“There is nothing so American as our national parks…. The fundamental idea behind the parks…is that the country belongs to the people, that it is in process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us.” President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s words are an important reminder, a reminder that we are ambassadors of nature – stewards of our natural world; and it’s our job to protect it.
The national park project has been called “America’s best idea”, but what if that idea was taken a step further? What if there was an entire country that was treated as a national park, a country that actually belongs to the people? There is, and it’s closer than you may think. A country once occupied by Vikings, forged by glaciers, filled with fjords; it’s called Norway and it’s wonderfully wild.
The Right to Roam
Picture this, a stranger shows up in your backyard and sets up a tent for the night. What is your first reaction? Call the police? Grab a gun? For the Norwegian’s it’s just another backpacking nomad stopping to rest before moving on to their next destination. Under the Outdoor Recreation Act there are no property restrictions and you definitely won’t come across a “no trespassing” sign. As long as you are 500 ft away from the nearest occupied house, nature’s your playground. If you want to stay an additional night you may need the homeowner’s permission, but you can bet they won’t have an issue. Oh, and you won’t need a permit, or need to pay an entrance fee, heck you don’t even need a fishing permit (when fishing in salt water).
Of course there are some rules:
Be considerate and thoughtful
Always be considerate of other hikers, offer assistance if necessary and maintain a friendly demeanor. Ensure you are aware of your surroundings, and stay focused. Many of the trails can be dangerous, make sure you are properly equipped for your adventure and always take safety precautions; this is paramount.
Don’t damage nature and other surroundings
The “leave no trace“ concept can be implemented here. Nature is precious and leaving it as you would want to find it is a code to live by. Don’t carve on trees or rocks, leave natural objects where you find them, and be mindful of your impact.
Show respect to nature
Stay on the trails, pick up your trash, and other trash you see in the wild. Abide by fire safety regulations and take notice of current fire hazard warnings, don’t damage local flora and distance yourself from wildlife.
These simple constructs create a sustainable culture of respect and appreciation, re-establishing a balanced relationship between humans and nature. Living with nature without restrictions encourages us to get out and explore. Norway is powered by nature, we should be too.
Tiny homes have been trending for a few years now. There are loads of benefits to tiny living including a lower mortgage or no mortgage, a smaller environmental footprint, simpler living, and minimal bills. Dan and I have discussed different home types for ourselves and this category comes up quite often. Before this idea becomes a blueprint we thought it best to experience a tiny home for ourselves.
We booked an Airbnb in Las Vegas as a trial run to see just how practical tiny living can be. Our Airbnb hosts run a tiny home building company and the tiny home they were renting was built by them in their backyard with an excellent view of the Vegas strip.
Prior to arriving at the house we received a two paragraph message from the host informing us how to use the composting toilet. Like holy literal shit, I was already scared to poop; I was scared shitless – pun intended! When we arrived to the 250 square foot home we were immediately impressed with the design and exterior. The home was called “The Blue Baloo.” The home was covered in blue siding complemented by a light wood siding running down the middle.
When we walked through the dark blue door we were greeted with a small seating area and beautiful kitchenette inclusive of a sink and refrigerator. To the left of the fridge was a stackable washer and dryer. At the end of the “hallway” was the bathroom….and the composting toilet. Above the toilet were instructions on how to use the toilet. Open the hatch, do your business, close the hatch, spin the lever 3 times (took some effort), pick up the toilet and twirl it around our head, tap it gently on the side with harry potter’s wand and then spray some water. A little much, but the deed was done (yes we realize you can get a regular toilet in a tiny home).
We dined out for the evening so we didn’t attempt cooking in the tiny kitchen. Next, we tried the shower. The tub was very small, the shower head was low so we had to duck under to use it. A lot of the water splashed out onto the floor, even with the shower head turned inwards – a little inconvenient.
Both bedrooms were in the loft above. A ladder was used to access the loft. Once you reached the top you had to literally crawl to the bed and lay down, no sitting up in the bed due to the low ceilings. I was terrified I was going to wake up in the middle of the night and smash my head into the ceiling. Luckily we woke up without a concussion.
No we could not live in a tiny house, however, we do want to live in a smaller home, maybe between 800-1000 square feet. We just want to live in a house where we can poop in comfort.
It’s so funny how so many of us are in a hurry to leave our hometown, city, state, or country. In the rush to leave and experience new places we sometimes forget to explore our own backyards. Growing up in Indiana my entire life I never made the short 3 hours drive to Indiana Dunes. It took the Dunes becoming America’s 61st National Park to spark enough interest for Dan and I to make the trip.
Becoming a National Park is not a simple process, it requires certain criteria:
It must possess a unique natural, cultural, or recreational resource.
It must be in need of protection, and no organization other than the National Park Service would be able to secure adequate protection.
It must be able to be protected. (It is suitable and feasible to protect the area.)
Indiana Dunes hugs the shoreline of Lake Michigan and spans about 15 miles with over 15,000 acres of wetlands, prairies, dunes, and marshes. These diverse landscapes are sprawling with flora and fauna unique to the area.
Unfortunately trail camping is not an option yet for this park. There are campsites available at Dunewood Campground which require a reservation (or you can choose your campsite upon arrival). There is also a charge per night of 25.00. We decided to book the site upon arrival and chose a walk-out campsite. The campsites were very basic with a grill and fire pit. We were near other campers – which we hate, but luckily it was raining so most people stayed in their tents and didn’t get on our nerves.
Cowles Bog Trail System
We evaluated some of the trails prior to arrival using the All Trails app. One of the highest rated trails was Cowles Bog which is a 4.7 loop trail, showcasing the parks diversity with views of prairies, wetlands, and marshes.
When we arrived at the parking lot a slight shit show transpired. I apparently forgot our equipment bag at the house, including our drone and GoPro. Dan was not impressed and a slight argument ensued but only for a couple minutes. You see, I have a terrible memory so honestly if Dan is a good partner he should be aware of this and double check. Just kidding!
Dan actually ended up whittling a selfie stick from a nearby tree, which ended up producing some pretty stellar shots! Nice work babe!
This trail lived up to the expectation and took us through some beautiful landscapes. We loved exploring the marshlands and the view of Lake Michigan from the top of the dunes. When we arrived to the shoreline the wind kicked up and a torrential downpour sent us back into the woods for a hike in the rain.
3 Dune Challenge
The 3 Dune Challenge is located in Indiana Dunes State Park, however, both parks are adjacent to one another so don’t miss this opportunity. The cost to enter the park is $7 for in-state visitors and $9 for out of state visitors. To complete The 3 Dune Challenge, you must hike a special 1.5 mile course at Indiana Dunes State Park, climbing Mount Jackson (elevation 176 feet), Mount Holden (184 feet), and Mount Tom (192 feet).
The hike for us was not very difficult, this could have been because most of the sand/trail was matted down from the rainfall. The top of the dunes offer some great views of Lake Michigan and the hike is a great workout!
The rain definitely cut our hiking plans short, however overall the experience was a good one. We would recommend visiting the dunes as a day trip; two days at the max if you are planning on swimming or enjoying some beach time at Lake Michigan’s shores. The surrounding area of Gary, Indiana is pretty run down and doesn’t have much to offer, but the park’s beauty is enough to keep you captivated.
Dan and I had a plan to visit 3 of California’s most beautiful national parks in 3 days. The plan was an ambitious one as March in the Sierra Nevada can mean unpredictable weather and an unknown amount of snow. Two of the parks, Sequoia National Forest and Inyo National Park were within this mountain range. As always though, we were determined.
I was on a business trip in Las Vegas for the week. Dan flew in on Wednesday and rented a GMC Yukon, which would not only serve as our transportation but our shelter for the next three days as well.
We had basic gear for the trip since we weren’t primitive camping this time. We made a nest in the back of the Yukon that was comprised of our inflatable pillows, sleeping mats and sleeping bags. The temperature the first night was going to get down to 30 degrees, so we were sure to pack our 0 degree bags.
It was a six hour car drive from Las Vegas to Camp Nelson which was home to our campground – Belknap. The drive through the mountains at night was eerie as their huge looming shapes were outlined by the night sky. When we arrived at our campsite we saw glimpses in the headlights of red majesty that awaited us in the morning – giants.
Sequoia National Park
Campsite: Belknap Campground
Time at Park: 11 Hours
Total Hikes: 2
The Nelson Trail | 7.7 Miles | Climbing 1780 ft
Nelson wasn’t a tough trail it had beautiful views of groves and rushing springs. We were the only ones at the campsite and on the trail. So visiting in March definitely has it’s benefits. We only hiked directly to the grove which is actually about 2.2 miles.
The Bear Creek Trail | 5.5 Miles | Climbing 2220 Ft
The 5.5 mile Redwood Grove Trail starts between two cabins just upstream of a big log bridge near the Belknap campsite. The trail is a little overgrown and hard to see although someone recently put a sign up to better mark the trail. The initial start of the trail is covered in a few fallen trees but then clears off. The trail is very steep and requires a ton of endurance – frequent breaks may be required based on your skill level.
Once the trail leveled off we were shrouded in forest and our trail turned to snow. We were surrounded by a small grove of sequoias. This grove has sense of seclusion and mystery which makes it stand out and feel remote from other groves.
We descended Bear Creek and headed back to the truck (not before I tried to get a quick drone shot of the beautiful log bridge and dropped it in the river – bye Dronie boo boo!). Our next destination, Inyo National Forest was just under five hours away.
Inyo National Forest
Campsite: Red Roof Inn (I’ll explain below).
Time at Park: 7 Hours
Total Hikes: 1
When we finally arrived it was after dark and we were anxious to park at our campsite and get some rest. However, there was one problem. A bulldozer was blocking the entrance to the park with a sign saying road closed. There would be no camping; instead we had to make a reservation at the nearest town, Bishop. Luckily the Red Roof Inn had a bed available.
The next morning we headed back into the mountains and anticipated hiking from the entrance to the trail which would add an additional 2 miles to our 6 mile hike. When we arrived we were met with 15 police and firefighters who were volunteering for a mountain search and rescue drill. They said the locals had closed the road, due to ice.
Big Pine Lakes Trail | 13.5 Miles | Climbing 3356 ft
The trail was partially covered with snow at the lowest elevation. Due the difficulty of this trail and length an early start in winter conditions is absolutely necessary. Being the end of March the trail can really be a hit or miss when it comes to snow depth. This trail features mountain views, and five lakes. We only planned on hiking the first six miles of the trail to the first lake.
After the first couple of miles trekking steep inclines the trail became completely covered in snow. We were dependent on previous hiker’s footprints for navigation. We had no cell phone service and there were no topography maps available, the map we did have made it difficult to scale the actual distance. The snow also disguised many of the trail markers.
We had a clear sunny day around 40 degrees fahrenheit. The top layer of the four feet deep snow began to soften and this meant sinking down 2-3 feet with every step. Snow shoes would have been nice. The sun was also contributing to another issue we had not anticipated – our faces were melting off from sunburn/snowburn.
The snow was slowing us down considerably. After five hours we finally arrived at one of the map markers – Lon Chaney Cabin. With the additional mileage we had to hike from the entrance to the park this put us at about 5 miles. With the trail only being hiked 2.5 miles. It was 3pm, we were not going to be able to hike the additional 2.5 miles to the first lake.
At this point we had to turn around to make it back before sundown. If we would have kept going the search and rescue drill would have turned into a real life rescue. We had no regrets though, the hike was challenging and offered panoramic views of snow covered pines and towering mountains. The glistening snow was beautiful, although it fried our faces off (#1 lesson learned wear sunscreen, especially in snow). The descent was much easier and even kind of fun as we tried to slide down some of the mountain side, it was actually more like tumbling/falling. We departed Inyo and headed two hours south to our next destination.
Death Valley National Park
Campsite: Darwin Falls
Time at Park: All Day
Total Hikes: 2
We visited forests and snow covered mountains, now it was time for a warm up, where better than the hottest place on earth? We headed into the desert and camped in the parking lot of Darwin Falls in Death Valley. We spent the evening star gazing.
Darwin Falls Trail | 1.9 Miles | Climbing 226 ft
This is a nice and easy, flat trail. The trail offers excellent canyon views. The way the sunlight danced around the canyon walls illuminating their peaks, waking them up to an explosion of color was breathtaking.
The trail ends at the skinny falls which today is still used for local drinking water. The falls creates a small oasis blending the canyon’s orange and reds with bursts of greenery. Gorgeous.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes | Free Roam
The Mesquite Flats are a surprising landscape change offering Sahara like dunes. The dunes require a source of sand, prevailing winds to move the sand, and a place for the sand to collect to exist.
If you are planning to wonder amongst the dunes prepare to bring plenty of sunscreen and water – it’s hot. You may spot a sidewinder rattlesnake slithering sideways through the sands, so watch your step.
Death Valley offers plenty of dynamic landscapes to explore – however, a lot hiking wasn’t necessary to experience them. We also toured and walked around the salt flats of Badwater Basin, the lowest place in North America. We then were able to drive up to the Artist’s Palette; pastel mountains of pink, green, and blue. The colors are produced by the oxidation of the metals and elements found in the ground.
The rainbow mountains were our last stop giving us plenty of time to return to Vegas to recuperate in an Airbnb and catch our flights home in the morning. While this seems like a lot of driving and limited timing, we did not feel rushed or like we missed out on any experiences. The trip felt well balanced and fulfilling.
I was going to be spending a week in Vegas for business and I convinced Dan to fly out and meet me for the weekend. When we were planning ideas on what to do, a lot of options came up. At first we thought the Grand Canyon, but Dan had already been there. We then thought about Joshua Tree National Park, but it was too far. When I pulled up the map – it hit me, I remembered reading about the largest trees in the world in elementary school with a dream to one day see them.
We had to see the Sequoia’s, but should we visit Sequoia National Forest or Sequoia National Park? March can be a real hit or miss based on elevations, closures, and snowfall. We were immediately able to see via Google Maps that there were many road closures in the area due to snow.
We first looked into Sequoia National Park. The National Park Service website provided some insight and had a link to check current conditions. The alerts stated for March that tire chains may be required, however, below the alert it stated that they were required. The site also stated that road closures were possible but did not provide the roads that were actually closed. When we contacted the park the ranger informed us there was no way to see the Sequoias – even a southern grove in Sequoia National Forest, all roads were inaccessible.
The news from the park ranger wasn’t going to work for us, with the varying elevations and weather we knew there had to be other options. We started to research Sequoia National Forest. The USDA Forest Service had updates on current conditions as well, and even a webcam – but it was down for construction so again, not helpful. We contacted the National Forest supervisors office (559.784.1500), who finally gave us some clear insight.
While many of the roads were closed there was a more southern grove that was open, Belknap Grove in Camp Nelson. On the website the season is identified as April-November, however it was still open in March. Belknap is a southern grove at a lower elevation of 5,000 feet, however the trail was still spotted with snow; the higher you hike the higher the snow. The grove is just under 5,000 acres.
We drove six hours from Vegas to the forest. We camped in the back of the Yukon rental that was comprised of our inflatable pillows, sleeping mats and sleeping bags. The temperature the first night was going to get down to 30 degrees, so we were sure to pack our 0 degree bags.
After a few hours of sleep morning light flickered through the truck’s windows. We stepped out into views that can only be described as other worldly. I instantly became emotional and tears started streaming down my cheeks . Dan asked what wrong – the answer was nothing. I felt a powerful connection to creation here, to our natural world. It was overwhelming. Don’t let March get in your way of seeing this magnificence – you won’t want to miss it.
Last spring I did a tour of Israel, Jordan, and Egypt – alone. When I returned home the question, “is Egypt safe?” was a constant topic. While planning this trip I had many close friends and family inform me of the dangers of Egypt, from terrorist attacks to sex trafficking; but misled perceptions weren’t going to keep me from my dream of visiting the pyramids. As with any trip, careful planning and general common sense is required. So is Egypt Safe? Let’s unpack my personal experience in Egypt as a gay solo traveler.
Let’s first point out that much like city’s in the U.S. there are areas in Egypt that are not safe (ie: the Sinai Peninsula). Also, Egypt is still considered one of the most dangerous countries to be a sexual minority. Although in Egypt it’s not necessarily illegal to be LGBTQ, many LGBTQ Egyptians live in fear and are persecuted by local authorities who loosely enforce a “law against debauchery.” As a single gay traveler I kept my conversation mostly conservative.
After visiting Jordan I took an overnight private bus to Cairo via a local travel agency. The bus ride was 10 hours overnight. The bus consisted of myself, a driver who only spoke Arabic, and an Egyptian woman named Janet. The bus had AC and was very comfortable. I spent some of my time speaking to Janet about her country. We shared headphones and swapped our favorite songs. Then I went to sleep.
I woke up to the sound of the bus door slamming open. My heavy eyelids shot open to the sight of an Egyptian military officer with a machine gun strapped across his chest. Janet said “show him your passport.” I jumped up and dug through my bag and presented the passport. He looked me up and down, compared the picture, then stepped off the bus, he gave the bus two slaps to move on. Not the most comforting sight to wake up too.
Throughout the trip, we were stopped 12 more times, each time I was woken up, and greeted with a machine gun. I’m not sure why they didn’t think I needed my beauty rest? How could they expect me to look like that picture in the passport when they keep ruining my naps! Still I didn’t feel unsafe, just uncomfortable. Janet reassured me that these precautions and checkpoints were necessary to keep the country and us safe.
When we finally arrived in Cairo around 7am I was greeted by my private tour guide, Mohamed. Mohamed was an Arabic man who had been giving tours of Egypt for over 10 years. He was very pleasant and only cared about providing me with the very best Egypt experience. He also wanted to reassure me that Egypt was a safe destination. He explained how tourism has suffered due to the media’s portrayal of Muslims. Mohamed spent time with me debunking the western perception of Muslims and distinguishing the difference between the evils of radical Islam and his religion – which he says is rooted in love.
Mohamed asked me introduce myself as Canadian when speaking to guides and guards, he said this was because Americans get asked too many security questions and it would slow down our visits. I’m not entirely sure that this was a direct answer, but I didn’t question it. None of them believed him anyways, they usually laughed and let me right in. Egypt can definitely be a culture shock, but any destination can be where you become the minority.
You don’t need an extended stay to tour the major attractions, just a couple of days. I was able to explore the Pyramids, the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, and the Nile all in this timeframe.
The short answer is yes, I felt the areas I visited in Egypt were safe. However, due to the language barrier and human rights concerns I would not have felt safe without a guide. I stuck to a pre-planned itinerary and did not leave my room to explore the streets alone at night. Do your due diligence. Check with FCO or DOS before traveling, and again, use common sense.
I always get comments from people on how much they love the tattoo on my leg. The question usually comes up, “where did you get the inspiration?” My inspiration came directly from my childhood; hiking and exploring every inch of Red River Gorge.
Red River Gorge is a vast forest located in east-central Kentucky inside the Daniel Boone National Forest. Winding roads stretch all throughout this area that lead to some of the best hiking and rock climbing in the country. The gorge is made up of an intricate canyon system that features an abundance of high sandstone cliffs, rock shelters, waterfalls, and natural bridges. There are too many hidden gems to count.
From a very early age, I remember my Dad taking me hiking and camping in the gorge. I remember looking out over the awe inspiring mountains and feeling absolutely at peace. This is a time in my life when none of the outside worldly clamors mattered. It was just me, my family, and nature. During these camping trips I learned about the different species of trees, plants, and animals. I also learned how to prepare for anything and everything that could occur. This is probably one of the reasons that a career as an emergency nurse looked so attractive; because let me tell you, when I’m at work I’m prepared for anything!
As I got older I remember having birthday parties in the gorge; My 13th birthday in particular stands out. My mom rented out a cabin for me and all of my friends. It was a blast! We spent the days hiking and adventuring over naturally formed rock bridges, swimming in roaring waterfalls (if you want to head down an amazing trail off the beaten path that leads to a beautiful waterfall, don’t miss Copperas Creek), and swinging off of rope swings into creeks. Our nights were spent around campfires, trying to scare the hell out of each other.
As a teenager, I began to take trips to the gorge with a new purpose in mind. At this point I had hiked and seen many of the awesome features that the gorge provides, I was also exposed to an activity in the gorge that has always peaked my interest, rock climbing. I had spent my childhood admiring climbers – the courage, the exhilaration, it was inspiring; this is where I learned to repel and rock climb.
People come from all over to experience the excellent climbing spots in the gorge. Most of my climbing was spent in the Pendergrass-Murray Recreational Preserve (PMRP). This area is owned and maintained by the Red River Gorge Climbers’ Coalition. There’s an array of different climbing routes and climbers, from all different experience levels. My climbing though, well, that’s something to be admired from a distance.
My days in the gorge now are spent with my man, Matt. I love showing him my favorite spots and sharing the nostalgia that it brings. Even after all these years of exploring Red River Gorge, Matt has still found a way to surprise me with trails and hidden gems that I have never seen. Our last camping trip landed us at the top of Cloud Splitter; one of the most beautiful camping spots I’ve ever seen.
My black tattoo on my left shin starts about 3 inches above my ankle with a dark black solid line. This leads into an outline of a forest made up evergreen trees that extend up my leg with slight shades of green. My inspiration for this tattoo came from my deep love of the outdoors in places like the gorge. This tattoo is way to keep me grounded to what is important in life. To let go of all of the unimportant daily grind that consumes us. It serves as a reminder to always be myself and to love what God has put in my life. It reminds me of my time spent in the gorge.