National Park Trek – 2018

by Ken & Tracy
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National Park Trek – 2018

This journey started on July, 9, 2018, after more than a year in design. We actually haven’t spent much time at all planning the trip, although we have spend a lot of time designing and building out our mode of transport. We plan to live out of our Sprinter van for 3+ months, while visiting as many National Parks as possible on a trek to the west coast and back. If you’re interested in keeping up with the journey, we’ll post updates here and add photos of destinations we’ve visited.

Great night visiting with great friends from Kansas

Update: Jul 17, 2018
So far we’ve been to Mammoth Cave National Park and Hot Springs National Park with a detour to visit some friends in Kansas. We also made a stop in the Colorado Springs area for some mountain biking, trail running at Mueller State Park. The temperatures last night dropped to the low 50’s, which was quite refreshing after the heat in Arkansas and Kansas. The next morning we drove to the top of Pike’s Peak. Tracy wasn’t that excited about the drive up…or down. After a quick stop at Pro Cycling Warehouse in Colorado Springs for a couple bike repairs, we were off to the next destination.

Update: Jul 21, 2018
Great Sand Dunes National Park is an interesting phenomenon that occurs from the interaction of wind and water over many years. It was interesting to learn about how the area changes with each season, but mostly we enjoyed the sand sledding. Even Lekki got into the action. Next on the agenda was Durango. We van camped at Junction Creek Campground for a couple nights and enjoyed the beautiful Colorado trails. The mountain biking here was pretty intense for Ken with his  sea-level lungs and minimal training before the trip. Mesa Verde National Park features cliff dwellings and pit houses from the Puebloans 600 – 1300 AD. This was mainly a drive-thru park with a tour of Balcony House. On our way to Petrified Forest National Park, we had to stop by Four Corners (for 10 min) to say we did before camping out near Canyon de Chelly. Canyon de Chelly offers great views and perhaps a return one day for a horseback trek through the canyon. Petrified Forest National Park offered a trip back in time that was hard to comprehend. Afterwards, we were off to Flagstaff for some van TLC at the local Sprinter service center. On the way, we stopped by Meteor Crater to check out the big hole and Winslow to stand on the corner.

Update: Jul 27, 2018
Turns out the van doesn’t need TLC just a good kick, elevation is our real issue. Time was not wasted in Flagstaff as we hiked our way up Humphreys Peak at an elevation of 12,633 and 9.6 miles. Lekki hiked all but the last mile to the peak (safer in the pack) and the first mile back down, which was his first time hiking up to that elevation (Super Dog). Our next stop took us to Great Basin National Park. This was a Lekki-less hike as most of you know our furry friends are not allowed on trails in most national parks. We did a short/ steep 6 miles to about 11,000 feet, while Lekki slept in the air conditioned van. The Bristlecone Pines were large and the hike up to the rock glacier was a amazing. Onto Fish Lake National Forest and Capitol Reef National Park. We stayed in Fish Lake as we were going to hike with Lekki that next morning. We started the morning with a short and thankfully flattish run/mountain bike before our hike with Lekki. This hike was about 3000 feet of climbing and close to 10 miles. Super King Lekki did it again jumping over large rocks and horse P..! Capitol Reef hike was just for the humans as we did the rim trail. From there we made our way to Canyonlands and Arches National National Park. We did not spend as much time as we originally wanted, it was over 100 degrees. We will have to revisit Moab for some mountain biking when it’s not so hot. We quickly moved on to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. This will be a definite revisit when we don’t have Lekki as the hike into this canyon would be one to remember especially if your name is Tracy, can we say that is a long way down…eek

Update: Aug 3, 2018
When we put our tentative trip plan together, we had no intentions of visiting Ouray, CO, but we saw it listed in a travel guide and we’re glad we made a side trip on the way to Telluride. It is a picturesque town that many refer to as Little Switzerland. We hiked the Perimeter trail, enjoyed our time exploring the town, and made a drive over to Silverton. We’ll definitely be back for an extended stay in Ouray to tackle more trails and perhaps a few 14ers in the area. From there we made our way back to Ridgway State Park and used it as a launch point for a hike to Blue Lakes and a trip to Telluride, CO. Aspen, CO was the next destination. Tracy’s friend, Scott rolled out the hospitality for us and we enjoyed a few nights in a condo rather than our van. We explored the urban opportunities in Aspen as well as a couple trails nearby. The highlight was a trek up La Plata peak, which was Ken’s first (of hopefully many more) Colorado 14er.

Update: Aug 22, 2018
Aspen was a blast but had to get Ken out of there before we had endless 14ers to climb, as there were other parts of the country to see. We will definitely be back!

Rocky Mountain National Park was our next destination. We spent most of our time hiking, running and mountain biking, ok that’s our whole trip. The park itself was quite crowded so we did a few short hikes in the park then did some longer ones with the King (Lekki) outside the park. I realized that we need to take more pictures of Lekki’s fan club. He seems to be a hit on the trail. I have to say we prefer those hikes that are not full of humanoids. Dropped into Estes Park for some food and drinks. Look at the pics for our new favorite cider, YUMMY. We may or may not have bought 2 cases.

After a quick flight to Charlotte (someone still has to work ?), next up Devils Tower, Wind Cave and Badlands National Park. The night before checking out Crazy Horse we stayed in one of our favorite camp sites yet, which was in Hot Springs South Dakota. Only one other camper and even better it was FREE! Great place to get in an 8 mile run/ride. Crazy Horse was an interesting place along with its history. We may have to revisit again in 10 years or so to see how far along they have gotten with the mountain carving. Mount Rushmore was up next as I’ve always wanted to see the National Memorial. We camped in the Badlands where we experienced a million prairie dogs and buffalo. We had a close encounter with a big, mean looking buffalo while running/riding that morning. He happened to be blocking the road back to camp, so we patiently waited for him to finished whatever it was that he was doing (eating and staring us down) and get his big self across the road. That was the second buffalo during this run. The first one made us turn back and go the other direction, smart choice. We drove through the Badlands and experienced many different animals fairly close up. Bighorn sheep, buffalo, prairie dogs and lots of pronghorn, which I nicknamed fuzzy butts. On our way to Devils Tower we stopped in at The Nations Nuclear Defense to understand the Minutemen Missiles. Scary when you really think about it. Devils Tower was huge! Great place if you’re a rock climber. It’s amazing how the earth changes and moves to form rock structures. Many different Indian legends on how Devils Tower began.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is not one on our list to go back to. Although pretty in its dessert like way not one of the prettier parks we have been through. He wouldn’t even kiss me (see pic). After reading some history on why this place was so special to Roosevelt, I can understand why he loved it so.

The Battle of Little Bighorn is a must if you’re ever in the area. The history that took place in this National Monument will leave you a bit breathless. They did a great job portraying both sides as great warriors.

Bighorn Canyon reminded us of Theodore Roosevelt National Park as far as terrain goes. While hiking we crossed paths with a bighorn sheep, who seemed fairly interested in us. We enjoyed lunch overlooking the canyon and did some hiking with the King as we dodged the afternoon rainstorms. Cody, Wyoming is known for their rodeo’s. First rodeo for Tracy. Little hard being an animal lover but was a good experience. Buffalo Bill Cody is how Cody, Wyoming got its name. Buffalo Bill loved his horses and treated them as if they were gold. Interesting read on him but did not get to the museum.

Grand Teton National Park has so far won my heart (Tracy). It’s just darn right beautiful with endless hiking/outdoor activities. Although no 14ers, they have some difficult hikes. The only thing that could make it better would be to allow dogs to hike in the park. Although, that will never happen. Many hikes around the area allow dogs, so we took advantage of those. Jackson, Wyoming is close and has some really good restaurants. We even went horseback riding in Teton Village.

Wind River Range is about 2 hours from Jackson. Great place to hike and mountain bike. Unfortunately this time we did not out run the rain storms or should I say hail. Lekki (Mr SPOILED) was the only one to stay dry as he had his own pack cover. The hikes in this area area beautiful and we just might come back for a multi day backpacking trip.

Update: Sep 19, 2018
On to Yellowstone!
If you like wildlife, you’ll love Yellowstone. Such a big park to get through, but the views, wildlife in abundance and the geyser’s were awesome to see. It’s amazing how Mother Nature works. We sat and waited for Old Faithful to show her/his wonder. The Old Faithful Inn is a historic landmark. Definitely worth going inside to see how it’s built and to have a Gin and Tonic (generously poured).

Scheduled a side trip off the National Park tour to Big Sky Montana for a 28k/17.6m race up Headwaters Ridge and Lone Peak. With a 7800  ft. | 2375 Meters  of elevation gain! Low Point: 7,500 ft | 2286 Meters and High Point: 11,166ft | 3403 Meters. Bonus of this trip was seeing Tracy’s good friends Stephanie, Kristi, Jennifer,Kelly and new friend Julie. It was great to be surrounded by a tough group of ladies.

Glacier and North Cascades was up next, WOW. It’s a toss up between Tetons and Glacier as to which place is more beautiful. We will take them both. Glacier offered some great view of elk(crossed the trail less than 5 feet away), bears and some beautiful hikes. Prettiest blue/green lakes formed by glaciers, just stunning..

Olympic National Park and Mount Rainer were a bit short lived as Olympic is a rain forest, yes it rained and Rainer was snowing. We wanted to spend more time in Rainer but the forecast did not look good for the near future (week). So we changed our plans and chased the sun and warmth. Not before one last effort to catch Rainer’s spectacular beauty. It had been hidden behind a field of clouds, we had about a 30 min window and took full advantage. Did a short hike and made a beeline back to the car as we were getting snowed on.

Chasing the sun brought us to Mount Hood and Crater Lake a bit earlier than originally planned. Hood and Crater were still cold but not raining or snowing so we were definitely making progress with our chase. Interesting history on how Crater Lake became what it is today. So so so beautiful, the bluest of blue.

Still chasing the warmth of the sun we headed to Redwoods National Park and the Oregon Coast before heading back to Bend to spend some much needed time with James and Meghan. One of the prettier hikes without an open view. Hiked from the Redwoods to the ocean and back. It was definitely a treat to have both the forest and ocean in one place. The Oregon coast allowed for some great seafood and a chance to put our feet in the sand, although a bit chilly.


Update: Oct 10, 2018 The Home Stretch

Lassen Volcanic National Park was next on the National Park list, but not until we made a much needed stop in Bend, Oregon to see James and Meghan. It was so good to spend some much needed time with family. Of course, James and Meghan took us on a hike in the Deschutes National Forest, followed by a bit of beer at Octoberfest. Also on tap was mountain biking in Bend and a couple good games of corn hole. This is Tracy’s new favorite game, especially with J & M’s twist of an extra bucket, which count 1/2 point. We spent 4 fun filled days but sadly it was time to start the home stretch.

Lassen Volcanic National Park made for a great hike to Lassen peak. Still cool at elevation, we had clear view of Mount Shasta at the top of Lassen with a fairly easy hike up. Ken even made a couple work calls at the top since cell service had been pretty much nonexistent since we left Bend.

Death Valley National Park was a one day in and out adventure. It was hot hot hot. We definitely didn’t want to camp in an over 100 degree heat, so we got up early and drove all day to cover as much ground as we could. The highlight was Badwater Basin. “Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park is the lowest point in North America, with an elevation of 282 ft below sea level. At Badwater, significant rainstorms flood the valley bottom periodically, covering the salt pan with a thin sheet of standing water.

Running from the 100+ degree temperatures landed us in Joshua Tree National Park. If you’ve never been, it’s worth a night of camping even if you’re not into bouldering. Pretty cool place! The park is named for the Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia) native to the Mojave Desert. Temperatures were on the rise so we once again found ourselves running from the heat. Of course not until we got a little running, biking and hiking. Yes, our van has AC but we didn’t like to leave Lekki by himself for too long. Plus we didn’t want to hike in that kind of heat.

Next up, Saguaro National Park – the land of the cactus. On March 1, 1933, in the last days of President Herbert Hoover presidency he signed a Proclamation establishing Saguaro National Monument in the nearly empty desert, 15 miles east of the sleepy town of Tucson. Later that year President Franklin D. Roosevelt transferred management of the monument, east of Tucson in the Rincon Mountains, to the National Park Service. The park was established on October 14,1994.

Guadalupe Mountains and Carlsbad Caverns National Parks brought some cooler night temperatures. We rose early to climb Guadalupe Peak. Good grief that was not an easy climb. We had the entire mountain to ourselves, at least on the way to the summit and while we sat at the summit. I’m sure there was a mountain lion off in the shadows somewhere. We basically ran through Carlsbad Caverns. I guess once you seen one cave/cavern, you’ve seen them all. There were way too many people! Here is a little tidbit on how big the cavern is. Over 120 miles of cave passage has been explored and mapped. It has been mapped to a depth of 1,600 feet, making it the second deepest limestone cave in the U.S.

Big Bend National Park was our last destination of the trek. We have to admit that this park didn’t get the attention it might have deserved. We had what we called NPF (National Park Fatigue), and a LONG hot shower and our own toilet seat in our home sounded pretty good after 3 months on the road. The little things in life you miss being on the road so long. After driving for what seemed like hours and crossing border patrol, we were finally in Big Bend. The State of Texas deeded the land that it had acquired to the federal government, and on June 12, 1944, Big Bend National Park became a reality. The Rio Grande River runs through Big Bend National Park. The park is named Big Bend after the river’s big bend in west Texas. Big Bend National Park is considered to be the largest Chihuahuan Desert protected region in the country. This park came out of nowhere. After seeing desert for days, this place is surprisingly beautiful. If you’re ever in the area, it would be worth the drive.

We are indeed happy to be home but stay tuned as we have a couple of fun in the sun trips to come.


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Jeannette July 18, 2018 - 5:58 pm

Looks like everyone is having a good time . Hope lekki is ok . I see her leg is wrapped . Miss you guys . Can’t wait to hear all about it when you get home .

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