Category Archives: Outdoors

Overlooking Estes Park and the surrounding peaks on Kruger Rock Trail.

Westward Bound: Two Amazing Years of Colorado Living

There are so many places to explore in this amazing state that I decided to write another post on our second year of Colorado living (Read about our first-year of exploration in Colorado).

If you are an outdoors fanatic, then this state is for you. Since living here, I’ve lost almost 30 pounds, which I attribute to the active community, numerous, fun trails and areas to explore, and healthier eating. Nevertheless, living in CO for two years this September has truly opened our eyes to the different colors, shapes, smells, sites, etc. that can form in nature.

I’ve also created an Instagram account for all of our hiking and traveling adventures!

It’s hard to believe that two years have passed since we made the 1,500 mile move westward. We’ve had no regrets in our move and hope to continue our exploration of, not only Colorado, but the West in its entirety!

Colorado Living: Here are 17 more places we explored:

  1. Red Feather Lakes: Elkhorn Creek Trail
  2. Colorado living: Hiking on Elkhorn Lake Trail proved to be more difficult due to lack of trail indicators and forks.
    Elkhorn Lake Trail photos. This trail in the Red Feathers Lake area lacks trail indicators and has multiple forks in the road, but it was beautiful nonetheless.

    This 7.5-mile trail sits right outside Red Feather Lakes and proved be to a hike of pure chaos yet beauty. The chaos was produced as there were NO trail markers on this trail, yet multiple trails that forked off into your-guess-is-as-good-as-mine. Despite getting turned around a few times, this adventure was still enjoyable with color-changing aspens lining the trail, small creeks and meadows, and tons of interesting rock formations. Despite the Blair Witch feeling we got when we traveled on what we thought was the right trail that ended up in the back of a rancher’s property filled with ‘No Trespassing’ signs on it, it was an fun experienced during a heat-spell in September.

  3. Benson Sculpture Garden
  4. Taking a step away from hiking, one of the most intriguing and unique places we explored is located right down the road from us! Loveland is known for its artists, especially sculptors, and the Sculpture Park goes above and beyond to highlight some of the best of the best! Of course most of the sculptures represent something in Colorado’s culture and history, such as wildlife to cowboys and Native Americans. Situated near a small pond with hundreds of sculptures to explore, it’s a fun place to bring your family and see Colorado art first hand! Here are a few photos I took while visiting:

  5. Greyrock Mountain
  6. greyrock mountain trail in Colorado.
    Greyrock Mountain summit and surrounding areas in Colorado.Greyrock Trail was one of the best trails we hiked in Colorado thus far. The trail was both the perfect challenge as well as the perfect length with beautiful sites. Alongside hiking near the summit of Greyrock Mountain, we also came upon expansive meadows, wildlife and woodlands. All-in-all we hiked around nine to 10 miles this beautiful area and got to see the changing leaves of aspens and other trees. After reaching the top of the summit over 7,600 feet, we could see as far as the eye could see, as seen in the collage to the right.

  7. Wild Basin
  8. First time snowshoeing on Wild Basin Trail!
    Our first time snowshoeing occurred in Wild Basin Trail!
    Moose in Wild Basin Natural Area Colorado.
    Big mama moose right off of the trail in Wild Basin!
    This trail held a ton of firsts for us: first time snowshoeing, first time getting up close and personal with a Stellar’s Jay bird, and first time seeing MOOSE! Snowshoeing is a huge part of Colorado living as everyone takes pride in doing it! Snowshoeing is such a fun, exhausting, challenging, and overall smart exercise to get around on top of densely packed snow! Snowshoeing for around nine miles in the Wild Basin area way up in the Rockies was an amazing experience where, not only did we learn the art of snowshoeing, but we saw amazing sites including a mother moose and her calf right off of the trail! Amazing sites await you on this trail as well as a lack of people on it especially during the winter (who said winter hiking was dull and not fun??)

  9. Bear Lake from Sprague Lake Trail
  10. Standing on top of a very frozen Bear Lake after snowshoeing to it!
    Standing on top of Bear Lake after snowshoeing to it from Sprague Lake!

    Our second snowshoeing adventure occurred when we hiked eight miles from Sprague Lake to Bear Lake in very cold and windy conditions. Despite it being winter, we saw a different type of frozen beauty in the Rockies, and it was very silent, which was welcoming after being in the city all the time. This was both of our first times standing on top of a frozen lake with no fear! Snowshoeing was a bit more difficult this go-around versus our first snowshoeing adventure due to the trail being more narrow and the weather conditions a bit more challenging. Nonetheless, the views are amazing with all of the different lakes to visit!

  11. Loveland Fire and Ice Festival
  12. Fire owl sculpture at Loveland Fire and Ice Festival 2017.
    This festival held in Loveland around Valentine’s Day is a very fun and different type of festival where there are both ice-related events and fire-related events in terms of art and activities. We watched ice sculptors create magnificent pieces of ice art as well as sculptures literally emitting fire (What’s Colorado living without ice sculpting?!). Alongside the random booths, beer and wine, and other entertaining things, such as Star Wars characters, it was well worth the visit!

  13. Fern Falls and Lake
  14. Frozen Fern Lake, our destination!
    Frozen Fern Falls in Colorado.This trail was packed with snow and mud since we experienced quite a warm spell in February. What makes Fern Falls and Lake Trail so interesting is that there are so many different types of landscapes to experience, such as mystically placed boulders scattered around the trail, snow-capped peaks, rivers flowing with freshly melted snow under ice, valleys and dense woods. We hiked eight miles to Fern Lake and experienced another frozen lake trail experience, which was really fun! Winter hiking is both exhilarating and surprising because you don’t know exactly what to expect both trail-wise and site-wise as it looks completely different versus during other times of the year!

  15. Arthur’s Rock
  16. On our way to the summit of Arthur's Rock in the background in Fort Collins.
    This was such a fun trail to explore in Lory State Park, Fort Collins! Right next to Horsetooth Mountain, this specific trail is rated as moderate-difficult due to quick elevation rise and rockiness of the trail. We walked around four-and-a-half miles total, and made it up the steep inclines to the amazing views from the top of the rock:
    View from the summit of Arthur's Rock.

  17. Hall Ranch (Bitterbrush Trail and Nelson Loop)
  18. View of Long's Peak from Nelson Loop in Hall Ranch.
    Awesome flora and fauna including prairie dogs and mule deer.We hiked 11 miles in the Hall Ranch open space area on the Bitterbrush trail and Nelson Loop. This was one of the most beautiful and diverse hikes we’ve been on yet! We saw mule deer, prairie dogs, tons of birds, and we heard a wild turkey (we didn’t see it unfortunately).

    The sites will strike you with awe. There was an amazing view of Long’s Peak in the distance along Nelson Loop, the last part of the hike, as well as magnificent rock formations and structures. We made the mistake of not wearing sunscreen and our skins were screaming! The trails themselves weren’t busy at all with other hikes, but you definitely have to keep an eye and ear open to the numerous bikers along the trail.

    Awesome sites as we hiked the Hall Ranch trails Bitterbrush and Nelson Loop!

  19. West Valley Trail & Soldier Canyon Falls
  20. Beautiful waterfalls of Soldier Valley Falls in Lory State Park, Fort Collins!My friend and I hiked five to six miles in Lory State Park, Fort Collins, on the West Valley Trail to the beautiful and hidden gem Soldier Valley Falls. This hike stayed around the contingent mountains where Arthur’s Rock lies, but it takes you through picnic areas, other trail heads and the beautiful waterfalls!

    The Soldier Valley Falls area is similar to entering another ecosystem. Instead of the grassy and bushy plains and mountains, you enter into a shady, moist area with dense trees, flowers and water! It’s only 0.1 miles long, so it’s more so a viewing point versus a hike. You get to see lots of snow runoff coming down the rocks into a clear and cool creek. This is a great site to take visitors and justifies the need to see it!
    West Valley Trail in Lory State Park, Fort Collins, CO.

  21. Hermit Park’s Kruger Rock Trail
  22. This moderately rated hike in Estes Park’s Hermit Park is worth the effort. The views of the Rockies, especially Long’s Peak, is absolutely stunning. We’ve never before had such a view of the local peaks in northern Colorado!

    View of Long's Peak at the top of Kruger Rock in Estes Park.
    View of Long’s Peak at the top of Kruger Rock.

    The gradual incline going up the mountain was somewhat intense mainly due to the high altitude. The last step prior to reaching the peak involves climbing up a narrow, rocky path, but once you get past that, you can see absolutely everything! After trekking up to the top of Kruger Rock, we hiked back down the mountain and camped in the Hermit Hollow’s campsite where we saw lots of mule deer, chipmunks and birds. Camping at Hermit Hollow's campground!

  23. Carter Lake’s Sundance Trail
  24. Sundance trail views around Carter Lake!This is one of the few trails that we’ve done so far that encompasses a vast body of water. This trail is around six-and-a-half miles long and is rated as easy. We decided to hike it right after a huge, wet spring snow, so most of it was flooded—we tested our ability to leap great distances! The slabs of rock layering the shore of the lake are absolutely beautiful—I wish I had such rocks decorating our yard!—and the bird species vary.

  25. Lily Mountain Trail
  26. This may have been one of the most strenuous trails we’ve done—or because we hadn’t hiked for a few weeks prior!—as the inclines were quite gradual but intense up to the top of Lily Mountain. The views are absolutely beautiful on the way up as well as from the top at 9,789 feet and were well worth the effort!
    View from the top of Lily Mountain Colorado!

  27. Twin Sisters Peak Trail
  28. This was such a fun hike and not too strenuous either! The inclines were spaced out well and not too strenuous compared to our hike up Lily Mountain. Being able to see different types of ecosystems as we hiked up to the 11,500 feet summit was very interesting especially once we breached the treeline (note to self: bring bug spray next time because the mosquitos at the top were hungry!). This was definitely on our favorite hikes with amazing views of the surrounding area!
    Beautiful views from Twin Sisters!Trail leading out of the treeline to the top of Twins SistersMark and Katie on top of the Twin Sisters Peak!

  29. Fossil Creek Reservoir
  30. Fossil Creek Reservoir Open Space area.We started to hike around lots of Larimer County open spaces as part of the Larimer County Passport to the Open Spaces initiative where you collect penciled badges from selected trails. This was a beautiful open space filled with tons of bird species from birds that prefer water, such as pelicans and raptors. Great for bird watchers and not strenuous at all!

  31. Red Mountain Open Space
  32. Geological time seen through layered rocks at Red Mountain
    This open space accurately defines the phrase, “Colorful Colorado” due to its variety of colored and layered rocks from a rusty red to pale pink, chalk white to silver grey. Not only was this trail gorgeous in all respects, but the birds and wildlife were abundant especially being right next to the Soapstone Prairie land. It was very dry and hot when we hiked it in July, and this was also part of the passport initiative! Watch out for hordes of biting flies!
    Katie standing in front of red rock in Red Mountain Open Space

  33. Eagle’s Nest Open Space
  34. Another passport trail, this trail was abundant in a variety of grasses! The sites are beautiful especially of the rocky sides of the facing mountains. We also saw cows since it was an open range area. The creek that flowed near the end of the trail was gorgeous with crystal clear water.
    View across Eagle's Nest Open Space

  35. Blue Lake Trail
  36. This trail was worth the long, long hike! At the end is an absolutely beautiful, clear lake at around 11,000 feet up with nearby mountain peaks adorned with glaciers! Moose scat and tracks were all we saw, but it’s fairly obvious that moose reign free and numerous in such country. We hiked a total of 12 miles that day even though the trail to and from the lake is a total of 11.1 miles. Half the trail was easy and the other half was somewhat strenuous merely due to its length and the amount of rocks on the trail itself.
    View of Blue Lake at the end of the trail outside of Walden, COI'm standing on front of Blue Lake in Colorado that has a ton of moose!

From exploring the various trails in the Rocky Mountain National Park to our first snowshoeing experience, I look forward to the many other places we’ll see in the coming year along this growing list! Colorado living is the only way to truly live and explore if you enjoy nature!

Benefits of nature for health and creativity.

Why You Need More Nature in Your Life

Benefits of nature and enjoying the great outdoors can help your mental health among other factors.
Image from Click to open full image; expand for better legibility.

The idea that spending time in nature and taking a break from technology increases your well-being shouldn’t be much of a surprise. The benefits of nature are not only great for your health, but allow you to build a different perspective of the world, as well.

A 2014 study at the University of Michigan found that nature walks were associated with significantly lower depression, less perceived stress and enhanced mental well-being.

Research is being conducted in Japan on the physiological effects of shinrin-yoku—also known as “forest bathing,” which means to take a walk in the woods.

According to this 2011 study published in European Journal of Applied Physiology, the benefits of nature “may lower blood pressure by reducing sympathetic nerve activity (reducing urinary noradrenaline levels) and increasing parasympathetic nerve activity. In addition, habitual walking in forest environments may have beneficial effects on blood adiponectin and DHEA-S levels, and habitual walking exercise may have beneficial effects on blood NT-proBNP levels.”

Whenever I have the luxury of being outside, I take in all of the natural colors, types of plant and animal life, and sites that nature has to offer. Living in Colorado, it’s almost second-nature for everyone to be passionate in hiking, camping, etc.

Great Sand Dunes view from backcountry campsite.
The Great Sand Dunes in Mosca, CO, where I backcountry camped and hiked in 2016.

The sand dunes were an amazing place to explore. The colors changed according to the sun’s position—as shown in the above image where the sun was starting to set. This place was captivating where it was so quiet during evening and nighttime that you could perfectly hear your own heartbeat due to the lack of ambient sound as well as a jaw-dropping view of the stars. Not being bombarded with city sounds and getting the chance to see every spec of the Milky Way visible to the human eye are definitely some benefits of nature that I experienced those two nights in the Dunes.

Sunflower center shows the logarithmic spiral occurring natural in nature.
From Jim Wilson at the University of Georgia.

More benefits of nature include seeing how everything comes together in the details. How do colors interact when leaves are changing due to the changing seasons? What shapes form when the wind relentlessly pounds against a rock? When it snows, what shapes are formed by individual snowflakes?

You can find the answer to such questions by taking the time to explore the intricate details of the outdoors and not just the big picture. Time and time again I strive to examine as many things as possible while hiking. Because of this, I observed how balance plays itself out in both symmetrical and asymmetrical ways—similar to best practices and techniques in the design world. After seeing such wonders, I was able to observe the outside world in a completely different point-of-view—along with a newfound respect for nature.

According to this American Scientist article, “Twisted Math and Beautiful Geometry,” mathematical and geometric concepts occur naturally in nature and influence how we see and experience the world around us.

“Of the numerous mathematical curves we encounter in art, geometry, and nature, perhaps none can match the exquisite elegance of the logarithmic spiral. This famous curve appears, with remarkable precision, in the shape of a nautilus shell, in the horns of an antelope, and in the seed arrangements of a sunflower.”

We all need a break from reality once in awhile, so take to the trail, or even your backyard, to discover the benefits of nature for—not only your well-being—but your creativity, as well!

View of the Rocky Mountains on the way to Gem Lake

Westward Bound: A Year Living in Colorful Colorado

It astonishes me how time goes by faster the older you get. One such realization is that it’s been a year since Mark and I moved from our native state of North Carolina to out west to northern Colorado (NoCo).

We didn’t know what to expect with such a big life change away from friends, family, familiarity, and the ocean (well at least for me…Mark doesn’t care for it much haha); however, what subdues the fears of the unknown is that I’m not alone or without a plan!

We’ve grown so much over this past year: starting new jobs, meeting new people, experiencing a new cultural and political mindset, buying a home and learning the hard way of financial burdens that unconditionally come with home ownership, and growing wiser while exploring new places.

We experienced some really cool, awesome places, and here are 12 that stick out in my mind:

  1. Rocky Mountain National Park
  2. rocky-mountain-national-park-campground
    Never before did I have the chance to experience the beauty, intimidation, and awestruck feeling that one gets from exploring the Rockies. It was mind-boggling to see different ecosystems from almost-barren landscapes to lush woods, prairie grasses and more. I was familiar with thick pines, oaks, swamps, and the coast, so I was in a 180-degree, non-humid world.

    Me in front of Bierstadt Lake in the Rocky Mountain Park!Nature comes in various, amazing forms, and I grew to love an area that was drier and more expansive than what I was familiar with…and it’s been wonderful. We saw new wildlife and plant life and experienced fluctuating temperatures from hot, dry and intense to frigid, dry and … also intense haha.

    The view if you're driving to the Rocky Mountain National Park from NoCo. This is Theodore Roosevelt National Forest.If you’re driving towards the RMNP from the east, then you’ll drive through Roosevelt National Forest that has spectacular rock formations and wildlife (bighorn sheep!)

  3. Horsetooth Mountain
  4. A the very top of Horsetooth Rock in Fort Collins!
    Point blank: You haven’t experienced Fort Collins if you haven’t explored and climbed around Horsetooth Mountain. Within two weeks of moving to Fort Collins, we hiked up (the very steep side of) Horsetooth Mountain and experienced the glory of low oxygen and short breaths, but we made it to the top! We saw our first Prairie Rattler on the way up, and since then, we made numerous hikes around the park and consider it one of the best places to take visitors who love to hike (and who don’t mind being somewhat out-of-breath during it.)

  5. Coyote Ridge
  6. Watching the sunset at one of the high ridges on the Coyote Ridge trail.
    Talk about seeing the majestic side of prairies and the wildlife, just head over to Coyote Ridge! We saw prairie dogs, mule deer, and coyote traces while hiking across the open space to the nearby rocky hills that open up to some spectacular views!

  7. Devil’s Backbone
  8. The rocks emerging from the ground at Devil's Backbone really do live up to their name!
    If you really want to see the ‘youth’ and roughness of the Rockies without ascending to higher elevation, check out Devil’s Backbone in Loveland. The open space and rock formations live up to their name as they literally look like a backbone emerging from the ground.

    Keyhole Rock on the Devil's Backbone Trail in Loveland!The rock formations are amazing with the mystifying holes and balancing of structures. The keyhole rock is a huge attraction, and I was surprised to find a wild honeybee hive in a gap there!

  9. Bridal Veil Falls
  10. Mark and I in front of Bridal Veil Falls!
    You don’t have to pay the (somewhat high) fee to enter the Rocky Mountain State Park to enjoy hikes. Right outside the gate in Estes Park lies a few trails including Bridal Veil Falls. This easy hike takes you through a prairie area and then up lots of inclines where you even have to climb some rocks to get to the end of this trail—the Falls, which really do look like a bridal veil. This a very fun hike with lots of gorgeous scenery, such as dense elm trees and other species as well as lots of streams traveling downhill from the Falls themselves.

  11. Gem Lake
  12. Exploring Gem Lake!
    This intriguing trail is filled with amazing views of the Rockies (see the main photo at the very top of this post), and when my cousin Samantha visited, we hiked this trail—no altitude sickness for the most part! The intriguing part of this trail is when you arrive at Gem Lake, which isn’t the not the prettiest lake around, the rock formations and sights around it are utterly breathtaking. I researched the lake beforehand and read that there were leeches in the lake itself…because of this, we didn’t trod through the waters and avoided those pesky (creepy as hell) organisms…others around us weren’t so well-prepared!

  13. Soapstone Prairie
  14. The prairie goes as far as the eyes can see at Soapstone Prairie!
    A herd of buffalo was released in the wild last Fall about 25 minutes from where we live. The prairie is filled with rabbits, antelope, mule deer and other types of wildlife. When we traveled there to hike it one (extremely windy) day, we unfortunately didn’t see any buffalo roaming about, but we completed a fairly long hike around the prairie itself and got to know the meaning behind the word ‘open space.’

  15. Denver
  16. Denver skyline
    Changing direction from the hikes and open spaces we explored, let’s chat about the amazing and well-known city of Denver. This is one of the most chill cities we’ve yet to visit and includes lots of art, lots of culture, and lots of beer and weed (in the truest sense). If you’re into unique music or shows, then you’ll be very happy to visit this city. Alongside that, the Broncos stadium and other big-time sports teams can be found here. It is very fun to explore this city, and I hope we get to explore it more as we continue to get more and more settled in this amazing state.

  17. Garden of the Gods
  18. Garden of the Gods has spectacular views of red-orange rocks!
    One place you have to hit up in Colorado is the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. You will be awestruck at the majestic view of the rock formations as well as the vibrant red-orange colors. From watching thousands of sparrows, other birds, and bats fly in and out of the gaps within the rocks as well as contemplating how certain rocks formed the way they did and inspired interesting names (kissing camels for one), this was definitely a fun place to explore.

  19. Pike’s Peak Highway
  20. At the top of a 14er in Colorado Springs, Pike's Peak!
    We have yet to physically hike a 14er (mountains that peak at or above 14,000 feet above sea level) as it takes lots of training as well as waking up in the wee hours of the morning to climb one so as to avoid afternoon lightning storms.

    The one 14er you can drive up is Pike’s Peak in Colorado Springs. It took a VERY long time to reach the summit due to the high number of vehicles, but the highway itself was filled with eye-popping cliffs right next to your car, hardcore turns, and a lack of oxygen that can create a tingling sensation in your fingers and toes as well as lack of breath. We made it to the top, and it started to snow (IN JULY). The lack of life up there was very noticeable as well as lots of loose pebbles and rocks due to the intense weather that occurs. We are planning to hike up an easy 14er next spring/summer!

  21. Estes Park & The Stanley Hotel
  22. The Stanley Hotel
    If you visit northern Colorado (NoCo), one of the places you’ll visit is Estes Park and its famous Stanley Hotel, which inspired Stephen King’s The Shining—it wasn’t filmed here though but is still equally haunted! Along with an amazing whisky bar and restaurant, you can go (sneak) upstairs and walk around the historic hotel and try to capture a ghost! The town is very quaint especially if you manage to visit here outside of tourist season. Expect to find a TON of candy and ice cream shops as well as your typical tourist shops. This is a must-see.

  23. Great Sand Dunes
  24. Great Sand Dunes view from backcountry campsite
    Our last Colorado adventures right before our one-year anniversary living here included the Great Sand Dunes in southern Colorado. Oh. My. God. This place was mystical and beyond anything we expected it to be. Our first night involved car camping in the nearby campground, Pinyon Flats, where we saw mule deer, mountain lion prints, and experienced the intriguing ecosystem of shrubs right next to the Dunes and the huge mountains with alpine tundras at their peaks.

    Hiking around the Great Sand Dunes.The second day we journeyed into the Dunes themselves for our first backcountry camping experience, and, of course, we ‘chose’ a hard route over some of the taller dunes, which was the hardest physical activity either of us have done. With 40-50 pounds on our backs as well as carrying a vital 2.5-gallon jug of water, we were very winded and strained. We found our camping spot about 2 miles in the dunes next to wild flowers that are home to numerous circus beetles, wasps, crickets, kangaroo mice, etc.

    How small our tent looks from the top of a dune!
    Can you spot our tent?

    Our tent looks like a dot after we climbed to the top of the dune next to it. It was easily one of the quietest and darkest places we’ve camped, and we saw every speck of light in the Milky Way as well as satellites (no UFOs though!) The wind was violent when night approached, and temperatures dropped from the 70s to low 40s. Exploring the Dunes was definitely a fun way to celebrate our one-year of calling this amazing state home!

Looking over this list of sites and places we’ve seen and hiked, it amazes me what we’ve accomplished thus far in the year we’ve lived here alongside buying a home and starting new careers. We plan to see many other places in this great state as we continue our lives here…so many more destinations planned that it would take me a great long while to list them all!

katie-and-mark-coloradoThe old saying, “home is where the heart is” emerges in my mind at times, but I remember that my heart is wherever Mark and I are happy at, and most importantly, my heart is with Mark. Wherever he is, then I am happy and at peace. It is just an added perk that we’re living in one of the best states in terms of politics, economy, schools, and things-to-do!

Here’s to many more years in this awesome and adventurous state! Cheers.