We used a previously purchased Hilton Grand Vacations package to get a much cheaper-than-usual hotel rate just down the strip near Circus Circus, and then booked our flights. Before we knew it we were touching down in Vegas! It was surreal.
You can learn more about how we stayed in Las Vegas for three nights for only $99 TOTAL in my TikTok video below!
After spending four days in "Sin City", here are a few places we feel that for first time visitors to Las Vegas must see, things you shouldn’t do, and a few things we wish we’d had time to do!
The Welcome to Las Vegas Sign
The first thing we did after landing was take some pictures at The Welcome to Las Vegas Sign. When we pulled up, we all thought, “Holy crap? What is the deal with this?” There was a line of people about 50 or so long and what appeared to be a full parking lot. We luckily found a spot and walked up to assess the situation.
It turned out that every single person in line was waiting to get a straight on shot, but you can just walk right around them and take pictures from the side of the sign! We took probably 50 photos if not more and were in and out in less than 15 minutes. No line at all!
See more The Las Vegas Sign tourist trap in my TikTok here!
The ARIA Resort & Casino
We checked into our Hilton Grand Vacation to spruce up for dinner before meeting my parents at their hotel, The ARIA. My parents had made dinner reservations at Jean Georges Steakhouse inside The ARIA. We all enjoyed a wonderful dinner of steak, seafood, bone marrow, and all the sides we could share before heading down to the casino for a little gambling.
Book a room, pool cabana, or make dinner reservations at The Aria Resort or any other MGM Resort through my link, here!
*This is an affiliate link, The Traveling Tacos will receive a commission with bookings*
Next, we walked to the Cosmopolitan to grab drinks at The Chandelier Bar. It was standing room only, because all the tables were reserved. It was beautiful to see, but we didn’t stay long enough for a cocktail.
Here is where we should have stopped walking around for the night. We ended up walking over TEN MILES just looking for “the best” place. Each hotel had a casino, each was huge, and they were all pretty much the same.
We continued walking and made it over to Caesar’s Palace. Little did we know that the place was huge and we ended up walking for what felt like hours inside Caesar’s.
At this point, we were exhausted from all the walking and decided that we needed to turn it around and walk back to The ARIA before our feet fell off.
The next morning, we met up with my parents at The ARIA pool to spend a day in a cabana relaxing outside. We checked in, found our space, unpacked our stuff out, and got comfortable. We had the cabana all day from 10-7.
We ordered some lunch platters, a few cocktails, and my sister even ordered a poolside massage! It was a very relaxing, stress-free day beating the heat in luxury at The ARIA.
When we had enough of the sunshine, we convinced our parents to drive us to Fremont Street aka “Old Las Vegas”. They didn’t really want to go, and now we understand why.
Old Las Vegas isn’t quite what it used to be. The glamor and glitz have been taken over by street performers and cheap tourists looking for loose slots and dollar tables. It was nowhere near what we expected.
We didn’t stay as long as we thought we would at all. We didn’t feel very safe after being accosted a few times, so we left Fremont Street and grabbed a quick bite at Evel Pie.
After an afternoon nap, we barely missed the last gondola ride at The Venetian Hotel. We arrived just after midnight, and the last riders were exiting their boats. It was a bummer, but we kept walking through The Venetian and wandered the “streets” of the luxury shops and sipped on drinks from the casino bar.
We had passed signs for Biwon all around The Hilton, so I insisted we try it out. It was a score! For $100, tax and tip included, we got to eat all the sushi and appetizers we could stomach plus a bottle of sake. We ate all our stomachs could handle and ordered round after round of rolls, sushi, and soups.
We’d made plans to meet a friend of ours in Las Vegas, and he recommended meeting at The Nerd just off Fremont Street. We got a ride back to Fremont, found The Nerd, and enjoyed a night of laughs and stories.
Our final morning, we stopped at another all-you-can-eat restaurant, but this time it was a brunch buffet! We went to The Cosmopolitan Hotel and enjoyed their brunch bar at Wicked Spoon.
This was another steal. For only $38 each, we were able to eat all the bone marrow, crab legs, pancakes, desserts, lox bagels, and steaks we could handle. It was unreal, and we gorged ourselves.
We could not have found a better final stop in Las Vegas.
There were a few things we missed:
We had the most incredible introduction to Las Vegas, and we cannot wait to come back and explore more of what this incredibly vibrant city has to offer us. We only saw the parts most tourists see. On our next trip, we will find some places off the beaten path!
Plus, there are thousands and thousands of Native American petroglyphs and pictographs around, and as the landscapes change, more and more are discovered. It’s a seemingly endless landscape with so much left to uncover. It is truly remarkable.
I spent a week roadtripping and rafting through Dinosaurland and Dinosaur National Monument over the Fourth of July holiday week in 2022. I learned a ton about the country’s makeup and the rich history of the rocks around me, I did things I’ve never done before, and I spent a week by myself being constantly blown away by the scenery.
My trip started with Dinosaur River Expeditions. We spent four incredible days rafting down The Green River through Dinosaur National Monument.
More than half of Dinosaur National Monument is only accessible by raft. I was unbelievably fortunate to have been able to join one of the few charters that gets to enter The Gates of Lodore each day.
Words can never describe how humbling the landscape is with its thousand-foot-high canyon walls, raging white water rapids, and relentless sun. It was a journey unlike anything I’ve ever been on, and the guides did everything for us including cooking our food and rowing our boats. It was awesome!
Read and see more from this indescribable four-day white water river charter with Dinosaur River Expeditions here.
Back in Vernal:
The Vernal Dinosaur Roundup Rodeo:
Vernal, Utah, is a relatively small town. I don’t know the actual population, but when the Fourth of July and the rodeo were in town on back-to- back weekends, the town didn’t feel so tiny anymore.
For the Fourth of July, the town shuts down its downtown to assemble stages for bands and tents and tables for local vendors. It's a true hometown throwdown!
Every year on the second full weekend of July, Vernal hosts its annual rodeo, The Dinosaur Roundup Rodeo. In 2022, that weekend was conveniently right after The Fourth of July, so the town stayed buzzing. The rodeo is a classic show with bull riding, barrel racing, calf roping, and all the pageantry you could imagine - rodeo clowns included.
The Dinosaur Roundup Rodeo was my first ever rodeo, and I had an absolute blast going by myself plus tickets were only $15.
See more from the rodeo at minute 5:30 in my YouTube video below:
While in Vernal, I learned about a lot of things nearby that I wasn’t originally planning to see. One of those was Bling Frog Ranch. During my river expedition, a guide told me that the infamous Skinwalker Ranch was located close to Vernal. My jaw dropped. One of the most paranormal sites in the world was just miles down the road from my hotel. I knew I had to go.
He told me it had been rebranded to be “Bling Frog Ranch”, so I booked a tour as soon as I was back in cell service. The guide, unfortunately, had given me some false information. Blind Frog Ranch was real, and they do tours, but it’s not Skinwalker Ranch. In fact, it's 40 miles from it by road.
Blind Frog Ranch has had “other-worldly” things happen here, but the tour guide from BFR said himself, “Skinwalker Ranch is like the dark energy, and this is more healing”. I wanted the darkness. I was prepared for crazy government conspiracies and wacky stuff, but got a very calm tour much more based around the Discovery+ Television show instead.
It was entertaining and fun, because there were some mega TV-show fans on the tour who knew every place we went and saw. For the price, I wouldn’t recommend it to those who haven’t seen the show, but it was fun.
The next morning, I left Vernal to go search for petroglyphs and pictographs. Another place I learned about while in Vernal was Nine Mile Canyon. It is one of the world’s largest collections of ancient Native American artwork also known as “The World’s Longest Art Gallery”.
It is a 40-mile canyon full of artwork from a thousand years ago. The Fremont Indians left tens of thousands of pieces of artwork along the rock walls in this stretch. They show fascinating scenes of owls, snakes, buffalo, portals, rivers, and so much more.
Before sunset I quickly made it to Fantasy Canyon to fly my drone and take some photos. It is a very small area, the entire hike is only a half-mile, so it was easy to walk around and shoot all my content in under two-hours.
My final day, I finally went back to Dinosaur National Monument. It was time to see, from the top, what I had seen from the river a few days earlier.
I started at The Wall of Bones and worked my way through the Utah side stopping at every scenic viewpoint along the roadside. Then, I circled back into Colorado to enter from the other side of Dinosaur National Monument to hike at Harpers Corner.
Harpers Corner could not have been a more special viewpoint for my final moments inside the monument. I stood there and admired the swirly rocks below and watched the water for rafters as I stood there in sheer awe at the beauty of it all.
See more from my day inside Dinosaur National Monument in my video below and in my detailed blog post here!
In those final moments inside Dinosaur National Monument, I reflected on a sign I had seen in the visitors’ center which said the park, “has the most complete geological record of any National Park Service Site,” and it made me think about other places I have been like The Grand Canyon and Zion National Park. Truthfully, I don’t think they even compare to Dinosaur National Monument.
I ended this trip feeling amazing, inquisitive, and sheerly dumbfounded. I had never felt like this about another place. Dinosaurland, USA, you stole my heart. I will be back to do some more exploring. You can count on that!
I found some of these on different social media sites, and they inspired John and I to get out and find them. We were so worried that since we had found these cool spots, others would have too, especially since we chose to go out Memorial Day Weekend, one of the most popular travel weekends in The United States.
See more from our entire Utah Road Trip in my video below!
Our road trip didn’t quite go as planned partially because we found some off-our-radar places that were unbelievable to explore and also because of some things that caused us to cut it a day or two short. We still went to some remarkable places, saw some jaw-dropping things, flew our drone a whole bunch, and managed to get away from the masses on a popular weekend.
Here is how we did it:
First Stop: Hanksville, Utah
We drove the long, rocky road up through the strange, barren, desert landscape and arrived at our first spot. We saw another car, so we decided to keep driving. We did a lot of driving, then some more driving and searching, before eventually circling back and parking near the other car we’d seen earlier.
See my blog post “The Blue Bentonite Hills of Utah” to read the EXACT location we photographed and flew our drone.
We were lucky and arrived right before what photographers call “the blue hours”. The blue hours are the hour before sunrise and the hour after sunset. During these times the blue and purple hues really pop on these stratified hills. We spent some time on the hills during both the sunset Thursday night and sunrise Friday morning.
See more from these unreal, rainbow hills in my YouTube Video below!
Second stop: Burpee Dinosaur Quarry
As I mentioned earlier, some stops we made were planned and we just stumbled upon others. The Burpee Dinosaur Quarry was one we found but had heard of through geology podcasts and YouTube videos.
This was at the end of the dirt road where we saw The Bentonite Hills. When we pulled up, we were greeted by a nice but slightly confused man. He explained that this is an active dinosaur excavation site and that he was waiting on the rest of his crew. He showed us a few things that they had recently dug up including a dinosaur joint and a petrified tree. Then, he let us know we were free to walk around, because this is all public lands.
With the very limited knowledge we had of digging dinosaur bones, we walked around this massive, dried up river for hours hoping to luckily find something. Sadly, we did not, but it was still really cool.
Third Stop: Factory Butte
Still near Hanksville, we drove over to another spot I had seen a lot on Instagram and have seen even more since we visited. Yet, there was pretty much no one here when we went exploring.
We drove as close as we could to Factory Butte and flew our drone where we couldn’t drive. This place featured a bizarre and barren pit at the foot of the Butte. It was actually a big motocross track! It was super cool.
We didn’t have a dirt bike with us to ride, but check out our drone footage from Factory Butte below!
Next Stop: The Wild Horse Area
Another place we found just by driving around was The Muddy Creek and Middle Wild Horse Wilderness Area. We continued driving past Factory Butte just staring at the white, pink, and red cliffs in front of us. We kept driving toward them and found a hidden gem.
We found even more rainbow colored cliffs, a nice beach area along a shallow creek, and trails upon trails heading into the canyons.
We were not prepared to spend days and days exploring here like some people who passed on dune buggies and ATVs were. Instead, we just flew our drone for a little bit and cooled off in the creek with our dog.
Stop Number Five: The Cosmic Ashtray
The Cosmic Ashtray was our next planned stop. This had been recommended to us by friends and again, I had seen it a bunch on social media. Yet, this was one of the most difficult places for us to find.
We tried our hardest to follow the All Trails app directions, but I put what I thought was the wrong trailhead in my GPS, and the trail itself was virtually non-existent. The “path” was pretty much walking along smooth, rolling rock hills leaving us to scramble along the hot and exposed rock for miles. Keeping an eye on the map, we eventually made it to the Cosmic Ashtray, and it was well worth it!
We were hoping to get to fly our drone at this scenic spot, but we were welcomed by a massive wind and sand storm upon arrival. We took turns going down into the sand pit and holding back our dog. Afterward, we scooted out as quickly as we could to get away from the pelting grains of sand.
What Would Be our Final Stop: Arizona
John and I left Utah and drove right to the border of Arizona. We had every intention to spend the last few days of our trip in The White Pocket / Vermillion Cliffs area. Unfortunately, our trip did not go as planned from here on out.
Getting to White Pocket required a long drive down a sandy and windy road. There were multiple signs warning about vehicles needing 4X4 and high-clearance. We thought my Jeep Cherokee was built for it, but the clearance just wasn’t enough.
Next Attempted Stop: The Wave
We didn’t really attempt The Wave, because the permit system seemed like a pain, but we were right nearby it. We actually drove right past the trailhead, so we definitely contemplated it.
Learn more about what is required to see The Wave on the recreation.gov website, here!
Next Failed Stop: White Ghost Hoodoo
After the White Pocket setback, I quickly looked for things to do in the area. Several things and places came up, and we wanted to go to The White Ghost / Wahweap Hoodoos outside of Paria.
This was another place whose Google Maps location in the GPS was different from the trailhead, and they were over an hour apart from one another.
Once we reached a dead end, we turned around and decided to end our trip.
We drove through the night back to Denver feeling slightly defeated about how the second half of our trip ended up, but looking back, we realized we had done and accomplished so much in such a short amount of time and neither of us could be too disappointed.
When we awoke the next morning back in the city, we both had the weird feeling in our stomachs that we were back in the “real world” and how special our time alone in the desert had been.
Hopefully, our next trip will be just as secluded and even more successful than this one.
Watch my entire vlog from our trip highlighting each spot, campsite, and our complications on our Memorial Day Weekend trip.
Read my other Utah road trip guides here:
Read my other quick-trip guides for California, here. Including Hollywood, Orange County, and Palm Springs!
Visit One of California's Oldest Areas -
The Mission was once an agricultural and religious center founded back in 1776. You can tour the church, go shopping, have high noon tea, and hop on the train in and out of town.
Here’s how I recommend exploring Hollywood in one day in driving order:
Los Angeles’s Best Beaches
There are plenty of great beaches to visit in Los Angeles, and this is not a complete list, but these are ones I've visited that I enjoyed:
*Personal warning: California beaches are a bit windy and the water is always cold. If you are used to East coast or Florida beaches, these are very different.*
Where to Eat:
Plan a really special dinner and splurge on some of the highest quality meals you might ever enjoy at these places. There are always trendy new spots popping up, but these ones have been around for years, so I feel I can recommend them without issue:
I hope this helps you plan a trip to Los Angeles and the surrounding areas!
If you are looking for a quick road trip from L.A., check out my guide “48-hours in Palm Springs and Joshua Tree” for a fun desert adventure!
Checkout my other California Guides below:
This was my sister, my mom, and I's first time visiting Palm Springs. We tried our hardest to squeeze in as much as we could, but of course, we couldn’t do it all in 48 hours.
Here is what we managed to do and a few things we wish we had seen. Enjoy!
Where to Stay in Palm Springs: (read more here!)
The colorful neon theme made for the most fun atmosphere as we enjoyed the DJ by the pool and explored the playful grounds. There were hammocks, giant games, horseshoes to play, really good drinks being served from the poolside bar, plus delicious food from El Jefe as well (read more below). It really was the best hotel!
Where to Eat in Palm Springs:
We did not go here, but it was highly recommended to us. Its rooftop looks amazing and the drinks look delicious. It’s on the list for next time for sure!
See what I mean here!
Another place we couldn’t fit in was Bootlegger Tiki. It looked like the cutest happy hour spot with a nice, light menu and bright, colorful cocktails.
Checkout their menu here!
Things To Do During The Day:
It should go without saying that the desert is hot. We knew this and thought we were prepared, but it was about 115 degrees when we were there, and it was unbearable!
There was an extreme heat wave in the summer of 2021, but on average in the summer, Palm Springs gets freaking HOT.
We should have planned to be inside during the mid-afternoon instead of walking around, but we planned our trip focusing on locations instead of weather. We didn’t get to quite as much stuff done as we planned.
The top of the mountain was nice and cool, and surprisingly wooded. When walking around the Visitors Center, I learned about backpacking trails and the wildlife atop the mountain here. I will have to look more into this and plan a trip back up.
Cost: $16.95 - $28.95
Hours: Monday - Friday 10 am - 8 pm, Saturday & Sunday 8 am - 8 pm
Recommendation: Go during the heat of the day, The top of the tram is sometimes 20 degrees cooler than the desert below! This means it gets chilly in the morning.
Shopped on Palm Canyon Drive
We wandered in and out of shop after shop on the main street of Palm Springs. It was so fun looking at all the brightly colored clothing and high fashion stores!
Visit The Robo Lights
One thing we wanted to do was visit the Robolights Exhibit. It is a quirky art installation by artist Kenny Irwin.
Appointments are required to enter due to COVID-19. Please check his facebook page for contact info!
Take an Architecture Tour
One thing Palm Springs is really famous for is its architecture. It has a very distinct, modern style of white, sleek houses with colorful accents around their straight lines. The style comes from when the town was booming during the 50’s-70’s.
We could have explored town to just view the beautiful designs, but we wanted to get information from a guide who could share details about the designers and owners of the homes. We especially wanted to learn about celebrities', like Frank Sinatra’s, estates and stories!
Other Things We Did in the Area:
Joshua Tree National Park is about an hour from downtown Palm Springs, and we wanted to beat the day’s heat. We arrived in The Cholla Cactus Gardens right at sunrise. It was perfect.
We spent half the day exploring this spectacular preserve and barely scratched the surface of exploration.
If you only have a short amount of time inside Joshua Tree National Park, check out my blog post "One Day in Joshua Tree" to see all that we did!
The dinosaurs were the last thing on our road trip before we made it back home. It was a lot to cram into two days, but we did it and had a blast!
I hope this guide can help you plan your perfect getaway to Palm Springs and the surrounding Joshua Tree area especially if you only have a limited amount of time to explore.
Please let me know in the comments if you find this guide or any of my other California Guides helpful. Thank you for reading!
Frozen Dead Guy Days is one of Colorado’s most unique festivals. It celebrates the town of Nederland’s cryogenically frozen man known as Grandpa Bredo.
Grandpa Bredo sits atop the town tucked away in the mountains in a Tuff Shed filled with dry ice hoping to one day be thawed and brought back to life. He has been frozen in Nederland since 1993 after being transported from his home country of Norway and has been waiting to come back ever since.
Every year, nearly 30,000 people ascend to the town of Nederland to spend the weekend celebrating the fascinating story of Grandpa Bredo at this three-day festival. The celebrations of Frozen Dead Guy Days revolve around the themes of death and Winter. There is frozen turkey bowling, polar plunges, human foosball, and, of course, coffin racing.
Sadly, our team didn’t quite make it to the final heat, but we did make it all the way to the semi-finals ending in third place. The Revenge of the Lobsters isn’t over yet, and we will be back next year to win the cup!
The entire weekend really brings the small, mountain town of Nederland to life even though the celebrations are centered around death. It’s quite a funny thing when you think about how someone’s death brings so much joy year after year.
The festival takes place in March every year and be sure to check out their website for the announcement of next year’s dates.
You won’t want to miss this!
Take a tour! As I’ve mentioned, New Orleans has a fascinating history. It is full of voodoo, hauntings, fires, and pirates. Learn from the best historians about what makes New Orleans, New Orleans! Whether you want something scary and haunted or something diving deeper into history, or even about the food or art culture of New Orleans, there is a tour for everyone!
Where to eat:
NOLA PoBoy - For a traditional PoBoy sandwich this is a great shop right on Bourbon Street. A poboy is a sandwich made on a baguette with usually friend seafood, a remoulade sauce, and some greens on it. They are delicious and all over the south. You can get a good one for cheap at this pretty decent hole-in-the-wall restaurant.
Find it on Google Maps, here!
Lucy’s Retired Surfer’s Bar and Restaurant - This fun bar serves some of the best brunch in town! Sip on some strong cocktails while enjoying a good egg skillet inside this cozy little shack.
SoBu - For a nicer sit-down dinner I recommend the hip-creole restaurant inside The W Hotel, Sobu. This sleek spot serves a modern take on classic cajun fares like cracklins, gumbo, and meat pies – and if you ask they will serve you Hooch in a gigantic foot-tall flask!
Book a reservation here.
Where to go at night:
- Saints and Sinners – Channing Tatum owns this fun two-story nightclub
- Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar – this is the oldest operating bar in the COUNTRY. It has a deep history of pirating and debauchery, and the city-saving owner is believed to still haunt the bar. I recommend visiting during the day or as part of your ghost tour to learn all about it!
If you like live music then Frenchmen’s Street is your area. Nearly every bar in this area has live music almost every night. This isn’t as wild as Bourbon Street, but in my opinion a way more fun time. Check out The Spotted Cat for jazz music, Café Negril for Reggaeton vibes, and Adolfo’s for some of the best Italian and creole dishes in the area!
Go gambling! If the thrill of New Orleans hasn’t been enough for you yet, try your luck at Harrah’s Casino at the end of Canal Street. Get a drink, win some money, and stay late becuase the casinos never really seem to close here!
Learn more about Harrah’s Casino, here!
This is by no means a complete list of things to-do, but just a launching point for those who know nothing about Nawlins. I hope this guide helps you plan a successful, fulfilling trip!
Enjoy and Laissez Les Temps Bon Rouler!
Checkout my guides for other U.S. Cities below:
Check out Ski Cooper's website here and Copper Mountain's here!
Checkout these other places to visit in Colorado:
The History of Ski Joring:
The sport of ski joring was brought to Leadville by two locals looking to jazz up the town’s winter festival. They had driven up to Steamboat Springs for the Winter Carnival hoping to get some ideas. The two came back after witnessing ski joring as a mode of transportation and decided to make it into a competitive sport.
The Growth of the Sport:
Leadville has had its ski joring festival since 1949, and dozens of competitors register every year. Skiers, horses, and riders came from across the country for the return of this year’s festival. This year, over 50 people competed in the various events throughout the two days of competition.
Different categories of competition include an open division and a sport division awarding competitors for hitting jumps, collecting rings, and staying within the route’s boundaries. Competition moved quickly rotating through skiers and horses all day Saturday and Sunday.
Read about other things to do in Leadville year-round!
Living in Denver gives me many opportunities to see truly incredible places near home, and Estes Park, where Rocky Mountain National Park is located, is one of those magical places. Sadly, I don’t come here enough, but when I do, it is a special occasion.
Know Before You Go:
Permits can be purchased, here: https://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/timed-entry-permit-system.htm
Permits go on sale a month before and sell out quickly. Do not panic!
They release HUNDREDS of permits at 5 p.m. the night before and it is still very easy to get it.
Also, if you enter before 5 a.m. or after 6 p.m. there is no permit required. Please note there is always permits required for any camping or over night stays in the park!
Summer Vs. Winter
To handle the influx of people in the summer, there are more visitors centers and restrooms open, and the towns are bustling with people and open shops. It's a plus and minus to have people and operating businesses, but its nice when you are with other tourists just bumping around!
Things really pick up after Memorial Day and stay busy through August. I personally like May (if you are okay with the chill!)
Driving Around The Park:
I recommend starting from Estes Park and working over towards Grand Lake, or even turning around at The Alpine Visitors Center or at the winter gate of Highway 34. There is a lot more to do near Estes Park, and as of 2020 the wildfires have really closed off the western park of the park.
Hikes I Have Been On Inside The Park:
It was a stunning and steep hike up, but the frozen lake at the top was well worth the confusion and difficult walk! The only thing to note is that the squirrels and marmots are relentless up there and will steal your snacks. Don't be like us and have your food stolen while you're taking pictures!
My next venture into the park was in the summertime and it was a totally different experience than my first time. This time, there were no snowshoes or heavy coats involved, because it was hot--very hot--and buggy, but yet we still encountered the snow and had to hike across it at some points! It was a wild experience and the views were just jaw-droppingly beautiful.
It would be winter again before I returned to the park. Again, I was hiking to a lake, but this time a friend and I went ice skating at Loch Lake! I met up with my good friend Natalie, and we were both prepared for cold temperatures, but we were not expecting the wild storm that greeted us at the trailhead!
See more from Colorado's other National Parks on my "Parks Page"
- Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park
- Great Sand Dunes National Park
- Mesa Verde National Park
The Four Pass Loop is a 26-mile roundtrip hike that entails almost 8,000 feet of elevation gain, passes two lakes, three “14’ers”, and is one of the most scenic places in the entire state of Colorado.
We completed the loop the first weekend of August 2021, and it took us four days and three nights to make it all the way around.
We decided to start our hike from Crested Butte instead of the more traditional route from Aspen, because coming from Maroon Lake near Aspen requires a parking permit or a shuttle ride up to the trailhead.
We really didn’t want to do either, so we decided to add a few extra miles and start form The West Maroon Trailhead outside of Crested Butte.
Day One: West Maroon TH over Frigid Air Pass
(Miles 0 - 7.5)
We could tell things would be a bit different from here on out. The trail became more rocky, and the color of the rocks changed to a deep red. Everything was different than the West Maroon trail we had been on earlier. We could see miles ahead to where we needed to go, but it was gradual, so it wasn’t too daunting.
Frigid Air Pass:
Frigid Air Pass wasn’t the most difficult, but none of the four passes would be easy. I didn’t know this yet. At this point, my friends had gotten quite a far distance ahead of me. I could still see them, but they were pretty much at the top of the pass while I was taking a break and just about ready to start from the bottom.
We had plenty of time before the sun went down to cook dinner, set up our tents, and sit around the campfire for a little while!
Day Two: Trailrider Pass to Snowmass Lake
(Miles 7.5 -15)
We got a bit of a later start than anticipated, and were ready to go at 9 a.m. Our second day on the trail would be all-around wonderful. The trail was fairly gradual at the start, and we had plenty of time to prepare ourselves for the steepness of the second pass.
Just like the day before, my friends got way ahead of me hiking up the trail. They, again, were waiting for me at the top of the pass. This time, we could see down onto Snowmass Lake when we hiked over the pass, and it was remarkable.
I couldn’t believe how different the view was from this pass compared to the last. As beautiful as the view was, I didn’t sit there to enjoy it long. I knew we would continue to have the view for the entire hike down the mountain’s face, so we quickly started hiking again.
Where the trip took a turn...
I walked down to Snowmass Lake right as the sun was starting to set. I probably had about 20 or 30 minutes before the sun went behind the mountains. It gave me enough time to cook dinner, filter water, and find a campsite.
Snowmass Lake requires camping in designated areas which made finding a place to camp a bit difficult. Luckily, a nice group made room for me and my friend who had not yet arrived.
Day Three: Buckskin Pass to Crater Lake
(Miles 15 - 24)
Our alarms went off at 5:00 a.m. sharp, and we were instantly up and moving. We wanted to meet up with the couple camping one and a half miles down the trail before they took off, so we were hiking by 6:30.
We hit the trail without any breakfast to rush to our friends, and this lead to a not-so-great morning.
The first portion of our day was a climb over Buckskin Pass. This was another 2,000 foot climb in less than two miles. It was incredibly difficult. This part of the trail was the most difficult for me. I struggled very much. I cannot deny that I wanted to quit.
I lost my mental stronghold...
I made it over the pass and felt great by the time I reached the top. It felt like I could keep hiking the rest of the day, so I did not give up. I did not quit, and I kept pushing to Crater Lake after a nice, long stop.
My one girlfriend, who I had met at Snowmass Lake the night before, hiked out and took the shuttle. That was always her plan. She only joined for the one night, because she lives in the area and can do the rest of the trail any other time.
We said goodbye, and the couple and I kept going around the lake. Although I was feeling great, this turned out to be another rough portion of our trip.
We took a wrong turn...
When we made it back down, we regrouped and established a goal that we would try to reach to make camp. My friends went on ahead at their much faster pace, and I planned to meet them there.
When I got to the point on the map where I was supposed to meet my friends, nearly an hour after I had last seen them, I started calling out their names, and they came running. They had just found camp and were coming down the trail to help me. We embraced and quickly unloaded my gear at camp. We ate, hung our bear bags, and went to bed before 8:00 p.m.
Day Four: West Maroon Pass to Crested Butte
This last morning, we woke up with a completely different attitude than we’d had on any other day, because we only had a few miles to go. Plus, we knew what the second half of the trail held in store for us. We packed up, quickly made it up the valley in which we were camping, and approached West Maroon Pass.
It was an emotional journey. The last few miles back to my car felt like a blur. I couldn’t stop thinking about how humbled I felt to be trekking by myself and rounding out the last few miles of a 30 mile hike.
When I arrived back at the trailhead, I cried some more.
Most were tears of happiness and disbelief, but I was also sad, because my friends had driven into town.
See more from my other backpacking trips:
Camping inside The Great Sand Dunes National Park
My First Solo Backpacking Trip in Medicine Bow, Wyoming
John and I have had the incredible pleasure of traveling to Ireland twice now. The first time we came to Ireland, we celebrated New Year’s Eve 2017. Our second time, we visited in July of 2021 for a wedding.
Neither trips were centered around exploring Dublin, but we made the most of our short time in the beautiful capital city on both trips.
Here are some places we recommend:
To get an even older look into Irish culture, you can see one of the country’s most prized possessions. The Book of Kells was written circa 800 AD and is now held inside Trinity College in Dublin. The Book of Kells is an elaborate transcript of the first four gospels of the New Testament of The Bible: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. This book dates back to 800 AD. It is intricately crafted and beautiful to see. It really gives a good look into the importance of the Catholic Church in Ireland.
This church was built in 1095, and because of its natural construction, has managed to preserve the dead bodies stored inside. The mummies date back over 800 years. We tried to visit on our last trip, but the church closes for lunch from 12-2 in the summer, so we missed them!
Another thing we missed was The National Leprechaun Museum, because they are closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. This museum was highly recommended by a local who said, “the museum makes you feel like you yourself are a leprechaun, and that everything around you is gigantic!”
Read about the other places we recommend visiting in Ireland:
Things to do in County Kerry
Killarney National Park
Ireland is one of the most magical countries in the world. Not only is it full of friendly people and a rich cultural history, but it’s also absolutely beautiful with lush green rolling hills, ancient forests, and jagged coastline.
The luck of the Irish is truly with those who call this place home and the special ones who get to visit.
Though while you are in Dublin, there are some places you should visit (in alphabetical order):
Discover one of Ireland’s Crown Jewels, the 25,000 acre preserve of Killarney National Park. We took a horse drawn carriage ride through the park on a beautiful summer afternoon to see the Muckross House and Torc Waterfall.
- Cliffs of Moher and Galway
- Jameson Distillery in Dublin
- Skellig Islands - This former monastery was the filming location for Star Wars The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.
- Northern Ireland - Though this is technically an entirely different country, I really want to visit here to see The Giants Causeway, a natural rock formation that looks like stepping stones and stairs built for giants.
See more from our adventures around Ireland HERE:
Every summer, John and I enjoy taking one long trip across the United States to visit some place we have never been. Most of our summers have been spent together in the American Southwest, and the summer of 2021 was no different. This year, we took a road trip to Sedona, Arizona.
We have been to Arizona many times including most recently for Memorial Day to kayak the Colorado River, which you can read about here, but we have never been near Sedona. When my Aunt and Uncle informed me they would be there for vacation, we timed our annual road trip to tag along for a portion of their trip.
Where to Eat:
The only place we ate dinner out in Sedona was at Sound Bytes, a large music joint with a big patio and a great view! We chose it, because they didn’t have a wait, and it was recommended by a neighboring restaurant owner.
The food was better than expected, and the wait staff was a fun crew. We had a great meal taking in the stunning scenery around us.
Warning - Sedona is HOT!
I highly recommend that you check the weather and warnings every single day before going out. Not only is heat an issue, but when it does rain, flash floods are also a major concern. Not to mention wildfires which hindered our plan to take a dip in Owl Creek.
Sunrise at Airport Mesa Trail:
Our first morning in Sedona, we woke up as early as we could and tried to chase the sunrise at The Airport Mesa Loop Trail.
We left our rental home at 5:15, and the sun was just starting to peak out over the horizon. We hurried as quickly as we could to get onto the trail.
Overall, it was a wonderful morning for us to see all of the valley's towering formations we would be hiking throughout the week.
Again, we got up well before sunrise and started hiking Boynton Canyon before the heat of the day began. This time, we left before 5 AM and were starting The Boynton Canyon Trail in the rays of first light.
This was hands down our favorite hike of the trip. The view started incredibly and only improved the further in we went.
Our last morning in Sedona, we woke up well before sunrise again. We knew we had to go early to beat the crowds, because we had saved the most popular location for last.
We arrived at the Devil’s Bridge trailhead just before 5 AM and there were already a slew of cars in the parking lot. We quickly booked it up the trail to get to the bridge before the sun broke free from the mountains.
Slide Rock State Park:
We were so lucky to get into Slide Rock State Park in the late afternoon we went. This insanely popular swimming hole was understandably packed.
The rock formations here create natural slides and waterfalls, and the park is essentially a giant natural waterpark. We managed to walk away from most of the crowds of people, and discovered a sweet cliff-jumping spot.
We had so much fun!!
One evening we made one last stop at Crescent Moon Ranch to try to see the reflection of Cathedral Rock on the water.
This was a great spot to stand in the water and wade around while we took in the view. During the heat of the day it would have been the perfect place to take a dip.
Sedona is home to the world’s only McDonalds sign that cannot claim the famous “Golden Arches”. Instead, the arches on this worldwide chain location are turquoise blue because of a strict city ordinance on maintaining aesthetics.
We didn’t eat here, but it was definitely an interesting and quick stop!
Our house was near the Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park. We quickly walked the short trail to the temple and managed to explore before the sun went down.
While walking around the religious grounds, we learned about the Buddhist community in Sedona and Buddhism generally. Many triangular and colorful flags hung between trees, and a large infographic peaked our interest.
We appreciated the silence of the place, before heading home for a good night's sleep.
We walked around outside while a mass was being held inside, before we finally went in and saw the stunning crucifixion and stained glass windows.
We cannot wait to come back!
Over Memorial Day Weekend 2021, John and I traveled down to Page, Arizona to accompany our good friends on their annual Colorado River kayaking adventure.
We would spend two days kayaking from Glen Canyon Dam down to Lee's Ferry boat ramp, aka the start of The Grand Canyon, along a 15-mile stretch of The Colorado River.
Our friends reserved everything for us!
She reserved our backhaul with Steve Kelly from Kelly Outfitters and our kayak rentals through Kayak the Colorado. We had to arrange these beforehand because one, they fill up pretty fast, but two because no private boats are allowed up the river and three, you cannot get in from the dam!
Kassi knew all of these logistics and laid it all out for us before we left.
Before heading to Page, we also read up on both Kayak The Colorado and Kelly Outfitters’s webpages. We found Mr. Kelley’s article “Top 10 Backhauling Tips” extremely helpful. There was information on the water and route, fishing advice, and resource maps. We highly recommend reading both sites before booking a trip.
All we had to do was show up... at 6 a.m.
See the highlights from our trip in my video below!
We hopped in our kayaks, and away we went!
Fly fishing wasn't successful the first day.
The freezing cold water under our kayaks was crystal clear. Even though it was clear, it was a glowing, neon green from the thriving algae and plants below the surface. We could see fish weaving in and out of the tall grasses and we, right away, tried our hand at fly fishing. We didn’t have any success the first day, but the second day was an entirely different story!
We camped at the Ferry Swells Campground.
We pulled our kayaks out of the water and setup near a fire ring in the campground. We spent the rest of the daylight hours exploring up, down, and around the canyon cliffs. When the sun set, we headed back down to start a campfire and have dinner.
Fly fishing success.
Hiked to Waterhole Canyon.
I flipped my kayak and we had to stop...
I was the only one to flip all weekend, but luckily, I was in shallow water. I stood up and walked to shore, and nothing was lost! It was scary for a second, but once I gathered my wits, everything was fine. We were nearing the end of the trip, so once the weather calmed down, we were able to paddle onward and get off the river within an hour or so.
Good thing my brand new iPhone 12 was in my Stash 7 Waterpocket. It protected it during my fall, and let me kept taking pictures afterwards! Thanks for the great gear Stash 7!
Read more from our other trips to nearby places:
With Colorado’s springtime in bloom and it's summer on the way, Taylor and I took our first weekend fishing trip of the season to Salida, Colorado.
Unlike our usual tent-camping arrangements, we were able to camp luxuriously thanks to Kuku Campers. We took one of their Class C-Lux, a Mercedes Sprinter van, to try to catch a famous-among-anglers insect hatch.
Picked up our van!
We drove to the Kuku Campers Denver location to pick up our rental. After meeting the Kuku staff, we signed the necessary paperwork, inspected the vehicle, and took a tour of its features. Neither of us were familiar with Mercedes Sprinter vans, but the Kuku staff showed us every little detail.
Found a campsite!
Once we’d arrived, we wasted no time getting ready for bed. We quickly discovered that the lower level sleeper would be preferable to the top bunk sleeping platform. We began dismantling the dining table and setting up the bed.
Our first night in the Kuku Camper Van was much more comfortable and restful than either of us expected it to be. We actually slept in for a while after sunrise because of the van’s sleeping curtains.
Made stops in Salida.
First thing, we visited a fly shop in Salida to purchase some necessary fly fishing gear. Then, we stopped at Steam Coffee Caboose for a hot drink to enjoy as we scoured the area for the perfect fishing spot.
Went fly fishing!
After scoping out several spots, we found the Mount Ouray State Wildlife Area by chance, and it was perfect. We spent most of the day wading in the river, trying different flies, and watching kayaks and rafts float down river. We didn’t have much luck fishing, but any time on the water is time well spent.
Made lunch in the van.
In the mid-afternoon, it seemed like a storm might be rolling in, so Taylor and I packed up our gear and walked back to the van. In the parking lot, Taylor used the kitchen amenities of the Kuku Camper to make lunch.
Got ice cream downtown.
We eventually packed up and drove the campervan into downtown Salida. The town was buzzing with the Saturday evening crowd and live music. Taylor and I couldn’t resist having ice cream and a shake from Salida Pharmacy & Fountain, and it only made our walk about town more enjoyable.
Soon after finishing our treats, we headed back to the van to drive to our campsite once again.
Stargazed around the campfire.
We’ve been to Canon City to ride the Royal Gorge Route Railway Train and to visit the Royal Gorge Bridge Park, but this time, we only stopped for breakfast.
We dropped into the Happy Endings Caboose Cafe and couldn’t have had a better meal or a happier ending to our weekend in the mountains.
Monday / Return Day:
Moab, Utah, is a very popular place for very good reason. This desert playground is home to the world's highest concentration of natural arch formations and is one of the most geologically stunning places in the country.
Moab is also home to two national parks, Arches and Canyonlands National Parks . Which see millions of visitors every year.
We traveled down to Moab for the first weekend of May, 2021. We met up with some friends who have been dozens of times before and really knew some of the best places around town. We followed their lead, discovered some places of our own, and had one of the best weekend trips yet!
Tip #1: Visit public lands - like Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Land
It was not only easy to camp near our car. It was also spectacularly scenic. We didn't know what the view was like until morning, but we were blown away when we stepped out of our tent.
When the road near our campsite got too popular for our liking, we drove out and found some hidden hiking spots not far from our campsite.
Tip #2: Have a plan, and don’t be afraid to break it
Normally, John and I have big plans for the places we visit, but this weekend, we really tried to stay open and flexible to whatever the group wanted to do. That didn’t last long. It turned out that everyone else was pretty well set on what they wanted to do, so groups broke off, and John and I found ourselves adventuring alone!
While looking on Google Maps, I noticed a few interesting stops along our route, so I made John pull over every time I saw the name of something I recognized. This was,. hands-down, the best way we could have explored.
Thanks to the maps, we found petroglyphs and a hidden, massive arch near our campsite on BLM land. Then, closer to Corona Arch, we found dinosaur tracks and more rock art in the Poison Spider / Potash Road area.
Tip #3: Don’t be afraid to ask!
John and I saw a spot on the map that intrigued us, but we couldn’t find any information about the trail’s length, how long it took to get there, or its difficulty.
We pulled into the small parking spot and started talking to another couple who was parked and packing their day packs.
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Thank goodness we stopped and talked to the couple, because this was our favorite place we visited on our trip. It was an absolute oasis in the middle of the desert.
Tip #4: If you want to preplan a hike, go for the most difficult rated trail - most others won’t!
If you want to pre-plan a hike and you are trying to avoid crowds, I recommend choosing the more difficult, less traveled path.
This advice might not be the best if you can’t actually handle a difficult hike, but we found some of the trails weren’t as difficult as their rating made it seem.
Be warned that Moab is in a desert, so most hikes are hot, sun-scorched, and waterless. Not all hikes are suited for dogs or unprepared people. If the heat is a concern, tip #5 might help!
Tip #5: Hike at weird times and on off days
Hiking at sunrise and sunset are always the most beautiful times to be out in the desert anyway, and most people either haven’t woken up or are worn out from the sun. Plus, in the Utah hiking at early or late hours can be the safest and coolest way to explore the rock formations and canyons.
Check out my other guides to Utah:
My parents have always dreamed of celebrating Christmas like “The Kranks” and skipping the holiday fuss by going on vacation instead. Finally, in 2020, their "Christmas with The Kranks" dream became a reality.
We booked flights to spend the week leading up to the holidays in Kailua-Kona, Hawai’i and were unbelievably excited for our vacation to start.
Before we left, we were tested for COVID-19 by a trusted Hawaiian partner testing location . We had to take a very particular test, within a 72-hour timeframe, and upload it to a specific website in order to get onto the island. It was an entirely new process to all of us and honestly, we struggled a little bit through all of the confusion.
You can see exactly what the process was like in my YouTube video below.
Where we stayed:
Our hosts turned out to be amazing too! Every night, they gave us recommendations for things to do in the area. Without them, we would have missed out on many incredible things!
Day One, Thursday: Downtown Kona and Kua Bay
First we checked out the Kona Farmers Market to get some breakfast and fresh produce for the week!
The market was located downtown off the Main Street in Kailua-Kona, Ali’i Drive.
We picked up some star fruit, apple bananas, rambutans, mangoes, and several other fruits. Then, we grabbed coffee from Papa Kona and sat on the beach to enjoy our fresh breakfast.
We got there around 10 a.m. and were immediately in love. The little white-sand beach was beautifully strewn with stark, black volcanic rocks. We claimed a private spot with an outcove into the water and laid down our stuff right away. We ran into the water and couldn’t stay out of it the entire day.
Day two, Friday: Petroglyphs and Snorkeling with Manta Rays
Puakō Petroglyph Park -
To start the day, we drove over to Puakō Petroglyph Park and walked the trail marveling, questioning, and admiring the carved images. It was amazing to learn about the people who seemed ancient but lived only hundreds of years ago. When we had seen all that we could, we walked out and drove to our next stop, Queen’s Bath.
Queens Bath -
Queen’s Bath is a small, fresh water spring, tucked away right off the beach. We walked along a sandy trail for a few minutes before we found the secret little pool.
My mom really wanted to find it, yet I was the only one who got in! It was freezing cold, and full of little shrimps, but very, very cool to hop in and look around for a bit.
When we left we walked to the water and almost instantly discovered sea turtles swimming in the water!
It was incredible to see them in their natural habitat. The turtles would only be the first wildlife we saw that day, because that night, we had scheduled a night snorkeling excursion to see manta rays!
It didn’t take long, after we were in the water, for us to start seeing the humongous creatures.
I keep emphasizing their size because their wingspan can be up to 14 feet!!! Theses rays came so close that we were within, what our guides called, “licking distance” of them. It was CRAZY!
Day Three, Saturday: South Point, Green Sand Beach, and Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park
Before our day started, we downloaded an app called “Big Island Hawaii Gypsy Guide” to enjoy some educational audio while driving around.
This was one of the best decisions of our trip. The guide provided great information and told us where we should stop for good views, interesting information, and historical points.
South Point -
We only hung out here for a couple of minutes to take a few pictures and watch some cliff jumpers dive into the ocean. None of us were brave enough to take the plunge ourselves, and also we had other places to be! So we hopped back in the car and drove to our next nearby destination.
Not far from South Point is Papakōlea, and it's Green Sand Beach. This was on my dad's list of places to see so we really planned our day around here. We planned to spend most of the afternoon on this, almost, one of a kind, beach.
We had been advised to hire a driver instead of walking the exposed four-miles-long road, so we did just that and paid $20 per person for a round trip ride to the volcanic crater.
Punalu’u Bakery and Black Sand Beach -
When we were done at Papakōlea, we rode back out and drove ourselves towards a different colored beach! First though, we made a quick stop at Punalu’u Bakery. This is the southernmost bakery in the U.S. and their malasada came highly recommended!
We arrived at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park and sadly realized we did not plan things correctly. We arrived just before sunset, and it was already starting to get dark. Plus, it was so foggy that we couldn’t see a darn thing.
Day four, Sunday: Back to Kua Bay with a Luau at Night
We had booked a luau at the famous Umeke’s Restaurant. We got dolled up and ready to go have a fun, traditional Hawaiian night!
The luau told many stories about the surrounding mountains and where the people and the land of Hawai’i came from. It was very interesting, and the food was great!
Day Five, Monday: Snorkeling at Two Step in Captain Cook
After we took it all in, we eventually moseyed down toward the beach and got ready to walk around Pu'uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park to learn all about Two Step before snorkeling in it.
It was beautiful and so interesting to learn about!
It is called “two step”, because the volcanic shelf literally makes two steps into the ocean! It makes it a perfect place to snorkel especially for beginners - and it was by far the best place we snorkeled on the island!
Check out my YouTube video below to see just how incredible the entire area truly is and read my article "The Best Snorkeling Spots on The Big Island", here!
Day Six, Tuesday: Chasing Waterfalls in Hilo & Back to Volcanoes!
We got to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park just before sunset, and it was perfect timing. As the sun set, the glow from the lava started to show, and it was the most incredible thing I had seen.
Even though we weren’t close and couldn’t actually see any lava, it was one of the unique sights I may ever see.
Day Seven, Wednesday: Kua Bay, again, before Heading Home
We spent our final day in our own little paradise swimming, snorkeling, and soaking in the sunshine. Eventually, we had to make our way to the airport to catch our overnight flight home.
We sat on the plane rehashing all we had done over the course of the week, and we just couldn’t believe how incredible the entire vacation had been.
We decided that we might consider having a Mele Kalikimaka in Hawaii every year!
Read these other related Hawai'i blog posts:
Where We Stayed In Kona, Hawai'i
Snorkeling Spots On The Big Island
Our trip to Puerto Rico was fairly spontaneous. When I received an email that my Spirit Airlines travel credits were set to expire soon, we looked at our calendars while searching for flights. It turned out that flights to San Juan, Puerto Rico, worked out perfectly in our favor!
Once we booked our flights, we started researching and planning.
We had four nights on the island with three days to play! It was difficult to narrow down our plans, because every side of the island offers very different attractions. Ultimately, we decided to go west to Aricebo then south to Utuado and go on a jungle adventure.
Plus, if you have never booked with Airbnb use our code to receive a discount: Traveling Tacos Airbnb Code
We woke up the next morning and enjoyed the daytime view of the city before packing up and walking through Old San Juan toward our rental car. We had reserved a vehicle through Enterprise Rent-A-Car and had to pick it up from their Condado Plaza Hilton location.
We had to take shelter from a midafternoon rain storm in Luis Munoz Rivera Park. While we waited the weather out, we watched some iguanas run around in the tall grass. The rain stopped after thirty minutes, and we eventually finished our walk and picked up our vehicle.
Our first stop was a fresh market to pick up some fruit for the weekend! We drove to La Plaza del Mercado de Santurce and were very happy that we stopped. This market had all of the interesting foods we were looking for and great street-side restaurants.
Bananas, mangoes, and a papaya, were our first purchases, because we knew what they were. Feeling more adventurous, we bought some rambutans and a guanabana. We didn’t actually know, at the time, what we had bought, but all of the fruit only cost us $12. We were beyond excited to taste everything.
We stopped at one of the restaurant counters and had a wonderful, local woman help us order some octopus ceviche, El Pulpo, and fried plantains, Tostones! We chatted with her and her husband while enjoying the delicious food, and they told us all about their life on the island. They were just the first of many welcoming locals whom we met along our trip!
After the absolutely delicious meal, we finished our drive to The Lago Caonillas Lake View House. It was our home sweet home for two nights, and it was the most cool place we have ever stayed! We purposely booked it because of the stunning, online photos, absolutely beautiful views of the jungle, and because of the hot tub!
The next morning, we woke up, had a dip in the hot tub, then drove to get some breakfast. Cafe El Bohio was just up the hill, and we enjoyed a breakfast of fried pork, rice, and beans. It was a great and filling meal before an adventurous day ahead!
We walked off our food around Lago Caonillas before driving back down the mountain through Utuado to our first stop of the day, Cafe Gran Batey. Our arrival to this adorable, family run coffee farm could not have been at a better time.
Next, we arrived at the Caguana Ceremonial Indigenous Heritage Center very excited to learn about the native Taino people. It is a major archeological site that gave us a better picture of the people who lived here as recently as the fifteenth century.
We walked around the stone sites for a while before asking some questions to the ranger on site. He told us all about the land, the site’s significance, the Taino religion, and Puerto Rican culture. It felt great to learn more about the place we were exploring. When we had no more questions, we headed back toward Utuado to have a bite to eat.
The canyon touts petroglyphs, and the signs had a picture of them, but sadly, we never found any in the few hours we spent wandering. The canyon scene surrounded by mountains made up for the slight disappointment.
Knowing that we could find more danger than we wanted in the remote jungle, we quickly removed the popped tire and secured our spare tire.
It was quite an eventful detour, and we felt silly having popped a tire when we had prepared driving directions, and we wish we had been smarter.
Luckily, we had purchased insurance on our Enterprise rental car, so all we had to do was go to a partner repair shop and get a new tire. The bad thing for us was that the closest store open on Sunday was in Arecibo, on the north coast of the island, about 2 hours from where we were! We waved goodbye to Utuado and slowly drove to have our tire replaced.
We enjoyed the fresh coconut water, and John ate almost all of the meat. Though we had never planned this activity, we couldn’t have been happier with the situation. It didn’t take too long to have our tire replaced, and once it was done, we were hungry.
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We savored a gigantic, fried red snapper over mofongo, chicken, and a mash of yummy goodness. After we completely stuffed ourselves, we started making our way back to San Juan for our final night on the island.
We chose this boutique hotel because of its rooftop infinity pool! It was very nice, but sadly, we arrived a little too late in the evening and during a rain shower. It didn't stop us from getting in for as long as we could, but eventually we had to call it a night and start packing our stuff.
Road Trip To Leadville With My Mom To See Fall Foliage, Soak in Hot Springs, and Ride Scenic Trains!
For my mom’s birthday this year, she decided to come to Colorado for a mother-daughter weekend with me. As soon as she booked her flights, I started planning things for us to do!
I like when people come to visit, because it gives me an opportunity to do some of the more trendy things I see on social media that I normally wouldn’t do. (For example, check out the road trip my family went on the last time I mom came to town!)
The fun started as soon as I picked her up from Denver International Airport. Her plane landed around 10 a.m just in time for brunch! We drove straight to The Corner Beet to have some delicious toast and juices.
We split more toast than we could handle! For the two of us, we ordered The House, West, and Capitol. We sat outside and enjoyed the day and the toast while catching up with each other!
Check out their vegetarian menu here: https://cornerbeet.com/menu/
We had reserved a table for the afternoon Dim Sum Tea and were treated to a wonderful three-course-meal! We had our fill of various pot stickers, sushi rolls, delicious desserts, and of course, lots and lots of tea.
The Dim Sum Tea is only featured once a month, so it was a very special afternoon. Then, we saw a wedding happening outside and the evening became even more dreamy!
The next morning, we hit the road to start the road trip part of my mom’s visit. We left around 10 a.m. for our first mountain stop, Kenosha Pass, just outside of FairPlay!
From the hike, we went the opposite way of the traffic and continued on toward Buena Vista. Our next destination was Mount Princeton Hot Spring to soak our sore feet!
We could not have planned or timed our arrival to Mount Princeton any better. We were waitlisted at first for the lower, historic pools before we went to the upper pools and walked straight in!
The upper pools are home to the infinity pool and kid’s slide area and closes earlier than the rest of the resort.
We had two hours to relax in the steaming waters before they closed, and right when we hoped out, we got a call for our spot at the lower pools! It was perfect!
We had reserved a room for the night at the Happy Hippy Tie Dye House in downtown Leadville, and it was more than we could have ever expected in, let’s say, unique ways!
In true Colorado fashion, the house was extremely “4/20” friendly and welcomed smokers (which we weren’t) with open arms. It was all funny to us, and we both had a good night’s sleep without any ganja.
Eventually, we walked to the Leadville Railroad and boarded our reserved train ride up and around Prospect Mountain!
The train ride was one of the highlights of our trip. The views of the fall foliage and the surrounding Mosquito and Sawatch Mountain Ranges, from the open-air car, were unbelievable. On top of the scenery, the tour guide gave us fun and interesting pieces of history.
We couldn’t have asked for anything better!
I found dozens of trails in an area just south of Medicine Bow Peak itself many of which were designated for backpacking. I turned to social media to find put which area seemed the most picturesque. It all appeared beautiful and spectacular, but the southwestern side of the valley seemed a bit more scenic than other areas. I read one review that said, “Do any trail you want, but you HAVE to start at Lake Marie. It is the most beautiful.” I took this advice, printed off maps of the Lake Marie area, and set my car’s GPS to the nearby parking lot.
By 6 p.m, Maria and I were standing on the edge of Lake Marie. She was standing in the water, and I was gazing around with my mouth wide open for the view in front of me. The Medicine Bow mountains were sprawled out in front of me while bright, bursting yellow and purple flowers surrounded me. It was one of the grandest scenes I've experienced.
Wide awake at 5:30 that morning, I stammered in my tent for a bit before getting out to get the food from my bear bag. When I walked out, I was a little surprised at the sight I found! Fish were jumping everywhere! There were so many that it looked like a light rain was falling. It was a sight I had never seen before. I quickly got my food down and grabbed my rod.
It took me a few minutes to get a bite, and the first one slipped out right away. It caused my fly to be wet for the next cast, and the fly didn’t sit on the water properly. I applied a little Loon floatant and cast again. I caught my first ever fish on a dry fly pattern, and it was magnificent.
It didn't take me long to reel the beautiful brook trout into my net, and it didn't take me long to send him back on his way. I snapped a few pictures and unhooked the little guy. In just a few seconds, I was already back on the shore throwing my line again. A few casts later, I had success again when another beautiful, tiny fish was in my net.
Around 10:30 a.m, I left my camp and walked to the trail. For the mile-and-a-half up, the trail went through patches of wooded forests, opened into a blooming valley surrounding a small unnamed pond, then turned back into the trees. It felt like it was a fun game of peek-a-boo with the ponds that Maria and I were playing.
The trail was fairly populated, and very easy to follow. It took us roughly 40 minutes to make it to the top of the ridge line which led up to the summit. We paused at the top to take in the views, but also because there was snow! Maria rolled around and cooled down on the icy pack then pulled me along across the icy sheet.
You can watch more from our entire trip on my YouTube Channel or in the video below!
We all meet up on Thursday night at the UFO Watchtower outside of Moffat, Colorado, to allow the girls to get acquainted with one another and hopefully see some aliens!
The watchtower has been on my Colorado bucket list for a long time. I have passed by every time I've visited Great Sand Dunes National Park, but I had never been able to stop before. When I discovered how close The Willow Lakes Trailhead is to this quirky little spot, I asked everyone if they were comfortable camping there. Luckily, no one was scared of the martians, and everyone said yes!
This weird place (which you can read all about HERE in a separate blog post) was the perfect spot for us all to meet. We had so much fun planning our routes and looking at maps while also scouting the sky for lights or anything else out of the ordinary in the middle of the Colorado desert.
Willow Lakes was our goal for the first night so that we could set up base camp just off the trail to Challenger Point. Our maps and the trailhead sign said it was 4.5 miles to the lakes with a constant incline and gain of over 2,700 vertical feet. We all looked at each other, took a deep breath, and strapped on our packs to start walking.
The first mile was a struggle. Maybe it was because we were all getting adjusted or maybe because of the sandy trail, but we took a good many stops before we really found our pace. By the time we reached the overlook of the valley below and our first stream crossing, we were moving along steadily getting happier and happier the further we walked into the mountains.
When we got closer to the top, the weather turned against us for a few minutes, and it started to rain. We knew we weren’t far from our end location, so we put on our raingear and kept trucking. Fortunately, the afternoon thunderstorm was short lived, and when we arrived at Willow Lakes, the sky had cleared up.
The lake was much bigger and more beautiful than I had anticipated. The waterfall on the far side was glimmering as it poured into the crystal clear water below it, and where we were standing, there was another waterfall pouring down into the creek. We all stood and took it in, proud that we had made it up to the lake.
We had just enough time to set up our camp, cook some food, and hang up our bear bags before another storm rolled it. Luckily, we had shelter to retreat to this time, and although it was early in the night, we all went to bed and set our alarms for early the next morning.
It stormed all throughout the night which caused us to have a later start than anticipated, but once it was dry out and we were all packed and ready, we made our start to Challenger Point. Unfortunately, the day before's hike had worn Kassi out, and she decided to hold back from submitting with us. At 8 a.m. on the dot, Natalie, Rachel, and I set out toward the trail.
Once we made it to the ridge line, the fog had started to roll in. The ridge was the coolest yet scariest part of the trail, primarily because it was super windy, but also because I couldn't see what was below me!
To add to it, Rachel and Natalie had gotten a little ahead of me, and I wasn't able to see them any more. Fortunately, other hikers were catching up, and I was able to walk the route with another group, and a group coming down said my friends were waiting. That motivated me to hustle up to the top!
Just as I came up on the summit, the clouds started to clear, and I could see my friends standing at the top! I yelled and cheered their names as I finally caught up to them. We all hugged and high-fived when i got there, and I expressed how proud I was of them for beating me to the top!
The fog and clouds decided to cooperate and cleared up as soon as I got to the top. Literally, the sky opened up, and the clouds parted. We could finally look down on the trail we had just traversed. It was actually so clear at the summit that we could even see Great Sand Dunes National Park!
Once I got some energy back, I decided to head up to Willow Lake to do some fly fishing. There was another angler near the waterfall below who said he had already caught two, so I had some inspiration to try!
Sadly, I only saw one fish in the lake, and he wasn’t intrigued by the flies I was casting. I believe the water was too cold, since it was cloudy and chilly outside, so I only fished for a few hours before calling it a night. It turns out that I quit at the perfect time, because right when I got back, it started to pour!
Fortunately, the rain had stopped by the time we woke up, and we were able to pack up all of our gear without it getting too wet. Once our campsite was broken down and our packs were completely full, we were ready to head back down the trail to our cars.
When we got back to our car, we were amazed how quickly it had all gone by. The whole weekend had seemed to be a dream. Everything had gone so smoothly and perfectly that things like our heavy packs and rainy nights didn't dampen our spirits in the slightest bit.
Backpacking The San Juan Mountains Mount Sneffels and Uncompahgre Wiilderness with Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
For our sixth anniversary, I planned a trip for Taylor and I to spend four days in Southern Colorado visiting a new National Park, mountain climbing, offroading, and camping.
We explored part of Black Canyon of The Gunnison during the work week, then climbed Mount Sneffels before spending two days camping in the Uncompahgre Wilderness.
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is an incredible area in Western Colorado. Taylor and I were staying in Montrose at The Safari Tent in the Cedar Creek RV Park working for the week and took one evening to explore the Southern Rim of the canyon.
We attempted a trail down into the canyon, but it was too steep for our dog, Maria. Instead, we drove the length of the South Rim Road stopping off at each mind blowing viewpoint. From Tomichi Point, to the cross fissures, to Warner Point trail, we couldn’t stop discussing the canyon as we made our way back to our home away from home in Montrose.
If you would like to see more from out trip to the canyon please visit our blog post HERE!
After one more day of working remotely, Taylor and I would continue our Southern Colorado Road trip to Mount Sneffels. The Mount Sneffels Trailhead can be reached from Ouray, Colorado.
Taylor and I drove her Jeep Cherokee up the winding, narrow Camp Bird and Yankee Boy Basin Roads until the road became much more difficult around 2.5 miles its end . We found a place to pull off and set up camp before preparing for our summit hike the next morning.
At 3:00 in the morning, we woke up to try to catch sunrise at the summit of Mount Sneffels. We set out on the hike, and after 2.5 miles of the steep road’s switchbacks, we arrived at the Mount Sneffels Trailhead at 5:30 a.m. From here, we had to endure roughly 1.5 more miles of trail which was littered with loose, jagged rocks. This last mile was steep, difficult, and dangerous.
Nearly an entire mile of the remaining path is a rockslide so steep that Taylor and I had to use all fours at some points. We also had to dodge a melon-sized rock that the group ahead of us dislodged on their ascent. After reaching the top of the rockslide and another short rockslide, we had to lift ourselves up a nearly 15 foot long rock wedge. Our dog, Maria, could not continue up the mountain, so Taylor and I alternated summiting.
Once we had both reached the top, we started the hike back down. The way back down provided no relief due to the steep nature of the entire trail. Loose rocks are even more dangerous on the way down, and we were careful not to endanger any of the hikers making their way up.
We made it down safely and arrived at our camp right after 10 a.m. exactly 7 hours after we had left. We packed up our campsite and headed back down toward Ouray to continue on to our next stop. After a burger and a few minutes of sitting in the fresh Ouray air, Taylor and I started our drive to the Uncompahgre National Forest.
We had intentions to backpack for several days through the Wetterhorn basin and conquer Wetterhorn, Matterhorn, and Uncompahgre Peaks. We began at The West Fork Trailhead in a lush greenfield surrounded by large pine trees on each side. West Fork Cimarron River cuts through the valley on the Western side of the trail.
We would follow West Cimarron River to where it becomes tributary creeks pouring from the valley’s mouth. After following the trail up the Southwestern slope from the massive valley’s floor, Taylor and I climbed up several hundred feet up the valley’s wall and decided to set up camp. After a spectacular sunset display during our dinner we hung up our bear bag and called it a night.
We had been told that the Wetterhorn Basin is, ‘better than the Canadian Rockies’, but we could never have imagined how picturesque and lush with life it actually was. Climbing the pass into the basin was the perfect amount of work to make the short visit completely worthwhile.
As we crossed the pass, A sea of pine trees beneath us gave way to the sloped greenfield we stood upon. Crossed by tiny creeks and covered in colorful pockets of wildflowers, the lush grass covered the valley walls until rocky, gray peaks and ridges capped the landscape. Wetterhorn Mountain majestically sits alone at the mouth of Wetterhorn Basin.
We made it back to camp and had some dinner, but due to our prolonged exhaustion, we found ourselves laid down for bed before the late mountain sunset. The next morning, Taylor and I decided that driving across the country, climbing a 14er, and hiking a mountain pass was enough to make us miss our own beds.
We continued to look around in amazement as we packed our gear and enjoyed a breakfast backpacking meal. Luckily, we had recovered much of our strength, so the hike back to the car was a downhill piece of cake.
We woke up Saturday morning ready to make the hike up, but when we checked the weather, we discovered an afternoon storm would be rolling through as we would be reaching Crystal Mill.
I was determined to not let this stop us, so we set out anyway hoping to beat the storm. On the way there, our friend suggested we rent an ATV to drive up to the top and outrun the weather. He told us that there is a rental place close to the trailhead, so we set our GPS to RPS Rentals in the town of Marble, Colorado.
While we were conversing back and forth about how we could manage seating arrangements, the owner received a call from his next reservation saying that they were cancelling because of the weather! It just so happens that the next reservation was for the four-seater. The timing was perfect!
The four-seater, for 2 1/2 hours and strictly 12 miles, cost us $350. It was something John and I would not have splurged on had we been alone, but we took the leap with our friends. In the end, it was worth absolutely every penny.
The OHV road to Crystal Mill had just been reworked during the previous fall and was in much better shape than we had anticipated. Another group of our friends were able to drive a Toyota Four Runner up to the mill. We realized that the rental wasn’t completely necessary, but the ATV was way more fun. There is no doubt in my mind that we made the right choice of vehicle
Even though the road wasn’t as rocky or bumpy as we thought it would be, it was still extremely narrow and windy. The entire ride follows the Crystal River and features absolutely breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains. It was only about 5 miles from RPS rentals to the top of the mill, and it took us around 45 minutes to get there. We got to the top when we weren’t even expecting to be there yet.
We quickly handed him some cash and nearly sprinted down the short hill. We couldn’t wait to see the powerful river and feel the mist of the rushing water up close.
We walked down to the water and stuck our feet in the freezing cold water. The dogs took a dip too, while we all laughed and talked about how incredible all of this is. Soon after, we decided it was time to head further up the trail and check out the town of Crystal.
The small town has a store and many old log cabins. We went into the store and purchased a book about some of the town's legends and folklore and sat outside to read a few of the tales. It was amazing to think about what this town was like back in the early days of pioneers and settlers. Sadly, we couldn’t daydream for long, because the rental period was coming to an end.
We loaded up the ATV and began our descent. The drive down was much quicker than the climb up, but we did have to make many more stops for cars and hikers along the way. It was much, much busier than when we had started. We safely made our way back to RPS Rentals right on time. We thanked the man for the rental and shared just how incredible our drive was
I am a strong believer that everything happens for a reason, and my trip with friends falling apart was the first of many things that reaffirmed my belief this weekend. Everything didn’t go as I planned, and it was a serious roller coaster of ups and downs, but the highlights overshadowed every rough patch along the way.
Maria led me up a path that took us behind the waterfalls before we ever saw them all from the front. It is a very short walk from the parking lot to the falls, so it wan't take long before we were standing in the glory of these magnificent, lush waterfalls.
Flowers were blooming in the bushes all around, and fish were swimming right up to the mouth of where the three falls’ waters combine. It felt for a moment like I could have been standing in the closest thing to The Garden of Eden I might ever witness.
While I was standing here, we met a couple and their two doggies, and I had another one of those “everything happens for a reason” moments when I connected with them greatly. I later ran into them again before leaving, and we exchanged contact info! It was a great way to end the few hours I had been there, and it sent me on my way in such a happy mood.
You can read more about my afternoon in Rifle Falls in this separate blog post HERE!
First, I discovered that Rattlesnake Canyon is actually day-use only. I am not sure if this was a recent change or if the posts I had seen of campers were just rule breakers, but I decided to change my plan. Instead of spending two or three days in the arches, I was now limited to just a few hours. I switched my gear from my large overnight pack to my smaller day pack, and tried to get on with hiking.
Maria was sitting under a tree panting, and I had already given her a few bowls of water. I knew the heat was getting to her, and I made the safe choice to head back up the canyon after only making it one and a half miles.
You can read in more extent about the tail and the conditions that caused us to turn around in a more extended, detailed blog post HERE!
I decided it was the perfect place to set up camp to get an early start in the morning. I set up my tent and got some dinner cooking. As soon as I finished my meal, the weather flipped and went from hot and sunny to cloudy, windy, and chilly. I could tell a storm was rolling in.
Even with me and Maria inside the tent was lifting up around us, and the stakes in the ground were barely holding us down. I made the split second decision to pack up and get in the car.
It rained all through night, well into the morning, until almost noon. When it finally broke, I rearranged the car so that it was drivable and took off as soon as I could in fears the rain would start again at any minute.
All of these issues that had kept me from camping in Rattlesnake Canyon may have saved my life. Any sort of flash flood, lighting strike, or wet / cold conditions could have been devastating more than 5 miles away from shelter. It was crazy to think about as I was white-knuckle driving out of the steep, muddy canyon.
You can see more from this spectacular place in another blog post - which you can find HERE!
We walked along the trail for about another mile until we reached the mouth of the Big Canyon. It was here where another incredible thing that most definitely would not have happened if I was still in Rattlesnake Canyon.
Maria attracted another dog from one of the nearby camps, and when the owners and I retrieved our pets, one of them recognized Maria and instantly asked if he had met me before. It turns out that we had met just a few weeks ago while I was camping at Radium Hot Spring! It was a wild, one-in-a-million type encounter. We both couldn’t believe it, and I told them I would stop back by to hang out after I did a little more exploring.
The group told me about another swimming hole up the river and about some ancient petroglyphs in the rocks. They said they were about a mile and half up the creek, and I decided that was a bit too far for this trip, so Maria and I dried off on the nearby rocks before stopping back by to see our friends.
The hike back out seemed even easier than the hike in, and we were back in the car in absolutely no time. We drove out of the trail head road, turned down a different one in the same Dominguez-Escalenate Public Lands area, and drove to a campsite I had been recommended.
I walked down to the river and rinsed off my body and all of my cooking supplies before setting up camp. The spot had a designated fire pit, and I started one to cook some sausage over the open flames. After dinner, I stayed up until the stars came out to see the constellations over the tall, orange walls. When it got late, I crawled into bed and slept throughout the night peacefully and undisturbed.
We met just outside of Grand Junction and threw our lines on the Colorado River. We saw dozens of fish over the course of the day. Some were just feet away from us, yet neither of us were able to catch a thing. It was frustrating, but the company was so enjoyable and the views were so great that we didn’t let it get us down.
We eventually packed up and agreed we would have to try this spot again another day. Even though we didn’t catch anything, it was a perfect way to end my trip. Trying a fishing spot with a new friend was exactly what I needed to cap my first ever solo road trip.
When I made it back to Denver, I couldn’t believe what all I had been able to see and accomplish in those few short days. I was extremely proud of myself for sticking to my guns and doing what I wanted to do, because it led me on the most incredible journey and introduced me to places and people I know I will be seeing again soon!
Talkin' 'bout Tacos:
I'm Taylor, aka Tacos! I am sharing my journeys and experiences from across the world hoping to inspire travel and adventure in all who read.