Category: Modern Travel

Sonoma County: Hiking, Biking, and Vino

By dchulst on May 21st 2018

Sonoma County might be best known for its world-class wine and quaint towns, but its 1,500 square miles of lush valleys, vineyards, winding rivers, redwoods forests, and dreamy coastline—much of it protected in state parks and wilderness areas—make it an ideal escape for outdoorsy types, too. With first-rate options for paddling, cycling, hiking, and camping, and plenty of places to stop for a glass of wine post-adventure, a trip north to Sonoma County should be on any Bay Area bucket list. With more 250 days of sun per year, Sonoma makes a great escape from the Bay Area’s fog, especially during the city’s traditionally gloomy summer months. Here, an outdoorsy guide to Sonoma County—there’s plenty to toast, indeed.


Russian River Adventures. Jinx McCombs

One of Northern California’s major waterways, the Russian River winds through Sonoma County, irrigating farmland and providing a paradise for kayaking, canoeing, and stand-up paddleboarding. The river meets the ocean just south of the postcard-worthy coastal town of Jenner, creating sandbars that shelter the estuary from the swell. Here, you can rent paddleboards and explore the mouth of the river; be sure to keep an eye out for seals lounging in the sunshine along sandbars and on the beach.

Upriver, the waterway travels across miles of countryside and passes through several parks and small towns. Kayakers and canoers can navigate long stretches of the river, starting from several towns that flank the mainstem. Try paddling the 10-mile stretch between Forestville and Guerneville: You’ll pass verdant greenery, redwoods, and sandy beaches ideal for a picnic. For an even lazier summertime excursion, grab an inner tube and float a shorter section of the river (though be warned that you may not cover much ground without a paddle).


Country Roads have some of the best views. Basheer Tome

Sonoma Country is one of the Bay Area’s best cycling destinations, with miles of rolling hills (and some hardcore climbs) through vineyards, along winding country roads and within spitting distance of stunning coastline. Less heavily trafficked than Napa, Sonoma’s bike routes range from casual jaunts between wineries, to some of the area’s most challenging (and most scenic) routes. For a casual ride, start from Healdsburg and cruise out the Dry Creek Valley for beautiful stretches of wine country backroads. For an epic ride, the King Ridge loop is one of Sonoma’s most notorious. Clocking in at around 50 miles with as much as 5,000-6,000 feet of climbing, the route makes you earn your views indeed. The ride climbs past vineyards, ranches, and rugged expanses of open space, revealing views across ridgeline after ridgeline—an even more epic experience if you’re the only one on the road for miles around. Riders can extend the route catch a stretch of the coast along California’s famous Highway 1.


Sonoma camping wouldn’t be complete without your pup. Jonathan Lidbeck

If you are planning to make a weekend of your trip (and we recommend that you do), Sonoma County has several popular state and regional parks with excellent camping and outdoor activities. The rugged Sonoma coast beckons campers with high bluffs, rocky promontories, sandy beaches, and views over coastal waters teeming with marine life in the kelp forest and tidepools. For coastal camping, try Gerstle Cove Campground at Salt Point State Park, perched on the bluffs above the ocean on the west side of Highway 1. Other good options include Wright’s Beach and Bodega Dunes at Sonoma Coast State Park. Coveted spots at coastal campgrounds tend fill up during the summer, but the the park also offers some first-come-first-served, walk-in camping options. Willow Creek Environmental Campground offers the only state park camping along the Russian River.


It might look like Big Sur, but this is the Sonoma Coast. Jon Cook

To experience the beauty of Sonoma’s inland and coastal landscapes, plan a day hike through one of its parks. If you are planning a hike, remember that temperatures can rise into triple-digits in the summer, so opt for the coast during hot weather, hit the trail early in the morning, or save some of the inland trails for fall, when grapevines and oaks put on a color show. For coastal hiking, Sonoma Coast State Park has 17 miles of trails that explore the shoreline and bluffs. The Kortum trail traces the bluffs as it heads from Wright Beach to Blind Beach, showcasing views of Goat Rock and other landmarks and sea stacks. If you are camping at Salt Point State Park, explore over 20 miles of trails, including one that goes through a pygmy forest of stunted trees, one of the world’s coastal wonders. Shorter trails around Bodega Head offer views of the coastline and Bodega Bay (which is a great home base in itself for adventurous exploration).

Bodega Bay, one of Sonoma’s hidden gems. Joseph

For excellent inland hiking, head to the 5,500-acre Annadel State Park, known for its wildflowers in April and May and popular among both hikers and mountain bikers. To hike cool, shaded trails beneath towering coastal redwood trees, Armstrong Redwoods State Nature Reserve is just the spot. Hikes in the reserve are generally shorter loops through redwood groves, though you can connect to trails in the Austin Creek State Recreation Area to increase your mileage.

Don’t Forget The Vino!

There’s no denying that the outdoor opportunities in Sonoma County are abundant! But so are a multitude of world class wineries. If it’s an outdoor feel you’re after, consider Francis Ford Coppola Winery. This is not your average wine tasting experience, with a pool for patrons, and grounds for bocce ball and tables for chess. Kids are welcome too! If you are seeking a more traditional wine tasting experience, check out Bartholomew Park Winery, which offers tasting and museum exhibits around wine production in California. Last but not least, make sure to check out Preston Farm and Winery in Healdsburg. Their fresh, organic fare pairs beautifully with their delicious wines. Plus, is a trip to Sonoma County really complete without a stop at a farm!?

If a vine crown isn’t feeling like a good fit, consider the Muse Dress. The Tempo Polo pairs well with pinot and the Benchmark Short.

Written by Charlotte Dohrn for RootsRated.

15 Days in the Grand Canyon

By dchulst on March 14th 2018

There are times in life when opportunity comes a knocking. Sometimes it can be disguised as hard work and cold nights, but it’s opportunity all the same. Recently, Toad&Co Ambassador Emily Jackson was approached with an opportunity to kayak the Grand Canyon. She had her doubts, but her decision to join the expedition ultimately turned into an experience she will never forget. The following is Emily’s account of 15 days in the Grand Canyon.

“You’ll never guess what?! We got another Grand Canyon Permit!!! Are you interested?”

Um of course I am interested!

“OK, because the launch date is in two weeks….”

This was the beginning of my recent adventure down the Grand Canyon. I wasn’t even home when the first wave of texts started coming in from the Holcombes. I was visiting my in-laws up in Canada in several feet of snow and couldn’t quite fathom what we were agreeing to go do.

I had been down the Grand Canyon almost 10 years before, only that trip was a commercial trip where we were royally spoiled and I paddled a playboat the whole time. My husband Nick’s first piece of advice was to not think this trip would be anything like it.

Not quite sure what he meant,I agreed to the trip, because I had turned down one trip into the Canyon before and I wasn’t about to let that happen again. My kids are 17 months and 4 1/2. Both are incredibly social, can be on any schedule, and love spending time with their Grandmother and Uncle KC. I selfishly thought this might be the perfect weaning opportunity for my daughter as I was ready to stop breastfeeding her and she loved the boob.

On came the next wave of texts: “Here is our friends packing list- trust me you’ll want to review it and base off of it.”

I was like YES! This is exactly what I needed as I had no idea how to live out of a kayak for 15 days. Then I looked at the list and my response was more like “what the heck?!” They forgot to mention the creator of the list was a rocket scientist, and had thus created a list that was too perfect for me to even review. It was down to the last drop, and had so much information, I couldn’t even process the list. (This guy recorded the weight of his food, and the weight of his poop at the end.) It was VERY detailed. He also managed to pack 3 pairs of shoes? Who does that?!

So I wrote the list out in doodle style and tried to pretend like it was my own, in hopes of assisting the chaos of preparing for this trip. Oh, and now we’re home with 5 days till departure.

Finally I decided I couldn’t pack off this list. I handed it to my husband and began to pray he didn’t skimp us on any necessities.

Now only a couple days left before departure, and I had to pack for my kids to be off with Grandma as well. With them not needing to weigh any luggage I simply rolled two bags into their room, and hail mary’ed just about every item of their room into the bag. Now that’s how you pack!

Nick had carefully laid everything out and then told me I needed to pack my clothes, as he didn’t want to do that for me. So I said, “That I can do!” and ran upstairs…and came down with about 5 too many outfits. All of which were for every type of climate. Then we checked the weather, I cursed under my breath and went back upstairs. Down coats, hats, under layers, and fleece, lots of fleece.

The bags were now packed. I had no idea what Nick had packed, but I knew I had my clothes. We dropped the kids off and hopped on the plane. And we really did hop on the plane with no hassle – flying without kids is cake!

The Holcombe’s picked us up in true style – their RV and trailer loaded with more kayaks then I could imagine. This was going to be my first time really packing out the Karma Traverse kayak. You could sense how prepared they were, lists upon lists and asking me questions I knew nothing about – like allum, bleach, and groover wrenches. I said Nick had it under control and then Nick asked us to be driven straight to REI. Lucky for us they needed to go too.

We got our stove fuel, (as you cant fly with it) and a few other missing necessities, like that groover wrench, allum, and so on.

That evening we stopped at our local dealer, Desert Adventures, and picked up the remaining boxes of stuff we needed. Then we headed to the RV Park to pack…in the dark.

I couldn’t believe we were packing to live out of our kayaks for 15 days and I needed a head lamp to see what I was doing. If I wasn’t stressed out enough already I now have no fingernails left and I have already stressed eaten several of my snacks that were for IN the canyon. Crap…

Nick took one look at me and said, “Don’t worry I got it, just lay out all of our food and only do that.” SWEET, something I can do. Kathy also told me how to do it, by day, by meal. So sure enough I had each day laid out. 15 days is a lot of food when you lay it all on one tarp.

My food choice was 90% Heather’s Choice meals. With each one being dairy and gluten free, and almost 40 grams of protein per serving, I knew it would be the perfect fuel for me. We also had Heather’s Choice Packaroons, which I was excited about, but didn’t know how excited I would be about them until later. To be honest, I’ve already ordered more of the Smoked Salmon Chowder as it was the best thing ever (don’t judge me for backpackers food at home.)

Emily packed the Airvoyant Puff Vest to fend of the chill of the Grand Canyon.

Now I had to pack all of my belongings into bags, and into a kayak… still in the dark. Luckily Las Vegas gives off such a warm orange glow that you can basically see way more…. (yuck, but was an advantage this day.)

I popped off the bulkhead in the Traverse and slid 50% of the food for Nick and I into my bow. It fit perfectly! In the other side I had my Thermarest pad, pillow, and bathroom bag. It fit just right. Behind my seat I kept two dry bags, one with my down jacket and hat, the other with that day’s lunch, snacks, lip chap and extra hair ties.

In the back hatch I had my first week of food, my chair, my Thermarest Sleeping bag that snuggled into an AWESOME SealLine compression sack (basically, I never needed to pack my sleeping bag into any other bag then the actual dry bag!) I had a stove, and cooking stuff, my clothes and journal, flip flops, and camera. Nick carried the tent. Then on top of the hard hatch I had my Groover tube and all its necessities tucked inside.

Somehow I had WAY more then I expected, including two pairs of shoes (was not expecting that) and it all fit perfect. We then laid our kayaks next to each other, a true team effort as the kayaks were HEAVY!

Now it was time to get picked up and delivered to the Put In… Pick up was at 6AM and it was already past midnight!

I didn’t sleep well. I wondered if I made the right choice. I thought of my kids, the challenges ahead, the time away from the usual grind… but I also looked forward to the experience of just being with my husband, away from the kids. The thought of big waves crashing into my face over and over again made me excited, and ultimately made the decision for me.

I fell asleep for the last hour, and when I woke up I was ready!

We climbed into the car and drove the fastest 6 hours I can recall. I think I slept for almost 5 of them, and the other one hour I ate delicious cookies someone brought along. I arrived at Lees Ferry ready for action. We had our check in, our orientation with the wonderful Penny, set up our tents (which is always awkward the first time) and that was it. We were officially launched! Now, we kinda cheated the first nights dinners and hitched a ride up to the lodge and ate a gazillion French fries, burgers, chili and beer… hitched back to our tents, cursed the cold that was already much worse then I anticipated and slept, hard.

Now, kayaking….

The first day I was slightly intimidated at the weight of the kayak – how was rolling this beast? The cold simply kept me from even trying, but I was curious what rolling that amount of weight would feel like. I couldn’t begin to tell you how excited I was, and the idea of paddling 280 miles had me cruising the first ten. We were told we were going a little too fast so we backed off and ended our day at 18 miles. I was not sure how stopping 2 miles short was going to work as I knew it meant picking up more miles along the way, but everyone was a bit sore from not being accustomed to paddling this weight and the weather was COLD! We also wanted to make camp before it got too late.

The first day didn’t have much for rapids, but our crew was doing a great job. It was Nick and I and the Holcombes: Peter, Kathy and Abby. We all were in Traverses, Abby and I in 9 foot Karma Traverses, and the rest in 10 foot.

I couldn’t believe how well this kayak floated, drove, and maneuvered in the bigger rapids, ALL while being insanely loaded down. I could get the kayak where I wanted and when I did hit huge breaking waves and holes it was stable throughout the entire hit. I found my confidence after the first two days and began seeking out the wetter lines. Now and then I avoided wetter lines for the sheer thought of being wet and adding to the cold… but otherwise, the bigger waves were calling!

I was also impressed with how packing became a flow. Each day I would wake up and the routine of being in the canyon seemed to happen without my thinking about it. Nick would go make coffee while I packed the sleeping bags and pads. Then we would have breakfast and coffee together. I would bring the bags to the boats and he would take the tent down. I don’t remember being so vocal in asking for specific help or taking turns doing certain responsibilities and this reminded me that I often have that silent expectation for Nick to do what I want without me even sending him any hints. By learning and becoming vocal about us helping each other, we felt much more like a team and I was reminded how much easier my life and raising the kids would be if we could simply carry that communication home.

We had so many high moments in the canyon (and low temps) and I couldn’t wait to share the experience with the kids. From hikes, to caves, to that incredibly blue water in the Havasu River. From fish to eagles, deer and sheep, arrowheads, shooting stars, lizards, ice, and waves. OH the WAVES! Each one that hit me was a reminder of how much I love kayaking. Each day was a reminder of the simple joys in life. Each day taught me that nothing is for granted. I can’t tell you how much we laughed and clamored over each other for the idea of a bite of a Packaroon after a long day’s paddle.

The disconnect of being in the canyon was a wonderful feeling. I never realized how much I loved music, or missed it, until the last few days when Dave Matthews Band, Aerosmith, Red Hot Chili Peppers, U2, the Cranberries, Alanis Morisette and Nirvana popped into my head if any word reminded me of a song. I also thought of how much I missed just engaging with my kids, not necessarily doing anything, just simply interacting.

I have so much appreciation for the Grand Canyon opportunity. For the strength I found to go, for my husband coming along, for the Holcombe’s for inviting us, for my parents for watching my kids. And for my boat! My boat, was my home, my safety, my vessel for the 15 days in the Canyon. I have much love for my boat and its ability to carry me through those big splashy rapids day after day.

I hope everyone has an opportunity to see nature in some of its rawest forms. To connect with the outdoors, disconnect from everything else, and to use a river to carry you through your adventures.

Happy Paddling!

Emily Jackson-Troutman

Check out the Toad&Co Blog for more inspiring stories from the outdoors!

8 Easy Tricks to Stretch Your Travel Dollar

By dchulst on March 7th 2018

Budget travel will never go out of style. Some of the best, most creative travel experiences happen when you’re maximizing your wallet. Use your wits and a few travel hacks to stretch your dollars. From food sourcing to local activities, there’s plenty to do where you get ten times the value of a more expensive experience.

And if your budget is $100, traveling far from home might not be in the cards. But you can have an epic weekend trying new experiences in your own. Window shop, take pictures, try a new food truck, read in the park… you don’t have to break the bank to have an awesome “travel” experience.

8 Easy Tricks to Stretch Your Travel Dollar

1. Fly Flexible

Let me tell you a story: Once upon a time, I flew my family of four from Portland, Oregon to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Technically, that’s not true. I really flew us from Seattle, British Columbia to Singapore. We saved $180 per ticket on that flight — more than enough to rent a one-way car trip in the States and a luxury charter bus through Malaysia, plus hotel rooms on both sides. We saved a bundle and got more travel.

Flexibility around dates can save similar amounts of money. Bottom line: don’t have tunnel vision when you book your flights. Be adventurous and open and see what you can save.

Pro Tip: Go big with this method by researching cool things to do near the airports where you do take off and land. It’s like getting two free mini-vacations in the middle of your vacation.

2. Browse Incognito

Some of the travel aggregator sites — sites where you find the cheapest airfares across all airlines — will look at your browser history to figure out which locations you’re most interested in. Then they’ll bump the prices they show you as a result.

Using the Incognito browsing function while you shop for airfare prevents that, as it disables the tracking and information gathering that makes it possible.

Pro Tip: Take advantage of the flip side of this technology with apps like Hopper, which send you updates consistently as prices rise and fall.

The Avalon Dress packs well, and looks even better.

3. Credit Cycle Your Recurring Bills

If you don’t have a credit card with rewards or airline miles, you’re walking away from travel money every time you put a purchase on your debit card. The trouble with this plan is that sometimes spending can get out of control because you keep using your credit card without realizing that your bank balance is dwindling. Recurring bills are the strongest solutions to this.

Your utility bills, insurance payments, grocery, and gas — all those bills that you make on a regular basis — put them on your rewards or miles card. When you get home, go immediately to the website and pay off the purchase you made. You get the miles or other rewards and stay out of trouble, a.k.a. debt.

Pro Tip: If you keep the payments regular, it quickly establishes a pattern of credit that ups your score…meaning you can qualify for better cards with more rewards and lower interest.

4. Groupon: Not Just for Your Hometown

This hack is so easy we’re amazed by how many people still get surprised by it: Groupon — that savings coupon site you use all the time at home — also offers deals on trips and getaways, and is an international cheap activity resource too few travelers take advantage of. If you visit the website a few weeks before your trip, you’ll not only find savings on many of the things you want to do, you’ll see ideas for cool outings you never even thought of. Just browse the city you’re visiting and see what pops up.

Pro Tip: If you’re lucky, you can find in your local Groupon deals for services like house cleaning, yard maintenance, pet sitting, or massage. Tack one of those onto your vacation during or after for a terrific homecoming experience.

Travel can be unexpected. Prepare for anything in the Mission Ridge Shorts.

5. Pack a Water Bottle

Or buy one locally on your first day. Either way, the water you pour into it from your hotel room or at restaurants and (only the cleanest) bathrooms will be far, far less expensive than what you shell out for bottled water on site on vacation. In many European and Asian countries, water is more expensive than alcohol! So save money and buy alcohol. But drink water — just not a plastic bottle of it. Your very own water bottle full of fluids means that you don’t have to buy bottled water, and can spend that money on more interesting travel opportunities.

Pro Tip: If you get a hotel room with a kitchen (see below), or even just a minifridge, fill the bottle 1/3 of the way full before bed and put in the freezer. Fill it the rest of the way in the morning for cold water all day.

6. Buy the Bulky Stuff

With airfares getting progressively more competitive, you might have noticed how airlines are charging more for extra baggage fees with each passing season.

You might’ve also noticed how a lot of bulk in your luggage is because of the same handful of culprits: toiletries, hats, jackets. Even a case big enough to protect your sunglasses. Depending on where you’re traveling to, you can buy those things on site for less than it costs to carry an extra bag. Use them all vacation-long, keep one as a souvenir, and leave the rest in your hotel room on your departure day.

Pro Tip: Do dry-run packing a week before you set off, segregating out the stuff that won’t fit in your carry-on. Anything you’re not willing to buy on site probably isn’t important enough to bring anyway.

7. Get a Hotel Room with a Kitchen

After your flight and your hotel room, eating out is often the biggest expense while you travel. Not just that, but many people start feeling the impact of rich food meal after meal and feel vaguely ill for the second half of their trip.

Hotel rooms with a kitchen cost a little extra, but usually stay cheap enough that you’ll save the whole trip’s cost with one or two dinners “at home.” Hit the nearest grocery store on your first or second day in town, and cut your meal budget to 1/4 or 1/3 of what you would have spent.

Pro Tip: Experienced travelers agree on the magic formula for using this hack. Eat a simple breakfast at your hotel. Enjoy lunch out and about to sample local cuisine and take advantage of air conditioning. Cook dinner at home together while you debrief your fabulous day.

Dress them up. Dress them down. Dresses for any occasion.

8. Call Hotels Directly

Aggregator websites and accommodations websites are middlemen and will charge accordingly. National reservation lines can get you the best sticker price but aren’t empowered to find or give additional discounts.

But the reservations person at the actual hotel where you’re staying? That person can get you the best deal — sometimes even fudging things a little to get you a conference or event discount you don’t technically qualify for. They’re also the best resource for how to get to the hotel since they do that every work day.

Pro Tip: Since you’re on the phone with a local travel expert, ask about cheap and free local attractions that might interest your family. The person answering the hotel phone will know more about that than anybody you’ll talk to at home.

Final Thoughts

About a decade back, a research group released the results from a nearly 50-year study of what makes people happy. Few of their results were universal across all subjects, but one was:

Experiences make us far happier than possessions.

They further found that travel is the kind of experience most likely to make us happy. That means that you should travel. As much as you can afford. And you should use ideas like the ones we just talked about to travel more, and travel better.

Love traveling, but need a sense of purpose while on the road? Consider Traveling For Good!

Kelly S. Smith is a digital nomad currently based in Chiang Mai, Thailand. He’s a freelance copywriter and content marketer, contributing the occasional article on smart and affordable travel to help give his fellow travelers the chance to adventure around the world.

The Top 5 Bouldering Areas in New Mexico

By dchulst on February 21st 2018

Whether you’re living the dirtbag life or you’re looking for a weeklong escape to crank out some problems, New Mexico has top-notch bouldering to offer. For decades, most of the bouldering areas in the state had been passed along by word of mouth, but this spring, local climber Owen Summerscales published the first New Mexico bouldering book in history. He spent years talking with locals, driving around the state, and exploring where climbers go. We asked him for his recommendations on the best places to scout out problems in the Land of Enchantment. Here are five of his favorite spots.


Jamie Stull on Pressure Drop, a V2 in Box Canyon Owen Summerscales

Box Canyon is home to steep volcanic bouldering outside of Socorro, NM. The area calls for a gymnastic style of climbing, says Summerscales. The best part? The warm climate makes the spot nearly weatherproof—even in the winter, and its close proximity to Albuquerque means easy access to restaurants and bars after you’ve worked up an appetite.

Where to camp: There are about five campsites available right where the bouldering takes place, but many locals prefer to stay in one of the 12 sites at Water Canyon Campground, located about 10 miles west of Box Canyon. Water Canyon features fire pits, grills, vault bathrooms, and a handful of tent pads.

Where to explore: The Cibola National Forest offers easy hikes with expansive views. Hike any number of peaks, including North Baldy, South Baldy, Timber Peak, and Buck Peak. If you get tired of campfire meals, grab some Mexican food at La Pasadita Cafe in Socorro.


Bouldering The Odyssey, a V10 at the Nosos bouldering area Owen Summerscales

This quartzite boulder outcrop is just outside of the village of La Madera, NM, and according to Summerscales, it boasts the best rock quality of any stone in the state. Bonus: “The the views aren’t bad either,” he says.

Where to camp: Located 18 miles north of the village is Tres Piedras, a free site at the base of the biggest of the rock formations in the area. Complete with campfire rings and large trees, you’ll enjoy the view from any of these established camping spots.

Where to explore: This spot is less than an hour west of Taos, NM, the area famous for its art and writing. Swing by town, catch the view of the canyon from the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, check out the art galleries, and grab a beer at the Taos Mesa Brewing, where there’s often live music, dancing, and other types of activities.


Nat Gustafson hanging on to Fury Road, V4 Owen Summerscales

If you’re bouldering in the dead of summer, this is your destination. What Summerscales describes as, a “blissful forested outcrop of schist” sits on the Jarita Mesa in the Carson National Forest. Because its elevation is about 9,000 feet, the area is significantly cooler than other parts of New Mexico—even in July and August. “It’s a great place to escape the heat and crank on some crimpy problems,” he says.

Where to camp: Primitive free campsites are available 18 miles northwest of the climbing area at the Trout Lake Campground. The area is usually crowd-free. Although there are no established picnic tables or grills, there is a vault toilet on the premises.

Where to explore: If you stay at Trout Lake, take advantage of some prime fishing in one of the three lakes within hiking distance. If you’re visiting in the fall, check out the golden aspen trees that flood the area with color during peak leaf months.


Romain Pannetier on Foxy Boxing, V3 Owen Summerscales

If adventure is what you look for in a bouldering trip, says Summerscales, this is the place for you. Ortega West is northeast of El Rito and is packed with an endless number of quartzite cliff bands and boulders. Forget the plan; this is a the place to explore and stumble on a gem. But, Summerscales cautions, you will need 4 wheel drive and some solid navigation skills to reach the bouldering.

Where to camp: Stay in Trout Lake, as you would if you were bouldering in Posos, or head to Orilla Verde Area of the Rio Grande Gorge for a site complete with drinking water, fire rings, a boat ramp, and restrooms.

Where to explore: While you’re in the area, explore Carson National Forest. The wilderness area includes 1.5 million acres of fishing, camping, and hiking. Plus, with some of the best mountain views in the state, you’ll never want to leave.


Nialls Chavez on Buttercup, V5 Owen Summerscales

If you search for Roy, you’ll be hard stretched to find any specific problems online. For decades, information about bouldering in Roy, NM, has been by word of mouth, and it offers what Summerscales calls the best bouldering in the state. Hundreds of problems set on ergonomically-shaped Dakota sandstone boulders scatter the Canadian River drainage. “A lifetime of world-class climbing exists out here,” he says.

Where to camp: All the camping near Roy is primitive. There are many areas overlooking some of the best boulders, but depending on the time of year, they can get crowded. If you head 12 miles outside of town to Mills Canyon Campground, you’ll find fire rings, picnic tables, and nearby restrooms.

Where to explore: While you’re in the area, scope out Kiowa National Grassland, 136,000 acres of open prairies, hiking, and big skies. Keep an eye out for the wild pronghorn antelope that are native to the area.

For beta on specific problems and more areas to boulder in New Mexico, grab a copy of ‘New Mexico Bouldering‘ by Owen Summerscales.

Originally written by RootsRated.

Insider’s Guide to Petrified Forest National Park

By dchulst on February 14th 2018

The faded colors that dominate Petrified Forest National Park reflect centuries of erosion that have weathered the landscape into subdued hues of Arizona reds, oranges, and blues. Defying this trend are the marvelous samples of petrified wood strewn throughout the parched land. Unlike the dusty, powdery mounds of color in the Painted Desert, petrified wood is a glossy outlier. Brilliant, deep crimson patterns flourish in these stone-hard remnants, accented by sunset-orange rings and seafoam green strokes. Eons ago, ancient Arizona was part of a subtropical region and rich with aquatic life. Fast moving rivers trapped both flora and fauna in sediment, preserving a wealth of fossils as well as the wood husks of the namesake forest.

Fast forward 225 million years to see that time has drastically altered the land, changing the humid climate to barren, arid scrubland. The rivers and waterways are gone, only briefly resurrected in the form of the flash floods that occasionally scour the sandy washes. Yet, life sustains. The 218,553 acres that make up this unique national park were initially set aside in 1962. Though the moniker “Petrified Forest National Park” champions the most impressive relics in the area, there is much more to see beyond the hardened flora. The heavily eroded hills of the Painted Desert feature symmetrical stripes in muted colors, fossils are locked in stone outcrops, petroglyphs carved by ancient hands decorate remote rocks, and recent historical archives from Route 66 add to the attractions in the park. While the geology and history exemplify faded glory, the modern visitor will find plenty of amazing aspects to enjoy in this ever-changing region.


The beautiful colors of petrified wood. Chris M. Morris

The Painted Desert Visitor Center and Rainbow Forest Museums are the first places to check out when coming to the park. There are detailed explanations of the natural and human history, including the amazing process of how petrified wood turned from organic material to stone. Millions of years ago, rivers deposited minerals into the cells of organisms and they hardened, leaving behind the beautiful arrays of color in the ruins of a long lost forest (a process known as permineralization ). Stepping outside of the visitor’s center offers a look at several samples of the wood, along with a short (less than a mile), signed trail that overlooks some of the colorful mounds of sand. Rainbow Forest has access to Giant Logs, Long Logs, and Agate House Trails, showcasing more of the wood in the wild as well as the dwellings of ancient civilizations.

It cannot be stressed enough to leave behind samples of petrified wood. Even with strict regulations forbidding theft, the park service estimates more than 12 tons of petrified wood is pilfered each year. Please do not take any souvenirs from the land, no matter how small they are.

Despite having short walking trails, there’s a lot of information to enjoy in these two visitor’s destinations. The artistry of petrified wood is truly mesmerizing. For those curious to know if man-made petrified wood has ever been made, it has, but it lacks the random beauty of natural wood.


A smattering of petrified wood in the Jasper Forest. Andrew Kearns

While the landscape beyond the visitor centers and museums may seem barren, there are many secrets to uncover in the park. Driving from trailhead to trailhead happens naturally as you explore the park, so stopping as you go to wander on some of the hiking trails beyond the main attractions is definitely worth it. Note that it can get blazing hot and dry in the summer (over 100° on a regular basis, so bring lots of water!) so hiking in the autumn, winter, and spring is the most comfortable—though most trails are short enough to endure the summer heat for a short time. Be warned if you plan a winter visit, the record cold is -37° and winds can whip up over 50 mph!

One of the most impressive hikes, especially at sunset, is the Jasper Forest Hike. A 2.5 mile out-and-back trek, this was the first petrified forest discovered by western settlers. Great blocks of petrified wood sit in the desert sand, including delicately balanced cubes mottled with vermilion and blue-grey minerals. At sunset, colors transform into deep ruby-red and orange, creating a dreamlike ambiance as the earth begins to cool for the night.

Onyx Bridge is a slightly rugged, 4-mile round-trip hike that starts from the Painted Desert Inn and ventures out to a large, 30-foot tall Triassic era conifer tree turned to stone. The tree is mostly intact and is estimated to be over 200 million years old. Finally, the Blue Forest Trail is a 3-mile out-and-back that highlights the impressive, striated mounds of the Painted Desert. The grey, red, tan, and black stripes that decorate the hills are especially photogenic in winter light.


The painted hills at Petrified Forest National Park. Kimble Young

There are no overnight facilities in the park itself, but for the adventurous, backpacking is allowed in the park. This is only allowed in the wilderness portion of the park (which is separate from the fee area) and you must have a permit. Even more interesting, horseback riding is allowed in the wilderness areas and equestrian backcountry explorers can even go camping with their horses! Note that that there is not a drop of water in the park, so you must bring in all your own for yourself and your horses. Autumn and early winter are the best times of the year to explore the backcountry in this fashion. Most adventures start at the Painted Desert Inn and many routes use a combination of trail and off-trail access. Backpacking offers a great way to see some of the remote petroglyphs, fossil walls, and other secrets hidden in the park.


Don’t take any samples of petrified wood.

Seriously, don’t. It’s very easy to pocket a little piece and think you are doing no harm, but with over 800,000 annual visitors, this mentality will quickly deplete the park of its namesake resource.

Make sure to pack in enough water, even for short day hikes. This is an extremely dry landscape and people have been known to get heat exhaustion, even on the modest visitor center trails.

A lot of rugged wildlife exists in the park, from snakes to coyotes. Don’t feed them and try not to stress them if you encounter them.

People sometimes forget the altitude—the park is located at 5,800 feet above sea level. If you’re feeling a little winded, it could be the thinner air.

And once more… don’t poach any wood from the park!

Petrified Forests Not Your Gig?

Maybe petrified forests aren’t your thing, and that’s alright! Consider giving the Grand Canyon a shot. We’ll even tell you how to beat the crowds! Whatever you decide to do, know that time spent in the American southwest is time spent in one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

Originally written by RootsRated.