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!
Most people would not think of Nebraska as a destination. It is more often that long state you drive through to get to places like Colorado, Tetons, Utah etc… Cornfields line the roads for hundreds of miles great a flat and uniform landscape. It is generally a predictable place that is not known to be necessarily exciting and fun. In Nebraska’s far west just before reaching Wyoming are the Nebraska sand hills. Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge is about 30 miles north of the small town, Oshkosh and south of Alliance. Although it is not a sublime place is is rather picturesque and serene. There is so much incredible wildlife and so many adventures to be had. Although many may still not chose this as a destination I highly recommend stopping by if you are driving through.
We were up there helping a professor with some research but regardless of who you go with, there is lots of wildlife to see. We took several drives around the refuge and found lots of mud turtles, painted turtles, several species of lizards and lots of birds. The sunsets and sunrises are beautiful! I didn’t get any pictures but here is the link to a previous post I did with pictures from the last trip I did.
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.
Budget-Friendly Winter Fun in the Colorado Front Range
I always get incredibly excited to go home to the massive rocky mountains… especially in the wintertime when snowflakes fall, sun still shines and the people are fired up for some powder skiing. Now that I live away from the mountains the buzz is just that much more exciting when I do come home. One of the greatest things about leaving this place has been that every time I do go back I am always planning adventures and remembering the fun places I like to go, in order to make the most of my time. This winter I came up with some of my favorite things to do around the Boulder area in the winter. But these are definitely transferable activities to many other place!
Go ice skating downtown. The outdoor rink this year is right next to the gorgeous tea house on 13th Street so dinner and skating is very convenient and extra special. The city also definitely out did itself on the lights this year. Nearly every tree was covered, even in the park, and the rink looks right out at the park, so going at night is a must.
Take a tour of the Celestial Seasonings Tea Factory. This is definitely a must for both locals and tourists. Celestial Seasonings sells its tea throughout the country and even overseas and it’s based in the outskirts of Boulder, CO. It’s great because the tour is entirely free and you get a tea sample as your tour ticket. There is also a great cafe and shop. The tour itself is actually pretty interesting. It is definitely way better if you go while the factory is working (a weekday usually) because it’s pretty amazing to see the robots at work and the huge scale of it all. While you wait for your tour you can drink as much tea as you want.
Ski (downhill and backcountry)!! Definitely a given as many people come to Colorado to do just that. Where you definitely depends on skiing/boarding experience and on the amount of money you are willing to spend. It is definitely an expensive sport and becomes that much more expensive when you have to find lodging and rent gear. So how do we make this one budget friendly? There are definitely some ways to make this more affordable however it is definitely the most expensive adventure on this list. First, choose the ski area wisely. Places like Vail, Beaver Creek and even Breckenridge and Keystone are definitely more expensive. They are definitely bigger but individual lift tickets cost way more than the small areas like Arapahoe Basin or Eldora. Unless you are getting the Epic pass it gets so expensive with tickets along at the big areas. The nice thing about the smaller places (A-Basin, Eldora, Ski Cooper) is that their cheaper and they are not resort ski areas which means everyone stays in the towns nearby which may seem inconvenient but will save you lots of money! The last way to save some money is to check out rental companies before you go. Most of the time there are way cheaper rental options further away from the ski area, so if you plan on renting for several days at a time, this may be a much better option for you. Backcountry is also a great alternative, if you have experience and want to save money. With big snows people backcountry ski, even in the foothills.
We started our first day on the Northern Circuit by hiking up to Taranaki Falls, an hour from Whakapapa Village. The weather was beautiful, with clear blue skies, sun and barely any clouds over the mountains. We enjoyed some shaded trees and more open brush. The waterfall was a great place to cool off before continuing on the fairly open and treeless terrain. The trail wove its way through the low brush between Mt. Ngauruhoe and Mt. Ruapehu with perfect views of the mountains. There were no real climbs or descents but it was our longest day. It took us a total of six hours including breaks to get to the hut. The hut is incredibly nice for a backcountry hut. Solar powers allowed for electricity and hot water for cooking. There were two kitchen areas with four stoves tops each and a large living room with two separate bunk rooms. There was also a large porch with restrooms just a two-minute walk out the back door.
Day 2: Waihohonu Hut to Oturere Hut 7.4km
In the morning a friend and I followed some others to Oturere Stream, 20 minutes from the hut for a swim. I jumped into the water and I felt the cold immediately freeze my body. As I waited in the freezing water I waited for my friend to jump and felt my feet numbing. I could not stay in for any longer and we walked back to start our hike. The second day was much shorter however a little more dynamic in landscape changes and in terrain. We started with a short downhill to the Waihohonu campsite followed by a half hour long up hill over a ridge. We descended again into a forest with a raging river in the valley and crosses over to begin another uphill climb to the top of another ridge. Atop this ridge, instead of descending, we continued up along the ridge and stopped by the only small patch of trees at the top. We then continued along the ridge and watched the landscape changed rather abruptly from shrub land to desert gravel. From here the path continued along the side of the mountains with several big uphill’s and downhill’s. The final uphill was very steep and covered in rocks requiring some climbing up and over to the top of the plateau. It was not much further to Oturere Hut. It took us not more than three hours including a long lunch break. This hut is a little bit more primitive with much less space and no solar panels (more like what I was expecting). There is a stream just down the side of the plateau that was perfect for swimming. The water above the waterfall was much warmer than the morning’s river.
Day 3: Oturere Hut to Mangatepopo Car Park 12.8km
After a steep ascent up the mountainside we reached the Emerald Lakes. They are a brilliant electric blue, yellowing towards the edges. The sulfur smell is strong as the mountain emits a hot steam from the side of the crater. There is still a difficult uphill climb to the top of the Red Crater. Four of us took off ahead of the group and began slowly moving up scree. The path is about five feet wide with steep drops on either side. This is not too narrow however a 40lb pack, walking on scree made it difficult to balance and continue walking. Although that final ascent is merely about 150 vertical feet, it took at least a half an hour to climb. Peering into the Red Crater from the rim, I could see a broken jagged scar surrounded by rough lava rocks. The view from the top was gorgeous in all directions. Seeing Mt. Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom) up close and personal is incredible and terrifying at the same time. The mountain slopes steeply and has a starkly red face towards the top. A large lake can be seen in the distance the opposite direction of the volcano and our path up the mountain is to the other side. A small group of us took an hour out of the day to climb Mt. Tongariro at this point. The fog closed in on us as we began our hike up and we were only able to get glimpses of the crater below Tongariro. The were more day hikers than I have encountered on most other hikes except for maybe Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park. Tourists from all over the world were day-hiking the crater. The descent was extremely difficult because it was very steep and there was no sure footing. It took a while but eventually we got down to the crater below and walked on that flat for a kilometer. From there Mt. Ngauruhoe was directly beside us and the dark lava rocks covered the sides of the mountain. We continued long a gradual downhill until we reached the restrooms. From there it was an hour to the car park and it was flat terrain along mostly boardwalks (it is a floodplain area). The fog was closing in as we finished our trek.