The View from the Top of Enchanted Rock

One of my goals with this blog is to give you the chance to see pretty outdoor places around our state even if you can’t leave your office cube. So today, a view from the top of Enchanted Rock! We went up there in the middle of January with some friends from Austin. It was risky as far as weather, but we threaded the needle between two freezes, and got a 70-degree day.

Enchanted Rock, for those of you who’ve never been, is nestled in the Texas Hill Country just north of Fredericksburg, two hours west of Austin. It’s in a region where pink granite juts out of the ground everywhere you look, with Enchanted Rock being the largest chunk–a huge beautiful dome surrounded by other smaller domes and rocks. Kind of like the monolith Uluru in Australia, but a big pink Texan version.

It was insanely windy up at the top–50 mph! We all felt like we might blow away.

When you’re up on the top of Enchanted Rock, you are literally up with the birds. You’ll see them right at your level about a hundred feet away, soaring over the valley floor. None of them would stay in one place long enough for my pictures, but you get the idea.

The climb to the top, for those of you who have never been, is about 20 minutes straight up once you reach the base of the rock.

 

Of course, you can stop and take breaks–no shame in that–but man, it is a killer bun and thigh work out. A good thing to do in January when you’re trying to get back on the wagon!

Love that pink Texas granite.

When you get up to the top, there are caves you can go explore, or you can just sit and enjoy the view and give your legs a rest.

On a less windy day, I like to bring a pair of binocs up there and scan the countryside, but we felt like we would blow off the cliff at any moment so sought the wind-break of some nearby rocks.

Enchanted Rock now has a food truck at the base of the mountain, so when you come back down you can get ice cream. It’s glorious! Much needed! Delicious!

Enchanted Rock is one of my top 5 favorite state parks, and you’ll hear me talk a lot about it on this blog. So if you haven’t ever been, put it on your list.

More posts about Enchanted Rock

A Girl’s Getaway to Enchanted Rock

This is the story from our camping trip — tips for visiting the park to come next, stay tuned.

This past weekend I took a group of girls on a camping trip at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area and we had so much fun!! If you have never been to this park before, you should stop what you’re doing and make a reservation.

Enchanted Rock is like a mini-Yosemite National Park – a smaller, pinker, Texas version of one of our greatest national park.  Yosemite is known for its rolling rocky slopes and waterfalls; Enchanted Rock has its own rolling hills of pink granite.

The landscape is varied – canyons one minute, summit views the next, and lakeside paths the next.

Except we have bluebonnets! Take that Yosemite…

En route to the park, we stopped in Fredericksburg for a picnic of caprese sandwiches and Thai chicken salad were on the menu! Only the best for these girls.

My goal is to show ladies that the outdoors can be fun, and inspire their appreciation for conserving nature here in Texas and around the world. So to me, every detail that makes our time outdoors better is important, down to the fresh mozzarella!

(Texas was REALLY helping me out by putting on a show of native wildflowers – WOW.)

One of the girls had never been camping before, so I was crossing my fingers she had fun. She is the last person you would think of as an outdoorsy person, but I’ve been working on her over the last few years!! Mwahaha.

The camp sites at Enchanted Rock are very secluded — so secluded in fact, that they can be hard to find, and finding ours was kind of an ordeal!

But that was a good thing. It was nice to feel like we were out in the middle of nowhere: just us, nature, and as many comforts of home as we could fit in our vehicles.

(Including this awesome folding hammock!)

The campsite may not have had running water or electricity but it did come with our own private pink granite hill and wildflowers pouring out of nooks and crannies.

Thanks to the seclusion, our neighbors were spared them from hearing our renditions of “Get low”, the “Star spangled banner”, “Texas Our Texas”, and many stories which will not be repeated on this blog.

What happens at Enchanted stays at Enchanted…

I did a little bit of Dutch oven cooking for dinner – Southwest cornbread and apple cobbler. It hit the spot!

Despite a middle of the night adventure that involved wild animals (story coming soon) we enjoyed an incredible starry sky and a good night’s sleep. We woke up early the following morning to take on the main point of our whole trip: hiking to the top of Enchanted Rock!

We headed out around 7:30, coffee in hand, just as the sun was rising, to be some of the first people on the top.

The temperature was still in the low 60’s and the morning sun was causing the granite to come alive in hues of pink, orange, and red. There was hardly a cloud in the sky so it glowed electric blue.

With the sun peeking through the bluebonnets and the pink granite as a backdrop, I felt like I was living in a travel magazine – or Heaven itself. I took photos but there is nothing like the experience of seeing it for yourself.

The hike to the top was pretty much straight up, and we felt the burn in our legs. But fortunately we didn’t suffer long – only about 20 minutes to the top!

We were rewarded with an endless panorama of the Texas Hill Country. We could see birds soaring over the surrounding hills at the same elevation as us, so it was truly like having a bird’s eye view of Texas.

I think we all enjoyed the tranquility of the moment and having the place to ourselves.

On the way home we took the Echo Canyon and Loop Trails, which were incredible and led us through a canyon and beside a lake, past hundreds of bluebonnets, buttercups, Indian paintbrush, and other wildflowers and more panoramic hill country views.

I would totally recommend these trails on your next visit!

I am proud to report my friend Katherine, the one who had never camped, not only survived her first weekend of camping but had fun! Or maybe she’s just telling me that…either way, I appreciate the grace.

The cap on our fabulous weekend was breakfast sandwiches on Texas toast and s’mores! The girls went to town with s’more combinations and ended up coming up with a new one: Croissant strawberry Nutella s’mores, which they report are amazing.

Perfect weekend in the books.

Thanks to all the ladies who came and made this camp out so fun, thanks to our park system for this amazing park, thanks to God for wildflowers, and thanks readers for coming back to the blog! Hope everyone has a nice week and I can’t wait to tell you more about this park in upcoming posts!

Stay tuned for:

  • The Best Trails of Enchanted Rock
  • Tips for Planning Your Visit and Suggested Itinerary
  • A Camping Menu for Enchanted Rock

XOXO

Ps. Affiliate links used.

Fun Camping Adventures at Bastrop State Park

We just got back from a fun weekend of camping with friends at Bastrop State Park! This park is a beautiful, unexpected pocket of pine trees about an hour from Austin, handy for day hikes and camping trips.

Helpful information for planning your visit to the park can be found at the end of this post. 

Some friends of ours joined us for the trip. Camping with friends is the way to go! You can split up the meals and chores, which makes planning so much easier. Not to mention they provide constant entertainment. (If you choose the right friends!)

These are the McCrackens, two friends we know through Texas A&M and church. Erin is a blog reader and so supportive of all my Whit’s Wilderness ideas, events and shenanigans! Not to mention she takes on the outdoors with joy and class, so is a true Whit’s Wilderness woman.

Blake is a true outdoorsman and has been everywhere and hiked nearly everything. Blake’s best quote from the weekend: “Once I figured out how to make Erin comfortable when camping, I knew things would be ok.”

These are our other friends, the Whitney’s. (Obviously, their name is a fit here in Whit’s Wilderness.) We know them through church as well. Drew and Brandon have bonded over their love of fishing and their shared opinion that Die Hard is a Christmas movie. Jessica is a joy to be around, and is new to Texas so I loved the chance to show her Bastrop State Park.

I picked my husband Brandon up on the way out there, and he was still in his pinstripe slacks when we arrived. Easily the snazziest camper in the park.

Our campsite was at the Copperas Creek campground, surrounded by pines, with electricity and water at each site.

We had campsite #55 and it was perfect, a lovely little spot with hills and trees surrounding three sides.

First order of business was setting up the tents. The McCrackens borrowed our tent last year for a long camping trip at Palo Duro Canyon, and on day 1 they watched, in horror, as it got picked up and ripped apart by a wind storm.

After that experience, they googled “Bomb proof tent” and found the tent you see in the above photo. It may weight 60 pounds, but no wind storm will ever ruin their camping experience again!

One of the things I loved about Bastrop State Park was the stars. Even though we technically could hear the highway and knew we were only 50 minutes from town, the stars put on a show as if we were hundreds of miles from civilization. Looking up into the starry sky was only made better by the pine trees that towered overhead and framed the night sky.

The next morning, the Whitney’s made us delicious sausage and egg tacos. Split up the meals if you ever go camping with friends! It makes life easier.

Another wonderful perk of Bastrop State Park is the Master Naturalist volunteers that lead guided hikes every weekend in Spring and Summer.

Check out the Bastrop State Park Facebook page for updated hike listings.

Being wildlife and nature-loving people, we joined up with the naturalist for a guided hike to see the beautiful pine trees.

About that….

Now would probably be a good time to mention that the largest fire in our Texas’ history occurred here in 2011. It was so hot that flames rose into the air for over 100 feet and melted vehicles and machinery into metallic puddles. Embers, so tiny they were imperceptible to the naked eye, floated through the air and spontaneously combusted whatever they touched.

The park suffered over 90% tree mortality, devastating to the once beautiful stand of loblolly pine that had inhabited this area for over 18,000 years.

But there is good news! It just so happens that an Aggie had saved a bunch of Loblolly pine seedlings from this area for research. At the time of the fire, he was storing them in a local grocery store refrigerator.

So when the fire happened, guess where all the new seedlings came from?

Thank God for professors and their research projects! Already, thousands of baby pines have been planted and more are springing up from the ground naturally.

By now even wildflowers are returning, and dotted the trails along our route.

Would it have been more beautiful to see this land covered in pines? Yes. But seeing unhindered Mother Nature at work, both in the magnitude of destruction and the remarkable rebound was an experience I couldn’t replace. So many of our gardens and parks are pristine, man made, or controlled, and it can be hard to remember that nature is inherently wild. It’s good for us to see parts of the world that are still wild.

Despite the fire, there are STILL gorgeous parts of the park.

The rolling terrain was a great work out.

My favorite stop was the scenic overlook.

(There is only one and it is indicated on park maps.)

We could see for miles, and there was a bit of history there too! The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), one of President Roosevelt’s first New Deal programs back during the Depression, built beautiful buildings, fences, wells, dams, and other structures in parks across our nation. Here at Bastrop, you can enjoy the shade of a pergola built in the 1930’s by the CCC out of stone found in the park.

It just so happens that we ran into a crew of students from Texas State University interviewing people for Texas Parks and Wildlife TV. I got interviewed, y’all!

Whatever I said, Trooper must have found it interesting…

If it makes it on TV I will let you all know.

Lots of hiking means lots of eating, and so I cooked venison mac ‘n cheese in the Dutch oven. We followed it up with s’mores and I have some new break throughs in the world of s’mores that I’m excited to share. We took them to a whole new level this weekend, y’all.

(All recipes coming soon!)

Last but not least: the bathrooms were AWESOME, so clean and pretty.

I couldn’t have asked for a better camping crew. We’re grateful for the regrowth and rebirth we saw in Bastrop. Trees that were planted 5 years ago are already 5 feet tall, and I know we will be showing these desolate pictures to our grand children some day. They won’t believe that the pine forest they know was once a desolate, barren land of burned logs. Nature is always adapting and reforming itself and we are fortunate to watch the natural beauty unfold.

Happy camping!

Plan Your Visit

  • When to book: 3-6 months in advance
  • Recommended time: 2-3 days/one weekend
  • Official TPWD Website: http://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/bastrop
  • Must-sees in the park: Scenic overlook
  • Recommended campsites: #55 in Copperas Cove
  • Nearby awesome stops:
    • Buc-ees, an awesome gas station/shop that you MUST see! (5 minutes from park)
    • Bastrop Historic Downtown
    • Roadhouse, just outside the entrance of the park: GREAT burgers and chocolate milkshakes!

Sunrise on the Texas Coast

As you may have seen here, I’m kind of in love with sunrise pictures. In my mind, the sunrise just might be better than the sunset, because the rest of the world isn’t up yet and there is still some peace and quiet to be had.

That said, waking me up in the morning is akin to raising the dead, and so it’s not all that often I get to enjoy a good sunrise. But in theory, I love them!

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A few weeks ago I got to watch the sunrise at Powderhorn Ranch, a new state park that will be opening to the public in a few years. The sunrise alone makes the trip worthwhile.

Powderhorn sits on Matagorda Bay, and faces the sunrise head on.

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The rays were coming over the water and lighting up the meadow in hues of yellows and oranges.

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As if the scene couldn’t get any more magical, pelicans and birds of every sort were waking up and heading out to the water to fish.

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I happily took my coffee down to the water and sat for a while. Here’s a video:

All in all it was one of my favorite sunrises yet! Where have some of your favorite sunrises been?

PS. See my pics of a sunrise in the Sierra mountains here.

A Sneak Preview of Texas’ NEW State Park!

A big ranch on the Texas coast has just been set aside as our NEWEST state park, and guess what?! Today you get a sneak preview of it here on Whit’s Wilderness! I’m excited to share it with you because A) it is gorgeous, and B) I have a feeling it’s going to be one of our most popular state parks, and you need to be in the know.

The good news is it’s not coming online for another five years, so you have plenty of time to renovate an Airstream trailer and become a professional outdoorswoman before it opens. 🙂

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The park is called Powderhorn Ranch, and it is located near Port O’Connor, Texas just up the coast from Rockport on Matagorda Bay.

We were there on a camp out with Stewards of the Wild, a group for young people in their 20’s and 30’s who are into the outdoors and conservation. This is a GREAT group to join, they always have fun activities that show a “behind the scenes” look at Texas Parks and Wildlife happenings.

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At 17,000 acres, Powderhorn is pretty sizeable (Memorial Park in Houston is 1,400 acres, for comparison) and it’s right on the beach in prime fishing, hunting, birding, and kayaking territory.

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We got to camp right on the water, with the soothing sound of the waves to put us to sleep and a killer sunrise to wake up to the next morning.

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We felt totally spoiled to get to see this park before it opened to the public, and had so much fun driving around looking at wildlife, kayaking, and fishing on the coast.

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The lodge on the property has a huge wraparound porch, and will be open for group reservations in the future. (You will want to get in on this!)

Panoramic beach views and an entire row of posts just for hammocks make it simply heavenly. Brandon tested out the hammock situation just for you all, and he reports that it is up to his napping standards.

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While a lot of land along the coast is flat and marsh-like, this ranch has such diverse scenery, from freshwater ponds that the birds and alligators love, to oak thickets, tall grass prairies, and beautiful grassy coastline.

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It was seriously so pretty.

In the future, a huge portion of this land will be used for public hunting and about 2,500 acres of oceanfront property will become the state park.

The prime part of the coastline is going to be the heart of the state park, and campsites are going to be strung out along the waterfront.

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I think this is going to be the part of the park that makes Texans fall in love with their state all over again.

The sunrise from this point is simply beautiful and there’s not a building for miles to ruin the view.

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You will want to bring your kayaks (or rent them from the park) because the fishing and sightseeing along the coast is something out of a magazine.

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{This coastline is Stewards of the Wild tested and approved!}

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As a wildlife lover and so was avidly photographing all of the deer, herons, pelicans, and shorebirds.

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Texas is a huge haven for migrating birds, and given how large our coastline is, we are a major part of their migratory route. They love the freshwater ponds and estuaries along the coast, and after a long gulf flight they love hanging out here and refueling on the fish, plankton, and plants in marshes and wetlands before continuing on their journeys.

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One morning I watched about a dozen pelicans dive-bomb their breakfast of fish just under the surface.

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Later that day I made everyone apple cobbler on the dutch oven and it hit the spot.

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We had a big bonfire on the beach that night, and I was reminded how much I love beach bonfires.

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Beach bonfires are the best.

But of course, not every camping trip is perfect. Ha. A huge thunderstorm pelted us with rain and wind Saturday night and we made a fun little discovery that our tent was not “waterproof” at. all. Water came through the roof and puddles formed around the edge of our tent, soaking our belongings. We layed awake from about 2am to 5am as the thunder and lightning passed overhead.

But despite it all, we had such an incredible time and I once again was wow-ed by the natural beauty of our state. We are so lucky to have places like this to enjoy and I am so excited for the many Texans who will get to visit this ranch and make memories in years to come.

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One day I’ll get to tell my kids, “Your father and I came here before it was a state park, before there were restrooms, roads or any of these fancy amenities!” We’ll tell them about how we got stuck in a thunderstorm and how we had sticker burrs in our sleeping bags. I’m sure they will roll their eyes. But I still can’t wait to share this slice of pristine Texas coastline with them.

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How YOU Can Go to This Park Before it Opens!

  • If you are between 21 and 45, and live in San Antonio, Austin, Houston, or Dallas, you can join Stewards of the Wild. They will be making one last trip to Powderhorn next year and you can join them.

Things to Know

  • Location:

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  • 3 hours from Austin, Houston, and San Antonio
  • Lots of sticker burrs, beware! Bring a tarp to put under your tent. We had sticker burrs and thorns poking through the floor of our tent.
  • Bring bug spray
  • It can be windy

A Bit About the Public Hunting

I personally can’t wait to sign up for public hunting down at Powderhorn. Public hunting will open in 2018, before the rest of the park is open to the public. Those of you looking to put wild game on your table can look forward to that! See my instructions for how to hunt Texas park land here.

Where the Name Comes From

A “powderhorn” is what they used back in the old days to hold gun powder, and was typically a cow or buffalo horn with the ends sawed off and stoppers at both ends. It was worn around the waist/cross body. The lake near Powderhorn Ranch is shaped like a powderhorn, hence the name.

What to Do in the Area

Thanks to PBS’ The Daytripper for these tips!

I hope you all get a chance to enjoy this beautiful park some day! Until then check out our many great state parks on the coast, like Mustang Island and Galveston Island.

Glamp Your Heart Out at this Texas Tipi Retreat

When Reservation on the Guadalupe asked me to come stay at their glamping retreat and do a review, I was more than happy to oblige. Me? Glamp? Why if I must!

This cute tipi-style resort was already on my list of places to visit. With pristine hill country surroundings to bask in, hammocks to swing in, the Guadalupe river to dip in, and one of my favorite Texas hikes nearby, this place has the basics of what my heart desires–and it is all within an hour from my front door in Austin.

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I grabbed my friend Cassandra, a jewelry designer and fellow Austinite, and we headed down there last week. I’m in love with this place and think you will be too!

First things first, on the way there we stopped in Gruene for a bite to eat.

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Gruene is a historic town, with a dancehall, water tower, and a general store. If you’re coming from Austin, Dallas, or Houston, you will pass by Gruene and it would be a shame to not see this quintessential Texas town.

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What to See In Gruene

We had a big plate of onion rings at the Gristmill and my day was made before I even arrived at the tipis.

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Mmm. Follow me on Instagram for stories from my travels.

After dinner, the entire drive from Gruene to the tipis was full of sunset views.

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(We may be a bit biased, but we think sunsets are better in Texas.)

Though we arrived at the tipis just after dark, I could tell this place was already right up my alley. There are eight individual tipis around a central area, each one complete with its own kitchenette, memory foam beds (hello), air conditioning, wifi, television, dvd player, and coffee maker.

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We had tipi #2, called Deer Run.

Cassie and I both love Europe and so we spent the remainder of our night watching A Good Year, which is set on a vineyard in France. Sigh.

Both Cassie and I run our own businesses–hers a jewelry company and mine this blog–and our noses are always to the grindstone, so we felt so spoiled getting to sit and watch a movie on a midweek vacation. It was a total break from adulting we needed.

See Cassie’s jewery line here: CassandraCollections

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The next morning we woke up and ventured down to the riverfront.

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This spot was just MADE for sipping coffee.

If you go, I recommend taking a good book and a cup of joe, and enjoying the peace and quiet of this serene spot before the day gets crazy. It will start your day off right.

That done, we finally got our much needed hammock time.

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Not bad for a Wednesday, eh?

On our way back home to Austin, we took the scenic route on River Road, which follows the Guadalupe River all the way back to Gruene.

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This trip was just the getaway we girls needed. I can’t wait to come back, and bring people! I see a Whit’s Wilderness reader glamp out in my future…

What We Loved

  • SUPER UNIQUE – Only a couple of places like this exist in Texas and so it’s truly something special
  • GREAT FOR GROUPS – With a big central open area and plenty of fire pits, picnic tables, and grills, this place just screams group getaway.
  • SUPER CONVENIENT — located between Austin and San Antonio just 30 min. off I-35
  • AFFORDABLE – $129/night on average, and each tipi can accommodate six guests
  • LAID BACK AND CASUAL – glamping hair don’t care
  • SEAMLESS AND STRESS FREE – There were no hills to climb, no people to impress, and no crazy hidden fees.
  • LOTS TO DO – See suggestions below
  • GOOD SLEEP – Memory foam mattresses make this easy!
  • STOCKED KITCHEN – Kitchenettes are well equipped with a mini fridge, utensils, kitchen tools, dish soap, etc.
  • TREEHOUSE community room – so cute, with sofas, chairs, and poker table (pics at end of post)

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Who Would Love this Trip

  • GIRLFRIENDS looking for a fun and affordable getaway (that’s extremely Instagram friendly)
  • COED FRIEND GROUPS who want to tube and hang out somewhere casual and affordable
  • MOMS looking for a quiet spot to sleep, read, and enjoy the peace and quiet
  • FAMILIES BIG AND SMALL looking for a place that is accessible by all ages with a great feeling of community.
  • KIDDOS WITH AN IMAGINATION – Your kid will feel like he/she’s staying in a fort or pretending to be Pocahontas for the weekend. Plus, there’s a tree house!
  • GIRL SCOUT TROOPS – all of the tipis are within eyeshot of each other and there are plenty of lessons in nature to be had, from building a fire to swimming to arts and crafts.

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Our Tips for The Best Vacation

  • Go in colder weather. Flannels, moccasins, blankets, and fire pits are the little joys of glamping and best experienced in cooler temps.
  • Get up before the day starts and enjoy the peace and quiet of the riverfront
  • Arrive before dark, the entrance can be hard to spot from the road at night
  • Bring your own towels
  • Bring slip on shoes to run to the bathroom
  • Don’t forget a flashlight!

What to Do in the Area

  • TUBE THE GUADALUPE – Rent tubes at the intersection of Hwy 306 and FM 2673 (5 min drive)
  • FLY FISH – Contact Gruene Outfitters for a list of guides
  • VISIT GRUENE – Shop, eat, stroll, dance, repeat (20 min drive)
  • HIKE CANYON LAKE GORGE – one of my favorite hikes in the Hill Country, you can see pictures here (5 min drive)
  • BOAT at nearby Canyon Lake (5 min drive)
  • SWIM / dip a toe in the water on the property – the paved landing by the water is perfect for little kids

To Reserve

  • Visit Reservation on the Guadalupe

When to Go

  • I recommend winter time. It can get a little hot and muggy in the summer.

A Word About Checking In

Before your arrival, Best Texas Travel sends you a link to an app which you will need for check in. At first I was annoyed about having to download another app (inevitably this means deleting something from my phone), but it ended up being one of the nicest parts of the experience. When I was packing, it told me exactly what to bring. On our way to the property, it gave us directions. And when we got there, it had our entry code to our tipi. Seriously made our trip so stress-free.

Room for Improvement

My complaints are fairly minor, I was definitely impressed overall.

  • The bedspreads were not as clean as they could have been. I’m a clean freak and so just pulled them back.
  • The towels weren’t either…eek! Bring your own.
  • No full length mirror
  • No water bottles – there’s a faucet and plenty of room for your own coolers instead

Everything else was tidy and wonderful, and I’m not just saying that because they comped my stay.

Remember this is still camping

Glamorous is a relative term. It is not glamorous compared to the Ritz, it’s glamorous compared to camping. As long as you go in with the same expectations you would have for camping, you will be beyond pleasantly surprised.

A Few Final Snaps Before I Go…

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The perfect set up in my book

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Path Down to the River

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Treehouse Community Room – with a poker table, sofas and chairs, a grill, and plenty of outdoor seating

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River views

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Our Bathroom

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Bathroom building

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ping pong table

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Views from River Rd.

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There’s Something about Roadtrips with Mary

Of all the ladies I follow on social media, my friend Mary is one of the most entertaining. Whether it’s her three year old watering the yard buck naked (yes, that ended up on Instagram) or boomerangs of various family members dancing (whether or not they know she’s recording), Mary and her family always seem to be doing something fun.

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This summer, Mary and her husband Jethro took their three kids on a roadtrip to Colorado through New Mexico and camped in state parks and national forests along the way. Naturally, to those of us following along on social media, they seemed to be having a blast. Their adventures included lots of swimming–everywhere from hot springs to lakes–two UFO sightings (supposedly), a bear encounter, a middle-of-the-night thunderstorm at their campground, and even an impromptu recorder performance by her kids and husband. (Which was a real treat for Mary, I’m sure.) Her pictures reminded me of fun summer roadtrips when I was a child. Simple things like arriving at a new campsite or stopping at a rock shop were big events to me and I remember those days fondly.

Roadtrips are great for adults too–roadtripping is a relatively easy, affordable way to enjoy the beautiful parts of our country like the Rockies. Today I’m sharing Mary’s trip as inspiration for those of you looking for your next adventure. Enjoy!

Mary, thanks for being on Whit’s Wilderness today! Let’s start with WHY–What made y’all want to take a roadtrip to Colorado?

We had done a roadtrip to New Mexico the year before and so we wanted to push ourselves. Our kids are at an age where they can help with packing, building the tent, you know–it helps when they are a little older.

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How old are they?

Ethan is 11, Bella is 7, and Isla is 2.

Traveling with three kids can be expensive, not to mention a big undertaking. How does this trip rank as far as affordability?

It was very affordable. Under $2,000 for 1 1/2 weeks, and that’s everything included. Food, gas, everything. Trips shouldn’t have to be expensive. You don’t need that much money for this trip and kids don’t know the difference.

Was it difficult planning, packing, and getting everything together for the trip?

It was a lot of effort, yes. But really not any more than going on another trip. And it was so worth it. The kids had so much fun. I may have forgotten all of Bella’s sweaters, but it was ok–we made do.

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Tell us about the itinerary.

Day 1

  • The first day we went to Bottomless Lakes State Park in New Mexico. We got in at night so it was a little scary, but you know what–I trust my husband. I know he would take care of us. Waking up there was like Christmas the next morning, such beautiful scenery.

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Bottomless Lakes

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Bottomless Lakes

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Bottomless Lakes

Day 2

  • The next day we went to the alien museum in Roswell. It was cheesy, but this was the best money we spent on the trip! The kids loved it and for the rest of the day, they were looking out the window for aliens. Our car was really quiet that day.

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Day 3

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Storrie Lake

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Storrie Lake

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  • (Mary’s husband Jethro chimes in:) There are campsites throughout the Carson National Forest in that area which are also really nice. I would have liked to stay there.

{WW note: Storrie Lake, Morphy Lake, and Carson National Forest are all strung out in that order along the highway. See map below.}

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Day 4

  • This day we drove to Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Storrie Lake to Pagosa Springs is a really nice drive. We stopped in Taos, and that was a nice town. We saw the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, which is the highest suspended bridge in the nation.
  • Pagosa Springs was great! Awesome shops, nice people. I would make sure you reserve a hotel room in advance though. My husband is not the type to reserve in advance, and we ended up in a hotel room that was…not so great. I had brought our own sheets and pillows, thank God.
  • The springs themselves were great for us but not for kids. The water was too hot. (It was 110 degrees.) But the San Juan river is right next to the springs, and it is 60 degrees so we also swam there.

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San Juan River

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Hot Springs

Day 5 – 8

  • From Pagosa we went to Vallecito Reservoir, and that was beautiful. We rented a cabin (Cooper’s Cabins) and stayed for four nights. There was swimming, fishing, and hiking, and the inlet walk was beautiful.  One night we had a bear outside our cabin! We had left the cooler outside, and we hear this noise…we look out and he’s dragging our cooler.
  • Be sure to get food in either Durango or Pagosa Springs before going to the cabin, because there’s not a grocery store.

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View from our cabin

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Jethro was determined to catch a trout! He did, we cooked it, and it was delicious!

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Lake Vallecito

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Day 9

  • After we left Vallecito, we drove on the “Million Dollar Highway” from Durango to Montrose. The name was so fitting! It was so beautiful I wanted to cry. The road is on the edge of a cliff, with mountains all around. Spectacular. Be safe, drive slowy and take your time. Make sure your brakes work before you go on this road! Jethro fixed our brakes before we left and he was hoping he did it right. We loved this part of the trip.

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It took us about 4 hours to get to Ouray (on the way to Montrose).

  • Ouray was awesome and we would like to go back there some time. Probably just the two of us for a romantic getaway. The town is surrounded by the mountains, there are hot springs, shops, a brewery. We didn’t spend much time there and we regret that.

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Day 10

  • We drove from Montrose to Ridgeway and camped along the Gunnison Reservoir, the largest reservoir in Colorado. Our campground was the Cimarron Campground in the Curecanti National Recreational Area. (See map here.)

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Day 11

  • Headed home. Went through Monarch Pass, which was scary.
  • There’s a sportsman’s shop in Gunnison everyone goes to, which is worth a stop.
  • On the way home, we stayed in Carlsbad. Book as far in advance as you can for Carlsbad!

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Sounds like a very full itinerary! Would you do it again?

Oh yes! Of course. We had a great time. There were moments when we couldn’t stand each other. On the last night, we were down to a few cans of spaghetti and one last peach. We let the kids have the spaghetti and Jethro and I split the peach. That was our dinner. But we just had to go with the flow. We grew closer as a family and got so united. Imagine all sleeping in a tent, not taking showers! This week Ethan shared this trip in school and said how much fun he had with his family. That was my reward.

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Is there anything you wouldn’t do again?

Probably Pagosa Springs just because of the kids. It was really nice, but we would have enjoyed it more if it had just been us.

What tent did you take?

We got it from Target. It was great because it was easy to set up and we could put it up in the dark.

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Would you recommend doing this in an RV instead of a tent?

No. Our kids have grown so much because of this trip. Ethan already knows what to do at a campsite. In an RV, he would be more needy. There’s no restroom? Deal with it! He has to adapt.

Advice for what to wear & pack?

  • It’s cold so pack lots of sweaters. If you are from Texas, you will be cold.
  • Blanket poncho – we brought this blanket poncho and it was amazing, everyone used it.
  • Swimsuits
  • Water shoes
  • Emergency kit – with first aid, came in very handy
  • Bring lots of extras of everything
  • If I were going by myself, I would bring pepper spray. The state parks were pretty empty.

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Any advice for people wanting to take a similar trip?

  • Stop at the alien museum in Roswell – that was the best money we spent!
  • We didn’t know late July/August was monsoon season in New Mexico, so it rained a lot on our trip. I wouldn’t go during this time.
  • We really liked Bottomless Lakes State Park. Be sure to stop there.
  • Get a hitch on the back of your car to carry your cooler (WW note: like this)

Above all, trust your instinct and your husband, go with the flow, and enjoy this time — your kids go off to college so soon.

Wise words. Thanks Mary for sharing your adventure with us. I’m feeling inspired for another road trip!

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Why Every Woman Should Try Camping At Least Once

This post also appeared on Camping For Women.

Camping: an activity where you pack up all your things in a car, drive to an open piece of land, unpack all of the things you just packed an hour ago, make a temporary home out of a small tent, use public restrooms, sweat, and then at the end of the weekend, pack it all back up and head home.

Appealing, isn’t it?

But in the end, it wasn’t the experience of hauling a spatula into the woods that made camping one of America’s most beloved past times. There are bigger, better reasons why so many people love camping. Without fail, every time I go camping, a moment always comes along when I feel buoyed by the combined forces of the camping experience and say to myself, Why don’t I do this more often?

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You could say I love camping for the stars, the scenery, or the s’mores (talk about motivation!), but I believe the motivation is deeper than that.

(P.S. Once you’ve accepted the fact you’re going to sweat for two to three days straight, you just get over it and it becomes a non-issue.)

What to Love About Camping

  1. It’s a simple experience, and the simplicity is a healthy change from everyday life. You are required to pare life down to the simplest of things, only that which you need for a few days. When you arrive, you have your small amount of things, but you are surrounded by this big landscape, which dwarfs you and your possessions and any issues you may be facing at home or work.the Pecos Saga, Part Two
  2. Kids love it. I love watching kids run around a campsite and get engaged in activities they normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to partake in. Of course it’s important for kids to get outdoors so they will learn about the natural world, but I also think the simple freedom that comes with being outside is an important experience for them. Finally, it’s ok for them to get wet and muddy and stay that way all day!DSC_0198
  3. Intense, unparalleled bonding. I’m a social being, so I love how close this activity brings me to my fellow campers, but those seeking solitude also benefit from the bonding that occurs when camping—both with God, or the spiritual being you believe in, and with oneself. My solitary moments in nature have given me the most powerful bonding moments with God I’ve ever experienced, by seeing his incredible creation around me and by having the quiet moments to listen to Him.                                                                         photo1

On the social front, it is no coincidence that the majority of my most treasured moments with friends and family—many which occurred over two decades ago but which stick out in my mind today with crystal clarity—were outside. Backpacking with my family in the Rocky Mountains when I was just five or six, sleeping out in the open under the stars at camp, racing horses through apple orchards with my friend Leila, camping in state parks with my sister and brother in laws and their daughters, or even times as simple as sitting on a dock fishing with my grandfather, all are treasured memories. I know that the highlight reel of my life (the real highlight reel, not just the “highlight reel” of social media) includes these moments.

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And, as anyone who has ever set up a tent with another person knows, you can’t not get to know someone when you set up a tent with them! Just try it and you will know what I mean. (Same goes for field dressing an animal together…you can’t help but experience a kinship over a such a unique experience.)

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I hope you feel encouraged to try camping, and if you need tips feel free to check out the “Glamping” section of Whit’s Wilderness. May you have many fun camp outs in your future.

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Gorgeous Photos of Enchanted Rock at Sunrise

Enchanted Rock is arguably one of the most unique places to visit in Texas. A large monolithic slab of pink granite, it rises high above the surrounding hill country and affords its hikers incredible views. If you are a Texan, and haven’t been, you need to make a pilgrimage.

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Just to tempt you, today I’m interviewing my friend Joy and sharing her pictures from her recent trip. Joy gets a gold star, because she woke up at the crack of dawn to hike to the top and watch the sun rise. On a Saturday. Her pictures are gorgeous.

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Joy and I have been friends since high school, our paths crossing frequently as ballerinas and junior Women’s Club members, and…drumroll please….Fiesta Teen Queens. Y’all are in the presence of royalty here!

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If anyone wants to learn a full court bow, just ask us.

Joy, thanks for granting Whit’s Wilderness this interview!

Let’s start with your itinerary. Please tell us about it.

  • Friday – left after work, set up camp, ate s’mores
  • Saturday – mid-morning summit hike, caves, other trails, lunch, naps, sat in “river”, cooked, ate s’mores
  • Sunday – sunrise hike, breakfast, “lake” hike, tore down camp, headed home

I didn’t come with a specific itinerary; I was mostly interested in spending time with my friends and enjoying the outdoors. Enchanted Rock is so small that it doesn’t require planning ahead like a bigger national park would.

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I like that you made s’more eating happen more than once. Priorities.

Who did you go with?

A friend of mine from graduate school invited me along with some of his work colleagues. I didn’t know half the group beforehand, and I enjoyed making new friends of friends! Plus, people who are go-with-the-flow enough for hiking and camping are probably going to be chill people I can get along with.

 

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Amen to that!

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Was it worth getting up at the crack of dawn to watch the sunrise from the top?

Definitely. One friend hiked to the top coffee mug in hand! It felt satisfying to start the day with the sun and be able to come back to the campsite, eat a proper breakfast, and relax for a bit before setting out on a longer trail.

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Wow, gorrrgeous!

Was the hike difficult?

The Summit Trail is steep near the top without much variation in terrain, so if you’re racing up for the sunrise like we were, it can feel challenging. However, at a normal pace, it’s not a difficult hike.

The most difficult thing about hiking that weekend was just the heat. Most areas are exposed to direct sunlight, so we took advantage of tree cover to rest whenever it was available.

Noted: go during cooler weather or prepare yourself for heat.

How long did it take you to reach the summit?

We made it to the summit in about 20 minutes clipping along at a fast pace. The day before, we took our time and reached in about 40-45.

Wow, summiting twice in one weekend! Go girl.

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How was the view from the top?

The view from the top is lovely looking out on all sides at the Texas Hill Country. My favorite part of the experience was the breeze followed by the tiny ecosystems that manage to flourish in crevices of the rock. I took a few pictures of different moss, fern, and flower clusters in depressions in the rock with the sunrise in the background.

 

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What did you wear? Did you like what you brought or wish you had brought something better?

I was grateful for shoes with traction though, as it had just been rainy. Mobility is important to me, so I wore athletic clothing I also wear to the yoga and barre class (also because I already own it.) I was glad I wore pants to protect my legs from the long grass and long sleeves to protect my arms from sunburn.

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It was also good to be covered when we were scrambling around in the caves and climbing up some of the areas set aside for bouldering. My hat and sunglasses were essential for me, too. Other’s in my group were happy in shorts and tank tops or hiking pants with zippered legs. 

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Any advice for first timers?

Enchanted Rock is a novice-friendly hiking spot with several options for types of hikes while still being quite small–everything is a day hike. The glampers could just run (or walk) around the flat trails and/or take their time ascending to the summit. We saw people climbing up with an infant in arms (not even in a sling) and folks of all ages. On the other hand, serious climbers can bring gear for top-roping or bouldering.

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How Would You Recommend Summiting?

I liked climbing the summit first thing in the morning so that we were sure not to miss it if the trails closed due to rain. Then there would be plenty of time for the smaller rock or for walking around the trails along the circumference.

We particularly enjoyed the trail past the “lake” (small tank) that offered a nice view of the summit.

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What would you have done differently next time?

I forgot to bring snacks the second day. Rookie mistake. By the time we returned to our campsite, we were all famished, and some of us (ahem, the boys) were a bit hangry.

Bring snacks is always a good piece of advice. You can’t enjoy the outdoors if you’re hangry!

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Looking great, Joy! Thanks for telling us about your trip. You are always going places!

Anytime, Whit!

Plan Your Visit

  • Enchanted Rock Website: click here
  • Location: 2.5 hrs NW of Austin, TX in the Hill Country
  • Reservations required for overnight camping
  • Nearby accommodations: Fredericksburg, Texas bed and breakfasts
  • Nearby attractions: Texas Wine Trail

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Review: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson is one of my favorite books of all time and will always have a reserved spot on my bookshelf. I am thrilled to finally be sharing it here. It is a hilarious, witty, and self-deprecating account of Bill Bryson’s hiking adventure on the Appalachian Trail, and I laugh each time I read it.

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The premise is this: Bryson–out of shape, middle aged, and accustomed to the comforts of home–decides to hike all 2,200 miles of the Appalachian Trail as a “welcome back to America” exercise after twenty years abroad. “A little voice in my head said: ‘Sounds neat! Let’s do it!'” he writes, so his adventure begins. (Isn’t that how most of our adventures begin?)

This is an ambitious task as it involves physical endurance, rough weather, and a major investment in new equipment–none of which he is particularly keen on. Knowing he shouldn’t try it alone, he recruits a friend from college to go with him. When this friend shows up, he is even less in shape and less tolerant of adversity than Bryson. Nevertheless, they set off into the wilderness like two fawns entering bear country. What happens next can only be told by Bill himself.

A few highlights and favorite quotes:

  • Bryson’s experience buying equipment – Hysterical and totally relatable, especially to anyone who has ever shopped for gear. He starts off by writing, “My son had just gotten an after-school job there, so I was under strict instructions of good behavior…I was not to say or do anything stupid, try on anything that would require me to expose my stomach, say “Are you shitting me?” when informed the price of a product…and above all don anything inappropriate, like a woman’s ski hat, in an attempt to amuse.”  After experiencing extremely enthusiastic and opinionated salesmen (I think they are a staple at outdoor retailers), Bill ended up with “enough equipment to bring full employment to a vale of sherpas.”
  • History of the National Parks – Bryson weaves the history of our national parks and the Appalachian Trail into his tale in such an engaging way that you are left hanging on his every word. Very informative, and a great backdrop to the entire saga.
  • “Distance changes utterly when you take the world on foot. A mile becomes a long way, two miles literally considerable, ten miles whopping, fifty miles at the very limits of conception. The world, you realize, is enormous in a way that only you and a small community of fellow hikers know.” Preach! This is so true.
  • The hitch hiking experience – Bryson and Katz hitch a ride from a “very handsome, very happy, very drunk young couple” celebrating upcoming nuptials. The car ride that ensues is an absolute riot and will have you laughing out loud.
  • The people they encounter – Some obnoctious, some charming, but all comical. One of my favorite quotes was in regards to the most infamous character they meet on the trail. ““I have long known that it is part of God’s plan for me to spend a little time with each of the most stupid people on earth, and Mary Ellen was proof that even in the Appalachian woods I would not be spared,” Bryson writes.
  • Bryson hit the nail on the head with this description of hiking:

“Time ceases to have any meaning…You have no engagements, commitments, obligations, or duties; no special ambitions and only the smallest, least complicated of wants….There is no point in hurrying because you are not actually going anywhere. However far or long you plod, you are always in the same place: in the woods….At times, you become almost certain that you slabbed this hillside three days ago, crossed this stream yesterday, clambered over this fallen tree at least twice today already. But most of the time you don’t think. No point. Instead, you exist in a kind of mobile Zen mode, your brain like a balloon tethered with string, accompanying but not actually part of the body below. Walking for hours and miles becomes as automatic, as unremarkable, as breathing. At the end of the day you don’t think, “Hey, I did sixteen miles today,” any more than you think, “Hey, I took eight-thousand breaths today.” It’s just what you do.”

So true!

In short, this book makes us laugh at ourselves, our fellow hikers, the idiosyncrasies of the hiking culture, while also beautifully capturing the rich history and scenery of our national parks. I hope you enjoy it and that it becomes one of your favorites too.

PS. Giveaway coming tomorrow!