Day 12 of our 21 day adventure

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After several suggestions by the locals, we have decided to visit Mt. Charleston. The weather is similar to yesterday. A few clouds are hovering over the mountains, but they don’t seem to stick around for very long. After about a 30 minute drive, we are now pulling into the visitors’ center. The views from here are spectacular and there are hardly any other tourists in sight. The serenity of this place suits me and I can’t get enough of the panoramic landscape that engulfs us. After a quick stop in the gift shop and after speaking with the attendant about where she would suggest that we go for an easy hike; we are finally on our way to see where the road takes us.

IMG_1105After following the winding road a short distance up the mountain, we finally pull into the parking lot for the trail-head that will lead us up to Mary Jane Falls. The last part of the name sparks our interest, as Brian and I both live for waterfalls! The map we have with us, shows that the trail is 3 miles long and explains that the elevation of the mountain is 9200 feet. In order for us to reach the top, we will have to climb 1100 feet. This sounds like a fun challenge and so we gather up our supplies and prepare for what seems like a fairly easy climb.

IMG_1225At first the terrain is sandy and there is a slight incline to the path. The trail is wide open and seems more like a walk in the park, than a hiking trail that eventually leads to a waterfall. As we continue further, we see a father with his three young children. He has one child strapped to his body and the other two are running free. After speaking briefly to the man, we learn that he hikes this trail by himself every year with his kids. I think to myself, well… if he can do it with three kids, this should be a piece of cake!

IMG_1130Hiking a bit further, we start to pass a slew of fallen trees and dead underbrush. The trail begins to get narrower and the path is littered with small jagged rocks. We are now at what looks like the beginning of the actual trail. Looking up towards the top of the mountain, we see nothing but switchbacks for as far as the eye can see. I start to feel like I have bitten off more than I can chew. I love a good hike, but I am not really sure that I am prepared for this.

IMG_1176I really love nature and have always loved a good adventure. This is one of the reasons why I joined the Army when I was 19 yrs. old. After going through basic training, nothing else has ever seemed as hard. Of course that was 24 years ago and I am not in the same physical shape that I once was. But because of my determined mind set, I never say no to a challenge. So with pep in my step, I decide to brave the mighty mountain. I think Brian is probably thinking that I will never make it, which makes me even more determined to prove him wrong.

IMG_1133The whole way up, people keep telling us that it is just a little bit further and with every step I hope and pray that they are right. The temperature has dropped significantly and I pull my sweater a little closer to my body, trying to shield myself from the brisk wind that is coursing through the trees around us. After about two hours, we finally turn the last bend. At last we see the waterfall that we’ve been so excited to find. This was the one thing that kept me from turning back; the thought of seeing this amazing beautiful waterfall! I am deeply disappointed by what I see though. Apparently because of the recent drought, the waterfall has all but evaporated and there is just a tiny trickle of water flowing from the top of the mountain peak.

IMG_1148There’s a couple of caves that we can see from where we are standing. One of them is actually right behind the waterfall and there are people getting ready to camp for the night. It’s getting really cold up here and starting to drizzle out; I wonder how these people will ever stay warm up here all night. The rain starts to come down harder now and before we know it, it’s actually hailing on us. Once we hear thunder, we know that it’s time to go.

IMG_1147We race down the mountain as fast as we can. The steep incline has made the trail slick and the loose rocks threaten our ability to balance. I lose my foothold several times and do more sliding down the mountain than anything else. I am thankful when we finally reach our car about an hour later. The rain has now stopped and I am thoroughly exhausted, but exhilarated at the same time. I have completely surprised myself by making it all the way up the mountain and back down. It’s the first time in years that I feel I have actually accomplished something that I really didn’t think that I could do.

IMG_1181Feeling famished now from all the strenuous activity, we decide to head back down the road to a park that is listed on the map. Upon arrival the place looks like a nice spot to have a picnic lunch and so we decide to get out and do just that. It hasn’t even been two minutes since we left the car and the rain is beginning to pour. With the flood gates now wide open, we scurry back to the car and decide instead to head back to the visitors center. By the time we make it back there, the rain is still pouring and so we decide to eat our meal in the car. The view is still lovely, even through the pouring rain.

IMG_1178Once we are done eating, we drive back to the resort. We have tickets for the Brad Garrett Comedy Club show and we can’t exactly go there dressed as we are. After arriving back at the resort, cleaning ourselves up and eating a quick snack; we finally arrive at the comedy club. The place is smaller than I had expected and each couple is seated at a table for two. They first thing the waitresses do, is come around and take our drink orders and ask us if we want to buy a $12 bag of popcorn. I will never get use to the prices of things here in Vegas. They really do rob you blind, especially when you find out later that the cocktails are $11 a piece!

IMG_1180The show was really funny and three different comedians gave appearances. Unfortunately it wasn’t Brad Garrett’s night for entertaining. All in all though, the show was good and I was disappointed when the fun had to end. I am left wondering at this point how much longer I can continue this daily routine of being on the go, non-stop. These long days are finally catching up to me, and I am almost relieved that we are leaving Las Vegas in the morning.

Day 3 of our 21 day adventure

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The alarm goes off, it’s 4:00 a.m. I am eager to start another day and so is Brian. After getting ready and packing the car, we head to the front desk to check-out. The staff is friendly here at the Comfort Inn and they offer to serve us breakfast early. It’s only 5:00 a.m. and my stomach doesn’t quite feel like it’s ready for food yet. But how can I really pass up a free meal? We sit quietly in the dining room; eating and catching a quick news update from the small television over in the far corner.

It’s 5:15 a.m. now, and our final destination of the day is Idaho Falls. The first thing we do is stop for gas and pray for safe travels as we begin our twelve-hour journey. Before long, we pass through Cody, WY. This is the city that I had originally wanted to stay in and I notice the Buffalo Bill Museum is located up ahead. I consider stopping at the museum, but I know that we already have so much planned for today. I shake the idea out of my mind and continue on. As we near Big Horn National Forest, we come across the city of Sheridan. The view of the mountains from here is unbelievable and I wonder what living here would be like. Just as we reach the base of the mountain, we find ourselves in a small town called Dayton. I begin to file away these places in the back of my mind as potential retirement communities for when we are eventually old and grey.

IMG_0318 copy for WPAs we head up the mountain pass, the towns below become mere specks off in the far distance. It feels like we are the only people who exist on the earth right now. The view is breathtaking from up here and we stop several times to get out and take pictures. I am mesmerized by the tranquility and the views of the valley below. I don’t understand why the mountain is so void of people and I wonder if it’s like this all the time. We wind our way along the tree-lined mountain pass. The pine forest completely covers the landscape for as far as the eye can see. I have never seen so many perfect looking trees in one place before; the colors are bright and vivid, and each one is like a delicate piece of artwork created by a master artist.

IMG_0345 copy for WPAs we near a bend in the road, we start to see the beginning of a lake coming into view. We notice signs for a picnic area and decide to pull over and take a look around. The climb up to the lake area is easily accessible, and when we reach the top, we are thrilled to find that we have the entire lake to ourselves. The lake is completely still and eerily quiet, except for an occasional fish releasing ringlets on the surface of the water. The tranquility of this place reminds me of what I imagine heaven will be like. A soft breeze blows gently across the water and gives me goosebumps. I sense the presence of God all around us; it’s surreal and indescribable the way that this place is making me feel right now. I am tempted to ask Brian if we should renew our vows here. We have been planning to renew our vows somewhere along the way, and it seems like there could be no better place on earth. Something holds me back though and I remain silent, lingering in deep thought. The enchantment is soon broken though, and I remember that we still have so many more places on our agenda. Grudgingly, we walk back to the car and say goodbye to one of the most beautiful places on the face of the earth. We vow to come back someday, perhaps eventually to live out the rest of our days.

IMG_0369 copy for WPAfter driving a little farther down the road, we are now at a place called “Shell Falls.” I can hear the roar of the falls up ahead and run to get a better look. I am now standing in front of the 120 ft. high falls. The water is hitting the granite rocks in the bottom with such force, that the water is spraying back up into the air, forming rainbows in the streaming sun-rays. I didn’t think that anything could compare to the beauty of what we had just seen by the lake, but now I am not so sure. We look around and notice some short hiking trials and decide to explore even more. After taking a million photographs, we head back to the car to continue on our journey.  About an hour has passed and we decide to stop at a visitor center. IMG_0414 copy for WPIt feels good to stretch our legs after our long journey and we walk up to a large dam that overlooks a beautiful lake. After a short tour through the visitor center, we are on our way once more. Shortly after, we drive past a strange looking house, overlooking the road from the top of a hill. IMG_0426 copy for WPThe house looks abandoned and Brian decides to take some pictures. The house leaves us wondering about the history behind it.

After several hours of driving, we are finally nearing Yellowstone National Park. A restaurant up ahead seems inviting and we stop for lunch. After relaxing in the lodge style atmosphere and then perusing the gift shop after a hearty meal, we finally make it to the entrance of Yellowstone National Park. I am excited because I have been here before, and I begin to reminisce about vacationing here with the girls when they were little. As soon as we head through the gates though, I realize that I am not seeing what I remember. Apparently Mother Nature has played a cruel trick on us. Wildfires have completely ruined the spectacular views that once graced this magnificent place. I am shaken by the devastation that is rapidly unfolding all around us. The farther we drive, the worse it gets, and I wonder if the park will ever be able to recover the beauty that was once here. After reveling in such beauty and splendor earlier today and comparing it to what I am seeing now, I am in disbelief and wishing that we hadn’t come here. I am suddenly reminded of a graveyard and sadness begins to overtake me. We keep hoping that around the next bend, we will see some sign of beauty that hasn’t been lost, but unfortunately, that isn’t what we find. IMG_0435 copy for WPAfter driving around for a couple of hours, searching for a part of the forest that isn’t scorched, we find a hiking trail near the lake and decide to stop and explore on foot. Unfortunately, we are greeted with a warning sign that bears are in the area and so the trail has been closed. IMG_0443 copy for WPAfter getting back in the car, we decide to drive a little bit further to see if there is anywhere else we might want to explore. After a little while longer, it becomes apparent that the devastation is never-ending and we decide to head out toward the Grand Tetons.

As we continue on, the Grand Tetons come into view and I am relieved that these mountains are still as beautiful as I remember. Along the way, we find a stopping point near a lake and hike up above a small beach to get a better view. IMG_0505 copy for WPThe mountains look hazy in the background, because of the humidity. People are laughing and having a good time; some are standing over by a small dam, taking pictures and playing in the water. Then there are a few people down below on the beach, playing in the sand. We have found our own little spot, up and out of the way, but I still find myself wishing that we were alone again, like we were this morning at the lake. It has been such a long day and the hours of driving are starting to wear on us.

We head out for the last time today; making our way to Idaho Falls where we will stay for the night. After getting a bit turned around, we finally find our way to the hotel and are pleasantly surprised to find that they are offering us a free dinner. We only have about an hour before dinner ends, so we quickly unpack the car and head down to the dining room for dinner. Soup and salad are what is being offered and I am glad that I am not very hungry, since the food on the buffet is almost gone. After such a long day, we talk about the things we have seen so far and the places we’ve been. We’ve had enough memories already to last us a lifetime.