Mesa Verde National Park, CO

DSC_4728The Colorado Adventure: Day 4, part 2

As I looked over the plan for our adventure time after time over the course of a month or so, I couldn’t help but get nervous for our 5th day of the trip. No matter how I tried to tweak it, it was going to be a very long 15-16 hour day, with the end of that day consisting of 3-4 hours of driving after sunset. After a discussion with the family, we decided to adjust the schedule and push on down to Mesa Verde National Park after the Ouray hike, instead of starting with it on day 5. It was a gamble that worked, but just barely…

If you’ve read about our adventure before, skip to the next picture.

Less Junk More JourneyColorado TripI must give credit where it is due. While the majority of the trip were places we knew about, the specific itinerary ideas were thanks to a YouTube channel called Less Junk, More Journey. The channel is a regular vlog about a family traveling around the country full-time in their RV. I used locations from their videos that really interested Cheryl and I, and formed a route that covered most of the state of Colorado. The route’s intention was to give us a taste of what every area had to offer so that we would know what we wanted more of. We consulted the kids to get their input and set our plans in motion.


Mesa Verde google map

Mesa Verde National Park is located in the southwestern high desert area of Colorado, just outside the town of Cortez. The park is famous for the cliff dwellings that are scattered throughout it, and the mystery as to why the inhabits abandoned it. (That’s pretty much been answered by this point, but that is where to story of Mesa Verde kinda begins.)

Now I commented that our decision to adjust the schedule barely worked. Let’s elaborate. In order to fit Mesa Verde into the same day as the Ouray hike we elected to cut out a tour at the Old Hundred Mine near Silverton. Now, you can visit the park anytime during hours of operation, but the three marque dwellings; Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Long House all require tickets to visit, and those tickets are limited to help lower human impact on the sites. Here is where it started to get tricky, you can buy tickets at the park or at the visitor in Cortez for the day of, or the next day. So we shot down to Cortez and gambled that they would have more tickets as your average person would most likely just go to the park. Here is me informing you that the theory was not correct… they are digital and work off of a database so it doesn’t matter where you buy the tickets from.

You may only buy tickets for two of the three sites per day and we wanted to visit the most popular Cliff Palace, and since it is in the same area, Balcony House. We didn’t make it to Cortez until late afternoon and most people must have had the same idea because they were both sold out. In fact, the only thing left were four tickets for Long House, and the tour started in an hour. There were four of us, and I heard a lady walk up and ask about tickets as I ran out to the car to consult on a change of plans. It took a few seconds for everyone to decide Long would do, I hustled back inside in time to snag that last four tickets, learn that it takes an hour to get to Long House from the visitor center, muter S.O.B. in my head, and get us on the road!

Mesa Map.JPGHere is where I discovered just how big Mesa Verde is. The entrance is at the northernmost part of the park; Cliff, Balcony, and several other dwellings are in the south central part (blue star), and Long House is in the farthest southwest corner (red star), and all throughout are trails and various other points of interest. Cortez is only 15 minutes from the entrance, and when the ranger selling the tickets said an hour he meant it! However, I will say that I was kind of impressed with how sporty my wife’s new Jeep Cherokee felt over my Ford Edge… we made it in 45 minutes… just saying. Not only was there like 1000 foot of elevation gain along the route, but look at how curvy that road is, impressed.


DSC_4731When the time for the hike came the ranger turned out to be a retired school teacher drawn to the area by the mystery of the park who stayed for the scenery. I have to admit, I’ve seen my share of deserts, but Mesa is quite pretty. A fire ripped through the area several years back and everywhere you look are the remnants of trees covering the landscape.

The hike itself was about a mile to the descent to the ruins, then roughly a mile of visiting them, then a mile back. The whole way the ranger was a great storyteller discussing what history has taught us. I truly wish I was recording him as he was great and I’d love to relive it with CJ once she’s older! Unfortunately, I was still at a point in The Iowa Hiker that I didn’t want to put others on the spot like that.


The walk to the descent was along a blacktop path that makes it easy for most everyone to venture down. They do give plenty of warning about the elevation and heat, and joked with us about being from Iowa as he pointed out what mountains were. We all chuckled a bit, I didn’t want to inform him that we’d already been at double the elevation or that hiking was kinda my thing. 😉


Finally we made it to the descent, and that view was quite impressive. The closer we got, the more I understood the mystery of the pueblo people. After all, this was a harsh landscape to think of living in, albeit beautiful. As we approached the ruins of Long House I can honestly say I was very surprised at just how large it was, or dare I say, long… (I had to).


Once we arrived the ranger took us around discussing the different aspects of the dwelling and what life would have been like. I was honestly surprised to hear that they estimate that the average lifespan for women was in their mid-20’s, while males were in their mid-30’s. However, once you consider their living and eating habits it does make sense. Toward the end he revealed that evidence has lead them to realize that the original inhabitants were the ancestors of the Hopi people of northern New Mexico. When interviewing the Hopi elders, they were able to describe the ruins of Mesa Verde in detail, even though there was no way for them to have ever visited or know about what existed there. Everything was continuously passed down through the generations. At one point the ranger asked everyone to remain silent and take in the view. The silence was pristine, and the view was golden.


Eventually we had to head back as I’m sure the ranger wanted to head home for the day. Good thing too as weather was starting to move in. On our walk back the storms in the distance created a brilliant contrast with the dead trees and bright green grass.


While at first we thought that just visiting Long House would be good enough, we all agreed we were wrong. There is so much to Mesa Verde National Park that we have to go back. Next time we have to make it at least a 2-3 day adventure so we can not only visit all of the dwellings, but also get our shoes dirty hiking the trails scattered throughout the park.

So while our visit was hurried, winged, and frankly lucky; it was great. Yet another reason to love what Colorado has to offer. If you find yourself looking at Mesa Verde National Park, plan for multiple days if you want the full experience.

See you at the next stop on the Colorado Adventure of 2017!


Ouray Perimeter Trail, CO

CJP_4638The Colorado Adventure: Day 4, part 1

The fourth day of our adventure was a hike around the Ouray Perimeter which turned out bittersweet for me. The hike was awesome, but I screwed up and didn’t pay attention to my camera settings before we set out. Every shot I had was completely underexposed to the point that everything was unusable. Luckily, I got a couple shots the day before when we arrived in town, I did take some pictures with my phone for Instagram, and my wife was my second shooter to help enhance the story and her shots turned out. So there are pictures! Let’s start at the beginning as we will continue to do for the 2017 Family Vacation.

If you’re new to this string, keep reading. If you’ve read about our adventure before, skip to the next picture.

Less Junk More JourneyColorado TripI must give credit where it is due. While the majority of the trip were places we knew about, the specific itinerary ideas were thanks to a YouTube channel called Less Junk, More Journey. The channel is a regular vlog about a family traveling around the country full-time in their RV. I used locations from their videos that really interested Cheryl and I, and formed a route that covered most of the state of Colorado. The route’s intention was to give us a taste of what every area had to offer so that we would know what we wanted more of. We consulted the kids to get their input and set our plans in motion.


Ouray GoogleOur third stop on our adventure was to the tiny town of Ouray in the southwestern corner of the state. I had heard of the town before, but vaguely knew anything about it. When the Less Junk, More Journey channel featured a hike there, I knew it had to go on the list. The town is nestled in the mountains at around 8,000 feet of elevation, which allows you to look in any direction and be rewarded with an amazing view. The above shot was from the front door of our hotel room, the shots below were from the back balcony (the bridge is part of the trail).CJP_4633

CJP_4629For its size, the town was intensely busy. The main street was packed with people checking out the shops, mostly tourist trap souvenir stores and a couple candy shops. There were a few places to eat, although I’ll add that they know what they are, where they are, and charge accordingly… There was one grocery store in town that was more of your traditional country store with a limited inventory. It was quite warm the day we got there and I went to get some water for us only to find that they were sold out of pretty much everything liquid and they had no ice. So we rationed what water we had in our Camelbaks as we were intending on refilling in town and the hotel water… didn’t feel right. However, the humming birds thought the water was pretty sweet…


The perimeter hike was harder to research than I anticipated. There were tons of sources quoting that it was a 5 mile loop. However, no one had any maps to back that up. There was a lot of that, 5 miles, no proof. Even once we got to town and looked around all I found was a map on a pamphlet from the visitor center that revealed the trail wasn’t completely finished, but there were plans. What we found was a trail that was 75% complete, but still worth every ounce of sweat to experience it.

Ouray RouteOne thing I like about the trail is that you can start it at pretty much any point you want. There are access points all around the circumference of the town. We decided to start our hike from the visitor center at the northern edge of town. We parked the Jeep in the parking lot for the hot spring fed pool, strapped on our packs and headed across the street to the trailhead where we were greeted with an immediate steep switchback climb to the trail overlooking the town.



I think the reason you jump straight into a climb is so that when you take a moment to catch your breath… you get to soak in the view of the sleeping town below. The trail itself is what I envisioned a trail would be like in the Colorado mountains, worn and rough and potentially dangerous. At certain points the trail is only a couple feet wide and the edge of it is a sheer drop-off into a scree field that would tear you up.

DSC_4618The northeast portion of the trail is the most attractive and pleasing in my opinion. On one side you have the view overlooking the town, with a gray rock of the mountain climbing above you on the other. All smiles the whole way. Then at the northeastern “corner” you come across a waterfall (green star) that we noticed from town. This was a bit sketchy as finding the route to base in order to pick up the next section of trail took a few minutes. We eventually got to the bottom and found the older kids who had disappeared down the trail on their own.

What we thought was Titan and Odessa waiting for us to catch up, turned out to be them just not knowing where to go from there. At the base of the waterfall is an access point to the trail. I went over the route with everyone the night before and they remembered there was a road walk near the fall. So using their smart goat-thinkers, they waited to verify if that was the road walk or not, it was not.

DSC_4646The next section from the falls to the southeast “corner” was a nice wooded section through pines. This is one of the sections that has a road walk. It once again starts out with a switchback climb to get back up to the trail level. After a little bit it comes to a road and the sign is kind of confusing. It appears to point northeast, so we started to walk the road uphill, but it didn’t feel right. So I broke out the pamphlet and compass and turned us around. We should have been heading the other way downhill. Luckily I didn’t let us get too far and we got back on track.

DSC_4652The temps started to feel a bit chilly and CJ was getting a little crabby. So Momma came up with the idea to put her jacket on and then take my rain jacket to wrap her legs up with it. It was just enough to get the wind off of her and let her body heat increase enough to bring out the gabby baby-girl I know and love. It was some good Momma goat-thinkin’. Once again the older kids pushed on ahead further, at least this time we got to catch glances of them now and then.

This section wound through a couple campsites and ultimately came to a conclusion with a steep uphill hike on a service road (red star). Momma and I had to take a break after that climb, so glad for the trekking poles.

CJP_4718After we recovered from the climb and snacked on Clif Bars, we continued on our way. The next portion brought back those views we were first presented with. It was pretty open, rocky, and full of scrub brush. Here is where the trail gives you an option to take the shortcut straight toward the bridge from earlier, or you can wind a little further south. We chose to take the shortcut route, which was a rugged, rocky decent that taxed the knees a bit. It eventually terminated at a road (blue star) that headed back up towards the trail to the bridge and tunnel.

DSC_4704There was a short road walk that crossed a bridge and gave us a view of another waterfall that fed into a small river. Unfortunately the pictures of the actual river didn’t turn out. It had some pretty violent rapids in it though. It wasn’t long before we reached the bridge crossing the gap over that fast flowing river.CJP_4763

DSC_4722The neat part about the bridge (purple star) is that you cross over into a tunnel through the mountain. The ceiling is pretty low, so we put the sunshade up that comes with the Osprey Poco Plus child carrier to help inform me when the ceiling was getting too low and could bonk CJ in the melon. Definitely, wanted to protect her from that.

We passed through the tunnel without incident and emerged into the daylight on the other side. It was only a hundred yards or so until the trail met up with a dirt road (orange star) and our off road journey was done. From that point on the dirt turned into pavement and it was a road walk back to the car. This is one of the areas they said they had plans to expand in the future, funds just weren’t there yet.

DSC_4710In the end the hike came out to 6 miles after taking the shortcut. We all super enjoyed the experience, and after looking through the brochure we discovered there is a pretty good sized network of trails surrounding the town. So we may have to return for an extended period of time to do some more exploring!

DSC_4602From there we drove straight to Mesa Verde National Park. So until next time, get out there and go for a walk!

Hanging Lake Park, CO

The Colorado Adventure: Day 3

DSC_4452In 2015 we were traveling back to Iowa from my wife’s family reunion in Idaho, on a route through Colorado, because I made the route and wanted to see Colorado. Along the way she saw the road sign for Hanging Lake, looked it up on her phone, and said she wanted to come back and check it out. Then a little over a year later we start watching a YouTube channel that visited the park, and she excitedly remembered it and said that it had to go on the list. Even though that is the true beginning to this hike, let’s start at the beginning as we will continue to do for the 2017 Family Vacation.

If you’re new to this string, keep reading. If you’ve read about our adventure before, skip to the next picture.

Less Junk More JourneyColorado TripI must give credit where it is due. While the majority of the trip were places we knew about, the specific itinerary ideas were thanks to a YouTube channel called Less Junk, More Journey. The channel is a regular vlog about a family traveling around the country full-time in their RV. I used locations from their videos that really interested Cheryl and I, and formed a route that covered most of the state of Colorado. The route’s intention was to give us a taste of what every area had to offer so that we would know what we wanted more of. We consulted the kids to get their input and set our plans in motion.

DSC_4483Hanging Lake GoogleOur second stop on our journey was at Hanging Lake Park, just off the interstate in northwesterly Colorado. Hanging Lake is this not-so hidden little gem that is challenging and in-demand. The parking lot is small, only holding roughly a couple dozen vehicles. I read up and learned that it fills up quick and doesn’t take long to form a line all the way out to the off-ramp. If you get there at a bad time the rangers will actually turn you away. As we were leaving there was a ranger at the entrance holding everyone up, and as he saw us exiting he pointed to the next car to let them in. The line went on for quite a while, but there was room for a good number more that day. Shortly after our visit I read somewhere that the park service is considering requiring permits to limit the number of visitors per day and help the parking situation starting as early as next year (2018).

(This is all they have for parking.)Hanging Lake parking

Being forewarned of the parking situation we once again left the hotel just before dawn. When we arrived our preparedness worked again. We were one of the first visitors of the day, but there were only a few parking spots left already! The sun was barely cresting the horizon and this place was almost full.

DSC_4467The hike itself is pretty short overall, only about 1.2 miles from the parking lot to the lake. That’s the length… the vertical gain is a around 2,000 feet in that 1.2 miles! It’s a butt-kicker for sure. The state of Iowa only has roughly 1,200 of gain from the lowest point in Keokuk to the highest point at Hawkeye Point. In fact I just did a 20 mile hike up at Yellow River State Forest in the northeast corner and only had a total of 2,200 feet over that 20 miles. This was a climb, with a toddler on my back no less, but totally worth it!

DSC_4455The trail starts off as this nicely paved path that traces along the river. The kids were in a brighter mood and started farting around with the trekking poles. Like the great parents that we are… we decided it was a good idea to take pictures instead of the, ya know, safer alternative of telling them to stop.

However, this path is not specifically for Hanging Lake. This path is an exercise path that just happens to go past the trailhead for Hanging Lake. You only get the bliss of this smooth path for the first .2 miles of your 1.2 mile hike. Once you exit the path you are immediately set upon by this jagged slope of rock that informs you this climb is for real.

While the steepness of the climb doesn’t relent often, the surface of the trail does smooth out so you can enjoy your surroundings more easily. The majority of the trail runs alongside the fast flowing creek created by the overflowing waters from Hanging Lake. This little steady stream of water has mini waterfalls of its own that creates this rushing sound your entire journey.

CJP_4522Cheryl being your standard waterfall enthusiast, had to stop and get pictures every time we came across any white water. While it slowed her and me down a bit, I didn’t mind since I was carrying some extra weight and appreciated the breather (Titan and Odessa just kept charging forward). I got several “good job dad,” and once I crossed paths with another toddler carrying dad, we gave each other a knowing smile and nod. lol.

The scenery during the entire hike was simply amazing and helped to detract from the strain of the effort. Here are a few shots to help you see just how much the trails crams into only 1 mile:

After all of that, you make it to the top and are greeted with an open view of the valley you just hiked up.CJP_4565



In truth you only have one spot to see this view before you are back in the trees. Unfortunately, this little spot is part of the last few feet of the trail as well. So you do need to be quick with your camera as people do want to pass by. Everyone we encounter were very nice and and even offered to take our “selfie” for us.

Part of that could also be that at this point in the trail more often than not the people we encountered pulled their little groups off to the side to make way for the huffing and puffing dad, and smile at the cute baby enjoying the ride.

Finally we get to see what all of the effort was for, Hanging Lake!DSC_4525


The lake is surrounded by a nice walkway made of deck boards with warnings not to stray from the path. Not only that, but there were plenty of benches! Oh yeah, and we caught up to Titan and Odessa who had been chillin’ at the top for a bit. They have a somewhat large platform that puts you right in the center of the lake to make room for all of us that want to get our photos. There were a good number of people trying to get photos, but for the most part everyone was very courteous. They snuck up to the railing, took their photo, and stepped back to make room for the next person. Ahem, I was actually the one taking my time.. but I only felt a little bad about it. My whole plan once we got to the top was to take a long exposure of the falls to get the smoothed out surface look with the white streams of water from the falls. I set my tripod up and proceeded to take several exposures; one to make sure I got it right, and two… remember I said the platform was made of deck boards. Well deck boards vibrate when people walk on them and it was just enough to cause camera shake during the long exposure to ruin the image. Eventually I did get what I was after though:CJP_4555

DSC_4540After we figured we spent enough time at the lake we went back to the entrance of the platform where another steep trail heads up and behind the lake so you can check out the source of the water; Spouting Rock.

IMG_3888Spouting Rock is a large  waterfall that is spewing tons of water with some powerful force. It doesn’t just trickle over the edge, but projects the water like someone turned on a hose at full force. CJ didn’t quite know what to think of this loud shower.CJP_4560

Eventually we had to start making our way back down the trail and move on. Even on the way down new sights crossed our camera lenses that had a smiling and praising this little hike. Once the sun was above the mountains the trail seemed to brighten up (both literally and figuratively).

As we neared the bottom of the hike and the paved trail back to the car we were given one last scenic shot with trail disappearing into the trees and sun shining on the river and mountains:DSC_4577

Of course when you’re in Colorado with your family, it isn’t hard to find a scenic view around any corner.

Here are the rest of the photos from the hike and I hope you have a great walk!

Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

The Colorado Adventure: Day 2

CJP_4324The most amazing place I have encountered to date is Rocky Mountain National Park! That place will forever be my spirit animal (as they say)… Let’s start at the beginning as we will continue to do for the 2017 Family Vacation. If you’re new to this string, keep reading.

If you’ve read about our adventure before, skip to the next picture.

Less Junk More JourneyColorado TripI must give credit where it is due. While the majority of the trip were places we knew about, the specific itinerary ideas were thanks to a YouTube channel called Less Junk, More Journey. The channel is a regular vlog about a family traveling around the country full-time in their RV. I used locations from their videos that really interested Cheryl and I, and formed a route that covered most of the state of Colorado. The route’s intention was to give us a taste of what every area had to offer so that we would know what we wanted more of. We consulted the kids to get their input and set our plans in motion.

CJP_4460First stop on the list was Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). I always knew that RMNP was one of the most popular parks of our national park system, but I didn’t understand exactly what that meant in terms of visiting it. Thanks to the YouTube channel describing it as being similar to Disneyland, I was far more prepared. We were going to be visiting in mid-July, the height of the tourist season for Colorado, hence why we were there.

RMNP.JPGOur plans were to hike from the Bear Lake trail-head to Emerald Lake and back. There is a small parking lot at the Bear Lake trail-head, but it fills up quickly according to many sources. So the other option is to park a little further back and hitch a ride with the free shuttle service. It is only about a 10-15 min drive by car between the parking lots, but the shuttle makes multiple stops, so expect about an hour once you get on from what people are saying.RMNP Shuttle

DSC_4407Being someone who is willing to sacrifice a little sleep in order to get on the trail at sunrise, I informed the family that they were going to be sacrificing their sleep as well. There might have been a couple unamused faces after gaining this information… The dark of night was just fading as we pulled out of the hotel parking lot in Loveland on our way to Bear Lake. My intent was to beat the crowds and get one of those coveted parking spots at the trail-head. As we pulled up to the entrance there was only one other car driving in, things were looking good. We proceeded to weave through the park and found that the elevation change for these Iowa lowlanders was starting to affect Titan, so we had to pull over for a couple of minutes. We got back on the road once he felt better and hit the parking lot a few minutes later. The sun hadn’t crested the mountains yet and the Bear Lake trail-head parking lot was already 1/4 full. There were a few hammocks hanging around the lot, so some had been there overnight. At any rate, success! We got a spot!

We stretched our legs a bit and got ready to hit the trail, even though Titan and Odessa were a little grumpy still at the early rising, you could sense the excitement of hiking in the mountain for the first time. We stepped into the trees and started down the well-worn path. The trail was extremely well maintained, which was to be expected, it is a national park and this is one of the most popular hikes in the park. It didn’t take long to confirm the efforts put into planning were well worth it, the views were breathtaking as I… I mean we… finally got to officially be in the mountains!

CJP_4292Another perk to getting out on the trails early, there weren’t many other travelers to jockey around for position amongst the congestion. We didn’t have to wait in line to take the shot we wanted, or have to worry about the discourteous visitor jumping into your shot because they only cared about getting theirs. By 10 AM the trails were already starting to see a large influx of people on the trail as we were heading back to the parking lot. You could actually begin to time the buses as we would encounter very large groups of people every 15-20 minutes.

CJP_4305The hike from Bear Lake to Emerald Lake is 2.3 miles (4.6 round trip), but there are two other lakes along the way. The first one you come to is Nymph Lake after about a 1/2 mile of steady climbing from the trail-head, which produced some initial huffing until we got our legs under us a bit. On the way down more than one person asked how the rest of the hike was, because the first section was obviously working them. After Nymph Lake it was a lot easier. It is the smallest of the four we visited that day, and completely shrouded by the mountains. The light was trying to creep in, but the mountains blocked any hope it might have had of reaching the surface of the lake until late in the day. As a consequence, the mosquitoes were quite thick along the shore. Fortunately this was the only place we encountered any mosquitoes during our visit through the entire state. Nymph Lake had all of Colorado’s mosquitoes in one place!

We stuck around for only a little bit to try to capture some images, but the low light and mosquitoes won out, and we decided to try later on the way back. By the time we returned both were far better. As we moved on to our next stop, Dream Lake, the trail continued to climb, but with far less grade to it. This section of the trail provided the most spectacular views along the hike. There are two specific locations that really lend themselves to photographs, the first was the rock introducing this post. It is directly above Nymph Lake, so you can look down into it, and the forest surrounding it.

CJP_4447-PanoThe second is several yards down the trail where you get an open view of everything you think of when imagining a national park in Colorado. Both of these locations were spots I watched visitors trying to “fight” for position to get pictures (notice us early risers don’t have any other people in our shots…).

CJP_4341After about another 1 mile we arrived at Dream Lake. Dream Lake was filled with such crystal clear water that you could see the trout swimming around logs and rocks resting on the bottom. There were a good number of fisherman spending their morning with rod and reel here. We didn’t see any of them catch anything, but that’s not the purpose of fishing right?

CJP_4350Dream Lake is long and narrow so there was really only one shot of note for most people, a large rock outcropping at one end with the length of the lake stretching out and leading to the base of a mountain peak.


Of course we joined in and took our family photo! All four of us had a camera of some sort, so after we all were satisfied with our photos we began our trek to Emerald Lake.

DSC_4352We started to run into the remnants of that winter’s snow along the way which surprised the kids since they didn’t comprehend that snow can stick around well into July due to the elevation and low sunlight, etc. Heck, as some readers may remember, I was praying for snow in Iowa this year and didn’t get a chance to test out my new snowshoes until late January or February, and that snow only lasted a couple of days!


There were a couple climbs along the way, but overall the elevation gain felt relatively mild. It was roughly 3/4 of a mile from Dream Lake to Emerald lake. Aside from the fact that Emerald Lake was beautiful, I noticed that it felt more secluded than the others. The trail did terminate there, forcing you to turnaround and head back to the trail-head, so that could have been part of it. The other lakes had open areas around the lake with wide trails where one could easily move around. At Emerald it felt like the mountains shot straight up from the shoreline, and visitors only had a small 30 foot circle to gather and enjoy the sight.


Even though it was still quite early and the main traffic hadn’t started yet, there were a good number of people hanging out in the small area. Like Dream Lake, there was really only one point of view that was attractively photogenic, and everyone that arrived wanted their shot from it. Yes, including me. The annoying part, the majority of us that stopped for a breather and a snack, stuck to the outer areas of the circle, back from the edge of the lake. Except one lady. She decided she wanted to sit on a rock protruding out into the lake a touch that was the only good spot for pictures, and refused to move. Of course she was European, possibly only spoke German it sounded like, and didn’t understand a group of us would like pictures of the lake without her in it. Eventually, after multiple people started to stand around her in awkward ways to try to get photos without her, she caught the hint and left. Then we all took our turns, got our photos, and moved away for the next person.

That lady was the only negative encounter we had though, but remember, the crowds hadn’t started to arrive yet. I started to feel a little bit of the elevation once we got to Emerald Lake; probably due to the combination of elevation, carrying CJ, and failing to drink enough water on the way up. (Elevation reduces the amount of oxygen in the air, water is partly made up of oxygen, drinking it helps add oxygen into your body.) I downed a good bit of water during the break and felt better for the return. I made sure that I continued to drink water regularly for the rest of our adventure in Colorado, and didn’t have an issue again. Once everyone felt rested and finished their snacks we put our packs back on and started back to the trail-head.

The little over 2 mile journey back was one of mixed sadness. I was loving every minute I got to spend on the trails within the mountains, but I couldn’t help feeling a bit sad that I knew we were heading back to the car so we could leave and continue on down the road (Cheryl is still suffering from the loss…). Along the way we kept running into large bus load after bus load of people on their way to Emerald Lake. We got some more photos as we could, stopped at Nymph Lake to try to get some better ones (which we did), and eventually made it back to the trail-head.

CJP_4480DSC_4292We were ahead of schedule, so we decided to sneak over to Bear Lake since it is only a 1/2 mile trail around it. Well, on paper it looked and sounded bigger than it was. The lake is only about 50 yards from the trail-head, and once we got to the shore we saw that you could see every bit of the lake from that one spot and to hike around it would just be for exercise as the views weren’t going to change. So we decided that was good enough.

DSC_4364So with big smiles, but slightly sad hearts, we walked back to the car. Here is where the “circus” began. The parking lot was full and there were a couple of cars circling like buzzards waiting for something to open up. Once they realized we were heading to our car the race that wasn’t a race was on! the First one there proceeded to block everyone else (one lane loop) while they waited for us to drop our gear, pack up the cameras, get CJ and the packs loaded into the Jeep, film the talking head part I do about the conclusion of the trail, and finally back out and leave. On the way out Cheryl wanted to stop at the gift shop so another encounter was incoming. heh. We got lucky and we got the last available parking spot immediately upon pulling in. However, the discourtesy among the majority of the people at the gift shop was amazing. People were walking out in front of moving vehicles with total disregard, or just simply standing in the middle of the roadway talking as cars are trying to leave. Others sending their young children to run ahead of other cars and stand in and block open parking spots, with vehicles basically informing the child move or get run over. The ugly selfishness of the human race showed its face for certain. It was only a little after noon!

CJP_4323In closing, even though the gift shop soured the experience a little, Rocky Mountain National Park is absolutely amazing! Just make sure you arrive just before dawn to beat the crazies. We’ve agreed that we’ll be returning for an extended trip with the goal of hiking as many of the trails as we can in the years to come. If you’re wanting to visit RMNP and don’t know what to do, the Bear Lake to Emerald Lake is very popular because it is so accessible. We saw a multitude of walks of life with varying physical conditioning along the trail. Just remember to take your time if you need to, and plan for a longer day. Make sure to bring plenty of water and some snacks to help keep you going. Even if you don’t take a lot of pictures, the experience would be good for your mind and body!

DSC_4340Now get out there and go for a walk!

Bensen Sculpture Garden, Loveland, CO

The Colorado Adventure: Day 1

Colorado Trip

In July of 2017 we packed up my wife’s new Jeep, and headed for a week of traveling to the mountains of Colorado with the kids. Our first stop on the trip was going to be Rocky Mountain National Park, but we wanted to hit the park at sunrise to beat the majority of the crowds (which was an excellent plan!) so we needed to stay over in Loveland just outside of the park. Well this gave us a long afternoon of sitting in the hotel, so the wife and I scoured the Google looking for things to do and we found Bensen Sculpture Garden in the center of town.Bensen LargeDSC_4051

DSC_4075The park is made up of over 150 large sculptures on a paved loop that circles a pond and covers 1.5-2 miles. The majority of the sculptures were pretty neat. At first the older kids had that “oh yay… look at the rock” attitude that a tween and teen have on family outings, but eventually they forgot they were supposed to be acting too cool and began having showdowns with the gunslinger and practicing their yoga poses. DSC_4166

Baby girl of course thought pretty much every one of them was neat and kept trying to go back to the ones with balls and puppies.DSC_4229

It was a pretty popular place with some steady traffic. There was even a wedding going on in the central gazebo that CJ tried to check out. As we neared the car we noticed it appeared that there seemed to be more on the other side of the road. Unbeknownst to us, there was a new section that was built to expand the park, to include a little mini train that went around that section! They don’t have an official website from what we found, so nothing really talked about the addition. I wish we had known so we could have planned a little more time to take CJ on a train ride. Either way, weather eventually started to move in and we were getting hungry as we completed the loop, so we decided to head back to the hotel.


A fun little place to check out if you find yourself in the Rocky Mountain National Park/ Fort Collins/ Loveland area with a couple hours to kill. Once again, I really wish I’d known more about the train. For me at least, I know I’m going back to RMNP for a few days next time, so CJ will get her train ride!DSC_4123

Here are a handful of the neater sculptures:


September Means Great Hiking is Here!

DSC04848Fall is officially around the corner and that means the temperature and humidity are going to start staying in those super comfortable zones. The leaves are going to start their annual shift to gorgeous golds, oranges, and reds. Most importantly, the bug populations are going to soon be getting thinner and thinner!

CJP_5210August was a good month to get outdoors and I hope many of you had the opportunity to do so. I had the annual outdoor adventure with the wife’s family, and snuck out to Brushy Creek State Recreation Area to check out their middle section of the trails. I did their lake loop last year, and plan to hike their southern sections in the next couple weeks. Once I finish that I will have completed the park and can add it to the queue for posting. They claim to have 45 miles of trails, so a bit to do in a single dayhike.

CJP_5449We also attempted to introduce baby girl to tent camping; it went ok, mostly. She had a blast playing outside, watching dad build the fire, etc. Unfortunately there were some not very fun parts. The first was our fault not trying to figure out a better way to feed her in advance. We opted for cooking her supper, but that takes a little longer on a canister stove than at home. Let’s just say she has her mother’s patience… maybe PB&J next time for her. The other hiccup was that once it was time to go to bed. She wasn’t nearly ready for that and it was quite rough and loud. We waited until around 11 pm before finally deciding it was a good effort, but she wasn’t going to sleep, which meant we weren’t going to sleep. We broke down the camp, stuffed it in the car, put her in her car seat and on home we headed. She was asleep by the time we hit the highway… We had her home and in bed 30 minutes later. We gave her a taste of her future at least, she’ll come around. 😉

DSC_4324As far as The Iowa Hiker media, I completed a post and video on the Pine Creek Cabins we stayed at for the annual trip. I have been plugging away at processing the photos from our Colorado adventure in July when I have the time, over halfway through now. My wife has been prodding me to get them done so she can post them to friends and family, so it shouldn’t be much longer…

CaptureGoing forward I have an ambitious couple months coming up. I am using up quite a bit of vacation time, giving me plenty of opportunity to get out there and chew up some miles finally. Not to mention I should get some time to sit down at the computer get some editing done while I recover! Unfortunately, my goal of hitting 212 miles was probably a little too lofty for this year. One park has had extensive trail damage due to some heavy rains and is currently closed for repairs, and the two long “tours” as I call them, are a little harder to plan for than anticipated. (I also didn’t know I was going to get promoted and that my schedule was going to take a hit when I made that goal.) So that’s 70-some miles getting pushed to next year. It does leave me with 160ish for the year though, which is still a gain on last year.

For now, September is starting out great and I’m glad I have DVR so I can watch my Irish when I get home from my hikes!NDFB

Pine Creek Cabins

CJP_5180The annual glamping trip with the wife’s family has come and gone for 2017. This year I found us a cabin up in the northeast corner of Iowa. As they are officially known, Decorah High Point – Pine Creek Cabins are located just outside of Decorah.Pine creek google

There are a total of 6 cabins on the property that sleep anywhere from 6 to 17 people per. Our large group of 16 (7 adults, 4 teens, and 5 children) stayed in Pine Cabin which sleeps 17, and it was plenty comfortable! The owners where nice enough to open up 3 of their other cabins that were empty that weekend for me to check out, so I’ll chat about those as well.

Pine creek overviewPine creek cabins

CJP_5210Lets go over Pine Cabin first since that is the one we stayed in. The cabin is well furnished and spacious. While it was clear that it was a cabin with fewer finishing touches than a residential home, you didn’t overly notice it unless you were looking for it. There are three levels with four sizable bedrooms.


Upstairs there was a loft area with a futon next to two of the bedrooms. All three areas had a nice skylight that provided plenty of light during the day… and the evening. This actually bothered my wife as it was a full moon in a clear sky and the light was bright enough to actually keep her up on the first night. I would suggest possibly finding a way to hang a shade in the bedroom skylights to help alleviate this in the future.


The first floor had a nice open feel in the living room area. The kitchen was a little cramped when we tried to get more than a couple of people in there trying to cook breakfast for 16 people, otherwise it was fully functional. They had everything we needed for cookware and dishes, the only thing we were glad we brought were the counter-top griddles for pancakes. They have a TV available with a DVD player for the little ones. We found this to be very helpful with baby girl as it eventually got to the point that she needed to settle down from the fun of playing with her big cousins and the only thing she’ll sit down for is her puppy movie (The Secret Life of Pets).

CJP_5238One of the best features of the first floor (to me anyway) was that there was a patio door that stepped out onto a porch that wraps around the east and south sides of the cabin. I love sitting out on porches, and I spent a good amount of time with my camera farting around with long exposure shots throughout the day and evening.


The basement level has the remaining bedroom and bathroom, with a secondary kitchenette and living area. The living area has a walk out patio door that leads to the yard. The downstairs bedroom is the only one with two beds in it. There is a small bed just outside that room, which I’ll admit at first seemed kind of out of place, but a bed is a bed and a 17 person cabin is about getting people together.

All in all, no one really complained about their sleep except my wife with the moon, and baby girl had issues being a little warm sleeping in her pack n play in our room during the first night. The second night my wife and I switch sides of the bed to help keep the moonlight out of her eyes, and we moved baby girl to a different spot where she could get more airflow from the overhead fan. That seemed to fix a lot of their issues as they slept through the second night.

CJP_5282Outside of the cabin, the views of the rollings hills of northeast Iowa are great. The first morning offered a great view where fog had rolled into the valley below us, with the sun rising behind it. Surrounding the grounds is a field of prairie grasses full of birds and bugs. You’re not allowed to venture out into the fields, so be aware of that, but I spent a little while walking around the perimeter with my camera. On the last night we stoked up the fire pit for s’mores and one last night of reflection, well those of us that didn’t wander off to bed early.CJP_5199

On the second day I noticed that it didn’t look like the other cabins had a lot of traffic, so I contacted the owners to ask if I could have a peek into the empty cabins. The owner, Shanyn, stopped by and said the Cedar and Balsam Cabins were rented, but she would go unlock the three vacant ones for me.


The first one I looked at was Spruce Cabin (I somehow forgot to take a picture of the outside of Spruce and Birch, so I stole their exterior shots off their website.). Now I will say that the first two I looked at had more of the traditional simple rustic cabin feel. Spruce is two levels that sleeps 8, with an open area ground floor that has stairs leading up to a loft. There is a small bed in what was probably the original mudroom across from the bathroom. Even though my first impression when I walked in was that it looked somewhat cramped, I spent sometime looking around and found it to actually be quite cozy. My favorite feature of this cabin was in the loft. There is a door that leads out onto a little balcony that has a couple benches to sit on and enjoy the scenery.


The next cabin I took a look at was Birch Cabin. Birch is the simplest of the cabins on the property and sleeps 9. It has a completely different look to it that leads me to believe that it may have been the original one. It is the only other one with three levels. The top floor is an open loft with 4 beds, the ground floor is a single room with a simple kitchen and living area. The doors here lead out onto a deck that wraps around the north and east sides. The basement has the bathroom and remaining 2 beds with a walk out door to the fire pit. A thing to note for those that have issues with stairs, both sets of stairs are very steep and narrow.


The last cabin I ventured to was Aspen Cabin. She described Aspen as their new luxury model of cabin, and I would agree. It isn’t overly large (sleeps 6), but there was definitely more attention paid to the details and finish work. There are still traits that remind you it is a cabin, like the open ceiling, but the furniture and appliances are of nice quality. Honestly, I’d probably like to have the kitchen in my home. It is a two bedroom layout on a single floor that leads out to a wrap-around porch on the east and south walls. There is a similar view, but if I’m honest, the primary grounds have a better one. There is also a three stall garage next to the cabin, although there isn’t a mention on the website and I failed to ask if that was for the guest’s or the owner’s use.

CJP_5249If there is a negative (because you have to find one when you’re writing a review right?), it’s that the cabins are more of a staging point to access things to do in the area. If you want to hang out with the family in a more secluded spot then this will work great (there is also a small playground for the kiddos). Otherwise, the property doesn’t have much to offer in terms of adventure. Fortunately, it is in prime canoeing territory as the Upper Iowa River runs right by it. We ran into Decorah to check out the trout fish hatchery, there is a pretty nice mountain bike area on the outskirts of Decorah that I’ve biked a couple times, and much more. So there are plenty of things to do in the area, just not on the property.

Once again thank you to Shanyn Hart for letting me check out the vacant cabins. If you’d like to look her up you can find her on Facebook @Shanyn.Hart.Iowa and Instagram @Shanyn.Hart. Don’t forget to head over to YouTube and check out the video walk through!

CJP_5186Decorah High Point – Pine Creek Cabins is nice place to take a weekend to get away and hang out, or to plant yourself to explore the hills of northeast Iowa.


Here are the results of the long exposure shots: