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Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

And then there were the mountains, valleys, rivers, falls, the glacier-carved canyon, and wildlife.

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buffalo

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Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

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Yellowstone Falls

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elk

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grizzly

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blue bells

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Golden Gate Bridge of Yellowstone

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Mountain Bluebird

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Calcite Springs

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herd

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Lamar Valley

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While the Grand Tetons were formed by the collision of tectonic plates, Yellowstone was formed by volcanic eruptions that resulted in a caldera (essentially a volcano with its top blown off). The Yellowstone volcano is still active, and has created more than half of the world’s geothermal features combined: hot springs, geysers, mudpots, and fumaroles.

Viewing these geothermal features with my own eyes was otherworldly. It was like I had been transported into a fantasy land, with fountains spewing from the ground, steam escaping from the depths of the earth, mud bubbling angrily, and turquoise-blue and jade waters that looked so inviting, but would scald you upon touch.

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Before school began in early August, J and I took a road trip to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. We backpacked for three nights in Grand Teton National Park before heading into Yellowstone. The experience filled me with awe and wonder, and at times made me feel like a tiny speck of dust. The beauty was indescribable. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

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driving into Grand Teton National Park

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Paintbrush Canyon

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Holly Lake

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going up the divide

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portrait session

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Paintbrush Divide

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soak at Lake Solitude

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view from our campsite in the North Fork

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South Fork, on the trail

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the Tetons

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to Hurricane Pass

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Grand Teton

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Cascade Canyon, on the trail

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the enchantments

About a week ago, we were in Washington visiting with friends. We also hiked the Enchantment Lakes. To say that the hike was challenging would be an understatement, as it was one of the most grueling “day” hikes I have ever been on. By the end of the hike, the five of us were like zombies marching in the dark, down the endless switchbacks in a trance-like state. How our feet managed to move of their own accord to navigate around roots and large rocks, I do not know.

Difficult as it was with multiple obstacles along the way, the hike was not without rewards. The views were incredible, and we were also blessed with multiple goat sightings.

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Tomorrow morning, we leave for Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone. It will be a long road trip, but we have audiobooks from the library and sandwiches, kimbap, muffins, and other snacks to keep us entertained (and alert while driving) and well-fed on the road. In my numbed state in the Enchantments, I vowed to myself that it would be a long time before I would want to go hiking again. (J had this thought as well, as I found out the day after the hike.) But as we prepare for this trip, again we’re giddy at the thought of being in nature’s paradise, where wildlife abounds.

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The Lost Coast is a rugged stretch of wilderness along the Mendocino coast. It was too expensive for the state to continue Highway 1 through this area, so the coastline was left undeveloped. We chose to take advantage of this untouched beauty with a weekend backpacking trip to the southern portion of the Lost Coast.

Our trip began with a a drive up north. We prepared for forecasted rain, but it turned out to be a sunshine-y day. On our way, we stopped in Fort Bragg for lunch in a cozy cafe and a side excursion to Glass Beach (a stop recommended to us by a friend).

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Glass Beach used to be a public dump in the 1940s, and the broken bits of glass that were once part of the trash have been polished smooth by the sand and waves over the years. There used to be more glass, but there was a decent amount remaining when we visited. The seascape itself was incredible. J also found rows and rows of small crabs hiding under the intertidal rocks.

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We continued our drive up the coast, hoping to make it to our destination in time for the hike to our first campsite. Unfortunately, after driving back and forth (17 miles each way) on the sinuous highway in search for an unmarked paved road and 6 miles of narrow, unpaved road full of potholes (still slick from the previous week of rain), we knew it was getting too late to begin our hike.

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Usal road. Dirt road. I was never in my life so tense as I was traveling on this road. I gripped my seat until my knuckles turned white. And I stopped taking photos after this segment, which was the okay part. On the way back from our trip, we saw a 4×4 stuck in a deep, wide puddle. Another truck was trying to pull it out. The two drivers stared at us in disbelief while we chugged on by in our little Honda Fit. That made us chuckle. I have to say, J was an excellent driver.

So we gathered some driftwood from the nearby beach, and settled down on a spot in the campground. We didn’t have the best sleep that night because our neighbors were a loud bunch. They decided to kick off the Memorial Day weekend by having a yowling sing-along to booming country pop at 3 a.m.

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The next morning, we woke feeling unrested, but our spirits were not dampened. We joked about our neighbors and assured each other that they would not be joining us on the trail. Due to our delay of half a day, our itinerary had to be shortened, but that would leave us more time to enjoy the scenery.

And beautiful scenery it was.

The trail climbed up and down, winding in and out of forests and coastal bluffs.

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We saw the prettiest wildflowers in bloom along the trail,

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and even picked and ate some wild strawberries. They were so tiny!

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This is where we set up our base camp, at Little Jackass beach. We took off our hiking boots and sank our toes into the cool, black sand. We watched brown pelicans dive into the water for their catches, and giggled at a couple of seals who would pop their heads out of the waves every now and then to stare at campers on the beach.

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We explored some of the beach caves, and then had a dinner of andouille sausage and mac n’ cheese.

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After dinner, we went for a stroll on the beach to admire the sunset.

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We climbed over some big rocks to get a good view. The light was magical.

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The next day, we set out for a day hike to Wheeler beach.

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Sunrise

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On the trail, view from the top.

On our way to Wheeler, we encountered three sets of hikers who were coming from the opposite direction. Each one told us to be on the lookout for a group of Roosevelt elk. Three big bulls, they said. Right on the trail in the direction we were headed for.

And then, we caught up to them. Since they were taking the same trail, all we could do was follow them. They were massive. With velvety antlers that reminded me of reindeer antlers. J was daring and got pretty close to them. Of course, I followed.

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These were very shy, yet curious creatures. One guy hung back to nosh on some good shrubbery, while two went ahead. Since we didn’t want to come between the bull and his friends, we lingered a safe distance behind him. I think he was a little nervous about us though, because then he decided to run up a steep hill. Boy, not only are these guys agile, they’re fast as lightning, too!

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We eventually passed the elk when they found a grazing spot off the trail, and reached Wheeler in time for lunch. Then we napped under the sun on warm — and very therapeutic — pebbles. Later, we flipped over onto our bellies to search for pretty pebbles.

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After a relaxing afternoon, we started back towards our camp.

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Amazingly, right before our campsite, we encountered another group of elk! These were younger males.

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close-up

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hiding

On our last day, we woke at the crack of dawn for a hurried hike back to the trailhead. It would be a long drive home.

View more photos here.

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From our hotel, we walked towards el zòcalo, or the town square, in search of a bite to eat. On our way, we stopped at a bakery for a snack. That bakery soon became a favorite of ours.

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(I liked the bun in the middle best.)

It so happened to be Mexican independence day, and it seemed like the city of Oaxaca had converged upon el zòcalo to celebrate. The festivities had only begun, and would continue late into the night.

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Near el zòcalo are two big markets, where they sell meats, fruits, vegetables, prepared foods, shoes, clothes, sombreros, and anything you can think of. Outside the markets, the streets are lined with vendors selling produce, tlayudas, breads, desserts, and chapulines (roasted and seasoned grasshoppers, a Oaxacan specialty).

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At La Abuelita, a restaurant in one of the markets, we enjoyed a dinner of cecina and mole negro con pollo (black mole with chicken).

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To end the night, we returned to el zòcalo to listen to a mariachi band play.

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the cathedral in el zòcalo

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street lights

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Shortly after our arrival in Oaxaca, we boarded a bus that would take us to the Zapotec villages that lie east of the city, in the Sierra Norte mountain range. For centuries, these villages (Pueblos Mancomunados) have thrived by pooling their natural resources and cooperating as a community. In the past 15 years, they have also been part of an ecotourism program that not only works to preserve one of the world’s oldest ecosystems (the Sierra Madre), but also to provide jobs and tourism revenue to the villages.

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the bus terminal

An old, clunky bus with the letters xXx emblazoned in front, a crazy driver, and winding roads that barely fit the girth of the bus (plus oncoming traffic every now and then) made for a harrowing bus ride. We climbed and lurched to-and-fro. After a two hour ride, we arrived at one of the villages, Cuajimoloyas. Cuajimoloyas resides at an elevation of 3,000 meters.

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our cabin

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view from the cabins

After we were shown our cabin, our rumbling stomachs reminded us that it was far past lunchtime. We headed down to a trucheria, or trout restaurant, and made our selections off a simple menu. We ordered one trout to be fried, and the other to be baked with onions, tomatoes, and herbs. Our hostess then began to prepare our meal. She piled more wood into her stove, cleaned the fresh fish, and proceeded to fry and cook the fish as her baby slept nearby in a stroller.

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Our appetites sated, we donned our rain gear and went for a short hike up the tallest rock near the village, passing through villagers’ backyards on the way. Most of the people raise their own livestock — there were chickens, turkeys, sheep, goats, cows, and the burros that they use for transporting materials.

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We climbed and admired the spectacular view of the surrounding mountains as the clouds rolled in. As we neared the top, it began to rain as predicted, so we turned around and descended the little mountain. The light drizzle turned into big, heavy sheets of rain, and the streets became streams. Back in our room and shivering with cold, we dried ourselves and changed out of our damp clothes in record time and dove for the bed, burrowing deep into the blankets and sleeping bags.  Later in the night, someone from the village came to light a fire for us. When the smoky fire was roaring, J parked himself in front of the fireplace; I refused to come out from under the warm covers to join him. Only my nose peeked out so that I could breathe, and even it was cold. In the mountains, the temperature drops dramatically with nightfall.

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The next morning, we were greeted by sunshine. We stopped at a comedor for a breakfast of hot chocolate, coffee with chocolate, wheat bread, and an amazing chicken stew that was recommended to us by another customer.

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We then met with our Spanish-speaking guide, Paola, who would take us to Llano Grande, one of the neighboring villages.

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Along the trail, Paola pointed out many wildflowers, herbs, and plants with medicinal uses.

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a cactus plant

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“laurel” – bay leaf

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“carlos santo” – used to treat gastritis

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“hoja de sapo” – lowers cholesterol

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aspirin plant – our guide told us that if you chew on two of these leaves, any aches that you may have will be gone in ten minutes. As someone who often gets headaches, I decided to chew on half of a leaf as a preventive measure. Not surprisingly, it was extremely bitter. I was also headache-free that day.

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“flor de rana”

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“flor de papel”

The hike was very pleasant, and the air crisp and clean. Using my very elementary and broken Spanish, we conversed with our guide the entire way.

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We reached Llano Grande by afternoon. We had hoped to do some more hiking and exploring in Llano Grande, but the villagers we met pointed to the ominous clouds overhead and told us that it wasn’t such a great idea. So instead we sat down to a lunch of cecina (chile-marinated sheets of pork) and chile relleño (fried poblano pepper stuffed with cheese).

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After lunch, we returned to Oaxaca on a colectivo. We rode in the back, where there was a bench on either side of the truck and ropes to hold onto. It was a fun ride, with great views and plenty of fresh air.

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