TRAVEL

Monument Valley & More

The famous Mittens at dusk

The famous Mittens at dusk

MONUMENT VALLEY:

Monument Valley, that ever iconic symbol of the Wild West, has always represented for me the rugged and unexplored frontier, what’s possible for the curious, and the reward for the seeking, the real diamond in the rough. The real secret though? There’s so much more to do in this area. But let's start at the beginning.

Okay, so you want to go to, but you need to know where to stay and what to do. No problem. 

 

WHERE TO STAY: THE VIEW

http://monumentvalleyview.com/

Grab a room at The View! There is no place closer than this for your access to Monument Valley. Rooms here are reasonably priced, especially for the views, (you can see Monument Valley from your room!) and it includes a complimentary breakfast. The restaurant provides local cuisine and I recommend getting a Navajo Taco. A gift shop is attached to the restaurant if you're in the mood for grabbing a souvenir, a beautiful piece of Navajo jewelry or pottery. How much for a night? Plan on spending between $100-$200 a night. Rooms fill up fast so book your room a few weeks in advance. 

The View

The View

WHAT TO DO: GO FOR A DRIVE

So you've paid a small entrance fee and made it to Monument Valley. What next? GO FOR A DRIVE and see the sights. Right next to The View Hotel is a 17 mile looped road for your viewing pleasure. A compact car will do, but be prepared to drive slowly on a dirt road with some potholes. Along this route you will see much more than the Mittens, a myriad of rock formations and valleys that give you a much better appreciation for the depth of the valley. How long does the loop take? Pack a lunch and plan on spending a few hours by stopping at the many sights along the way. Maps are available at the entrance fee station.

 

BUT WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO SEE?

I'm glad you asked. SO MUCH MORE! Here's a small list below to get you started.

 

VALLEY OF THE GODS:

Looking for a more rugged experience? How about pitching a tent along Valley of the Gods road? Here, you'll beat the crowds and be even closer to the large monoliths rising up above you. Give it a go. You won't be dissapointed.

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GOOSENECKS STATE PARK:

Wanna see something wild? Take a quick trip over to Goosenecks State Park to see the meander of the San Juan River. It's a truly spectacular sight.

 

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MOKI DUGWAY:

To see a breathtaking sight of the Utah/Arizona land in which you'll be roaming about, take the steep, unpaved but graded switchbacks of Moki Dugway. When you get to the top, take a moment and pull over, and enjoy the sights below you.

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WELL...

What are you waiting for? GO ADVENTURE!

Monument Valley at sunrise

Monument Valley at sunrise

Guatemala - Champions in Action

THE HEART

This summer I had the opportunity to take part in a ten day adventure in Guatemala with Champions in Action. This faith-based, non-profit organization has a beautiful mission that aims to take at-risk youth out of the inner cities of Guatemala City for a week to participate in a soccer camp along the shores of Puerto Barrios. The kids that participate come from all types of backgrounds with many being exposed to gang activity, drugs, and physical and sexual abuse. But mentorship for these youth does not end after camp; youth continue to be empowered to be leaders in their community by the support of a mentor whose roles include soccer coach and spiritual leader. Also, a year long soccer league keeps youth involved by participating each week in games and practices.

THE DAILY

The daily camp schedule is comprised of soccer conditioning, soccer training sessions, beach time, afternoon games, and chapel in the evening. The camp also provides three meals a day (chicken, carne asada, rice, beans, eggs, pancakes, tortillas, etc.) and some of the best fruit drinks (melon, orange, mango, papaya, horchata, etc.) that I have ever had.

The success and energy of the camp relies heavily on the help of dedicated staff and volunteers. Camp is fast paced, full of energy, and packed with fun. Meal times often turn into competitions for best team cheer, or best team spirit. 

A youth watches over camp during afternoon games.

A youth watches over camp during afternoon games.

Ten groups of ten youth with their mentors and volunteers.

Ten groups of ten youth with their mentors and volunteers.

THE SETTING

Camp is held at El Faro, just a 15 minute boat ride from Puerto Barrios along the Guatemalan coastline and within the larger Caribbean Sea. The setting is tropical and in the summer it is not uncommon to get rain and sun all in the same day. El Faro is equipped with several living spaces throughout its property. These living spaces are able to hold hundreds of people, including separate quarters for youth, men, and women. The property also includes an immaculate soccer complex that includes a training field and full sized soccer field, along with a weight room and track. A fully staffed kitchen provides meals throughout the day, and snacks are provided in the local tienda, or snack shop.

A look out into the ocean from camp. Beach time is offered daily for volunteers and youth.

A look out into the ocean from camp. Beach time is offered daily for volunteers and youth.

A view from the dock of El Faro. Hammocks are also provided for rest and relaxation.

A view from the dock of El Faro. Hammocks are also provided for rest and relaxation.

A typical morning sunrise over the ocean.

A typical morning sunrise over the ocean.

EXPLORATION DAY

At the end of camp, after the youth return to Guatemala City, volunteers are able to take a day to explore Antigua. This day is generously set up by Champions in Action. The first part of the day is spent visiting with youth in Ciudad Quetzal, one of the many "red zones," of Guatemala. There, volunteers are warmly greeted by mentors and youth who set up food and provided activities. This interaction between volunteers and local community help bridge the gap between the safe and fun camp environment to the sometimes harsh realities of city life where the youth grow up in. After big hugs and more cheering, volunteers take off for Antigua.

Antigua is one of Guatemala's best cities. There, volunteers are able to explore part of Guatemala's rich history by visiting Spanish colonial ruins, enjoying the colorful architecture and plazas, all while walking the cobblestone streets. Champions in Action provided a map that located several points of interest for volunteers including one of my favorite ice cream spots to date called "Helados Exoticos." Put Antigua as one of your must visit places when you travel to Guatemala!

The cobblestone streets of Antigua.

The cobblestone streets of Antigua.

Plazas like these dominate the architecture in Antigua.

Plazas like these dominate the architecture in Antigua.

TAKE ACTION

Champions in Action

Want to volunteer? Feel compelled to give financial support? Want to start a correspondence with a young person in Guatemala? Click on the link above to get involved, and feel free to ask me any question here on the blog. 

BASEBALL STADIUM TOUR - 30 PLUS ONE

THE ORIGINAL GOAL - TO WATCH A GAME IN ALL 30 STADIUMS

In my early twenties I set out to complete a goal that I had heard others do - to see a baseball game in all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums. Summer by summer, I dedicated my paychecks to flights and tickets for games around the country, and slowly chipped away at the goal. I slept on couches, took buses, and stayed until the final out was made in each game. When it came down to the end I was taking long road trips across several states just to see one game at a time. I finished my goal in 2014 when, with tears in my eyes, I set foot in Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays. After all the miles and hot dogs and triple plays (I saw two) I had finished my goal. I was done.

AND THEN...

And then, years later, the Atlanta Braves, my favorite team, built a new stadium that opened in April 2017. It was time to continue the baseball tour and visit stadium 31. The new ballpark is called SunTrust Park.

STADIUMS RANKED

And if you're curious what my favorite stadiums are I ranked them on a few things:

Ambience 

Fan experience

Food

Aesthetics.

 

Here's my ranked list:

#1: AT&T Park

#1: AT&T Park

 

1. AT&T Park (San Francisco Giants)

2. Fenway Park (Boston Red Sox)

3. Wrigley Field (Chicago Cubs)

4. PNC Field (Pittsburgh Pirates)

5. Busch Stadium (St. Louis Cardinals)

6. Camden Yards (Baltimore Orioles)

7. Chase Field (Arizona Diamondbacks)

8. Petco Field (San Diego Padres)

Comerica Park

Comerica Park

9. Great American Ball Park (Cincinnati Reds)

10. Kauffman Stadium (Kansas City Royals)

11. Target Field (Minnesota Twins)

12. Dodger Stadium (Los Angeles Dodgers)

13. SunTrust Park (Atlanta Braves)

14. Minute Maid Park (Houston Astros)

15. Safeco Field (Seattle Mariners)

16. Nationals Park (Washington Nationals)

17. Progressive Field (Cleveland Indians)

Chase Field

Chase Field

18. Comerica Park (Detroit Tigers)

19. Yankee Stadium (New York Yankees)

20. Turner Field* (Atlanta Braves) 

21. Coors Field (Colorado Rockies)

22. Rogers Centre (Toronto Blue Jays)

23. US Cellular Field (Chicago White Sox)

24. Tropicana Park (Tampa Bay Rays)

25. Miller Park (Milwaukee Brewers)

26. Angel Stadium (Los Angeles Angels)

27. Globe Life Park in Arlington (Texas Rangers)

28. PNC Park (Philadelphia Phillies)

29. Citi Field (New York Mets)

30. Marlins Park (Florida Marlins)

31. O.co Coliseum (Oakland Athletics)

*No longer in use

 

 

All 30 MLB Stadiums

All 30 MLB Stadiums

Reflection Canyon

"I envied a raven as he flew into the late afternoon light over reflection canyon. I called out to him in a loud voice that echoed through the canyon, "hey buddy!" It felt good to say that. "How does it feel to be free?" But he never responded. And it was better that way."

Reflection Canyon glowing in the afternoon light

Reflection Canyon glowing in the afternoon light

WHAT TO EXPECT

Gorgeous colors and winding channels of water cut into the high cliffs of Lake Powell. Be prepared to drive a fifty-one mile dirt road followed by a rigorous, one-way 6-10 mile hike that will demand your best route-finding skills and use of a good map or GPS. Water levels and temperatures are lowest in the Spring, which is an ideal time to make this adventure.

HOW TO GET THERE

Map and compass is a great way to navigate. I picked up this map of the Escalante National Monument for $13 at REI. Well worth it!

Map and compass is a great way to navigate. I picked up this map of the Escalante National Monument for $13 at REI. Well worth it!

From Escalante go five miles east to Hole in the Rock Road. Travel exactly fifty-one miles south on a washboard dirt road. A four-wheel drive, high clearance vehicle is needed. After you've parked start hiking south, hugging the large cliffs to the west. This will help you avoid a multitude of ravines and slots canyons that wind throughout the landscape. After a few miles you will begin heading southeast over rocky hills and ankle high prickly pear cactus to reach Reflection Canyon. There is no right way although some ways are more direct. A more direct route may mean traversing up and down large hills. Do your best to avoid too much up and down travel using the landscape to your advantage.

BE PREPARED! Remember that this is a rigorous hike into the wilderness. There are rarely any trail markers (cairns) and footprints are not always a reliable source of direction. Do your research before. Bring a map and compass. Bring a GPS, or if you dont feel like spending the several hundred dollars for a decent one, map out your course on Google Maps on your phone. When Navajo Mountain is in sight (to the south) you should get cell phone coverage (I received LTE for Verizon). and be able see your progress via Google Maps. It may seem obvious but by using your natural landmarks you will be able to navigate your course. See images below.

I was able to use Google Maps to create a saved location. The heart is Reflection Canyon and the blue dot with arrow at the top left corner is where I parked my car. When I had service I could check my progress to make sure I was headed the right way. Make sure to use Google Earth for a more detailed map of the area.

I was able to use Google Maps to create a saved location. The heart is Reflection Canyon and the blue dot with arrow at the top left corner is where I parked my car. When I had service I could check my progress to make sure I was headed the right way. Make sure to use Google Earth for a more detailed map of the area.

Parked car at the "trailhead." Follow these cliffs to the south as you make your way to Reflection Canyon.

Parked car at the "trailhead." Follow these cliffs to the south as you make your way to Reflection Canyon.

WHAT TO PACK

Reflection Canyon can be done in one day. One long day. But for however many days you do plan to come make sure to bring one gallon of water per day. I would also recommend something like Gatorade to help replenish electrolytes. Plan meals accordingly. I am a big fan of Backpacker Pantry prepackaged meals that just need hot water. Snacks are a must as well - trail mix, protein bars, etc. Whatever you pack, make sure to use Leave No Trace principles. There are no bathrooms along the route.

WHEN YOU GET THERE

Camping is possible along Reflection Canyon although there are few spots to pitch a tent. Take great care along the cliff ledges as you will be only a few feet away from several hundred feet drop-offs. And as always, make sure to practice Leave No Trace principles. Happy Camping!

Camping is possible along Reflection Canyon although there are few spots to pitch a tent. Take great care along the cliff ledges as you will be only a few feet away from several hundred feet drop-offs. And as always, make sure to practice Leave No Trace principles. Happy Camping!

After a challenging hike, reward yourself by making camp and wandering the tall cliff edges to gain the different and spectacular views of Reflection Canyon. Following the canyon edge north will take you several other stunning views.

As far as photography, I found the best success during the afternoon light before the shadows set in. The best shots were at dusk when the canyon turned to from gold to blue and back to gold. Make sure to also take advantage of the early morning light just before the sun rises over the distant cliffs. If you are lucky enough to catch a full moon you will be delightfully surprised by the glow of the canyon walls in the moonlight, especially on the white-stained places of the rock where the high water level once was.

Coyote Gulch - Jacob Hamblin Arch

The massive and very impressive Jacob Hamblin Arch in Coyote Gulch.

The massive and very impressive Jacob Hamblin Arch in Coyote Gulch.

WHAT YOU'LL SEE

Within the Grand Escalante National Monument, America's biggest monument, is the winding river of Coyote Gulch. Along the river are several notable rock formations, with the most stunning of these being the Jacob Hamblin Arch, named after the western pioneer and peacemaker. The arch boasts its impressive size and shape over the tight canyon walls of Coyote Gulch, and in the spring the river is lined with bright green foliage.

A view looking East into Coyote Gulch from the top of Jacob Hamblin Arch

A view looking East into Coyote Gulch from the top of Jacob Hamblin Arch

HOW TO GET THERE

Access to the Jacob Hamblin Arch begins in Escalante, Utah just off the scenic byway 12, which will also take you to Bryce Canyon. Five miles east of Escalante on byway 12 is Hole in the Rock Road, a sixty two mile unpaved road that ends at Lake Powell. Although I did see small two wheel drive cars on the road, four wheel drive and high clearance is highly recommended. To access the Jacob Hamblin Arch trailhead take Hole in the Rock Road thirty six miles until you reach Fortymile Ridge Road. From there head east (left) another four miles until you reach a turnoff to the left. You will reach a water tank at the top of a small hill where you can park and sign in at the trailhead.

From the trailhead, plan on hiking two miles on a fairly well marked path with cairns in sand and slick rock. The trail will lead you down a steep but navigable entrance into Coyote Gulch. This approach can be tricky with a large pack so make sure to take your time or use the small rope attached to the rock at the top of the descent to help lead you down. 

A view from the top of Jacob Hamblin Arch before you start your descent into Coyote Gulch

A view from the top of Jacob Hamblin Arch before you start your descent into Coyote Gulch

Another view from the top

Another view from the top

Cairns leading the way to the Arch

Cairns leading the way to the Arch

These white "angel wings" will denote the area of descent into Coyote Gulch

These white "angel wings" will denote the area of descent into Coyote Gulch

Views from the JH trailhead

Views from the JH trailhead

 

WHAT TO EAT

As for as good eats around Escalante I would highly recommend Escalante Outfitters for a half meat lovers, half vegetarian pizza with a Polygamy Porter as a beverage. Escalante Outfitters also stocks great maps and information booklets about hikes in Southern Utah.

 

 

White Pocket

A hiker in White Pocket

A hiker in White Pocket

One of the most surreal landscapes in Arizona remains largely unknown to many native explorers. Perhaps it's because of the six hour round trip over a difficult 4 wheel drive, high clearance road filled with deep sand and jutting rock that makes this surreal location very difficult to get to. While The Wave gets most of the notoriety for the area, White Pocket stands as a diamond on its own. Filled with brilliant swirls of colors and textures, White Pocket is easily navigated within a half day. Camping is also offered at the trailhead - a short quarter mile hike to White Pocket. 

Colorful swirls and textures grace the landscape at White Pocket

Colorful swirls and textures grace the landscape at White Pocket

Give yourself at least a half day to explore 

Give yourself at least a half day to explore 

To get here take the 89A to House Rock Valley Road. Road maps are provided by the BLM Ranger Station in Kanab, Utah. Stop in at Jacob Lake on your way out for a bite to eat.

Gems from Kanab

Kanab is the new gem of the Southwest. If you're looking for outdoor adventures, national parks, and wild landscapes then Kanab is your hub. Whether it's Zion, Bryce Canyon, or Lake Powell, this is the place from where you can make any adventure. Kanab sits right in the middle of several wilderness areas that are hard to get to, including the famous "WAVE."

A hiker in The Wave

A hiker in The Wave

It's at the Kanab Ranger Station where many try their luck for "The Wave." What was rather unknown in the early 90's became a huge international attraction when the Olympic Games came to Salt Lake City in 2002. The Games used The Wave in a promotional video even though it lies just south of Utah in Arizona. This brought people all over the world to Kanab to put in for a chance to see this wild beauty in the desert.

Here's how the process works: Each day twenty permits are given away. Ten are given in an online lottery entered four months in advance. The other ten are drawn in person each day at the Kanab Ranger Station. Here's what makes it hard: In the peak months it's not uncommon for at least 100 people to apply for these ten spots. Not only that, but the live lottery that's done each day is for use on the next day, which requires explorers to be flexible with their travels. As for myself, it took six attempts to finally score a permit. Persistence is key if you're want to win the golden ticket.

(Note: Winning the lottery to The Wave is just the first part of your journey. Getting to there can be tricky. Most of the year you will need at least a high clearance vehicle and most likely four wheel drive. The good news is that there is camping only 1.5 miles away from the Wire Pass trailhead where you begin your trek. This campground has bathrooms, ramadas, and fire pits for use.)

Check out the BLM's website for more information: https://www.blm.gov/az/st/en/arolrsmain/paria/coyote_buttes/permits.html  

The Wave during the winter months can often be experienced with reflecting pools of water from winter rains.

The Wave during the winter months can often be experienced with reflecting pools of water from winter rains.

But let's say you're like most people who don't win the lottery for The Wave. Don't worry. You're only in the midst of several National Parks and monuments. Places like Zion and Bryce Canyon, Cedar Breaks and Coral Pink Sand Dunes, Lake Powell and Horseshoe Bend, all stand within about an hour or two away.

Zion from Angels Landing. One of the most scenic hikes in the Southwest.

Zion from Angels Landing. One of the most scenic hikes in the Southwest.

Horseshoe Bend at sunset. Only an hours drive from Kanab. 

Horseshoe Bend at sunset. Only an hours drive from Kanab. 

Bryce Canyon from Inspiration Point. 

Bryce Canyon from Inspiration Point. 

Looking to get out of Kanab for the day? Well, if you're up for a few hours drive you can make a day trip of Valley of Fire and Capitol Reef. If you're looking for an extraterrestrial landscape, then these two spots have you covered. I recommend starting your day early and giving yourself plenty of time to enjoy the landscapes.

Valley of Fire at dusk. A must do day trip from Kanab.

Valley of Fire at dusk. A must do day trip from Kanab.

Capitol Reef National Park boasts lots of interesting rock formations and hiking trails.

Capitol Reef National Park boasts lots of interesting rock formations and hiking trails.

Want more? There's more! And that's where you'll have to see for yourself, the gems in and around Kanab - your hub to all things adventure. This is just meant to give you a little taste.

Contact me if you have any questions on places to visit, places to eat, or places to stay in Kanab. I would recommend visiting Jeff and JoAnn at the Cowboy Bunkhouse in Kanab for a hot shower and breakfast at only $30 a night (http://www.thecowboybunkhouse.com/). For food, grab yourself a homemade apple pie at the Thunderbird Cafe at Mt. Caramel Junction just before, or after, going to Zion National Park (http://www.zionnational-park.com/bw3.htm).

 

Oregon - Summer Lake Hot Springs

Taking a trip to Oregon? Like soaking in hot springs? In search of some solitude? I have just the place. Nestled in Central Oregon, just two hours south of Bend, is a hot spring sanctuary. The place is called Summer Lake Hot Springs. Here you can choose from several tiny homes and small cottages, filled with all you need to spend a weekend getaway. Looking to camp out or bring a camper? That's no problem either. The hot springs? Oh yes. Imagine this scene: you're outside on a cool evening, soaking in a 102 degree mineral water, enjoying the vast openness of the area. Want an indoor hot spring? They have that too. And it's big. Friendly staff, similar-natured travelers, and a reasonable price make this a fantastic trip to get away and soak up some good vibes. Check http://www.summerlakehotsprings.com/ for more.

A pretty view out one of the many tiny homes for rent at Summer Lake   

A pretty view out one of the many tiny homes for rent at Summer Lake

 

Kitchen views

Kitchen views

Inside hot springs

Inside hot springs

Outside hot springs

Outside hot springs

Views from the hot springs

Views from the hot springs

Mexico - Pinacante Wilderness

Here's an unique combination: NASA and the desert. Wanna know more? If you're in the mood for barren desert, sprawling sand dunes, rocky craters, and ancient lava remains then I know a place that you may enjoy. Just south of the Arizona border and just north of Rocky Point, Mexico lies the beautiful yet other-wordly Pinacante Wilderness. This terrain is so similar to the moon that NASA sent astronauts here to train in the 1960's. Whether it's a short hike out to the largest continuous sand dunes in North America, or a drive around the rocky mountains and giant craters, Pinacante Wilderness will not fail to wow you.

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30 for 30: Visiting all 30 MLB Stadiums

In my early twenties I made it a goal to visit all 30 Major League Baseball Stadiums. Five years later, I found myself at my 30th stadium, having fulfilled my dream. Here is a quick look at all 3O ballparks. My favorite ballpark? AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants.

I ranked stadiums on a few things: Ambience and fan experience, food, and aesthetics. Here's my top 5:

1. AT&T Park (San Francisco Giants)

2. Fenway Park (Boston Red Sox)

3. Wrigley Field (Chicago Cubs)

4. PNC Field (Pittsburgh Pirates)

5. Camden Yards (Baltimore Orioles)

 

Northeast Arizona

Up north, above the sonoran desert sprawl and just to the east of the highly elevated snowcapped mountains of Flagstaff, lies an interesting relationship of open prairies and dazzling rock formations that jut out from the earth. There, long stretches of road and clear blue skies make you forget whatever troubles you left behind. No wonder this area boasts some of Arizona's best kept secrets - several national parks and monuments. It will take some work to get out to these places but I can tell you that it is well worth it. A petrified forest, painted hillsides, and ancient cliff dwellings sit like hidden gems waiting to be explored. There is much more to see. We have only scratched the surface of the beauty that lies therein.

Looking to make a trip out of it? May I suggest staying a night in Holbrook or Winslow along Route 66. Have a bite to eat in the old diners and then set off on a day trip to any of the national monuments along the way. Just a heads up: cell phone service is rather unpredictable in Navajo country where most of the landmarks are so make sure to plan ahead.

Death Valley

With a name like Death Valley I thought I might be stumbling upon a place of depravity and desolation, on my hands and knees crawling to find a drop of water. Boy was I wrong. Hills and hills colored with tans, browns, and golds, a basin full of salt that covers the ground like a blanket, and miles of silky smooth sand dunes proved my thesis wrong. The views were other-worldly; the kinds of places where you have to blink twice to remind yourself you're actually there. Here a few pics to prove my point.

Now, don't get me wrong...your experience of Death Valley will much depend on the time of year that you go. May I recommend winter?! Highs were in the 60's instead of summer highs of the not so hot 120's. Yikes! I definitely recommend going to the visitor center which lies in the middle of the National Park. From there you can head in many directions to enjoy the park. I think that you will find your time there surprisingly wonderful!

Want to hear more? Make sure to write me or comment below!