We left Orlando on September 29 with a fairly rigid schedule, and, after swinging by Gainesville for a few days to see some friends, hunt for shark teeth, and get some famous Satchel’s salad, were on our way. My very good and wonderful friend Sydney welcomed us to her mom’s home and yard for our stay. Thanks, Alicia!
We started by heading to Brevard, North Carolina, where my parents own some property. They are still planning out the Carolina Cabin, so it was the perfect place to park Howl and use as a home base during our stay. Matt and I have both spent a lot of time in this area over the course of our lives, so it’s always a pleasure re-visiting the sites. We ambled along our favorite hikes and watched in awe as each night’s fog receded over the property in the morning, burned away by the sun.
After North Carolina we headed up to Virginia to see Shane, Matt’s twin brother and expert mechanic. This kid can fix anything. We’re fortunate to have a very reliable van, and we didn’t need to have anything fixed. But Shane did help us install some Air Lifts (Howl had a saggy rear end due to the weight of the conversion, so he needed a nice butt lift) and rotate and re-balance the tires.
We drove over to Catoctin Mountain Park in Maryland for some hiking/walking, which culminated in me and Heidi watching as Matt and Shane tested the limits of their climbing and jumping prowess. We also got a very brief tour of D.C. by night, which is where Shane’s girlfriend Jackie works. It was great to see them and a slice of the life they have built there. I love getting the chance to visit people where they are when I’m used to them coming to us.
After Virginia we drove to Cape Cod to meet up with Melissa, Matt’s older sister. This was a special visit as Matt grew up in Cape Cod and has only been back one other time since moving to Florida.
Cape Cod was a blast from the Benson past and I was very excited to have my turn to see all of the places Matt and his family have always told me about. I made it my personal mission to find sea glass and Great White sharks, but sadly I left without either of these goals met. I did, however, get to explore a few beautiful beaches and eat some delicious food. Food is never a down side. Though I can’t claim to enjoy lobster, the main dish everywhere on the Cape, we did have some fantastic fish and chips.
We stopped by Matt’s old house and walked along the neighborhood beach, picking up one million rocks along the way. I dined on seaweed fresh from Chatam beach, stopping just before eating a small crab >_< Across an inlet by the beach we were surprised to find that what we thought to be rocks was actually a large group of seals catching some sun. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I was hoping for a Great White to come snatch a few…
Other than beach-hopping we stopped by an adorable book store, enjoyed a swim in the cool lake by the house (Well, Heidi and I did) and ate encouraging amounts of ice cream from Melissa’s favorite shop, which was closing for the season.
Cape Cod was it’s own little world and I would love to go back and spend more time with it, but we had to press on!
From the Cape our next engagement was in Vermont for the wedding of one of my closest friends. We had an extra day to burn so we drove to New Hampshire first and made our stop in White Mountain National Forest, the home of Mt. Washington. New Hampshire was a total surprise. I had never pictured it before and was completely thrown by how beautiful it is. We got a true taste of fall with mountain upon mountain full of fiery foliage. I learned a new term, “leaf-peepers,” and got to try mystery Oreos thanks to the goodness of some ladies at the White Mountain visitor center. We got the low down on dispersed camping in the forest and set out to get a spot before dark. After some searching and a few missed turns, we found a prime free campsite and immediately went about starting a fire, setting up camp, and enjoying the quiet colors of the forest.
The next morning we packed up and went out to hike Mt. Willard in Crawford Notch. A ranger suggested this as the best bang-for-your-buck hike as we only had the morning. It was an easy, 3.2 mile hike to a beautiful view of the notch ahead and a further off view of the Presidential Range, including Mt. Washington, over the shoulder.
The smell was delicious. I’m a big believer in smell, if one can be such a thing, and this forest smelled like Christmas. I knew it could be trusted. Maybe it’s my Florida talking but I’ve never been surrounded by actual Fall foliage; and this hike, even early on in the season, was brimming with color. I couldn’t stop staring. I don’t think the trees cared, because, to be honest, and just between us, they were actually kind of flaunting it.
This hike was great for Heidi, too. She’s a natural climber thanks to exploring around the park with Matt in her doggy youth, so she was pumped to get out and hop up the steep rocks that were the path. The last stretch up the pass was picture perfect, trees grown over to frame a small opening at the end, bursting with light. We arrived to a view straight down the highway, framed by mountains dressed for the occasion in reds, oranges, yellows and greens. Heidi was very popular with the picnicking middle schoolers, getting right to the edge like the brave thing she is and just staring out at all the cars below.
We sat and enjoyed our trail snacks, took some photos, and headed back down the mountain. On to Vermont!
Just a few hours brought us into Vermont where we spent the weekend as guests at Carolina’s lovely home. She and her husband Andrew own an adorable duplex tucked away between farms in a green valley surrounded by mountains. It can’t get more picturesque. When they bought the house she sent me the realtor’s photos and I sent them back to her, re-illustrated with stick figures of Matt, Heidi, Howl and me traipsing about the property, so I was excited to bring them to life. Heidi never made it onto the couch, though.
We stayed on the driveway one night and in the basement for two, treated like family because that is how it goes with Caro’s family. I’m not sure if it’s a Columbian thing or what, but the second her mom saw us she called out, “Mi amooooooooor!!!!” and gave me a big, perfumed hug. She plied us with food and coffee for the weekend, and who can blame us for the second helpings? My heart was sold to her fried potatoes the moment I saw her pour the bacon grease over the mix.
The ceremony took place in a beautiful Catholic Church. We were greeted there with coffee and hugs from another best of the best friend, Alex, and her boyfriend Tim. We’d stayed with them in Nashville during our trip last summer and it was great to see them both again. It’s sad to grow away from your college friends so I was overjoyed to see Alex, and for such an occasion as it was!
From Vermont we thought, “Hey, we aren’t quite far enough east, let’s go to Maine!” Matt was sold on Acadia National Park after seeing it in our atlas, and it’s not like we had anywhere else to be. So we set forth.
Let. Me. Tell. You. If my dreams could manifest into one place on this earth that isn’t in Florida (those roots run deep) it would be Acadia. The way some people (Matt) feel about space, I feel about the ocean. So we made our way onto Mount Desert Island, where most of ANP calls home, in the gathering darkness and fog and were surrounded by waves on rocks. We stayed the first night in the Acadia National Park visitor center parking lot, which is not technically allowed. But there were some other folks doing the same, so we thought it was harmless enough.
The next morning we drove into the park and got the last available campsite. We have pretty good luck with these sorts of things.
We took our time with Heidi exploring as much of the island as possible. And I gotta give props to ANP for this one, because Heidi could go just about anywhere we could, with the exception of the Visitor’s Center, which is fine because she doesn’t much care for toilets and informative videos. Heidi was even allowed in the gift shop at the top of Cadillac Mountain! While Matt and Heidi were waiting outside, the store employee went outside and practically insisted that she come in.
Our first hike was from our campsite to the top of Cadillac Mountain by way of the southern rim trail. We were rewarded with a stunning view of the harbor below and about 100 people milling about the parking lot. PS, you can also drive there, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you can make the hike. The view was amazing either way, but definitely one worth earning.
Other highlights of the park were a two-mile walk to Otter Cove from Sand Beach along the cliffs, driving to the iconic Bass Harbor lighthouse for a picnic and some photo editing, and hiking Great Head Trail for one hell of an epic, wave crashing sunset served on the rocks.
We were hesitant to leave the park, because it was great to have a place where Heidi was so welcome. Plus I found a good spot to shower; and let’s be real, showering is a huge bonus. But overnight parking is pretty frowned upon and national park camping isn’t free, and we needed an oil change and other miscellaneous van chores, so we headed back to town and spent the night at Walmart. So after tying up all the loose ends, we picked our next destination - Utah! And at just over 2,900 miles away, who could deny such wisdom?
We’d been to Utah before - in the summer of 2016, to be exact - to visit all the parks along the south, and we knew Moab was the place to be. So we set our sights there. If you haven’t spent much time with Matt you might not realize he is fairly obsessed with photography, so he, in particular, set his sights there. He had a specific photo in mind, and once this happens it’s pretty hard to get anything else done.
Still, we were two days in on the four day journey when I pointed out that we’d be an hour away from Fort Wayne, the home of Grandma Rosie. And who in their right mind, especially after a few nights of Walmart, couldn’t use some grandma time? So we headed to Fort Wayne with no mention of anything to Grandma.
We got to surprise her! It was fantastic. We relied on the instinct that a grandparent is never unhappy with a visit from grandkids, and, of course, this proved true! We had a great two days catching up and got to have a few real meals to keep us tied over for the coming weeks. Also, I cannot stress the relief of washing my hair after camping, campfires, and swimming in the ocean. I’m pretty sure Grandma wanted us to buy a house and stay forever, but, for the sake of photography, we had to press on.
Two more long driving days brought us to Moab, the most beautiful name in the world! (after Jenny, of course :P)
We found a campsite and then made a quick stop at Arches National Park. Matt wanted to hike up Delicate Arch in the daylight to reacquaint himself with the trail. Thus, I get to the real motive for our drive - the photo. Upon first meeting this arch Matt knew he’d need to come back and photograph it at night. We didn’t get the chance on our last visit so there was no way we’d skip it now.
We learned that the park is currently closed from 7 pm. to 7 a.m. every Sunday-Thursday for road construction, so we had timed it perfectly. We were a little concerned, because the national parks out west aren’t as pet-friendly as we were now used to. Pets can pretty much only go where your car can go, with the exception of a few basic trails, and we don’t do basic. You’re allowed to leave them in the car, but we really try to avoid this outside of grocery/bathroom stops. Nevertheless, we knew we’d have to do it this one time.
The alarm sounded at 1:30 a.m., but neither of us was asleep, anyway. We drank some black coffee that had been sitting in the French press overnight and went about gathering our things. We packed up most of what we needed the night before, but we still had to put on our clothes and do a final gear check.
We arrived at the Delicate Arch trailhead around 3 a.m. Arches National Park is actually really close to where we camped, but it took a bit of time pulling ourselves out of the bed in the cold, and the trailhead is still about a 20-30 minute drive from the park entrance. We put Heidi up on our bed and covered her in all our blankets, which is actually a pretty good variety. From down to fleece to wool, she was sitting pretty comfy. We locked the van and stepped out into pure black.
It’s unreal how dark a place can actually get. The moon had already set, so the only natural light came from the massive amounts of stars above. We stood for a minute just staring upward in utter amazement before hitting the trail. Then we turned on our headlamps - the beams of light sliced through the thick darkness before us - and we were on our way.
At 1.5 miles, the hike up to Delicate Arch is not at all long. And, really, the first half of the trail is pretty simple and easy to navigate. It’s when you get past all this that things become a little more difficult. The introduction trail drops you off at the base of a long steep rock face, and there’s nowhere else to go but up. We took it nice and slow and just enjoyed the view. Around some of the curves on the approach to the arch are numerous drop-offs that, if you weren’t paying attention, could easily be the end. So we took things slowly and were there before too long.
This is the part I can’t explain - walking around that final curve and seeing this giant, ominous black shadow standing tall among the stars. It’s one of those things you have to see to believe. In the daytime there are hundreds of tourists sitting around, eating, laughing, taking pictures. But at night, or, at least on this particular night, it was just us, the stars, and a giant shadow in the distance. I smile as I write this, because I know it will become one of those memories that stays with me and grows more and more exaggerated each time I tell it.
We walked off to the side, put down our things and immediately dug through Matt’s backpack for his camera and tripod. The next hour or two is a jumbled mess of framing, moving, framing, lighting, moving and framing again. When Matt was satisfied, we headed back down to the van to find Heidi sound asleep at the intersection of all those blankets, and we left. We had stayed up there so long the sun was about to rise, so we drove over to Balanced Rock for some sunrise photos before heading back to the campsite.
The next week and some change was all hiking and relaxing. We have tucked ourselves away at some prime BLM campsites along the Colorado River and have been crossing hikes off the list left and right. I found scores of dog-approved hikes outside of the national parks, and a lot of them are really pretty awesome. Heidi has really embraced her inner wild and has taken to the hiking like a true mountain dog. She can handle more than we would have guessed and it’s amazing to see her take control of her routes, finding the path that’s best for her. Plus, we have been getting to see Moab off the national park path and have found that it’s given us a whole new perspective on this amazing city.
My favorite hike was Grandstaff Canyon, located on scenic byway 128. It’s a 2+ mile one way hike along a stream, with multiple water crossings, to Morning Glory Natural Bridge. We’d actually camped right across from this one last summer and never even considered checking it out. This hike was full of other dogs doing what dogs do best - running around and getting super dirty. I love plants almost as much as the ocean and this hike was full of greens and yellows, all gathered along with one stream keeping them alive. At the end of the trail, beneath the bridge, we found the source of the water: a spring that was pouring out of a tiny crack up the rock. It was humbling to approach; we heard this resounding gurgle and our eyes instinctively searched for a large body of water but instead found this long crack, all the magic happening within the rock hidden from sight.
Another top hike was to Corona Arch, at the end of a BLM maintained trail into a canyon off scenic byway 279. This was Matt’s favorite because the arch was just fantastic, impressive as anything in the parks but without the crowds and restrictions. We also found Bow-Tie arch, a neighbor of Corona, occurring in the canyon wall just before our target. Upon meeting these new arches Matt was instantly sold on his next night time subjects, and, sure enough, we found ourselves camped across the road from them a few nights later, once again performing our a.m. routine and hiking out by moonlight for photos.
As much as we have loved being in Moab - and it’s easy to love a city full of hikers, bikers, climbers, rafters and general thrill-seekers - we have once again decided to press on. I’m not sure if you can have too much of a good thing, but I don’t want to find out here. We’re heading back into Colorado on a mission for gear and supplies and then down to Great Sand Dunes National Park. We’re excited for the adventures to come!
Thanks for reading along and stay tuned for the next chapter in our journey :)