Where am I now? Crushin’ rock at Red River Gorge in Kentucky!

Greetings, from a nearly empty Panera Bread in a very, very small town outside of Lexington, Kentucky. After a day of driving that began at 5:00 AM, I’m taking a dinnertime break to co-host the weekly ATQA Adventure Travel chat – and update my lovely readers on my ever-changing whereabouts.

As all my hype on Twitter and Facebook has given away, I am beginning a week-long adventure to Red River Gorge near Slade, Kentucky. Armed with a guidebook, my trusty La Sportiva climbing shoes, and all the appropriate gear, I’m finally putting my endurance training to the test with a crush-fest at this iconic crag. I’m joined by my wonderful co-pilot (in travel and life), Niko, and the owner of Tally Rock Gym, Rich.

Never been to the glorious sandstone wonderland that is Red River Gorge? Give yourself a taste of the adventure with this great video I found while pouring over every bit of Red River Gorge information I could get my hands on prior to the trip:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nm-k2Exp_Wk&feature=related]

I’ve got my eye on more routes than I’ll ever be able to tackle in just a week, but my most beloved project is Amarillo Sunset, a gorgeous 5.11b that is calling my name. I’ll be shacked up at a campsite with wi-fi since I’m not taking any time off work for this trip (LivingSocial, I love you for giving me a job that lets me work while on climbing trips!) – so stay tuned for updates live from Red River Gorge!

For now, enjoy this shot of Amarillo Sunset, compliments of Ben Cassedy, who submitted this photo to the Mountain Project collection. Seriously, how could anyone NOT want to get their hands all sweaty and chalky on this beautiful line?

My first sport climbing adventure to Little River Canyon in Alabama

Last August, I journeyed up to Steele, Alabama for my first sport-climbing trip to a crag known (by some) as Sandrock. Despite the graffiti-drenched boulders defaced by locals, and an ungodly amount of broken glass strewn about the trails, I had an amazing time leading my first routes – but the most lasting impression from this trip was left by a small metal sign on the drive towards the mountain. It read “Little River Canyon,” and pointed towards the north.

After a few seasons slipped by, Niko and I finally made plans to check out the mysterious Little River Canyon. Perfectly timed with the release of the new Dixie Cragger for Georgia and Alabama, we were able to embark on an informed journey to the new crag. I practiced my light packing skills, tossed our gear into the trunk of our buddy Bo’s car, and spent the seven-hour drive up to Alabama dreaming of sandstone.

Naive about any camping situations available in Little River Canyon, our crew decided to stick to the free, and unbelievably scenic, camping at the top of Lookout Mountain, deep in the rural bits of Alabama. Things got a tad interesting on Easter morning, when we woke up to a passionate sunrise sermon held a few yards from our tent.

It must be noted that the small metal sign beckoning climbers to detour towards “Little River Canyon” is slightly deceptive. What we had imagined to be a quick hop, skip, and jump over to the crag from Sandrock was actually a 30-minute haul – but I enjoy leisurely mornings, so I had no complaints.

I was pleasantly surprised by the ease at which we were able to locate the climbs at Little River Canyon. Our main haunt was The Gray Wall, which is accessed via a discreet trail that sits right off the winding mountain road that runs through the preserve. Given that we were in a canyon, the approach involved a bit of scrambling, down climbing, and getting dripped on by miniature waterfalls.

At The Gray Wall, we were introduced to a crew of southern climbers who demonstrated a keen passion for Little River Canyon, which is actually a national preserve. The boisterous group welcomed us to ‘their’ crag with enthusiasm, and offered to let us use their draws on a few warm-up routes.

And by warm-ups, I mean a wide row of 5.11 climbing.

I hear there is just one 5.9 hidden somewhere in Little River Canyon, and a small handful of 5.10s are strewn about – which basically means that this crag is a destination reserved for more advanced climbers.

 
In my honest opinion, I believe the more demanding level of climbing is what has kept this crag as well preserved as it is. I saw nary a single spray of paint on the sandstone, nor any piles of wayward trash. Unlike Sandrock, this crag has evaded traffic from the masses, and retains its pristine natural glory.

It’s such a pure area that I honestly hesitated to feature it on the blog. So if this post inspires you to visit Little River Canyon to bask in the beautiful climbing, I implore you to exercise the utmost respect and land stewardship.

As for the actual climbing, this canyon delivers such phenomenal lines that our crew all agreed we’d probably never visit Sandrock again if we were in the area – Little River Canyon trumps it tenfold. I climbed my first 5.11a, a pumpy ledge-filled route called “Obsession” – admittedly on top-rope, and it was not a red-point. The boys climbed a handful of 5.11s at The Gray Wall, and then Niko briefly jumped on a burly overhanging route called “Tension.” We also fooled around on a quirky, short slab route that no one could conquer. Check out the photos:
 The main event of our adventure was our time spent on the hardest section of The Gray Wall. The star of the show was Lion, a 5.12c sport route with stout movements and burly demands. The boys were eager to hop on it after watching a local climber, Rob, barrel through the cruxes. (Did I mention that Rob is about to turn 60, and crushes sandstone harder than I ever will? He was such a cool dude.)

        In true Katie form, I hardly climbed as much as I should have. Instead, I busied myself by climbing up one of the 5.11 routes, clipping myself into a bolt using long runners, and hanging from the sandstone while waving my camera around at the boys as they climbed.

The trip was a huge wake-up call for me – it mercilessly reminded me that as a boulderer, I seriously lack endurance. Both Bo and I were pumped out every few moves on our climbs, and we both left the trip determined to improve ourselves. Thankfully, while we were totally shut down by lengthy climbs, we managed to not be conquered by chiggers (unlike my last trip to Alabama, when I ended up with chiggers nesting in my belly button, true story.)

Despite the harsh realizations, this trip got me incredibly stoked on sport climbing. My silence on the blogging front is a direct result of my newfound passion for training. Little River Canyon motivated me to dive into hardcore endurance training, and I have since spent every single day climbing to my limits. Last night, I red-pointed my first 5.11 in the gym, and practiced my lead climbing on a few easier routes. Today, I’m indulging in a rest day, after seven straight days of training.

Stay tuned for more updates on my training efforts as I prepare my body and mind for my upcoming trip to The Red River Gorge.

A preview of my sport climbing adventures at Little River Canyon in Alabama

For Florida climbers, three-day trips to northerly crags are our vision of a weekend warrior’s victory. With the closest (decent) outdoor climbing sitting five hours away in Alabama, our short visits to sandstone wonderlands provide a highly anticipated escape from our usual indoor rock gym musings.

This past weekend, I ventured to a new crag with three of my climbing buddies. During recent trips to Sandrock, we had all taken notice of signs for “Little River Canyon.” Curious about this destination, we did a bit of digging, and discovered that the area was a prime sport climbing spot. Armed with the recently released Dixie Cragger’s Atlas for Alabama and Georgia, we journeyed to this new wall.

I still have 435 of my own photos to sort through and edit, but I couldn’t wait to share this amazing crag. Little River Canyon is a pure, unsoiled, gorgeous slice of exposed cliff faces and lush forest landscapes. The climbs are organic and challenging, the trails well-maintained through appreciative land stewardship, and the locals are eager to share their love for the area with fellow climbers who approach the area with respect and love for the climbs.

To tide you over until I complete my photography edits, check out a few excellent shots captured by my trip companion, Bo Durham. Shooting with an AE-1 film camera, he snagged some sweet images of our excursion – including a photo that instantly became my favorite picture of Niko and me of all time.

Enjoy!

This trip was a particularly great adventure for me. I climbed my first 5.11a, called Obsession, while we were roped up at The Gray Wall – and while I wasn’t gutsy enough to lead it, the positive experience I had on this route skyrocketed my determination and motivation. My next trip is out to the Red River Gorge in Kentucky during the first week of May, so I’m ready to dive into some endurance training to prepare for the next sport-climbing journey.

Stay tuned for my complete trip report  and the best
climbing photos from my visit to Little River Canyon in Alabama!

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.

A perfectly wild, perfectly simple mountain cabin retreat in Willits, California

Up into the mountainside surrounding Willits, California, down a winding dirt road, and past a skinny wooden welcome sign, sits a trio of charming cabins amid a veritable slice of American wilderness.

Welcome to Still Mountain Retreat.

But I digress.

During my trip across America with Niko, we stopped in my old California stomping grounds in San Jose to visit a few climbing buddies. We only planned to stay a day or two, but after being invited to join our cohorts for a weekend escape up into the mountains, we quickly agreed to alter our agenda.

Our evening drive up to the cabins took us past throngs of bay area traffic, up beyond the wine-laden land of Sonoma, and into the most wonderful nook of paradise. The Still Mountain Retreat property is an expansive sprawl of thick trees, mossy rocks, and grassy fields – all of which are intersected by a gushing river. I can’t say I know too many people who can boast having a waterfall on their property.


Immediately upon arrival, we were treated with two creature encounters. Despite misting rain, we explored the area a bit, and quickly found ourselves gazing upon a young doe resting alone in the grass along the muddy path we were walking. No more than a few weeks old, this infant deer made my heart flutter with adoration. Not wanting to disturb her, we carried on and were soon enthralled by the sight of a fuzzy little vole. I instantly knew that this mountainous retreat was the place for me.

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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.

My Travels A to Z – Cross country car-dwelling, French wine, Grand Canyon sunrises, and everything in between

A playful trend is circulating the travel blogosphere, and I couldn’t resist partaking in the fun. First discovered on Adventurous Kate’s blog, then found again on No Onions Extra Pickles, I was easily enamored by this great little survey of travel experiences. Covering every letter from A to Z, this ABCs of adventuring offers a glimpse into my lifestyle as a diehard explorer. I invite all my readers to participate as well, I’d love to read your responses.

Enjoy this little slice of insight into the travels and adventures of Katie Boué.

A: Age you went on your first international trip:

I was three years old, and I flew from my birthplace of New York City to down to Mexico City for my cousin’s wedding. – My mom tells me I was the life of the party, dancing with the groom, my ‘Uncle’ Danny, until the band stopped playing around 3:00 AM. Apparently, upon seeing the musicians packing up their gear, I loudly protested, “¡mas musica!”

B: Best (foreign) beer you’ve had and where:

Easily, my favorite foreign beer is Bulmers/Magners from Europe – specifically the ones drank at the Chez Net Café in Villefranche sur Mer in France. It’s honestly more of a cider, but the apple and pear varieties were my beverage of choice during my summers spent exploring the Mediterranean coast.

C: Cuisine (favorite):

Cuban food – but that’s a given. When I’m traveling away from Miami, Cuban food is always one of the things I miss the most about home. Nothing beats abuela’s black beans and authentic Havana cooking, but I do have a few favorite joints to pick up Cuban fare when Mama can’t feed me. When I’m in Miami, I always have to make a stop at Ruben’s Cuban for beef empanadas, café con leche, and chicken noodle soup. One of my favorite dishes in the world can be found at Cuba Cuba in Denver, CO – if you’ll believe it. The puerco frito, piña coladas, and freshly made mojitos are not to be missed. It’s one of the few places I’ll willingly spend a ridiculous amount of money at.

D: Destinations, favorite, least favorite and why:

That is an impossible question to answer. Some of my recent favorites include Moab, UT, and Yosemite National Park, especially the experience of staying at the legendary Camp 4 for a night – but I also adore the southern coast of France, Alaska, any climbing destination in the southeast United States, and the Pacific coasts near Monterrey. Perhaps my least favorite is Merced, California. I don’t think I’ve ever truly disliked a place I’ve traveled to, but Merced wasn’t anything to write home about. Plus, the highway entrances and exits didn’t have traffic lights, only stop signs.
E: Event you experienced abroad that made you say “wow”:

I am by no means a person of faith, but my first experience practicing yoga was the closest thing ever I’ve had to a religious experience. I went during my solo trip in September 2011, while I was enjoying a week of relaxation in the mountains of Hendersonville, North Carolina. My host’s neighbor owns a yoga studio in the little downtown area, and invited me to partake in a complimentary session. The spiritual meditation, breathing, deep poses, and general overwhelming sense of peace were fantastic. I have never felt such strong emotions. During a time of my life that was filled with a lot of doubt, over-thinking, and mental exhaustion, the yoga experience I had at Brightwater Yoga Studio inspired an inner metamorphosis that I carried with me throughout the remainder of my seven week solo trip.

F: Favorite mode of transportation:

I am smitten with the idea of train travel, and adore railroads, train tracks, stations, and anything locomotive – but really, my preferred method of travel is by personal car. I am a road tripper through and through, and I love the convenience of living out of my familiar and comfortable vehicle.
G: Greatest feeling while traveling:

Spontaneously veering off a rural highway exit just to take a random picture of some unique relic of farm life, or the feeling of hiking until the point of exhaustion, then finally reaching a beautiful overlook or body of water that makes the panting, sweat, and side cramps worth all the effort.

I: Incredible service you’ve experienced and where:

During my first climbing road trip in 2010, we stopped for breakfast at The Egg & I outside of Denver, Colorado. Niko protested the idea of spending more money eating out, but the rest of us insisted on gorging ourselves with breakfast grub. Upon hearing that Niko was refraining from ordering, our waiter conspired with the manager to present Niko with a beautiful little plate with a hot, buttered muffin and some freshly cut fruit – on the house. I was so impressed by their kindness.

J: Journey that took the longest:

It always seems to take a painful amount of time to return to Florida from the west. I think the return leg of any road trip feels the longest; the thrill of adventure that made the first part of the trip is now quelled, and by the end of trips you’re always eager to get home to a hot shower and a familiar bed. During our May 2011 cross-country trip, Niko and I were miserable from the Grand Canyon to Florida. Texas seems to be the longest state in the country when you have to drive straight across it with no exciting destination ahead.

K: Keepsake from your travels:

Having embraced the beginnings of a vagabond lifestyle, I’ve begun to resist the temptations to buy keepsakes. Instead, I collect snippets from our experiences. My favorite box full of memories is from my five-week climbing trip with Niko. I have all the brochures from the national parks we visited, our tent tag from Camp 4 in Yosemite National Park, a little snail shell found on the shore of Stinson Beach, etc. These hold much greater value and meaning for me than a mug or magnet.
L: Let-down sight, why and where:

This one is easy. After Niko and I spent a week climbing in Yosemite, we headed to the bay area to check out San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and my favorite destination along the Pacific Coast Highway, the Monterrey Bay Aquarium. Visiting the fishy facility when I was younger living in California was the catalyst to my infatuation with jellyfish, and this aquarium has the most impressive jelly exhibit I’ve ever been to. Niko and I took the long drive down the coast to the aquarium, and gladly paid the hefty admission fees – only to discover that the jellyfish section was closed off for renovations. I was incredibly disappointed, and even begged one of the staff members to let me in anyways.

M: Moment where you fell in love with travel:

During my first outdoor climbing trip to Little Rock City (also known as Stone Fort) near Dixon, Tennessee. Having only just become acquainted with the sport indoors, this excursion into the mountains thrust me head first into the world of camping, cooking in the woods, sleeping on crash pads, and immersing yourself into the natural surroundings that envelop climbing crags. After just one trip, I was hooked.

N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in:

Hotels? Ha! If I stay in hotels, they’re usually the cheapest thing I can get my hands on. I will give credit to the Excalibur in Las Vegas. After spending weeks vagabonding in Yosemite and car camping in California, a night in a proper hotel room felt like staying in a palace – even if it was the cheapest lodging on the strip.

O: Obsession—what are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling?:

I am obsessed with photography in general – but there are definitely a few subjects that never cease to catch my attention. Bugs, creatures, and unique plant life are amongst my favorites, but food photos are always fun. And of course, I love photographing climbers and everything involving the climbing lifestyle.
P: Passport stamps, how many and from where?

Hm, I travel domestically for the most part – my passport stamps are limited to Mexico, the United Kingdom, Canada, and France. Hopefully in 2013 I’ll be able to add Portugal to that list – but honestly, my heart lies in America.

Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where:

This one is stumping me. Quirky isn’t my cup of tea. Perhaps Fantasy Fest in Key West qualifies. The throngs of fairy-winged queers, nude elderly folks, intoxicated young people, and every unconventional individual that could make their way to the southernmost point converge upon Duval Street for a weekend of wild ruckus and outlandish tomfoolery. As I recall, I began the night dressed as a school girl, then ended my evening shirtless, covered in fake blood, and rebranded as a zombie victim.

R: Recommended sight, event or experience:

There are so many. Watching the sun rise over the Grand Canyon, queuing up in line at 6:00 AM to reserve a spot for a night at the climber’s haven of Camp 4 in Yosemite National Park, getting a taste of desert life in Moab, sunning topless on the shores of southern France.
S: Splurge; something you have no problem forking over money for while traveling:

Food, I will always spend my money on food. A hearty meal is one of the best things in the world after returning from a stint in the wilderness. I love campfire cooking, but sometimes a platter of succulent sushi just can’t be beat. Plus, there’s no clean up when you eat out.

T: Touristy thing you’ve done:

I’ve always wanted to follow the signs for “The World’s Largest Prairie Dog” that line I-70 in Kansas, but I’ve never given into my inklings. The most touristy thing I’ve actually done is probably making the winding drive down Lombard Street in San Francisco. The line leading up to this street of urban switchbacks is worse than Denver rush hour traffic, and it’s so hokey to drive down the flower-lined ‘street.’ Gorgeous scene to take pictures of, but totally pointless to actually make the effort of driving down.

U: Unforgettable travel memory:

The first night I camped solo. I stayed at the Lake Barkley State Park campground in Kentucky, with only three other campers in the entire area – none of whom were in tents. I felt so accomplished cracking open a beer after rebuilding my fire pit, starting my own fire – sans lighter fluid, pitching my tent, cooking dinner, and kicking back to survey my hard work. Later, I set a branch on fire and danced around the pit a la Tom Hanks in Castaway. I am woman.

V: Visas, how many and for where?

Just one, a little family visa when I traveled to England when I was younger.

W: Wine, best glass of wine while traveling and where?

Again, the winner is Villefranche sur Mer, in France – particularly the Chez Net Internet Café. My countless nights spent boozing with Brits at this cheeky café introduced me to the world of rosé wine, but really, any wine will do in France. I believe my bottle of choice was Cote du Rhones, which cost a budget-friendly two Euros per bottle.

X: eXcellent view and from where?:

The view from the anchors atop Misty (5.10d) in Sandrock near LaFayette, Alabama. Climbing this beautiful lead route was unnerving, although easily within my abilities. I fought my way through anxiety and self-doubt towards the top of the intimidating rock face, and when I finally reached the top I looked behind me and was dazzled to discover this gorgeous forest landscape illuminated by the setting sun. I had been so preoccupied with the challenging rock in front of me that I hardly noticed the natural scenery behind my back. The view really added to the experience of completing the climb.
Y: Years spent traveling?:

I’ve been traveling the entire 23 years of my life, sometimes in heavier spurts than others – all thanks to my adventurous parents who dragged me all over the world while I was young. My independent travel pursuits really picked up when I found my passion for rock-climbing in 2009. Climbing trips opened the doors to my adoration of camping, road trips, and the vagabond lifestyle.

Z: Zealous sports fans and where?:

Crazy climbers in Moab, Utah. Lounging around the Lazy Lizard Hostel led to overhearing nothing but conversations about new crags, tricky beta, the next day’s climbing adventures, and of course, the beautiful Steph Davis. Every male in the hostel was smitten with the huge poster of this female climbing icon that hung on the hostel refrigerator. It was nearly overwhelming to be thrust into such an engaged and passionate community of diehard climbers.

Thistle, straw, seedlings, and spindly flora at Three Sisters Park in Evergreen, CO

One of my favorite parts about spending time outdoors is simply enjoying the little things – plants, bugs, pebbles, twigs, you name it. My climbing buddies will quickly confess that I often spend more time chasing insects around boulders than I do actually climbing the rocks. I can’t resist becoming instantly distracted the moment I see a beetle crawling by, or a tiny flower peeking out from the dirt.

My mother always proudly credits herself with my buggy fascination. When I was a little tot, she used to wrap earthworms around my fingers and have me wear them as rings – now do you see where my adoration for creepy crawlers comes from? She always encouraged my affection for rolling around in the dirt.

The wintry weather in Colorado seems to have driven the bugs from their usual swarming tendencies, but I still managed to snap some sweet photos of unique dry-weather plant life while hiking through Three Sisters Park (also known as Alderfer Park) in Evergreen, Colorado. The parched landscape has taken on an entirely new appearance since my last visit to the area during summertime, and I think I quite prefer this desert-style look.

As if I needed another reminder that I am in dire need of a macro lens, these up-close shots of nature’s tiniest jewels offers another reason to justify splurging on new photography equipment – but hey, these photographs aren’t too shabby considering I was using a standard kit lens with my Nikon D7000!

Slushy hillside hiking and coyote sightings at Four Mile Creek in Boulder, CO

Weekday escapes to Boulder have become a new tradition as I frequently flee the city limits of Denver to embark on adventures with my mountain-dwelling gal pal, Jane. Our favorite haunt is Flagstaff Mountain, which offers abundant moderate climbs and steep, scenic hiking – but today we opted to scope out a new venue for our afternoon explorations. We scoured the Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks website in search of a new destination, and debated the merits of several different options before settling on the Four Mile Creek/South Foothills trail head off Broadway and Lee Hill.

This area is great for hill runners, leisurely dog-walkers, casual hikers, and even features a paved lower path ideal for handicapped outdoor adventurers – plus, these hills sit directly in the sun, making them a warm winter hiking spot. The beginning of the trail was wide and packed with gravel, though the wintry conditions had us trudging through thick puddles of frozen mud and slick patches of ice. Jane and I appreciated the extra natural challenges, and eagerly stomped on melting sheets of ice as we pressed towards our first loop on the Old Kiln Trail, which led us to a historical limestone kiln dating back to early settlement days.

After easily completing the short mile-long trail, we hiked back to the original fork that separated towards the Old Kiln path, and this time followed a trail that led us to a very frozen Wonderland Lake. Eager to head up into the hills, we veered away from our lake-bound course and headed up a steep, narrow trail that wound up towards the hilltop. Always late to commence our outdoor discoveries, it was nearly sunset as we clamored up the foothills. As usual, Jane captured some impressive shots on her phone – check ‘em out.

On the way back from our hike, Jane and I were entertaining ourselves with the sights of hundreds of fat, barking prairie dogs that dwell along the foothills when we spotted a creature I’ve been dying to see since I started my adventures in Colorado: a sly coyote. We watched as the hungry predator chased plump prairie pups into their tunnels – I was admittedly a little worried that one of my chubby little buddies would become this carnivore’s lunch. Fortunately for me, the prairie dogs managed to stave off the coyote’s tactics, and eventually sent him retreating up the hill as they loudly expressed their disapproval of his presence.

I may have missed this week’s edition of Travel Talk on Twitter, but the great day of hiking and wildlife encounters made it absolutely worth it. I can’t wait to head back to this spot with more time on my hands so I can summit the hill and hopefully meet a few more coyotes.