Who Wants Free Stuff?

10 03 2010

We all want free stuff.

I’ve been tooling around the interwebs recently, and have stumbled across a number of contests.  Even though I could keep them to myself, and increase my chances of winning, I’m going to share them with you all.  My reasons for doing so are selfish too, of course.  The way I see it, if you get a free tent or a free GPS device, it might inspire you to finally get out there and get hiking and camping, and then you’ll keep coming back here and reading.  Right?

GPS For Today is giving away a SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger Tracking Device.  It’s a “come rescue me” beacon.  It won’t tell you how to get yourself unlost, it will tell rescue services to come and find you — and where to find you.  It also lets you send out an “okay” beacon so that loved ones will know you’re safe on longer treks.  GPS for Today is giving away the device and one year of service, and provides a number of ways to enter.  The blog itself, in its own words, “explores the applications of GPS technology for every day life by examining current usage while anticipating what GSP will look like into the future….  We are here to try to anticipate some of the potential uses of GPS technology, exposing the potential abuse while we praise the possible use.” 

Women’s Adventure Magazine has a bunch of giveaways going on right now, for a series of outdoor adventure gear.  This includes: GORE bike pants, a Sierra Trading Post tent, a Marmot Catalyst jacket, a Nikwax package, an assortment of items from the Gear Playground, and an Osprey courier bag.

Pyramid Breweries, a western beer company, is giving away a 5-Day Whitewater Rafting trip (with airfare) in Hell’s Canyon, Idaho.  I think this sounds awesome.  Unfortunately, it’s not open to residents of every state.  Most of the states that qualify are out west.  So, readers, if you live in one of the states that qualifies, enter, and when you win, invite me along, please.  Many thanks!  (**this find courtesy of Hiking Lady.)

Good luck!

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.

The Road Less Traveled is Overrated

8 03 2010

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

– Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

Taking the “road less traveled” is the metaphor we use when we want to muster up the courage to do something out of our comfort zones, congratulate ourselves for choosing the more adventurous alternative, and justify not sticking to boring routines.  As a metaphor, it’s inspiring and comforting at the same time.

Taken literally, however, choosing the “road less traveled” might not always be the wisest decision.  For example, imagine that you’re driving into a blizzard in Vermont.  You could choose to take the interstate most of the way, along with all of the other cars persistently slushing through the precipitation, or you could go the shorter, windier route through the mountains that, during nice weather, is much more pleasant.  Here’s a hint: the road less traveled is a pain in the ass.  (Based on a recent, and very true, story.)

When solo hiking, you may think the road less traveled might be just what you’re looking for.  You want solitude and serenity out in nature, without hordes of other hikers spoiling your meditations, and what better way to achieve that than to find that trail no one else seems to want to hike?

As a casual solo hiker, however, someone who is just dunking a toe into the shallow end to see how it feels, the road less traveled can be scary.  Choosing the trail where you’ll be by yourself might seem ideal at first, but once you’re out there you may change your mind.  It might not be as well-maintained as the more-traveled routes, causing you to question whether you’re still on the trail.  If you’re truly out there on your own, and there is little likelihood anyone will come by, then there won’t be anyone to help you out if you need it.  Finally, you face higher chances of surprising wildlife — hint: surprising wildlife is usually a bad idea — lulled into complacency by the infrequent sightings of humans.

Does that mean that, as a beginning solo hiker, you should only choose the most populated hiking trails?  Not necessarily.  As always, kids, the key here is balance.  That brings us to Rule No. 9:

Choose the Right Trail.

As you get more comfortable solo hiking, and get a sense of your comfort level, this will get easier and easier.  That’s because your comfort level is precisely what should dictate what trail you choose — and not the dire warnings and scare tactics of naysayers. 

While on my Road Trip, I started out picking only those trails that seemed to get a lot of visitors.  I was alone, in the sense that I didn’t have a travel companion, but I wasn’t yet comfortable being alone in the woods, or the desert, or wherever it was that I found myself on that day.  After a few hikes, I became more confident, and soon I wasn’t paying all that much attention to how popular the trail was.  Even so, and to this day, I am comforted when there are a couple of other cars at the trailhead, because I know that, somewhere out there, I’m likely to run into someone.  On the other hand, I dislike hiking on trails that are so populated I’m constantly staring at the heels of the person in front of me.  Happily, it’s easy to find balance once you know what to look for.  Here are a few indicators:

  • How many cars are at the trailhead?  If you’re having trouble finding a place to park — especially if the parking area is large — you’re going to be hiking amidst a sea of other hikers.  If there’s not another car in sight, you’re probably the only one there.  And if there’s a school bus, turn tail and run (or is that just me?).
  • Is the trail highlighted, discussed, or merely mentioned in guidebooks?  The most popular trails can be spotted from miles away because they are considered must-sees and mentioned everywhere you look, while others are less well-known and publicized. 
  • Once you’re on the trail, can you see any other hikers?  Hear them?  If not, that doesn’t mean they aren’t around the next bend, and you can usually tell after hiking for a half hour or so the level of travel on the trail by how many people you meet.

So pick the trail that’s right for you.  If you’ve never solo hiked, you might want to try a couple of well-visited trails to build your confidence rather than seeking true solitude right away.  And it’s okay for even experienced solo hikers to generally prefer to run into at least a couple of people during an 8-hour hike.  Chances are, you’ll find plenty of spots on the trail where you’re on your own and can soul-search and reflect in solitude to your heart’s content.

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.

Daydreaming About Zion Again

5 03 2010

As promised, Her Side presents:

Zion Trip Tips: Part Two

On Wednesday, we talked a little about what to do in Zion National Park itself.  Today, let’s explore outside the boundaries of the main section of Zion Canyon.

Staying in Springdale, on Zion Park Boulevard, is convenient and fun.  The main street is lined with hotels, motels and private campgrounds to fit all manner of budgets and persnicketiness.  I have stayed at the Driftwood Lodge, and found the staff delightful, the rooms clean, and the views incredible.  A major benefit of staying on Zion Park Blvd., however, is its proximity to the west entrance of the park, and the free shuttle that runs along the Blvd. and drops you off at the entrance (where you can switch to the Zion shuttle with no fuss).

Zion Park Blvd. also has a wide assortment of art galleries (paint, photo, and sculpture), artisan shops, rock and crystal stores, and souvenir shops, so you can poke around to your heart’s content.

Hungry?  No problem.  Check out Zion Pizza & Noodle Co., with mouthwatering pizza, pasta and beer (and next to a friendly outfitter so you can plan your excursion to the Narrows after you’re stuffed full of carbs).  In the mood for something spicier?  Stop by the Bit & Spur for margaritas, microbrews, Tex-Mex fare and pool.

Once you’ve had your fill of the main area of Zion National Park (though that will never happen, so perhaps I should rephrase), it’s easy to venture farther afield.  The other, less-visited section of Zion is Kolob Canyons, located a 45-minute drive northwest of the main canyon.  Kolob has a very different feel from the main canyon.  It is quieter, more peaceful.  Arrive early, bring plenty of food and water, and embark upon the 14-mile out-and-back hike to Kolob Arch.  You’ll first descend nearly 700 feet into the canyon, and then trek across barren desert, lush forest, and wild fields before reaching your destination 7 miles in.  The entire round trip takes approximately 8 hours.  It isn’t a particularly strenuous hike but it requires endurance and preparation, since the Utah heat can make you grossly underestimate your water needs.  Also make sure to bring your snake-bite kit.  Chances are, you’ll encounter at least one rattlesnake…but it’s a hike well worth the effort.

Finally, for something completely different, drive the hour and a half to Bryce Canyon.  Bryce is spectacular in its own way, a giant bowl of orange and white hoodoos that will take your breath away.  If you can manage it, plan to arrive before sunrise, station yourself at Sunrise Point, and surrender yourself to awe.  Once the sun has risen, descend into the canyon and take the Peekaboo Loop.  It’s only 5.5 miles, but because of the steep descent at the beginning and ascent at the end, it’s considered a strenuous hike.  Early in the morning, the trail will be clear of the horse and mule riders, and you’ll be able to enjoy the way the sun hits the hoodoos and they appear to glow from within.  **One note: roadwork on the Zion — Mt. Carmel Highway is about to start, and park officials are warning travelers to expect delays or seek alternate routes to get to Bryce from Zion, which would add significant time to the journey.

One additional planning tip.  The internet is your friend.  Check out these websites:

Whatever you choose, Zion (and Bryce) are a great destination for a hiking vacation.  Enjoy!  (PS — Now that I’ve posted this, I’ve decided I need to get back out there, so I’ll be planning my own trip, which will be my third visit.  If that isn’t an endorsement, I don’t know what else to say.)

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.

Let’s Get Mechanical

4 03 2010

Today on Go Girl, I tell you ten things every solo road-tripping girl should know about her car.

Click here to read it.

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.

Daydreaming About Zion

3 03 2010


One of our readers let us know that she’s planning a trip to Zion National Park in May.  Since Zion is one of my top three favorite National Parks, I thought now would be a good time to give some pointers…

Zion Trip Tips: Part One

Zion National Park, just north of Springdale, Utah, is captivating.  Perhaps it’s the lush greenery set against a backdrop of russet, pink and white cliffs.  Perhaps it’s the Virgin River that winds its way through the base of the canyon.  Perhaps it’s Weeping Rock, or the Emerald Pools, or the Court of the Patriarchs, or the Narrows.  Perhaps it’s Springdale itself, or the Mt. Carmel tunnel, or the wildlife, or the rangers, or…

There’s a lot to love about Zion.  Here are a few recommendations about enjoying your time in the park itself.

Utilize Zion’s shuttle service.  Actually, you don’t have much choice, since personal autos aren’t allowed into the park unless you’re staying at the lodge.  The shuttle runs frequently, quietly, and efficiently, and the shuttle drivers are like tour guides.  So sit back and enjoy your trip to the trailhead of your choice.

Hike Angel’s Landing.  I don’t care how afraid of heights you are, or how nervous you are about an intense climb.  Just do it.  Start early in the morning, when the trail will be quiet.  Pack a lunch to eat atop the peak and enjoy the spectacular views.  When you reach the final ascent, keep your eyes peeled for peregrine falcons which nest up there.  Do this early in your trip — it will inspire you for the days ahead.

Avoid Emerald Pools in the middle of the day when it will be crowded.

The Narrows

Check out the Narrows.  The Narrows, for those just joining us, is a hike that takes place in the Virgin River, at a spot in the canyon where the walls are incredibly narrow.  You can hike it from the bottom up (at the end of Riverside Walk at the Temple of Sinawava trailhead), exploring until you decide to turn around, or you can hike from the top down with a permit.  May is supposed to be one of the best times of the year to take this in-the-river hike, but you always have to check with the rangers regarding the likelihood of flash flooding.  Long term Narrows hiking (and top down) require some research and special gear can be rented from nearby outfitters, but a couple of hours of exploring from the bottom up only requires fortitude and hiking poles.

Find some ranger-led programs.  Zion rangers, like rangers in any of the parks, are helpful, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic.

Any questions?

Next time: what to do in Springdale and farther afield…

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.

It’s a Park Thing

1 03 2010

Last year, the National Park system hosted more than 285 million visitors.  This number represents a 10 million-visitor increase over 2008, and comes just shy of breaking the record (287.2 million in 1987).  Last week, the Department of the Interior released a report indicating that the National Park system supports more than 223,000 jobs and nearly $14 billion in economic activity across the country, particularly providing support for smaller, local economies.

Despite this indication that interest in the National Parks is at a high, and despite the economic support generated by the National Parks, the FY2011 federal budget provides for a $21.6 million funding decrease over the current FY2010 budget.  While this is a small percentage, in reality the National Park system is already facing a $580-million annual operating shortfall and a backlog of maintenance projects that exceeds $9 billion.  Moreover, the decrease reverses a committment by the government to restore the operations budget for the National Park system, and falls short of fulfilling the promise of the Obama administration to address the already-existing funding shortfall.

There are others out there who have written on this topic with more detail and depth than I am today.  Instead of repeating all of the arguments already made, I’m going to answer one question:

Why are National Parks important?

  • A National Park vacation can be an affordable alternative to expensive family trips to Disney World, beach resorts, and other popular destinations.
  • Americans are becoming increasingly sedentary, and increasingly content to sit inside and immerse themselves in technology.  The beauty and accessibility of the National Parks provides much-needed inspiration to get outdoors, get some exercise, and leave the Blackberry at home.
  • National Parks are places of wonder.  Waterfalls, canyons, desert, forest, wildlife…as Joni Mitchell once complained, let’s not pave paradise and put up a parking lot.  What’s more, however, the National Park Service makes these spaces of wonder accessible to Joe and Jane Six-Pack…and to you and me.

Those are my reasons for asking for a restored budget for the National Park Service, and the reason I donate to the National Park Service.  Americans are interested.  It stimulates the economy in a real, sustainable fashion, because when visitors come to the parks (domestic and international visitors), they are also supporting local business.  Most importantly, I love visiting the National Parks, learning in them, and sharing them with others.

All I’m asking today is that you visit a National Park.  Think about the importance it has to you.  And then do something about it.

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.