emotional and anxious and I almost let my anxiety get the best of me. But I decided to go for it anyway.

Before setting up camp, we drove around and visited a few viewpoints along the canyon. Because we visited Arches, Canyonlands, and Monuments before the Grand Canyon, I was nervous that we could be burnt out on canyons. However, this was not the case. In fact, I think it made the Grand Canyon look even grander.

“All the earth worships Thee; they sing praises to Thee, sing praises to They name.” Psalm 66:4

It was another cold night on the campground, but unlike Monument Valley, we were able to have a campfire. Praises be! Seriously, this plus the other campers enjoying their campfires added a little comfort in my paranoid mind. I have to brag on Nathan. He was willing to change plans about camping if need. He did not make me feel bad about being overcome with anxiety, but he did help me to feel safe and reminded me that I was not alone in this experience. I knew this was an experience I did not want to miss and in my mind, we were definitely going to camp one more time. I was just scared. When the FOMO (fear of missing out) kicked in, it overpowered my (admittedly irrational but very real-feeling) fear of an elk kicking in the tent or a coyote attacking me on my way to the bathroom. So, I reluctantly agreed to sleep outside again.

So we set up the tent, got a campfire going, roasted hotdogs, and made s’mores. Basically, we experienced actual camping this time, whereas in Monument Valley, we experienced Monument Valley. My exhaustion finally got the best of me, and miraculously, knocked me out.

Tent set up at Mather Campgrounds in Grand Canyon National Park


Saturday, April 29, 2017: Day Eight

Saturday, April 29, 2017: After three days of being relatively off the grid, I’m finally trying to wrap my brain around what all we have done.

Following our adventures in Arches National Park on Friday, we took on Canyonlands National Park. Our immediate goal was to visit Mesa Arch, but as soon as we entered the park, Nathan and I both agreed that we did not set aside enough time to explore the park.

Mesa Arch was an easy hike that still managed to lead us to a notable arch that framed an incredible canyon view.

View from Mesa Arch

We continued to drive around and explore the park’s views, the Grand View in particular. There wasn’t a bad view in the park. Arches and Canyonlands took my expectations shot them into the sky like fireworks. I expected to enjoy the parks, but the hikes combined with the gorgeous surroundings completely blew me away.

Top of the World pose at the Grand View

Alas, we had to leave Canyonlands around 2:30pm to get to Monument Valley in time to set up camp for the night. That’s right. Camp. I camped. Outside. In a tent. In the cold.

Forrest Gump stopped running right before he would have reached Monument Valley, but we charged forward.

Queue “Against the Wind” by Bob Seeger and the Silver Bullet Band

The View Campgrounds overlook the West and East Mitten Butte Monuments and the Merrick Butte Monument. The sun set behind us casting a reddish glow over the monuments, and once the sun disappeared, the stars put on a show. Monument Valley is a Navajo Nation Tribal Park and is located far from any light and noise pollution. Because of this, the stars were the brightest I’ve ever seen them and the atmosphere was extremely quite. Even the other campers were whispering to one another and were asleep in their tents before 10pm.

Tent camping and going to sleep next to giants

We stayed up and watched the stars. But when we finally called it a night, the temperature had dropped to freezing, and my motivation to camp had dropped a bit as well.

I had never camped in a tent before, and my first experience was at Monument Valley. It kind of blows my mind that I was able to do that and make it through the night. I was nervous, excited, cold, very cold, freezing, and unsure about what I needed to do. I ended up sleeping in about three layers of cloths, including a sweater, a jacket, a coat, two pairs of pants, wool socks, gloves, and a hat. Yes, I slept in a hat. One would think a flannel sleeping bag plus my layers of cloths would warm me up, but no. I was cold all night. And I was also woken by what I assume were raccoons trying to break into the tent. Needless to say, I slept a total of three hours. The end.


Friday, April 28, 2017: Day 7

Friday, April 28, 2017: I am exhausted. I am also in awe of Arches National Park.

Today, we spent almost the entire day driving around Arches, stopping to hike and snap photos of the breathtaking views in the park. [Insert breath of relief that our government didn’t shut down this week. Also insert PROTECT OUR NATIONAL PARKS comment.] Seriously, let’s please protect our amazing national parks.

Our goal for the day was to see the Delicate Arch. My new goal in life is to get in shape. I can at least say that the hike was labeled “difficult” and at my skill level, it definitely lived up to its label. But once we made it over several steep hills and a giant, steep rock formation, I can honestly admit that the climb was worth it.

What made the day even more interesting were the strong downbursts and the graupel. Nathan educated me on what these occasional harsh winds (particularly at Delicate Arch) and the “squishy” sleet-like snow that fell from the sky that we experienced. It was pretty incredible to see what looked like snow falling onto the red sands of Utah.

Grauple in Arches

Arches, thank you for being wonderful.


Thursday, April 27, 2017: Day Six

Thursday, April 27, 2017: We bid Denver a fond farewell, and Denver kicked our butts out the door. Kidding. That’s extreme. Colorado just wasn’t ready for us to leave, so much so that we drove through what felt like a lifetime of snow at an altitude 10,000ft in a Nissan Altima. So that was interesting.

Once we reached the Eisenhower Tunnel at Loveland Pass, Nathan pointed out to me that we were at the highest point on an interstate in the country. This would have registered as “interesting” had I not been holding my breath and praying that his car would hang in there on the icy roads.

Somehow by the grace of God, we made it out of the snow, and I was finally able to properly appreciate the incredible landscapes that were surrounding me. Over a matter of hours, we drove through snow, rain, clouds, and sun. We saw snow-covered mountains, pine tree-topped mountains, dirt-covered mesas, and the canyons in Utah. There was so much to take in along the road that I was back and forth between taking pictures through the car windows and experiencing breathlessness in admiration of our surroundings.

Before calling it a night, we grabbed dinner at the Moab Diner. Apparently, this is a necessary stop when visiting the tiny, tourist town of Moab. I was so hungry, I would have eaten my own hand; so I won’t give the food a review. However, it was a nice place for a quick dinner.


We are relieved to be in Moab to recuperate from the road, while building our excitement for spending the day at Arches National Park tomorrow.

Also, shared on Instagram – @carmenmw

Wednesday, April 26, 2017: Day Five

Wednesday, April 26, 2017: It was nice waking up in Denver for another big day. We took the day a little slower, grabbing a cup of coffee at Lost Coffee once again and then visiting the Outlet Mall of Castle Rock. Friends, this is the best outlet mall I’ve ever seen. I got a North Face jacket that will be PERFECT for our hiking/camping days for $60.

As we looked for touristy ideas for our afternoon in Denver, we decided to visit the Air and Space Museum, Wings Over the Rockies. We spent a couple of hours wandering around, admiring the plane, and taking photos of the X-Wing replica the museum proudly displays.

After the museum, we grabbed a coffee at the Copper Door Café and went downtown to visit Union Station and debate whether or not we wanted to catch a Rockies game at Coors Field. I point out the coffee stop, which was too pretentious to be tasty, because the walls were comprised of old doors. Union Station was really pretty, and the transportation hub is also the Crawford hotel. The train stop reminded me of New Jersey Transit and the interior of Union Station was a combination of The Smith restaurants in New York and the high-end shops of a nice hotel, like the Peabody or the Opryland Hotel (but smaller).

Afterward, we drove to Golden, CO. Unfortunately, the Coors Brewery is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (the only days we were there), so instead we spent the afternoon driving up to Lookout Mountain to soak in views of Denver and the surrounding area.

Somehow, we found ourselves at the burial location of Buffalo Bill. We promise that our road trip was not intended to be a Buffalo Bill tour. In fact, all we knew about him was that he was a man of the west. Wikipedia tells me he got his nickname by supplying buffalo (bison) meat to the Kansas Pacific Railroad works. So there’s that.

Buffalo Bill’s Grave

We decided to conclude the day with a nice dinner out in Downtown Denver at Cholon. As soon as we sat down, we discovered that the restaurant was too fancy for our McDonalds budget and for our jeans and t-shirts, but carpe diem and all those things. Cholon may have the best pork buns I’ve ever had. So, it was worth it.




Tuesday, April 25, 2017: Day Four

Tuesday, April 25, 2017: Good morning, Denver!

The views around Denver provide a stark contrast to New York City. I love the New York skyline and the walkability of the city, but I also love our drives around Denver as it sits at the bottom of the Rockies with snow-capped mountains in the distance and its proximity to nature.

I woke up early on Tuesday to write down what I could remember from our journey on Monday, and as soon as I had my thoughts together, we took off to find coffee. We love local brews, both of the coffee and beer variety. So we looked up local coffee options, and our first Denver non-Starbucks coffee stop was at Lost Coffee in Castle Rock. Between my small hot coffee and Nathan’s large iced coffee, I’d say we picked well.

Lost Coffee in Castle Rock

After coffee, we drove into Denver to grab lunch with my friend Kara at Sam’s Number 3 on 16th Street. Nathan and I have considered looking up Diners, Drive-ins, and Dive stops, particularly along the road, and sure enough, this placed was a Triple D stop.

Catching up with Kara!

After some BLTs, burgers and some much-needed catching up, Nathan and I decided to venture to Boulder. A major weather hub and home to the University of Colorado made Boulder a necessary stop on our drive. After circling around the UC campus [Five out of ten on the campus beauty scale. Props for the campus architecture’s uniformity, I guess, but most of my points are dedicated to the gorgeous mountain views.] We also drove up to the NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Research) campus, which overlooks Colorado. It’s possible we were even seeing Denver in the distance.

View from the drive up to the NCAR campus in Boulder

While we were driving up hills, Nathan drove us up the windy, Flagstaff mountain road. I’ll be honest, I would have to get used to mountain roads. As someone who only learned in her adulthood to stop crying during airplane takeoffs [I’ve had this down for a few years, okay!], roads with drop-offs made me anxious and dizzy. With some practice, I think I could overcome that, too. Once we were able to stop and take in the sights, I was able to enjoy the views.

View form Flagstaff Mountain in Boulder

Before leaving Boulder, we wanted to take on one of Kara’s craft brew recommendations, and stopped by the Avery Brewing Company. We tried a few 4oz beers from their lengthy menu, and I think my favorite may have been the Coconut Porter. Nathan tried the Whole-Hopped IPA, another winner in our book. I’m not even a fan of IPAs, but I enjoyed this one.


After taking a self-guided tour of the brewery, we headed back to Denver for dinner. We found a place called Illegal Petes on 16th Street where I indulged in a burrito bowl sopping with queso and Nathan enjoyed steak nachos. After dinner, we drove around Downtown Denver to get a better look at the city.

Takeaways from higher altitudes:

  • The air is quite dry
  • There’s not enough water in the world
  • One beer feels like three
  • How long does it take to adjust to high altitudes?
  • It’s absolutely beautiful here and I can’t get enough
  • The photos from my iPhone have been disappointing. Better trip photos to come!


Monday, April 24, 2017: Day Three

Monday, April 24, 2017: We left Hays, Kansas around 9:30am and headed to Denver.

The Kansas plains (and Colorado plains) were beautiful especially since I had never seen the plains in person. The miles of unobstructed views were not lost on me.

However, we made a few stops to break up the drive. Most of our stops were at gas stations or our stop for lunch, but we tried to add a couple of photo ops to the mix.

We passed a sign in Kansas that mentioned something about a Buffalo Bill statue. I looked online to see what exactly that was and discovered that only three miles off the highway was a gigantic Buffalo Bill statue. We drove up and snapped a couple of photos with the Giant Buffalo and Bill and then got the heck out of there. Needless to say, we were the only people there. But if you’re ever in need of a break along I-70, ask yourself “Why not?”

We also made the quintessential stop by the Colorado state sign to get a few photos. I say “quintessential” because there is an area beside the sign that was clearly created for picture purposes. And while we were there, two other cars pulled over to do the same thing. Of course, we also planned this stop since Nathan and I had seen many pictures of people with the sign.

We drove past a sign for the “scenice route to Denver” and so, of course, we merged off the interstate and jumped onto a small highway road across the plains. And scenic, it was. In the distance across the plains, we could see the snowcapped mountains, and as we grew closer to the mountains, the hills in the plains began to roll.

Once we arrived in Denver, we decided to head to Red Rocks Amphitheater before finding dinner. As we approached Red Rocks, we could see the giant red rocks jutting out of the mountain. It was incredible to see, especially after seeing miles and miles of flat land for hours. We wandered around the amphitheater, drove around the park and soaked in the sights a bit. I have wanted to see a show at Red Rocks for a long time, and I still plan to make that happen one day. As we walked around, all I could think was “I’ll be back.” [Note: Better photos to come.]

After leaving Red Rocks, I began my Google Maps search for places to eat. We drove downtown near the capital building and decided to narrow our search around there. We found a burger joint called Park & Co, and after a long day on the road, nothing was better than biting down into a big, juicy burger. We were both pretty exhausted by the end of the day.

Sunday, April 23, 2017: Day Two

Sunday, April 23, 2017: Today involved a lot of driving. We left St. Louis around 11am and arrived in Hays, KS for the night around 10:30pm.

Our morning started with breakfast at Rooster in St. Louis. I’ve made several trips to St. Louis over the years to visit my friend, Nicole, who has stuck by me even following those awkward middle school years. Rooster has become a tradition of ours since she moved there in 2011. I can’t leave St. Louis without ordering a peppermint latte or debating whether or not to order their delicious and filling banana nut bread pancakes.

After breakfast, Nathan and I hit the road as we began our trek across Kansas where we would stop in Hays for the night before heading to Denver for a few days.

On our way, we drove through the campus at the University of Missouri to get a look at the campus. Nathan and I both enjoy roaming around college campuses. We both miss our college days and love the collegiate atmosphere. We gave the Mizzou campus a 6 out of 10. 😉

Pictured is Jesse Hall at Mizzou. My dad pointed out that the cupola must have been inspired by Dr. Seuss.

The next stop was Kansas City, where we ate BBQ at Arthur Bryant’s until our stomachs forced us to stop. I got the beef sandwich and slathered each bite with one of their three sauces. We also stopped by Union Station to walk around for a bit, and as we approached the building, we discovered that they were preparing to film American Ninja Warrior directly outside of Union Station.

After lunch, we hit the road again toward Hays. We decided to take a quick detour in Lawrence, KS to see the University of Kansas campus. Because the university sits in a hilly area, the views from campus are beautiful. I’d give the campus an 8 out of 10.

For now, we’re in Hays, a small town that appears to be experiencing a growth spurt. But it’s on to Denver in the morning, and I can’t wait!

Takeaways from road trip day two:

  • I LOVE Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You”
  • I’ll be totally sick of Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” before we get to the Grand Canyon
  • The rolling hills in the spring are gorgeous
  • I’m going to be wearing out my SnapChat story
  • People have strong opinions about BBQ (Memphis is best but KC was good for sure)




Saturday, April 22, 2017: Day One

Saturday, April 21, 2017: I’m hitting the road alongside my boyfriend, Nathan, (you’ll be seeing some of his photos used in this blog) as we travel west to visit cities and national parks that we’ve never seen in person.

Right now, 12:32am to be exact, I’m sitting here hoping I’ve packed everything I need for the next 18 days, while listening to the thunder outside. Of course, I’m also creating this blog. 

A little about me–I’ve lived in Tennessee for most of my 30 years. The exception was this past year and nine months that I spent living in New York City. Throughout the majority of my childhood, I was afraid of just about everything. I’m perpetually anxious. But my experiences in traveling and living in New York have introduced me to another side of myself, a side I’m embracing. I still get scared, but I’m actively reminding myself to be present. This blog is my way of  doing just that, and I’m excited to share what I encounter along the way.

For now, I need to go to sleep. It’s officially DAY ONE. To start, we’re heading to St. Louis to get in some quality time with my non-biological sister, Nicole. I’m excited to see the sights on this trip and even more excited to visit places I’ve never been. However, seeing my friends who live at a distance is the part that has me most excited!

So, here we go …to sleep. Because today’s going to be a busy day!