A Weekend in the Mile High City

In July I went on a wonderful little weekend trip to Denver to visit my college friend Suzi. She moved out here a few months ago, giving me the perfect excuse to come visit. I left a relatively cool North Dakota to a steamy 100 degree Denver on Thursday afternoon, and after some technical difficulties with the Uber did manage to meet up with Suzi. We made out way out to Red Rocks for a concert. First off, I’m just going to say that Red Rocks is probably the coolest place to have a concert like, ever. Whoever decided that building an amphitheater into the side of a cliff was a good idea wasn’t wrong.

We went to see The Head and the Heart, a beautiful band if there ever was one. Seriously, here’s a link to one of my favorite songs. Go check them out, I’ll wait.

Okay, now you understand? Good. Go back and listen some more if you must, I won’t blame you!

The concert was wonderful, to say the least. The atmosphere was amazing, the band sounded amazing, the view of the city was amazing, just all around pretty darn amazing. It finished around 11 PM, but getting out of the park was a nightmare. It took over an hour for us to get out and back to Suzi’s place, but we managed. We were pretty hungry when we got back so we had a bit of food, then popped off to bed.

Friday we started the day pretty slowly, sitting at the table talking with Suzi and her boyfriend Cody for a good while before heading to a coffee shop (where I had a really luscious piece of quiche) to have beverages and play a card game called Golf. Let’s just say that if we were playing Anti-Golf I 100% would have won. It was an odd game, but somewhat intriguing.

At noon Suzi’s friend Emmy, who was at the concert with us the night before, picked us up and we headed to a place called the Denver Cat Company.20190719_140930.jpg

It is by far the most amazing cafe a person could go to, unless of course you have a cat allergy in which case you should probably avoid going there. This cafe was pretty basic when it came to foods and beverages (because of health codes and cats) but it was spot on with the cats. Yes, real cats. They had 14 at the time that they were fostering and all 14 were adoptable through the shelters they came from. What an superb idea! We went to the cat cafe with open minds, as Emmy was really entertaining the idea of adopting a cat, she even had a name picked out – Coconut.

So, we get to the cafe, pay the fee and start searching for Coconut. I happened to find THE most adorable kitten (besides Frankie, my cat, of course) and I was REALLY like almost going to adopt her and take her back on the airplane with me and everything. Oh it was just too much. Obviously I didn’t because North Dakota has cats too that would be much easier to bring home but, oh my heart, she was too much.

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Okay but during my whole kitten escapade we did continue the search for Coconut, and low and behold, found the most gorgeous Siamese/Ragdoll mix with happily crossed blue eyes, and some orangey tinge on the face and tail (Toasted Coconut, anyone?) and knew that we’d found the Coconut we were searching for. Coconut, or Phoenix as the cat cafe called her was a pretty sleepy little fella, hiding her face with one little paw. Oh, so cute! Couldn’t handle.20190719_135104.jpg

So Emmy was like, yes this is the one, it’s happening, so she filled out the application and we took one last look at Coconut (and my little lovely kitten) and headed out. I had decided I wanted to get another ear piercing, since the last cartilage piercing I got in Missoula, Montana so might as well keep getting piercings in places I visit. Anyway, we just chose a totally random one near the area where we were, and we went in and I talked with the piercer, his name was Sam. I chose the jewel I wanted, a blue color called London Blue that’s sort of a dark blue-green and very lovely. As I was sitting on the table, Sam asked me where I had gotten my shoulder tattoo, and I was like, oh someone in Fargo, North Dakota, not thinking that those words would mean anything to him, but he was like, oh really? Who did it? So I said the name of my tattoo artist and, what do you know, she had done a couple of tattoos on this guy like, 15 years ago. Small world, right? I guess they worked together at a tattoo shop 15-20 years ago, and I did recall my tattoo artist saying she was from Denver so that does check out. Just the weirdest thing! Anyway, got the piercing and it looks hella cool, said my goodbyes to Sam and we went on our way. We decided to go to Target to get some saline solution for my ear, and while we were there Emmy got a call from the shelter basically saying that she’s been approved for Coconut (cue celebration dance in the cat supplies aisle)! Oh we were thrilled. So we proceeded to pick out a litter box, some food and a fish taco toy that has catnip in it because, priorities. As we were leaving we realized that, because this Target had a parking garage below it and was technically on a second story with escalators, there was a specific escalator ramp FOR THE CARTS. Suzi and I had never seen such a sight, and therefore I’d have to say with 100% certainty that the cart escalator ramp was by far the best thing about my trip to Denver. Without a doubt. 100%.

Anyway after we got over our shock of seeing the escalator ramp, Emmy received another call saying that we could go pick up Coconut at the cat cafe. We were a little confused becuase that wasn’t what they had originally said but heck, we were so excited that we zoomed on over to the cat cafe as quick as we safely could. We walked in, explained what we had been told, and then the lady at the counter ended up dashing our dreams of bringing Coconut home that day. She said that someone made a mistake and the pick up time has to be scheduled through the owner of the cafe. So, with heavy hearts we left, but as we walked back to the car we decided that it was probably for the best, this gave everyone a chance to take a breath and a bit of space, as things were just progressing very, very rapidly up until that point. Also Emmy didn’t have a carrier which she would have needed to take Coconut anyway. So, not such a terrible thing that happened, after all.

We drove back toward Suzi’s apartment to find some food, deciding on a Mexican restaurant nearly across the street from where Suzi lives. It was pretty tasty, even though the salsa was more spicy than normal, according to Suzi. We ended the meal with dessert, Emmy and I choosing the cheesecake and Suzi the flan. She wanted to give it another go because she remembered having it when she was young and hated it, so she was going to eat it with an open mind, but sadly her reaction toward the dessert did not change much from the first time she tried it. But, the cheesecake was excellent!

After we finished we headed back to Suzi’s and played Exploding Kittens with Cody, and it was so fun! Super weird card game but I would definitely play it again. We went to bed around midnight, after a very emotionally draining day. Very much a rollercoaster of excitement, disappointment, and the like. It really felt like we did SO MUCH when really all we did was hang out with cats, go to Target and eat some food. A good day, despite all the emotional turmoil it caused.

Saturday, Suzi and I slept in a bit before getting dressed to go for a hike. We wanted to get breakfast at a place called Snooze but they had some kitchen issues and so the wait was suuuuuuper long. We decided to try a different place called Olive and Finch, and oh my was it so very good. The description on Google was that it was an “airy” restaurant, and they weren’t wrong. I’d compare it to a high class Panera Bread, but with much better food and beverages. We had a lavender mocha and was that ever delicious. Probably the best coffee drink I’ve ever had. The breakfast I had there was equally as delicious, a light scrambled egg over roasted potatoes with a small greens salad. Mm mm, tasty! After our meal we headed out toward Morrison, west of Denver, to do some hiking.

After a nice 1.5 mile hike, during which the clouds were rolling in ominously, we got in the car and within a minute of shutting the doors it started to downpour. And continued to downpour, leading to flash flooding on the Interstate, where we happened to be, trying to make our way back to Suzi’s. It was kind of scary, since we were in a little Prius and the water was actually pretty deep. The pick ups handled it with no problem, but we had to err on the side of caution. It took about 20-30 minutes more to get back to Suzi’s than it normally would have.

We finally got back, changed from our hiking clothes and picked up Emmy from her apartment. We were going to get ice cream from Little Man, an iconic Denver sweet shoppe.

As we were in line, again the clouds began to roll in ominously, but this time we weren’t so lucky. We were caught in an absolute downpour, so much rain, and also a lot of lightning. We were huddling in the bathroom area with about 10-15 soccer moms and their daughters from San Diego who were in Denver for a tournament. We all had a nice time eating out ice cream and watching the rain. A kind Little Man employee took pity on us and gave us garbage bags to wear as ponchos. After the ice cream was finished, Suzi, Emmy and I decided to go wait out the rain in a nearby bar. We walk into this place, literally wearing garbage bags, to find that it’s probably one of the fanciest eateries in Denver. Their faces as they looked at us made it clear we “didn’t belong” but they graciously said we could see if there was seating at the bar. We headed up to the bar area, which we decided was meant for commoners and peasants like us, only to be handed a drink menu on a fancy-ass clipboard. We decided that this was not the place for us and ventured back out into the rain. We went to another restaurant, a Mexican place this time, and again, fanciest goddamned Mexican/beach-themed restaurant in town. We did take a seat at the bar and ordered a drink, but the whole time we were discussing just how lowly we really are, and dressing in garbage bags didn’t help! Haha 🙂

But we spent 20 minutes at this restaurant, called Lola, before heading to Suzi’s car and going to the movie theater. We were going to see The Lion King, and my how wonderful it was! So good. If you haven’t seen it, I would highly recommend that you do.

After the movie, we went to Suzi’s place of employment, a British pub called Bull & Bush. We had something to eat before going back to our respective apartments.

Sunday morning, Suzi and I got up and I had all of my things packed, so we went out to have breakfast before my flight. We ate at Sam’s No. 3, and it was incredibly tasty, my goodness. Suzi dropped me off at the airport, I got checked in and through security only to discover that my flight was delayed about 2 hours. So, I spent some time wandering around the airport and drinking Caribou. Finally we were able to board the plane, and thus ended my weekend trip to Denver. When I got back to North Dakota, I spent about 45 minutes tidying up the house before settling down to watch some TV. All in all, an excellent weekend, and I have plans to return to Denver sometime soon! 🙂

Montana, Naturally.

The words “Montana” and “nature” kind of go hand in hand. Why? Well, Montana is the 4th largest state in the USA and contains the 44th largest population so, you see, there is a lot of room and not a lot of people. Lots of cattle, though. But maybe that’s beside the point.

I think my point is that Montana can be a wonderful place to explore, what with 44 state parks, 7 state forests, 1 state memorial, 1 national park, 17 national forests, 2 national historic sites, 1 national historic park, 24 national wildlife refuges, and 2 national recreation areas, there is bound to be something to do for everyone in your posse.

When I went to Montana a couple of weeks ago for a music festival in Missoula, (see my post Travelers’ Rest Fest for more details on this glorious and wondrous time), we made time to visit two of Montana’s state parks: Travelers’ Rest State Park, in Lolo (a small town 10 miles south of Missoula), and Lost Creek State Park, in Anaconda (a small town 20 miles northwest of Butte). We would’ve liked to have popped up to Glacier National Park for a day or so, but alas our schedules did not allow for this. We made due with visiting the location at which Lewis and Clark made camp during their expedition west, which is now a state park, as well as a super off-the-wall state park that was rather hidden back in the mountain-y hills.

Nothing too thrilling happened at either state park, we just spent our time wandering around, collecting rocks, and taking photos of the beautiful nature surrounding us.

First up, photos from Travelers’ Rest State Park:

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A couple of lovely little sunflowers to brighten up the day.

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S1uch a busy little spider, weaving such an intricate little web.

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I just love the splash of purple from these little flowers.
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Suzi was collecting wild mint from the riverbank!
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Nicole, sporting her new Missoula hat that she had purchased in Missoula the day before.
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Suzi, finding all of the Fool’s Gold. 🙂
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Yes, that is actually smoke obscuring the distant mountains. There were some pretty severe forest fires in the area when we were visiting. Thankfully, it rained a bit this day which helped to clear the air.

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A picturesque barn, with some rather photogenic grass.
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Oh look, Sara found a feather.
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Doesn’t it remind you of fall time? It does me!
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Another shot of the smoke. One could potentially pass it off as fog, if we were in the Pacific Northwest.
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One last flower photo from Travelers’ Rest State Park!

We spent a good hour or two at Travelers’ Rest before heading back to Missoula and to the second day of Travelers’ Rest Fest, the music festival put on by The Decemberists. Which was amazing. But I’ve already mentioned how utterly stupendous the festival was in this post, plus I have a whole separate post dedicated to its awesomeness. Check it out, if you’re keen.

On Monday, after we packed our things and headed out of Missoula, we drove through the curves for about 80 miles before exiting I-90 and heading southwest, toward a little state park called Lost Creek State Park. Sara and I speculated that the name came about because some person found the creek, and then was unable to find it for some time, and maybe even had his/her children or grandchildren out searching for it (much like what happens in the movie Holes, when Sigourney Weaver’s grandpa makes her search for the treasure which is why she has the juvenile delinquents digging holes all the time.) before they finally found the “lost creek” and then they thought that would be a good area for a state park so the gave the land to the state. One theory among many, I’m sure.

Anyway. Lost Creek State Park was a lovely little place that had no other people in it while we were there. A good place for a potential quadruple homicide, if one had been in the mind for it. We parked the car and walked around a bit. We decided not to venture off of the main road, for fear of there potentially being an individual lurking in the woods who had quadruple homicide on the brain. It just seemed like the logical thing to do.

The hills here were not obscured by smoke, which was nice, and the flowers were oh-so-pretty. The following photos are those that I took at Lost Creek State Park:

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I rather fancied this flower, it was just begging to be photographed!

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I’m not entirely sure what this red color is on these leaves, if it is meant to be there or not. Either way, it looks nice.
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We were surrounded by these tall, rocky hill/cliffs, overlooking the “lost creek” that ran through the park.

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And there it is! We found the lost creek!

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For some reason, I like how dead flowers look almost as much (but probably not more) than the not-dead flowers. They just have so much more texture. It’s nice.

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Hello, tiny pine tree on top of the rocky mountain/hill!
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Okay, so I am about 96% sure that these are raspberries (I mean, what else could they be?), so I was like, “Hey Suzi, look. Wild raspberries!” And so she and I proceeded to pick a few and eat them. And then I go up to Sara, all excited-like, and say, “Hey Sara, Suzi and I just found some wild raspberries and we ate them.” Sara goes, “Oh God. If you guys get the shits later, we’ll know why!” Haha. If you were wondering, we did not get the shits. We were fine. 🙂

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These were the cutest little purple flowers I had ever seen, so lovely with their color popping out against the dull brown background.
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The road we followed to stay safe from those with homicidal intentions.
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The rushing creek. And some flowers, of course.
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Left to right: Nicole, Sara, and Suzi.
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Another shot of the rocky hill/mountain.
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This one features a nice forest of tall, thin pine trees.
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I nearly fell in the water getting this shot. That would have sucked.

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Hello again, adorable little purple flowers!

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Because I take too many photos, I am always and forever falling behind my companions. Sara says, “my favorite part about going back the way we came is that Anna has already seen everything and doesn’t need to stop every five seconds to take a picture.” What Sara doesn’t understand is that when we head back, I am seeing everything from a new angle so yes, I do need to stop every five seconds to take a picture.
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I like how cheerful this flower looks even after it is dead.

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And finally, a parting birch tree.

We spent a decent hour or so exploring this little state park. It was a nice break to get out and stretch our legs after driving for two hours and with only ten more to go… Seriously, what a jaunt! Attending the music festival was worth it, though. Totally worth it. And the state parks and flower photos were a nice added bonus. 🙂

The Journey Home.

We began our long and arduous journey home at 10 am, Pacific time, after a weird and somewhat cryptic conversation with the store keeper. We preferred his wife, she was a nice woman. This dude was odd as heck. Anyway.

We woke up at 9 and packed up the tent and repacked the car, and then we were off! On the road back out to Ilwaco, we saw A MAMA BLACK BEAR IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD. Oh boy did we get excited. And then, we looked to the right and there, in the tree, just chillin’, was a little black bear cub! We died, he was so cute. We sat there for about 3 minutes, and then he climbed away and we also climbed away, except we were in a car so it was more like we drove away.

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The little bebe black bear! Be still, my heart. 

We drove north on Highway 101 for a while, and then I think we took something that may have been a highway 18 or a highway 7. Either way, it took us to I-5, which led directly to I-90. After that it was a straight shot west; it could not have been any easier. We stopped on occasion to use the bathroom, to get some food, and to stretch our legs, which usually happened because the one of the first two were occurring. I drove from literally the coast of Washington all the way to Billings, Montana. A solid 17 hours of driving through two and a half states (I’m totally counting the 80 miles we drove in Idaho as a state) under my belt. After a brief stop in Billings, we continued on our merry way. Jennifer drove from Billings to Dickinson, ND, and then I continued dirving all the way back to Grand Forks. In retrospect, that was probably not a great idea, me driving for like, a bazillion hours with little-to-no sleep. But hey we didn’t die, so score one for us!

We made it back to Grand Forks around 5 pm on Saturday, and by 8 pm we were back on the road. Sara was driving this time; we packed her car and took off for the cities. I curled up in the back seat and slept for about an hour and a half or so, bringing my grand total of hours slept in the past 36 to about two. Woo!

The three of us made it to the cities around 1 am, and after Sara and I said our goodbyes to dear Jennifer, we made our way south to our MN home. We arrived around 3 am, and we didn’t even bother to unpack any of our things. We practically fell into our beds and passed out until 1 pm on Sunday.


The following week was one of rest and recuperation. Sara and I didn’t do much, other than go on long walks and watch American Horror Story: Hotel. If you haven’t seen it, you definitely should. Lady Gaga is queen.

And with that, the saga of our super epic road trip is done. It was a really freaking awesome week, full of mountains and forests and oceans, and while I did put 3700 miles on my Jeep I’m gonna go ahead and say it was totally worth it.

Thanks Jen and Sara, for proving to me that we are adult enough to handle a road trip on our own. Till the next one! 🙂


Oh yeah, here are some more photos of flowers. You’re welcome.

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I believe this is Foxglove, it was near the coastal trail but since I only had a dead camera at the time I had to come back before we left Cape Disappointment and snap a few photos. 
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This is Coastal Rhododendron, which is the state flower of Washington. Oh my, were they ever in bloom this year! So flipping gorgeous, in colors ranging from red to purple to orange to pink. 
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I don’t know what this is, but I’m okay with that. 
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Oh, also here’s some moss. I’ll just leave this here for you.

Why hello, Washington.

Washington, another state I had never been to before this trip, has officially stolen my heart. Sorry, Minnesota, you may have a bit of competition! The mountains, the forests, the lakes, the fog, the rain, the everything. My photos did not do this state justice.

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IMG_3725_1_1We drove the last six hours to Sol Duc, the campground where we would be spending the night. Sol Duc is located in the Olympic National Forest, in Washington’s beautiful Pacific Northwest region. Or, as Sara liked to call it, the GNP (Greater North Pacific), which should not to be confused with the GOP (Grand Old Party). We pitched our tent, a feat which all should be thoroughly impressed with. It took a bit of effort, but we did manage to make it stand up (by itself!) in the end.

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We then decided to hit up all of the trails that we could. Sol Duc is home to a gorgeous waterfall, appropriately named Sol Duc Falls. We wanted to make our way to the falls, and then on the trail to Deer Lake. To reach the falls, we went on a path called Lover’s Lane. Not sure why it was named this, as the path was terribly maintained and would likely cause lovers to unlove each other due to it’s ability to cause tension and arguments regarding which way to go. Luckily for us, we didn’t like each other very much to begin with, so Lover’s Lane did not have the disastrous effects as it would on people who do actually like each other.

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This is a photo of Sara and Jennifer attempting to find the path that was completely obscured by fallen trees. We were eventually successful in reclaiming our rightful spot on the path.
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An example of the aforementioned fallen trees obscuring the path.

IMG_3762_1_1Just kidding.

After what seemed like an year and a half, we made it through Lover’s Lane and out onto the super-fancy, super-nice path that led to the falls. We followed this path for about a mile, all the while hearing the falls roaring in the distance.

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The amount of green in this place was incredible. Seriously. Absolutely the greenest.
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This is merely a little creek-like waterfall, the real ones were further down the path, and alas I did not get any good photos of the real ones; misty water in the air does not help to make a very good photo.
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Here’s an adorable photo of an older couple crossing the bridge of the little creek-like waterfalls. Don’t you just love the contrast of their coats with the green?

It was a bit chilly and rainy on our walk, and the spray from the waterfall only assisted with making us more damp. It was a lovely waterfall, however. Even though it got my camera all wet. Sad day.

Just past the falls was the path for Deer Lake. We had read about Deer Lake in little pamphlet that the park ranger had given us upon check-in. It was about a 4-mile hike, which sounded like a good way for us to get out and stretch our legs after driving for the last 9 hours. We started the hike, and it was really uphill and rocky. The path was essentially a dry creek bed that they had somewhat improved by strategically placing rocks and/or building some steps and bridges. And I use the words “dry creek bed” lightly, as the majority of the creek bed had some water running through it, i.e. wet socks, wet shoes. Everything was so squishy damp. So squishy damp.

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Hey look, it’s the dry creek bed we hiked up. Isn’t that nice?

So we hiked uphill on this dry creek bed for a long time, and eventually we were like, “Wait, is this another mountain?” And sure enough, we doubled checked the pamphlet from the ranger and it said that Deer Lake was indeed a mountain lake. Meaning that it is a lake hidden in the mountains. The snow was a bit of a give-away, as well.

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Jen + a patch of baby snow!

IMG_3928_1_1Okay, so the elevation was only about 1700 feet vs. the 4200 feet of Mount Brown (refer to my post “The Story of Mount Brown” for the full story of Mount Brown), but seriously who accidentally climbs a mountain, not once but twice in one week? Apparently, we do.

We really need to start reading the fine print when people give us information.

IMG_3983_1_1So we made it to the top of this mountain, and we found Deer Lake. Sara, our line leader for this expedition, shrieked with excitement when she saw the lake, which spurred Jennifer and myself on. We were thrilled to be off this weird trail.

The lake was absolutely gorgeous. We sat on the wooden bridge for some time. Jennifer ate an apple and a granola bar. We all took a few hearty swigs of water. After a few moments, there was some fog that began to form. It was lovely fog, all heavy and wispy at the same time, and it came down from the mountains and covered the trees across the lake. I had never seen fog descend on a place like that, so that was pretty neat. I got a few neat photos too.

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Oh hey there, fog. Thanks for descending so neatly.

IMG_4048_1_1Sara and Jennifer had continued on the path; we were going to attempt the trail to Mink Lake, which would then lead us back to out campground. I think. I wasn’t 100% sure on the logistics of this hike. I was more focused on taking photos of the trees and the moss and the water. Which I did. I just followed Sara and Jennifer, and trusted that they knew the way. Or at the very least that they could interpret the map.

So I was busy taking pictures of the fog while Sara and Jennifer forged ahead on the path, and about six minutes later I hear Sara yelling at me, asking me what the hell I was doing. So I was like, yeah yeah I’m on my way when in reality I was still snapping a photo or two. Oops. 🙂

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Nature, you’re pretty O.K.

I did make my way to them, however, and the path had effectively disappeared under the snow. So much snow. We made our way across a slough covered in snow on the south side of Deer Lake, and then there was just an open field of snow with no tracks from previous hikers. We were effectively screwed. Sara and Jennifer really gave it their best effort, in their attempt to find the trail.

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“A” for effort, guys!

We wandered around for about half a mile before resigning ourselves to the fact that we will just have to go back down the dry creek bed trail. I groaned inwardly and sighed outwardly, but since going downhill is easier than going uphill I was mildly okay with it. I tried being the line leader for about two minutes, and I ended up falling down and getting my shoe severely stuck in the snow. Jennifer had to retrieve it for me, which was harder than it sounds because my shoe was really stuck in there. I was a little embarrassed so I just went back to my usual spot in line, bringing up the rear. We ended up running down the mountain path again, but this one was much more rocky and dangerous so we stopped after about half a mile.

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Random Flower: Part 1
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Random Flower: Part 2
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Random Flower: Part 3

After what seemed like a forever amount of time spent walking (you know, it’s really hard to keep going when your butt and thighs and calves are sore and you haven’t slept more than an hour and a half in the 28 hours), we finally made it back to the waterfall, but then it was still quite a jaunt back to the entrance of Lover’s Lane. Apparently we were feeling quite spry when we began our hiking adventure earlier, and practically sprinted through the path because it seemed much shorter the first time. We reached the entrance of Lover’s Lane but we had already decided that we were not going through that shit-show of a trail again, even though it was quite lovely and very Jurassic Park/Star Wars-esk. It was fun to traipse through the woods and rediscover the lost path, but we just did not have the energy for that. Hiking up and down a mountain in squishy damp shoes with sore butts, thighs, and calves can really put a damper on one’s attitude for adventure. We were also hungry. So, we walked out to the parking lot and decided to walk along road back to our campground. Which was fine, it just took an extra mile or so to get back, bringing our total for the day up to approximately 12 miles. Woo!

We found the campground, and we cut through the small bit of woods between the road and the campground to get back more quickly. I saw a giant log on the ground, and of course I decided to sit there and count the rings on the stump to see how old it was.

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262 years old, in case you were curious.

So after this brief tree-ring-counting-detour, which took about 10 minutes, I made my way back to the campsite, where Sara and Jennifer were preparing their food for supper. I tucked right in, and after a hearty meal of sandwiches and s’mores and Cheerios and chickpeas, we went to bed. I was pooped. Which makes sense, because by that point I had slept for approximately an hour and a half in the last 36. Not a great track record.

We fell asleep listening to the sound of the breeze rustling through the moss on the prehistoric-looking pine trees.

And subsequently awoke to the same prehistoric-looking pine trees.

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Day three of the “Let’s Go West!” trip ft. Avalanche Lake.

Day Three. Monday. Memorial Day.

We woke up later this morning, due to the fact that we had just climbed 10 miles up a mountain the previous day. We packed the car in record time before heading out to the Glacier National Park visitor center. We caught the free shuttle to the Avalanche Lake trail head to do some more hiking before moving on with our journey west. We spent a fair amount of time hiking to Avalanche Lake, as we were doing our best to waste as much time as possible. I was allowed (Thanks, guys!) to take photos with my camera, and so I took full advantage of that. 🙂

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Just Jen doing Parkour things.

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This is my, “Oh hey nature, you’re pretty neat” face.

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“I like that boulder. That’s a nice boulder.”

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We finally made the 2.5 mile walk (5.5 miles round-trip) to Avalanche Lake, and boy was that a sight to behold. Crystal clear water surrounded by trees, mountains, and more trees. I could have stood there all day.

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Ahh, Avalanche Lake, you are gorgeous. Keep on keeping on.
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I think Jennifer was excited to see Avalanche Lake. It’s hard to tell, she’s such a closed book. 😉
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Avalanche Lake is beautiful, almost as beautiful as their friendship.
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Please enjoy my awkward mountain selfie 🙂
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Just sitting in the majesty of the mountains.

 

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Jen + her water bottle.
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Channeling my inner Nixon.

Alas, we eventually had to move on, and get back on the road. We stopped in Whitefish to have a picnic in a park and eat some delicious ice cream. My flavor was Montana Huckleberry. It seemed fitting.

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This ice cream was #yum. I realized after I ate about half of the it that I wanted to take a photo of my ice cream with downtown Whitefish and the distant mountains in the background. So I did it anyway, with a half-eaten ice cream cone.

I was the driver for the four hour trip to Spokane, Washington. We drove along Highway 93, and that was seriously the curviest road I have ever driven on, I felt like a NASCAR driver. With a Jeep. In the mountains. Montana really is something, landscape-wise. We merged onto Highway 200, which turned out to be a neat little drive through the Montana countryside. It brought us right into Idaho (the panhandle, to be specific), a state I had never been to until this trip. It seemed oddly like western Montana to me. How curious.

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Don’t worry, I was keeping an eye out for approaching vehicles.

The sunset we were chasing was absolutely gorgeous. I had been begging to stop at almost every scenic turnout, but I was turned down by my passengers, and was told to “take a mental picture.” Even though I was driving. You’ll just have to believe me when I say that the sunset, silhouetted by the mountains and reflecting off the water, was lovely. Everything about this trip has been lovely so far. I was (grudgingly) allowed to take a photo of the sunset, and so here it is, in all of its sunset-y glory.

IMG_3718_1_1The three of us made it to Spokane (a rather surprising feat, for there were some foreboding signs on Highway 200 in Montana about big horned sheep and 433 killed and 55 mph. We’re still not entirely sure what they mean; 433 big horned sheep killed? Or have the big horned sheep caused the death of 433 humans? Also, this was over the course of a 19-mile stretch, and so that seems like a very specific area to have had so many deaths. The deaths per square foot must be incredible. Additionally, what is the time frame that we’re looking at; for the last year? 10 years? 50 years? So many questions, so many theories and speculations, so little knowledge about big horned sheep and their death rates.) around 10:45 p.m. Pacific time and stopped at Walmart for a couple of camping necessities. We also stopped for gas and coffee, found I-90, and headed west into the night.

It was just Sara, me and the semis awake on the road. We drove for two hours before needing a brief nap. We stopped at a rest area, saw that there was a homeless lady sleeping on the cement outside of the women’s restroom in a sleeping bag and decided to drive 40 miles to the next rest area, where there was no homeless lady sleeping on the cement outside of the women’s restroom. We managed to sleep in the car for a solid hour and a half. After shutting my eyes for what seemed like a second, it was 4:30 a.m. and I figured we should probably keep going. So, we kept going.

Westward, ho!

The Story of Mount Brown

ACT 1 SCENE 2

SCENE: Mount Brown, Glacier National Park. Sunday, May 28, 2017. 10:30 a.m.

CHARACTERS:

  • Sara – our fearless line leader and choir conductor.
  • Jen – our amusing conversationalist and in-house animal expert/eye candy.
  • Anna – the laggard bringing up the rear and company photographer.
  • Those two guys who made us feel bad about ourselves because they were sprinting up the mountain – they also showed us mountain goats.
  • Pink Shirt Guy – at first, he was amused by our quirky antics but soon got really annoyed and quickly passed us by.
  • The Elderly Snientist – an optimistic gentleman who showered us with words of encouragement, which we ignorantly believed, and also made us laugh with his tales of lost chainsaws. We also think he may have been a snow scientist, but this fact was neither confirmed nor denied.
  • The Pesky Mountain Goats – so cute! But so annoying, as we are humans in their territory and are advised not to approach. Hard to do when they are standing on the trail and won’t leave.
  • Special Guest Star: The Snow that Wouldn’t Quit – first made it its appearance as a small patch along the trail and we were like, aw look at that snow and then it became 6 feet deep and were like what in the actual heck, snow. Why.

Narrator: (Dramatic voice) On this day, three girls accidentally climbed a mountain. You may be wondering, just how dumb do you need to “accidentally” climb a mountain. Well, all you need is a bit of blind ambition and a lot of blissful ignorance. Mount Brown is home to a rather formidable trail, one of the most difficult in Glacier National Park. It ascends over 4200 feet in 5 miles, so you can imagine that the trail is steep. What you may not imagine is the fact that there is also snow on top of a mountain. Or maybe you can imagine that. If that is the case, then you would have been better prepared than these three girls. Good for you.

It’s not as if these girls did not have the means to be prepared to climb the mountain. In fact, they had a magazine (which they evidently did not read very closely before attempting to climb said mountain) that stated Mount Brown was indeed a difficult hike; in fact, it was labeled as “strenuous” in the magazine. Now, these are relatively smart girls, two with college degrees and the other beginning her junior year in college this fall, but apparently they decided to interpret the word “strenuous” as “oh, this will be a super nice hike with awesome views of the mountains and stuff” rather than “yeah you’re about to hike up a mountain.” It’s all about the context, I guess.

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Ah, the lovely pine trees. Thanks for being so photogenic.

This is their story, the story of Mount Brown and how they potentially possibly could have maybe died but didn’t.

Oh sorry, spoiler alert.


We started our day with a hearty continental breakfast from the hotel. We made our way to the Glacier National Park visitor center, located on the Going-To-The-Sun Road, where they told us that parking at Avalanche Lake would be extremely limited. We were feeling optimistic, however, and decided to try parking there. Apparently everyone else wanted to park there too, so we were forced to come back and park at Lake McDonald. This worked out just fine, and we decided to hike up Mount Brown. You would think, with a name like Mount Brown (emphasis on the “Mount”) we would have realized that it would not be a simple hike up a hill. We were literally in the mountains of Montana, for God’s sake!

Anyway.

IMG_3230_1_1We began our hike at the Sperry trail head, which started right across the road from Lake McDonald, and went up a fairly gradual incline for a solid mile and a half. We found the Mount Brown trail head and thus we began our ascent. Within 10 minutes we had to stop again, our butts and thighs were dying. But this was just the beginning. We hiked for a long time, back and forth up the switchbacks (thanks, expert hiking [aka mountain-sprinter] guys who helped us figure out the mountain lingo) and stopped periodically for water and air. We made it to a lovely little overlook, and we figured we should be fairly close to the top. Boy, were we wrong. We hadn’t even encountered the snow, yet!

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This is a lovely photo of me taking a photo of the mountains at the overlook which we foolishly mistook as being close to the top. Ha.

The snow started out as a small patch in the woods by the trail, and we thought it was just the cutest little patch of snow we’d ever seen. And then said snow patch multiplied in number and size, and soon everything was covered in a six-foot snowdrift. We learned later that this snow does not disappear until mid-July. Lucky us. It was during this snowy trail era that we ran across (whom we believe to be) the snow scientist. He was sitting in the snow using a little saw to cut into the snow drifts. So, he was either a snow scientist or an elderly guy who liked to sit on the side of a mountain and investigate the snow. Rather curious. He told us we were doing a great job, climbing the mountain. He also gave us directions to get around a particularly giant snow drift which was coming up in our path. This snow drift was probably close to 10 feet tall. We had to skirt around it, so thank goodness there had been people going on the trail before us so we had footprints to follow in.

We trekked through the snow, slipping and sliding as we went along. Luckily we had started our journey early enough in the morning so the snow was still pretty solid during our ascent. No one had any major spills down the mountainside, but Sara and I did fall much more often than Jennifer (and I fell more often than Sara). Jennifer does parkour (hard-core parkour!) as a hobby and thus has fairly decent balance and footwork, which I am sure contributed to her lack of falling. She’s so fancy.

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That’s Jen, with her water bottle and her backpack. Thanks for being our designated H2O supplier, Jennifer! You da best.

We were so full of optimism and blind ambition. We really had no idea what we were getting ourselves into when we started our journey up Mount Brown. However, I think it was this total unpreparedness that allowed us to get as far as we did. If we had 100% knew we would be climbing up a mountain, we honestly probably would have given up. It was the lack of us knowing just how steep and arduous this hike would be that allowed us to almost reach the top. I say “almost” because we did not actually make it to the top. We were probably about half a mile from the top, where it apparently became pretty flat and there was a nice building in which to sit. However, to get to said “top,” we would have had to hike crawl up the mountain side, by holding onto the snowy footholds made by previous (and more courageous) hikers. We stopped because we honestly feared for our lives. In fact, Sara was sitting in the snow for some time, contemplating her life and was about 83% sure she might die. However, the odds were in her favor and she survived. We all survived, in fact, and we are stronger for it. I also got a few super sweet photos, so that was a bonus!

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IMG_3259_1_1Sara and Jennifer refused to go any further, but I decided to try, and climbed about 200 feet up the mountain before calling down to my companions that yes, they were right, it was absolutely terrifying and if they could be so kind as to not rub it in my face that would be great. So I channeled my inner mountain goat and crawled back down. It was a bit of a struggle, to be completely honest, but I made it without dying! Now it was just the rest of the mountain we had to descend.

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This was what our trail looked like; there wasn’t a whole lot of anything to the right of us to catch us if we were to slide down the mountain!

Going down the mountain was much easier that going up. It helped that we were fueled by adrenaline and had just been staring our almost-death in the face. We traipsed our way through the snow drifts, and finally (finally!) got back to the no-snow-trail. At this point we started full-out running down the mountain path, which was actually a lot of fun and probably pretty dangerous, but none of us died or twisted an ankle or anything so that was good.

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We also made some friends on the way down the mountain; the two guys who sprinted up the mountain also sprinted down (how, we still don’t know) who introduced us to the pesky mountain goats who just would not get off the path, and the guy in the pink shirt, who we later developed an undeserved (yet extremely personal) vendetta against. Unsure why this vendetta became so strong, but it provided a solid source of entertainment for the rest of the week.

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The trail, ft. the pesky mountain goats + the snow.
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I have no idea what this flower is, but the Sperry trail was quite populated with them. I took my time heading back down the mountain, taking in the sights and discovering things I had not seen on our ridiculous hike up Mount Brown.

We finally made it down the mountain, feeling more than a little sore, tired, and hungry. We reconvened at the Jeep, determined that we had hiked (or bear-crawled) approximately 10 miles in 5 hours, and grabbed some water and food to replenish our bodies and souls. We meandered down to Lake McDonald to rest our feet in the cool mountain water.

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Along the way, we paused to appreciate Mount Brown from a distance. It was really high. We were like, wait we just hiked up that?

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I apologize for the terrible quality of this photo, as I took it with Snapchat. But that is indeed Mount Brown in the center of the photo; you know, the giant-mountain-looking-hill that we somehow managed to climb up and down without anyone dying or breaking something.

We fell, we laughed, we wanted to sit down and cry, we almost made it to the top of the mountain and we have no regrets. Having never climbed a mountain before, I think we did a bang-up job of doing it.

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My companions let me stop along the Going-To-The-Sun Road on our way back to civilization and take a few photos of the fabulous mountains, with Lake McDonald in the foreground.

 

 

Let’s Go West! Part One.

Girls [3]. US Highway [2]. Outlandish plan to head out west [1].

My younger sister Sara and I, along with out lovely friend Jen, made a plan to drive out west on US Highway 2, over Memorial Day Weekend. Well, it’s Memorial Day Weekend and we have actually followed through with said plan. Technically it is still being followed through with, as we are currently in Montana. We have a lot more “west” to cover before completion of the trip. The fact that we are even on the first leg of this trip is in and of itself an amazing feat, as we are fairly notorious for making elaborate and exciting plans and only following through with a fraction of them. It’s a real issue.

Like I said, we are currently in Montana. Columbia Falls, a tiny town just outside of Glacier National Park, to be exact. We started out from Grand Forks, North Dakota on Friday evening at approximately 11:45 p.m. after a necessary food stop at Walmart. Sara had driven to The Cities that day to pick up aforementioned lovely friend Jen, as Jen was a necessary component to this trip and did not have a vehicle with which to transport herself the five-hour drive from Minneapolis to Grand Forks. It really is a shame that aparation is not a real thing. That would make life so much more convenient. However, I digress. It is not the time to delve into the Wizarding World, no matter how fun that may be. This is the time to discuss the first leg of our “Let’s Go West!” camping trip. Like I said, we left Grand Forks around 11:45 on Friday night. I was the lucky one who got to drive through the whole great state of North Dakota. It really wasn’t bad, as I had taken a solid two hour nap on Friday around 7 p.m. in preparation for the all-night driving session, but I will admit it got a little rough around 4:30 a.m. My passengers had fallen asleep, so I just had Third Eye Blind to keep me awake. However, we managed to make it to Montana in time for the sunrise.

IMG_3160_1_1We stopped for breakfast, and kept right on going. I was provided a two-hour reprieve, during which time I had a nice little nap. I decided I wanted to drive again, because it was my vehicle we were taking (a 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee, white) and I just like to drive. And drive we did. Montana is a huge state, nearly twice the length of North Dakota. It took 5 hours through ND, which meant that we had about 9 hours to go through MT. However, the sun was shining and it was a beautiful day for a drive. The three of us grew up in southern Minnesota, and so we were not used to such terrain. The hills of Montana were exciting, but when we saw the mountains we (meaning I) became ecstatic. There were squeals of excitement all around. Mainly from me. Of course, we had to stop once we were close enough to take some photos of the impending mountains.

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Look at those mountains! Also the cattle. And the fence. Lovely.

 

So we kept on driving and eventually made it to the mountains, and man was that a sight to behold. I’ve never really been in the mountains, much less driven in them, so that was an adventure.  IMG_3171_1_1After our lovely drive through the mountains, we made it to the west side of Glacier National Park, and we found our hotel in Columbia Falls around 3 p.m. Saturday afternoon. The beds were very inviting, and I ended up taking an hour-long nap, which increased the number of hours I had slept in the last 18 to a whopping total of three. Later that evening, Sara and I decided to do a bit of exploring. We found a nice little lake to sit by whilst watching the sunset. It was a gorgeous evening, albeit a bit buggy, but that is to be expected. It was around 65 degrees, no wind, and it smelled like forest. Wonderful.IMG_3199_1_1After our nice little sit by the lake, we returned to the hotel for a much-needed repose.