Archive for the ‘Hiking’ Category

Well…the Big Island of Hawaii certainly flew by in the blink of an eye. I was there five days – the same amount as Oahu – but those Big Island days were much more adventurous, and thus I’ll be splitting my stories of that island into two posts. Here’s part one!

My flight to the Big Island (the island called Hawai’i, which you’ve probably been hearing about because of the current volcano activity) was a brief 45 minutes, most of which I spent staring out the window at the water, simultaneously mesmerized by its blueness and caught up in memories of New Zealand. In what felt like an instant, the plane landed in Kona.


Kona from the sky. As you can see, this is a volcanic island.

A few couchsurfing hosts had warned me about the inability to get anywhere on Big Island without a car, but I still wasn’t prepared for just how inaccessible the island can be. Upon arrival at the tiny, outdoor Kona airport I discovered that public buses only visit twice a day. It was currently 11:30 AM and the next bus wasn’t arriving until 4:30 PM, so I’d have to find another way to get to town. A taxi would cost close to $100 to get to central Kona, so this was not very appealing. What to do?

Luckily my first host on the island, Charlie, offered to pick me up after he finished working at home if I didn’t mind waiting an hour. Awesome! I spent the hour writing my blog entry about Oahu (published later that night) and enjoyed the outdoor seating at the airport. Note to anyone traveling to Big Island: There is no internet at the airport, so be prepared for offline tasks if you are planning to wait there as I did.

When Charlie arrived he insisted we find a lei, since that is the customary gift with which to welcome someone to a Hawaiian island. We drove to three separate roadside lei stands (one of which was someone’s garage fridge; as Charlie explained, some locals keep leis boxed in their fridge so people can leave money and take one), but no luck. Mahalo anyway Charlie!

Afterward, we bought lunch and Charlie told me about the “float” he’d sent word out about for the afternoon. Big Island is full of tiny, partially secluded beaches, some of which have little pools of water where the ocean current  doesn’t reach. Charlie is on a mission to popularize “float” events where everyone brings drinks and pool tubes and just floats around on their tubes in the little bays, and it seems like it’s catching on, at least in his circles of friends. That afternoon I met two of his float friends, then we went to his apartment for dinner. Charlie lives in an awesome location – literally across the street from the beach, on the third or fourth floor of his building, so there’s a great view of the ocean from his window.


Notice all the black things on the beach – igneous plutonic rocks formed from lava!


The view from Charlie’s window. Not too shabby B-)

After dinner we visited a local bar to play shuffleboard (Charlie is practicing for an upcoming beer team decathlon, in which he will compete in shuffleboard and darts). There I met his friend Kyle, who was born in Alaska and lives in Oregon, but who visits his mom in Kona at least once a year. We swapped stories of travel and talked about the possibility of meeting up for a camping trip later that weekend at Pololu Valley, one of Charlie’s go-to camping spots. Sweet!


The next day (Thursday), I had a big mission: Hitchhike an hour and a half to a place called the Waipio Valley Lookout. Charlie gave me a couple of his cardboard hitchhiking signs and tips on how to successfully hitchhike in Hawaii (it’s doable, but not as easy as in New Zealand). I packed my bag with the signs, his tent (thanks again for letting me borrow it Charlie!), my camping gear, and groceries, then he drove me to an area that he said would be best to try to get a ride. Well…I stood on the side of the road for around 45 minutes before someone finally stopped. The guy who offered me a ride was Cyrus, a construction worker who was coming off a night shift and had some errands to run before heading home to Waimea (which is fairly close to Waipio). As we drove I mentioned that I was couchsurfing in Hawaii and a couple minutes later we realized that we’d actually been in touch already through the couchsurfing website. What a small world! I still can’t get over the fact that in my first official hitchhiking experience (I’ve hitchhiked unofficially before, but never the whole deal with a sign), I was picked up by someone I’d already interacted with through couchsurfing. Small world!

Cyrus dropped me off at what he said would be a successful spot in Waimea, and sure enough, just ten minutes later I was driving with Richie, a Filipino who had immigrated to Hawaii ten years earlier. Initially he was going to drive me to Honokaa, a town close to the lookout, but when he learned I was visiting from the mainland he decided he’d drive all the way to the lookout point. Mahalo Richie and Cyrus, you guys are great!


I still find it amazing that the first person I met through hitchhiking here was someone I’d already met on couchsurfing. Mahalo Cyrus!


Driving toward Waimea. This photo is much clearer than the actual air was. The “vog” (volcano fog) in the air was very apparent above the clouds, but you can’t really see it here.


Hiking To Waimanu Valley 

At the Waipio Valley Lookout I met Solène and Trevor, fellow couchsurfers whom I would be hiking with to Waimanu Valley. Solène is a French biologist living in Paris and Trevor is a NOLS instructor from Michigan who currently works in Alaska. Trevor had  hiked to Waimanu just three days prior and loved it so much that he decided to return, which made me feel like this would be a great hike; I couldn’t imagine that an outdoor leadership instructor who hikes regularly as part of his job would choose to repeat a trail he didn’t like.

The first hour of the trail was definitely the most difficult; switchback after switchback leading higher and higher, mostly under the heat of the blazing sun. The whole time I kept thinking of the steep hikes I’d completed in New Zealand; if I could do those, these switchbacks should be cake. The mindset helped; the steep climbs weren’t as bad as I’d imagined, and the views as we hiked were gorgeous (notice the black sand!).


Waipio Valley, our starting point

The next five hours were considerably easier than that first; the Waimanu trail is straightforward, and though you ascend and descend through a number of valleys, the path never gets overly steep. Along the way we crossed a number of rivers and streams and passed waterfalls, springs, and some interesting trees. We also got to know one another and became fast friends; we all hiked at the same speed, had similar interests, and seemed to easily click personality-wise. Solène and Trevor were basically the best hiking buddies I could have asked for, and I’m glad I got to have this experience with them. 


Hiking to Waimanu. Pay special attention to the photo in the bottom left. It’s tough to tell from the picture, but there is a tree that has fallen and died, except for the fact that it has produced a new trunk growing straight out of it. The lighter-colored branch in the middle of the photo is from another tree, with a series of very thin branches growing straight up. Pretty cool!

At the end of our hike we ascended into Waimanu Valley and crossed one last river – the toughest yet, with a bunch of slippery rocks beneath the surface and a rope to hang onto for support. From there it was a short walk to Campsite #2 (said to be the best, and which Solène had booked at random) where we set up our tents and enjoyed the incredible view. 


Waimanu Valley!


Solene crossing the river.


Camp with this backdrop? Yes please!

That night we all shared our food and spent a couple hours talking under the stars. Again, I have to stress how awesome these two people are; I don’t always click quite so well with the people I meet through couchsurfing, but we really made a great team!

The next morning we woke early and set out on a 45-minute hike to one of the tallest waterfalls in the United States. Along the way we traded stories of survival (my favorite is The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candace Millard, the story of Roosevelt’s post-presidential Amazonian expedition). We had a refreshing swim and enjoyed the grandeur of the falls before heading back to camp to finish packing up and begin our hike back to Waipio Valley Lookout, taking our time with stops for lunch, swimming in a watering hole, and enjoying the views. 


Clockwise from top left: Waterfall from far away, up close and personal, and post-swim.



Photos from the hike back. The last hill was STEEP!

If you’re lucky, the Waimanu Valley hike ends at a beautiful black sand beach, at which point you can hitchhike up to the lookout point (there are plenty of cars passing by on their way up from the beach). However, if you fail to catch a ride, as we did, that last mile and a half will be the most difficult of the trip as you struggle with your pack up a steep, steep, road to the lookout. After many failed attempts to flag a car, we found ourselves making the long journey up that steep road. The whole way I thought of my experience in New Zealand carrying my bags up the fifth-steepest street in the world to get to Kristen and Chris’ house, and this memory gave me the energy and motivation I needed to tackle this longer-but-less-steep road.

As I neared the top of the road, I met a cheery woman and her dog heading down. “Are you Solène?” She asked. “No,” I replied, “But she’s right down there!” As Solène had mentioned earlier, her next couchsurfing host was going to meet us at Waipio and give us all a ride, and here she was! Soon enough, Solène, Trevor, and I were chatting with Laura and partner Aaron, who very nicely offered not only to give us a ride, but also to take us out for pizza and beers and to let all three of us stay the night at their place (I had been planning to hitchhike back to Charlie’s, but this was much easier!). The three of us started laughing aloud when they mentioned pizza and beers; earlier on the trail we’d agreed that if there was time we’d find a place to have celebratory beer and pizza. Our wish was coming true!

After lots of pizza (not too bad, for Hawaii) and multiple rounds of beer, we returned to Laura and Aaron’s place. They are about to leave for a multi-month housesitting adventure in Japan, but that week they were still at their current home, a former BnB/Air BnB near Honokaa (fun fact about Honokaa: Cows used to be ziplined from Honokaa to nearby ships to be transported to mainland US). The place was HUGE and definitely the most impressive I’ve ever stayed at through couchsurfing; Laura and Aaron lived in what was once the BnB owner’s unit, so we basically had an entire bed and breakfast to ourselves! That night we stayed up late just talking, figuring out what we were all doing next, planning potential reunions, and enjoying what might be our last night together. It was a fun night, and I’m glad I got to meet these two awesome friends (Trevor and Solène are the kinds of friends I was expecting/hoping to meet on this trip, so it’s ironic that I met them at the end).


Our living room, part of the fanciest couchsurfing experience I’ve had yet. 🙂

The next morning we enjoyed a delicious breakfast of lychees and pancakes prepared by Aaron (who was excited to cook for so many people) and then we all went out for a quick 20-minute hike at the nearby Kalopa Native Forest. That’s all we had time for before we had to catch the public bus to make our way back toward Kona, but it was a nice hike nonetheless.


Lots of trees with interesting roots on this island. 

So…the public bus. It’s still incredible how inaccessible public transit is on the Big Island. Laura and Aaron were nice enough to drive us to and wait with us at the supposed bus stop for the supposed Heli-On bus that would come to pick us up. Fifteen minutes after its scheduled arrival time…we were still waiting. Finally, we saw a coach bus that said “Polynesian Cultural Tours” turn the corner near us, but no Hele-On bus. Hmmm….

Was that the bus we wanted? Would a bus ever pass our way? Would it take us to the places we wanted to go? Stayed tuned for Part II to see what happens!


On our last full day in southern Utah we began with a slow morning, waiting for some unexpected snow and cold weather to pass through. Although I wanted to be out exploring, having the morning to work on the online course I’m teaching right now worked out well. When we did head out, we drove away from the snow and toward a couple more petroglyphs, Hickman Natural Bridge, and Grand Wash. Lots more beautiful photos from the day:


The snowiest view of the drive

First stop: Petroglyphs.

In the photos below, notice the figures carved on the rocks. The photo on the left shows a closeup of the carvings while the right shows a more complete span of the rock wall. See the giant triangular chunk missing from the photo on the right? Luckily in the 1950s someone photographed the wall before that chunk fell away, showing a figure similar to the ones we see here but roughly three times as large. Perhaps this was a carving of a Native American deity?

Next stop: Hickman Natural Bridge.


The view at the start of the Hickman trail.

Upon arriving at the trail we found some interesting things. See those black rocks in the top left photo below? Those are volcanic rocks, leftover lava from two inactive volcanoes. The photo to the right shows the tiny bit of snow on the trail (amazing, considering how much it had been snowing in the morning), and the bottom photo is one of the views as we hiked the trail loop.

More pics from the hike, including the “natural bridge” (which is really an arch):

After Hickman and a stop at another great visitor center we headed to Grand Wash for a quick hike through another natural playground. One cool thing about the cliffs of Utah is that there are tons of holes in perfect places for rock throwing contests – just beware when the rocks bounce out of the holes and back toward your head! At Grand Wash there were also some great-looking trails which led to Cassidy Arch, but we had to save those for another day.

This was our last big hike in southern Utah. The next morning we packed up and headed back to Salt Lake City, both to beat the weather coming in and to celebrate Val’s birthday. I had a great time on this trip and would highly recommend it to anyone who can get out there. I hope to go back and explore more sometime soon!


Thanks Val and Tracie for the amazing week of adventures. I’ll be back!


To get some exercise after our drive to Salt Lake City I put on a podcast, went for a walk around the neighborhood, and found a little public park. Enjoying a swing all to myself, celebrating Val’s birthday with a delicious meal and cupcakes, having a ukulele jam, and watching the Winter Olympics was a nice way to end the trip. Worth every minute. 🙂



On Day 3 we checked out of our Cannonville hotel and headed west toward Capitol Reef National Park. Once again, the views on the road were incredible, so I’ll tell the story through photos I took along the way.


Our first stop was the Escalante River Trailhead. We had a specific mission for this hike: Find petroglyphs!

After some scrambling we made it to the top of the cliff. No sign of petroglyphs, but we had some specific ones in mind, so the hunt wasn’t over yet.

After much searching – and almost giving up – we found our first petroglyph. See the lines around the bighorn sheep? Unfortunately many people attempt to cut out or deface the petroglyphs, going so far as to carve their initials into the rock on top of the images. Gross.

After walking a bit farther we discovered the petroglyph we’d set out to see. Called One Hundred Hands, this petroglyph is located extremely high up on the rock wall. We almost walked right by it, not expecting it to be so high up!

A closer image of the One Hundred Hands. It may not look like much, but this petroglyph was quite impressive. It’s amazing to think that the Native Americans who carved it found a way to get so high on the rocks – in an area with no plateau or even a little path to get up there today. The height and remote location of this glyph has saved it from graffiti, and we spent quite a bit of time just appreciating its existence.


After spending some time with the petroglyphs we climbed back down and hit the road. More amazing views ahead!

Driving west from Escalante, we encountered quite a bit of snow, but once we reached the other side of Bryce Valley many more incredible views greeted us. Our next stop was my favorite of the whole trip.








After driving past and through some of the most impressive rock faces of the entire trip, we arrived at our destination: Capitol Reef National Park. We parked at the Capitol Gorge Trailhead/Petroglyphs Narrows Pioneer Register and Tanks and hiked into what I can only describe as a national park playground.



See the writing on the rocks in this photo? Early Mormon pioneers used this area as a settler registry. Some of these names were carved into the rocks in the 1880s!


Aside from settler registries, we also found a couple petroglyphs (though not as impressive as the 100 Hands) and an incredible photographer who was nice enough to take an incredible photo of the three of us:


Thank you Julian for the incredible photo!


The other interesting element of this trailhead was the water tanks. By doing a little scrambling, we worked our way to a bunch of pools of water in which all kinds of organisms grow – even tadpoles! If you ever visit this place, it’s very important not to touch the water, as the oils from human skin can kill the lifeforms growing in each water tank. Seeing them was a great reward for hiking up there.



The incredible views were never-ending in this place.

This was such a great day…definitely my favorite overall. I will absolutely come back to this place to explore more in the future.

Next up: More from Capitol Reef: Grand Wash and the Hickman Natural Bridge.



Day 2 was much warmer, resulting in many more hiking adventures. We left our Cannonville hotel and continued exploring Bryce Canyon National Park, heading to the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. First stop: Grosvenor Arch. Visiting this arch requires driving on some dusty, rocky roads, so prepare for bumps!


A typical view on our drive. I never got sick of looking out the window.


The beginning of the dirt/clay roads to the arch. One of the roads, Bent Lake, is notorious for cars getting stuck. Luckily we had a truck. 🙂


Grosvenor Arch consists of two sandstone arches 150 ft above the ground, the largest of which is nearly 100 ft in diameter. The arch was named after Gilbert Hovey Grosvenor, founder, president and the first full-time editor of National Geographic Magazine. Before 1947, the arch was called Butler Arch by “early settlers,” though I’m sure it had a Native American as well.


The beautiful blue sky allowed for incredible photos. This was shot on my smart phone – imagine what a photo on a real camera would look like!


Beautiful day at Grosvenor Arch!

After Grosvenor, we continued our drive on the Cottonwoods Road Scenic Byway (with more incredible views) to a slot canyon called the Lower Hackberry Canyon Trail Head. According to, “Lower Hackberry Canyon is a short, easy canyon hike through clear, ankle-deep water.” Well…that might be true in the spring or summer, but as we discovered, it’s a different story in the winter. I’ll let my photos tell the tale.


When we got there, the stream was almost completely ice – check out these cool patterns!

As we entered the slot canyon the icy stream turned into a small amount of water…not too bad…yet.


As we hiked further into the slot canyon we were surrounded by cliff faces and beautiful views, but also less and less dry ground between the rocky walls and the stream, meaning having to cross the stream back and forth to find dry ground to hike on.

Tracie crawling through a tiny tunnel…all part of the adventure!

As I discovered on this hike, my boots are not even close to waterproof; traversing those streams even with all the stepping stones we threw into water left my feet wet and cold. Needless to say I was extremely happy when we made it to our sunny destination in the middle of the canyon, where I was able to dry my shoes and socks over lunch. Somehow the trek back wasn’t as bad, despite the fact that the sun had melted what was once ice, meaning even more water to slosh through. Oh well…it was still a good hike!


Possible mountain lion track spotted on our way out.

After the slot canyon, we took a short trip to Cottonwood Narrows South. We were running out of daylight for a long hike, but we did get to do a little scrambling to a nice view. Here are some quick pics to round out this post.

Up next: Cryptobiotic soil! Stay tuned!

On the first day in southern Utah, Val, Tracie, and I explored parts of Bryce Canyon National Park. The park is named after Ebenezer Bryce, a Mormon pioneer who settled in the valley below the canyon in 1870. About the canyon, Bryce is said to have stated “It’s a hell of a place to lose a cow.” Interestingly, Bryce Canyon is not actually a canyon, but a series of 14 natural amphitheaters. 

The area known as Bryce Canyon probably had a Puebloan (Anasazi), Paiute, or Fremont Indian name before early Mormon settlers decided to claim it for themselves, but unfortunately that name is not known today (or…at least I haven’t heard of it…).

Due to the snow and cold weather we nixed our intended hike plans and instead drove to the highest points of the park, with altitudes of over 9000 feet and many beautiful viewpoints, and took a trip to the visitor center. Of course, the photos here do no justice to seeing it all in person, and I truly hope I can return to hike some of the trails that I didn’t get to explore on this trip. 

Day 1 was the snowiest day and my photos didn’t come out quite as spectacular as some from later days. Stay tuned for more photos and stories coming soon!


Black Birch Canyon

Piracy Point

(From the placard in the park) Natural Bridge is misnamed; this “bridge” is technically an arch. Natural bridges are carved by rushing streams, whereas subtler forms of weather have sculpted this opening. 


Me with one of many ravens in the park. I think this was Ponderosa Point, named for all the Ponderosa pines in the canyon. 

One of the best views in the park was at Bryce Point, but this photo does it no justice. 

An attempt at photographing the wondrous Bryce Amphitheater, full of hoodoos. 



Check out the roots on this tree. There were so many trees with roots at all sorts of interesting angles, perhaps in search of water. 

This is a view from Sunset Point, where we would’ve begun our hike into the canyon if not for the cold. See the tiny black dot near the center of the photo? That’s someone hiking where we would have been! It was this view that helped convince U.S. Forest Service Supervisor J. W. Humphrey that Bryce Canyon should become a national park in the early 1900s. According to the NPS website, Humphrey stated that “You can perhaps imagine my surprise at the indescribable beauty that greeted us, and it was sundown before I could be dragged from the canyon view. You may be sure that I went back the next morning to see the canyon once more, and to plan in my mind how this attraction could be made accessible to the public.”


Welcome to the first in a series of photo-filled posts on my trip to southern Utah. Before letting the photos talk however, it’s important to know one term: hoodoo.

Any guess what that might be?


Awesome license plate spotted at the Capitol Reef visitor center

A Pokemon, you say? Good guess, but no.

A hoodoo – sometimes called a goblin, earth pyramid, tent rock, or fairy chimney – is a thin, free-standing rock formation created by two weathering processes: frost wedging and erosion of limestone from slightly acidic rainfall. As stated on the National Park Services’ website, “nowhere in the world are [hoodoos] as abundant as in the northern section of Bryce Canyon National Park.”


Various hoodoos in Bryce Canyon including Thor’s Hammer (center)

The word hoodoo comes from the Southern Paiute language, where it is pronounced ooh doo and is an expression of being afraid or showing fear. According to Paiute legend, the trickster Coyote wanted to punish “the Legend People,” called To-when-an-ung-wa, for living too heavily upon the land, drinking up the streams and rivers, eating all the pine nuts, and leaving very little for other animals to eat or drink. He invited the To-when-an-ung-wa to a big banquet, but when they arrived he cast a spell on them, turning them all to stone and creating the hoodoos we can see today.


A snowy afternoon in Bryce

For more on the Paiute legends and hoodoos, check out this NPR story or this NPS article.

Stay tuned for more posts from southern Utah!





Even ravens enjoy Bryce Canyon

Southern Utah: Introduction

Posted: February 14, 2018 in 2018, Adventures, Biking, Hiking, Utah

Southern Utah. Is. Incredible.

Val, Tracie, and I loaded up their truck and headed four hours south from Salt Lake City for a five-day hiking adventure in two national parks: Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef. I took far too many photos, so I’m making a series of blog posts in quick succession about the trip to let the photos do most of the talking. Click any of the links below to visit each blog entry: