travel

Neato North Rim

We exited the park immediately entering the Navajo Indian Reservations. The canyon to our left looks much different than the one we just left. It was kind of green, looked like the earth just crumbled away. We stopped at the first Native American shops we saw. The ladies had tables set up with jewelry and pottery. I was mostly just browsing, not looking for anything in particular unless I saw something affordable. We stopped at countless more roadside shops, each one selling almost the same thing. A lot of the jewelry looked like plastic kit jewelry and definitely not handmade gemstones. But still I applauded them sitting out there in the hot sun selling to canyon tourists. Not even halfway through our 5 hour drive, we discovered a shop with real rock jewelry and I bought a set of blue bear lapiz earrings. At another store 30 minutes down the road I found a matching blue bear lapiz necklace. Eventually we ran out of shops to explore and had to continue driving. It was high noon out anyways and scorching. 

We drove past incredible mountains of red and orange dirt in layers. They looked otherworldly, as if they were alien homes. We crossed the Colorado River again, stopping to check out the old, now pedestrian only bridge. It was neat to see the colors of the river, especially since we wouldn’t be able to walk down the canyon to see it up close. It was the border of the Navajo land. We drove on, winding around curves and watching the mountains keep rising ahead of us. A bunch of cars were parked on the gravel lot to the right so we joined them. There were tiny homes built into and under all the boulders. This certainly was the dwelling place of aliens on our planet. The homes were mostly dug into the sandy dirt with a few wooden walls or windows. The soil was an intriguing mix of red dirt and small rocks that Travis confirmed was Martian. We finally saw a a sign for the North Rim of the Grand Canyon but it was another hour or so of climbing over the twisty turny roads. Our gps led us to a nice gravel road just off the main road. We passed a few occupied sites and came to an empty one next to a small clearing. This was a 9,000 foot elevation site so when we stepped out it was chilly. The wind picked up as we set up our tents and started getting dinner ready. On the rocks making the fire ring sat a 6 inch cast iron skillet. Someone had burnt a meal in it and left it to rust. Travis knew it could be cleaned and re-seasoned so we set it in the car. Travis made a pasta dinner while I hopped about, taking pictures and not getting cold. The sky was a gorgeous cotton candy swirl with the sunset afterglow from the treetops. This would be the first of several meals eaten in the car, protected from the cold. 

In the morning, we headed to the park, not realizing we had camped within 5 miles of the national Park entrance. We went through 16 more miles of curvy road to make it to the visitor center. We filled up on water and got a park map before setting out to see Bright Angel point. Travis wore his work shoes and I my walk the dog shoes because this trail was mostly paved and gravel. But immediately there were rocks to climb out onto and side trails to explore. Neither of our shoes were very grippy but Travis could make his work. I was sliding all over the place, turning my ankles and I realized my Altra hiking shoes were just way more comfortable than casual sneakers. We joined all the other tourists on the paved viewpoint, getting a first look at the Grand Canyon from the north rim. There were plenty more trees and it appeared more lively and not so barren looking. We went back to the car to change shoes and continued along the rim. I’d picked a 4 mile round-trip loop combining a rim hike with a trail that came back to the parking lot alongside the road. It started off easy, meandering by the lodge and many viewpoints. I was so giddy as we started climbing a hill through a forest. I like trees! We made it up the first hill and I was pooped. Conveniently there was a bench so we took a break and stretched. It ended up being a good-sized break even though we’d only been hiking 20 minutes. Lots of families and teens passed us so I figured the trail was fairly easy. For some reason, I was having a difficult time but I attributed it to my lack of good sleep the night before. We hiked for 20, rested for 15 several times, stopping to take lots of pictures, before stumbling upon a cool rock outcropping. This was another rock peninsula out into the canyon. We spotted some sort of umbrella purposely stuck into the ground far below and Travis wanted to figure out what it was. I was too tired to rock climb today, but he could go spend some energy. He clambered down while I sat in the sun. It wasn’t too cold in the sun if the wind died down a little bit. I started eating lunch as he returned, unsuccessful in reaching it. But he had fun with the challenge of climbing and figuring out routes. I needed to go to the bathroom but there were just too many people out taking in the vistas. We cut across the campground to the restroom and decided to head back from there cutting off about half a mile. We finished lunch at the general store, and headed back along the trail by the road. I really wanted to hike another trail that afternoon but I was just too tired. We got to the car and I grabbed my notebook to blog in and charging cords. Upon entering the Lodge, I spotted a statue of Bright Angel, the mule that traversed the canyon many times, that I’d grown up reading about. I posed for a picture next to one of my childhood heroes. I hoped we’d get a seat in the lodge next to an outlet to charge our stuff but the only spot left was a couch. I’ll take it! Travis had grabbed his Mexican blanket and I curled up in it, equally freezing but warm. I was too exhausted to write but couldn’t fall asleep with all the commotion. After an hour of dozing and trying to get comfy, Travis felt my forehead and declared that I was sick. What?! I couldnt be, where could I have picked up flu like symptoms, in June? Ugh, I wasn’t sure I was but he’d gone off to find Tylenol. He came back with two double tabbies of 500mg. I took them and sat for a bit more before deciding to go back to our campsite. 

Several people had vacated, leaving us to be able to choose a different site if we wanted. We found a perfect site with a campfire ring of rocks and two flat tent sites a bit further back into the woods. I could actually put most of my own tent stakes in, using a rock for just two of them. He had been setting up both tents because the ground was just too hard for me to pound the stake in, even using rocks. He made pasta and we went to bed early so I could hopefully sleep it off. I worked on my blog before falling asleep. 

I woke up refreshed and cool, no fever at all. I wondered what kind of 12hour bug it was but didn’t really care now that I was well. We set off for Point Imperial, the highest point on the canyon rim. It was going to be a mostly driving day, with short hikes and scenic vistas, but about halfway down, Travis started feeling super tired. He drove me to a few more overlooks but then asked me to drive back to camp because he felt too bad. I was bummed he was sick now too and was hoping it’d be as quick as mine. He passed out fast asleep while I drove back down the curvy mountain road and up the gravel road to our same campsite. We were in our tents by 7, reading and blogging. I prayed God would restore his health back as quickly as He mine. Sure enough, Travis woke up fine. 

As we drove into the park, we saw a herd of bison. Travis slowed down so I could get a picture, but I made him turn around and park so I could be a tourist. They were all laying down, with the young in the middle of the group. I was breathless as I got back in the car, excited from seeing wildlife I hadn’t seen before. We turned down the road we were on yesterday and drove to the very end of all the curves. I needed to go pee really badly but there were too many people. The trail curved around the parking lot and had very little underbrush. I just wanted to scream, everyone turn away!! But finally Travis found a small shrub and stood guard. What a relief! Ha, now I could hike. 

We hiked a four mile trail to Cape Final, which ended at a cool rock outcropping overlooking the canyon. Travis was looking for places to boulder and venture into the canyon more while I ate lunch. He found a place to go down but just getting there was rough because of the surplus of prickly pear and cholla. We made it down one set of boulders before I decided I was done. It wasn’t that difficult, I just didn’t want to walk all that way in the sun and try to climb another cliff. Travis had picked a cliff set in the canyon way out in the distance at least half a mile away through sparse little trees. I watched him as he clambered down to the flat section, as he walked under a few trees, then with my cameras zoom as he continued. He looks like a little ant way down below as he disappeared in and out of view. I watched him through my camera as he started up the cliff part. He got a ways up but came down before reaching the top. I guess he couldn’t get up that route and he went around another side but reappeared soon after. I took pictures of him taking pictures and then he headed back to me. I turned my attention back to the cliffs behind me and thought about attempting to get back up on my own but decided against it.  A squirrel came out of a crevice and chittered at me, posing for close-up. Travis reappeared and we climbed the last cliff, avoiding the prickly pear. We piled back in the car and visited a few of the vistas we didn’t get to the previous day. We visited Angels Window, a picturesque arch overlooking the Colorado River, with lots of people around.

 I’d gone down a .2 mile trail to Roosevelt point but it looked like the trail went further. It was definitely a well-used unofficial trail that followed a ridgeline to another cliff. Except this one was way past our skill level and too dangerous to attempt. We turned around and headed to the showers. We took turns showering, charging stuff and eating a rice mix. The shower had such high pressure it stung my skin. I’d gotten a little bit better at quick showers. As we exited the car back at camp, we were greeted with a temperature at least 30 degrees cooler than where we just were. We slowly piled on our warm clothes and hats as the temperature continued to drop. I put a blanket in my tent as well as my sleeping bag. I had an REI kilo 20° which had lost a lot of loft and feathers so it was more like a 30, 35+. 

I slept great, waking up early to a crisp morning. After eating breakfast, we got in the car at 7 a.m. and the car said it was 28°. Whoa! But it was great because we were going to hike the North Kaibab trail part way down into the canyon and I didn’t want a repeat of my last canyon excursion. We kept our jackets on for a good hour as we flew down the mountain. There was more shade and it stayed cool. The trail was in much better shape than the south rim but still way too much sand. We made it to the tunnel and took a break for an hour. We ate some snacks and took pictures of all the butterflies landing on the puddles from the faucet. Some guys passed by carrying large tools and I asked them were they doing trail maintenance and yes they were. I inquired jokingly as to why they were carrying their tools versus using a mule and they replied, “What, use one of those trail destroying animals?” So  even the trail maintainers knew the mules were the ones that mutilated the path. Travis and I wondered how long it would be before the mule riding was discontinued. The hike up was rough, steep but with some shade. The finish back to the parking lot was anti-climatic as I stuck my head under the cold faucet to cool off, went to the bathroom (always a necessary step), got in the car and drove out of the park to Zion.

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Super Grand Canyon South Rim

We noticed the gas prices getting higher as we got closer to the Grand Canyon. We left the interstate and drove straight north for a long time through seemingly unending forests. We’d pass through a town or two with just one stoplight before reaching Tusayan, the tourist town with more hotels and restaurants. Our free campsite was just past all that, right outside the park entrance. Many sites were full but we found a good sized flat spot. The only problem was there was no privacy to go to the bathroom. Travis took initiative to set up a tarp between two trees for me to be able to go in private. As I weaved my way past shrubs, I inhaled deeply. These weren’t just bushes, these were lavender! It was an entire field full of lavender. We are a dinner of tuna Alfredo with Ritz crackers and went to bed, excited to finally see the Grand Canyon in the morning. 

We got up not too super early, found a parking spot pretty close to the visitor center/restrooms and marched toward Mather point. I wanted to hike the entire 13 mile south rim trail and didn’t want to see the canyon first from the bus. As we approach Mather point, I experienced a familiar gut-drop feeling I’ve come to know all too well: the excited-I’m-about-to-go-do-see-something-I’ve-never-done-before feeling. A rush of absolute excitement, anticipation, nervousness, and a bit of trepidation, because I would never get to experience this first again. We weaved our way through the swarms of people, a lot of Chinese, some German, even fewer American, toward the edge. I stared at the deep chasms in the earth before me, too awestruck to take pictures yet. I took several pictures in all directions as my eyes got a little moist. This was THE Grand Canyon, classic America. I asked Travis what his first thoughts were, and he said he wasn’t impressed. I wondered at his lack of wonder as we boarded the free shuttle bus to start our trek. In the summer, you weren’t allowed to drive past a certain area and had to take a free shuttle to the vistas. We got to the end of the line, started walking the paved Rim trail and immediately stopped. I need my camera in my hands now! The canyon was different from practically every step we took. A lot of the time, I just stood there taking it all in. Then when Travis would ask was I ready to keep walking, I’d bring my camera up and meekly reply no. By an hour, we hadn’t made much progress along our 13 mile trail. By two hours we realized we’d split this into two days. We were traveling at about 1 mile an hour on this paved flat trail. We took a break on a bench and Travis dropped a few crumbs accidentally. A squirrel immediately showed up to clean up our mess. We were surprised at his friendliness and, not knowing any better, fed it from our hands. We took a few pictures of the squirrel eating out of our hands and all I could think of was my dog, Bailey. She loves to chase squirrels from our yard. The next day we would find out it’s against the law and carries a hefty fine to feed wild animals in the park. I continued taking pictures every 10 steps until we stopped for lunch under some shady trees. Travis cut some sausage and cheese to put on our Ritz crackers. We hiked just a bit more and took the shuttle back to get out of the heat of the day. We filled up our water bottles, washed some dishes and headed back to camp. We’d seen an RV back further than we’d been and they weren’t there today so we parked there. We were happy to have a more private site surrounded by more trees. Travis cooked tuna alfredo for dinner, masking the taste of tuna pretty well  (we both don’t care for tuna that much, he more so than I). We tried to go to sleep at dusk but our closest neighbors were having a party.

 I woke up with the sun beating down on my tent and fix up our breakfast of protein powder in our breakfast essentials chocolate drink. We still beat the crowds into the park and hopped on the shuttle back to where we left off. We walked past Bright Angel Lodge and several other places deciding to explore those later. Our path passed Kolb Studio and Lookout studio and gift shop so we explored those. The rim Trail was filled with people whose conversations were mostly not English. There was German, Chinese and several others I didn’t recognize. We came upon the free Yavapai Point and geology museum which shared more about the geology of the canyon and how it was formed. After the museum, the trail kind of emptied, save for the occasional biker that would race around the corners, almost colliding with us. We saw a guy taking photos of his friend who was off the trail, out on a shelf above the canyon. Of course we started scrambling town, dropping our packs safely out of sight. I grab my Nikon P510 camera and down we went. Travis clambered down first, showing me where to put my hands and feet. I tried to put my feet where he had but I didn’t even come close. I laughed as I told him he had to think a lot smaller because I’m short. Once we’d bouldered down a bit, it was an easy flat walk to the shelf. It was glorious and felt like we were out in the middle of the canyon. There was no one else in sight and Travis finally felt the awe of this great geological wonder. Now this trail was exciting and I was learning to rock climb/boulder. We eagerly looked for the next shelf island piece. I spotted one and the best way to get down was a tree next to the cliff edge. Aha, I knew how to maneuver this one! Travis hardly had time to set his pack down before I deaftly monkeyed down the tree and around the edge, waiting for him to help me with the next bouldering bit. I still didn’t quite trust my brand-new shoes on the loose rocks and boulders. The people on the trail ogled at us climbing way out there. I really liked the feeling of being able to hoist my body up boulders and maneuver around rocks that were twice as tall as me. I could tell Travis was enamored with this new make-your-own-path with a teensy bit of danger. The end of the rim Trail was anti-climatic, finishing at a viewpoint with a bus stop. 

We shuttled back to our car, preparing to go find where the showers and laundry were. Luckily we were able to find parking right by the building and we gathered our electronics to charge while we waited. The women’s restroom was being cleaned so Travis went first. There was an elk grazing by the car as I made sure I had all my cords. I have a Phone, Fitbit, and two cameras, one with four batteries that I go through quickly! Travis has a phone and two battery packs. So we have a lot that needs charging. His phone mostly charges in the car because we use it for maps and research. Travis finished his shower and gave me the shower bag with supplies as we were sharing soap, shampoo, conditioner, separate deodorant and lotion. I went to go take a shower but there was a line after it opened from cleaning. I waited a bit longer for the line to die down but it just got longer. I got in line behind 8 ladies and by the time I got to the front they were at least 14 of us in line. It was 6 quarters for six minutes so Travis gave me 12 quarters. The ceiling was moldy so I hurried, getting done before the second time ran out (I can’t take a shower quite that fast). We put our laundry in and finally one Nikon camera battery finished charging. We drove back to our site, which hadn’t been taken, through some traffic caused by people stopping in the middle of the road to see male elk. We ate dinner of tortilla pizzas, making enough for part of lunch tomorrow, and went to bed early as we were getting up at the crack of dawn to hike partway down into the canyon.

 We woke up at five as it was getting light, drank our breakfast essentials and headed all the way into the park, parking at bright angel trail head. We filled up our water bladders and headed down. This was unlike any trail we’ve ever done, where you head up then down. This you did the easy downhill part first then headed back up once it got hotter. It was about 100° at the bottom of the canyon most days and almost full sun. I didn’t want to get any heat related illnesses. We made it down to Indian garden, 3 1/2 miles in 1.5 hours. There were vault toilets, water and a shaded rest area at 1 mile and 3 mile points. The trail was not too steep but was mostly sand with poor rock water run off builds and completely destroyed by the mules. We ate snacks in the shade at Indian Creek then turned around to go up. We stopped at the 3 mile rest area next to a family of five from Winchester, VA that was hiking Rim to Rim. The mom was curious about what I was eating: pizza Travis had made last night. We continued chatting about backpacking and they were all amazed at how light my overnight pack was (~25lbs or less). The mom also questioned how an experienced hiker like me got heat related illness is so easily. I didn’t know the answer to her question and often wonder that myself. I wet the cooling towel and stuck my head under the water spigot before leading the way up the trail. We kept leapfrogging the family and several other hikers as we would all take breaks after hiking for several minutes. I was pretty hot but avoiding getting too hot so far. We’d hike a switchback or two and then rest in the tiny shade at the switchbacks if there was room. Everyone was plodding uphill resting at every shade spot. My rest stops started getting longer than my moving. I couldn’t believe people were still coming down the trail. Didn’t they know it’d be torturous coming back up at high noon? But maybe they were only going down a bit. We finally made it to the 1 mile rest area and sat down with the same family. I dunked my head under the spout again to keep my brain from frying and a lot of hikers around me followed suit. Someone passing by mentioned ice cream and that made all of us excited. I’d seen the ice cream store yesterday and tried to get motivated, telling myself I could have some if we made it up by noon. I sluggishly kept going one foot at a time, taking a break every five steps. I started getting nauseous so Travis made me sit down and get cool for a long time. We would make it up one more switch back up before I had to sit down again. Noon time passed and Travis told me we can still get ice cream but that didn’t help me much going up the mountain now. There were lots of other hikers that looked like me, taking long breaks and only walking for a few minutes at a time. I could see the top of the canyon getting closer and closer and I was getting done with this mountain mentally. I started getting frustrated with my body physically because it wouldn’t go up the mountain any quicker and my skin wouldn’t cool itself, making me scared of heat exhaustion or stroke. Although I thought a helicopter ride through the canyon sounded cool, this is not how I wanted to do it. I found a piece of the canyon that had a part the chat it out just like a seat. God, please help my skin, my body, my brain, my body to work together to get me off this path. I was near tears as Travis kept handing me bites of granola bar to eat and wrapping the cool towels around my back and neck and stomach. Eventually we made it back up, through the two tunnels, to the pavement again at the trailhead sign. As we shuffled over to the sign to take our pictures I glared angrily at the people just now heading down. Don’t they know they’re taking such a high risk? Or is it just me and my body that doesn’t work right in the heat and sun? I was deeply saddened that my body wasn’t working right but Travis had to remind me that we did it! We hiked partway down into the Grand Canyon on the bright angel trail and made it all the way back up! We went straight to the ice cream store and bought ourselves two cones with two scoops each. We weaved our way back through the crowd to sit in the shade of the gift shop to enjoy our cool treat. Several people stopped and asked us wow! Those look amazing where did you get them and we were able to point them in the right direction. We went back and explored several of the gift shops to buy our postcards and collectors patch, passing by the Hopi house where they were having a native American demonstration. We watched for a few minutes as the announcer shared with us some of his peoples styles of dancing and music. Another guy showed up to dance to the rhythm. We continued on into the Hopi house to see all the pottery and jewelry collections of the local native American population. We were pretty tired from our hike and getting up early so we went back to the car and went back to our campsite. Travis set up his hammock and I got on my Thermarest Zrest and we tried to take naps but were both unsuccessful. After the wind picked up and it got a little chilly, we decided to make dinner. I had said earlier if we were up for it, we could go watch the sunset back at the park. So we cooked and headed back into the park. Travis was still eating dinner and we thought about taking the shuttle bus to a further point to watch the sunset but figured out that would be too late and we weren’t sure when the shuttle bus came back. So we just went to Mather point and I squeezed in between the masses of people along the railing. We waited and waited and finally the sun begin to set. Everyone was quieter for a little while and then when the sun dipped below the horizon, hordes of people left. We stayed so I could get pictures of the canyon in the afterglow. There was enough space at the railing that I could freely move about to get all the different angles. It started getting a little colder so we were almost about to leave when someone shouted look! There she is! 

They were talking about none other than the moon! A strawberry moon no less. It began peeking up over the forest, steadily glowing more and more. With my camera I could zoom in real close and get amazing shots of the moon. I jumped up and down like a little kid because the moon has always been mine for some reason. My sister Emily and I always split everything between us, she had the sun and I the moon. I was giddy and smiled at Travis and thought, this was just perfect. We’ve hiked a bunch around the Grand Canyon Southrim and now I watched the sunset and the moon rise. We could leave the Grand Canyon now. We got back to camp and went to bed knowing that we would drive out along the desert view Drive the next morning.

We slept in a bit knowing that we did not need to get there early for parking and headed east out of the Grand Canyon. I wasn’t quite sure where all the vistas were but I knew I wanted to stop at at least two of them. We pulled over at a few that weren’t very good and then we finally saw the nice big view. I took lots of pictures and got back in the car to go to the next one. We found another area to go bouldering in. Travis went down first and at first I wasn’t going to follow him. But then he looked like he was having too much fun so he helped me climb down. This was a longer climb but the other ones so we got a little bit sweaty. I enjoyed being able to take pictures without people in them. We made it back to the car and continue to the desert view watchtower.  The watchtower was made by a female architect sometime ago and was pretty cool with Native American inspired drawings on the inside. We meandered through the visitor center and bought a cookie. We weren’t going to eat lunch there so we just sat outside and enjoyed ourcookies. Soon after that we exited the park borders and began our long journey east, north, west and back south to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. It was only 10 or so miles away as the crow flies but the roads are long. 

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Scorching Saguaro

We kept driving across the desert, watching the heat roll off the road and the mountains change as we crossed into Arizona. Most of the billboards advertised Tombstone. It was only 45minutes out of the way so why not? The temperatures kept climbing into the triple digits so I wasn’t too keen on walking around much. We found a free parking spot and wandered back into the Old West. We wanted to watch a shootout but didn’t want to pay a lot of money. We made our way past western style shops to the OK Corral shop. The tickets were too expensive but I spotted grow-your-own saguaro kits. It included 2 or 3 baby cacti, dry soil, a small planter and a wooden marker saying OK Corral. I’ll take it! From there we continued by saloons until we heard a guy yelling that there’d be a shootout in 5 minutes down by the railroad depot. We hurried down there and purchased our affordable tickets to a comedic shootout. We sat on partly shaded bleachers in front of an old western street style stage. The town drunk announce told us, the audience, had to boo and clap for the bad and good guys as they came out. The show went on, with a plot of a guy stole a miner’s mule. It was hilarious, complete with a drunk sheriff, dumb sidekick and backstabbing, or shooting. But the good guys always win, right? We posed for pictures with the actors and tipped them, glad to have seen a great shootout worth the cost. We explored all the gift shops, buying postcards and sarsaparilla, a yummy root beer like drink. We enjoyed our sodas at the gazebo in the town park. Our bottles each had a bit about the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday. After we’d seen enough of the wild west, we continued to Tucson, heading up Mt. Lemmon to our campsite. We drove up, and up, and up! The saguaros appeared all over the mountain then gave way to conifers. Our campsite gps coordinates were at 8500ft elevation so I was excited, hoping it’d be at least 15degrees cooler than it was now at 85degrees at 7pm. Our coordinates were a little off but we eventually found the correct road. The trees were conifers and the perfect site was just a couple minutes in. We set up our tents and Travis cooked dinner in the dark. We went to sleep at about 60 degrees.

I awoke with a loud, “Travis, hep me!” My nose was pouring blood. I tried not to get any drops on my sleeping bag, pillow, or anything in my tent as I scrambled to get out. I failed. I stuffed toilet paper up my nose while shuffling to a comfortable standing place. Travis made sure I was ok before attempting to scrub out the blood on basically everything in my tent. I couldn’t get it to stop bleeding for a good while which was super frustrating because I was fully awake, hungry, and had to pee. We suppose it happened because the dry air, wind, dust, and possibly altitude. Finally it stopped after I filled a whole bag with bloody tissues. I got to pack up, eat, and we were on our way down to the western portion of Saguaro National Park.

We drove to the visitor center and wanted to fill up our water bottles but the Africanized killer bees were buzzing around the faucet and ground. The rangers normally keep a dish out for them but it had run dry. We collected a map and ventured out into the desert. Our first path was a paved interpretive trail 1/2 mile long. I had on my long sleeved sun shirt, capris, hat, and a cooling towel on my neck. I was prepared to hike through the desert. Every other informative sign had a shaded bench that I’d race toward and let Travis read the sign out loud. I had fun posing by each cactus, especially the giant saguaro, although Travis got bit by the teddy bear cholla. It sure was fuzzy alright. That trail was only 1/2 mile long and it was supremely uncomfortable for me so we decided to skip the other trail I’d picked out that was .7miles and go straight to the driving loop. We passed many more saguaros with lots of arms. There were several cacti that were blooming and of course I wanted to get pictures of every one. there were reds and pinks, in varying shades, and sometimes orange as well. We did set out on another 1/2mile trail to see the petroglyphs. This trail was a bit up so I just took my time, trying not to die. Petroglyphs are carved into rock and pictograms are painted or drawn on. These markings were from the Hohokam people from AD 900-1200. The view from the top of the hill was neat, saguaros dotting the landscape as far as the eye could see. I was hot and felt close to dying, so we headed back to a smoothie cafe I’d seen a sign for on the way in. The ice cold blended fruit was incredibly refreshing but didn’t fill me up much. Travis wanted Taco Bell but I wasn’t sure I could eat there and not get sick so I got Burger King nuggets.

Now that we were out of danger of heat illnesses, we went to a place where we could spend some money: REI. I needed new shoes and hoped they’d have an ample selection in my size. This REI wasn’t too different than our home store but did have a bit more climbing gear. I wanted to try on the Altra Lonepeak 3.0 but all they had was the Superior. I trounced around the store, trying to see if these aggravated my achilles and had enough tread for rocks and were sufficient support for my ankles. I bought them and there was a bit of a mix-up. The shoes were labeled wrong on the rack; the Lonepeak and Superior were switched. So I was buying the shoes I had researched and wanted. We headed back up the mountain in plenty of daylight and again watched the temperature drop into a comfortable range. We picked out a different site (because our previous one was occupied) with view over the hill past the car. I got another nosebleed as I tried the saline nose squirt bottle, which Google had said to try. That and neosporin were supposed to re-moisten the inside of my nose. Travis made chicken alfredo for dinner and we went to bed as the sun set. I got up to no nosebleed (yay!) but enormous bloody boogers (yuck!). We decided not to try to hike in the desert today but just to take the 8 mile route in and around the eastern part of the National Park. It mostly looked the same, but more hilly and the cacti had more blooms. We’d get out with me decked out in my sun-protective clothing and read the blurb written on the informational signs. It was already scorching by 11AM when we finished the Saguaro loop so we set our gps straight north to the Grand Canyon!

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Wacky White Sands 

We set our GPS to Brantley lake state park, New Mexico to take showers and possibly stay, if we liked it because it was only $8 for primitive site, $5 day use. The road took us by a dam with a very low river. We approached Brantley lake state park and it looked like it was last in line for funding. We kept driving until we reached the primitive camping but it didn’t look appealing. The showers were OK, ‘free’ with the $5 per vehicle day use fee with a two second pushbutton. Ahh, it drove me crazy! I’d picked the handicap stall for a little more room and at least the handheld showerheads stream lasted a  little little longer. While I waited for Travis, I saw a jack rabbit with reallyyy long legs. A couple in an RV told us they been road tripping across the US and had a similar future route and that this was one of the worst places they’ve stayed. We decided to continue, did some research on freecampsites.net and found a place at roughly 8000 feet elevation in Cloudcroft, 45 minutes from White Sands. We climbed from scruggly (scraggly, shrubby) desert to high fir forests. I was hoping against sleeping in the desert and was incredibly excited to see so many trees again. We saw aspen trees and then an elk, and another elk! on the side of the road. Travis was super hungry and we weren’t looking forward to either cooking or setting up in the dark so we decide to stop if we saw an affordable looking diner. We passed a couple fancy looking places before finding one that looked reasonably priced. I ordered steak fingers and fries that came with gravy and Travis ordered a burrito with rice, beans, chips, and salsa. I had a few left over fingers for lunch tomorrow. Feeling satisfied, we set our sights towards finding a home for the night. We reached our gravel road turn off and continued up. This was our only second time using free dispersed camping. We parked near a few other vehicles and tents and start walking towards a clear area. A man’s voice gruffly yelled out, “Hey, what are you doing!?” We replied we were looking for a dispersed campsite. He angrily yelled again, “Get out! This is taken!” Even though there were plenty of tenting areas with car spaces. We hurried back to the car. I was both upset and frightened; I sure didn’t want to camp near those kind of people. The next group we saw had a fire and Travis was more confident in approaching them to inquire about the free camping. They were indeed nice and told us just to keep looking, that there were plenty on down the road. Just about when we couldn’t see much because it was getting dark, we found a pullover spot next to a large field. We made sure it was flat enough, set up our tents and got in because it was pretty cold!

I was hoping to wake up to elk grazing in a meadow but alas, it was just us. It was just 45 minutes from White Sands through the town of Alamogordo. Occasionally the interstate we were on closed for military missile testing. The White Sands visitor center was styled like an old Adobe pueblo. I gathered some maps and information on the 8 mile loop drive and short quarter mile and half mile hikes. There were longer hikes but I didn’t want to hike far in the real desert. Our national Park pass got us in for free again ($10/vehicle) and we drove off into the dunes. At first it looked like normal sand dunes, with a few bushes and grass clumps on them, but soon turned into all white bare sand. We pulled off onto a sand parking lot to hike a boardwalk discovery path with lots of informational signs. It’s actually gypsum sand. 

As the pavement ended, we finally found a parking area to be able to walk on the dunes. I took my shoes off and started climbing. Wow, it was cold sand! I fully expected it to be hot under the glaring sun. We watched as other people slid down on the dunes on their sleds. You could buy or rent a slide to sled down the dunes. I guess it didn’t hurt the dunes much. We soon collapsed onto the sand, playing with it like at the beach, burying our feet. Ooh, the ocean. This much sand should have an ocean or some body of water. Instead there were mountains, which were cool…but not an ocean. 

Back at the visitor center we washed our dirty dishes, filled our water containers and ate lunch. I had my leftover steak fingers and gravy and Travis made a Vienna sausage taquito. We bought our patch, what we decided to collect from every place we visited. We saw the same guy we’d seen at Carlsbad Cavern asking about the camping fee. We told him we were camped on a nice mountain up the road and about the website we’d been using but he replied he liked it here. The dunes were great and all but temperatures were still rising and soon they’d be like a sauna. But to each his own. We drove back through Alamogordo, picking up a few items at Walmart and getting gas. We stopped at a few touristy gift shop and I really liked the store with lots of colorful pottery and metal work. Travis pet the store dog and leaned in a little too close so the dog jumped and bared its teeth, making contact with Travis’s nose and lip. I was probably more scared than him. I really liked a metal mountain silhoette and Travis said if I still liked it the next day we would get it on our way out. I really wanted to hike at least a short trail in this area because it was much cooler and to walk because we driven around White Sands. We pulled over to an old railroad valley crossing. The railroad used to bring people up to the mountains for cooler weather and the trestles were still standing. Travis researched a roughly 2 mile hike that actually began super close to where we spent the night. Soon we looked up and saw the old trestle  from above. The trail wasa nice mixture of dirt, rocks, and roots and looped around to a beautiful meadow. If it were later in the day we probably would’ve seen elk or deer. We headed back up to our site but the whole mountain was full. We continued down the gravel road, found an ok site but it was filled with shotgun shells, crushed beer cans and general litter so we ultimately decided against it, opting to drive closer to Las Cruces, our next destination. We drove down into the desert, winding around the city to its south eastern side, next to the mountains. I was worried it would be hot at night but there were no roads leading up the mountain. The GPS coordinates were a little off but we eventually found a spot near trailhead parking. I was paranoid about the possibility of fire ants all around our site until we scuffed up a few ant mounds and they were normal black ants. The sun was setting as we set up our tents and Travis started making pizzas. We didn’t take time to enjoy them thoroughly though they were still amazing. I enjoy ed the sun setting over the city with the mountains glowing behind us. The sun said hello bright and early, heating my tent into a sauna, forcing me to get up and moving. Lots of beetles found shade under our tents as morning came and we chuckled as they scurried from our disappearing shady spots. My coworker used to live here and had given me tips on where to find a cheaper native rug/blanket and with the best frozen custard was. It was a Sunday so everything opened later, around 10 or 11 AM. We made our way to the historic downtown Mesilla area, admiring the desert architecture. We found a cozy little café bakery to drink smoothies and wait for shops to open. After washing dishes and mailing postcards, the doors began open. I was eager to check out all the stuff, hoping for some bargains, but everything was still over my budget. Travis found a cool blanket and I bought some Christmas gifts, plus a set of colorful earrings for myself. Satisfied with our finds, we set off for Caliches frozen custard. Travis got a vanilla with sprinkles and I had a brownie caramel sundae. Mmm, this was yummy and so worth it!!

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Cool Carlsbad Caverns

It was a long drive from the national Park sign to the actual visitor center, climbing up the more-desert-looking-than-Texas-mountains. We headed straight in towards the info desk to inquire about the hours, pricing and timing. The natural entrance into the cave was 1.5mi long and the big room was too, taking about 2 hours total, depending on how often we stopped and took pictures. It was $10 per person but our national park pass made it free. We packed up jackets and water (it’s a humid 56 degrees down there) and headed out. A guy we’d just seen at the Information Center asking about where to stay with also heading down. The path was very steep and it wasn’t long before the stench of guano (bat poop) hit us. It was almost unbearable to stop and take pictures of the entrance, a giant dark hole in the earth. We kept descending lower and lower, on steep switchbacked paths, eventually losing sight of the natural light, now only seeing by the dim lights overhead. We passed by amazing formations and we weren’t even to the main room yet! We made our way to the big room and were even more awestruck. This was a giant cave, equal to about 14 football fields with a 255 foot ceiling, all 750 feet below the surface. We continued around the big room, creeping past stalagmites, stalactites, popcorn rocks, massive boulders, and other wonders. I wasn’t sure how neat the caves would be or if we wanted to explore more but we definitely did! We enjoyed the cool dark atmosphere and wanted to learn what else was hidden down below the Earth’s surface. We took the elevator up and explored the vast gift shop filled with turquoise jewelry, pottery and other cultural tourist traps. I kind of wanted a native pottery piece but didn’t know what I would do with it. 

We cooked dinner by our car in the parking lot, waiting for the bat flight program. They’d set up an ampitheater just outside the natural cave entrance so people could watch the bats fly out. Around 7 p.m., we wandered over to the amphitheater to get good seats and waited, listening to the distance thunder and looming ominous clouds. The ranger told the gathering crowds that if lightning came within 5 miles, he would have to cancel the program and make sure everyone left the amphitheater. We were all hopeful that the storm would stay away long enough for us to see the great bat exodus. At 7:30, the ranger began, telling us a bit about the bats, but he was cut short. Just a few minutes in, he had to tell us to go away. I was really bummed especially because I didn’t think we’d be here the next evening. It began to sprinkle as we drove back to Guadalupe. The dark storm clouds looked neat against the setting sun behind the mountains. The rain stopped and Travis was able to set up his tent. We researched where the nearest REI was so that I could buy new shoes that didn’t hurt my feet. I had had this problem before and had tried on altra lonepeak 3.0’s and liked them, so I was pretty dead set on finding them when we found one. Conveniently there was one in Tuscon, which would be our next stop anyway, but more on that another time. According to Google, my issue wasn’t in fact Achilles tendonitis but rather retrocalcaneal bursitis, inflammation in the area above my heal that the Achilles slides against. 

We decided to check out more of the caves and leave Guadalupe for another campsite. We slept in, mostly because we wouldn’t be hiking in the heat, packed everything up and headed back to Carlsbad caverns. I thought we were in time for the 10:30 kings palace tour, but the clerk said it would take him a while to print the tickets. I was a little miffed that we would have to wait till the noon hour, if we had been helped by a different clerk 15min would have been more than enough time to print tickets and get to the meeting place at the bottom of the elevator in the caves. We now had an hour and a half to explore the gift shop and eat our lunches. We sat outside in the shade of the building, charging our phones, cameras, battery packs and my fitbit. We made scrumptious peanut butter and Nutella taquitos with delightful dole fruit cups (mmmm fruit!) on the side for lunch. Finally it was time  to head down to begin our tour. The king’s palace tour was 83 stories deep, the lowest part of the cave open to the public. Travis was picked to bring up the rear and make sure any stragglers weren’t left behind. This cave room was stunningly handsome and did indeed look regal. There were different formations everywhere, including soda straws and “tortured lovers kiss,” a stalactite and stalagmite that were permanently 3mm apart. The tour winds through the Queen’s chamber, dressed in ladylike, multicolored curtains of stone. The ranger had us sit and turned off the artificial lights, letting us “see” the natural essence of the cave. He brought out a single lighter to show us how those who first explored the caves would have experienced them. We headed out getting to use a restroom deep below the Earth’s surface, which we both thought was kinda cool. The other tours we’re too pricey so thats where our cave exploration ended.

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My eyes leaked a little today

Just like the sky this morning.
Almost two years ago, just after my farewell party for my European adventure, a guy texted me, “Maybe would you like for me to maybe join and your dog for a walk at oak grove lake maybe? Later that day I answered with as much sass as my little dumb phone would allow me, “Maybe.”
As we walked around the lake, I got the feeling he kinda liked me. But I just wanted someone to distract me so I wouldn’t bawl like a baby at my last walk with my dog for a while. 

Now, I’m taking him with me on a national park tour across America. For the first time, I have a human adventure buddy! We will be driving through the south to San Francisco, up to WA where we’ll poof home after Yellowstone. This is a different kind of adventure than I normally take, in a car, with someone else. I pray my feet enjoy the faster lower miles (I’ll still be day hiking!) and my heart enjoys the companionship. 
Again, I walked my dog around the lake, trying not to cry but failing this time. She’ll be looked after by family and friends, but still I’ll worry when there’s a thunderstorm or fireworks. 

I’m excited to traverse across my country, in awe of God’s magnificent landscape.

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So, Why?

So why did I come to Europe? Why is my blog name kraezfernweh? Why am I not liking it or having as much fun as I thought? Why is traveling and all these new amazing experiences so difficult for me?Well, let’s start with the easy question. My blog name is two different words. Kraez is a nickname I got in college after I got a little crazy on a sugar high from eating a chocolate treat and a chocolate shake. It’s a play on my first and middle names, Kelly Rae. Fernweh is a German word for homesick, a longing for a place you’ve never been, at least according to Pinterest. I thought the two sounded good together and WordPress said all my other ideas were taken already. 

I came to Europe to try to get rid of anxiety. I had hiked the Appalachian trail and through hiking, God had healed me of depression. I wanted the same thing for anxiety. I struggled with depression for much of my high school, college and adult life, at times pretty severe. I resisted getting professional help, thinking that counseling was silly and refusing to experiment with antidepressants which could have all sorts of side effects, most of which I didn’t want to mess around with. I do not think antidepressants are wrong to take; I just knew that they weren’t for me. 

Then, some bad stuff happened to me in college in Texas, parts of it from within the Christian community I’d become a part of. I remained calm, determined, and fearless, enough to finish my degree. I still struggled with my health and a cough that wouldn’t go away. I went to the ER when I couldn’t breathe and was dismissed with a diagnosis of panic attack. I laughed at that, thinking how wrong they were, that it must be allergies or something. Oh how wrong I was. Fast forward a bit, to when a guy at a church event complimented me. I couldn’t breathe, I was sweating and my hands were shaking so hard I could hardly hold onto my plate of food. I would later realize this was my first panic attack. As time went by, normal things got hard. Grocery shopping became incredibly difficult. I couldn’t decide between vanilla or strawberry yogurt. My brain would freeze and just not make a decision. I would usually end up not deciding and just walking out. As I tried to find a job, moved back home to where I had no community, things got worse. I had trouble sleeping at night and could only sleep as the sun broke across the horizon. It was difficult to make any decision in a reasonable amount of time, what to wear, to eat, how to compose emails, whether to go left at that green light, etc. I found two churches that I liked and tried to get involved but I was too weak to do anything but sit there. I bought a dog and she quickly became my best friend, needing me to get out of bed in the morning to feed her and walk her. 

I decided to thruhike the Appalachian trail and it was the second most greatest decision of my life. The first being to follow Jesus. I believe I was healed of depression the instant I set foot on that Trail. I had one goal, to reach Mt Katahdin. This was easy to focus on and while it required great physical and mental strength, it was also quite simple to walk north through the wooded mountains. I finished feeling quite accomplished but knew life after trail would be difficult. It didn’t take long for the endorphins to wear off and for my troubles to come back tenfold. I had trouble getting used to society and civilization and my anxiety made it worse. I got a part time job doing cashiering and packaging at a UPS store. Trying to work more than 28hours a week absolutely exhausted me, to the point where I couldn’t even chew the food my mom had cooked for me. My arms and legs would feel like lead, too heavy to move. My neck would feel like it could no longer support my head. Going to church every Sunday made me shake so much I couldn’t breathe. Going to small group bible studies made me shake so hard I couldn’t speak. The place where I should’ve felt safest I felt terrified of. It got worse, I would shake so hard and have trouble breathing, I didn’t feel safe driving, making myself late to social events, making the anxiety even worse. I would try to be me, but would be unable to speak, leaving people bewildered. 

I refuse to live like this anymore. I refuse to be silent. I struggle with (social) anxiety and PTSD like symptoms. When I get a panic attack, I shake (unnoticeable to most unless you are touching me), I can’t speak or have trouble forming sentences, I can’t make decisions, and I have trouble catching my breath. Please don’t tell me to just breathe or calm down. It’s not that easy. I don’t know what I want you to do. I don’t always have panic attacks but I do still feel anxious most of the time. I feel like I’m fighting with my body, against my body and mind most of the time. I know I should learn to work with my body in harmony, but that still looks like a fight. I know it’s irrational. It doesn’t make sense. 

Traveling helps. It forces me to live in the uncomfort every minute. I must make a choice or risk losing much more. I have no choice but to meet people, in hostels, tours, and restaurants. I meet some amazing wonderful people, some friends for life. There are times when it’s just too much and I stand on the street corner and tears flood my cheeks. I back up into the walk of the nearest building and pray. God, fight this for me! I have no idea where I am or how to get to food, shelter or smiles. Traveling solo is difficult. Traveling solo dealing with anxiety is insane. I’m glad I came across the oceans, trust without borders. 

The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still. Exodus 14:14

Hug me.

Pray with me. 

Cry with me. 

Walk with me. 

Do messy with me.

Eat with me.

Laugh with me.

Be alone with me. 

Fight with me. 

Be still with me. 

This doesn’t quite articulate all that I want or need to say but it comes close. I write this at 4am as I’m about to get on a plane to home after almost 3months of traveling so it might be more rambling word vomit than inspiring or thought provoking but that’s all I got. 

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Enjoyable Echternach

Tuesday July 28I hadn’t set an alarm because I wanted to sleep in and enjoy waking up on my tent. The morning sun didn’t quite hit me as I hoped but it was close. It was pretty chilly so it was a little stretch to get up and out. I boiled up some hot water for my oatmeal to go and took my time getting ready. The tourist office didn’t open until 10 anyway. I went down to reception and went ahead and paid for two nights. I headed to the city center just past 10 and found it much easier to navigate when I wasn’t frustrated and hungry. The office lady gave me a small map of the town and paths but only pointed out one 12km loop trail. She said it was the best day hike in the region. I wandered into the cathedral next door before setting out to find the beginning of this trail. 

The beginning of this trail was also the beginning of many other paths, including a camino with the yellow shell marker. I started up the trail and immediately climbed straight up for half an hour. I stopped and looked back and there was quite a view! I could look out over the town and the surrounding hillsides because I’d climbed up so quickly. I spotted a wooden structure at the very top and hiked just a few more minutes. It was a large gazebo, complete with benches inside. I’d only been hiking for maybe 45minutes but it was around noon/lunchtime and this place just demanded a break. I pulled out a granola bar and began munching away as more people hiked up. No one seemed as interested in the gazebo as I was. I hiked on after eating a bit and wandered through amazingly beautiful forests. There were cliffs next to me and the trees were just perfectly placed all around. I rounded the corner and started descending very steeply into a gorge with high rock faces on either side. I came to an intersection where the trail went straight but it looked like there were trails up to lookouts on either side. I took the one to the left first, climbing many uneven slippery rock stairs before reaching the top. I could look down into the gorge and out across the surrounding areas. There were benches and many worn areas where it looked like people had camped. There was a mother and father chasing their two little boys around on the top. They climbed up here for lunch and the kids looked like they were having a blast. The cliffs were well fenced in all along the top. I could walk on top the cliff looking down at the trail I came in on. I clambered slowly back down the steep stairs I came up and climbed the stairs going to the right. This lookout was much smaller but had a bridge to another cliff island that was pretty cool. There was a troop of young adults that passed by, all grumbling and not very happy, each carrying large heavy packs. None of them stopped to look at either view, just bypassing it without even a picture from the center of the gorge. I was sad they didn’t stop. It really was quite fantastic up here and nothing is meant to be hiked through fast without looking around. I continued on a few minutes after they had passed, walking through some amazing rock formations, all covered in ferns and hanging vines. The rocks had been worn by the wind and rain and had pretty neat textures. It looked like a magical place with the ferns and vines combining to create an incredible aura. I stopped every so often just to stand still, in awe of my surroundings, slowly spinning around in circle. Everywhere my eyes landed was God’s perfect beauty. I passed a picnic shelter with a group of older people. They were all laughing and having a great time. I figured they’d get up and walk on but they all walked to the bus that was parked within eyesight. Well at least they were enjoying nature somewhat. I hiked on, not coming upon anyone for quite awhile. Then I could hear voices and laughter. I couldn’t see them but I could see where they would be. There was a giant rock face looming out over the trail and below it was a cave. This cave had a piece of rock all the way to the ground so you could walk under and around it. The group was sitting in the cave, their now joyful voices mingling and echoing throughout. I felt like this whole area was an incredible secret that Luxembourg kept for the special few. I came upon a sign to go to Berdorf or to continue on my trail. I’d heard that Berdorf was a cute little Swiss town with many shops and restaurants. I could go for an ice cream and it was only 2km there. I headed that way, making sure I remembered which way my correct path went. Soon I left the forest and started walking through fields of wheat and corn, with the occasional colorful poppy. I entered the town and was still able to follow the trail signs but I saw no shops or restaurants, just houses. I kept going but the houses got fewer and fewer. There’d been a turn off but I could easily see that was a highway through more fields. There was a gazebo where the young adult group was gathering. I saw a bar/pub but it only served drinks. Aha! I spotted an ice cream cone on that gate. My pace quickened and soon I was at the door, thinking about what flavors they would be. I pulled and pushed the door but it was locked. It was 2pm on a Tuesday and they were closed. Wow, I’d had such high hopes for this town and the picture of the smiley happy ice cream cone. I sighed and started walking back through the baking hot corn fields, back into the woods. I found my sign and began the way back. This wasn’t through the cliffs or gorge but at least it was beautiful forest with a gently sloping dirt path. 

I got back to town and still wanted a small something to eat so I found a bakery an ordered a cream filled glazed donut. Or what I thought was a cream filled donut. I sat down to eat and was given a fork and knife so I cut into it and took a bite. Mm yummy. I could just barely see the custard now so I cut into that and took another bite. Bleck!! What was that?! It tasted like hard boiled egg. I cut into the donut and tasted more. Yepp, that was egg filling my donut. I stared at it in wonder and disgust. It was glazed with a pretty chocolate drizzle on top. Fluffy. Round. Donut looking. But it was not a donut. I ate the outside, the sweet bread that had glaze but no egg with it. I walked away wanting more, completely unsatisfied with my little (mis)treat. I remembered seeing an ice cream shop but had trouble finding it so I went back to the tourism office to ask. They pointed me in the right direction, probably wondering how anybody could get lost in a town that had maybe 5 roads. Finally, I held in my hand an ice cream cone with hazelnut and caramel flavors. I sat on the steps in the square to polish off my cold deliciousness and just sat there watching people.

I meandered back to my campsite, this time looking in all the shops. I entered one an I thought it was just purses and magnets but at the back I spotted shelves and shelves of puzzles. It started with 100 piece puzzles and went all the way up to 5000! They were all Ravensburger brand. I picked one up and it said authentically made in Ravensburg, Germany. Oh wow, I must go research where that is! I would love to go to the home of the worlds best puzzles! I’d happened upon the Black Forest in Germany as being the home of the cuckoo clock. 

I got back to my tent, set my stuff down and began researching this puzzle city. Turns out it is directly between the Black Forest and Munich. Hmm, my mind started to race ahead of me. I’d like to go but I don’t know if I could fit it in. I’d had to sign up for a specific date to start the European Peace Walk from Vienna and then made reservations for two nights in the hostel in Vienna beginning August 2. It was the first time I’d had a set deadline for time and I was struggling with it. My moms friends friend in the Black Forest area was proving hard to get in contact with. I’d emailed my moms friend and received the contact info for the lady but wasn’t able to call, text, or email. The wifi at the campground was spotty so I tried using my data but that didn’t work. I should’ve been able to make a phone call or text by that wasn’t working either. I tried for several hours, getting more frustrated each minute. I was hoping to leave Echternach on the early bus out to Luxembourg city then down to the Black Forest. From Lux I could go either to Strasbourg, France then across to Freiburg which took pretty much all day or to a city in Germany north of Freiburg but that was way more expensive. I didn’t want to spend the whole day on a train/bus but also didn’t want to shell out big bucks to move a few hundred kilometers. And if course this all depended on if I was able to get in touch with the lady and stay with her or not. I wanted to hike a day and go to Triberg, home of the cuckoo clocks and this lady was right in the middle. I went back up to my tent and started to make dinner. I just wanted to see just a few things while I was in Germany because I only had a couple days to spend. I ate my pasta and thought hard but came up with nothing. I hunkered down in the lounge room as it got cold out and continued to plan. Nothing was coming together and my phone service I’d bought wasn’t working. I couldn’t leave the wifi with no plans if my service didn’t work. I starting shaking, partly from the cold, partly from the anxiety. I was trying not to fret, knowing that it would all come together but this was maddening. I just needed three more days then I’d be in Vienna and on my way down a long distance trail. I finally got the email out but it was past 9pm asking if I could stay there the next day so it probably wouldn’t work out. I wasn’t able to see a whole lot of timetables for trains and buses so I didn’t know how to from here to there. Eventually I went out into the cold and got into my sleeping bag just before midnight, not having a clue as to what I was doing the next day. 

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Lux Luxembourg

Monday July 27I got up early to catch the bus to Luxembourg. I had to ask reception to open the kitchen back up so I could cook some eggs. I left for the station, again walking past some unsavory shops. I was taking flexibus and had a hard time finding out where it was or where to wait for it. I finally just joined another girl standing on the street who had been dropped off there a few days before. It was really windy making us all cold. The time for the bus came and went. Many more people had gathered on the street but no one knew if this was the right spot or where our bus was. Finally, 30minutes past time, a flexibus pulls up and just passed us. It was true there probably wasn’t enough space for a bus to safely parallel park but he didn’t even wave us forward. We all ran a block chasing the bus and caught it, pretty much having to board in the middle of the street. I put my pack in the luggage area and climbed aboard. Most everyone had gone to the second level of the bus for some reason, leaving me almost alone on the first level, with two mothers and their kids. This was alright by me, as long as the kids continued to behave. I was glad I had my M&M blanket to snuggle up under.

We arrived in Luxembourg and luckily one of the ladies overheard me ask the driver where was the tourist office. The bus had dropped us off again just near the stations so I was a little lost. The lady told me to follow her into the train station where the tourist office was. I thanked her and walked into the tourist office. 

This was an adventure. I’d bought a ticket to Luxembourg not having any idea whatsoever of what to do, see or where to go. I knew I was going to Echternach later that day but I had roughly 5 hours to spend. The lady handed me a map and circled the city center and pointed out some monuments and paths around the city. It was warming up outside but was threatening to rain. I headed over the bridge to the city center, passing several nice gardens and views along the way. There were several deep valleys and cliffs within the city making for some aesthetically pleasing vistas. I wanted a bite to eat and I wanted to find phone service and a charger. I was able to find a phone store called Orange and they set me up with a new SIM card. I was expecting them to have some good international rates because Luxembourg was so small but no, it would just have to cost me more to call, text or use data outside of Lux. I was okay with that, figuring I’d use mostly wifi unless I needed the service. Many of the shops were fancy and I didn’t want to eat in them especially with my large now dripping pack. I found a store that sold pizza pretzels and got one to go. I stood outside under the umbrellas eating my snack. I wasn’t quite sure what to do in the rain as what I wanted to do was hike the path to the top of the cliffs for he views. I wandered the city center, looking in a few of the stores. A concert band started gathering in the gazebo in the plaza. I tried to watch them as they played but the store owners wouldn’t let me stand out of the rain under their umbrellas, even though there were hardly any customers even inside, let alone outside.

I left for the path to the view and as I climbed up and down, the sun came out. I hoped it was here to stay. I got to the top and looked out across the city and river below. It was a nice view but I preferred to look out over wilderness. I saw a few people on a level below me and wondered how they got there. I kept walking and there were more and more people. I saw signs saying entrance for 4 euros so I went down to take a look. There were caves and paths down inside among the cliffs. I paid the fee and the clerk let me store my large pack inside his office, saying it’d be hard to go below with it. I sure wasn’t going to argue with that and quickly dropped it on the floor. It’d be safe within his office. I entered the caves and was stuck behind a school group for a little bit. I wouldn’t have minded except that I couldn’t understand the language their teacher was talking in. I crept past and entered the main cave. I figured it be worth a few minutes exploring but I had no idea how extensive the caves actually were. At first there was one large main path with a few equally wide shoots off it to over looks and where cannons would’ve pointed out. It was darker but there were a few lights on the floor lighting the path. I had a small guide map with me but it didn’t tell me much. I just kept going down, making turns and descending steep, skinny, spiral stairs. These new paths would be one person wide an led even deeper into the cliff, eventually coming to a tiny hole where you could peer out. This was so much fun! I kept wandering deeper and deeper, having no idea where I was but knowing that I wasn’t going to be lost. Several times the stairs got pretty tight and I’m not normally claustrophobic but it got a little hairy in there. I followed one path and a family turned back after thinking it was a dead end. I saw a small space and climbed up in it. It was just my height so I kept walking. It got smaller and smaller, but I kept going, crouching down so I could continue. It wasn’t til I was almost on my hands and knees and scraping my hips and daypack on the sides that I figured I should turn back. I certainly couldn’t turn around but I just walked backwards. I have no idea where it ended up but I was glad to have crawled down it as much as I could. Finally when I felt like I was going in circles and loops and up and down the same stairs, I looked for an exit sign. I’d seen them when I’d come in but now they were sparse. I found one and reentered the bright blinding sunlight. Yay pure blue skies!! I got my large pack back and sat on the bench overlooking the valley and ate some of my Cadbury chocolate caramel bar. Mmm, what a cool random adventure I’d found in Luxembourg! 

I headed back toward the station, intent on finding a charger for my phone before leaving for Echternach. I asked the tourist office lady and she had no idea. I sputtered and finally asked for an electronics store. She could answer that question with that there was one just 5minutes away. I headed into Saturn but the security guard motioned for me to put my pack in their lockers and storage. It wasn’t even close to fitting in the little locker so I set it in front of it in front of the window, hoping he’d make sure no one took the bulkiest pack. I wandered around inside, looking for anything remotely like a charger. I asked customer service but they just pointed me to the adapters. I just need the European outlet plug for an Apple device, not any cords or adapters. Eventually I found a clerk that understood what I was trying to get and led me to the Apple plugs section. Yikes, the plug was 20 euro!! I was expecting not to pay over 10. Oh well, I didn’t really have a choice, I really needed this charger. I got it and remembered I also needed Chapstick. The pharmacy nor any quick mart type stores had it. I went into Yves Rocher makeup store and asked for lip balm, showing them my Chapstick stick. The lady pointed me to the right section but none had over SPF 5 and all had slight coloring too. But at least it was only one euro. Finally, I was ready to head towards Echternach. The ride was an hour and a half long and I got off one stop too early. There were no signs, announcements or indications which stop we were on. Luckily I’d just bought service so I could make sure it was only a 15 extra minute walk to the city center. I’d looked at campsites and had picked one out and was hoping they had a site available for me and my little tent. I got to the city center but was a little turned around so I headed for the tourist office but it had just closed. I remembered the campground was pretty close to the river and I didn’t want to use all the data I’d just bought so I made my way to the river and just followed it. I’m pretty sure there was a quicker way through town but this was easiest for now. The town looked quite quaint with many old buildings and little shops. Still not a whole lot was in English. I found the campground but reception was closed. It said to go see the night guard and pointed up the hill. I kept walking and walking but saw nothing of the sort. I came upon a hotel and went in, hoping they could point to the night reception. The guy just pointed back to the campground and said up. Well I was hiking up and up. I’d expected to have been cooking dinner by now, with my tent and bed all set up. I was getting pretty frustrated and hangry. Finally I found the night guards building but it too had closed. I stood there, pondering what to do. Just then a car drove up and a lady got out. Her English was terrible but I was able to understand that she worked there. She tried to give me directions to the backpackers tent sites but eventually just drove me and told me I could pay in the morning. 

It was a real nice set up, with campers along the front when you come in and the more primitive sites on flat grass roads up above. There was potable water and sinks every 50 or so feet. I set up my tent in between two couples and we were all fairly well spaced apart. I tried to set my tent up to catch the morning rays but the ground wasn’t quite flat the correct direction. I got my bed set up and started cooking dinner. I set up my stove on the cement steps hoping to not melt anything or catch anything on fire. I was on the top level so I could watch all the other campers. Many of the other tenters had gas stoves and portable chairs, picnic tables and other car camping equipment. My stove and tent were definitely tinier than all the rest. I just sat there, enjoying the last rays of sunlight waiting for my pasta to cool so I could eat it. The reception was next to a lounge room that had couches, books, games, tables, chairs, outlets and wifi! I went down there after dinner so I could try to plan what I was doing tomorrow. There were many day hikes in addition to the long distance Echternach loop trails. I wanted to hike the whole trail but didn’t quite have time for it. This area was called little Switzerland because it has many of the same geological features as Switzerland, gorges, caves, cliffs, and expansive mountain areas. After an hour I still hadn’t quite found any map or listing of where these day hiked began or ended so I went off to bed. It’d gotten quite chilly out once the sun went down and I’d been in the lounge room. I was pretty excited to be sleeping in my tent once again. There could be snoring from the other campers or suburban noise but mostly just the sounds of the night. 

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Buying all the Chocolate

Sunday July 26I got up after an okay sleep and headed downstairs for the free breakfast. There was the typical bread, jam, cereal and thin slices of meat and cheese. The food quality wasn’t great but I had enough to get full. I took a shower which had pretty good water pressure before heading out into town. I remembered which way I’d come past the church and was able to find that shortcut again. This time the church was open and it was a Sunday so there was mass. I slipped quietly into the back, in awe of the massive insides of the building. Everything was so decorated, so ornate. The main aisle was closed to the public because after all, the people were having a church service. It felt odd taking pictures as people were quietly lining up in the pews. They all stood and started singing. Wow, that organ certainly filled the air with amazing notes. I walked out feeling refreshed and inspired on this lovely Sunday morning. I had a list of places I wanted to go and things I wanted to do but was in no hurry. 

I wandered my way through the city center, passing a few random pockets of little markets. I was heading towards the mannekin pis, which is the famous statue of a peeing boy. I don’t know why a peeing boy is so famous but he’s certainly on all of the tour guides must see list, as well as his sister, and his dog. I was going to find all three even though the other two were supposedly pretty difficult to find. I turned the corner and there he was! Peeing out a water fountain. There was a crowd of people taking selfies in front of him which I thought was super weird. Why would you want a picture of yourself in front of a peeing child? I took a snapshot of the statue and turned onto the road he was on. This street looked like it had tons of waffle shops, chocolate shops and a few others scattered within. I made a note of the waffle shops and headed down chocolate lane.

At first I was just going to look at all the different kinds of chocolate, admiring the designs of each chocolatier. But of course I had to buy some from each shop! I tried to only buy 2 bars from each shop. I wanted to try different flavors too. One of the ones I chose was flavored white cinnamon cookie. Others were caramel, orange or dark chocolate. Each shop had an intensely sweet scent that hit you instantly when you pushed the door open. I don’t know how the shop keepers stayed trim with all that sugar laying around. After I’d bought at least 6 bars of chocolate, I found a souvenir shop. I bought a tshirt that had a peace symbol out of many flags. I thought it was a pretty neat shirt design. It was nearing 3 so I figured I’d better get to the music museum because it closed at 5.

The museum was up the Main Street, at the top of all the stairs. I was pretty excited for this museum of musical instruments. I’d never been to such a specific exhibit and this was finally a museum that piqued my interest. 

I entered and received an audio guide and was ushered in. I followed others through a thick wooden door and was met with the dark ambient light that museums often have. There were glass cases of instruments grouped together by culture and place or by type of instrument. There were logos on the floor where you would stand near to and the music would start playing from your guide based on the type of instruments you were standing in front of. This was so neat! I was looking at very old instruments from different cultures and hearing what each sounded like, in a style from that culture. I moved through the exhibits slowly, letting each song play to it’s 2-3 minute length. I got to a machinist and the music wouldn’t start so I pressed a button on the guide. I guess I messed it up because it wouldn’t play anything anymore. I went back to the entrance and got a new audio guide, this one in Spanish and grabbed a set of headphones as well. I found my place again and happily swayed along to each song. This was the best museum ever! I couldn’t quite capture the essence just in pictures so I videoed the instruments with my phone up against the earphones. They were plenty of instruments I’d never heard of and some that I couldn’t even figure out how you would play it. Some looked complicated and tough to learn while others looked like a toddler could play it. There were many types of drums, each with their own unique sound. 

I wandered to another room, up a giant staircase and through another heavy wooden door. This room still had the instruments and songs but was all about who would play it and where. Many more well off peasants, or middle class, would learn to play instruments and the rich would pay to have them entertain them and their guests. Other cultures simply played music for the fun of it or tradition, as a means of worship or reflection. Th next room had decorated and painted instruments, some of which were just placed in rich peoples homes for the looks. There were a few that were made to be playable and reserved for only the very wealthy. The next room had more modern music, electronic sounds, radios, clock chimes and bell tower music. There was a gift shop, complete with very expensive gifts, and a restaurant on top. The entrance was immediately into the cooks and waitstaff area and a waiter tried to seat me. I stared back confused, until I stuttered out, English, and just pointed to the deck. I just wanted to see the rooftop view. I wouldn’t have minded eating there with a view but it was way too pricey for me. I took a few rooftop pictures as it began to rain. I was glad I’d come now because the museum had taken me almost 2 hours. I’d enjoyed every inch of it, reveling in the sounds of everywhere. Music is the only universal language and I was overjoyed at being able to experience some of it. 

It was a little past 5 and raining so I knew by the time I got back up to the military museum it would be closed. So I set off in search of the peeing dog and the peeing girl. It was full out raining so I’d walk a street and duck into a shop for a minute, look around, and figure out my next turn. I was just about done with trying to find the dog when I turned the corner and there he was! A statue of a male dog lifting it’s leg onto a pole. Well, wasn’t gat just something. I went to go find the girl and she was easier to find as there was a gaggle of people crowding around her as well. She was crouching down, locked behind a gate to protect her from vandals, water coming out her bottom a she peered into the distance. Brussels had some strange famous statues. I never did quite catch the story to these peeing figures. I was a little turned around but I made my way back to the boy who was next to all the waffle shops. I bought a waffle with strawberries and cream, drizzled with chocolate syrup. I stood in the shop, savoring each bite of this sweet treat. All the waffle shops were packed, with people trying to get out of the rain, and ordering deluxe waffles or chocolate packages. I walked back to the hostel, still without phone service or a way to charge my phone. I tried to sit downstairs in the lounge near the bar but the music was so loud and someone kept opening the doors even though it was cold. I needed to plan the next few days before getting to Vienna on august 2. My mom had a hiking friend who’s best friends daughter was located near the Black Forest area which I wanted to go through. Another friend had a girlfriend in Munich so those were two of my stops. But I’d heard about Echternach, Luxembourg being called the little Switzerland so that was also on my list. I left my phone at the desk again while I got ready to cook dinner. The kitchen was super tiny with one table and 8 chairs for well over 100 beds. There were very few pots and pans, dishes or silverware. I made do and ate my pasta dinner alone in the kitchen before heading up to bed.

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