Summer Reads for Travel Inspiration

Summer is just starting to get underway, and I’ve been stuck inside for almost two weeks with a terribly nasty sinus infection. This has given me plenty of time to read and dream about future travel plans. For anyone else out there who wants to find some fresh pages to explore, here are my recommendations.

1) Suite Venitienne by Sophie Calle

This unusual book of photos is the fascinating result of a photographer who spent her time following strangers and photographing them without their knowing. One day she followed a man, and when she accidentally bumped into him later at a party she decided to follow him all the way to Venice to continue photographing him. The book is full of her black and white photos of Venice and her search for the mystery man. It is fantastically weird and uncomfortable, and the mystery of it all will keep you turning the pages.

2) Cry of the Kalahari by Mark and Delia Owens

This book is the real-life adventure of Mark and Delia Owens who packed up the bare necessities and took off into the trackless expanse of the Kalahari desert in Botswana, Africa to study the wildlife there. With no other humans for hundreds of miles and nothing but desert wilderness surrounding them, this couple become deeply involved with the animals that populate the Kalahari and the delicate ecology there. This book is a thrilling and emotional look at one of the few places of true wilderness left to humans on this planet.

3) No Baggage by Clara Bensen

Clara Bensen had only been dating Jeff for a month when he invited her on a three week trek across Europe, starting in Istanbul. Jeff proposed a trip with no itinerary and no baggage. Clara said yes, and the rest is in the book. This story takes readers on an unpredictable ride through eight countries over twenty one days, all done with absolutely no baggage (they each only brought one outfit to wear) and trusting to the universe to provide them with places to stay and things to do.

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Camping in Rocky Mountain National Park: Ain’t Nothin’ Like It

Last weekend we managed to ditch our regular lives and disappear into that fantastic world of campfires, bird song, fresh air, and bear poo. It was my first camping trip of the year and I feel like the summer camping season couldn’t have had a better start. We left Denver early and drove the hour and forty five minutes to RMNP where the line of cars to get in was already frustratingly long. Unlike when we had the whole place to ourselves (on a rainy Wednesday) this sunny Saturday the park was packed! The only open campground in the off season is first come first served, so we were anxious to see if we would even get a site. We shouldn’t have worried though, because most weekend campers were apparently sleeping in and there were plenty of places to choose from. I took the photo below from a meadow across the camp road from us. You can see my little blue car in the center of the foreground, and the background is dominated by Long’s Peak. Incidentally the meadow I was in was full of alllll kinds of poo, but mostly elk and a little bit of bear.

We decided to make Saturday a lazy camp day. T.G strung up a hammock and decided to nap and read a book in the shade of the trees. I had a hard time staying still, so I decided to go for a wander and check out our surroundings. Although the weather had previously promised rain and thunderstorms all weekend we had nothing but sunny weather! This meant plenty of other people to contend with in the park, but I kept trying to remind my crotchety introverted self that it was good that so many people wanted to visit a national park. A very good thing. Besides, we were tourists too, and had no more of a claim on the park than anyone else.

Having a lazy camp day, in my opinion, should definitely involved sitting around with a book and a mug of wine. Also, a hammock. This we did for a few hours. Later in the day we went for a walk through some of the camp loops that are still closed for the season. It turns out that they are all stunning, and with the recent heavy rainfall, numerous ponds had appeared, and all were full of singing frogs.

While sitting in camp we observed the camp life going on around us. The kids next to us argued about stand up comedians. A single guy cooked gourmet food at his site, and a van with Minnesota license plates pulled up and a bunch of college students came spilling out, obviously thrilled to be out of the car. Maybe the most entertaining thing we witnessed (besides T.G’s new bestie Darrel, the firewood guy) was the enormous and oversized camper that pulled in. It was ironically named ‘Solitude’ and was about three times the size of my apartment. The man in the driver seat struggled- and eventually failed- to park it at one of the campsites. It wasn’t for lack of trying though; his wife was “helpfully” yelling instructions at him the whole time. It was a bit sad when poor Solitude finally gave up and drove off.

Just after sundown, in that weird twilight time, we walked through the trees to observe the vast openness of the part of the park we were in. This meadow has a stream winding through it and is enclosed by mountains on all sides. We saw Long’s Peak still illuminated by all the snow in the darkness. Evening birds were calling out. The sounds minivans and trucks were gone.

We cooked (tofu) brats over the campfire and went to bed not too long after dark. Thanks to my magnificent sleeping bag (I think I probably wrote a love story about my sleeping bag in an earlier camping post) I was cozy and slept pretty well. It did not rain, but a cold wind blew through from time to time. Just before dawn I got up to use the bathroom and enjoyed the early morning peacefulness of the park. My only companions were some mourning doves and a couple of crows.

The next morning we were up early to drink coffee and get started on a long hike. We ate a leisurely breakfast and then packed up. We planned to drive to the trailhead and let someone else take over our campsite.

In December of 2016 I hiked part of the Cub Lake trail and loved it. I was not used to hiking, and that plus incoming snow turned me around before I finished it. This time we were going to hike it all the way through and then some. The trail starts off in the flat land and follows a small stream more or less as you head towards the mountains. In 2012 it was an area that was partially burned by wildfire and the evidence was in the burn scar on the hill and all the charred logs near the trail. We passed ponds and boulder fields, and eventually the trail began to climb. There were a few other groups hiking around us, but for the most part this area of the park felt secluded. At one point, in a woodsy section, a couple of other hikers gestured to us. “Do you know if elk charge?” On the trail right in front of us were about six bull elk casually walking by. They were absolutely enormous! We could smell the animal mixture of sweat and ammonia coming off of them, and see the fine detail of the fuzz on their new antler growth. We proceeded cautiously.

The hike was gorgeous. The halfway point was Cub Lake. We stopped to admire it for a bit, enjoyed the sight of some elk taking advantage of the water, and then headed on. By this point it looked as if some rain might come in, so we were motivated to finish the second part of the hike and get back to the car. We stopped for snacks along the way, but mostly kept moving. The trail now started going back down. I hadn’t realized how much elevation we had gained until we started to descend.

The last part of the hike was level and followed a creek. It was shadier than other parts of the trail and cooler owing to either the oncoming rain or the water, or both. I was pretty beat by the end of it, and glad to see the car at the trailhead. That doesn’t mean I was happy to be leaving RMNP though! I thought many unkind thoughts about the city and the crowds that were descending on my neighborhood for the Cinco de Mayo festival.

This has gone down as one of the best camping trips ever, in my book. Plus it was the first time I have camped in a national park and the whole experience was so much grander. The mountains and wildlife sightings definitely helped with that, of course. It also taught us about what to bring next time (obviously the hammock), what we needed for future use (hello pretty enamel camp mugs that-I’ve-been-holding-back-from-buying-but-now-I-have-a-reason), and what not to bring. I’m eager to go back, but with work getting busy and the summer tourist season approaching I’m not sure when that will be. Until then, I guess we can at least use our sweet annual pass to come back on rainy Wednesdays!

The Day We Had A National Park To Ourselves

The crowds at national parks can be overwhelming, especially when you just want to get on the trail and bypass the touristy stuff. Nobody comes to a place like Rocky Mountain National Park just to sit in their vehicle while long lines of traffic stretch ahead.

It turns out, though, that there is a recipe for having a park all to yourself. It takes one part snow, one part weekday, and one part early morning to create the perfect mixture of calm, quiet, and empty roads. Having left Denver around 6:15 am we made good time to the park, and even beat the park rangers to the entrance! It was cold and the rain had turned to a mixture of sleet and snow, but we were undeterred.

We chose to turn left at the fork in the road and go up first. The roads started to get slick pretty fast as the snow and slush accumulated at the higher altitude. We tramped around briefly in the snow, but quickly decided to drive back down.

The roads were gloriously free of traffic and the park was silent except for the wind and the various bird calls. T.G has been working on learning not only to identify birds by sight, but also by their calls. We’re both novices at recognizing bird species, but when it comes to other animals there was no mistaking the big shaggy creatures clumped around the park. The famous elk of RMNP were out in full force on this day.

Can you spot where I am in this photo?

We got out to explore here and there, but we had been saving our energy mainly for a hike. There are so many trails in the park it can be hard to decide which one to take; however our choice was made easier by the fact that many of the trails with a higher elevation would be socked in with too much snow for us. The trail we ended up choosing was gorgeous. We enjoyed watching the view change from rainy forests with mist rolling over the landscape to silent snowy woods. T.G stopped to try out one of his bird calls on a chickadee, who was confused (I think), but not really fooled. We saw hoof imprints as big as my whole hand. We even lost the trail in the snow for a bit!

After our hike we explored more of the park. It seemed so open and huge! My special gift of summoning moose came into play again, as we saw a cluster of park rangers and a few other tourists (okay, so by this point a few other people had come to the park) pointing at one of the huge animals roaming around by the river.

We wrapped up our day with a quick jaunt over to Bear Lake and then some more elk sightings as we cruised some of the roads crossing the park. We were both pretty tired at this point, and craving fried food and beer. I think a good day of hiking and exploring is not complete without fried food and beer. I am lucky enough to have been to RMNP about half a dozen times, but this trip was definitely one of the best. Any trip is made better by having a companion who is just as excited about adventure as you are, and the rain/snow that deterred many people just made the landscape even more dramatic. We were thrilled by the isolation on the trails and road. I think this day was the perfect recipe for a day in a national park.

*Note: This is a rare photograph of T.G, who only gave his permission for me to post this because of how dark it is. I like it anyway.

Snowy Walks With Big Cats

The sun is up and warming up the air nicely by the time we get up and head outside to explore. By this, I mean that The Guy was shoveling steps and paths, and I was meandering through the snowy woods. The snow was deep enough to creep over the tops of my boots, but I didn’t mind. It was white and powdery, and the only thing that marred it’s perfect surface were the deer tracks that I was following. Here and there a cascade of snow would come down from the tree branches. Birds sang from the branches.  I think they were probably glad to be out in the sun instead of huddling for warmth in the trees. I had wandered a fair distance from The Guy. It would be easy enough for him to find me by following my footprints in the snow when he was done shoveling, but for now I was on my own. I was feeling optimistic, and the stress from work had melted away as I breathed in the fresh mountain air and marveled at the snowy landscape. I felt that peculiar feeling of being watched and I thought of the fresh deer trail I was walking beside. Of course, this was before we heard about the mountain lions.

The day before:

Work was sending me into a downward anxiety spiral and I just couldn’t get away fast enough. It was beginning to snow down in Denver and I figured whatever was happening here was tenfold up in the mountains. The Guy agreed to collect my halfway between my home in Denver and his west, in the mountains. Road conditions were patchy at best, and getting worse. It was a relief when we finally made it up the “hill” and into the house. From inside we could watch the snowfall with metal cups of wine. I essentially spent the evening burrowed under a pile of blankets, not unlike a hibernating bear (except instead of stocking up on berries and fish for the winter, I stocked up on wine, and instead of winter it was April).

The next morning we were up early, per usual. We waited just long enough for the sun to come up before we were out exploring. I wandered through the snow (see above) and The Guy made himself useful. He did find me eventually, and together we hiked up to the little trail that we like to amble along. He made time to stop and laugh as a tree dumped some of it’s snow load down the collar of my jacket. I made time to stop and taste the snow. We took in the sun, the birds, and the fresh air. It was lovely. Then we got back to house. I don’t think we had been inside for more than fifteen minutes before The Guy received a text from a neighbor:

“Just wanted to let you know that I saw a couple of mountain lions on your property when I drove by earlier.”

There, just like that, everything we had done was thrown into sharp relief. The Guy going outside alone the night before to toss wood in the boiler. My solitary wander through the woods. Our amble along a trail which is usually heavily trafficked by local wildlife. The feeling of being watched.

I guess all you can do is shrug and keep a weather eye out for big ole’ cat turds on the trail. It’s just the way it goes.

A Long Weekend in the Mountains

This past week I took some time off work to spend time in the mountains. The boyfriend, who values his privacy, offered up his mountain home as our base of operations. I’m going to refer to him as That Guy, or TG.

We were treated to some stunning sunrises and sunsets, some crazy high winds, and plenty of warm winter sunshine. The stars were out in full force up there since there only a handful of neighbors and no city light pollution. I have to admit that I was so much of a wuss about the cold nighttime temperatures that I pretty much ruined every attempt we made at stargazing by dashing back inside the house after only a minute or two.

The sunrises were visible from the big picture windows in the main living room of the house, which also looks out over a valley. It’s a pretty good spot for sipping coffee in the early mornings. To observe sunset we followed a trail that led up and away from the house and over the remains of an old mine. The elevation is right about 9,000 feet so even this short trek left me out of breath.

We did plenty of hiking during the day, and we even explored some of the old mines in the area. TG has sworn to do more research on the area to find out more about these slightly-creepy-yet-fascinating ruins. This area was one of the original gold rush towns, and the hills surrounding the main city are dotted with heaps of mine refuse, old tunnels, and mysterious pits that have been somewhat filled in. Curiously, we also noticed that many of the pits have had a tree planted (or maybe it just grew?) right in the middle.

The wind gusted up to 70 mph during our last few days, and although the sun was out and warming up the air, it was still cold outside. We made a few forays outside to check the big wood-burning boiler (which was responsible for heating the house and all the hot water) and enjoyed some leisurely drinks around the fire. Mostly though we stayed inside and watched the olympics in PyeongChang, or experimented in the kitchen to create more and more potato themed meals…

Coming back to the city on Sunday required some adjustment. While I was happy to be back in my own little studio apartment, and happy to see my kitties and bunny, it was bittersweet to leave the valleys and trees and see instead the traffic and hear the ambulances rushing by.

We enjoyed a delicious lunch in the sunny nearly-70-degree weather with my brother, who had flown into town for the weekend. Then *le sigh* it was back to business as usual. Back to work. Goodbye to the mountains, the bracing hikes (yikes, breathing and exercising at 9000 feet is no joke!), the lazy afternoons with a glass of wine, the potato hash for breakfast, and the exciting rounds of hike-n-go-seek in a big house. That’s the thing about living in Colorado: you can love the city life, but travel even just one hour away from home and you find yourself in a landscape so exciting you can’t help but get lost in it.

Postcards from San Francisco

I’m borrowing an idea from my favorite blogger (Rebecca of A Clothes Horse) and taking some of my favorite photos from my trip to San Francisco and posting them as “postcards”. Enjoy!

There’s nothing like Ocean Beach on a sunny day

It was a short trip to my favorite city, but a fabulous way to ring in my 28th birthday and catch up with old friends. Not to mention take a brake from the cold weather in Colorado and soak up some sunshine!

If You’re Going to San Francisco…

Yep, I’m heading back to one of my favorite places in the world, San Francisco. I leave Saturday morning from my home in Denver. Between now (Thursday night) and then I have one twelve hour shift, two cats to deliver, one rabbit to transport, and a bag to pack. If you’ve read any of my other posts you’ll know my usual last-minute scramble. If you’ve ever been to San Francisco you’ll know that while the weather is generally the same, you can fluctuate between bitter damp cold and fog and sunny sunny blue skies at any given moment- meaning it’s hard to pack for.

It’s a short trip, and as I discovered last time, the fewer articles of clothing I bring the more I can find at thrift stores and consignment shops as I explore the city! I’m keeping my plans fairly loose, but I have my usual list of favorite places tumbling along in my head.

1) City Lights and Green Apple Books

2) Ocean Beach

3) Golden Gate Park

And this time I am determined to set wheel against track in the house-of-worship-turned-roller-rink called the Church of Eight Wheels. I can’t wait!

Finally, this is a birthday present from me to me. I know I’ll be working through Christmas and New Year’s, just like I worked through Thanksgiving, so I thought I would at least treat myself for my birthday. I guess that’s one hell of a birthday party? Oh, and since I started typing this I’ve already packed 60% of my suitcase, so I’m ahead of the game!

The Last Minute Road Trip

Recently one of my oldest friends, Kelsey, flew into Colorado to attend a wedding.  Now the airport is in Denver (where I live) and the wedding was in a tiny mountain town three to four hours west of Denver.  Her ride fell through and I had the day off.  I offered to take her- after all, a drive through the mountains can be glorious- but I needed to be back in time for my shift at work the next day.  I originally wanted to take the quickest route to drop her off and then turn right around…That didn’t happen.  Something way better did.  We took the day and turned it into one of those feels-like-you’re-in-a-movie adventures.  I was exhausted by time I got home, sometime after 12 am, but I am so glad we went.  

Just one of the places we stopped on our way up through the mountains.

I mean, is this place even real?
The top of the pass! It was eerily quiet up there and a bit hard to catch our breath since the air was so thin.



There were a handful of other intrepid travelers walking around the top of the pass.  It was above the tree line and the landscape was tundra, so the colors were all muted brown and greens.  There was almost no sound except for the wind and the murmur of voices.  A few people had dogs, all of whom seemed unconcerned about the altitude.  Most of the people, myself included, ended up huffing and puffing in the thin air as we walked around and explored.  It was quite cold!



As we left the pass the road wound down through the forest which was splattered with vibrant yellow trees among all the green. There was a river careening through the rocks off to our our left, so we stopped to get out and explore for a bit.




It was a whirlwind trip.  I got to spend time catching up with one of my oldest friends and we had a fabulous time exploring and take in the mountain air.  I don’t get away from the city as often as I like and I guess sometimes it takes something like a friend in need to take you out of the humdrum of your regular routine.  Between stress at work and a busy schedule I was starting to lose my mind a bit, but this trip was exactly what I needed to recenter myself and find some peace of mind.  

The Best Things About Being Home (Briefly)

As summer winds down it turns out a lot of people are taking trips.  I guess I was always under the assumption that as September rolls around and fall starts to settle in people hunker down.  I was wrong!  I have been delightfully busy house sitting for some of my favorite Colorado dog owners.  While this means that I get to cuddle and play with some wonderful pups, it also means that I haven’t been home much.  My cats are feeling a bit neglected!  While I was home for a few days this week I feel back into my Capitol Hill routine.  There are some great things to do if you ever find yourself in this part of Denver, so here are a few of my favorites.

The street art around here never fails to disappoint

Pizza at Benny Blancos.  This is truly a hole in the wall establishment, as it is a narrow shop nestled in between bigger and louder buildings.  I literally walked right past it twice!  Different people had recommended this place for a slice of New York style pizza and they knew what they were talking about!  For $2.50 you can get an enormous slice of pizza. You can add just about any topping your heart desires for a little more (something like .50).  Be warned, only about three or four people can fit inside at any given time, so you might end up standing on the sidewalk outside while you wait!

Drinks at City O City.  This place is mainly known for it’s tasty vegetarian fare (wohoo!) but I actually end up coming here more often to grab a cup of coffee or to take advantage of their great Happy Hour specials.  Happy Hour takes place for several hours at a time, two times a day!  They serve craft cocktails, a selection of beer and cider, great coffee, and even house made kombucha.  Not to mention the artwork you can take in inside the building is gorgeous, OR you can sit outside and sip your libation in few of the golden capitol building.
Relaxing at Cheeseman Park or City Park.  I know I’ve written about the parks in this neighborhood before, but I just can’t praise them enough.  As if the colorful history weren’t enough (haunted parks!) both feature plenty of shady space to relax, open grass for dogs to play, and playgrounds for kids or adults-who-just-want-to-swing.  I like to bring a blanket, thermos of beer or coffee, and my ipad or a book to kick back for a few hours.

The Denver Art Museum Is just down the street from me.  You can’t miss the iconic chrome structure gleaming in the sun!  Not to mention all the crazy sculptures out front.  This place has plenty of cool exhibits on display, plus the architecture itself makes for a very trippy experience just walking around.  Plus, the first Saturday of every month is a free day!

Voodoo Doughnut Is another place I write/talk about frequently.  Yes it is a bit of a tourist attraction, but for a good reason.  This place has the perfect quirky downtown vibe that I love and the donut selection is pretty magical.  I have my favorites, but whenever I bring friends here I try to think outside the box and try a new creation!  Creation, not flavor, is the right word since some of these donuts looks like pieces of delicious art piles high with peanut butter, cereal, marshmallows, coconut flakes, frostings- you get the picture.  There are even vegan donuts available! Plus, since this joint is open 24 hours, there is no wrong time for dessert.

So yeah…those are a few of my favorite things.  I have could go on- there are tons of tiny cafes, restaurants, and bars around here but I think I would run out of battery life before I got done trying to type it all up!  If you ever find yourself in Denver head towards the golden dome of the capitol building and spend some time in Capitol Hill.

People To Watch

I take it as a sign of an active mind when I see someone or something that sends me into fits of excitement.  Finding inspiration is thrilling!  Inspiration doesn’t necessarily need to relate to one specific subject; in fact I just enjoy other people’s zeal and zest for life.  Inevitable that spices my up own day to day.  Here are some people to watch if you are looking for a little (or quite a bit) of extra color in your life.

Tim Bengel– this young German guy who, it turns out, can do some pretty amazing thing with a creative eye and some sand.  You might have seen some of his YouTube videos floating around of the process he goes through to create each piece.  I have no way of getting to New York to see his upcoming exhibit, and no way of flying to Stuttgart any time soon to see his other work, but one can dream, right?
The Travelettes, and especially Katja.  These woman have made a career of exploring the world and telling people about it!  Katja is the founder and seems to have just a fountain of good ideas about life, travel, art, and fashion.  Not to mention she does it all with her adorable little toddler by her side.
Rebecca of A Clothes Horse is a blogger I have avidly followed for a year and half now.  I stumbled across an interview with her on Modcloth’s blog and fell in love with her style right off the bat.  Not only that, though, her blog is tastefully refreshingly and full of gorgeous photos that she takes herself.  She posts fun lists of old movies to watch at Christmas time, and even involves her husband in some of her sillier photo shoots.  I just never seem to get tired of her posts.
It’s a short list, but trust me, these people have enough content to keep you gazing at their pages, slack jawed, for quite some time.  Enjoy!