The Walls of Zion!

Location: Colorado
Listening to: Blow – Beyoncé
Time: 12:06 pm

I am currently sitting in the car, listening to Beyoncé gazing upon red earthed, tree lined mountains of Colorado. We just left Moab, Utah, but here I will write about Zion! Just FYI the title to this post is a nod to my high school chorus class (hey Mr. Mayo) in which we sang a song called “The Walls of Zion”. I am almost 100% positive that this song was not referring to Zion National Park, but the large rocky mountains of Zion National Park are like great jagged walls surrounding the winding park roads so I thought it was fitting.

Leaving Wyoming, we drove 8 hours south, ending in La Verkin, Utah. This trip took us through Wyoming, Idaho, and Utah. Arriving hungry, we found the River Rock Roasting Company through a quick Foursquare search and stopped in for dinner. Lennon, Jess and I hopped out of our car, stretched our limbs and walked toward the restaurant and realized there was a back patio with stunning sunset views. Perched up on a cliff overlooking the setting sun, we sat down and enjoyed paninis. A clouded, pink and orange sky provided our entertainment for the evening. Watching the sun disappear behind the grand mountains in the distance we smiled as Utah welcomed us to enjoy it’s serene beauty. With the sun set, and our plates cleared, we climbed back into the car, anxious to get to our Airbnb and get some sleep.

My eyes, crusty from slumber, peaked open as the sound of the 5:30 am alarm rang out. Today we were heading to Zion National Park to beat the heat for a hike. To be honest, I had woken up with an unenthusiastic attitude toward the day’s hike. Just a little emotionally detached from this hiking idea I joked that we could perhaps do something else. Receiving a glare of disdain from Jess, I knew that I better lace up my boots and change my attitude. After all, we were in Utah, at the gates of Zion National Park. Of course we would be hiking! Our sights were set on Angel’s Landing, a trail that was recommended to us by a handful of people along our way to Utah. Actually, a man we met in Dubois, Wyoming (at my new fav. restaurant Nostalgia Cafe) sang praises about Angel’s Landing and proclaimed that it could not be missed.

Arriving in Zion National Park for our hike, we were eventually notified that Angel’s Landing was closed due to falling rocks. Slowly we began to realize that quite a few “moderate” trails were closed due to similar situations. One trail was open though, Observation Point. An 8 mile out and back trail that gains 2,300 feet over 4 miles filled with steep switchbacks and drop-off cliffs. Still feeling apprehensive about our hike, I was a little curious about the severity of this hike and if I could make it to the top. Taking it one step at a time, we gained elevation and sight. Climbing up the trail revealed deep valleys flanked by ginormous red cliffs. Walking through valleys where smooth rock twists and turns we gazed upon the natural curves and colors of this place. Switchback after switchback, incline after incline, I began to question my strength and tenacity. High above the park, with no end in sight, I hit a (proverbial) wall. I stood, hunched over, my face against some shaded rock walls, admitting defeat. The coolness of the rock juxtaposed my fiery, red face. My hiking master, Jess, said that if I needed to turn back she would go on without me. With this offer from Jess, I trudged on. This mountain would not defeat me. They say that hiking has a lot to do with “mind over matter” and I completely agree. Once the offer of quitting was on the table, I knew I had to continue on and reach the top of the summit. Beginning to walk again, I slowly continued on our trail. Being greeted with a jolly ‘hello’ by a passing hiker headed back down the mountain, I retorted with an Eeyore-esque ‘helloooo’. Hearing my pain, this kind man stopped and informed us that the end was near and to not give up as we were so close – phew! Pointing in the distance, he showed us where trail ended. I was so thankful for this news, I thought about giving him a hug or taking his mailing address to send him a present, but instead I offered a smile and a very happy ‘Thank You! You are the best!’. With the end in view, we were eager to arrive for a celebratory photo and a nice moment of relaxation. Trekking about 1 mile more, we reached the top! To be abrupt, this trail was hard as fuck. As Jess put it, “breathtaking; both visually and physically”. But, the juice was worth the squeeze. Observation Point did not disappoint. The incredible views were paralleled by the accomplishment I felt. Something inside my soul lit up at the top of that mountain. There was (and still is) a great warmth that I feel inside my soul when I think back to that moment, sitting at the peak of the mountain, looking out into Zion National Park. I can’t really describe it, but I can feel it with my whole heart.  We sat high above Zion National Park, gazing down on the dark red and green mountains. We settled into our success and snacked, hydrated, and regained our breath. Eating Honey Nut Cheerios by the handful, I relished in our journey; taking a quiet moment to appreciate the simple fact of physically being there, in Utah, on a road trip with a truly remarkable friend, sitting atop a massive cliff, I counted my blessings.

As the morning faded into the afternoon, we readied for our descent. We glanced back for one final look and headed back down the mountain. This time it was us delivering news of hope to weary hikers. Joyously we voiced encouragement and positivity to our short-of-breath friends. “You’re almost there, keep going!”, sang out of us. We were met with gratitude and looks of hope from our fellow hikers. I even pointed out the end point to a couple of hikers, just as the nice man had done to me. Paying it Forward feels fantastic! With a four mile descent ahead of us, I was glad to start this hike down with good vibes and positivity. With little shade on the trail now, I was very happy to have gotten an early start. Definitely easier on our lungs the way down was grueling on our legs, knees, shins and toes. Sweaty and flushed, we finally reached the parking lot and rejoiced our achievement! With a high-five we celebrated and agreed it was time for a beer. Getting back into our car, the temperature reading 109 degrees, we raced towards town to find some grub. After filling ourselves on chips and tacos, we headed back to La Verkin for some rest.

Exhausted from our day, we napped and found dinner close byat the Stage Coach Grille. Friendly service and a cowboy feel, Stage Coach Grille offered home cooking with a smile. I ordered a Pork Chop with a baked potato (smothered in A1). A great meal to end our stay in La Verkin, we returned home and readied ourselves, and our luggage, for Moab, Utah.

Rewind: Jackson, Wyoming

Location: Moab KOA, Moab, Utah
Listening to: Most of All – Brandi Carlile
Time: 6:17 pm

Lets go back to Jackson. This statement is meant to start a flashback of my experience there and also signifies a promise to myself – you must go back to Jackson, Wyoming.

The Grand Tetons are one of the most magical places I have ever been (no offense Disney World). Their natural beauty is transcendental. Massive mountains are the backdrop to this stunning National Park. Their smoky grey/blue appearance as you drive by stands paramount against the flat landscape around them. One thing to note: we almost didn’t get to experience these majestic beauties fully. Leaving Montana, we were heading to Dubois (pronounced Dew-Boyz), Wyoming. “The perfect location for your discovery of The Grand Tetons” is what our Lodge and RV camp promised. What we were given? A two hour drive East of Jackson and The Grand Tetons. Arriving late in the afternoon to Dubois, we were a bit put off by our out of the way lodging. Only having two whole days in the area, time was precious. Wanting to lodge closer to Grand Tetons, we marched into the check-in clerk at our Lodge and informed him of our room cancellation due to the far location to the Grand Tetons. The clerk, agreed (Jess and I think this happens a lot) and offered a full refund with a cost of one night’s fees. Obviously exhausted and hungry from our travels, we would stay the night and leave early the next morning for our newly booked home at The Inn at Jackson Hole in Teton Village. As a side bar, the Longhorn Ranch Lodge & RV Park in Dubois was very cute and was right on the Snake River. If you ever find yourself in the area, this is the place to stay. The place to eat: Nostalgia Bistro in town. The Nostalgia Bistro is a family restaurant in the heart of town (which looks just like a movie set form the old west) with home cooking and friendly service. Jess and I opted to sit at the bar and had great conversation with the manager/bartender, Ashley. We tried some local beers on tap, and had HANDS DOWN my favorite meal of our trip. Discovering my new favorite restaurant was great! Inconvenient; but glad to add Dubois, Wyoming to my ‘must return’ list.

The next morning we were up early to enjoy our free breakfast and to hit the road. We drove back West through rolling mountains and blue skies. As we passed through Grand Tetons we came upon a Moose! Excited to Instagram Live the run-in, we popped out of the car to get a closer look. Mr. Moose got his time in the spotlight, got camera shy, and ran away. Stoked off our wildlife spotting, we continued to Teton Village. Located at the bottom of a mountain, Teton Village is a charming little area with plenty of restaurants and shops. Settled in, we grabbed some lunch (BLTs) and decided to go kayaking on Jenny Lake. Located in Grand Teton National Park, Jenny Lake is located South of Jackson Lake and is the first area in Grand Teton National Park that was developed for recreational use. This serene lake lays at the foot of peaked mountains that create a peaceful environment for any sort of boating activities. With a friendly send off from the kayak dock, we paddled out of the inlet in our two person kayak to explore Jenny Lake. We set off for the mountains in the distance. The shore would be our destination. Synchronizing our paddles, we made our way across the dark waters watching the water rush along with our strokes. Resting our arms, we floated in the middle of the lake and all the tension seemed to ooze out of my body. Jess and I giggled with delight from our serenity and unconditional love for Jenny Lake. Our eyes shutting, we relished in the quiet lapping of the water against our kayak. The clouds seemed to dance around the sun and pockets of shade were welcomed on a hot summer afternoon. Determined to reach the foot of the mountains, we began to paddle again. Coming ashore against some rocks, Jess hopped out of the kayak and tethered our kayak to a fallen tree. I, too relaxed to move, remained in the kayak and rocked slowly with the small waves hitting against the rock-lined shore while Jess remained on land, perched on a log. With a backdrop of trees ascending up the mountain we rested once again, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of this beautiful park. As the wind picked up and the afternoon pressed on, we reluctantly paddled back to the dock. Not ready to say goodbye to Jenny Lake just yet, we found a path and ventured down towards the lake’s edge. Finding a large rock wading near the shore, I decided this would be my post. Sitting legs crossed I took a mental picture of Jenny Lake and made sure to appreciate the tranquility that I felt.

Eventually, the rumbles of hunger from our stomachs prompted our return to Teton Village. For dinner we popped into Old Yellowstone Garage in Teton Village. OYG is well designed with a nice upscale atmosphere. Wanting something hardy, we both ordered a rabbit pasta dish. It was delicious and exactly what we wanted. We ended the night with some beers and great conversations with some locals.

Waking up the next day (July 23rd), we logged some work and then suited up for a hike. Having a number of trails in Teton Village, we set off for the Wildflower Trail, a trek that would take us up to 9,000 ft and where we would catch a ride from the Teton Village gondola back down. The trail was green and as you may have guessed, populated with wildflowers of different colors and species. Steep at times, we relished in the shaded areas where winding switchbacks continued our incline. Our legs burning, chests rising and falling in staggered breath, we were steadfast in our journey. Passing a young family my new hiking motto was attained; The young son held his walking stick up in determination and reminded us that “each step is one step closer to the top”. Thank you kind child! This saying along with “just keep hiking” (in the tune of Dori from “Finding Nemo”) were powerful fuel to finish our hike. 2-1/2 hours later we reached the summit – rejoice! High-fives all around! Resting our legs, we found a shaded spot to sit on the ground and enjoyed a victory sandwich. Sitting at the top of the mountain, the feeling of accomplishment radiated from us. Cooled down, we boarded our gondola and sped down the mountain peering out onto the very paths we traversed.

Having showered and rested, we set off for dinner at Il Vilaggio Osteria, an Italian restaurant in Teton Village with outdoor seating. Ravenous from the days activities, we ordered a burrata to start and for our entrees, we split a personal pizza of cheese, figs and pancetta and a pasta dish with shrimp and guanciale in a sage butter sauce. Of course, we paired these delicious dishes with a bottle (or two) or red wine. Heaven. If you haven’t noticed yet, I am a foodie and LOVE a good bottle of wine with a carbo-loaded meal. Simple pleasures. The perfect ending to a perfect day, we clinked our glasses and toasted to Jackson and our next stop, La Verkin, Utah and Zion National Park.

Bozeman, Montana

Location: Bozeman, Montana
Listening to: Dogs panting and birds chirping
Time: 8:44 am

Today, we leave Bozeman. Having only arrived Thursday afternoon, I don’t want to leave just yet. We are staying in a guest cabin off I-90 West, exit 319, with a lovely couple, Steve and Kathy, from AirBnB. Up in the mountains, 6,000 feet above sea level, I am at total peace. The mornings are crisp and quiet aside from the constant chatter of birds. The afternoons have been clear sunny skies, a bright blue that rivals that of South Dakota. The evenings bring chilled air and tranquility. Last night we sat perched around a bon fire, playing ball with Moose and Nea (formally known as Chocolate Moose and Neapolitan) our hosts Border Collies. Enjoying a solo cup of red wine, tilting my head back to witness the twinkling stars I decided that I could spend a lifetime here. For the longest time I have yearned to visit Montana. I think that my gut has always known I would like it here.
The town of Bozeman is quaint, but lively. Their main street is sprinkled with antique stores and restaurants with chic interiors and friendly staff. Thursday night we enjoyed Italian food at Blackbird. The interiors are industrial with large Edison bulbs hanging sporadically from the ceiling. The restaurant centers around an open kitchen with a wood burning oven, where line chefs can be seen creating pizzas with numerous toppings and flavors. We began our meal with a cheese board accompanied by the most delicious honey I have ever had. For my meal, I decided for the burrata pizza. A simple tomato based pie with big chunks of burrata and basil plopped throughout. It was divine. Jess ordered the bolognese, which was okay, but if you ever go to Blackbird, get the pizza. We finished our night with a night cap of Guinness(es) at a local Irish Pub. Before heading home we stopped at a food truck and ordered some mouthwatering chicken wings which were smothered in bbq sauce. Yum.
Friday, we logged some hours of work in the morning and headed into town for a late Breakfast at the Western Cafe. The slogan, “The last best cafe” explains it all. The walls are covered in western paraphernalia, old cowboy photos, moose antlers, and vintage fliers to name a few. The bar is lined with stationary swivel stools from the fifties and the place smells of greasy, homemade breakfast. We were told there are home-made cinnamon rolls daily, but we were too late to snag any, as they were all gone. After our (very filling) breakfast/lunch, we strolled the downtown area. We discovered the Montana Honey Bee Company and were psyched to find out this shop was responsible for our honey from Thursday night’s cheese board. With our newly purchased honey in tow, we continued our downtown walking tour. Popping into a grocery store, we decided that tonight we would cook dinner in our outdoor kitchen high up in the mountains. Returning to our Bozeman home, we cooked some pasta with cherry tomatoes and basil. The mountain ranges off in the distance soaked in sunlight, we sat peacefully at the picnic table, enjoying our pasta. As evening faded into night we threw on some sweats and ventured up to the fire pit.
As we ready the car for our drive South to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, I am reluctant to leave but ready to explore another new place. I am quite sure that Jackson will hold its own wonders and I will fall in love with it too.

This is America

Location: Rapid City, South Dakota
Listening to: myself typing
Time: 11:53 pm (MT)

Tonight, we arrived in South Dakota. About 1,700 miles away from home. We feel like we have been traveling for weeks, yet this is officially ‘day three’ of our trip. The last I wrote, we were heading to Pittsburgh, PA, so let me start where I left off…

As we approached the city, Jess and I both realized we had no idea what the skyline of ‘The Burgh’ looked like. This has been a common theme throughout our drive; In fact, I have not yet been to any places on our itinerary, besides DC, which will be the last stop on our trip before NYC. As we rounded the bend into downtown Pittsburgh we witnessed a bright, layered city, with overlapping bridges and long, arched tunnels. It was interesting to see how the legacy of Carnegie still lives throughout the city. Taking in the city lights and witnessing street signs holding the steel tycoon’s name we hurried over bridges and through tunnels eager for a good night sleep. We arrived at a Red Roof Inn at around 1 am and quickly realized the hotel looked much better on a computer screen. The word ‘slumming’ comes to mind. So exhausted from our trip, we reluctantly hopped into bed jokingly saying, “don’t let the bed bugs bite”. Sleep was necessary. We had a long drive ahead.

The next morning, we promptly departed from Pittsburgh and headed to Milwaukee. Friends of mine were kind enough to set us up with a family member attending Marquette University – so we were back in college for the night! We unpacked and headed to the historic Third Ward to grab some food and meet up with Ethan, a close friend of mine. We started off at the Milwaukee Ale House. From there, we were hopping from place to place. Ethan showed us all around town. We sipped cocktails at a speakeasy, enjoyed Bastille Days (a local celebration in Milwaukee celebrating the national day of France complete with its own replica of the Eiffel Tower), and ended the night on the dance floor. Needless to say, the IPAs were flowing and Sunday morning I woke up with a college size hangover, at the ripe age of 29. Crawling out of bed, Jess and I headed to the burbs where Ethan, Candice and their son, Ethan Charlie welcomed us into their home for a delicious and filling brunch. Enjoying the company of close friends so far from home was a special treat and fueled me up for the trek ahead. After brunch, and a stop into EC’s playroom, we repacked the car and hit the road for our 5-hour ride to Minneapolis.

By the time we arrived in Minneapolis, we were all so exhausted (Lennon included) that we ordered Italian food delivered to our hotel room, opened a bottle of ‘Woop Woop’ wine (thanks Julie), and watched the 2015 rendition of Cinderella. It was glorious. This morning, we woke up bright eyed and bushy tailed and ventured off to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. A beautiful morning, the garden was the perfect way to get a taste of Minneapolis. Not being able to spend a lot of time exploring, this city has now been added to my bucket list for future travels. With a 9-hour drive to Rapid City, South Dakota on the agenda, we calculatingly repacked the car and headed West.

And then, South Dakota…

The main reason for our visit to this state was to gaze upon Mt. Rushmore. Having learned about this man-made wonder my whole life, it seemed an obvious choice when staring at a map deciding where to explore. What I was not expecting was the immense beauty that South Dakota possesses. I see why Teddy Roosevelt was so taken with the Dakotas in the late 19th century. The plains at the Eastern end of the state are calming and remind me of the North Fork of Long Island. The endless green fields of farmland are reminiscent of the East End I love so dearly, yet these fields have characteristics all their own. At the Western side of the state, the hills start to appear. Sort of out of nowhere you are met with grassy green hills which are home to cows and small pockets of lakes and ponds. Random spirts of trees unexpectedly sprout out of the land and gaping cliffs and canyons are seen off in the distance. As we headed towards our destination of Rapid City, we were met with a sporadic rainstorm, the heavy rain beating against the windshield. We couldn’t resist keeping the windows open as the scent of summer rain filled the car, the wind whipping our faces. Once the rain passed we were greeted with cotton candy skies as the sun began to set over the Black Hills. I suppose that is why they call them The Black Hills; the sunsetting beyond them creates a blackened shadow of the tree lined hills, allowing the colored skies to beam against a shaded landscape. Meandering up into the mountains where our home is for the next couple of days, we couldn’t resist snapping photos and proclaiming our love for South Dakota. I am looking forward to exploring this area more and look forward to more surprises from this beautiful place.

– Erin

And we’re off!

Location: Quakertown, Pennsylvania
Listening to: “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston
Time: 8:57 pm

So we made it to Pennsylvania! Tonight we are driving to Pittsburgh for a “pitt” stop. Jess, Lennon and I left NYC ahead of schedule – go us! We started our trip with a special goodbye from my Aunt Dede. For those of you who don’t know Aunt Deed you’re missing out. For those of you who do, know how special of a person she is. You may also know what a big fan of care packages she is. Well, today was no exception! Aunt Deed sent us off on our journey with a care package filled with necessities and goodies. We have already broken into the Club Crackers. Now, driving with the windows down, listening to 90s pop radio while belting out tunes, I am looking towards the road ahead with anticipation, curiousity, and excitement! What lies ahead is unknown. Bring it on.