The month of July has been a little less exciting than the last but fun nonetheless. I was working almost everyday but still we found time to explore and eat some great meals. Cambridge City definitely popped up quite a bit and I had time to cook some fun meals with friends. Just as July is ending I am driving out to the east coast for some vacation time with family and friends. It is sure to bring lots of fun and new, exciting places. Here are my ten favorite looks from the month of July:
For many people Colorado is seen as an outdoorsy, hiking destination. The mountains definitely live up to their reputation and probably exceed it. Many hikes are incredibly difficult especially on the well-known 14,000 foot mountains scattered throughout the state. There are a few however that are very suitable for beginners both in length and difficulty. I would note that these are the hikes that I have seen lots of people get altitude sickness on. If you are traveling from out of town (or think you might get altitude sick) be especially cautious when designing your itinerary and remembered that it is always better to turn around if a member of your group is very sick, even if that means you will not reach the summit. Here are the two best 14,000 foot mountains, in my opinion for beginners:
Mount Bierstadt. This Colorado mountain sits at 14,065ft tall and is located just south of the mountain town Georgetown (about an hour west of Denver). This is easily the shortest hike of all the 14er’s I have climbed. This is a shorter hike because you drive so far up, starting at a much higher elevation but beware because parking here can be difficult. Because it is easy and one of the most accessible it is very crowded, especially on weekends. I would say as long as you start early (which is necessary on a fourteener anyways due to the variable weather) you will be totally fine and stress free. The climb itself is steadily uphill since you start so high. It took our group about four hours to do the whole thing and spend time at the summit.
Grays and Torres. These are separate 14,000 foot peaks but most people do them both together since they are very close together, separated only by a short saddle. This hike is definitely longer, taking us around six hours to do both peaks. It is a total of 8 miles from the trailhead up and back down. This one can also be crowded depending on the weather so I again recommend getting an early start. The other great thing about these mountains is that they are also relatively close to Denver with an hour and half drive to the trailhead.
Both of these hike are incredibly beautiful with amazing 360 degree views of the mountain ranges. I highly recommend climbing one of these peaks if you are up for the physical challenge because those views are definitely worth the challenge!
I just got back from the most incredible trip to the Bahamas! Here is a short version of our daily itineraries.
Day 1: We flew out super early in order to maximize our first day in Nassau. We arrived at 11:00am and got to the Atlantis marina by lunchtime. We had some time to spare before setting sail so we hit the pool and walked around for a while. Around 4:00 everyone had arrived and we were ready to leave. Boating out of Nassau was interesting because there were so many ships, big houses and palm trees. Our destination was pretty far so we all took naps as the boat rocked back and forth through the open waters. I woke up around 8:30pm to the most amazing conch chowder, which was a great way to start at boating trip! We had arrived at our destination.
Day 2: This was the official start to our research in the Exumas. We pulled up close to Leaf Cay where we would begin our research. One of the captains drove us over to the island in the skiff. Our professors taught us how to catch and process iguanas and we hit the ground running. The island was beautiful with a long stretch of beach which we worked on for most of the day. This island in particular gets a lot of tourists coming to see and feed the iguanas. We caught and process 149 iguanas in our first day which was pretty amazing!
Day 3: The winds were very clam so we took the opportunity to go to Flat Rock Cay which is an island that is much more exposed to heavy winds and big waves. The beach is also harder to pull up to, requiring calm winds. The island is very beautiful and there are some of the most amazing shells I have ever seen here. The iguana population is much smaller on this island and the weather turned pretty nasty halfway through the day limiting our iguana catching abilities. It started to rain hard and we tried to wait it out but it just kept coming so we ran back to the skiff and rode back to the Beacon Won. In the afternoon skies cleared giving way to great swimming weather and an amazing sunset.
Day 4: Our research team split in two to cover more ground and my group went back to Leaf Cay. We caught lots of iguanas and had some really great time to swim.
Day 5: We hit Leaf Cay once last day. It was an incredibly successful day in terms of research but the evening definitely took a turn for me. I was netting iguanas with a professor when I fell into a hole, spraining my ankle pretty badly. Other than this though the day was an amazing one!
Day 6: Due to my injury the day before I stayed on the boat for the day and assisted the Utah State professor and graduate student with their lab research. It was interesting to learn about their research and protocols. We took a swim in the blue Caribbean waters in the afternoon to break from all that lab work.
Day 7: This was the second day for the group on U Cay. It is a beautiful island that has a long sandy beach and incredible tide pools. I spent some time in the morning exploring the tide pools for a long day of processing. It was a great place for swim breaks though! We say an eagle ray swimming through the clear blue waters right near us. A group of us swam back to the boat which was super fun!
Day 8: We left Highbourne after breakfast and sailed further south to Bush Hill Cay. It took several hours but we arrived in plenty of time. There is a coral reef near the cay so it took some navigating (of our captains!) to get in close to the island. We got to the island and ate lunch before breaking off to go in search of this species Cyclura rylei which is a smaller species with longer claws and much more agile necks. The skiff ride back was pretty long because they had moved the Beacon Won to a much better place to anchor.
Day 9: Our last day in the Exumas! Although it was the last day, it was one of my favorites. We had some great iguana catching but also amazing views from the top of Bush Hill Cay and some fun on the beach later in the day. We arrived on the skiff with lots of iguanas to process from the day before and it was incredible because the species on Bush Hill Cay has so many different color morphs. There were yellow, red, blue and many mottled iguanas. We got to see two Green Sea Turtles swimming along the shore. I snorkeled near the turtles and got to see lots of colorful fish and some interesting corals. Several of us hiked to the highest point and the 360 view was truly incredible.
Day 10: A friend woke me up at 5:30am to watch the sunrise. We jumped in the water and enjoyed watching the sky fill with yellows, oranges, pinks and blues. A crew member interrupted our bliss, informing us that the heads were going to be emptied. With that we got out of the water as fast as possible. Fresh coffee was ready when we got out so we enjoyed that while waiting for breakfast. I spent the morning reading and journaling on the top deck while we journeyed back to Nassau. The return trip was about six hours so there was lots of time for some relaxation in the sun. We arrived at the Bay Street Marina around 3:00pm which gave plenty of time for showers and some exploration of Nassau. A group of us walked down Bay Street checking out the shops. Our designation was the Straw Market down by the cruise ships, which is a great place to get fairly cheap souvenirs so long as you can bargain (it can be a very intimidating place). We ate at The Green Parrot which is just inside the marina and the seafood was delicious. Fresh conch fritters and Mahi made for the perfect last Bahaman dinner. We walked across the bridge to Atlantis after dinner to walk through their aquarium and get ice cream. I stayed at Atlantis when I was young so I definitely remembered the underground tanks of fish and beautiful architecture. We walked through the aquarium and the casino, back out to the village which is kind of an outdoor mall. We got ice cream, which was delicious, however I would recommend getting ice cream at a shop in Nassau because everything in Atlantis is expensive.
Day 11: Those ten days went so incredibly fast! The end came quickly but the last morning did not disappoint with amazing views of the harbor over that highly anticipated cup of coffee. We flew out of Nassau around 11:00am and stopped in Atlanta, reaching our final destination by dinner.
Note: The main purpose of this trip was to conduct research with herpetologist John Iverson. He has a long term iguana study going in in the Exumas and has been researching species once thought to be almost extinct. Just as a preface, as students and universities we fully comply with ICUC rules and training.
This was my first trip to Florida and it was incredible!
Most nights we camped at state parks or other camp grounds, so if you are not into camping there are definitely hotel options not far away and going to all the springs as day trips is definitely a possibility. Also, our first day was technically the drive down to Chattanooga but for this I am starting in Chattanooga.
Day 1: Drive from Chattanooga to Hart Springs. We stayed in a hotel in Chattanooga and started driving early in order to get to Hart Springs in time for some snorkeling. Hart springs is a pretty area in north Florida with lots of opportunity for swimming, canoeing and walking along the boardwalk. We arrived in the heat of the afternoon and chose to go straight to the cool water. Bringing some snorkel gear (or at least goggles) is definitely a must in this area. We saw some amazing wildlife including Swanee River Cooters, Loggerhead Musk Turtles and many fish. The boardwalk here is incredibly beautiful when the sun is setting right over the water.
Day 2: The next day is a drive from Hart Springs to Kelly Park. This time instead of leaving early, we spent the morning walking along some of Hart Spring’s trails listening to birds and spotting frogs. We stopped several times along the drive to Kelly Park to see wildlife.
Day 3: Kelly Park & Wekiwa Springs. We spent almost the whole day at Wekiwa Springs which is about 30 minutes from Kelly Park. This is a definite must visit destination if you are in the Orlando area. The water is a little chilly but there is a nice place to sun bathe, there are lots of trails and you can rent canoes to paddle down the creek. We were with the North American Freshwater Turtle Research Group for the morning, helping them catch, process and release turtles which was a very fun experience! We also walked along the boardwalk and some of the trails. There is lots to see and do here. The evening was spent at Kelly Park which is a great place for picnicking and also swimming. I actually liked the swim set up better here. You walk up the path a little ways to the top of the lazy river and can tube or just swim down. The water is crystal clear and there are turtles and other fun things to see! There are also many nice trails here.
Day 4: Drive from Kelly Park to the National Seashore and then Manatee Hammock for the night. This was our big beach day and it was amazing! We spent almost the whole day on Cape Canaveral seeing lots of wildlife and walking along the National Seashore. I highly recommend visiting this area. It is one of the few places to see the Florida Scrub Jay and Roseate Spoonbills which was very cool. This beach is also so pretty and not too crowded. We drove a little ways to Manatee Hammock to camp for the night and this was probably my favorite place we stayed the whole trip. It was right on Indian River Lagoon which is so beautiful (make sure to get a campsite right on the shore). This sunset was absolutely gorgeous!
Day 5: Manatee Hammock to Alexander Spring State Park. We went to Blue Springs on the way to Alexander Springs in order to see manatees. There were many of them just laying in the water right in the springs (even some calves). We also saw lots of other wildlife. Seeing manatees is seasonal here so definitely check before you go but it was incredibly to see them. Also swimming is not quite as great here (or not open depending on when you go). We drove on to Alexander Springs State Park (in Ocala National Forrest) which was one of my favorite swimming locations. There were so many turtles and fish so it was perfect for snorkeling and the water was not too cold. I also just really liked this campground because you can walk to the springs and it is very pretty.
Day 6: Stay in Alexander Spring State Park for the night and spend the day canoeing Juniper Springs Run. This canoe trip was so fun! The river starts off very narrow but it is slow moving and just very picturesque and it opens up as you go. It took us about four hours so it is pretty long but it was so worth it (you can definitely do it faster if you are paddling fast and do not take stops). We saw several alligators along the way which was pretty cool as well.
Day 7: Alexander State Park to Otter Spring State Park. This was, sadly, our last full day in Florida. We visited a long-leaf pine forest and saw the rare Red-Cockaded Woodpecker. These types of forest are so interesting because there are really tall pine trees with not many understory plants. From here we drove to Otter Spring State Park and spent the rest of the day snorkeling in the spring and swimming in the pool (which was heated). This spring is also a great place to go especially if you have kids with you.
Day 8: Drive from Otter Spring State Park out of Florida all the way to High Falls State Park in Georgia. The morning was all driving but the was enough time once we arrived to enjoy the walking the trails. The sunset here was gorgeous and the camp hosts were so friendly.
Day 9: This final day was technically just driving from High Falls all the way back home, which took the entire day.
Overall this trip was amazing! It is a great circle if you are interested in seeing northern Florida especially visiting the many springs Florida offers. It can definitely also be modified depending on the amount of time you have and how much time you want to spend in certain places. I would definitely spend more time in the Cape Canaveral area (more beaches) and I would want to spend a little bit of time in Orlando (we avoided the city for the most part but it was very close to several of the locations we visited).
Here are my favorite finds from around the internet this week. They are pretty random but all of them really made me either smile, think or both. Enjoy!
A Tribute to Carrie Fisher: She seems like such a fun person. This video wonderfully captures her persona, highlighting her humorous side. It brought much joy to my day!
Instagram Dad (FOD): This dad and his kids are so cute! All of Instagram posts are hilarious pictures of him, his wife and four daughters. I really love how his portrayal of life feels so real with lots of joy and lots of struggle.
Edible Water Bottles: This is so cool! Basically it is water encased in a tasteless seaweed extract membrane to reduce plastic waste. I am not sure how I feel about eating one but I would definitely try it out! Also, supposedly they are even cheaper than producing plastic water bottles so it seems like it could be a really awesome way to reduce waste.
Woodpecker Hitches Ride Through Chicago: This is such a cute video of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker hitching a ride through the city on some guys car. The driver’s commentary just makes it so much greater as well!
Cute Goats: Goats just make my day so much brighter. They are funny and adorable, so I hope this brings you as much joy as it did to me!