Happy 97th birthday, National Parks – and welcome to the world, Parks Folio!

Today is the 97th anniversary of the creation of America’s beloved National Parks system, which means three things: all National Parks are offering free admission today, we have a great excuse to eat cake in its honor, and Trail Sherpa is officially launching its newest project, Parks Folio!

Visiting as many National Parks as possible has been a huge priority for my yearlong adventure, and as my tick list grows larger, so does my appreciation for these slices of natural wonderland. The Trail Sherpa crew shares my love for National Parks, which began with the Trail Sherpa National Parks Series, a series of photos (and stories) curated by Dave Creech. The project sparked an outpouring of images, stories, and experiences that readers wanted to share with Dave and Tim Miner (the brains behind Trail Sherpa), so the fellas got to work creating a digital space where adventurers could come together to create a collaborative National Parks experience.

And thus, Parks Folio was born. Parksfolio

The site invites users to submit their best National Parks photos, and share the story behind the image. It’s an incredible venue for folks to experience National Parks through the adventures of others. You can get an eyeful of a bighorn sheep in Yellowstone through Tim Miner’s close-up shot, rediscover the Great Smokey Mountains with Val Joiner, imagine solitude at Zion through Terry Tyson’s account at Emerald Pools, and more. I love this project because while it was under-wraps for a good chunk of summer while a solid database of content was harvested, it’s going to continue to grow as adventurers get outside and collect new photographs and stories.

I have to send some extra love to Dave and Tim for their dedication to this project. They are some of the hardest working people I have ever met, and are true warriors fighting the good fight to inspire folks to get outside. Cheers to you two!

Want to get involved? Contribute to Parks Folio today!
You can also connect with Parks Folio on Facebook and Twitter.

A sandy walk up the Mesquite Flat Dunes in Death Valley National Park

For my non-Twitter readers (wait, seriously, you don’t have a Twitter?), #FriFotos is a weekly themed collaborative hashtag where travelers contribute their best and favorite photos. This week’s theme is ‘sand,’ and while I’ve got thousands of pictures from the sandy beaches of my homestate, Florida, I thought it would be more exciting to share my brief recent experience at Death Valley National Park.

Niko and I made a short visit to Death Valley National Park on our way out of California. After weeks of San Francisco diners, mountain cabin retreats in Willits, and meeting the largest trees on earth at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, we jetted off towards Las Vegas for an evening of luxury – if you can count the Excalibur as luxurious. Niko had never been this far west before, so it was a treat to shuttle him around California, spewing out factoids and acting like I was a seasoned west coast traveler.

We stopped by the first ranger station to ‘register’ our car using my annual National Parks pass, and picked up a map to scope out what natural attractions we could stop by on our way towards Las Vegas. The only thing that wasn’t miles out of the way were the Mesquite Dune Flats, so we navigated our way through the desert towards them.

You really can’t miss ‘em.


Niko will be proud to hear me finally admit that I was a total brat during our visit to the dunes. Hot, bothered, and suffering from a desperate case of the munchies, I was a huge downer while Niko happily tromped through the sand. He pleaded with me to take a picture standing in the dunes (the top photo), and I was a major wench about it, miserably dragging my sandaled feet across the piping hot sand and faking a smile – but hey, it turned out pretty well in the end.

While I was wallowing in a pity-party about my lack of snacks, Niko ignored my blues and went for a little romp in the dunes. It was undeniably anti-climactic, but he insisted on jumping off one of the dunes into the sand. His failed attempt at an epic moment definitely quelled my negativity a bit – even though he inevitably tracked heaps of sand into the car afterwards.

Next time we head through the west, I’d like to spend much more time exploring Death Valley National Park. During my first visit to Death Valley, I was driving across the country with my entire family after a year of living in San Jose, California. The hottest temperature we recorded was a sweltering 123 degrees, and naturally, our van’s air-conditioning died in the middle of the desert. Literally everything we owned melted, from my mother’s red lipstick to my stick of deodorant. It was an adventure to remember, and one I’d totally love to relive.

Taking a hike to meet the largest trees on earth at Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park

There are few things that make me happier than being able to use my annual National Parks pass, so when Niko and I were heading down through California on our way back to the east coast, stopping by Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park felt like a no-brainer. Plus, after a wonderful weekend spent exploring in the woods of Willits, California, we were certainly channeling the spirit of outdoor appreciation.

Departing from the bay area, we hauled south towards Fresno until night fell and forced us to find somewhere to spend the evening. After driving into veritable wilderness, we pulled over at a mountain turnout in Squaw Valley and hit the hay – but not before encountering the largest bat I have ever witnessed. It had an unbelievable wingspan; I can still picture it swooping over the hood of our car as we navigated up the mountainside.

We spent the evening comfortably along the road, woke up the next morning to a breakfast of cheese sticks and chocolate milk, and then headed into the parks. We entered Kings Canyon National Park through the Grant Grove area, and made our first stop to hike towards General Grant. As we followed the easy trail towards the towering tree, we paused to pose in hollowed out sequoia stumps, and were tempted by signs that told us “do not climb trees.” (We’d never disrespect nature, but anytime I’m told not to climb something, I feel a slight itch to defiant.)

General Grant is over 3,000 years old, and boasts status as the second largest sequoia tree in the world. To be honest, we were impressed by every giant we encountered along the way; it seemed it would have been impossible to determine which of them was truly the biggest without the assistance of park signage and plaques. They were all beautiful.


Did you know? The General Grant Tree was declared as the “Nation’s Christmas Tree” by President Calvin Coolidge. To keep with tradition, the park holds annual Christmas serves at the base of the tree.

After scoping out our first giant sequoia, we journeyed further into the park, and seamlessly transitioned into Sequoia National Park. We pulled over on the side of one of the roads to go play in a snow patch; Niko had never actually touched snow before, so we made his first little snowman and threw a few snowballs at each other. Satisfied after stuffing my face with a tasty, fresh snowball, we clamored back into the car and continued exploring the park.
Driving along General’s Highway, we made our way past Stony Creek Village, Lost Grove, and the Lodgepole Visitor Center before finally reaching the main attraction: General Sherman.

An impressive feat of natural wonder from the moment you lay eyes upon this robust, barky creation, General Sherman is the largest tree in the entire world – perhaps not the tallest, nor the widest, but indisputably the largest tree by volume (52,508 cubic feet, to be exact). The incredible plant dwarfed tourists as they approached the wooden barrier to snap photos of themselves. Luckily for Niko and I, there were plenty of other couples eager to trade camera duty to snap a shot in front of the General.

Standing near the tree was a truly humbling experience. I have always been such an admirer of trees for their wisdom and age, so being in the company of General Sherman and General Grant was a beautiful way to reflect on both the tininess of my own body, and the timelessness of the outdoors. These trees have seen generations come and go, they have remained steadfast in their place while countless fans flocked towards their roots to lay eyes upon their majesty. They’ve survived fires, droughts, destructive storms, and even the abuses of humanity.

After a starry-eyed hike back up to the parking area, Niko and I headed towards the park exit in awe of the enormous creatures we had just met. In the true spirit of being fully encompassed by the wilderness around us, our GPS failed to function, and we resorted to attempting to find the exit ‘with our gut feelings.’

Two wrong turns and a sketchy u-turn later, we found ourselves queued in a long line of vehicles. Roadside construction forced the main road out towards Three Rivers to be converted into a one-lane, one-way path. Our caravan patiently waiting for a pilot car to guide us, then slowly ascended down the steep mountain towards Lake Kaweah.

I spent the rest of the week dreaming of trees.

Why I’m dedicating my life to traveling in America and the outdoor lifestyle

Growing up, my parents planted the travel seed in me at a young age with camping trips to Yosemite, excursions to England, and a bevy of outdoor pursuits. During my college days, fellow students regaled me with their experiences studying abroad in places like Florence and Valencia. Recently , mingling with fellow bloggers has exposed me to an industry loaded with hostel hounds, overseas corporate escapees, and every passport-toting persona imaginable.

Travel has always been one of my biggest passions – but it wasn’t until last night that I consciously settled into my own traveler’s nook. Looking back at my recent trips, one thing is clear:

I am in love with America – and the outdoors.

Take me to the sweltering depths of the desert in Moab, the misty morning forests of Sequoia National Park, the swampy Everglades wetlands near my hometown in Miami, the rocky outcrops of climbing crags in Tennessee, the peaks of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains – take me now. Sure, I gladly spent two amazing summers sunning topless on the rocky beaches of the French Mediterranean, and I spent a few years working as a travel writer promoting Caribbean vacations – but when it comes down to it, there is no place in the world I’d rather be than right here in my own backyard.

Think about a round-trip plane ticket to Europe. When I last went, the airfare cost over $1,000.

I could live happily in the United States for over a month with that $1,000.
In fact, I already did.
(And you can too.)

You could spend a lifetime traveling solely throughout America, and you’d never even graze the surface of all that there is to do and see here. The United States is admittedly a young country, but the land is laden with history, heritage, and natural wonders. Think about Yosemite National Park – I spent a week there in May 2011, and only saw a slice of what the area had to offer. Beyond the hikes and picturesque waterfalls, there was an entire community and inspiring history left unexplored. I could easily spend an entire year in Yosemite alone.

Plus, travel in America means you don’t have to deal with pesky exchange rates, being lost without a lick of the local language to help you find your way, unfamiliar driving, tourist-targeting pickpockets, getting caught up in train strikes (literally the story of my life in France). Well, that all sounds pretty adventurous too–to be fair.

I understand why it’s so easy to get caught up in the glamor of the international hostel life, European wine, and young exotic people looking to indulge in the traveler’s lifestyle – but it’s just not my style.

Give me a tent and an open fire to cook my food over, give me a National Parks pass and a handful of trail maps, give me evenings spent downing locally brewed beer, give me tired mornings spent hiking out to climbing areas, give me those long stretches of farmland in Kansas, give me fruitful farmers markets in the southeast, give me America. Hell, I’ll just take it.

I’m not the best spokesperson for the dirtbag lifestyle, especially considering my unwavering need to carry sanitizing wipes with me everywhere I go – nor am I some phenomenal mountaineering survivalist, nor the strongest climber, nor the most savvy camper. But that’s the point. You don’t have to be some untamed wilderness vagabond to live this lifestyle and immerse yourself in America.

If I can do this, anyone can.

So what’s The Morning Fresh’s niche? American travel. I’m dedicating myself to advocating for a revival of the American road trip, the patriotic spirit of appreciating our land, supporting our local businesses, and demonstrating to the entire world what a beautiful, natural nation this is. I’m bringin’ America back baby.

Want to chat more? Drop me a line at [email protected] or find me on twitter @katieboue!

Five reasons to visit a National Park this weekend

America’s National Parks system is one of the greatest institutions ever created by our country – if you ask me, at least. These sacred slices of our nation’s finest ecosystems and delicate environments are critical to American’s ability to access and enjoy the untouched outdoors.

Any day offers a great excuse to visit a nearby National Park, but certain dates hold a particular perk for patrons – which I’ll dive straight into with the first of my top five reasons to visit a National Park:

1. IT’S FREE!

That’s right – admission fees into National Parks around the country are waived during certain times of the year to provide access for those who may not otherwise be able to make it to the parks. That includes everywhere from to Grand Tetons and Rocky Mountains to the Everglades and Kings Canyon, so no matter which outdoor haven is closest to your hometown, you’ll be able to partake in the free fun.

I’ve been lucky enough to have been a proud National Parks annual pass holder since March 2011, but I can still appreciate the gift of complimentary park admission – I can only imagine how expensive my summer road trip would have been if I had paid entrance fees at every park I visited!

2. Fresh air for your lungs.

If you’re confined within city limits during the workweek like me, you likely reach the weekend with a raging thirst to leave the concrete jungle for some natural surroundings. Making a trip to a National Park offers a fantastic way to escape city life for a while. Spend the day trading in traffic lights and steel skyscrapers for towering trees and exhilarating landscapes. You’ll return home with a renewed vigor, and a newfound itch to make a hasty return trip to your National Park of choice.

3. Watching for wildlife.

National Parks are one of the best places to get in touch with your wild side. Whether you’re an avid birdwatcher, or simply want to spend an afternoon chasing chipmunks after climbing in the Rocky Mountains, America’s National Parks are home to some of the most magnificent creatures on earth. Not to favor fauna over flora, I must also highly recommend that you spend some time getting to know the unique plant-life that thrives in the various terrains at the parks across the nation. Tiny leaves and silky flowers are one of the main reasons a macro-lens is at the top of my must-have list.

4. Bountiful recreation and activities.

While my preferred park activities revolve around climbing, hiking, and photography, there is a bounty of possibilities for active park visitors. Hop aboard a guided tour to better acquaint yourself with a new park, set out on a rafting excursion, or plan a scenic picnic – the options are endless. I always love to stop by park visitor centers to scope out maps and chat with rangers about their favorite things to do and see in the area.

5. Experiencing something new.

Every time I visit a National Park, I am treated to a new and wonderful experience – even if I’ve visited the same spot a dozen times before. Nature is constantly changing, adapting, blooming, and presenting us with gracious chances to appreciate the natural world around us. Some of my favorite moments at National Parks include spending a night at the legendary Camp 4 in Yosemite National Park, watching my crew attempt to summit the Grand Teton in Wyoming, and going on a photographic hunt for alligators in the Everglades.

With so much to be discovered and absorbed right in your own backyard, there’s no excuse not to pay a visit to a National Park this weekend. Free admission fees, recreational activities for every visitor’s lifestyle, and a bevy of outdoor beauty is beckoning for you to come play. Not sure which park to visit? Check out a complete list of all the parks and monuments offering complimentary – and be sure to check out additional dates for 2012 free National Park days.

Want more? Check out these articles about my experiences at National Parks across the country:

– Read about my visit to Gulf Islands National Seashore during a trip to Pensacola, Florida
– Explore my favorite sights and scenes from Yosemite National Park, and check out my favorite all-time climb, Beached Whale (V5) near the Ahwahnee Lodge.
– Discover the vibrant desert hues I photographed during my hike through Arches National Park.

Final thoughts on 2011, and cheers to upcoming adventures in 2012

It’s here once again – my favorite holiday. The best day of the year for reflecting on the best and worst moments from the past, and looking towards the future with hope and an eager resolve to make the upcoming year even better than the last.

This year was the first year where I began to dedicate my life to the art of road tripping. Over the span of two cross-country trips and countless climbing excursions, I traveled to 21 states from Alabama to California. I visited ten National Parks – thanks to my wonderful annual parks pass. From the swamps of the Everglades and camping in Yosemite to the giant towering trees of Sequoia and the sand dunes at Death Valley, my explorations through America’s National Parks were one of the defining aspects of my adventures.

I graduated from Florida State University in April, and quickly sped off on my first road trip of 2011 – a six-week delve into car-dwelling and extended travel with my boyfriend, Niko. As we traveled across over 6,400 miles together, we climbed some of the most beautiful rock formations in the country, sampled amazing grub, and slept beneath the stars.

During our four-month relationship hiatus, I embarked on my own solo road trip. Embracing the idea of solitude for the first time, I traveled alone across 17 states and 6,657 miles. I also made my first ‘adult’ decision, and moved up to Denver, Colorado to get a taste of mountain living.

And now here I am, on the eve of the new year. You’ll currently find me holed up at Tallahassee Rock Gym, the place where it all began. It truly feels like I’ve come full-circle this year, and I couldn’t be most satisfied with where my life has led me. It feels so appropriate to be ringing in the 2012 with a final day spent slaving away setting new routes and cleaning the rock gym, then by the time the clock strikes midnight I’ll be on the road to Rocktown for a climbing trip to start my year right.

So, I propose a toast.

Here’s to 2012.

New adventures, new destinations, new climbing ascents,
and lots of saving up for 2013.

Readers, expect huge things from The Morning Fresh in 2012. My goal for this upcoming year is to position myself as an established travel and adventure blogger, and to begin truly dedicating myself to my photography and other creative projects. Here’s to finally catching up on overdue posts from my cross-country adventures, an increased social media presence, and working to inspire others to join me in the quest for living a simpler life on the road.

Thank you for your readership, comments, tweets, and unwavering support. I appreciate each and every one of you, and can’t express my gratitude enough. Have a wonderful new year, and keep your spirit high on adventures.

Road Trip America – Welcome to YOSEMITE, baby.

Every climber shares a united dream: climbing at Yosemite National Park in California. After ditching Moab a few days early due to relentless rain, our crew shifted gears and headed out to the land of El Capitain — with a new addition in tow, our new British buddy Paul, who traveled with us from the Lazy Lizard Hostel in Utah throughout our entire time spent in Yosemite.

We were a few weeks shy of the seasonal opening of the Tioga Pass, so we were forced to scoot north, then west before entering the park. From the moment you pass through the Ranger’s Entrance Station into the great land of Yosemite, there is a deep, undeniable connection to everything around you. The gushing Merced River, the curled baby fern blossoms, the snarky blue Stellar’s Jays that tended to cock their heads in apparent disapproval of everything we did.

Not a bad first impression, eh? As eager as we all were to get our hands on some Yosemite granite, we couldn’t help but pull off at a scenic overlook to admire the stunning valley. Check out iconic landmarks El Capitan and Half Dome off in the distance. Believe it or not, that group shot was entirely candid – Paul’s hand on hip and all. On our way back to the car I made friends with a little mammal buddy, who kindly posed for a few shots.

Whether you’re a climber, hiker, photographer, or simply enjoy the natural wonders that our country has to offer (and has graciously protected thanks to fellows like John Muir), Yosemite National Park is truly a destination that you absolutely must visit within your lifetime. My parents took me on a few weekend trips to the park while we lived in San Jose, California, and I regret not taking full advantage of my blessed situation. I could have been climbing these sweet spots a decade ago, instead my twelve year-old self complained all weekend about how I would have rather been hanging out with friends – ugh.

This trip, I vowed to make up for lost time and took full advantage of the park. We hiked, climbed, ate, conversed and explored our way through the valley for a week. All the important stops were made: splashing around Yosemite Falls, climbing and sleeping at Camp Four, spotting bears in meadows, traversing no-trespassing areas in Curry Village, spotting Half Dome, hiking to the base of El Capitan, bouldering in front of the Awhwanee Lodge – and everything was documented for your viewing pleasure.

I must have taken about a million shots of the waterfalls, but can you blame me? From hundreds of vantage points throughout the park, the falls kept peeking out from the treeline, just waiting to be photographed. I’ll share more when I give you a full post about wading through the frigid streams fed by the falls, but for now enjoy two photos from Curry Village. The first is of a dogwood blossom, which quickly became one of my favorite trees. The white ‘petals’ are actually modified leaves, which house the true tiny yellow flowers in the center. The second photo is just two ladybugs doin’ the dirty – couldn’t help myself.

There you have it: an introduction to Yosemite National Park. Didn’t get your fix of granite, creatures, climbing and nature? Fear not, this entire week will be filled with tales and photos from our time at Yosemite. Enjoy!

Road Trip America – Hiking and Exploring in Arches National Park in Utah

We awoke in Moab to a dreary day that promised a lack of good climbs, and plenty of rain. Refusing to waste an entire day because of the weather, our road trip crew decided to check out the nearby Arches National Park for some wet hiking.

We passed through the park gates, thanks to my wonderful National Parks Pass (thanks Dad!), and drove up winding roads past the throngs of cheesy tourists in rented RVs and tour buses. Our ultimate destination was Devil’s Garden. The beginning of the hike saw heavy spurts of rain, and I almost ran back to the car to tuck my camera away – thankfully I decided to keep it, because the rain quickly ended and left us with a day of sunshine.

The day’s explorations taught me a lesson in exertion. The hiking wasn’t anything too grueling, but my knee pains flared up with a vengeance and left me hobbling all over the rocks while the boys pranced around like children. There were multiple times I had to lag behind while the crew scampered up skinny slabs and clamored all over towering boulders. Not to mention my resurfacing fear of heights.

I can’t believe I had never visited this National Park before. It easily ranks as one of my favorite park visits, and I can’t wait to return with the rest of the Boue clan. There were easy trails with solid paths, slightly more challenging areas that required mild rock scrambles, and then the “primitive trails” with difficult hiking. Naturally, the boys insisted that we veer of the nice path in favor of the sand, sloped trails. My knee was screaming in agony, but the photos I snagged of the arches were worth the pain.

The arches were surprisingly difficult to photograph. They’re simply too large, too impressive to capture in a single snapshot. I really had to get creative to get good angles, and often times the desert landscape blocked my views. I was ultimately pretty pleased with the final shots, and will leave you with a cute photo of a lizard who wore beautiful Moab-style patterns on his skin.

Arches National Park is a fantastic destination if you’re in the Moab, Utah area. We spent the entire day exploring Devil’s Garden, and that was only the tip of the park’s iceberg. I’d love to return one day to discover everything else that Arches has to offer. My only complaint is the tourists, but after spending time in Yosemite, I’ve learned that tourists are simply a part of life in National Parks. You’ve just got to learn how to tune them out.