You Can’t Have it All

Original Post: February 15, 2016

They say all good things must come to an end, and perhaps that’s why I’ve put off posting this last blog entry!  

On day 21, we were up at 5:30 due to a crying baby in the camp site across from us (seriously – what is with these parents???) and while Nate packed up the tent, I headed to get sunrise photos.  The sun was coming up quickly, though, and I only hoped I’d reach the lake in time!  This may have been the only instance in the entire trip where I was behind the wheel of our car.  Nate claimed the road for his own.  Though I was briefly distracted by an elk, I did managed to make the lake in time for a sunrise shot. Whew!

The Badlands National Park in South Dakota was the last of our vacation destinations before heading back to rainy eastern Pennsylvania.  Leaving the Grand Tetons, on what officially capped three weeks on the road, I knew we had quite the drive ahead of us and even though I’d hoped to get one of the camp sites just inside the park, my expectations weren’t high.  Like Jenny Lake Campground, Cedar Pass Campground is first-come/first-served.

The drive was one of the most interesting along the way, particularly when we had to stop for a herd of cattle being driven across the road by a couple of real cowboys.  People really do still have these occupations!  I think I’ve been working in an office for too long!  The only thing that would have made the sight better was if the cowboy’s horse hadn’t spooked, misstepped, and fallen.  On the pavement.  On top of his rider.  You would think that since I had a camera in hand, I might have tried to capture this moment.  Perhaps the fact that I didn’t means I have a shred of human decency and capturing the image wasn’t as important as making sure both rider and horse were okay.  (Other than hurt pride and human anger, both seemed fine!)

You can see the horse’s misstep here…  This was right before it happened!

We originally stopped for lunch at a Subway, but upon seeing the line that went out the door and around the side of the building, we decided to review our options.  A good thing we did.  We found the Trucker’s Outpost Cafe, where we learned that there was a festival or a rodeo in town (that explained both the number of people and horses in the direct area!), and had a better meal than we could have gotten at Subway anyway.  The meal was surprisingly good and the rest from driving was a welcome change from hours in the car.

We arrived at Cedar Pass Campground in the Badlands around 5 pm, and even though we had figured it would be the case, I was disappointed that there was no spot left to pitch a tent.  We instead turned around and booked a room in an ‘eh’ motel just outside of the park.  (Yes, ‘eh’ is an official rating.)  It wasn’t ideal, but getting a shower was an unexpected delight and very much welcome!

Nate points out the sheer drop just a few feet from where he stands.  No thank you, I’ll stay in the parking lot. That’s what telephoto lenses are for!

I’d always wanted to photograph the Badlands landscape at night and couldn’t wait for the opportunity to do so, but finding the right place to take a photo isn’t easy when you’re tripping over your own feet and hoping not to step on a snake.  So, we gladly took a trip to the park during the daylight hours first, just to ensure that we’d get to where we wanted to go when we were ready.

The landscape is quite breathtaking and it’s easy to see why the park was named Badlands.  It’s a lonely place and though it’s a national park, crowds don’t dominate here the way they do at the Grand Canyon, which gives visitors a hint of what it might have been like for the Native Americans who lived here centuries ago.  There’s something very quiet and very spiritual happening here.

As we ate our dehydrated camp meal while watching the sun set from the parking lot of a lookout, we noticed thunderheads off in the distance.  I fought the excitement building in my gut.  A thunderstorm!  In the Badlands!!  

Since I’d first begun planning this trip at age eighteen, I had hoped to encounter a wild thunderstorm in the Badlands.  How amazing would it be if Mother Nature actually obliged?  A part of me hesitated, though.  I wanted beautiful night skies, too!  But you can’t have it all.

Or can you?

Mother Nature – far fiercer than she looks through a wide angle lens (sigh…wrong lens).

We returned to the hotel to work on loading photos to the computer and conversing with the outside world.  Hooray for wifi.  By 10:30, we decided it was time to venture out again.  We were hardly out the door when we realized that the storm we had seen rolling in the distance was producing massive lighting strikes.  This was nature demanding our respect!

But of course… I hadn’t brought the right camera lens.  Nate insisted that we return to the motel to get the lens so that I could capture the sight, and we did, but by the time we were back to the park, the storm had more or less run out of steam and we were left with not much on film.  But, oh the experience!  It was worth more than any photo I could have taken!

Back to the lookout point for some night photography.  The Badlands is, without a doubt, the perfect place to capture stunning silhouetted landscape and the Milky Way stretching far overhead.  

In the end, I got both my thunderstorm and my clear night skies.  It was the perfect way to end the vacation, and sure, it wasn’t quite over yet, but the heart of our trip revolved around the natural beauty that can be seen and visited throughout the expanse of this amazing country.

So, as election season begins to rile friends, family, and neighbors across the United States, I encourage you to remember that this country was built on much greater things than what politicians would have you believe are important.  



See it for yourself!

And if you need someone to help you plan…I’m really good with Excel.

Hot Stuff

Original Post: July 29, 2015

No, not that Zion.

As if driving through the Utah landscape wasn’t torture enough, we faced another scorching day.  Leaving Bryce, we found the first place to shower since we’d left Missouri and I swore I heard a heavenly choir when I stepped into that shower stall.  Or perhaps that was me.  The bathroom was empty and everyone knows showers have great acoustics…

After showering and doing a quick load of laundry, we headed to the road and to Zion National Park.  Talk about a phenomenal park entrance!  Zion has an incredible road that travels straight through the mountain for 1.1 miles.  The tunnel is exceptionally dark and it is, hands down, a million times cooler experience than driving the Lincoln Tunnel.  Oh, right. The Lincoln Tunnel isn’t really that cool (at least if you’ve been in it a few dozen times).  Plus, if you’re really daring, you can park your car near the entrance of this tunnel and walk through it.  That’s right.  There’s a walkway!  And a “secret” window about halfway through that takes you to a lookout point – only viewable by foot.  Nate and I said we were definitely going to do it, but time got away from us and we ended up missing that opportunity.

It was amazing to me that the views in Zion were so drastically different from those in Bryce Canyon just a few hours’ drive northeast.  Everything in Zion was bigger, more solid, and yes, still breathtaking.  The biggest shock, perhaps, came when we reached our campsite at Watchman Campground to find that it was 100% in direct sun, there was no shade in sight, it was 2 pm, 104 degrees, and the sun wasn’t due to set for another 6 hours at least.

Oh, and of all of the campgrounds I’d booked for this trip, it was the only one I’d managed to secure that was a walk-in site, meaning that we had to carry everything from our car in the parking lot to our campsite about 50 yards away.  That doesn’t sound too awful until you start to do it in 104 degree heat and direct sunlight.  It didn’t seem to matter how much water I consumed, I was sweating it out as fast as I could put it in.  So much for that shower this morning.

The Watchman

We dragged our picnic table off the camp pad and next to the only tree around (which didn’t provide much shade, either) and watched a couple of fawns in the brush behind us as they warily kept an eye on us, trying to figure out whether they should continue foraging or take off in our presence.  The temperatures didn’t seem to bother them in the least. I wished I had their outlook.

The heat didn’t do much for our nerves either.  Nate was instantly annoyed with me for having booked such a site, even if our view was of The Watchman. And I felt horribly guilty as if I should somehow have known that the weather would be so unbearably and unseasonably (for the time of year, anyway) hot.  Somehow, we managed not to bite each other’s heads off and decided that putting up the tent was out of the question. Instead, we headed to catch the shuttle bus through the park to hike the Emerald Pools.  (Just like my spreadsheet said: 6/25/15 Zion, Hike Emerald Pools 1-4 pm.)  I was in no mood to hike, but it seemed to be the only place where we might find some shade.  And though spending hours in the gift shop was an option, I’m not much of a “crowd” person and the gift shop really wasn’t that big.

Photo credit:

Thankfully, once we joined the trail, temperatures immediately dropped in the shade and, though we were still sweating, it was no longer intolerably uncomfortable.  We reach the Lower Pool after about an hour or so (it was a slow hike), and were surprised by how empty it seemed.  Where was my gleaming pool that I was itching to photograph?  It was supposed to look like this —>

It was underwhelming to say the least…but oh, right, there’s that little thing called evaporation that happens when it’s hotter than hell out.  What I didn’t realize before coming to Zion was that what I actually wanted to see and believed I would see at the Emerald Pools  was this (below): 

(Photo credit: & Photo Credit:

Oh, I’d seen the photos and I couldn’t wait to see it in person.  But, I didn’t do enough research into where exactly these particular Emerald Pools were located.  These bad boys aren’t on the Emerald Pool trail at all.  They’re on the Subway.  That’s right.  The Subway.  (Because that’s just where gorgeous, natural, emerald-colored pools always are, right?)  A 9.5 mile hike requiring 7 hours, rappelling skills, and one of 80 permits issued by the park per day – none of which I had.  Well then.

But no disappointment lasts long in any national park.  Our trail back led us to these cuties, and I managed to get at least one worthy landscape shot (of the trickle that barely flowed).

One thing we noticed in Zion, and even in the previous parks before, was that wildlife didn’t seem to be intimidated by humans at all.  Sure, if you got too close, they’d take off, but most of the time you could walk right by and you’d get an ear flick or a tail swish as acknowledgement.  It was like living in a Disney film.  (I wonder what would have happened if I’d broken out in song…  Ah, well.  Too damn hot to try.)

When we reach our campground again, the site was still blazing hot.  Dinner?  You bet – someplace air conditioned, please.  We ended up stopping at Flanigan’s Spotted Dog Cafe just outside the park.  Once inside, the decor indicated that perhaps we were a bit underdressed (and undoubtedly wearing more sweat stains than necessary), but other patrons were similarly dressed and the hostess greeted us warmly.  The menu looked fabulous and made me believe that this restaurant was really quite out of place.  But, thank goodness.  Air conditioning AND real food!  It’s a minor miracle.  For Nate – filet mignon.  For me – pasta “purses” – homemade ravioli made from pear and ricotta and quite out of this world.  If I ever end up on death-row (for a crime I didn’t commit, naturally), please note that I choose pasta purses from Flanigan’s to be my final meal.  The view from our table (in the air conditioned cafe – did I mention that it was air conditioned?) was nothing short of spectacular.

By the time we left the cafe, the sun was near setting, but not down yet. I came up with the brilliant idea of — shopping!  Off we went for a few necessities, a few souvenirs, and by the time we returned to the camp- ground, the sun was finally off the site.  Oh, but it wasn’t so simple. Once we had the tent set up, the sand continued to bake us through the floor of the tent and the insulating layers we used as cushioning all night long.  It was like sleeping on an electric blanket set to high heat. Great in the wintertime.  Not so great when all you want to do is cool off!

Regardless we finally managed to get some rest…

…Until about 2 am.  Ridiculous wind gusts we never could have imagined made the windows of the tent (which had remained open for air flow in our little oven) flap like an entire flock of birds.  Raging nylon from every direction!  We managed to secure everything down quickly and settle in again.

But now my mind was awake and turning.  “I wonder what the sky looks like right now…”  Finally, I gave in to the impulse, set up the camera and unzipped the tent.

Wow.  Glad I did.

So, sometimes, my friends, when the wind wakes you up in the middle of the night, there’s a reason.  You just have to figure it out.  (This same reasoning does not apply to infants and toddlers, by the way.  There is no way to figure that out.  Ever.)

Yep, hot stuff alright.  Definitely visit Zion National Park.  In the spring.  Or the fall.  Or good God, any season but summer.