Badlands National Park, SD

The Road Trip Continues… Alaska to Pennsylvania

The last big, outdoor stop on our road trip was Badlands National Park. We spent the morning admiring the Mars-like qualities of this ever-changing, harsh landscape. It was too hot to hike, so we drove to each point of interest, and ate lunch under one of the few trees in the park offering at least a little bit of shade.

What I loved about this park was how drastically different it was. Our trip started out in mountains and woods and snow, and ended in wide-open, sand-blown, spires of gritty, colored rock. Beautiful.

I feel so lucky that we got to spend almost a month immersed in nature.

For the last few days of our road trip, we visited with family and friends, packed up a truck, and made the final push to our new home, Carlisle, PA. The end to a wonderful trip!


Black Hills and Badlands on Dwellable

Custer State Park, SD

The Road Trip Continues… Alaska to Pennsylvania

By the time we entered the Black Hills of South Dakota we had been on the road for 15 days, only one of which we spent in a hotel. We could put up and take down our tent with our eyes closed. We were road trip experts. But there were two things we weren’t prepared for: people and heat.

After spending so much time in the north, where we were still sleeping in a snow hat and gloves at night (in July), the heat of 90 degree days felt like being smothered. And it had been a long time since we had seen such thick swarms of people. It felt a little like wandering out of the woods into an amusement park. But, the scenery of Custard State Park made up for it!

Our destination was the home of Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and the scenic Needles Highway. While in the park we also spent time at Sylvan Lake and hiked to Harney Peak. For us, Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse felt too busy, so we looked at them from the road and moved along. Neat, but I’m glad we had more time for the Needles Highway and our hike.

The Needles Highway is awesome. The road, particularly the middle portion, switchbacks up and through granite tors that burst from the hills like candle sticks. The rock seems to have an artistic mind of its own. Each outcropping, stretches and bends and buckles in Play-doh-turned-rock kind of ways.

My favorite spot on the highway was the Cathedral Spires. A row of granite towers linked in a chain across the sky. It seemed like I should hear the trumpeted bellow of an organ at any minute. Another neat spots was a rock tunnel, that turned so sharply around a corner it looked like it was going to swallow the car trying to navigate its narrow channel.

We also loved our hike to Harney Peak. At 7,242 feet, it is the highest peak east of the Rockies and offers a wonderful 360 degree view from a historic stone fire tower perched amid larger boulders. The wind was blustery, whipping across the exposed peak, as we looked out across the Black Hills. Lovely.

Glacier National Park, Part 2

The Road Trip Continues… Alaska to Pennsylvania

If you haven’t guessed, I love to hike. And Glacier is one of those parks you can really go crazy hiking. So I hope you don’t mind hearing me gush about two more trails.

First, Gunsight Lake Trail. Although this trail comes with a caution, the first four miles are, well, not great. We even thought about turning around. Lots of over grown vegetation on the trail, but totally worth it in the end. The trail is about 13 miles round trip, and after you finally get past the first four miles, you cross along a ridge with outstanding views and continue up to the lake, which is beautiful.

The ridge offers views deep into the valley, with a huge waterfall on the other side, and red-toned mountains that are banded in scars from ancient glacial movement. The lake is clear, turtle-green, and cold. It is ringed by a bowl of mountains and 20 plus waterfalls funneling into the lake. We spent an hour snacking, skipping rocks, cooling our feet, and soaking in the views that have come to define this park for me.

On the trail back, we also took a short side trail to a huge waterfall. We guessed the falls were at least 100 yards long and spread out in a watery-fan near the bottom. The spray was so heavy my camera lens was covered in spots, and we were totally wet after looking at the view for ten minutes. I think that might be the sign of a good waterfall 🙂

Our last hike in the park was Scenic Point Trail, in the southern Two Medicine area. The landscape here was really different. On the hike we rose up onto a mountainside covered in sun-bleached tree trunks, low alpine flowers, and a snaking, rocky trail. We had great views of Two Medicine Lake and enjoyed a constant breeze on this exposed trail. I particularly liked the ghost-white trees. Other worldly.

An amazing national park.

Glacier National Park, Part 1

The Road Trip Continues… Alaska to Pennsylvania

I had planned to do one blog for Glacier National Park, but this morning as I sat down to write I realized there is just too much for one post. We spent four days in this fabulous park, and I wish we had more time. In order to maximize our time, we hit a different section of the park each day, sleeping in a new campground each night.

Our first night we stayed at Many Glaciers campground, in the northern part of the park, and woke up early (hoping to beat some of the heat) to hike Iceberg Lake Trail. This gradual ten mile hike is beautiful. It moves up along a ridge and in and out of the woods as it curls higher towards the lake.

Along the way, little creeks rushed across the trail turning the stone crimson red and wildflowers speckled the hill like multicolored freckles. On the open ridge line you could see out into the valley and above to the rugged mountains. The mountains here are so different than in Canada. They are darker and older looking, at the peaks they look broken and fragile, like the unfinished edge of a jigsaw puzzle.

Near the end of the trail we crossed into several snow fields, slick and icy under the afternoon sun. The snow packed trail ended at a half-moon of mountains surrounding the frozen Iceberg Lake, where we stopped for lunch. I loved the water falls formed by snow melt cascading down every crack on the mountain faces and the cotton-like puffs of clouds overhead. Beautiful. One of my favorite hikes in the park.

Another highlight from the park: the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Beyond the sheer craziness of creating the road, which is cut into the side of a mountain, and is constantly fight erosion and water, the views and stops along this make it a place I don’t mind being stuck in a car rather than out on a trail. The road twists and bends, and at one point, we drove directly under a waterfall. So cool.

More on Glacier National Park soon.

Lake Louise, Canada

The Road Trip Continues… Alaska to Pennsylvania

When we arrived in the town of Lake Louise we went straight to the campground, which is right “downtown” (including a stop sign, a little corner of stores, and two restaurants). While we were waiting in line, a ranger came up to the car and told us there were still a few spots left in the tent camping area (which is separated from the RV section). Then in a nonchalant tone she tells us there is an electric fence surrounding the tent camping area. Electric! She explains that this is to keep the bears out. Yep. And then continues to tell us, in the same tone, that today in the RV park a grizzly charged several people. Hmm.

We had been living smack in the middle of grizzly country for 10 months and never had to sleep behind an electric fence. Crazy. But honestly, it was kinda cool. Our first and only night being fenced in 🙂

After throwing up the tent, we decided to check out the famous Lake Louise. It wasn’t exactly what I expected.  It is pretty, yes, but after all the beauty we had seen and would continue to see, it wasn’t our most impressive stop. It is touristy. A giant hotel fills one whole side and people poured out around the lake like ants on a good crumb.

There were even women wearing heels. Heels! And there I was in pants I had worn for at least the last four days.  So maybe it just wasn’t my kind of outdoor experience.

But, the good news, just outside of Lake Louise is the Valley of Ten Peaks, which surround Moraine Lake, and holy cow this place is pretty. Lucas and I arrived in early evening just as the sun was about to dip behind the mountains and most people had already left for dinner. We sat up on “the rock pile” a literal pile of rocks facing the lake, and enjoyed the quiet beauty of the mountains.

And then…. we saw an avalanche. It was high up on the face of a mountain. It echoed like thunder, and then snow rushed down the face like a waterfall. It lasted long enough for Lucas to get out his camera, zoom in, and take a picture. So cool.

A wonderful way to end our time in Canada.

Next stop: Glacier National Park!

The Icefields Parkway, Canada

The Road Trip Continues… Alaska to Pennsylvania

The Icefields Parkway is possibly one of the prettiest stretches of road I have ever driven on. And after a year in Alaska, that is saying a lot. The road is approximately 140 miles long and passes through Jasper National Park, Lake Louise, and Banff National Park. It cuts directly through the mountains like some kind of insane scenery-driven roller coaster. Jaw dropping.

Below are a few of my favorite spots along this amazing scenic highway:

Athabascan Falls

The sheer amount of water rushing and twisting over and under rock makes this place special. The first part of the falls is the most dramatic, a giant plunge into a smoothed out bowl of churning white water. The spray here was so intense we were covered in tiny droplets that blinked in the sun like Christmas lights.

After the initial drop, the falls cut through a deep canyon, crashing into the walls in violent bursts. I loved the curved face of the canyon walls, smoothed by time and water.

A bonus, in the early morning light, the mist created several rainbows that hung over the water like brightly colored ribbon.

Tangle Falls

This waterfall was unique in the way it stretched out across the rock face like tree roots, bending and splitting and reaching towards the clear, deep pool. And it did this again and again in a series of falls and pools, feeding into one another. A woven wall of water.

Columbia Icefield

The icefield, one of the largest accumulations of ice and snow south of the Arctic Circle, feeds 8 glaciers and gets up to 275 inches of snow fall per year. From the highway you can see it sitting on top of the mountains like a massive layer of icing, thick-white. I am always amazed to see reminders, like this, of how the world used to look, covered in endless layers of white.

Athabascan Glacier

Pouring, like over flow from a full sink, Athabascan Glacier slides down the side of a mountain to form a horseshoe-shaped tongue. At the toe (the lowest end of a glacier), the snow is dirty and dripping, but above it on the walls of the mountain you can see hanging glacier, glinting blue, and the cracks of an icefall.

We also liked the year markers indicating the ghost of what was once the toe of the glacier. The 2000 marker is almost 100 yards from where the toe now sits. Hard to believe how fast it is receding.

Hiking Wilcox Pass Trail

This trail cuts above treeline quickly, offering views of the Athabascan Glacier and the Columbia Icefield beyond it. We crossed over graying snow and thin, cold streams running clear and slick across the rocky bottom. But my favorite part was when the trail swung up and over a rocky hill into the pass. Here the alpine meadow, spotted with gray boulders, stretches out into a canvas of green. It felt like the setting for a fairy tale.

The Weeping Wall

This spot is right along the highway. You turn a corner and bam: a giant wall of rock with long thin vertical lines of water cresting over the knife sharp edge of the cliff and sprinkling towards the ground. It is so big that everything looks small. The water looks quiet and wispy, but I am positive that it is all much bolder and more intense than it looks.

Peyto Lake

The color of this lake is like a dream or maybe straight out of Neverland. I am almost surprised we didn’t see Peter and Wendy drifting by. So pretty.