Volunteering: Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

Volunteering: Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

Out in southern Utah, nestled in a serene desert canyon exists a vast and magical safe haven for animals big, small, healthy, or unwell. Literally described by some as “heaven on earth,” Best Friends Animal Sanctuary provides care to over 1,600 abandoned and rescued animals with the help of their animal-loving staff and eager volunteers. The sanctuary has a “no-kill” policy, meaning animals stay as long as it takes until they are adopted and move on to their forever homes.

I first learned of this amazing non-profit when I was talking with a coworker about our plans to travel the country in an RV and to do volunteer work. She immediately recommended Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and shared her experience as a volunteer. She insisted that if our RV travels brought us anywhere near Utah, we simply had to make the trip.

The sanctuary makes registering to volunteer a breeze. Those interested can visit their website, create a volunteer account, watch a short orientation video, and schedule when and where they would like to volunteer. Animal areas that accept volunteers include Dogtown, Cat World, Horse Haven, Marshall’s Piggy Paradise, Bunny House, Parrot Garden, and Wild Friends. If working directly with the animals is not your thing, volunteers are also needed to help out in the sanctuary store, at the Angels Rest pet cemetery and memorial, and with landscaping projects around the property.

There are two volunteer shifts each day from 8:15-11:30 a.m. and 1:15-4:00 p.m. We spent two days at the sanctuary and volunteered both shifts each day. We also enjoyed delicious lunches at the sanctuary’s cafe. More on that later.

On our first day, we attended a brief 15-minute registration meeting at the Welcome Center then headed off for our first shift at DogTown. The residents and caregivers from DogTown were featured in a television documentary series carrying the same name and produced by National Geographic. Our work in DogTown consisted of walking juvenile dogs out on the beautiful snowy trail. We were also able to sit in on an agility training session and a clicker training demonstration. The information was great and we learned training skills that we were able to take back and use with our own pup.

…And then it was time for that lunch I mentioned earlier. An all-you-can-eat buffet lunch is available onsite for a mere five bucks. Aligning with the sanctuary’s commitment to show kindness to all animals, the lunch is also completely vegan. I have to say how impressed we were with the quality and taste of the food, along with the ambiance of the dining room. In addition to the daily entree items, there was a full salad bar, fresh fruit, and yummy baked treats.

Since the lunch period is from 11:30 am – 1:15 pm, we had plenty of time to enjoy our meal and drive back to the RV in town to check on our little dog and take him for a quick walk. For our second shift that day we worked in Marshall’s Piggy Paradise. Working here with the piggies and their awesome caregiver turned out to be our favorite experience. We started off by scooping pig poop. That’s right, volunteers aren’t just there to pet pigs, there’s real work to be done and the job can get pretty dirty.

Scooping aside, there were many, many opportunities to pet and socialize with the pigs. One of my favorites was Papa, a very shy pig with a strong love for naps, almonds, and Fig Newtons (my spirit animal, perhaps). Papa usually shys away from people, but came out of his shell for us and even let me pet him while he got his snack on.

We also helped keep the pigs calm and distracted while their caregiver trimmed their hooves, then we helped feed the pigs their dinner. These piggies loved peas, corn, carrots, and lettuce.

Day 1 was an absolute success and we were excited to spend another day at the sanctuary. The next morning we started off in the Bunny House where we scooped poop, mopped floors, changed out soiled linens, poured fresh water for the bunnies, and reassembled their indoor living quarters.

Each bunny dorm houses two or more bunnies and must be cleaned daily. These adorable furballs poop approximately 300 times per day and their urine contains ammonia, which can be dangerous to their sensitive respiratory system and soft coat. Bunnies also love nibbling on egg cartons and wooden toys which can leave quite a mess. After we finished housekeeping duties, we switched over to room service and delivered lettuce snacks to each bunny suite.

Something I noticed right away was that everything at the sanctuary is kept very clean. All of the animal cages, play pens, and outdoor areas were well-maintained and I was happy we played a part in the upkeep. It was also clear that the sanctuary staff really want volunteers to enjoy their experience and to have fun. Volunteers should always check with the animal caregiver before pulling out a camera during a shift, but taking photographs is allowed in most animal areas and even encouraged, under safe conditions of course.

After another fantastic lunch we checked in at the Parrot Garden for our last shift of our visit. We started off by giving the indoor atrium a good ole deep cleaning. We swept, mopped, scrubbed the walls, and wiped down all surfaces in the atrium. The atrium is used heavily in the winter when the cold weather limits visits to the outdoors cages.

We also played chauffeur, carefully loading big beautiful birds onto our forearms and walking them over to spend time in the freshly-cleaned atrium. I carried LaQuita, the blue and gold, male macaw pictured below while Mitch carried his red, lady friend, Kaimi. Can you believe LaQuita is older than I am? He’s fabulous at 40-years-old!

Kaimi (red, female) and LaQuita (blue, male).

We also spent some time with the rainforest birds where we did a bit more cleaning then showered the birds with a faux rainstorm. As soon as the hose was pointed into the cage, the birds would squawk and quickly climb their way over to the sides of the cage putting themselves directly in front of the stream. It reminded me of kids laughing and playing in the sprinklers.

Next we were tasked with preparing a large batch of bird food by following a special recipe that blends various seeds. Our kitchen duties were supervised by a sweet little birdie who recently lost his friend and has been feeling lonely. We learned that parrots bond in pairs, forming a deep connection with either another bird (like Kaimi and LaQuita) or a human caretaker. When a parrot loses or is separated from their bonded pair it can be devastating and the bird can become depressed or self-destructive. For this reason, the sanctuary tries to keep bonded pairs together while they live at the sanctuary and when they move on to their forever homes.

After our final shift we drove over to Angels Rest, the sanctuary’s animal cemetery and memorial site. Each month the sanctuary holds a special service to honor and remember the animals placed in Angels Rest. Here there are hundreds, if not thousands, of windchimes that have been dedicated to lost pets and animal lovers. When the wind blows, they play a soft, enchanting melody that fills the canyon with peace. It was beautiful and the perfect place to reflect on our visit.

We plan on volunteering again (and again) and I highly recommend the experience to others too. The sanctuary offers free, guided tours daily and their are a few options for lodging onsite, including cottages, cabins, and two full-hookup RV sites. Though onsite accommodations can fill up quickly, the town of Kanab has several hotels, RV parks, and restaurants. Groups and families are welcome to volunteer together- I can’t think of a better team bonding activity for coworkers or a cooler way to get kids involved in volunteering. Volunteers as young as 6-years-old can work in Cat World or the Bunny House when accompanied by an adult. The other animal areas have minimum age requirement for volunteers beginning at 8 years. During summer months, the sanctuary also hosts a day camp for children ages 6-9. For more information about becoming a volunteer visit https://bestfriends.org/sanctuary/volunteer. If traveling to the sanctuary in Kanab is not in the cards, there are still many other ways to help out, including sponsoring an animal, purchasing a memorial wind chime, sending an honorary or remembrance gift, or making a donation. For more information visit https://bestfriends.org/donate.

Thanks for reading!

Hitched Up: California Coasting

Hitched Up: California Coasting

The next leg of our journey involved a scramble down the California coast. We purchased our Lance travel trailer from a local dealership in Austin, TX back in November of 2017. We made the purchase several months ahead of our May departure date because we wanted to have time to become familiar with the trailer and its amenities before heading out on the road. Our fast-approaching purchase anniversary also marks the expiration of the manufacturer’s one-year warranty. Since we’ve discovered a few minor issues that need repair (cabinet locks malfunctioning, entry door not sealing properly, television image distorted, etc.), we made an appointment at the Lance factory in southern California to have the work completed while still under warranty.

Our first wedding anniversary also provided another reason to make a dash for southern California, and what better place to celebrate in than Disneyland, the happiest place on earth. We were married last year in Las Vegas on Halloween weekend so Halloween will probably always be special to us. I’ve actually always wanted to see Disneyland during the spooky season while the park is decorated with characters from the Nightmare Before Christmas. So, whereas we would normally spend several weeks traveling across the state taking our time to explore as many places as possible, we found ourselves making a dash for southern California to celebrate our anniversary in time for Halloween and to have our trailer to the manufacturer before our warranty expired.

The first quick stop on our journey down the coast was San Francisco where we stayed two nights at an RV park in the neighboring city of Marin. The RV park was walking distance from the Larkspur ferry, so we headed to the port via the accessible, paved trail and sailed into the city for some sightseeing.

Many popular attractions and landmarks can be seen from the ferry, including San Quentin State Prison, Angel Island, Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, Treasure Island, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge, and of course, the city’s beautiful skyline.

We grabbed some coffee at the Ferry Building Marketplace then strolled the iconic Embarcadero, which is home to several piers loaded with restaurants, shops, street performers, museums, and more.

We weren’t planning on a trip to the Exploratorium, a popular hands-on science museum, but we saw that it was Community Day and admission was pay-what-you-wish. We were happy to leave a donation and head in to check out the exhibits.

A trip to San Francisco would not be complete without sampling some of its famous seafood. My favorite is clam chowder served up in a fresh, sourdough bread bowl.

After a quick bite we continued along the city’s eastern shoreline until we reached the National Park Service’s Aquatic Park Pier. On the way back to the ferry we popped in at Ghirardelli Square for an ice cream sundae.

Later we met up with my friend, her husband, and their baby girl for dinner. The last time I saw my friend was years ago when we traveled together to London and Paris. It was so much fun catching up over a great meal.

We headed further south and stayed with my mom in my hometown for a few days. We went out for dinner in historic San Juan Bautista and spent some time in one of my favorite places, Monterey. I remember visiting the beaches with my mom as a kid and taking trips to the famous aquarium. Later I would graduate from California State University Monterey Bay and work in the area for years before relocating to the sunny southern U.S.. We saw a movie, walked along the wharf, visited the farmers market, and had a lovely dinner. Since we’ll be spending the holidays with my mom, there will be many more adventures in Monterey and central California coming up soon.

It was nice to be home for a few days but we had to keep moving of we wanted to make it to Disneyland and the manufacturer on time, so we headed out on the road again. We stopped off in beautiful Morro Bay where we camped right on the beach.

The sunsets here were phenomenal, painted with purple and pink tones. When the fog rolled in, the beach looked like something out of a dream.

We visited Morro Bay State Park and walked the accessible Marina Peninsula Loop Trail, which provided stunning views of the bay and estuary.

The paved trail near Morro Rock was also accessible and was a great place to enjoy excellent views of the ocean.

We took a quick trip to nearby Sam Simeon to check out the elephant seals lazing on the beach. The Elephant Seal Vista Point is located right off of Cabrillo Highway (Hwy 1) and has plenty of parking, including accessible spaces and large spaces for RVs. A long, accessible deck and short trail runs along the beach providing visitors with an up-close view of the seals.

We were so close, we could actually smell the blubbery mammals as they soaked up the afternoon sun. The view was fantastic though the smell is something I’d rather forget.

Later we toured the magnificent Hearst Castle, built by the late newspaper and magazine mogul William Randolph Hearst. After his death, the property was donated to the state of California and it became a state park in 1958. The exquisite castle was designed by Julia Morgan, California’s first licensed female architect, and is filled with antiques and an impressive collection of art.

I’ve visited the castle a few times during the day but this was my first time visiting the property at night. We reserved tickets for the evening tour and arrived just in time to watch the sun setting. Though high up on a hill, the castle has an amazing view of the ocean.

The evening tour takes visitors up and down a few flights of stairs, but an accessible tour is also available.

We really enjoyed the beach but were excited to move on to Anaheim for our anniversary celebration in Disneyland. We stayed at an RV resort about a mile away from the park gates. Though we were technically within walking distance, we decided to purchase shuttle passes figuring we’d spend enough time on our feet while in the park. It turned out to be the best idea ever, as we averaged 12 hours standing and 8 miles walking every day. Even with sore and swollen feet, Disneyland was nothing short of magical.

We felt like kids running around the park, hopping on the rides and catching the shows.

We ended up spending 2 full days at Disneyland and 1 day at California Adventure. Both parks were awesome in their own way. California Adventure was modern, had more thrill rides, and offered a Broadway-quality production of the Disney hit Frozen.

We also caught an awesome sunset over the pond at California Adventure.

Still, Disneyland felt more whimsical, magical, and classic while offering a variety of attractions for all ages. The canoe boats were great for an upper-body workout.

The food in both parks was really, really good. Who knew Disney could pull off an authentic and deliciously southern shrimp and grits?

We loved the time we spent in both parks and did not want to leave. Both parks were also super accessible. We saw tons of visitors using wheelchairs, scooters, and walkers. Each attraction has an accessible entrance. Some rides require a transfer from wheelchair to the seat, but several rides have accessible buggies or cars that can accommodate wheelchairs. I wanted to snap a picture but every time I saw a ride with an accessible buggy there was a person in their wheelchair enjoying it. Awesome!

We also visited Downtown Disney one evening for an open-space, interactive virtual reality experience. Being the Star Wars fans that we are, we could not pass up the opportunity to visit The Void for their Secrets of the Empire attraction.

Paired with another couple, we suited up in vests and helmets then were given a mission where we would impersonate storm troopers to infiltrate the Empire. The screens in our helmets displayed a virtual world before us and we walked through mazes working together to meet our objectives. The attraction is also accessible allowing people with varying mobility abilities to get in on the fun. Though I’m not much of a gamer, I have to say it was pretty awesome and I’d definitely try it again. I liked it so much I even bought the souvenir photo instead of taking a blurry picture of it with my phone like I normally do.

While we were in the area we took a day trip to L.A. on Halloween to see Universal Studios and their Halloween Horror Nights. I was most excited about the Harry Potter attractions, especially the famed butter beer. It did not disappoint.

We purchased an afternoon pass which allowed us access to Universal starting at 2:00 p.m. and access to the halloween mazes starting at 5:00 p.m. As we roamed around the park we received many compliments on our matching Star Wars shirts we could not leave Disneyland without.

We also splurged on the Universal express passes that way we could avoid the long lines. We were able to get to everything in the park, including the hour-long studio tour, except for the Waterworld show.

We also were able to jump ahead of the long lines for the halloween mazes, where others without express passes waited 90 minutes or longer. Universal Studios was a lot of fun but we definitely preferred the magic of Disney. I didn’t get a ton of pictures at Universal after dark but I did catch a pretty cool shot in the Stranger Things maze.

Before we left the greater Los Angeles area we spent some time visiting with an old friend from Monterey. I hadn’t seen her in 10 years but it was like nothing changed (in a good way). It was so nice to catch up and to meet her husband and sweet little ones. Reconnecting with old pals as we travel has been one of my favorite things to do on this journey.

With our service appointment about a week away we still had some time to explore southern California. Next stop, the desert! Thanks for reading.

Hitched Up: Rogue Valley to the Redwood Coast

Hitched Up: Rogue Valley to the Redwood Coast

We headed off from the high desert towards Oregon’s southern coast in search of its beautiful beaches and redwood forests that lead into California. Before we would get there we stopped off in the colorful Rogue Valley. We had a great campsite in Valley of the Rogue State Park that backed right up to the Rogue River, was very spacious, and had full-hookups. 

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The park has plenty of amenities, including accessible campsites, picnic areas, and a large fenced dog park. My favorite feature is the new, accessible hiking and biking trail that runs directly through the park. The trail is currently being developed and only a few segments had been finished during the time of our visit. We rode about 3.5 miles on the completed section that runs from the park to the neighboring town of Rogue River. This time of year the scenic trail was bursting with bright autumn colors.

Once completed, the Rogue River Greenway Trail will span 50 beautiful miles. Accessible parking and restrooms are available near the trailheads in Valley of the Rogue State Park. The section of the trail we traveled had rewarding views of the Rogue River and only a few mild inclines. There is an accessible drinking fountain and water fountain for dogs along the trail located just before Rogue River. 

We also ventured out to hike the moderately steep Lower Table Rock Trail just east of the park. A 1.5-mile climb through the trees brings you to the top of the flat rock’s surface. Much of the trail is shaded although once you reach the top it’s full sun and wide open space.

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Operated by the federal Bureau of Land Management, the trail was very well-maintained. The Lower Table Rock Trail is partially accessible for the first 1/8 mile or so, but beyond this point the trail becomes steep with uneven surfaces. The shorter Oak Savannah Loop Trail is flat and wide with packed gravel. Accessible parking and restrooms are available at the trailhead.

Next we were headed back to the coast and our first stop was Harris Beach State Park. We had a large campsite tucked away into the trees and were only a short walk from the beach. Like other beaches we’d seen in Oregon, Harris Beach was gorgeous and Gaius had a blast running around on the sand. 

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One day we spent an hour picking up litter on the beach. Luckily there wasn’t a ton but we still managed to fill half of a plastic grocery bag with garbage in about a mile. I learned that the community regularly hosts beach clean-up activities where volunteers take to the sand and pick up trash that can be harmful to wildlife. The park’s day-use area is awesome and accessible. There is a long, paved, switchback ramp with rails that leads gently down to the beach. There are accessible restrooms, picnic tables (with a great view), and ample accessible parking. 

We loved being close to amazing beaches while also being just a short drive to majestic redwood forests. After a few days of beaching, we decided to change things up and enjoyed a lovely hike on the Redwood Nature Trail in the Rogue Riber-Siskiyou National Forest and the connecting Riverview Trail located within Alfred A. Loeb Oregon State Park.

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Neither trail is accessible although both have accessible restrooms and picnic areas near the trailhead. Loeb Park has accessible parking and an accessible trail that leads down to the river. Vehicles can also drive down the trail and park right on the bank.

We also spent some time traveling the segment on Hwy 101 known as the Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor. Along the picturesque route there are multiple scenic overlooks with trails and beach access. Accessible parking is available at most of the stops and a few includes accessible restrooms.

We crossed the CA border to continue our redwood journey and camped near the Redwood National and State Parks, a collection of four parks co-managed by the National Park Service and California State Parks. The parks include, Redwood National Park, Del Notre Coast State Park, Prairie Creek State Park, and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. I would love to explore all four parks someday but for this trip we stuck with Prairie Creek, home to some of the tallest trees in the state.

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Hiking through the stunning redwood forest was spectacular. We hiked the handful of the park’s accessible trails, including the Redwood Access Trail, Revelation Trail, Cathedral Trees Trail, and the Elk Prairie Trail. The trails appeared to be well-maintained with packed dirt or gravel surfaces and the occasional wooden bridge.

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Prairie Creek State Park was also a filming location for the sequel to the Jurassic Park movie. Scenes for the action-packed dinosaur adventure flick were shot in the park’s lush Fern Canyon. I had to see it for myself. To reach the trailhead, visitors have to either take a long hike (10 miles round trip) or take a long drive down a narrow, windy, gravel road shaded by dense forest. Access is limited to vehicles 8 feet wide and 24 feet long- and with good reason. Once the wild ride reaches the coast, it travels along the beautiful Gold’s Bluff Beach and through a few water crossings before ending at the Fern Canyon trailhead.

img_0189 The canyon features 50-foot walls covered in a variety of green ferns. A quiet creek runs the length of the canyon requiring visitors to travel through the water or carefully cross fallen logs. The trailhead is a gravel lot with an accessible restroom. The short trail to the canyon is wide and mostly flat with packed gravel. Once the trail meets the canyon is becomes submerged under water and is not accessible.

The park is home to a thriving herd of Roosevelt Elk which roam freely and can be very aggressive. We saw one of these magnificent creatures on the Fern Canyon Trail just before reaching the canyon. The elk was grazing a safe distance away so we passed on the trail behind him without incident. On our way back out we turned a corner on the trail and I had an eerie feeling. I could feel eyes on me and when I scanned the environment I saw a huge elk staring right at me through the trees just ahead. The elk stared. We stared. We slowly backed away and he went back to grazing allowing us to sneak by. Phew! Once we were at a safe distance I snapped a few quick photos of our friend from the creepy encounter.

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With that we ended our redwood journey (for now) and were off to explore more of California, starting with a brief trip to San Francisco.

Thanks for reading!

 

Hitched Up: Cannon Beach and the Historic Columbia River Highway

Hitched Up: Cannon Beach and the Historic Columbia River Highway

After seeing how much Gaius loved playing on the sand back in Washington, I was really glad that our first stop in Oregon was Cannon Beach.

Home of the iconic Haystack Rock, this picturesque beach town is dog-friendly and lined with art galleries, cafes, and charming boutiques. The beach is nothing short of stunning with teal blue waves crashing along the shore and miles upon miles of soft sand as far as the eye can see. If you’re into long walks on the beach, this is definitely the place to be.

The beach also has an accessible entrance, allowing visitors of all abilities to get right down to the water. An accessible trail to the beach, parking, and restrooms are available at the Gower Street entrance. Beachgoers who use wheelchairs can also rent specialized beach wheelchairs for free, available for pick-up from the Cannon Beach City Hall building. Bravo, Cannon Beach! Click here for more information about renting a beach wheelchair at Cannon Beach.

I had seen pictures of Haystack Rock but was not expecting it to be so large. I learned that this massive hunk of stone is a popular nesting spot for puffins. We didn’t spot any puffins during our visit but there were plenty of pups on the beach having fun.

Gaius had a blast running around like he owned the place and making friends with other visitors. One even gave him some fancy duck jerky just for being cute.

Gaius was due for one of his annual vaccines so I made an appointment with the veterinarian in the neighboring town of Seaside. After his appointment we stopped off at the Seaside Farmers Market to peruse- who doesn’t love a good farmers market? We ended up taking home fresh bowls of ramen, chèvre from a local creamery, goat’s milk caramel spread, and all-natural hazelnut butter.

We also visited Hug Point State Recreation Area, just south of Cannon Beach. The beach at Hug Point is beautiful and during low tide visitors can explore its exposed caves and tide pools.

I was thrilled to see accessible parking, restrooms, and a paved trail seemingly leading to the beach.

Unfortunately, although this trail offers a great view of the beach and ocean, it ends with stairs and does not provide an accessible path down to the sand.

Next we traveled inland towards U.S. 30, also known as the Historic Columbia River Highway to check out some of the many waterfalls along the way. Our home base was Viento State Park, which sits right on the Columbia River that separates Oregon from Washington, and is only about an hour east of Portland. Interstate 84 runs directly through the park, splitting it into a north and south area. The northern end houses the RV campground, day use picnic area, a nature trail that travels through the trees ending at a picturesque pond, and an accessible trail to the shore of the Columbia River.

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The southern end houses tent camping sites, a few short nature trails, and a trail that leads to the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail. The State Trail is a real treat for waterfall enthusiasts. The entire trail spans between Troutdale and The Dalles with several hiking/biking segments that are accessible.

We traveled an approximately 2-mile portion of the trail between Starvation Creek and Lancaster Falls. The Starvation Creek trailhead has a paved parking lot with accessible parking, restrooms, and picnic area with a beautiful view of Starvation Creek Falls.

Heading west, the wide, paved, and mostly flat trail parallels the interstate a short distance before entering the forest and leading visitors to several waterfalls. Though there’s a bit of road noise to begin with, visitors can expect a great view of the Columbia River from the trail.

The first waterfall along the way is Cabin Creek Falls, where the best view lies directly on the paved trail.

Next up is Hole in the Wall Falls, my personal favorite from the bunch. Just off of the main trail sits an accessible picnic table in a paved viewing area that provides a grand view of the falls.

From Hole in the Wall Falls, a non-accessible dirt trail ascends steeply into the hillside passing Lancaster Falls.

The falls can be spotted approximately .02 miles past Hole in the Wall Falls from the accessible main trail, though the view is obstructed by trees.

Located about 20 minutes east of Portland. Multnomah Falls is another great accessible attraction along the Historic Columbia River Highway. The trailhead and parking area is positioned between the eastbound and westbound lanes of Interstate 84, with left-side on and off ramps. Accessible parking, restrooms, and picnic areas are onsite with a paved accessible trail to the base of the falls.

A paved, but non-accessible trail that includes a few stairs, leads from the base of the falls up to the bridge. We hiked up to the bridge but to be honest, I wasn’t very impressed with the 1/2 view of the falls and felt the base of the falls was the best spot for a picture. The area was damaged by a fire last year and the trail beyond the bridge was closed during our visit. Still, the falls were lovely and next time I’d probably spend by time admiring them from the base.

During my initial trip planning I thought we would stay in Portland to explore the city for at least a week. After all, Portland is the sister-city to our Austin, TX home base and perhaps the only other city in the country to embrace weirdness.

But after experiencing nearly a month of smoke-clouded skies in Canada followed by a few weeks of gloomy rainclouds along the Washington coast, these Texans really wanted to find some sunshine before autumn set in. We did however make one trip into the city to meet up with an old friend from high school and his girlfriend. Though we opted for the less-busy east side of downtown, Portland definitely gave off an Austin vibe with it’s trendy eateries, bars, and music scene. Oh and the beards, so many beards.

We had a great time catching up, laughing, and indulging in some of the best bar food we’d ever eaten. It was a nice way to end our stay in the area as we prepared to continue south on our journey in the morning. Next stop- Oregon’s warmer and sunnier High Desert.

Thanks for reading!

Oh, Canada: Banff National Park

Oh, Canada: Banff National Park

Exploring the city was fun but we were feeling ready to head back into the forest. In hindsight I feel like Banff was a happy medium- more remote than the city but still very commercialized for a forest and natural resource. The campgrounds in Banff National Park fill up very quickly during summer, but I was lucky to score 6 nights in the park’s Trailer Court Campground when I booked our reservation months ago. Our site had full hookups which was great because we got quite a bit of warm weather during our stay and we were able to run our air conditioning. It wasn’t my favorite campground because sites offered little privacy but it was still a nice stay in the park. We felt a bit compelled to stay indoors more often because of poor air quality advisories and looming smoke from a forest fire in nearby Kootenay National Park. Although the smoke hid the mountains and kept us from some of Banff’s amazing scenery, we still tried to make the most of our visit.

On our first day in the park we hiked the Johnston Canyon Trail to the lower and upper falls. In was after 5:00 p.m. so we had no trouble parking in the large lot at the trailhead. About a 1/4 mile into the trail we saw people grouped up taking pictures of something across the stream. Then we saw it, a large black bear. Unfortunately, I was not quick enough to snap a picture of the bear as it climbed up from the water and disappeared into the thick forest vegetation. I was surprised we spotted a bear on such a heavily-trafficked trail but was thankful for the experience and a safe viewing distance.

The falls were gorgeous and well-worth the easy hike. There are many places to stop along the river for photographs and a few benches, logs, or large rocks suitable for sitting and taking a break.

The beginning of the trail is paved but further in becomes gravel and even further includes stairs. Overall this trail is not accessible but I saw a few people who had strollers, one person with a cane, and one person with a rolling walker. I admired the person who was using a walker but felt awful seeing them struggle somewhat to get their wheels over rocks and ruts in the trail. I recently read someone’s rant on social media about how paved trails and handrails ruin the naturey-vibe in nature. It was pretty disheartening to read. This person obviously doesn’t know anyone with a disability and I doubt they have considered what it would feel like to be essentially denied access to nature’s most grand attractions because there were no walkways or handrails. To this day I’ve yet to find a paved trail or handrail that stood in my way of a experiencing a beautiful view or snapping an excellent picture. Accessibility accommodations have never ruined my experience and they have made experiencing nature and the great outdoors possible for so many others.

Banff does have a few accessible trails, but not as many as I would have hoped for. Most of the viewpoints and overlooks along the roadways throughout Banff are accessible and most include accessible parking.

The 13-mile, paved Banff Legacy Trail connects the nearby town of Canmore to Banff and is very accessible. Though mainly used by cyclists the trail is open for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. We biked the trail from Banff to Canmore, then had dinner in Canmore and caught a shuttle back to Banff.

Many cyclists ride the trail one-way then return using the shuttle which runs until around 10:00 p.m. daily. The shuttle is accessible, only $6 per person, and they accept Canadian or U.S. dollars on board (cash only), but cycling back is also an option. I thought it would be a fun challenge to cycle there and back but after 13 miles into Canmore my legs were pretty sore and the wind had really picked up so we decided the shuttle was the best option for us. The trail from Banff to Canmore provides a pretty easy ride overall with only a few quick inclines.

The ride from Canmore to Banff is more difficult because it’s against the wind and has a few longer, gradual uphill climbs. There’s a wonderful day-use area with restrooms at the halfway point and a pair of red chairs overlooking the Bow Valley. Unfortunately there is no running water along the trail so its important to pack enough and refill in either Banff or Canmore.

I was really proud that I only took a few short breaks to catch my breath and did not hop off to push my bike uphill at any point (although I really wanted to a few times). The trail runs between the Trans-Canada Highway and a railroad, so it’s fairly loud most of the way. The scenery is still beautiful and closer to Canmore the trail veers off into the forest.

I saw that the Hoodoo Trail was located close to our campsite and wanted to check it out. Parts of the trail that stem from the parking lot are paved and accessible and lead to scenic vistas.

I learned that Hoodoos are thin, usually delicate, rock spires formed over thousands and thousands of years. Hoodoos are common in parts of Utah and in the Canadian Badlands, but we hadn’t seen any on our trip yet. So, we packed Gaius is his backpack and went out to explore these interesting geological formations.

Although leashed dogs are allowed on most trails in Banff, which is wonderful for pet owners like us, dogs aren’t exactly always great for the environment. Urine and feces left by dogs can damage delicate ecosystems and their scent can deter wildlife from inhabiting the area. This is why many parks don’t allow dogs on trails. Dogs are also known to attract coyotes, wolves, bears…oh my. I love bringing Gaius out to explore when he is allowed, but since all six pounds of him would probably try to charge at a bear if we encountered one, we decided to carry him in his backpack and limit his on-leash adventures in Banff to campground areas.

Since we left Texas we’ve been traveling north hoping to escape the heat but it appears to be following us. With temperatures in the low 90s we decided to find a place to cool off. A scenic drive to Johnson Lake and a dip in its chilly waters sounded perfect. We arrived just in time and snagged one of the last parking spaces available in the lot. There are a few accessible parking spaces and a concrete path leads down the lake’s beach. The trail that travels around the lake has stairs and is not accessible. There are several porta-potties available in the parking area though none are accessible.

There were a lot of families enjoying the beach near the parking lot and to was a bit overcrowded so we hiked along the water hoping to find a more secluded spot to relax. The trail around Johnson Lake heads off through a small picnic area then into the trees before reaching another beach. This beach, though steep and more grassy, was not as crowded and seemed to be where all the young adults were hanging out. We spread out a blanket in the shade, went for a swim, and relaxed in the warm breeze. Our view of the surrounding mountains was obstructed by smoke but I imagine would be stunning on a clear day.

We splurged on tickets to ride the gondola up to Sulphur Mountain and stay for dinner at the Sky Bistro. I learned that the gondolas are accessible and can accommodate most power and manual wheelchairs, though depending on the size of the chair, there may not be room for additional passengers. The gondolas can be taken off of the track, allowing guests as much time as the need to load or unload.

I had purchased nonrefundable tickets in advance but probably would have saved the excursion for another visit when wildfires weren’t a factor. Still, the smoke might have actually played to our advantage a bit since Mitch is not fond of heights and he felt more relaxed not being able to see the depths below us.

The summit was beautiful even hidden in the smoke. A long boardwalk leads from the visitor center and restaurant to several overlooks. Unfortunately the boardwalk includes stairs and is not accessible.

I became so angry when I was walking the boardwalk and saw a grown woman tagging graffiti onto the wooden handrail. Even more so because she was with two kids who watched on. I should have said something but you never know how people are going to react these days so I kept my mouth shut. What she was doing was wrong and pissed me off but she wasn’t harming nature at least, so I decided to just let it go. When I passed by again I saw that this was no ordinary tag job with a marker— she had actually used a lighter to burn the graffiti into the wood. This woman was up here playing with fire on top of a mountain that was covered in smoke from nearby wildfires and all while Banff is under a fire ban. I was fuming mad at this point and kicking myself for not putting a stop to her deplorable behavior when I had the chance. She tagged the name of a Canadian vape/smoke shop. Apparently it’s a trend for some businesses to tag their name or logo along the boardwalk at Sulphur Mountain. I assume the woman who did this is affiliated with the business because who else would go to these lengths for a sleazy shot at free promotion? I redacted most of the graffiti in the image below because I’m told staff will cover it up soon and I refuse to let it live forever here on the internet.

After taking in some of the views we went to the restaurant for our dinner reservation. Mitch said it was like dining in the clouds. The food was pretty expensive but really good. We purchased a package that included gondola tickets and dinner where were each allowed to choose an appetizer and entree. For appetizers we had scallops and bison tartar, then for entrees we both chose the bison steak with potatoes. We’ve been eating a mostly vegetarian diet lately and it was nice to get in some extra protein.

I think my favorite experience in Banff was visiting Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. I had heard these were a “must-see” but very popular and that parking lots fill up as early as 7:00 a.m. Given that we aren’t exactly early birds, we decided to head out in the evening hoping to avoid the crowds. When we passed by the road to Moraine Lake at around 6:00 p.m. it was closed with a sign that indicated the parking lot was full. Parks Canada staff were onsite flagging cars away and ensuring that no one entered. We continued on the main road to Lake Louise and were able to park without any issues. There were still a ton of people around the lake at this hour but crowds thinned out as we started hiking the trail.

We hiked just under 4 miles along the shore and started on the Plain of the Six Glaciers trail, which leads to a tea house up above the lake. Since we were losing daylight and still wanted to see Moraine Lake we turned back but I would love to hike the full trail someday. From the trail we could actually hear the loud booming sound of the massive glaciers moving. The water from the creek that feeds the lake was quite literally ice cold and chilled my hand to the bone with one quick plunge.

The trail around Lake Louise’s shore is accessible and mostly paved, although about halfway through it becomes packed gravel and there are a few gradual inclines. The Lake Louise trail ends and becomes Plain of the Six Glaciers trail, which is not accessible. There was accessible parking and a unisex accessible restroom stall near the parking lot.

It was just past 8:00 p.m. so we headed back to the Moraine Lake road but it was still closed. We went into the small Lake Louise Village for some gas then ended up parking in a lot across the street from Moraine Lake Road, where we saw people watching and waiting for the Parks Canada staff to remove the barricades. We watched as car after car drove up to the road only to be turned away. A line of cars began to form along the shoulder of the road. At around 8:40 p.m. staff removed the barricades and we were all free to visit the lake. I expected to see a tiny parking lot packed full of cars but it was actually a large lot and only about 1/4 full, which made me really wonder why Parks Canada did not open the road a bit sooner.

The lake was definitely worth the wait and I was so glad we stuck around for the road to open. The areas near the parking lot were paved or packed gravel and accessible, however the trail along the lake quickly turns to rougher gravel and then dirt with many protruding tree roots and rocks.

Moraine Lake was a deeper shade of blue but the water still had the same gorgeous glowing quality as Lake Louise. The water was so smooth the icy mountains in the background were reflected. We only made it about a mile down the trail before we decided to turn back. The trail travels along the shore through a thick forest of trees and it had started to get pretty dark. Still, even after the sun had set the lake was absolutely stunning.

There’s a ton more to do and see in Banff but it’s extremely crowded during summer and with the smoke-filled making it more difficult to breath we found ourselves spending more time relaxing in the camper catching up on Netflix. We agreed we’d love to visit again during the off-season and hopefully with clearer skies. Next we’ll travel north via Canada’s Icefield Parkway to Jasper National Park. Thanks for reading!

Oh, Canada: Waterton Lakes National Park and Calgary, Alberta

Oh, Canada: Waterton Lakes National Park and Calgary, Alberta

For the month of August on our RVing adventure we’ll be exploring the southern regions of Alberta and British Columbia, Canada. We entered the country via the seasonal Chief Mountain International Highway, crossing from Montana’s Glacier National Park into Alberta, Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park. I had heard a lot of hype over crossing the border in an RV and with pets. Others talked of long wait times, their food and houseplants being thrown out, pets being turned away, and intense, interrogation-like questioning. Much to our relief and surprise it was quick and easy and the only thing thrown out was our worry. We pulled up to the Border Inspection kiosk with only one vehicle ahead of us. Moments later it was our turn. We were greeted with a firm but welcoming “Bonjour” and after a show of our passports and pup’s vet records, we answered a few questions about our travels and belongings and were on our merry way.

We’ve crossed enough state borders to know they are just invisible lines separating a continuous landscape, but oddly, after we crossed Canada’s border everything started to look really different. We had a strong feeling that we weren’t in “Kansas” anymore. This national park was also unlike any other we’d been to. Most U.S. parks have little gift shops and lodges with restaurants or cafes but Waterton had a steakhouse, pub, pizza parlor, Subway, coffee shop, small boutiques, and a small shopping strip all within its boundaries.

We spent two nights in the Townsite Campground within Waterton Lakes and thought we had a site with full hookups. When we arrived we found the electric and water hookups but did not see a sewer drain anywhere, which was a problem because we were not able to dump our tanks at the last site and they were nearly full. I started to look around at the other campsites and saw the sewer hoses were running underneath the RVs. We found our sewer drain under the middle of the trailer and it was in a spot that would still be under the trailer no matter how we parked. We have been RVing since late January and have never come across a sewer pipe that was under the rig- typically they are off to the side. We figured the only way to hook up was by carefully getting getting underneath the RV to connect the pipe. A task that must be performed with caution since sewer hoses carry, well, raw sewage. I looked around and did not spot anyone taking photographs or snickering at us while Mitch was on his back wearing rubber gloves and holding a sewer hose in hand, so I can only assume we were correct.

Due to a fire last year, many of the park’s trails are currently closed for restoration. We went out in search of a good, open hiking trail and learned that several other trails are temporarily closed because bears are active and feeding in the area.

We hadn’t seen any bears on our trip so far. But here in Waterton Lakes, while driving through the park we spotted our very first bear running along the side of the road. I was too busy staring at the bear with my own eyes to focus on my camera so the only pictures I managed to capture are pretty blurry.

We drove up to the Prince of Wales Hotel and hiked the short but steep hill down to the lake. The beach was rocky and the water was was quite choppy but reflected stunning shades of blue and green. Wildflowers and berry bushes were blooming all around and we saw that another trail in this area was closed due to bear activity.

The campground had accessible campsites and washrooms (that’s Canadian lingo for restrooms), but unfortunately most trails were not accessible. An accessible paved and packed gravel trail leads from the campground towards and along the lake. There are also paved sidewalks and pathways in the area with restaurants and shopping.

Our next stop on our Canadian journey was the city of Calgary. Ever since Taos, NM Mitch has become a fan of sampling craft beer. Here in Calgary we went on our very first brewery tour at Minhas Micro Brewery. The tour included generous samples of Minhas ales and lagers, an informative overview of the company’s history and their brewing process, and complimentary souvenirs including a pint glass, beer, and soda to-go. Mitch took a bite of the aromatic, fresh hops used to make beer, but instantly regretted it. Luckily he was able to forget the taste by indulging in a delicious pizza and tempura-fried green beans from the fantastic little pizza parlor housed in the brewery.

Back when we lived in Austin, Mitch and I loved going to see Broadway musicals or the symphony. We haven’t been able to catch any performances since we’ve been on the road so I was really excited when I learned that the opera Carmen would be performed in the outdoor Badlands Amphitheater in Drumheller, AB. Tickets were very reasonably priced so we took the plunge. The drive out to Drumheller was quiet, through country roads with very little traffic. Along the way we stopped at the Orkney Viewpoint overlooking the Red Deer River valley. We had a nice time at the opera, enjoying the beautiful weather, and exploring more of Canada’s countryside.

We spent a little time exploring downtown Calgary too. Heading downtown in any larger city can be a traffic and parking nightmare, especially in a bigger vehicle. Downtown Calgary was actually very easy to navigate and we found cheap parking in a large lot with no problem. We had brunch at the popular OEB Breakfast Co. and thoroughly enjoyed their breakfast poutine dishes. Poutine, I learned, is a popular Canadian dish that consists of french fries smothered in cheese curds and brown gravy. Our breakfast-style poutines were thick potato wedges sautéed in duck fat, topped with cheese curds, poached eggs, veggies, avocado, and hollandaise sauce, all over a bed of fresh spinach. It was absolutely delicious!

We took a stroll through the downtown area to the beautiful Prince’s Island Park. The park was very clean with grassy picnic areas, colorful landscaping, and accessible paved pathways.

After about 2 miles I started to develop blisters on the back of my heels. Just more proof that my feet belong in hiking boots. I tried bandages but they didn’t want to stick, so Mitch offered me the socks off of his feet. The last time he gave me his socks to wear it was after we had been walking around the Vegas strip the night before our wedding. I sure do have a sweet husband.

Overall we liked Calgary a lot. Our stay was brief but we had a great time relaxing and getting out to explore. The downtown area really reminded us of Austin, TX but not nearly as weird and a lot less hot. We experienced warm but comfortable temperatures in the low to mid 80s and heard our friends and family in Texas have been sweltering in the hundred-degree heat. We’ve been heading north in an attempt to escape the heat but it’s been following us. Hopefully cooler temperatures await us at our next destination: Banff National Park. Thanks for reading!

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

I had no idea what to expect from our trip to Glacier National Park. Before our visit I knew there would be glaciers and wildlife, including grizzly bears, and that people say the park is really beautiful. I can now report that “beautiful” is truly an understatement. This place is amazing and quickly jumped the ranks to my second favorite national park (Yosemite is still my #1). Since the summer sun doesn’t set until after 9:00 p.m., for our first visit we decided to head into the park after 4:00 p.m. when it would hopefully be cooler and less congested. We drove the narrow, winding Going-to-the-Sun Road through the forest and up into the mountains. All along the road there are overlooks with absolutely stunning views.

Though an incredibly beautiful drive, the road is extremely narrow and larger vehicles are restricted. Anything larger than a 15-passenger van would likely be too big- RVs and trailers are definitely not allowed. Heading eastbound, drivers skirt the winding road with steep drop-offs and short stone barriers, while drivers headed westbound hug the jagged inner cliffside with rocks jutting out into the lane. The road passes by streams that pour down the cliff walls like waterfalls, close enough to reach out and touch. Mitch, who is not a fan of heights, handled the drive like a pro, although with white knuckles and maybe a little sweat.

For our first hike, I wanted to try the three-mile out-and-back trail to St. Mary and Virginia Falls. Because we were entering a grizzly habitat and saw that the trail was lined with yummy berry bushes and a nice cool stream, we went in armed with bear spray. Rangers caution visitors to always carry bear spray and to hike in groups of three or more. Though we started the trail just the two of us, we soon met a woman who had been hiking alone, became quick friends, and decided to tackle the rest of the trail together. Our new friend, Elyda, was a retired speech therapist and shared a ton of knowledge about the park and nature along the trail. She also became our personal hero, saving the day (and possibly the forest) when she tactfully told a man who had been puffing a cigar on the trail, that smoking was not allowed and could be very dangerous for the park and his pocketbook. He apologized, thanked her, and put it out. Go, Elyda! As we hiked along and chatted with each other we saw no shortage of wildflowers, dense forest, green ferns, and meandering streams. The trail was spectacular and smelled amazing. I learned the park is home to 62 species of ferns, giving some areas a very rainforest-like appearance. Just before we reached the teal-blue St. Mary Falls we crossed a sweet mule deer on the trail.

We continued on the trail following the creek, until it veered off into quiet, thick forest for a bit, and rejoined the river at the tall, cascading Virginia Falls. Elyda thanked us for making her follow the trail all the way to the end. Although she had hiked the trail in the past, this was as far as she’d ever been. We noticed a few hikers who seemed to turn back before reaching Virginia Falls. We hiked right up to the base of the upper falls and were rewarded with a refreshing breeze and cool mist. It was beautiful to experience it all together.

On our next visit to the park we decided to take advantage of the free shuttle service up Going-To-The-Sun Road. This time we arrived in the morning, parked at one of the shuttle stops, and hitched a free ride to the trails. The shuttles are accessible and can carry up to 14 passengers. I wanted to check out one of Glacier’s accessible trails, so we started with a hike on the Trail of the Cedars. According to the park’s Accessible Facilities & Services guide, this is one of Glacier’s six accessible trails.

The trail is mostly flat with a combination of cement and wooden boardwalk. This gorgeous trail travels through lush, green forest, crosses creeks and streams, and carries the lovely scent of cedar and pine. We spotted lots of chipmunks and squirrels on the trail and several beautiful butterflies.

The Trail of the Cedars also leads to the trailhead for Avalanche Lake. This trail was approximately 2.3 miles one-way, with plenty of short inclines. Avalanche Lake’s smooth, reflective waters were a beautiful foreground to the surrounding mountains and delicate, cascading waterfalls.

Next we decided to tackle the trail to Hidden Lake. The trailhead is located behind the Logan Pass Visitor Center and travels through absolutely beautiful terrain. Though the first bit of the trail is accessible with a wooden boardwalk, it begins to climb the mountain with stairs. Patches of ice and snow, wildflowers, and rocks sit along the trail.

We saw a ton of wildlife including mountain goats, bighorn sheep, marmots, and overly-friendly and socialized chipmunks and squirrels. We stopped for snacks at the overlook and were surprised to have chipmunks and squirrels climb up onto us looking for grub. There were several signs asking visitors not to feed the wildlife but we knew critters were still getting food somehow when we saw a big chipmunk running across the trail carrying an apple. Mitch gestured with open hands that we didn’t have anything but that did not stop these furry little guys from trying to get a closer look.

Though our time here was short, we really enjoyed this park. I learned that most of the trails are considered moderate or difficult, with fewer easy waking trails. All of the visitor centers appeared to be accessible with parking and restrooms. There’s still a ton more I want to explore in Glacier National Park and I’m definitely looking forward to coming back.

We also spent some time in Kalispell, MT and volunteered with Samaritan House. The mission of Samaritan House is to “provide for the basic needs of homeless people, while fostering self-respect and human dignity.” Partnering with United Way and other community organizations, the non-profit provides food, housing, case management, and resources for individuals, families, and veterans who are hungry or homeless. For a few hours in the morning we worked on detailing and organizing the kitchen, where last year alone Samaritan House provided 34,860 meals. We slapped on some rubber gloves and put in some elbow grease scrubbing walls, sinks, stoves, ovens, and appliances. It felt good to be volunteering again after not being involved all month. I had volunteer work lined up with a few state parks in Colorado and Idaho but unfortunately they all fell through. It’s also been challenging to find community organizations and non-profits in some of the more rural areas we’ve been visiting. My goal is to volunteer at least once a month and so far we are still on target.

Next stop- CANADA! We’ve traveled about 3,000 miles since leaving Austin,TX and are excited to explore Canada during the month of August. Thanks for reading!

Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Henry’s Lake, and Lewis and Clark Caverns…OH MY!

Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Henry’s Lake, and Lewis and Clark Caverns…OH MY!

Turns out, blogging without a reliable internet connection is difficult! Since my last update we’ve been to Grand Teton National Park, Henry’s Lake State Park, Yellowstone National Park, and Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park. We are currently stationed just outside of Glacier National Park, so it looks like I’ve got some catching up to do. Three…two…one…go!

Grand Teton National Park:

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Generally, RV parks in the Grand Teton/Yellowstone vicinity are super expensive and overcrowded during summer. Back in April when I was making reservations (yup, I had to book that far in advance), I found that many campgrounds were already filled to capacity for the busy summer season and what remained had a going rate of $70 to over $100 per night. For perspective, when we pulled the trailer out of storage back in Austin, TX and booked out first RV park, we paid approximately $20 per night plus metered water. Many RV parks offer discounted rates for longer stays. The daily rate is usually highest, but if you book a full week, or even month, the price is reduced. Typically, I look for sites that fall under $40 per night for full hookups, so the going rate of $70+ per night just wasn’t going to work for us. I expanded my search area to neighboring communities and found the perfect RV park in Swan Valley, Idaho. This little hidden gem, in a town with a population of just over 200, was the smaller, quieter place we were looking to relax in after facing the crowds and traffic between Denver and Salt Lake City. With shaded RV sites, full hookups, free wifi, and only an hour’s drive from Grand Teton National Park all for around $35 per night, it felt like a bargain.

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Grand Teton National Park is gorgeously rugged, surrounded by lakes, ponds, tall trees, and green meadows. Wildflowers were blooming in every color and growing just about everywhere. There was something beautiful to marvel at around every single corner. I found myself soaking it all in and realized after our trip I didn’t take many pictures. Despite all the feelings of awe I managed to capture a few, at least.

When we passed through the entrance station for a park map, I was a bit concerned when I saw the map and its legend did not include wheelchair accessibility icons. I learned that the park has a separate accessibility guide that is available on request and includes information on accessible facilities and trails. We hiked the Jenny Lake trail and trail near the Jackson Lake Dam which were partially accessible, paved in areas closest to parking lots, and provided grand views. We also saw accessible parking and restrooms during our visit. 

Henry’s Lake State Park and Yellowstone National Park:

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Our next stop was Henry’s Lake State Park. I chose this park because I wanted something affordable that was still close to Yellowstone National Park. Henry’s Lake sits only 20 minutes away from the West Yellowstone entrance station for half the price of the private RV parks in the area. I wasn’t expecting much since Yellowstone is considered the gem of the region but Henry’s Lake was surprisingly beautiful and very quiet. Our campsite, like most in the campground, was right on the water. Every night we were treated to some of the most beautiful sunsets I’d ever seen and we had an awesome view of the lake from our dinette. The campground was also very clean with new showers and restrooms. 

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Accessible campsites, parking, showers, and restrooms are also available. A paved trail runs the length of the campground along the shore and continues as a thin rocky single-track trail through the grass. We took Gaius out on the trail for a bike ride one afternoon. 

Not far from Henry’s Lake State Park is Mesa Falls. This place was stunningly beautiful and I was so glad we made the trip. Accessible trails lead to the falls overlook but unfortunately getting closer is only possible via stairs. When we reached the upper falls we were treated to a magnificent rainbow.

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We made our first trip into Yellowstone during the late morning and realized quickly the mistake we had made. We sat in long lines of traffic and struggled to find parking at every turnout and parking lot. I worked hard to capture pictures without cars or other visitors in the frame. I wasn’t sure what exactly to expect during the park’s busiest month during the busiest time of day, but now I knew. It was bad. The crowds wouldn’t have been so bad on their own, but what ruined the experience was seeing how people completely disregarded nature and each other.

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I try to keep things positive, in life and on my blog, but let’s be real, life isn’t always positive. Social media is tricky because it’s easy to make it appear that life is always peachy, but we all know it’s not. Although I am grateful my experiences out on the road, I would be lying if I said every day has been perfect, happy, and fun. We have down days and off days and plain old BAD days just like everyone else. Our initial visit to Yellowstone was was of those days. It was disheartening. We saw visitors honking and narrowly avoiding altercation over parking spaces, people smoking cigarettes and bringing pets (not service animals) in areas where they are not allowed, litterbugs tossing their rubbish on the ground instead of taking it to one of the many trashcans, eager sightseers ignoring posted signs and running across protected areas that were closed for restoration, cars speeding to get to the next attraction with no concern for pedestrians or crosswalks, and far too many folks jumping out of their vehicles and getting way too close to wildlife. Instead of people taking care of each other and the park, it felt like it was every man for his selfish self. Mitch described the experience as “drive-thru nature for people who don’t care about nature.” It did feel like that and it was draining. I begrudgingly snapped photos as we toured the overcrowded park. 

Of course this was just one experience and we knew it wasn’t representative of all people, the world, or the park as a whole, so we decided to head back into Yellowstone another day, this time in the evening when we hoped for smaller crowds. At this hour things were much more peaceful and we were able to really enjoy the beauty of the country’s first national park and its rich ecosystem. We saw colorful geothermal pools, steaming geysers, bubbling pots of boiling mud, waterfalls of every variety, massive canyons, vast green valleys, and plenty of bison, dear, elk, and moose.

Most of the park’s major attractions are also accessible, allowing everyone the opportunity to enjoy. Visitors can request a detailed accessibility guide from any entrance station or visitor center. Accessibility information can also be found in the National Park Service’s free Yellowstone National Park app. The park has accessible parking, restrooms, dining facilities, campsites, picnic areas, gas stations, fishing piers, and an accessible boat launch. Most of the park’s major attractions are accessible and many of the park’s trails have accessible routes. By reading the accessibility guide I learned that loaner wheelchairs are available from visitor and medical centers within the park for “$15 per day, with a $300 refundable deposit (cash or credit card).” This price seemed a bit steep considering that wheelchairs are necessities, not options, for most of the people who need them. The deposit also seemed steep since the wheelchairs provided appeared to be in the hundred-dollar range. I saw more people using wheelchairs in Yellowstone than any park we had been to but I was saddened when I came across a man who was sitting in a loaner wheelchair on the side of a trail. Evidently, his family members were taking turns pushing his chair but had become tired and continued on the trail without him. I thought, why aren’t wheelchairs free to use for people who need them, and better yet, why aren’t all-terrain power chairs available for rent? Someday I would love to start a non-profit organization and this might just be the perfect cause. Stay tuned. 

Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park:

I love visiting a good cave and did not want to miss Lewis and Clark Caverns, Montana’s very first state park. Entrance to the caverns is only permitted through the park’s guided tours. Three tours are available- classic ($12), paradise ($12), and wild ($30). After a moderate hike up a paved switchback trail, the classic tour guides visitors through the lighted cave along mostly paved pathways and stairs. The paradise tour is accessible and follows a level, paved pathway to the cave leading into the large paradise room. The wild cave tour is conducted in the dark and travels through areas of the cave not visited in other tours.

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Hoping for an adventurous and more private experience, we opted for the wild cave tour which involves a lot of climbing and crawling and is limited to 10 visitors. Admission for the 3-hour excursion includes use of coveralls, kneepads, gloves, helmet, and headlamp.

We had a blast getting dirty, crawling around on the cave floor, and climbing through narrow passages. We also learned a lot about the cave’s history and some of its prominent geological features.

The area surrounding the cave was also beautiful and when we emerged from the tour around 8:30 p.m. the sun was just setting. We camped for the night in the park’s campground, a great place for families with fire pits, picnic tables, restrooms with showers, a playground, and accessible campsites. Our next destination- Glacier National Park.

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Thanks for reading.