Category Archives: Nature Photographs

The Driftless 2022

We ‘found’ a new part of Minnesota which checks all of our boxes: decent hiking, great, views, reasonable cost, decent amenities and it’s not too far from the twin cities!

The area is called ‘The Driftless’ because it remained unglaciated during the last ice age and has some very unique scenery, animal life, and geographical features – like an utter lack of lakes. I had heard about the area but only heard about the bike trail through the Lanesboro area, I had no idea the Driftless extended to Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois. We explored the Rushford, Houston, Lanesboro and surrounding area and had a blast.

The surprises were many: the hiking in Great River Bluffs State Park was wonderful, the Amish desserts / baked items sold on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere was wonderful, there are at least two very fun caves to visit, and the restaurants were halfway decent too!

We visited Niagara Cave (narrow and tall) and Mystery Cave (wide and short) – both were awesome for different reasons. It was neat to learn how the water run off made the caves in the area.

We visited the Driftless because the fall colors were completely missing on the north shore. We were still a bit early for the fall colors in southern Minnesota but we did see some fall colors and it was delightful.

The best part of the entire trip was the utter lack of people and low cost of lodging, food, and activities. We go to the North Shore every year and it’s usually wonderful! Since COVID kicked off the North Shore has remained stunningly beautiful and wonderful to visit but lodging, food, and activities have become super expensive and 100% not worth it. It’s now more economical to fly somewhere cool for a short weekend then go to the North Shore. I think I’m sensitive to ripping off tourists simply because I grew up in a tourist trap that offered a terrible deal for a tourist’s money – this year was the year where I finally gave up on paying North Shore rates – we did not get 40% more enjoyment out of the lodging costing 40% more this year versus last.

We are beyond excited to find a new place to explore. Next year we plan on exploring some of the Wisconsin Driftless.

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

North Shore 2022

What a surprise this year – no fall colors.

We go to the North Shore about the same time, within a few days, nearly every year. Every year we’ve had spectacular fall colors. The maples along the tops of the Sawtooths are gorgeous. One of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen – and I’ve seen a lot of beautiful sights around the world.

This year was different. Fall is late. Very late. Instead of fall colors we saw the end of the wildflowers and about a billion pollinators. It was so much fun to see the impatients, golden rod, blazing star, and a multitude of other flowers I’ve never seen on the trails over run by may different types of pollinators I’ve never seen.

We spent quite a bit more time hiking this year than in the past. Usually a hike in the morning and a hike in the afternoon. It was a lot of fun to revisit some of the falls I haven’t seen for about a decade – going to Devil’s Kettle in Judge CR Magny State Park and hiking the 192 stairs was 100% worth it. All in all we hiked in every single state park along the north shore sans Split Rock Lighthouse State Park and Grand Portage State Park – we hiked Goosebury Falls, Tettegouche State Park (Illgen Falls), Temperance River State Park (Hidden Falls), Cascade River State Park(Cascade Falls), and, Judge CR Magney State Park (Devil’s Kettle). Outside of state parks we had very rewarding hikes at Oberg Mountain, White Sky Rock + Lake Agnes, and Caribou Falls wayside rest. I think our favorites may have been Devil’s Kettle and Caribou Falls simply because of the type of trail and surrounding forest. We did visit the Grand Portage National Monument but that’s a bit different than the state park.

The restaurant situation is still a bit jacked up. Everyone is hiring, one restaurant didn’t have enough employees and had very limited services, another restaurant had employees but they were on a worker exchange visa program of some sort and from all over the globe, and one of the best places we ate, Voyagers Brewery, had a crap ton of employees, great service, a bunch of customers, and reasonably priced food. The places with a shortage of employees and services must not pay well.

Beyond the restaurants, it seems all the COVID related changes are gone – a pretty different experience compared to visiting in 2020. Looking back at my post history, it looks like I skipped writing about the north shore visit in 2020. It’s probably a good thing to keep my opinions on that experience to myself. However, the fall colors were spectacular that year 10/10.

Once again, we had a fantastic time on the north shore. We look forward to visiting next year!

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

Arizona 2022

First trip of 2022! It went great! We flew into Phoenix, went to Sedona, and then spent a few more days in Phoenix. We loved our time in Phoenix, Sedona was a bit screwy.

We try to be gone the last week of January / first week week of February because it’s sooooo cold in Minnesota. One year, we missed -30F with 30MPH winds and 6-10inches of snow. So far, we’ve never regretted being gone from Minnesota during that particular part of winter.

We chose Phoenix and Sedona because of the hiking and the weather – we knew Phoenix would be starting spring so snow / cold weather wouldn’t be a concern and the flowers would be starting. The weather was perfect and the air was filled with the intoxicating aroma of flowers and nature coming out of dormancy. We were pleasantly surprised by all the activities Phoenix had to offer – we found tons of fun thing to do every day, including some fantastic hiking in the city limits, AND we went to Organ Stop Pizza. One of the coolest restaurants around – a giant organ paired with someone decent pizza is a strangely good combination. The gems we found pleasant in the areas around Phoenix and flagstaff were surprising – Saguaro National Park, the multitude of National Monuments (Sunset Crater, Tuzigoot, Montazuma’s Well, and so on) the Musical Instrument Museum, the Railroad Museum and a few really neat restaurants. They were all great for very different reasons. We didn’t have high expectations for Saguaro because… it’s a desert and it’s cactus; not really the pinnacle of beauty. Saguaro turned out to be REALLY cool to see and hike through a cactus forest! There was something eerily beautiful and calm about the entire hike and experience. The rest of the places we mostly found to be fun places to stop for a few hours and learn or do something new that we can’t do in Minnesota.

The area we picked to stay in the Phoenix metro was pretty well to do. We didn’t pick the area for that reason, we picked it because it had a Hampton Inn next to stuff we wanted to do. It was pretty wild seeing Bentlys, Mclarens, and some other vehicles I’ve never seen before cruising down the road to their many multi-million dollar homes. One park we visited in this area was filled with kids and what we thought were families; closer inspection revealed we were surrounded by nannies watching after other people’s kids.

Now, on to Sedona. The hiking was decent but we wouldn’t go back, and, knowing what we know, we’d never have gone. Sedona was a like a wayyyy crappier version of Spain. We had fairly high expectations since the area is known as a hiking mecca and a tourist destination. We had a chance to hike every day and hike through a multitude of different scenery. The hikes were pretty decent! Unfortunately, Sedona itself is a fairly strange place filled with crystal shops, rather loud people / things, and tons of people – even in the off season. It was difficult to find parking spots on the more popular trails or enjoy nature since we couldn’t seem to get away from humanity’s sounds and sites. One of the more beautiful hikes involved seeing an absolutely spectacular sunrise but the entire experience was diminished by the sound of a contractor driving foundation piling at 7AM across the valley. There were a handful of hikes and experiences on the trail that will be memorable but the proverbial Sedona juice was not worth the squeeze.

We returned to some pretty cold weather and missed Arizona immediately. Once again, we picked a fabulous time to be gone.

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

Colorado 2021

Where to start. Visiting Colorado was great. The state has so much to offer – hiking, sites, sights, and all the wonderful places like the butterfly pavilion to experience made Colorado a wonderful place to visit. I can see why everyone loves Colorado. Which brings me to my next point: Colorado is overrun with people, especially retirees.

We were very fortunate to have nearly perfect weather the entire time in Colorado. We started the journey by flying into Denver and spending some time in the the metro area. I finally had a chance to hike to St. Mary’s glacier. It ended up being a really neat place to catch sunrise and we were some of the only people in the area because we started so early.

Our first destination was Aspen and I was taken back a bit about how wealthy and abnormal Aspen is compared to the normal world. We drove by the Aspen airport twice a day and it was so strange to see the many private jets. We didn’t know this was our first taste of the ‘ski town’ experience on this trip.

The Maroon Bells were beautiful, as always. We had our timed entry passes and made it up to Crater Lake a little bit after sunrise. It was very beautiful and great to have peace and quiet surrounded by stunning beauty. We turned back early as the crowds were working their way back up. We went again the next day but it was raining so we weren’t in much of a hurry. Turns out, the rain and clouds added a whole new layer of beauty to the area.

One of the bigger surprises was the immense beauty of Highway 141 between Grand Junction and Naturita. We were completely unprepared for the drive through the deep valleys and the changes from green-ish landscapes to dry desert red rocks. We had the road to ourselves and it seemed like we were the only people around to enjoy the gorgeous scenery. Seeing the abandoned flume was really interesting simply because it shows the extent to which humans will go to make money; building a water flowing apparatus on a cliff wall hundreds of feet above the floor of the valley for many miles is no easy task.

We spent a good chunk of time in Ouray and visited Telluride, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and other places in the area. Ouray was super neat. It reminded me a lot of where I grew up and was dumpier than the ski towns probably because the town doesn’t have a ski hill. Most of the roads in the town were gravel! We had a couple decent meals there but Maggie’s stands out as being on of the best hamburgers we ate on the trip. There was no line when we visited (end of September) but a conversation with one of the employees revealed that they would serve 500-ish people an hour in the peak summer time and that a line would stretch for blocks in the tiny little town. Of all the little towns we visited, Ouray was one of the more neat places because of the hiking inside the town (Box Canyon), the quietness, beauty, and food options.

We managed to hit peak fall colors on the million dollar highway between Ouray and Silverton. It was one of the most spectacular views we’ve had and we’ve seen a lot of spectacular things. The reds, yellows, and colors in between were stunning.

Some other surprises:

  • Timed entry is a killer. We were unsuccessful at getting anything in Mesa Verde and the rest of the park was OK. Each park / national monument seems to do timed entry differently and it wasn’t fun to make it all work. I guess I’m the last generation who grew up being able to visit national parks when they wanted. I can’t help but think of the disenfranchisement timed entry will create since timed entry makes the outdoors closed for a lot of folks.
  • Chimney Rock National Monument is one of the newest national monuments and it showed! We were driving by so we decided to stop and we were glad we did. I’m guessing the overall experience will be a bit better in the coming years as their new facilities open up.
  • Traffic sucked. Sucked hard and pretty much sucked everywhere. Colorado has been over-run by people and the infrastructure hasn’t kept up. If the roads weren’t clogged by normal traffic (Denver, Colorado Springs, all the ski towns), there was construction, or some retiree driving 10-20mph below the speed limit in their truck pulling a camper pulling a boat pulling a car on a single lane highway.
  • The retirees were everywhere. Their complaints were hilarious. One retiree told a national park ranger that ‘they don’t do much for people’ in regards to folks afraid of heights. The park ranger took the comment and stride and reminded her that ‘it’s the outdoors’. It boggles my mind that someone thinks the national park service needs to make Mesa Verde, a place known for cliffs and cliff dwellings, a good place to go for those afraid of heights. The retirees did not seem to be in any particular hurry so they were completely happy standing in egress areas, speaking with cashiers / attendants forever, and driving super slow. One area was so clogged up with retirees driving RVs, trucks pulling campers and boats, that our 2.5hr car ride turned into 3.5hrs. I feel a particular distain for those who are oblivious or uncaring to others and the huge number of retirees slowing everything down is enough for me to think long and hard about ever going back to some of the areas we visited.

Nearly all of our stays in Colorado were at Hilton properties, primarily Hampton Inns. We churned credit cards and ended up with a lot of reward points and free is free. I generally wake up early in the morning so it was interesting to go down and see what was playing on TV; it’s been years since I’ve watched the weather channel and I had no idea it transitioned to a “the weather is good now but danger is always around the corner” type of station. It hurt my brain to watch. We seemed to be the youngest people in the hotels too; we stayed on central time so we were able to catch an early breakfast and get out before the retirees clogged everything up in the dining area and standing around.

A lot of Colorado seemed to be suffering from labor shortages as well. Things like early check in, quick restaurant service, and other places relying on services were impacted, especially up in the mountains. Some places were just flat out closed. It makes sense since wages in the service sector probably cannot pay for any standard of living or quality of life in the ski towns.

Our journey thru Colorado had a lot of other fun sites not already mentioned – like the Glenwood Springs cave, Colorado National Monument, Butterfly Pavilion, and had some absolutely stellar food ranging from great BBQ in Colorado Springs to wonderful tacos and tamales from a gas station converted into a Mexican grocer + small restaurant. It seemed like wherever we went there was no shortage of things to do and eat.

Overall, Colorado was great. We also don’t need to go back anytime soon since we thoroughly explored the state!

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

Utah 2021

What a very pleasant surprise. Utah, specifically the Uintas and some of Park City, was incredible.

We first stopped in Vernal to visit Dinosaur National Monument. The monument is pretty much in the middle of nowhere and there is a near zero percent chance I’d ever visit the park unless I was on a sabbatical or something. The area has some pretty wild geology and was super interesting. The dinosaur bones were cool and the hike into Box Canyon was a ton of fun. I started using the Alltrails app for hikes in Dinosaur NM and the hike to Moon Arch – the app turned out to be a godsend for so many reasons. The trail around Moon Arch was poorly marked and a family with a small child decided to join me on my hike since I had Alltrails an could direct us; it ended up being a pretty fun experience. Overall, this area of Utah was a neat place to visit.

Our next chunk of time was in Park City. We knew Park City was a ski town but we didn’t realize how wonderful the hiking would be in the Uintas, and, stumbling across their annual city festival was a very fun experience. Hiking in quiet solitude is a wonderful experience, hiking in quiet solitude while in a beautiful area on well kept trails with little breeze so all the lakes had mirror reflections was a truly remarkable experience. I had never heard of the Uintas prior to this trip and it feels like we found a secret – the area is only 45min away from Park City. Most everyone seems to hike around Park City / Brighton Lakes so it was neat to find an area where no one seemed to be hiking.

Catching the annual fall festival was a super neat treat. We were surprised with a pancake breakfast, we were able to watch a human+dog 5K, and the ‘running of the balls’ down mainstreet fundraiser was pretty hilarious to watch – nearly only because of the people and their excitement in watching balls roll down a street!

We thought we’d visit some Olympic related sites and spent quite a bit of time watching people practice long jumping / ski jumping. It was odd; Park City is pretty hot and seeing people practice ski jumping in the very early fall was kind of a strange experience. Regardless, it was amazing to see what people can do with the help of gravity.

I was a bit surprised with how much basic things cost in Park City. It was common to spend about $50 on a meal for the family. That was pretty expensive considering none of the places we visited were all that remarkable except for one place which also happened to be the best deal – the Wasatch Brewery.

Park City itself is another high end ski town filled with high end ski town stuff.

All-in-all, the Uintas were fantastic. A+, 100%, 5 stars, we’d go back.

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

Vegas 2021

We went to Vegas in March but I forgot to write about it. It was great but there were still a lot of pandemic restrictions so it sorta felt normal.

The hiking was phenomenal. We had a fabulous time hiking in quiet solitude since no one goes to Vegas for hiking. There was just us and Search and Rescue at one trailhead in the Valley of Fire State Park; they were busy doing search and rescue stuff so we didn’t see them. The weather wasn’t great, it snowed a bit, but it did create beauty – we drove back from the Valley of Fire State Park by Lake Mead and watched the sun break through the clouds / snow and create a spectacular scene. 

The food was great too – Vegas is two hours behind us so getting breakfast or donuts at 5AM in Vegas is no big deal. We did something new, we went on a self directed food tour, and it was a lot of fun. It was in old Vegas and it was super neat to go to three different restaurants with wildly different food.

About a month after we visited Vegas it became crazy – everyone is done with COVID. We heard the mayor say, “for all intents and purposes, Vegas is sold out of hotel room and rental cars for the indefinite future”. That’s wild!

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

Colorado 2020

Hiking in Colorado was amazing. Just a spectacular hike with great company. The weather was perfect, the scenery was amazing, and we went at a time where the mountain flowers were out; 100% perfection.

Since I go hiking in Colorado nearly every year I could tell there were some differences due to the Rona life.

The noticeable difference started at the airport when I flew out on a Friday:

  • Fridays and Mondays the TSA pre-check line is usually quite long with business travelers. Not this time, I was the only person in the TSA pre-check line.
  • Everyone’s wearing masks and the airport is nearly empty.
  • Fellow passengers in the airport are overwhelmingly young people and families. The average age of travelers appeared to be a few years younger than my age.
  • Iceland Air’s plane was missing. Every Friday around 7PM there is a direct MSP to Iceland flight; the plane arrives to MSP the night before and is always at the same gate waiting for Friday evening. It was the same flight we took to kick off our world travels so every time I’ve been in the airport on a Friday I always get a happy reminder of our wonderful travels. The plane was missing. Probably because international travel is nearly non-existent.
  • Loading of the plane was done in smaller groups and went a hell of a lot faster than normal for some reason.
  • Middle aisle free seating on Southwest was really strange. Normally, people don’t want to sit in the middle aisle anyway but this was really, really strange since the plane was full.

A lack of business travelers was very strange. It’s only happened a few times in the past and it was always at touristy but not businessy locations, like Hawaii. The whole experience in the airport just felt surreal.

Hiking was different too. As I mentioned, the weather was absolutely perfect, the scenery was stunning, and I had, as usual, a great hiking companion. However, due to the Rona, Rocky Mountain National Park was limiting the number of visitors and slotting visitors into specific times between the hours of 6AM and 8PM. Since we weren’t able to get a slot we opted to show up before 6AM. Not a huge deal since we usually try to get to the trail head around 5:30AM to watch the sunrise on the trail.

We went to the same trailhead we’ve been to four-ish times in the past, usually no one is around or just a handful of people are around. This time there was a huge conga-line of vehicles driving into the park before 6AM and the trailhead parking lot was 2/3rds or more full with tons of people around. It was wild. People want to hike regardless of a pandemic and I guess they’ll show up at the ass-crack of dawn to go hiking.

Once we were on the trail it wasn’t different. Stunning beauty, serenity, blissful nature. Normally on the return part of the trip we start running into seas of people. Since the time slots exist we didn’t see many people at all on the return and the parking lot was full by roughly the same amount – another rather strange situation since the parking lots are usually jam packed and there are people swarming all over the trailheads.

Otherwise, everything in Colorado was great. We also went down to the Royal Gorge and enjoyed some beautiful mountain scenery along the way.

100% recommend. Would do again. A+.

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

Las Vegas and San Diego 2020

Well, I’m a bit late writing this. Like six months late. Better late than never, right?

This last winter we decided to leave the frozen tundra and spend some time with friends in Las Vegas and family in San Diego. Back in 2019 we did the same, except we went to Spain, and we missed the worst of winter. It was fabulous and we were trying to repeat our luck this year.

We weren’t so lucky missing the worst of winter BUT we still had a great time. This is easily a trip I could see us making every year. We were able to see a few amazing national parks during the flight and it really was a treat.

First we went to Vegas and the weather was perfect – no higher than the 80s and absolutely wonderful in the morning and evenings. We had a chance to hit up some new restaurants and eat some amazing donuts. Las Vegas has a LOT to offer on the food front. We went hiking in some of the local parks and it was awesome – no one was around in the early mornings and we truly had the parks to ourselves. I get the feeling people come to Vegas for activities other than eating and hiking so we really enjoyed watching the alpenglow at sunrise and sunset completely alone.

Most amazing part of wandering around was when we stumbled across Mt. Charleston, the local ski resort. First, we had no idea it snowed enough to create a ski resort, and second but most important, people were having picnics in the snow. Now, when I saw they were having picnics in the snow I’m not saying all the people were wearing snow gear and sitting near snow. No, these individuals literally were in street clothes and shoes and were sitting in the snow or hanging out in snow piles enjoying picnics. It’s not like one or two people were doing it either, there were hundreds. There must be some novelty to snow.

After a brief few days in Vegas we left to visit family in San Diego. The second half of the trip was equally amazing. Just like before we enjoyed great company and wonderful food. We wandered around San Diego at sunset and sunrise, much like Vegas, and really enjoyed seeing the world come awake and go to bed. Sunsets at Ocean Beach are flat out amazing and seeing the sunrise over downtown San Diego was wonderful too.

We walked quite a bit more and went to different parts of San Diego, like Pacific Beach, just to explore. Of course, we still went to Bronx Pizza, quite a few times, simply because it’s the best NYC style pizza outside of NYC.

Overall, we had a wonderful time and were very fortunate to have had great weather, great travels, and most importantly, great company.

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

 

 

 

General 2019

So I’ve been really bad at updating this website this year. Life has been busy. That said, I figured I should add a few photos of our adventures over the last six months. I have changed jobs and my new work has brought me to rural Ohio and Phoenix. I was treated with the most amazing sunrise over the Rockies on my way to Phoenix and an illuminating life experience when visiting the Amish in Ohio.

We celebrated four years home this year. It’s weird to think that we’ve been back in the US for four years since it feels like yesterday we were coming back from our travels. Now, the memories we have are no longer current and the world has changed quite a bit. We talk quite a bit about World Trip #2. Maybe it’ll happen sooner than later 🙂

Enjoy the photos!

North Shore 2019

We visited the North Short this fall and it was a bit different than usual. First, it was kind of an odd fall in Minnesota so we didn’t really catch the fall colors. Second, we actually stayed in Canal Park of Duluth, MN, pretty far away from the nice, rural, North Shore that we’re used to. That said, it was still super enjoyable.

We visited Gooseberry Falls and hiked around the park, a first for us, and we finally hike Oberg Mountain! Oberg Mountain is a higher point in the Sawtooths and has a wonderful view of Lake Superior and the mountains to the west. We’ve attempted to hike Oberg Mountain in the past but it the parking area was constantly full. This year we showed up super early and had an absolutely beautiful hike. The hike itself was rather easy even though I was carrying about 30lbs of stuff and the trail had quite a few lookouts of the surrounding area. The hike was well worth the wait and I look forward to doing it again!

Otherwise, we visited our typical parks and lookouts and enjoyed the scenery of the North Shore.

We had a some pretty good food. We found the best BBQ restaurant we’ve ever visited in Minnesota not too far from our hotel and we finally had a chance to eat some donuts at the World Best Donuts in Grand Marais. For whatever reason we have had poor timing and never have had the opportunity to try their donuts – either they were closed for the season or we arrived too late. It’s not like we didn’t try, we’ve visited the North Shore consistently for the last 10 years or so. The donuts were certainly delicious and I can see why they have their reputation!

Enjoy the photos 🙂