I’ve done it again. I thought I was preparing so much for my trip back home for Christmas…that I actually didn’t prepare much at all. I have to be at the airport in a few hours, and luckily a friend has offered to drive me there. I purchased most of the Christmas gifts for people on my list. Yet here I sit, on my floor, with the the cat nearby, and a heap of stuff piled on my bed, waiting to be sorted and/or packed. Sigh.
…I’ve never really travelled at Christmas before. I don’t count driving the 90 or so miles between Madison and Milwaukee that I did for a handful of years. Here I am in the Las Vegas airport (see a post from earlier this year where I was hunkered down here too) waiting for my flight to Wisconsin. I just barely made it into my flight from Denver, and I mean just barely. It was only the second time I have had to run through an airport to my gate. The first time was in Johannesburg, South Africa, but that’s a different story.
That’s the thing about Christmas travel: stakes are high and miscalculations could cost you your holiday. I know the airport is busy this time of year, but I underestimated just how busy it would be at 4 am. Just about everyone is travelling somewhere important, so no one is messing around. Getting home for Christmas is serious business.
My friends supplied me with some free drink tickets, so here I sit, biding my time in the Las Vegas airport, waiting to get on the plane and get my mimosa. Merry Christmas indeed.
When you travel you inevitably want to bring something back with your to commemorate your adventures. I like to purchase jewelry or some kind of apparel. It’s natural to want some kind of reminder of your trip and to have something to show that you were there. Since travel can be quite expensive depending on where you go and what you do while you are there, it might be hard to justify spending a load of cash on something impratical and frankly hard to squeeze into your luggage. Furthermore, in some places you just can’t or shouldn’t take something because it might harm the ecology or be disrespectful. Here are five suggestions for souvenirs that won’t shatter your budget or prove difficult to cram into the overhead compartment.
1) A map. You can pick up a paper map of wherever you are for cheap. It folds up nice and tiny, and when you get home you can do something fun like highlighting routes you traveled or places you stayed. If you want to be nice and fancy, hang it on your wall in a nice frame for all your friends and family to admire.
2) Take and empty jar, label it if you want, and fill it with pieces of paper that you write your adventures on. I don’t mean novels, here, just little things. Every traveler has memories that are like snapshots of a time, event, or place. Maybe it’s when you were sipping coffee at a bustling cafe in Amsetrdam and you just enjoyed taking in the scenery. It could be from a great night at the beach, enjoying a bonfire with fellow wanderers. It could be anything! Writing it down is a great way to remember those little moments, and however far down the road when you decide to reach into your jar, you can pull out one of those scraps of paper and relive the moment.
3) A soil or rock collection. Now, I am certainly not condoning stealing a rock from a sacred site, or ripping plants out of the ground and running around with them willy-nilly. Use your common sense. A friend of mine had a collection of little glass jars full of soil and each jar had a location written on it. I was so inspired that I started a little collection of my own. Often enough I forgot to collect a sample, so there are only a handful of jars in the collection right now, but I absolutely love looking at them. You can find little jars at most thrift shops, or you can purchase mason jars from grocery stores. Getting creative with the jar and the labeling is part of the fun, not to mention being able to show off more places that you have visited.
4) Make prints of your favorite photos. People don’t usually make physically photo albums anymore, and that seems like a real shame. Yes you can store hundreds of thousands of photos online for free or very in expensively, but there is something wonderful about cracking open and album on the coffee table and pouring over your favorite photos. Luckily you can send your digital picture from your camera to somewhere like Target or Walgreens and have them printed that same day. There are also a myriad of apps that will print your stuff and ship it to you, like Cheerz, which is a free app.
5) A tattoo. Now I know that this one isn’t for everyone, and honestly can be expensive, but it is also a lasting piece of art that you get to carry around with you and (hopefully) show off. Part of what I love about tattoos is the memory of actually receiving it. The excitement of finalizing the piece with the artist, the stencil on your skin, the buzz of the machine, and most importantly, the relationship with the artist. If you happen to be in an interesting local at the same time it makes for the best kind of souvenir. Be sure not to make a decision hastily though; think about possible tattoos before you go so that you aren’t just getting any old designed inked into your skin. I got a lovely bird from a young artist while I was in Botswana, and just recently went under the needle of a close friend while I was celebrating my birthday up in the mountains with her. It’s the Canis Major constellation. I love those two pieces because of how and where I received them. Plus, they take up zero luggage space.
T-shirts, pottery, jewelry, and expensive wines are all well and good to bring home. Bonus points if you bought some for your loved ones! I hope these suggestions might come in handy on your next adventure when you find yourself breathless with wonder, but a little short on cash or space.
It’s the weekend before my birthday I and decided to drive three hours straight west into the mountains to spend time with an old friend. She lives in a picturesque little town called Carbondale. The Crystal River flows nearby, the mountains surround us, and the downtown is only one street. I’m sipping my cappuccino in a cafe called Bonfire. The drink is good, and since it’s late in the afternoon the place is nearly empty. There’s me of course, writing, and a small group of baby boomer’s discussing things like the con-artistry of Costco, and raising kids. Outside the temperature hovers just above freezing and the sleet turned to snow. In Carbondale the trees all have Christmas lights and the bars have outdoor fireplaces for people to enjoy both the the scenery and beer.
I can’t say this is cafe is entirely my style but the scone I ate was delicious and the cappuccino is doing it’s job of perking me up and keeping my productive. In between writing this I’m adding the finishing touches to another travel piece for a different blog. I have a book too (of course), and the pressure is on to finish the last hundred plus pages before it’s due at the library on Monday.
I really enjoy hiking, but let me just say here and now that my version of hiking isn’t the REI version: expensive gear compacted into a tiny backpack, grueling treks laid out, trails that take all day or several…no. I like to pack plenty of snacks -yes, those are healthy, so REI would be proud of me there-, comfy clothes, and my trusty Duluth Pack filled with a book or two. I bring my Nikon and I prepare to wander.
It was just me on this trip as all my housemates are out of town. The snow began in little flurries as I drove through Roosevelt National Forest. I grabbed a map from the visitors center of Rocky Mountain National Park and showed the lady at the info desk that I had sensible footwear (Sorel snow boots). She told me about a couple of trails I might try and I was off. Of course I got lost. I had a scenic drive and turned around a couple of times before I saw the signs for the trail head. I saw no elk, either, which was disappointing. Lots of people come to this park just to see the elk that roam around here!
I stopped for photos next to small creek. Since the water had a solid covering of ice I crossed it and started heading to a rocky outcropping across a big open plain. The scenery was stunning even if the weather wasn’t. The temperature was bitter and the wind was picking up, bring more snow with it. The higher peaks were completely obscured, but here and there where they did emerge they were ghostly and a little shocking. Image if you thought you were looking at plain sky…but actually there was a mountain there. Anyway, I was crossing this plain. I started noticing plenty of elk scat. PLENTY. It began to occur to me that I was not on a trail. I was where people were not meant to go. I was were elk/bear/mountain lions/goodness-knows-what-else goes. I stopped taking pictures and turned back to the trail.
Back on the actual trail I met a few hikers (they looked like the very serious REI kind) coming back. As I walked the trail hugged a hill filled with boulders and trees on one side, and the big open plain on the other. The mountains loomed all around. It was very quiet. I stopped and listened for bird song, or even the sound of other hikers. It was eerily silent. Eventually though, the birds did start up, and it was the chickadee warning cry that sounded first. I suppose they were warning each other about me, but they got over it soon enough. The trail headed into the woods and towards a slope. The snow fell heavier. I met a few hikers going each way. I wasn’t as alone as I thought. I took the opportunity to stand on a large boulder and catch snow on my tongue. There was a small brook that was flowing alongside the trail and for the lie of me I can’t even figure some of the places it must have flowed through. I mean, I looked, and there was no sign of water, but I could always hear it. Underground, perhaps? I followed the trails for a little over two hours as it started to climb. There was a lot more snow and some very fierce squirrels. In some places it was clear that the trail was normally the bed of the brook or creek in warmer months because it was pure ice now.
When I estimated I had just enough time to double back and reach the car before dark, I headed back. My legs were pretty sore and the temperature had dropped, so I kept up a pretty brisk pace on the way back. At the trail head I snapped a photo of the map of the place I had hiked. My Nikon had run out of battery by this time, so some of the photos are from my phone.
Back at the visitors center I stopped to use the restroom before making the 70 mile or so drive home. I hear this odd trumpety-squeak sound, which I initially ignored. Was it some weird bird? Something mechanical? I happened to look across the road and see a huge herd of elk. That’s where they all were! There must have been around 100! It was impressive and not a little intimidating. Check out the quick video I took Here. From what I could make out, the younger elk were making the odd sounds as the ran around the larger group. The herd was moving along right up next to some cabins. I can only hope the inhabitants were inside enjoying the view.
That was my solo hiking adventure! This was my second visit to Rocky Mountain National Park, and quite different from the first. I’m not sure what future visits will be like as winter progresses, but I promise to keep you informed.