Laura Fortune

National Park

Carlsbad and Big Trucks

U.S. Travel, Roadtrip, National ParkLaura FortuneComment

August 11

I drove further east in New Mexico to Carlsbad Caverns.  I arrived in the afternoon and walked 90% of the caverns for 2.5 hours.  I love sunrises and sunsets and seeing rain showers in the distance and night skies.  The phenomena of a cave and how it is formed over time is fascinating, but dark, cold places don't inspire my deepest feelings.  So I was more like, Holy Crap this place is just crazy, like fake-looking crazy.  Also impressive about Carlsbad Caverns is that it was discovered in the 1930s.  That is just so recent and I think of my Grandma who was alive and loved nature and maybe heard of this amazing discovery in New Mexico.

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I left Carlsbad and began the final leg of the drive to Austin, TX.  There was no sign that indicated that I had entered into Texas.  But there was a long stretch of a single lane road, leading me to I-10 where I noticed, EVERY automobile was a huge truck.  Not just work trucks, but giant pick-up trucks.  I had never seen such a continuous succession of truck after truck after truck.  Out of 100 automobiles, I saw 4 cars.  I am still baffled by this.  I stopped at a gas station and there were 20 pumps and each one was in use with a giant pick-up truck.  I looked at the map and I was well into Texas.  Inside the gas station I found men and women that looked like the truck was probably the most expensive thing they owned and it may be nicer than their home.  I'm amazed by this very American sentiment.  These huge automobiles and the need to have them.  But I digress, and all I could think was, everything is bigger in Texas.  Very true.

White Sands

U.S. Travel, Roadtrip, National ParkLaura FortuneComment

August 10

I left Tucson around 7am and headed east.  There were two places that were suggested, for me to see, on the way to Austin.  White Sands National Monument and Carlsbad Caverns.  As I looked at the map, I could stop to see these places and split my 13 hours drive to Austin into two days.  With the chance to see more, I was sold.

I messaged the friend who suggested White Sands (which I had never heard of), to tell him I was on my way, and he immediately said, "backcountry camp there if you have a tent."

I arrived to White Sands at 1pm, and in my experience with campsites, nothing is ever available after 10am.  Knowing there are only 10 backcountry campsites available, I was expecting to be told it was full and I'd move on to reach Carlsbad that evening.  

I went into the Visitors Office and asked if any sites were available, and she chuckled and said, I have 9 available.  I was taken aback and had to take a moment to think about it.  I'd never backcountry camped alone on this trip.  I had thought of it, but it seemed a step into ever riskier territory, hiking everything in and being totally alone.  

I called my brother.  He was at work and immediately looked up websites to inform me of the meteor shower that was close to it's peak, and he said, don't even sleep in a tent.  He encouraged me and I secured Site #8.

I packed up what I needed and hiked in a mile to find my site.

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The sand is bright white and pure, fine and soft.  It's actually made from gypsum that has been tumbled down by the wind over time.  It's bright, but it's not hot and I walked barefoot for my entire time there.  Site 8 was surrounded by shrubs and plants and so I found a spot nearby that seemed a little softer and I set up my tent.  I walked around on the dunes nearby and sunset was on it's way.

 

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I was totally alone, a few other campsites were used, but I was by myself.  The night never seemed to darken as the stars filled the sky very quickly, and it was by far the most stars I have ever seen in my life.  I saw shooting stars and moving satellites and the Milky Way so clearly.  A bright light appeared over the horizon it was the moon rising.  Once it came up in the sky the stars faded a bit with the intense light that lit up the area around me.  I didn't need my tent.  I took my sleeping back out at one point early in the night and laid high on a soft dune and fell asleep looking up into the sky.  It was one of the most incredible nights of my life.  And I woke by the morning to see the light of the sunrise and the soft colors of the morning that reflect all over the white sand.  I packed up and hiked out after the sun had fully introduced itself to the sky.

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Zion to Grand Canyon

Life Learning, National Park, Roadtrip, U.S. TravelLaura FortuneComment

August 5

I was up early and off to Zion National Park.  Zion wasn’t on my radar of places to visit and it was added onto my trip a couple days ago.  It is absolutely mind-boggling beautiful.  It is a spectacular sight and the best way to see it is by hiking.

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The night before I stopped into the Chili’s across the street from the Wal-Mart lot I was staying in, and the waitress saw my NY License and asked if I was touring the National Parks.  I told her about my day in Bryce and how Zion was next.  I was looking up hikes at that moment.  She suggested the two I was reading about, and one of them is called Angels Landing, with a steep climb and narrow walking cliffs that drop-off on each side and you need to hold onto chains for.  I thought this would be the most epic hike to end this solo and unpredictable journey.  It is not for children or people with a fear of heights.

I never thought I had a fear of heights until one trip to Yosemite with my brother.  He took me on a secret hike and there was one part where you walk out on a ledge about 3 feet wide.  I followed my brother anywhere, I trusted him and he always encouraged this bravery.  But when I got out to the ledge, I froze.  It’s dizzying and one wind gust or loss of balance felt like I would blow off the side like a piece of paper.  I couldn’t move back towards the place we started, he had to coach me back, and when I was off the ledge, I was paralyzed for the next hour. 

I hiked up to Angels Landing with this knowledge.  It felt like a fear I wanted to conquer, much like sleeping in a tent alone, or hiking in bear areas alone, or driving around this massive country by myself.  I wanted to end this epic National Park tour with a crazy hike, solo. 

I made it to top of the mountain and began up the chain portion. I stopped and thought about it, and decided to give it a try, I didn’t want to regret not finishing the hike. My sneakers had no grip, and I was slipping as the sloping steps created by redstone sediment were covered with sand.  I didn’t take another step, and said to the person behind me, “I’m sorry, I’m having second thoughts.”  I felt alone.  I felt the fear and my body beginning to freeze up.  I didn’t have my brother or anyone with me to coach me or for me to follow and trust.  As I turned around to go down the first set of chains I had climbed up, my sneakers slid more and I lost total balance and began sliding down, my hands and knees slowing me to a stop.  I heard gasps and a stranger holding the chains reached out his hand for me to take and helped me up to grab the chain.  I was done. 

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I hiked down the mountain and couldn’t hike any longer, because I had improper shoes.  It was such a defeating feeling.  To be in the most beautiful park, and to not be able to experience it the way I would like, with hours and hours of daylight left.  

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I took a look at my map, and began the plan-dance.  The Grand Canyon was no longer in my plans, but I looked again.  Within two hours, I had found a shower at a nearby RV park and began the drive to the Grand Canyon to arrive a couple of hours before sunset. 

It was perfect.  As I entered Grand Canyon National Park, the first sight was a herd of Bison.  This immediately made my detour worth doing.

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I entered at the North Rim, a less populated view of the canyon, and I found the most perfect spot to sit and watch as the sun set on my final stop on this National Park frenzy.  What a time of my life.

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Bryce

National Park, Roadtrip, U.S. TravelLaura Fortune1 Comment

August 4

I drove over to Bryce Canyon National Park for a day of hiking.  I hiked up and down the canyon and experienced four different trails.  The colors are just incredible, and the weather was gorgeous.  Huge thunderclouds rolled in, but it never did more than sprinkle.

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This trip was rolling so well for the past week that it was today when I was hiking all day that it really occurred to me that I left Tallahassee on July 1st, and absolutely did not pack for this type of trip.  I didn’t pack my hiking boots, a hiking backpack, hiking clothes, or a even a pillow.  I suppose if I knew I would have been on this type of trip I would have packed more than I needed.  I have been fine, but I really wish I had my boots.

I took a shower at the camp store, and returned to the canyon as the rain began.  I sat in my van for a bit waiting for it to pass, and I looked up to see three young girls running for the canyon view.  There was a huge rainbow over Bryce Canyon.  I sat and watched the sunset and thought, how I just couldn’t believe what I had done.  I couldn’t believe where I was.

 

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Passing Through

National Park, Roadtrip, U.S. TravelLaura Fortune1 Comment

August 3

I packed up and began to drive down the rest of Yellowstone.  What a strange place.  Geysers and smells of sulphur and crowded roads and families everywhere and Old Faithful and I’m glad I did it.  It’s a sight to see, but I was good to move on.

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The strangest part is that the separation between Yellowstone from Grand Teton National Park is subtle as a state line.  These parks are completely different.  Yellowstone seems other-worldly and Grand Teton is picturesque mountains and lakes. I drove toward Lake Jenny and the crowds were apparent, and it was very clear that I had missed any opportunity to find a campsite in this park.  I drove through, walked around Lake Jenny for a bit, stopped for a pizza and ice cream at the suggestion of a good friend who lived in Jackson, Wyoming, and decided today I would continue to drive as far as I could. 

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I passed through Wyoming in the light hours and saw the real Wild West.  This land has wild horses and ranches and land for days and days.

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Once I made it to Utah, it was dark.  This was the first time on this trip that I drove at night.  It’s a surprising idea to me, that I have been able to avoid nighttime driving.  

 

I made it to Cedar City to a Wal-Mart parking lot, plotted out my plans for the next 4 days, and had a great nights sleep there.  It was clear that tent camping and car camping take some getting used to, but once I got past the noises and fear, it’s actually really cozy spot to be.  Just like Matt Foley, in a van down by the river.

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Weirdo Yellowstone

National Park, Roadtrip, U.S. TravelLaura FortuneComment

 

August 2

 I left Bozeman at 6am and headed down to Yellowstone National Park.  These summer months, it can be tough to secure a campsite within the park unless you are there first thing in the mornings, but I was determined. 

My campsite was set-up at Indian Creek campground in Yellowstone by 9am, and then I took a nap.  When I woke up, I saw that a guy about my age had set up his site across the way, and he was camping alone, too.  I’m curious about people that are alone amongst these places were family camping abound, but I’m the same looking freakshow.

I headed to Boiling River Hot Springs.  A small hike to the point where the Gardner River and Boiling River meet, the ice cold water meets boiling hot water and creates a strong current hot springs along the river.  I soaked for a long while.

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In the afternoon I hiked up Mount Washburn, a steady climb with a great views, but this is major bear area.  Hiking alone with a dull pocket knife and pepper spray feels inadaquet, but I’m glad I went because it was big horn goats I came across, no bears.

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This evening I had my first campfire and a good night’s sleep. 

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Sneaky Night in Glacier

National Park, Roadtrip, U.S. Travel, Life LearningLaura Fortune1 Comment

 

I left Golden, British Colombia and I drove towards Montana, my destination for the evening was Glacier National Park.  I arrived around 5pm, which is plenty of daylight, but tight to expect to find a campsite, for such a popular park in the summer. 

The attendant at the West Glacier entrance informed me that no sites were available and the entry fee was $30 for 7 days, and no option to pay a daily rate.  Whether I spent the night in the park or not, wasn’t on my mind as much as how I was dead-set on driving one of the most scenic drives in America, Going-To-The-Sun Road.  It is a 52 mile road that goes from one side of the park to the other and from what I read about it, I was willing to pass over $30 to just drive across the park. 

After some exchanges between the lady attendant and I, she understood that I was only in the area for the evening, and I just wanted to drive the road.  She leaned in and said, “Well, it looks like it’s going to take you about 52 miles to make the U-turn.  Hint…hint…”  At first, I didn’t quite understand her sentiment, but she shoved the maps and pamphlets towards my car window and said, “Welcome to Glacier.”

I drove in and immediately slowed down, and feel into a trance of the sights and smells.  I had no rush to get through this park, and I wanted to leisurely enjoy it at my own pace, now that I had pasted the velvet ropes and gained a renegade entry. 

My first stop was Lake McDonald where I took my first fresh water swim of this trip.  It was a hot day and I floated in the clear water flanked by mountains with large pebbles under my feet.

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I moved forward and stopped every time I felt the urge, and that was a lot.  By 10pm, I had only made it half way through the 52 mile road.

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When I know I am just passing through or taking a scenic drive, I know that the best times are at sunrise and sunset.  I considered the lady being nice enough to let me in, under the guise that I would just drive straight through. 

It was dark now, and my options were to drive the second half of the road in the dark and exit Glacier to find a place to park and sleep, or maybe, I could just slink back into a side road, and park at a picnic area.  So I did.  And in the morning, I drove the rest of Going-To-The-Sun Road in the light of the sunrise.

The morning view from the van at my nighttime parking lot

The morning view from the van at my nighttime parking lot

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Feeling Better in Banff

National Park, Roadtrip, International TravelLaura FortuneComment

 

Well, I did it!  I recovered and watched enough “Say Yes To The Dress” to make me want to run to the hills and I did!  The sun sets here around 10pm, so when I felt comfortable enough to leave, I hopped in the van and drove over to Banff National Park with many hours of daylight still left.  I’m so glad I did.  It felt good to see such beauty, go on a hike, and to feel refreshed again.

 

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Lake Louise is the most picturesque place I have ever been.  It’s the type of place that looks like you are taking a picture in front of a screen at Sears.

It’s not selfie worthy, you need the whole shot, so I was asked by three different couples to take their pictures and in return, I say, yes, will you do the same for me?  And then I add, but I’m going to get silly with it…   

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On the Rock

Roadtrip, U.S. Travel, National ParkLaura FortuneComment

July 24

I drove my van onto a ferry to Whidbey Island.  The night before, I had reached out to some friends of a friend from Brooklyn who now live on the island.  I had met this couple once in Brooklyn, but that’s it. 

I received a response as I sat in my minivan on the ferry ride.  It was a very generous offer to stay at their place on Whidbey Island.  I did a little scouting of the camping at Fort Casey State Park, and thought, why not take them up on the offer to sleep in a bed?  And then I did a little exploring of one of the most beautiful places I have been.

Trail of Ten Falls

National Park, Roadtrip, U.S. TravelLaura Fortune1 Comment

July 20

I continued along the coast of Oregon

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 Today I took a right turn and headed east to the middle of Oregon.  I drove through beautiful farmland as the landscape changed drastically from the coastline.

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I made it to Silver Falls State Park where someone told me of a hike where you can see 10 waterfalls.  I took a shorter version, as I had to land in Portland by early evening.  I hiked for 5 miles and it was so prehistoric.  So much of Oregon is covered in giant green trees and green moss and huge rocks and it just seems like one can imagine dinosaurs being nearby.

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I made it to Portland this evening and stayed with a friend who had just spent 6 months of last year on a roadtrip around the US in a Westfalia Van with her boyfriend.  She got it.  We talked about life on the road and life after being on the road and life after NYC and just life in general.  I am so thankful for these moments I’ve had to really connect with people along this journey.

Daylight Brings Relief

Life Learning, National Park, Roadtrip, U.S. TravelLaura Fortune1 Comment

July 19

It wasn’t a great nights sleep.  I had crazy dreams, some of them involved various ways intruders where entering my tent.  It’s a strange thing to dream about a scary scenario while you are actually in that place.  I also heard an animal sniffing around during the night, but a few sleeping bag movements scared it away.  The sun came up eventually, and daylight brings relief. 

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I took a little walk around my camp area and found a patch of wild orchids.  I brought a few along to freshen up my traveling flower arrangement and also admired the morning fog.

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I packed up and got back on the road.  I passed by a sign that said the Drive-Thru Tree was up the road a little.  I figured, why not?  I drove up at 8:30am, and it was closed.  No Trespassing.  Seeing a one-way road that was most likely the exit to the tourist destination, I thought to just see how it would be to drive down.  I definitely trespassed.  I drove up to the tree, but didn’t have the balls to drive through.  The area was so cheesy with wood carvings of bears and animals and the tree looked plastic and a gift shop was directly behind it.  I snapped a picture and got out of there.

These long winding roads can be tiring and slow or quick with sharp turns, and it’s hard not to want to pull over every 10 minutes to marvel at each view that comes about.  I also felt really grumpy and deflated on most of these days.  I thought this roadtrip would clear my head and give me good time to feel a certain way about a place or what my next step is, and I just wasn’t feeling that way, not yet. 

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I crossed the Oregon state line and encountered more beauty and rode past an old thrift store I thought I would stop at.  The guy behind the counter was the owner and he had no front teeth and claimed he had an apartment above the store and had not left the space in 3 months.  He said he would like to go the beach or something, but he would have to go alone, and what’s the point of that?  Well, I bought a utility knife and wished him well. 

I found a campground north of Coos Bay, OR along the Oregon Dunes National Park, and I found a place I felt comfortable with and set up.  Flower vase on the picnic table.

I went for a sunset hike to see these dunes, and I was struck.  I never knew this landscape existed anywhere besides a sandy desert.  It was the most beautiful sight.

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That night I had a knife added to my bedside set-up, and it began raining in the middle of the night, which has the ablitity to sound very much like footsteps.  But it was a better nights sleep.  And daylight brought relief.

Chefchaouene (April 4)

International Travel, Life Learning, National ParkLaura FortuneComment

I was anticipating a 2.5 hours bus ride, but it was 5 hours.  We had a pit stop and another lady asked if I was traveling alone.  We chatted candidly about female solo travel and it was easy to find common ground immediately.

Once the bus arrived in Chefchaouene, we shared a taxi to the medina and exchanged information, later having dinner together. 

After dinner we wondered around the square and in every direction, the streets were completely flooded with young Moroccan men.  I mean, shoulder to shoulder--this is a small mountain town--where are all the boys and young men coming from--what the hell is going on?  My friend thought maybe it was some dating ritual, but I didn’t see any girls around.  I bailed, preferring a quiet rooftop.

I grabbed a bottle of tonic water and a snack to sit on the rooftop of the hostel I was staying in.  I popped the metal top off of the tonic water and it rang like a champagne bottle.  I was in the dark, and the cap smacked me in the face and bounced around the floor.  I touched my face, glad it didn’t hit my eye, and after a few sips saw the blood on my fingers.

Bottle cap face wound.  Got 'em.

The next morning I woke before sunrise so that I could watch it.  I stepped out for a walk to take some pictures of the Blue City, only feeling like a d-bag for creeping around in the early morning with a camera while the kids are headed to school or people to their work.  Chefchaouene is the most photogenic city I have ever seen. It’s small and compact and the colors are out of control, so it didn’t take long to feel satisfied with photographs, and I bailed quickly.

I spent the day hiking to the Ackours Waterfalls in the Riff Mountains with some other people I met.  Green mountains and farmland that appear untouched was a welcome scenery change from busy medinas.

On my last morning in Chefchaouene with my sketchbook and watercolors with me, I found a quiet corner to sit and look at some blue doors.  I feel sensitive about invading the privacy of home fronts, so I sat off to the side and it seemed a very quiet spot.  After a little bit a man came to sit with me.  He is an artist too, and later I was able to admire the drawings he did of his small town.  He wore a NY Yankees cap like so many men I saw throughout Morocco.  I’m still wondering if 'Jay-Z made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can', but I digress, it is a popular hat though. 

The young guy left me to tend to his shop and then another young boy came by and hung over my shoulder watching me and gesturing so happily, pointing to himself, the house and my drawing.  Two girls came to the do same, and it turned out it was their home.  They were so sweet about my place sitting in front of their home.  We went over the colors of my watercolor set in English and in French and later another young girl came out from one of the homes and sat so close, almost on my lap to watch me.  She said, “beauty” and she pulled out a phone to show me pictures she had taken of her little city at various times.  I’m sure the tourist invasion gets old, but it was sweet to find a way to capture a place rather than taking a photograph, and to share it with a young group that is well aware and enamored with the beauty of their own front steps and in their backyard.