7 Things to See in Death Valley National Park

In this post, I detail a Spring Break trip we took to Death Valley!


The final stop on our epic, Spring Break trip to celebrate the Trekkers’ 40th birthdays was Death Valley National Park!  We’ve been wanting to visit Death Valley for a long time. We figured early March was hopefully a good (and cooler!) time to do it!

Tips for Your Visit to Death Valley:

–The heat in Death Valley!

The heat in Death Valley is NOT a joke so PLEASE be careful!  We were SO LUCKY that it was so cool when we were there (FYI, early March is a GREAT time to visit!)  This place is literally on record as being the hottest place on Earth!

Death Valley is also extremely dry and can be very windy, which means you may be sweating (and getting dehydrated) and not even realize it.  Some years, it has been known to be over 100 degrees here for almost HALF THE YEAR!  I cannot stress enough the potential danger this type of heat can bring.  Dehydration/heat stroke are very real dangers here for much of the year.  This park can LITERALLY kill you!

A digital thermometer on a sign reads 68 Fahrenheit, 20 Celsius. The sign on the building reads, Furnace Creek Visitor Center
Check out the name of the Visitor’s Center…Furnace Creek! This area is where the hottest temp ever recorded on Earth was taken. I doubt it’s rarely this “chilly” there.

The heat can also be VERY hard on your car, and if it breaks down in the middle of the desert, you’re now stuck in the heat.  There are almost NO TREES in Death Valley so there is also almost NO SHADE.  We even saw one remote section of road where signs told you to turn off your car’s air conditioning to take the stress off the car’s engine (the road was also going uphill)–again, this wasn’t an issue with the cool temps when we were there. 😂

View through the front window of a car onto a road, a brown, sandy desert, and hills. Raindrops spatter the windshield
It rained on us…in DEATH VALLEY! (There was also sleet and a 30 mph wind.  It was COLD during that storm…in Death Valley!)
–No cell coverage in Death Valley

One big thing to plan for when you visit Death Valley is that the park is HUGE!  It covers more than THREE MILLION acres so you should plan to do A LOT of driving!  Also, it is a valley (duh! 😉) surrounded by mountains, so there is very little cell coverage–this adds to the danger the park poses if you encounter a problem.

Also, something to be aware of, Death Valley isn’t the prettiest of our national parks.  This comment is not intended to dissuade you from visiting in any way.  I just don’t want you to be disappointed.  Glacier NP this is not! 😇  It’s called DEATH Valley for a reason!  There isn’t much that grows or lives here! 😉

Small, yellow flowers on green plants spread across gravel
The only flowers we saw in Death Valley

Where is Death Valley?

National park entrance sign with rocky, desert mountains and a sunset in the background. The sign reads Death Valley National Park.

Death Valley is located in southeastern California, right on the border with Nevada.  The park is situated about 130 miles west of Las Vegas and a little more than 200 miles to the northeast of Bakersfield, California.

The easiest way to reach Death Valley is to bring Nevada Route 160 west from Las Vegas to Pahrump.  Then take State Line Road west to the Death Valley Junction on California Route 127.  From there you pick up Route 190 and take that into the park! (Don’t worry, there are signs.  Also, these are basically the only paved roads out there! 😉)

You can also reach Death Valley from the north by taking US 95 south through Nevada to California Route 374, or from the west on California Route 190.

Places you don’t want to miss in Death Valley:

There are a number of awesome sites to see at the park!

Badwater Basin:

Badwater Basin’s claim to fame is that it is THE lowest point in North America, at more than 200 feet BELOW sea level!

Panoramic picture of a flat valley, filled with a salt-flat, and sand and surrounded by rocky mountains.
Panoramic of Badwater Basin
Panoramic picture of a flat valley, filled with a salt-flat, and sand. A salt-flat path heads toward a towering, rocky mountain.
Dante’s Point is at the top of that mountain (this will be important later.)
A sign on a boardwalk reads, "Badwater Basin, 282 feet/865 meters BELOW sea level!"
Badwater Basin is THE lowest point in North America!


For additional info on Death Valley, please see my friend Megan’s blog posts on Things to do in Death Valley that aren’t hiking and Sites to see on Badwater Road!


A rocky, salt-flat spreads to the rocky mountains on the horizon. A puddle of water reflects the sunlight in the foreground.
The shiny stuff in the foreground IS the water in “Badwater Basin”! This is one of the rare places where water can regularly be seen in Death Valley.
A rocky, salt-flat spreads to the horizon, surrounded by rocky mountains.
Death Valley!
A rocky, salt-flat spreads to the horizon, surrounded by rocky mountains. A dusty cloud fills the valley.
Haboob! (Dust storm)
Father Crowley Overlook: 

This locale is otherwise known as, “Star Wars Canyon”! Ironically this was NOT a Star Wars filming site (to learn more about those, scroll down!)–although portions of the new, Top Gun: Maverick were filmed here!

The proper name for this canyon is Rainbow Canyon, from the colorful rock and gravel that comprises it.  However, it got its nickname as fighter jets have often practiced low-altitude moves here (the terrain mimics much of where they fly throughout other parts of the world.)

This has been a Bucket List item on both the Trekkers’ lists since Mr. Trekker heard you could see fighter jets here and I found out it was called Star Wars Canyon (and why!)  This meshed well with our watching planes at Nellis Air Force Base in Vegas and touring the Extraterrestrial Highway earlier in the trip!

Rocky, short, narrow canyon with red, brown, and tan gravel, all under a clear, blue sky.
Rainbow Canyon, otherwise known as…Star Wars Canyon!

Sadly, several years ago there was an accident where the pilot was killed and spectators on the ground were injured so they’ve limited what all the planes can do here…but, you can sometimes catch a plane and…WE DID (two actually)!  We didn’t get any pics or video (literally, we heard it, we saw it, it was gone, all in a total of about three seconds). 😁

Info sign with a picture of a military jet flying above the canyon reads in part, "...Before you is a part of one of the largest, military aircraft training areas in the US...Rainbow Canyon, below, is used for low-level navigation training. It earned the nickname, 'Star Wars Canyon" due to technical flight maneuvers done here..."

View down a rocky hillside traversed by a road with red, brown, and tan gravel. A grey, flat valley is in the background backed by a rocky mountain.
View from Father Crowley Overlook! (We saw a fighter jet fly down that valley in the distance too!)

View down a rocky hillside with red, brown, and tan gravel. A grey, flat valley is in the background backed by a rocky, snow-capped mountain.

Panamint Valley

This GORGEOUS valley is situated just down the road (about seven miles) to the east of Father Crowley Overlook.  This was my absolute, favorite spot in all of Death Valley (that we saw anyway). (We also saw a fighter jet flying through this valley (from the Father Crowley Overlook!)

One weird thing about this valley was that it was SO QUIET! All you could hear was the light breeze ROARING in your ears (and occasionally a fighter jet flying overhead! 😝)  We realized what was missing, there were no birds and there weren’t even any bugs buzzing about.  I’m not sure if this is unique to Death Valley or because we were there in early March (though a lot of literature on the park talks about the extreme quiet.)

Empty, two-lane road stretches across a rocky, flat desert (with scrub brush) to a rocky mountain towering far in the distance
My favorite place in Death Valley (Remember my love of long, empty roads on this trip?)
Rocky, flat desert (with scrub brush) surrounded by rocky mountains in the distance, all under a clear, cerulean sky
Look at that sky! That is my favorite shade of my favorite color, blue! (Also, this pic is now the background for my work laptop! 😁)
Flat, brown, rocky valley surrounded by rocky mountains, all under a clear, blue sky
This is what a lot of Death Valley looks like. I told you it wasn’t super pretty. 😇 
Zabriskie Point:

This is supposed to be a great place for sunrise/sunset with the varying colors in the rocks!

Yellow-grey dunes made of gravel sit under a grey, cloudy sky

Star Wars Sites in Death Valley National Park

Many people don’t know this but several scenes from the ORIGINAL Star Wars trilogy were filmed in Death Valley!  Most were from Star Wars, Episode 4: A New Hope (SW), but a few were also from Episode 6: Return of the Jedi (ROTJ)!  Prepare yourself, my nerd flag is about to fly high! 😉

Note: There were no signs or literature that we saw at the actual park that show where filming sites are. There is plenty of info on Google about where to look, then you have to kind of use your imagination to put droids, Luke Skywalker, and Obi-Wan Kenobi there. 😉

Artist’s Palette:

The scene where the Sand People attack Luke in SW…

Brown and tan gravel in a dry wash area, hills in the background are made from dark brown, tan, white and red-brown dirt.
This area is especially known for the beautiful colors in the gravel

Brown and tan gravel in a dry wash area, hills in the background are made from dark brown, tan, and red-brown dirt.

Mesquite Sand Dunes:

The droid scene near the beginning of SW was filmed here (where R2-D2 and C-3po walk through the dunes after their spacecraft, life raft crashes.  Jabba the Hutt’s sail barge scenes from ROTJ were also filmed here.)

Yellow-colored hills lead to a mountain in the background, greenish scrub brush is in the foreground.

20-mule canyon:

The scene where the Jawas grab R2-D2 and where Obi-Wan’s home is located/where he meets up with Luke for the first time in SW.  Also, the first droid scene from ROTJ was filmed here.

A flat, gravel plain in the foreground with brown, gravel hills rising in the background under a blue sky. Grey-gravel road, in-shadow, with brown hills rising in the background

Dante’s Point:

The lookout on top of the Point gives you this view down into Badwater Basin (this was the filming spot for the Mos Eisley Spaceport in SW–“you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy…” 😁)

View from above, looks down a rocky and scrub brush-covered cliff to a gravely plain streaked with salt stains and water puddles
This is from the top of the mountain I showed the view of from Badwater Basin earlier. Badwater Basin is at the bottom.
Grey valley streaked with salt stains leads to dark, shadowed mountains. A yellow, sun arc rises out of these mountains and clouds as the sun sets.
Sunset over Badwater Basin

View from above, looks down a rocky and scrub brush-covered cliff to a gravely plain streaked with salt stains and water puddles. An orange sunset and clouds cover dark mountains in the distance.

I-70 through Utah is GORGEOUS! 

On our trip home, to South Dakota, we took I-70 through Utah.  I’ve always thought I-70 through Colorado was pretty (and it is!) but the highway through Utah is INCREDIBLE!  And literally, anyone can see these views, all you have to do is drive the highway!

Panoramic picture of grey rock in the foreground overlooking a flat, red-rock plain, all under a clear, blue sky
This is at a rest stop on I-70!

A red-rock mountain rises from a flat, yellow, scrub brush-covered, desert landscape. Scrub brush-covered grey rock in the foreground overlooking a red-dirt, desert plain spotted with scrub brush. Rocky mountains are in the far distance, all under a clear, blue sky.


Incredible views, Hollywood film sites, and potentially VERY hot temperatures.  If you’re looking for a unique vacation check out Death Valley (but maybe not in the summer. 🥵)

Have you visited Death Valley? Tell me about your experience in the comments! 


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3 pictures: 1) National Park Entrance sign reads, "Death Valley National Park"; 2) A rocky, salt-flat spreads to the horizon, surrounded by rocky mountains; 3) A sign on a boardwalk reads, "Badwater Basin, 282 feet/865 meters BELOW sea level!" Pin reads, "Death Valley"


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Drive the Extraterrestrial (ET) Highway

In this post, I detail our adventure through the Nevada desert on the ET Highway!

For me, the Extraterrestrial Highway was the highlight of our Epic, 40th birthday, Spring Break Trip!  We actually somewhat designed the entire trip around THIS drive. 😁  In fact, I enjoyed the ET Highway so much that I am dedicating an entire post to what amounted to only a few hours of our trip!  Mr. Trekker gets nerdy about fighter jets (and the weather 😉), I get nerdy about aliens! 👽 🖖

Related post: Tips for your First Time in Vegas!

The Extraterrestrial Highway has been a MAJOR Bucket List item for me for YEARS!  It’s all thanks to one of my favorite movies, PaulPaul is an amazing movie with awesome stars…that you’ve probably never heard of.

The movie came out in 2011 and is stupid-fun. 😁  It isn’t well-known and I have no idea why?  It stars Simon Pegg, Nick Frost (if you are familiar with these two actors you can already guess what type of movie it is 😇); Kristin Wigg, Jason Bateman, and Seth Rogen voices the alien.  It’s hilarious, fun, and literally one of my favorite movies EVER!

As you may have guessed from the actors, there is A LOT of swearing and adult humor in this movie.  Depending on what kind of movies you let your kids watch I’d say it’s older teen-friendly. (It is rated R, for more info and a preview, click here!)

I won’t give away too many details but the basic plot of Paul is that an alien escapes from Area 51, finds a couple of nerds who he needs to help him get home and hilarity ensues.  It’s kind of an ET for adults! 😁

Part of what makes the movie fun is that it spoofs so many other great alien movies:  Star Wars, ET, Indiana Jones (ok, not an alien movie) Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind, and of course, Alien.

An old train car with a mural of aliens painted on the side

As part of the plot they visit a bunch of the “alien sites” in the desert southwest, and I’ve been wanting to see these since I first saw the movie. This trip was the perfect opportunity! (And it also inspired a book idea!)

Where is the Extraterrestrial Highway?

The ET Highway runs along the VERY rural Route 375 between Crystal Springs/Hiko and Warm Springs in southern Nevada!

The road got its name because it runs very near the infamous Area 51.  It is also located in an extremely rural area where people claim to see strange lights in the dark, night sky. (We did talk to some locals who say they’ve seen weird stuff that they can’t explain.)

Alien Sites on the Extraterrestrial Highway

All of these sites can be found along and/or directly off of the ET Highway.

Green road sign covered in stickers. The words "Extraterrestrial Highway" are barely visible through the stickers.

Alien Research Center:  This awesome place is located about seven miles south of Hiko, Nevada, and just to the west of Crystal Springs, on Route 375. (It’s literally the only thing in this spot, you really can’t miss it. 😉)  It’s really just a tourist trap situated inside a Quonset hut.  That being said, it is a MUST visit for any alien nerd.  It is AWESOME! 😁

Two-story tall, metal alien stands outside a small building.
I love this guy!

Sign in the foreground reads, "Alien Research Center, Earth Station Area 51, Welcome to our Universe". The top of a 2-story tall, metal alien stands behind the sign.

Little A’Le’Inn:  (pronounced “Little Alien”–get it? 😉)  This is a small inn and cafe in the TINY “development”–can’t really call it a town–of Rachel, Nevada.  It’s a good place for a potty break.  The food is also good and the workers offer AWESOME tips on finding Area 51!

Some security guys from Area 51 were eating lunch there when we visited.  How do we know they were from Area 51 you may ask?  Well, they were wearing military fatigues, and driving creepy-looking, inconspicuous, government trucks (and the only government site for MILES around is, Area 51. 😁)

Parking lot with a sign that reads, "Restaurant, Bar, Motel, RV." A drawing of an alien and the sign reads, "Earthlings Welcome. Little AléInn". Also, a very old, upside down satellite dish hangs from a small crane, appearing like a small flying saucer. A small flying saucer with lights sits on a short pedastal near some picnic tables A small restaurant with alien and flying saucer drawings, A short, green alien statue stands in front and a sign reads, "Little AléInn, Earthlings Welcome".

The Black Mailbox:  Rachel, Nevada–this is nothing but a dumb mailbox in the middle of nowhere but it’s fun!  People put stickers on it and leave trinkets in it–it reminded me of the UFO Watchtower we visited on another Spring Break trip to the San Luis Valley of Colorado!  The story goes that this is where secret, government mail for Area 51 was delivered (though there doesn’t appear to be ANY historical evidence this is true.)

A black mailbox covered in stickers sits in the desert
The Black Mailbox

Area 51 (Dreamland Resort):  Has anyone not heard of Area 51? I mean really?  Watch the History Channel for five minutes! 😉

Area 51 goes by several names.  It is also known as Groom Lake as this was an ancient lake bed.  It is factually known to be an area where military aircraft have been tested and military, practice drills still occur (the infamous SR-71 was tested here during the Cold War).  If you are lucky you may get to watch (and hear) military aircraft practicing not far above your head!

This page gives you all sorts of info on Area 51, the local area, “unexplained sightings” locally, and possible military traffic you can watch for.

A stop sign covered in so many stickers it is almost unreadable. Another sign above it reads, "WARNING, US Air Force Installation. PHOTOGRAPHY OF THIS AREA IS PROHIBITED. NO DRONE ZONE.
NOTE: This is NOT Area 51. It’s a sign in the parking lot at the Alien Research Center that is supposed to mimic the signs at the actual Area 51.

We “almost” made it to THE Area 51!  We were basically right next to it, but since it was actively raining (and had been raining/snowing for several days–because why wouldn’t it, in the desert? 😝)  we opted not to take my CRV down the rutted, muddy path to reach the actual site. 😇  We did see the two roads that take you to the infamous locale, though.

Note: if you venture to the site, you will be on a public road.  Stop BEFORE you reach the gates.  You will likely see security forces but they will leave you alone as long as you remain at a respectful distance.  This is NOT a joke.  From the stories we heard, these military police DO NOT have a sense of humor. 😝  For good tips on how to lawfully view Area 51 (and how to find it!) talk to the locals at the Little A’lé Inn.

Desert scrub brush and cacti reach to the horizon on a cloudy day.
Somewhere out there, amongst the Joshua Trees, IS Area 51.
An empty, two-lane road stretches across the desert, to the horizon and up a hill towards mountains in the distance.
We saw SO MANY views of long, empty roads like this on the trip. I LOVE them! They even inspired a new book idea!

So if you’re in the mood for a Road Trip and some Out-of-This-World fun, check out the Extraterrestrial Highway!

Have you driven the ET Highway?  Did you have any otherworldly experiences?  Let me know in the comments! 


Did you enjoy what you read here today? Pin it!

Green highway sign covered in stickers. Can barely make out the words "Extraterrestrial Highway". Pin reads, "Drive the Extraterrestrial Highway" Three pictures: 1) A stop sign covered in so many stickers it is almost unreadable. Another sign above it reads, "WARNING, US Air Force Installation. PHOTOGRAPHY OF THIS AREA IS PROHIBITED. NO DRONE ZONE; 2) Green highway sign covered in stickers. Can barely make out the words "Extraterrestrial Highway; 3) Parking lot with a sign that reads, "Restaurant, Bar, Motel, RV." A drawing of an alien and the sign reads, "Earthlings Welcome. Little AléInn". Also, a very old, upside-down satellite dish hangs from a small crane, appearing like a small flying saucer. Pin reads, "Drive the ET Highway"


Like what you read here today?  Please feel free to leave a comment, like or share this post!  Add your email at the bottom of the page, or the sidebar to the right, to be notified when a new post is published.  By signing up for the email list, you will also receive a free copy of the Tranquil Trekker’s Top 10 Tips of Trekking Do’s and Don’ts! You can also follow the blog on social media by clicking the links below!





Tips for your First Time in Vegas!

In this post, I detail our 40th birthday trip to Las Vegas and the Hoover Dam!


Mr. Trekker and I enjoyed an epic Spring Break trip to Las Vegas and the surrounding area to usher in both of us turning 40!  We drove 3270 miles that week!

We had to take the LONG way to Vegas to avoid snowstorms on both I-80 through Wyoming and I-70 through Colorado. So, we drove south through Nebraska and the Colorado plains all the way to Trinidad, CO.  Then we picked up I-25 to Albuquerque, New Mexico where we joined up with I-40, and took that to US 93, then the Hoover Dam, and Vegas!

This was not a typical vacation for us.  The Trekkers are probably some of the worst people to visit Vegas.  We barely drink or gamble (we only played–and lost–$5 on this trip! 🤑) and there weren’t any shows we were really interested in. 😂  When we go on trips we spend most of our time in the woods, not showering and using holes in the ground for toilets. 😯  Yet, we still had a pretty good time!

Las Vegas Casinos

We checked out most of the well-known casinos along the Vegas Strip.  I was impressed that you can go into all the casinos/enjoy all the entertainment they offer regardless of where you are actually staying. You may have to pay an additional fee of course, but everything is accessible to everyone. Even places like the Bellagio Conservatory were free to everyone!  It felt very egalitarian there…

–We liked Treasure Island, it looked like a pirate ship inside. I also liked the pirate ship in the pool out front!

Treasure Island casino with palm trees. Also the neon lights of Vegas and the Mirage casino. The casino is reflected in the pool of water in the foreground.
The Mirage was cool. I especially enjoyed the Volcano show set to music! We LOVED the fountain show and the incredible conservatory at Bellagio!

Thin fountains of water that are lit from below rise and dance from a pool of water.
The fountain show at the pool in front of the Bellagio!

Caesar’s Palace was very fancy but I found it felt somewhat confining with all the heavy wood and dark carpet/chair coverings.

The marble tower of the Ceasar's Palace casino rises from the ground below
The Paris was our favorite, if we ever go back again we’d like to stay there.  The actual atmosphere inside was almost calming.  The ceiling looked like blue sky with white, fluffy clouds. It was set up like you’re walking through the streets of Paris along shops and restaurants.  They even had a city-like walking bridge in the center of the main room!

A red, white and blue-colored, miniature version of the Eifel Tower. Another casino stands in the background with a pool of water in the foreground.

Flamingo Hotel

We actually stayed at the Flamingo.  First, the bad news…

Customer Service was difficult to navigate…

The Ceasar’s online/phone customer service that I tried to use before we arrived was TERRIBLE!  The woman on the phone could barely give me any helpful information regarding parking.  I’d ask her things like where to park and she’d say, “talk to the front desk”.  Then I asked her for that number or if she could transfer me and she said “Well, I really don’t know that.”  Then she’d follow up with, “Is there anything else I can help you with today?”  My literal response was, “Well you haven’t really helped me at all so far!” 😝

To be clear, I ALWAYS strive to treat customer service workers, housekeeping staff, waiters, etc. with the UTMOST respect and politeness. They work hard for little money and they put up with A LOT of crap! (I’ve done LOTS of customer service work.)  But it was obvious this woman was just reading from a canned script and didn’t really care if I got the info I needed or not, she just wanted me off the phone as soon as possible.  THAT does NOT sit well with me! 😤 

A large hotel/casino with "Flamingo" written on it. A smaller hotel rises in front and a large, lighted ferris wheel stands behind the casino.

Then I did some searching on Ceasar’s website and found a little more info. They even had a phone number for Ceasar’s Parking Customer Service!  Of course, when you called that number, it rang a few times and then informed you it was a Ceasar’s nonworking number! 😝

Check-in was difficult to complete

Check-in also SUCKED! When we arrived on-site it took almost an hour to get through the line. We couldn’t get the online check-in to work using our phones.  Then they had mostly kiosks available with very few actual humans working.  Hardly anyone in line could get the kiosks to work so they had to resort to the humans anyway.

Though I will say, the Customer Service lady we dealt with was WONDERFUL.  She was incredibly polite, helpful, and fast. I felt really bad for her. There were A LOT of irritated people and she was doing a great job of helping them.  So KUDOS to her. And Ceasar’s, you should be paying her more!  Whatever she is making, it isn’t enough!

Several pink flamingos stand in a pool of water, or on rocks/grass surrounding the pool.
Real flamingoes at our hotel!
The Flamingo was a good, lower-cost hotel option in Vegas!

Now for the good news!  Once we finally survived check-in, the remainder of our stay was wonderful!  The hotel itself was clean, it provided perfect access to the rest of The Strip, our room was nice and it was relatively quiet (other than our neighbors who seemed to enjoy coming home arguing at 3 in the morning for several nights straight! 😝  We considered yelling outside their door when we left at 8 am but thought better of it. 😇 ).

I was actually impressed with the room.  The Flamingo is kind of a “budget hotel” on The Strip.  I was worried it would feel more like a Super 8 or Motel 6.  This felt more like a Hampton Inn.  Also, “budget” is relative. We still spent more than $500 for our stay there (three nights, Sunday through Wednesday) but that’s comparable to one night at many of the other hotels.

We used this website to easily check hotel availability in Vegas!

The accommodations at the other hotels are swankier but concerning location, Ceasar’s and Bellagio were literally right across the street from our room (also we paid extra for a room with a LARGE window and a Strip View.)

We spent more than an hour one night just staring out the window in awe, watching the well-oiled machine that is the Ceasar’s Palace limo system parade before us (we were getting Vegas-ed out by that point. 😂–it was impressive though!)

Nighttime view of the neon-lit casinos of Vegas through a hotel room window.
The view from our room!

The Flamingo offers EASY access to EVERYTHING not to mention GREAT views. You could literally park your car once and not have to move it again till you leave.  You can walk most places but for things that are further away the Vegas Monorail stops right by the hotel.

My final verdict is that the Flamingo is a good place to stay, especially for first-timers or “normal” people who are trying to stick to a budget.  Aside from check-in, I would even consider staying there again.

Tips for Visiting Las Vegas

Author’s Note:  This was our first time in Vegas so these tips are intended for first-time visitors.  Some of this info may seem rather “duh!” to people who frequent Vegas. 

I was a little anxious about this trip.  I’ve always wanted to visit Vegas but the Trekkers don’t usually do big cities so I worried we might be biting off more than we could chew.  I was actually much more impressed by Vegas than I thought I would be.  I could never live there (it’s still a big city).  I would also hate the heat and I’d REALLY miss the color green.

On that front, I was very impressed that even in the very nice neighborhoods people didn’t really bother trying to keep grass growing.  Obviously, it’s the desert, so they seemed to use desert-friendly plants, rock gardens, patios, turf, etc.  I was very impressed that they weren’t wasting such a precious, natural resource (water) on such a futile fight (keeping grass alive where it usually doesn’t grow.)–So good on you Vegas! 

A sign stands in the middle of a busy boulevard that reads, "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Nevada!"
The iconic, Vegas sign!

–Everyone was VERY friendly.  I think I was a little intimidated to go to Vegas with the whole idea of rich, High Rollers walking around. I know they’re around and I’m sure there are places you can go that cater to those types of people (note: the Trekkers ARE NOT those types of people! 🤣) but everyone we encountered from fellow tourists to Locals, hotel staff, and servers were all very friendly!  It felt like a city in the Midwest–which, shouldn’t really be surprising as Westerners tend to be pretty friendly too. 

–It was pretty casual.  We didn’t feel out of place at all in our hiking pants when we arrived. 😊  I expected to see lots of dressed-up people so I was pleasantly surprised to see so many people dressed comfortably like we were.  I was a little surprised to see the “Sturgis Wear”, as I called them. 😂

So the standing rule in the Black Hills, during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, is you have to wear at least “pasties or paint”–mind you, this is in reference to what women wear to cover up their “upper halves.” 🤭 

–Depending on what you want to do (and how much you can afford 😇) 2-3 days is a good amount of time to plan to spend in Vegas.

–I would definitely advise you to stay on The Strip if you can.  It’s beautiful, you have the iconic, “Strip views” and it gives you easy access to everything available there (food, shows, casinos, people watching.)

The neon lights of the Vegas Strip surround a pool of water and are reflected in it, at night.
Panoramic view of The Strip from the pool at the Bellagio

–Bring comfy shoes!  We walked SO MUCH!  We were EXHAUSTED every night!  It felt like it took 20 minutes just to walk to the car, in the parking garage, that was attached to our hotel!  We both lost weight on this trip and it DEFINITELY wasn’t from eating healthy. 😂 

–Whoever invented the raised walkways was a GENIUS!  People/cars hardly intersect except for the driveways leading into the casinos.

A large roadway with a row of palm trees in the middle and surrounded by the neon-lit, Vegas Strip, at night.
Strip view from one of the raised walkways

A few negatives to be aware of:

It stunk like Pot…EVERYWHERE! 🤥 (All of my 40 years may be showing with this comment but I was a DARE child of the 90s so, deal. 😉)  It was kinda weird because we never saw anyone smoking.  I lean Libertarian so I’m not looking to impede people doing what they want but holy smokes (no pun intended!) does that stuff STINK!  After smelling that for three days, when we actually smelled skunk later in the trip it almost smelled good! 😝 –that’s saying something!  I will say though, it seems to bother my asthma much less than cigarette smoke, interestingly enough.

–It was PRICEY!  I mean, I get that we were on “The Strip” but the thought used to be you could get things like food and hotels cheap in Vegas because they wanted you to spend your money on gambling…NOT SO ANYMORE!  $75 for a couple of burgers, some fries, and two milkshakes?!  We spent $60+ one morning for Dunkin’ Donuts!  I mean COME ON! (To be fair, you go off The Strip just a couple of blocks and prices return to normal.)

A large road surrounded by the lights of the Vegas Strip, at night

“Affordable” Vegas Restaurants

We definitely didn’t need to gamble to lose all our money on The Strip!  That being said, below are a few food suggestions that shouldn’t break the bank:

Blueberry Hill: this restaurant has multiple locations around town (all off The Strip.). It was your basic, DELICIOUS, home-cooked meal.  I especially recommend them for breakfast. (If it helps, the parking lot was full of local cars–on a Monday morning–which is ALWAYS a good sign!)

Related post: Drive the Extraterrestrial (ET) Highway

Bobby V’s Ristorante:  This place was VERY good.  I had some of the best cheese ravioli I’ve ever had!

Apparently, this is owned by Chef Buddy Valastro from Cake Boss–and that’s literally the extent of my knowledge on that subject. 😂

Bobby V’s is right on The Strip and not “cheap” but definitely a more “budget-friendly”, option, at least by Vegas standards.  (It also offered some great views out the windows!)

Hoover Dam!

The Hoover Dam is a fun, interesting side trip when you’re visiting Vegas!

The Hoover Dam was built in the 1930s to help control the unpredictable floods of the Colorado River.  The dam is used for hydroelectric power.  There are a variety of tours of the dam offered at various times and days (unfortunately none were being offered while we were there as the elevators were being worked on.)

You can check out the dam’s website for info on tour times, days, and prices (which range from $15 – $30. Typical cost to view the Visitor Center and see the short documentary on the building of the dam is $10).

Cement wall with the seal of the US Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation. Dates shown 1931 and 1935 and the title "Hoover Dam"

The dam was cool! We did feel a bit like cattle being herded through a pen as they guided us into the movie theater for the short info movie; then guided us upstairs to the Visitor Muesum portion and viewing decks. 😂  The sites and info were pretty cool though!

Cement dam with the Colorado River leading to it. Higher water levels of the pool behind the dam, all in a rocky canyon.
The Hoover Dam!
Cement pylons rising from the pool behind the Hoover Dam
Where is Hoover Dam?

Hoover Dam is located off of US 93, right on the Nevada/Arizona border, about 40 miles east of Las Vegas.  It spans the Colorado River in this area.

A bridge spans a rocky canyon. People stand on an observation deck in the foreground with high-tension electrical towers and wires rising overhead
Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge

Lake Meade

As the Hoover Dam slows the mighty Colorado River, it forms Lake Meade, the largest reservoir in the US.  The lake has been incredibly low for the last several years due to drought (like 20 to 30 feet low). 

A large lake surrounded by rocky cliffs with rocks rising out of the middle
A VERY low Lake Meade!

Watching Fighter Jets at Nellis Air Force Base

Nellis Air Force Base sits just outside of town and Mr. Trekker was very excited to find out some military exercises were being held while we were in Vegas (yep, I married a nerd! 😉)  So we spent a sunny, 70-degree afternoon sunning ourselves next to the Vegas Speedway (which sits just across the road from the Nellis runway). 

For some insider info on when you can catch planes flying at Nellis, click here!

WORD OF WARNING!  You will be perfectly fine if you sit and watch planes on the roadside next to the Speedway.  DO NOT sit across the road next to the Base fence!  Technically both are portions of a public road, but the Base Police are known to get cranky if you sit on their side. (Just a tip to help your trip stay fun and uneventful. 😇)


So, take a trip to check out the Vegas Strip, the Hoover Dam, and maybe watch some fighter jets roar through the skies above you!

Have you been to Vegas or the Hoover Dam?  Tell me what tips you would have for first-time visitors in the comments! 


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Four pictures: 1)The marble tower of the Ceasar's Palace casino rises from the ground below; 2) A red, white and blue-colored, miniature version of the Eifel Tower. Another casino stands in the background with a pool of water in the foreground; 3) Look up towards the Vegas Eiffel Tower from below; 4) Cement dam with the Colorado River leading to it. Higher water levels of the pool behind the dam, all in a rocky canyon; pin reads: "Las Vegas: Tips for your First Trip"

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Excited to Turn 40!

The Trekkers turned 40 recently! In this post, I ruminate on how it feels to turn over a new decade and dreams I have for Part 2 of our lives.


Both of the Trekkers turned 40 years young recently! 😮 🤭  It’s ok though, we’re excited for the next decade!

I always assumed that by now I’d have everything figured out.  It’s silly, but when you watch tv, and there’s a character who’s in their 40s, they usually seem so mature.  They seem like “real” adults.  They have a “real” job, they’re married, they have kids, they own a house…I see them and I think, “I hope I’m like that when I grow up”… 🤔

Wait!  I’m married, we own a house, and we both have real jobs.  We don’t have kids but Puppers comes in a close second, right? 😉 Wow! I am that person!  But why don’t I feel like it?

Metaphorically old

I started feeling “old” when my doctors began responding with, “that’s normal with age” when I would point out oddities I had noticed. 😝  Don’t get me wrong, that is a far better response than the alternative could be, but still…

…you also start to notice your age when things start failing on your body and the only true cure for them requires surgery and a 6 – 8 week recovery period to fix! 😝 (Bunions on your feet, carpal tunnel in your hands…my knees have started to lock up from time to time…I knew all that hiking would catch up to me one day! 😝)

Delayed adulthood?

Part of the reason we still feel like “kids” could be partially due to the fact that Mr. Trekker and I didn’t begin “adulting” until we were almost 30. When one of you spends seven years in grad school, other life events tend to get put on hold.

So, while most of our friends and family members were getting married, buying houses, and having kids at 22 (or earlier), we didn’t get to really start the process till almost 30.  So, we’re basically eight years behind everybody else.  Does that mean in “adult years” we’re actually only 32?  Could that explain why I don’t feel “that old”…or maybe I’m just immature?  😉😝

I feel as though there were themes to our recent, lived decades:

Our 20s were about finding ourselves in this adult world and figuring out what we wanted to be when we grow up (we’re still working on that one! 😝)…

Our 30s were about paying off the debt we accrued in our 20s, 😂 and building an adult life (“real” jobs, buying a house, starting to accrue a nest egg, etc.)

Hoping for a great decade to come

And now we’re looking forward to our 40s!  I’m optimistic that 40 will be the beginning of a great, new decade.  Plus, I get to be an even-numbered age again.  I like even numbers, so hopefully, that’s a good omen. 😉

I am prayerfully hopeful that our 40s can be about starting to move toward what we really want in life.  For me, I’d LOVE to be able to “retire” by 50.  I pray for good planning and a little luck to accomplish that.

To be clear, I use the word “retire” VERY loosely.  I see it more as “removing oneself from the Monday – Friday, 9 – 5 grind” rather than “stopping work for the rest of what will hopefully be a very long life.” 😇

Our Dreams for the Future

Now that I’m 40, I feel like my priorities in life are changing.  Instead of being motivated to pursue that great new job or promotion, I instead find myself wanting to pursue “living our best life”.  This looks different for every person but for us, it looks like traveling to amazing places and having awesome adventures.

We’ve already done a decent job of traveling all over the country. We excel at taking random weekend (or multi-week) trips from:

We want to do even more adventures like this though. We’ve got some pretty epic trips we want to take in the next 10, 20, or even 30 years. As John Muir said, “The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.”

What else are we hoping to see and do in our 40s?  Well…

          • In the short term, check out these posts for info on our Epic, 40th Birthday, Spring break trip!: Viva Las Vegas!7 Things to See in Death Valley National Park, and Driving the Extraterrestrial (ET) Highway
          • we have goals to FINALLY make our epic, Alaska vacation a reality…
          • …and if we see Alaska we’ll only have one more state to visit to see all 50 US states so…I guess Hawaii it is then!
          • we want to drive ALL of Route 66…
          • we want to check out and camp on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon…
          • we’ve had Nova Scotia/Newfoundland on our list for some time…
          • there are still a ton of ghost towns we want to visit in Colorado, Utah, Montana…

…and these are just the big trips within and near the US, these don’t include all the smaller trips we’d like to take…we’ve got a bunch of international locales we’re excited about too, but those may have to wait till our 50s. 😉

  • I also have some personal goals I want to achieve:
      • Now that the world is entering the “Post-COVID era” I want to FINALLY get to a blogging conference!
      • I have one book I’ve been working on writing for quite some time and another I have ideas about…
      • I want to write guidebooks to help people easily see/experience this amazing world we’ve been blessed to live in…
      • I want to continue pursuing my freelance/consulting career…

Final Takeaways from my 30s…

      • I haven’t achieved all my dreams from my 30’s…
          • I had the opportunity to attempt to start my own business/work for myself.  I was doing pretty well too until a little thing called COVID came along and kind of killed that dream 😡 –at least temporarily–though I’m still trying to press ahead with this in some form or another.
          • Several years ago I did leave a job that failed to make me happy, and while I’m back working a “somewhat” normal, 9-5 it tends to be one of the weirdest versions of that type of job that exists, I think 😂 (and I mean that in a good way!)

        Easily 60% of my job is paperwork that I can do from home pretty much WHENEVER I feel like it. On top of that, even the meetings I do have I usually schedule myself.  This means I can more or less work whenever I feel like it (as long as the necessary stuff gets done).  And thanks to laptops and mobile internet I can often work from anyWHERE I want, as well (with a little time to plan.)  My job is also based on Billable Hours which is a whole other, weird thing.  It makes for an incredibly flexible job that plays well into my plans for lots of travel in our future. 😁 

    What does “getting older” mean for me?

    I feel like I pretty much stopped “growing older” at around 30–and I’ve had a number of people tell me I don’t look “that old”–enough so that I don’t think they’re “just” being nice! 😇

    Based on genetics, I have two possible physical paths to follow as I age.  My dad’s side of the family tends to avoid getting grey hair as they get older.  My mom’s side, on the other hand, has an infamous “Curse” where everyone has a head full of white (albeit BEAUTIFUL) hair by the time they’re 50! (So far I seem to be taking my dad’s family’s fork in the road.  Only the next 10 years will tell if that continues or not! 😯)

  • I don’t feel old…Ok, maybe I do “a little”:  when I stay up too late and feel like I have a hangover the next day…or when I tweak my back with a violent sneeze (thanks COVID! 😝)…or when I feel a random *crack!* in my neck when raking leaves!  I’m more mature now (I think? 🤔) and I definitely feel much more secure in who I am and what I want out of this life (and the world).
  • My 30s were pretty good to me and I feel like I’ve really come into my own in the last few years.  So what does it mean to notch another year on the proverbial stick of life?

    Another birthday means being hopeful about the future!

    The good news is both Mr. Trekker and I have longevity in our families.  We are blessed to have some pretty good genes in our family trees, so I have every intention of us living to be 85 or so, at least.  Almost all of our grandparents lived into their 80s (and many of our family members have lived at least that long, sometimes FAR longer).

  • While nothing is guaranteed, of course (my anxiety forces me to put that qualifier in, we don’t want to jinx anything now do we? 🙄) it’s a fair guess (hope?) that we’re not even halfway through our lifespans yet…which is a WONDERFUL thing.  Hopefully *fingers crossed*, we have MANY years left to adventure together!
  • I have grand plans for the future.  I want to travel, I want to write, I want to see and learn new things, I want to leave my impact on the world.  I don’t have time to feel old!

    Getting older means energy!

    I’ve got just as much energy as ever.  I still don’t need coffee to wake me up in the morning (Mr. Trekker will tell you the LAST thing I need in the morning is MORE energy 😇).  Everything just seems to move so fast these days, I feel like life is racing by!   The hours, the days, the weeks, the months, the seasons, the years!  I want to embrace life and enjoy it as much as I can, and that can be hard to do when it feels like it’s just whipping by you! (This feels especially true after the craziness of the last few years.)

    I pray our 40s are blessed

    My goals for my 40s are similar to my goals from past years.  I want to continue striving to appreciate the little positives that each day brings.  I want to continue to embrace life’s small moments, so maybe each year won’t race by so quickly anymore.

    I thank God for these first four decades, and I pray He chooses to bless both Mr. Trekker and me with MANY more!  I always try to celebrate birthdays and don’t complain too much about getting another year older.  After all folks, it’s better than the alternative, right?!

    To help celebrate getting older, check out this great song by one of my favorite Celtic bands. One More Day Above the Roses, by Gaelic Storm!

    What do you hope to accomplish in the next decade of your life? Let me know in the comments! 

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Visiting Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak

In this post, I highlight our visit to Garden of the Gods, Pikes Peak and other locations around Colorado Springs!


The Trekkers’ enjoyed another lovely, anniversary trip to Colorado!  This time we visited the Front Range, the one part of the state we haven’t spent much time in.  We also knocked several long-held items off our bucket list:  the National Museum of World War II Aviation, Garden of the Gods, and Pikes Peak!

I find I have a love-hate relationship with Colorado.  I LOVE visiting there! If I had to pick one state in the entire nation to vacation the rest of my life it would be Colorado, hand’s down. It’s just SO beautiful and there are so many things to do!

That being said though, to actually live in Colorado, you have to either choose a crowded big city or live isolated, in the middle of nowhere, with weather that can be incredibly harsh for much of the year. *sigh*

We’ve spent extensive time in the northern, western, southwestern, and southeastern portions of this awesome state.  The only place we hadn’t really visited was the Front Range.  So, as Mr. Trekker had a work meeting there on our anniversary weekend we thought we’d make use of the opportunity! (I’m very blessed that, as long as I have internet access, my flexible job allows me to work from hotel rooms in random states. 😉)

On the drive down to Colorado Springs we opted for the “Nebraska Route” from the Black Hills.  This is a great drive to avoid traffic but it includes a unique trip through the nuclear missile fields of far southwest Nebraska and far northeast Colorado.  The dichotomy between these weapons of death and destruction that sit just off the road and the relatively benign, green energy, wind turbines that watch over them from the nearby hills is enough to leave a chill down your spine. 😮  

The Colorado Front Range

For those who don’t know, the Front Range is essentially a conglomeration of cities and towns that run for almost 200 miles, north-to-south, along I-25 and the “front range”–hence the name–or eastern border, of the Colorado Rockies.  This region basically runs from Fort Collins to Pueblo and includes the other highly populated areas of Boulder, Colorado Springs, and, of course, Denver.

I get why people like to live on the Front Range. It’s got many cultural opportunities, easy access to shopping (basically anything you could want), and easy access to incredible sites and all the outdoor activities you can think of at any time of the year.

Now for the bad news…THERE ARE SO MANY DAMN PEOPLE!!! 😝  This region is one of the fastest-growing areas of the country (not to mention one of the most expensive places to live) and it keeps expanding!  This equates to it being incredibly busy and hectic. 🤯  Sorry kids, there is nothing tranquil about the Front Range. 😂  The Trekkers have spent too much time living in small-town America to handle all that craziness.  Plus, you’re talking to the girl who grew up in rural Indiana and liked it!  FAR too many curses emit from my lips when trying to navigate Front Range traffic! 😂  

So, Colorado, while I love you and will forever enjoy vacationing there, I don’t EVER see myself living there! 😇

Pikes Peak

The summit of Pikes Peak sits at over 14,000 feet of elevation. This is VERY high!  The air is much thinner up here and the oxygen level is much lower. Do not be surprised if you feel short of breath, dizzy, and lightheaded with even the most minimal exertion. Also, if it is summertime know that you can get sunburned FAST at this altitude. 

Altitude sickness can occur at this height (though it is rare if you are only visiting for a short time and is a larger concern if you are heavily exerting yourself.)  Symptoms to watch for include nausea, dizziness, and shortness of breath.  In most cases, these will subside once you return to a lower elevation. 

How do I visit Pikes Peak?

There are multiple ways to visit Pikes Peak!  You can drive your car, ride a shuttle bus, hike up or take a train!   Details on each option are below:

Drive the Pikes Peak Toll Road

You will find the entrance to the Pikes Peak Toll Road off of US 24, about 10 miles west of Colorado Springs.  There is a fee to reach Pikes Peak using this route.  Please note:  this mountain is VERY popular.  So much so that during the summer season (Memorial Day through the end of September) you must have a reservation to drive all the way to the summit. (You can purchase tickets online here.)   There are also guided tours during the summer months that allow you to let someone else drive. 

Black, stone sign that reads, "14,115 feet (4302.31 meters) Pikes Peak Summit"
This picture speaks for itself 😁
Click here for a video of our drive UP Pikes Peak and here for a video of our drive down the mountain (complete with police escort! 😮
Ride Bikes up Pikes Peak Highway

You can also ride a bike to the top of the mountain via the Pikes Peak Highway.  Fees and reservations still apply.

This wouldn’t be my preferred method as you’re sharing this winding, narrow road with about a million of your closest friends (mostly tourists who are trying to navigate large machines that could easily kill you while they’re looking around at the amazing views)…but you do you. 😉

Panoramic view of rocky slopes of a mountain in the foreground. Lower mountains and plains are in the background with puffy, white clouds and blue sky overhead.
A panorama, 14,000 feet up from the top of Pikes Peak!
Hike Pikes Peak

If you’re the ambitious type, you can hike the Barr Trail up Pikes Peak.  This would be an incredibly scenic way to see the mountain although I’ve heard the hike is not for the faint of heart.  We didn’t do it but I know some people who have, successfully. For a first-hand account of the hike up Pikes Peak please see the blog of a friend of mine!

This hike is no joke!  The trail is 13.5 miles long (one-way) and gains more than 7000 feet in elevation!  It also reaches heights of over 14,000 feet and much of it is incredibly exposed both to sun and thunderstorms that can easily pop up. 

Many people like to hike up the mountain and then take the Pikes Peak Cog Railway on the return trip (see below)!

Hazy view of tree and grass-covered hills. A city and red rocks rising from the green are in the distance and far below.
Garden of the Gods as seen from Pikes Peak!
Pikes Peak Cog Railway

One of the more popular ways to reach the summit is via the cog railway. This way someone else gets to “drive” (while you enjoy the views!) and you don’t have to deal with the crowded roadway on the way up!  Click here for information on getting tickets for the cog railway!

Smoky view of slightly snow-covered mountains in the far distance
This hazy pic is of the east side of the Sangre de Cristos mountains as seen from Pikes Peak.  We visited the west side for the Festival of the Cranes earlier in the year!

Police escort off Pikes Peak (not a joke!)

We had quite the adventure as we left the summit of Pikes Peak.  The story starts when we initially arrived at the gated entrance to the attraction around 2 in the afternoon. (That gave us a good four hours to enjoy the views and get down before dark.)  When we paid our entrance fee the “gatekeeper” told us THE MOST IMPORTANT THING to know is to keep the vehicle in low gear on the return trip to save the car’s breaks.  Note: he stressed the importance of this tip and this is the ONLY THING he told us.

We reached the summit and went to check out the summit building when I realized this was the place that had the awesome donuts I had heard so much about! (They ran out WHILE we were standing in line! 😝)  We also saw some signs that said the summit building closes at 4:00 pm.

That’s fine, we’re used to buildings in our local national parks closing around that time, it just means you need to find an outhouse if you need a bathroom after that time…or so we thought.  Note again, this is the ONLY thing the signs or the brochure said–stay with me, this is important for later in the story…

A short while after leaving the summit we stopped at a pull-off where a number of people had stopped and were hiking around.  We wandered down the trail and around the corner of some rocks for about 20 minutes.  We were upwards of 14,000 feet in altitude so we weren’t moving very fast 😇 but it was a nice day and we were enjoying our walk.

Mountans stretching to the horizon under blue sky and puffy clouds

As we were returning to the car we noted the pull-off was now completely devoid of other vehicles save the ranger truck with flashing lights sitting next to our car (and another police truck sitting on the road just before the pull-off.)  We talked to a VERY friendly, older-gentlemen ranger who said they close the summit at 4 in hopes everyone will be off the mountain by 5-ish–ok, we were heading down anyway.  Note: Again, this is ALL he said…

So we left the pull-off and got back onto the road with a friendly wave to the police truck who then…basically escorted us, with flashing lights, off the mountain.  We thought, “wow, they aren’t kidding about closing the summit!” (That’s way more intense than we’re used to but whatever, we were on our way down anyway.)

View from a car's sunroof looking behind the car at a police truck following behind.
I wasn’t kidding about the police! 😂

About halfway down the mountain, we came to another pull-off where several vehicles and people were still milling about.  As we slowed down for the curve we were finally able to make out the muffled noise coming from the police truck behind us…”I told you all once before, if you’re not off the mountain by 5 pm it’s a $1000 fine!” (For the record, he was talking to the people still parked, not us.)

I should also note, it was currently about 4:55 and there was NO WAY we were going to make it off the mountain in the next five minutes!  Fortunately, he was busy with those people and ignored us and we merrily continued our way down the mountain with no further problems.

Two police cruisers round a curve in the road
Really…not kidding! 😂

With the rise in van life and “stealth camping,” not to mention the winding road, steep dropoffs, and large wildlife (and close proximity to a large, metro area) I can understand their desire to keep people off the mountain in the dark.  However a few suggestions come to mind…

–Maybe…when a park gate employee tells you “THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO REMEMBER…” three hours from park closing time, he should actually mention that there is a closing time? (Especially if there is a monetary fine involved?…)

–Maybe…on the brochures for the park (not to mention the signs on actual park buildings) they note this closing time as well?…

…these are just suggestions, of course. 😝

***I should also note we visited the park in mid-October, during the summer I believe it closes at 8…JUST MAKE SURE YOU’RE OFF THE ROAD BY THEN! 😝***

Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods has to be one of the more famous “city parks” in the country!  The main entrance is off 30th street on the west side of Colorado Springs (though there is another entrance on the south side from US 24.)  Also of note, this park is open till around 9 each night, and there were signs ALL OVER clearly stating this…*ahem* 😝

Green, scrub brush with a large rock rising out of it in the foreground, much taller mountains in the background including one that rises above tree line.
Garden of the Gods with Pikes Peak looming overhead (to the right)

This is a great attraction! It’s found right in town so it’s easy to access for Out-of-Towners or Locals wanting a nice place to exercise or walk the dog.  Rock climbing is also available at certain places within the park.  Another cool thing about Garden of the Gods…admission is completely FREE! 

Black sign against red rock that reads, "The Garden of the Gods given to the city of Colorado Springs in 1909 by the children of Charles Eliott Perkins in fulfilment of his wish that it be kept forever free to the public."
Sign at the front of the park

This locale is characterized by a number of red rock formations rising from the dry, green scrubland that is common in this part of Colorado.

Red rock shapes rise above green scrubland. Two shapes that resemble camels with their heads touching sit on the top of one of the red rocks.
This formation is called the “kissing camels” (though from this distance it looks more like a sea turtle. 😝)
Red rock wall. Two shapes on top resemble the head of a cow and a bird with its wings back sit facing each other with their heads touching.
Up-close view of the “kissing camels”. We thought they looked more like a calf laying down, kissing a vulture with its wings folded…but whatever. 😝

Tall, narrow, red rocks rise from a scrub brush, desert landscape on a blue sky, white, puffy cloud day. One rock has a hole through the middle. Red rocks rise from green, scrub brush. A tree-covered mountain in the background has a taller, rocky mountain rising behind it.
The Twins!

Two tall, narrow, red rock formation rise off a flatter rock formation

Dark, mountain silhouettes viewed through a whole between two tall, narrow rock formations. The mountains in the background tower over the green, desert landscape in the foreground.
View from “the window” between the Twins!

National Museum of World War II Aviation

While in Colorado Springs we also checked out the National Museum of World War II Aviation which is located just north of the Colorado Springs Airport, just off Aviation Way (which you can reach from US 24).  This was a nice museum!  As Mr. Trekker is a history nerd with a special fondness for WWII airplanes, he especially enjoyed it. 😉  We had enjoyed the Pikes Peak Regional Air Show earlier that fall and many of the warbirds from the museum were featured there.

Places to Eat near Colorado Springs

As usual, we found MANY good places to eat on our trip:

Paninos Restaurant–this is a cute, casual, family-owned, Italian restaurant.  We enjoyed a lovely anniversary dinner there!

Louies Pizza –a tasty, casual place for pizza  in a convenient, downtown location

Sandy’s restaurant –Sandy’s has one of the best breakfasts in Colorado Springs!  This place has HUGE portions! (I’m not kidding. However much you think you should order…halve that!)  You usually need reservations on weekends but the hostess liked us when she found out we were from South Dakota (a certain blogger may have noticed her Mt. Rushmore shirt and casually mentioned we live near there. 😇)  She convinced some friendly locals to let us sit with them at their long table.

This is one thing I LOVE about traveling, road trips, and taking the scenic route.  It often means you get the privilege of visiting local places.  You never know when an opportunity will arise to get to know a complete stranger in a comfortable environment.  I LOVE interacting with Locals like this!  You never know what you’ll learn from their experiences! 

Josh & Johns –this was a yummy  place for a sweet, ice cream treat

Uncle Sam’s Pancake House, Manitou Springs —nothing fancy here but the staff were friendly and attentive and the breakfast was DELICIOUS!

Hoosier Pass, Colorado

After our weekend in Colorado Springs, we needed to get to Boulder as Mr. Trekker had some work meetings there.  Normal people would have driven straight up I-25 from “the Springs” to Boulder…but who wants to be normal?!

Instead, the Trekkers opted for the VERY scenic route!  We took US 24 west to Hartsel, then took Route 9 across one of our favorite parts of Colorado, South Park (click here for a video of another drive through South Park!)  We even got to check out the ghost town of Alma and the skiing area of Breckenridge on this jaunt!

Leave it to the Trekkers to willfully and eagerly turn what could have been a simple, 90-minute drive into an incredibly beautiful, 8-HOUR tour of central Colorado on a GORGEOUS fall day…ALWAYS take the scenic route!

As part of our scenic drive, we randomly stumbled upon a place I’ve had on my list to visit…that’s right, the Hoosier finally found Hoosier Pass! 😁 😁 😁 (Not sure why the two signs differ by three feet in their claim of how high it is? 😮)

Metal sign set into a tall, narrow rock reads, "Hoosier Pass across Continental Divide between South Park and the Blue River. Altitude 11,542 feet. Named for Hoosier Gulch discovered and worked as a placer (gold) camp by Indiana men 1880".

Informational sign on a rock at a gravel parking area reads, "Hoosier Pass elevation 11,539 feet. Continental Divide Left: Atlantic Ocean Pike National Forest Right: Pacific Ocean White River National Forest

Golden Gate Canyon State Park

As part of our scenic drive, we also stumbled upon Golden Gate Canyon State Park, before ending our day in Boulder.

This is a great little park situated in north-central Colorado, around 15 miles west of Golden and about 17 miles north of I-70.  It’s got a number of trailheads that can be accessed from various areas, but the main entrance/ Visitor Center can be found on Route 46 about five miles east of the t-intersection with Route 119.

Golden Gate Canyon State Park offers around 35 miles of trails in addition to other activities (like camping) and it’s dog friendly!  If you want to know how the park gets its name, visit in late September/early October, it was beautiful!

Bright yellow aspen trees surround a dunn-colored, grassy meadow under a blue sky with puffy, white clouds.
Can you see why they call it “Golden Gate”?

Bright yellow aspen trees surround a dunn-colored, grassy meadow under a blue sky with puffy, white clouds.

Bright yellow aspen trees (and a green pine tree) surround a dunn-colored, grassy meadow under a blue sky with puffy, white clouds.

There are places in the park that also offer incredible views of the surrounding Rockies, including some of Rocky Mountain National Park’s most notable peaks (the national park sits only about 60 miles to the north).

Green pine trees and leafless brances in the foreground Tree covered hills behine lead to tall, tree-covered and rocky mountains in the background
The tall peak to the right is the infamous Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park!

Narrow aspen trees with yellow leaves in a meadow in the foreground. Green and yellow-tree covered mountains rise in the background under a blud sky with white clouds. View down a grass covered hill into a valley of pine trees with yellow-leafed trees running through it. Green, tree-covered mountains rise around the valley with taller mountains in the background. A gravel, forest road surrounded by green pine and yellow aspen trees with dark, mountain silhouettes rising in the background

Places to Eat in Boulder

We were only in Boulder a few days but we enjoyed a few yummy places to eat there, as well!

Sweet Cow –another yummy place for a sweet, ice cream treat!

Chez Thuy–this is a great, Vietnamese restaurant. I highly recommend their Pad Thai!


So if you’re visiting the Colorado Front Range, be sure to check out Garden of the Gods, Pikes Peak, Golden Gate Canyon State Park, and the National Museum for World War II Aviation!  You’ll be glad you did!

Have you visited any of these locales?  What did you enjoy most?  Tell me about it in the comments. 


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3 pictures on the pin, one of the sign at the Pikes Peak Summit, another of red rock formations rising from green scrubland, and another of mountains and plains spreading to the horizon from a viewpoint on a mountain high above. Pin reads, "Visiting Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak"


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San Luis Valley: Aliens, Sand Dunes and Sandhill Cranes!

In this post, I detail a recent trip the Trekkers took to the San Luis Valley in south-central Colorado.

One cool event to check out in early March is the Monte Vista Crane Festival in the beautiful, San Luis Valley of south-central Colorado!

The time we visited our trip started with an interesting drive down I-25 in southeast Wyoming near Cheyenne. We got as far as Wheatland, Wyoming on the interstate, and then saw the flashing sign for “I-25 closed to Cheyenne”! (It had snowed the day before, and even though it was bright and sunny strong winds were causing blowing snow and bad enough winter conditions to close I-25 and I-80 for close to 12 hours!)  So, we had to turn around and drive in “a big f-ing circle”–per Mr. Trekker 😂–back to the nearest alternate route through Torrington.

Anyone who’s driven through MANY parts of Wyoming knows, alternate routes (or roads in general) can be hard to come by. 😝 

After navigating some black ice…in the dark…and some sketchy drivers (I’m looking at you reckless semi-truck! 😒) we finally made it safely to Cheyenne.  From there it was an easy trip to the hotel in Lakewood (with a quick stop at Chick-fil-A for dinner!)  This is the price we pay to live in the INCREDIBLE Mountain West and try to travel during the fickle, early spring. 😂

Snowy pastures with snow-covered Rocky Mountains in background

The next day we headed down the GORGEOUS Route 285 southwest of Denver.  I LOVE this drive, it is always SO PRETTY! It sweeps through mountain passes and across alpine valleys.  It was cool because we’ve never been to the Rockies when they had this much snow before! One of my favorite parts of the drive traverses South Park, an incredible valley in central Colorado. Click here for a video!

San Luis Valley, Colorado

Eventually, we arrived in the BEAU-tiful San Luis Valley!

The San Luis Valley, in southern Colorado, is an amazing place! It is the world’s largest high-altitude (alpine) valley that stretches over 100 miles north-to-south and is almost 75 miles in width.  It was once the bottom of a large lake and this is evident as the valley floor is flat as a pancake!  The valley is especially striking as it is lorded over on three sides by the Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) mountains that reach higher than 14,000 feet!  The views here are truly incredible! (Click here for a short video of the drive into the valley.)

Looking down the road at the long San Luis Valley. Snow-covered Sangre de Cristo mountains on the left.
Driving into the incredible San Luis Valley!

Where is the San Luis Valley?

You will find this amazing valley hidden…in the middle of nowhere. 😉  The southern tip of the valley is only about 35 miles north of the state’s southern border with New Mexico.  The valley is also situated almost directly in the center of Colorado (going west-to-east).  It sits around 150 miles west of the mountain town of Durango and 120 miles from I-25 (nearest to the small town of Trinidad and the larger city of Pueblo.)

Pastureland backed by snow-covered mountains that are pink as they reflect the setting sun
Sangre de Cristo mountains living up to their name!

Fun Things to do in the San Luis Valley

The San Luis Valley is chock full of fun (and sometimes downright WEIRD) things to do! 

Great Sand Dunes National Park

This is the second time we’ve visited this park.  The first was several years ago in October (another lovely time to visit.)  We were able to hike higher on the dunes this time but we still haven’t made it to the top.  Those things are steep and they’re situated at like 8900 feet of elevation so you’re dealing with thinner air too!  It always seems to be windy at the Dunes (but I suppose that makes sense as wind is what created them. 😉)

Snow-covered pasture and sand dunes with snow-topped Sangre de Cristo mountains in background
Great Sand Dunes under the watchful eye of the Sangres!
Snow-covered sand dunes with a clear, blue sky
Snow-covered sand dunes
Snow-covered sand dunes with mountains in the background and a clear, blue sky.
Panorama of the Sand Dunes!
People seem tiny as they climb a sand dune
A view up one of the mid-sized dunes. (We made it to the top of this!)
Person with back to camera standing with arms-outstretched atop a sand dune.
Tranquil Trekker, Queen of the Sand Dune!

Snow-covered sand dunes with snow-covered mountains and a clear, blue sky in the background

Crestone, Colorado

The small town of Crestone, Colorado is found in the northeast corner of the valley. The town has a population of only a little over 100 people but at least eight different religions offer sites here.  They range from a co-ed Catholic monastery to Buddhist, Hindu, and New Age offerings.  You can see a Ziggurat–a monument commonly found to honor ancient, Mesopotamian gods.  There are also Buddhist and Hindu centers.  This tiny town even hosts the only open-air funeral pyre (used for open-air cremation) in the country!

Aliens in the San Luis Valley?

This valley is known for one very unique characteristic, a large amount of UFO sightings!  This has helped it earn the title of the “Bermuda Triangle of the West”.  There have been recorded UFO sightings in the valley since the Spanish Conquistadors first came here in the 1500s! (Before that time there are stories of “Star People” found in the ancient legends of the American Indian tribes who were here far earlier.)

No one knows exactly why there are so many UFO sightings here:

      • It could be due to the incredibly dark, night sky that is somewhat unique to this area.  This is provided by the towering mountains that surround the majority of the valley blocking out light pollution from larger towns in the local area.
      • This region is also very rural, some of the largest towns in the valley only boast populations of around 10,000 people.
      • Some also suggest these sightings may be related to covert operations occurring at Cheyenne Mountain, a military base located less than 200 miles to the northeast (not too far as the secret government plane flies. 😮 😉)
Alien figure surrounded by and covered in trinkets and figurines
Benevolent Guardian of the UFO Watchtower vortices?

Whatever the reason though, there are more UFO sightings here than at the infamous, Roswell, New Mexico.

UFO Watchtower!

Continuing with the “out-of-this-world” tradition of the San Luis Valley is the UFO Watchower!  We discovered this unique locale the first time we visited the valley.  We literally stumbled on it as we were driving down the road. 😂  We didn’t have time to stop then so Mr. Trekker promised we could return on the next trip!

A small, open tower with an uncovered deck on top
The UFO Watchtower!
Desert landscape with tower railings and trinkets in the foreground, snow-covered mountains far in the background
Panorama from the UFO Watchower

It takes a little imagination and a BIG open mind to fully appreciate the quirkiness of the site.  The story goes that two large, energy vortices are found here.  One spins clockwise, the other counterclockwise. (They are said to be connections to other dimensions/universes.  Supposedly, 25 different psychics have visited the site and have confirmed this.)  Several have also claimed that two large “beings” protect the vortices (they’re supposed to be friendly as long as you are respectful. 😇)

I’m not sure I believe any of this, but science has shown the earth has different magnetic fields, so maybe these could influence the area?  Neither of us sensed anything strange but maybe we’re just skeptics? 😝  

Desert landscape with trinkets in the foreground, snow-covered mountains far in the background
View from the UFO Watchtower

There is “The Garden” where people leave trinkets (I left a bobby pin, it’s all I had in my pocket. 😇)  Some of the psychics also claim there is a mile-long mothership buried in the ground underneath the watchtower. (Could this help explain all the UFO sightings? 👽🖖)

Desert landscape with trinkets in the foreground, snow-covered mountains far in the background
“The Garden”

Old satellite dish covered with stickers and surrounded by trinkets in the foreground, snow-covered mountains far in the background

Where is the UFO Watchtower?

The UFO Watchtower sits around three miles north of the tiny community of Hooper, Colorado.  You will find it on Route 17, a little more than halfway down the San Luis Valley.  It is situated around 25 miles north of one of the largest towns in the valley, Alamosa, and about 60 miles south of the town of Salida.

Desert landscape with space-like robots in the foreground, snow-covered mountains far in the background

The friendly proprietor of the site claims that since the destination opened in May of 2000 around 231 “tourists from outer space” have been spied in the night sky over the valley. (The owner claims she’s seen around 28 “things she can’t explain”.)

Sandhill Cranes!

The main reason we chose this weekend to visit the San Luis Valley is that it was the date of the annual, Sandhill Crane Festival (it occurs every year in early March.)  We always enjoy watching (and hearing!) the cranes fly over our area every fall and spring, their unique song echoing across the Hills as they fly high on the thermals.

We actually learned while we were down there that the Cranes that fly over the Black Hills are NOT the ones we were watching in the San Luis Valley. These are the greater Sandhill Cranes that migrate to the Yellowstone area for the summer.  The ones that fly over our house are the lesser Cranes who summer in Canada. 

You can view the cranes, feeding, flying, and “loafing” about all around Monte Vista.  We especially enjoyed visiting the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge where we saw a bunch of geese too!

Click here for a video of the cranes, their incredible song and their “flight ballet”…

Banner that says, "Monte Vista Crane Festival" in front of pastureland
Monte Vista Sandhill Crane Festival!
Pastureland covered in flocks of Sandhill Cranes in foreground, snow-covered mountain peaks in background
Feeding and “loafing” cranes

Places to Eat in the San Luis Valley

The Trekkers always find great places to eat on our adventures:

The Cow –a yummy place for breakfast (This locale is not actually in the San Luis Valley. It is located in Morrison, Colorado, not far from the Red Rocks Amphitheater.)
San Luis Valley Brewing Company–Alamosa, Colorado.  A good place for dinner and/or drinks
–Campus Cafe–Alamosa, Colorado.  Another great place for breakfast (and probably the best meal we had all weekend!)
Purple Pig Pizzeria–Another fun place for a post-adventure meal!

If you want to explore a lesser-known part of the incredible state of Colorado, check out all the amazing San Luis Valley has to offer!

Have you checked out any of these sites in the San Luis Valley?  Tell me about them in the comments! 


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Want to visit a beautiful and lesser known part of Colorado? Check out the San Luis Valley! Home to UFOs, sand dunes, sandhill cranes and much more!

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Tips for Traveling with a Dog

In this post, I give some simple tips for making traveling with your four-legged family member a breeze!


What’s better than going on vacation with the family?  Going on vacation with the four-legged members of your family, of course!  Read on for the Tranquil Trekker’s tips to make traveling with a dog a relaxing and enjoyable experience!

Frequent Stops when Traveling with a Dog

We find it’s best to stop every couple of hours–and to be clear this means a stop where Doggo can get out and walk around some whenever possible (rest stops are preferable to gas stations, and parks or short hikes are most preferable of all!)  This isn’t as easy if you’re traveling through more urban environments.  But any time you can stop where there is at least a little grass where the pup can get out and run helps (it’s good for us to get out and stretch our legs too!)

Don’t forget the pups need stops to potty and for snacks and water too, just like us!

Dog running mid-stride in the grass, tennis ball and rope in mouth, earth flopping.
Puppers encourages you to search for green spaces to play!

We especially enjoy stopping at parks or other green areas to get all of us some exercise.  This also helps you experience the areas you are visiting (or just driving through) better.  This is a great part of road tripping, getting to actually experience the country rather than just flying over it on the way to your final destination.

We’ve had lots of fun stopping at little parks in small towns.  Sometimes they have memorials that help you learn about the local area, occasionally they may even have a small museum on-site.  We also strive to find waterfalls/dams/historical sites to hike out to whenever possible.  Many times this may be a simple walk of less than a mile to see a cool place.

Related post: Rest Areas: A Road Trip Necessity

It’s not only good exercise and relaxation for us, we always need to remember a good puppy is a tired puppy, and exercise is a great way to tucker our furry friends out (this is especially important if they tend to sleep in the car.  You don’t want to get some place and be tired and all your four-legged friend wants to do is run and play because they’ve been sleeping in the car the last several hours.).

When You Travel Pack Treats and Toys for the Dog

Bring chew toys or something the pup can play with on their own (in the back seat, their crate, the hatch, etc.)  Also, bring multiple toys to keep them entertained (a stick to chew on, a ball to chase, a rope.) Bring extra toys in case you lose one in a creek 😮 or you meet a friend who needs one!

Dog asleep on floor of room, tennis ball sits in open mouth.
Puppers recommends you bring SEVERAL balls on the trip!

Have an in-car bag with treats, water, toys for rest stops, poop bags, and an easy-to-pack bowl.  Don’t forget food too, if it’s going to be a long travel day.

Pack Luggage for the Dog When You Travel

Pack luggage for your friend, as well.  This keeps their food, treats, bedding, harnesses, water, jackets, toys, etc. all in one place that is easy to pack and easy to find.

Dog sitting in back seat of vehicle, suspicious look on face.
I’ve been locked in this back seat a long time Human, don’t you think it’s about time for a break?!

Practice PATIENCE when Traveling with a Dog

Have patience!!!  Remember your four-legged friend gets bored, antsy, hungry, cranky, carsick, needs to pee, etc, just like we do!  This can especially be true for younger dogs. (Our former dog got horribly car sick until she was around five years old.  The vet couldn’t even believe it.  He kept asking, “she’s STILL getting sick?!”)

Give Fido His Space in the Car!

Make sure your friend has their own space in the vehicle.  This could be a chunk of the back seat or hatch or their own crate in the back of the car.  It should be big enough that they can lie down.  Treat your furry friend as a passenger that you have to make room for.  Don’t pack the car to the gills and then expect the dog to just “fit” into a spot.  They are part of the family right?  We need to treat them as such in the car. 😀

Dog laying in back seat of vehicle, strapped in by seatbelt.
Puppers says, “I need my space!”

We enjoy traveling with Puppers!  Use these tips the next time you travel with a dog to help make your trip as memorable and free from difficulty as possible!  Now get out there and enjoy an adventure with both human and canine members of the family!

Dog looks out at mountain vista from a viewpoint

Do you travel with your dog?  Have you learned any additional tips or tricks?  Tell me about them in the comments!

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Want to travel with your dog without feeling like you need to rip your hair out? Read on for tips on how to do just that!


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Ghost Towns in Southwestern Montana

In this post, I review several, cool ghost towns in southwestern Montana.


Montana IS the Old West!  It’s full of small, dusty, cowpoke towns where you can just imagine characters like Buffalo Bill Cody and Wyatt Earp walking its streets.  What better way to enjoy that experience than visiting an authentic ghost town?  We’ve enjoyed a few of these unique locales (though there are still plenty more on our list!)  See below for details!

Elkhorn State Park (Ghost Town)

Elkhorn is a tiny town located in the high mountains of southwestern Montana.  It is situated in a lovely valley with a mountain expanse that spreads out before you.  Technically this is a state park but the park portion only encompasses two buildings and a picnic area, the rest of the town is privately owned.  Feel free to walk the local roads though.  There are a number of signs that show where buildings used to be, what they were used for, etc.  

Front of old, wooden building. Sign says, "Gillian Hall: Built 1880's, Bottom a store or saloon, dances upstairs."

You can reach Elkhorn from the south by taking Exit 256, off of I-90, near Cardwell, Montana.  From here you will take Route 69 north.  After about 25 miles you will turn right on White Bridge Road (it’s literally just a short road that crosses the river on a small bridge.)  Once you cross the river turn right at the T-intersection onto Lower Valley Road.  You then take this road to the town.

There are a few signs for the Elkhorn mountains and Elkhorn state park but don’t rely on these to guide you.  It will be about 40 miles until you reach the town going this route.  As long as you stay on the main gravel road once you reach Lower Valley Road, you should be fine.  These roads are almost all dirt but they’re in good shape for basically any vehicle in good weather conditions. 

Old wooden building

You can also reach the town from the north from I-15.  From Exit 164 on I-15 at Boulder, MT, take Route 69 south and then take a left onto White Bridge Road.  The town is about 20 miles from the I-15 exit going this route.

Front of old, wooden building. Sign says, "Fraternity Hall, shows were upstairs"If you continue up the dirt road past town and follow the signs, you will end up at the old cemetery in the woods. (The road is in pretty decent shape in good weather conditions–though we admittedly had a 4×4 truck.  We did see a sedan up there but I’d be careful with any car other than a Subaru or something else with higher clearance.  There were a few ruts and rocks in the road that could damage a lower-clearance vehicle.).

The cemetery was really neat but also very sad.  There were SO MANY graves of babies and children (apparently there was a diphtheria epidemic in the town that killed many children).  You’d see families where multiple children died within just a few days of each other.  I love visiting old cemeteries.  It’s always very sad to see how frequently young people died, but the histories of the area that you can gather are so interesting. 

Old, wooden building

Old, decrepit, wooden mine stands on a mountainside
The mine in Elkhorn

Nevada City and Virginia City Ghost Towns

These two towns are also located in southwest Montana.  They are only about two miles apart.  The easiest way to reach them is probably from Three Forks, Montana.  Take Exit 274 off of I-90 for US 287 south.  Then take this road to the town of Ennis and turn right onto State Route 287 (yes, the roads are the same number. 😉)  This road runs right to the towns.  It is around 60 miles to the towns from I-90.

Related Info:  Activities in Nevada and Virginia Cities, Virginia City history, Nevada City history, Bannack HistoryHistory of Elkhorn; 6 Don’t Miss Places for your Western Montana Road Trip

Nevada City was our favorite site of the two.  It is an outdoor museum of sorts.  Once you enter you can then walk around the entire town.  There are many buildings that you can actually go inside that are modeled to look as they would have in their heyday (such as a barbershop, the blacksmith shop, the general store, etc.).  Many of the structures are not native to this exact location, rather they were saved by historical foundations and brought here from around the state to be preserved. (It reminded me a little of the 1880 town in South Dakota.)

View down dirt, main street of Nevada City ghost town. Old, wooden buildings on each side.
Main Street Nevada City

View down dirt street of a ghost town. Old, wooden buildings on each side. Blue sky with clouds

Barber Shop, Nevada City:

Interior of building. Sinks, mirror and wash basin in foreground, antique chair to the side, antique wood stove through doorway. Sign above door says, "Bath's"

One great part about this museum, it was Puppers friendly!

Front porch of old Post Office, dog walking through front door.
Puppers enjoyed the post office!

Virginia City was ok.  There were some decent sites to see but mostly it was a busy, commercialized town filled with shops, restaurants, and saloons.  Some people enjoy that atmosphere and that’s fine, but the Trekkers (and Puppers) prefer the quiet and solitude of the real ghost town. 😁  The town did offer some historical tours in horse-drawn stagecoaches that looked kind of cool, though we didn’t partake.

View down modern, paved, main street of Virginia City ghost town. Cars line both sides.
Main Street Virginia City (it isn’t quite so ghostly)

Bannack State Park (Ghost Town)

The easiest way to get to Bannack would be to take I-15 to Exit 59, near Dillon, Montana.  From here you will take Route 278 west.  After about 17 miles, Bannack Bench Road will break off to the south (left).  That takes you right to the state park.

Some of the roads to get to the park are gravel, but they were in great shape!  As long as you take it easy and don’t mind getting your car dirty, any sedan should be able to handle the drive in good weather conditions.

View down dirt, main street of Bannack ghost town, Bannack State Park. Old, wooden buildings on each side, blue, cloud-covered sky, dusty mountains in background..
Main Street Bannack

Old, wooden buildings line one side of dirt, street.

Old, wooden buildings line one side of dirt, street.

Old, wooden jails. Dusty mountains in background.
The jails in Bannack
Interior of old, wooden jail. Shackle points in floor.
You can see where the prisoners were chained

Bannack is AWESOME!  It’s one of the better preserved, true ghost towns I’ve ever seen (meaning it’s still in its original location and the buildings are in fairly good shape.)  They let you just wander around the town on your own, you can go in the buildings (that aren’t locked) AND you can bring dogs!

Smoky sunset over scrub-brush covered pastureland.
A smoky sunset over wild Montana
Woman and dog walking away from camera on dirt street of ghost town, sun setting into the clouds in background.
Puppers and I searching for ghosts at sunset
Interior of old, one room schoolhouse. Antique desks fill the room.
Inside the schoolhouse

Rules for teachers written on the schoolhouse chalkboard:

Rules for teachers at the schoolhouse in 1915 written on a chalkboard. These include, "you may no loiter downtown."

Rules for teachers at the schoolhouse in 1915 written on a chalkboard, including, "you may not dress in bright colors."

My favorite are no wearing bright colors over that scandalous one petticoat! 🤣 

View down spiral, front staircase of old hotel.
Not gonna lie, I couldn’t help imagining myself descending these stairs in a hoop skirt!

If you can make it work I STRONGLY recommend camping in the park, it’s about a half-mile walk from the campgrounds to the ghost town, and being there in the evening as the light wanes is AMAZING! (If you choose not to camp the park is open till 9 at night, in the summer).  The campgrounds are rustic (read vault toilets) but they were cute, well-maintained, and quiet.  This was our favorite stop of the trip and Mr. Trekker’s favorite campground (mostly because of the access to the ghost town.)

Foggy campsite surrounded by trees, tent in middle.
Our cute little campsite at the Bannack State Park campground
View from top of hill overlooking the ghost town of Bannack, Montana. Smoky mountains in background.
View of Bannack from the hill above the town
Dog asleep in back of vehicle, strapped into harness and seat belt.
Sleepy puppy after chasing ghosts! (BTW that seatbelt harness she’s wearing is AWESOME!)

Though they weren’t nearly as good as the ones we found for Colorado, I did find a series of books that is helpful when visiting Montana ghost towns:  

Book, "a pocket guide to ghost towns of Montana, volume 1."

This volume didn’t cover EVERY town we’d like to see but it did review many of them.  I’ll look into getting one of the other volumes when we go out for our next trip.  The book focused mostly on the histories of the towns (which is always interesting) but it did give a quick synopsis of how to find the town at the end of each section.  It even made helpful suggestions such as, “it is not advisable for any vehicles towing trailers to approach using the southern route.”

Bannack and Nevada/Virginia Cities are only about 80 miles apart.  While you can certainly enjoy Nevada City and Virginia City on the same day, I would encourage you to save one whole day for Bannack.  This will allow you to fully enjoy that park and give it the time it deserves.   

Ghost towns are such a great way to experience history and gain an appreciation of the “cushier” lives we lead today.  So if you find yourself in southwestern Montana, check out some of these cool destinations!

Have you been to any of these awesome ghost towns?  Are there others we should put on our list?  Let me know in the comments!

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Do you enjoy immersing yourself with the ghosts of yesteryear? Check out these cool ghost towns in southwestern Montana!

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4 Don’t Miss Sites in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming

In this post, I outline some great day hikes in the northern portion of the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming!


The Bighorn Mountains in northeastern Wyoming are a great place to hike and camp.  There you can find great campgrounds, historical sites, picturesque waterfalls, and even dinosaur footprints! 

Porcupine Campground, Bighorn Mountains

The Porcupine Campground is located off of Route 14A, in the northern portion of the national forest. (It is not far from the ancient Medicine Wheel that we visited several years ago.)  We drove in from the east, from the Sheridan and the Ranchester area.

This is a MUCH easier drive than coming in from the west, near Lovell.  That way is far steeper with much sharper turns.  When we drove the road from that direction several years ago we both agreed we wouldn’t want to have to do it pulling a 5th wheel.  We talked to someone in the campground who had accomplished this feat, and he confirmed it was quite difficult. 

Climbing the mountains from the west you do get some nice views of the Bighorn Basin, but it was a lovely drive through a canyon coming in from the east, as well.

Porcupine Campground is very nice for a national forest campground. (Far nicer than one we visited in South Dakota in the Black Hills National Forest.)  The sites were large and flat, and also well-spaced apart, some even appeared to be wheelchair-accessible.  They also gave you lantern hooks! (I’m easily impressed, what can I say? 😉) 

There was a goodly amount of shade at the campground and some of the sites offered fantastic views from the hillside.  The mosquitoes weren’t quite as bad as what we’ve experienced elsewhere, though they still gave us a few good bites.   

A stone fire pit in the foreground with pine trees and a colorful sunset in the background
Sunset from the campsite!

Waterfalls in the Bighorns!

Read on for two AMAZING waterfalls that are easy to reach in the Bighorns!

Porcupine Falls in the Bighorn Mountains

For our first hike, we visited Porcupine Falls.  It isn’t on all of the maps but it is easy to find.  It’s located off of Route 14, the same road as Bucking Mule Falls (which IS on most maps) and there is a sign at the turnoff.  The road to the trailhead is short but it does get rather rough. (We saw people in RVs and regular sedans who made it through though.)  In good conditions, most vehicles shouldn’t have too much trouble as long as you are watchful and take it slow.

The trail is short, less than a mile in each direction, but it is STEEP!  We were prepared for this but I strongly recommend GOOD walking shoes with strong tread if you’re attempting this hike.  In dry conditions, it was a little slippy heading down.  If it was muddy or snowy/icy this trail could be downright treacherous!  It’s a downhill hike the whole way to the falls, so you know what that means for your return trip! 😮  Another thing that makes the trek back so difficult is the altitude as you’ll find yourself above 5000 feet in elevation when attempting this hike.

It becomes extra fun when you meet an unleashed, less-than-friendly dog along the trail with no owner in sight, who insists on getting in your pup’s face and growling.  PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT:  Please be responsible for your pets and respectful of everyone else on the trail.  No one else knows your dog, or if the growls he emits are casual, or a prelude to something more aggressive–this is especially concerning when you have a pup who thinks EVERYBODY just wants to play with her! 🙄

Narrow waterfall amongst rock walls
Porcupine Falls!
Narrow waterfall between rock walls falling into a green, pool of water
Doesn’t that pool look inviting?
A rocky creek travels between a rock wall and a tree-covered mountain
A view down the canyon, past the waterfall and pool!

The view is definitely worth the challenge of getting to the site.  The roaring cascade plummets into a pool at your feet from over 200 feet above you. On hot days, this makes for a perfect place to take a cool dip, but be warned, the water is COLD!

Bucking Mule Falls in the Bighorns

After that adventure, we continued down the road to Bucking Mule Falls.  There were numerous horses and campers at this location and before you ask, yes, there was also a mule!  Poor Puppers didn’t know what to make of the ungodly noise that emanated from him in response to some nickers from other horses. 😂

You get extra points if you know what a mule actually is (hint, it’s a hybrid).  You get EXTRA, extra points if you know a unique characteristic that this hybridization causes…🤔 **(answers at the end)

I was in absolute heaven!  I LOVE the smell of horse (yes, really 😝).  I blame my childhood, growing up on a hobby farm, with horses, in Indiana.  But seriously, there is something cool about those animals.  They’re REALLY intelligent, for one thing, and their smell is divine!  It isn’t anything like other barnyard animals, it’s sweeter. (The only time I’ve ever known a horse to stink is when they’re super sweaty after a hard ride.)  Even their manure smells better than other animals.  That’s right, you heard me!  I like the smell of horse poop! 🤣

Related posts: Lake Helen, Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming; West Tensleep Trail, Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming; Bighorn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming; Camping in the Bighorns

This was a great trail!  It was about four miles round-trip, but there wasn’t much elevation gain.  The route mostly rolled over the lower-lying hills in the local area.  It traversed a beautiful, wooded forest with the pine needles cushioning your footfalls, as well as some more craggy outcrops.  The trek was fairly well-shaded, on a graded path, without a lot of roots or boulders to trip you up.

At the end, you come to a lookout point over Devil Canyon, where you look DOWN on the falls from high above (it emerges from the opposite canyon wall).  It was really cool!  The canyon was HUGE and beautiful, not what I was expecting at all.  It reminded me of the canyon that Green River formed at Dinosaur National Monument, in Colorado.  It leads to the west and opens onto the expansive, hazy plains of Bighorn Basin.

Tree-covered and rocky canyon walls. Taller mountains loom through the haze in the distance
Devil Canyon, isn’t it GORGEOUS?!
Viewed from above, a large, thin waterfall cascades down a rock wall
Bucking Mule Falls!
Shadows of two people on the rocky ground with a waterfall cascading down a rock wall in the background
Shadow Trekkers at the falls!

There is also a Paradise Falls in this area.  I didn’t see it on the map and we didn’t know it existed until someone told us about it.  Apparently it’s a bit of a secret. 🤫  It does show up on Google Maps though and looks rather easy to reach if you want to research this location on your own… 

Later, we drove a loop from 14A to Route 15, to Burgess Overlook.  Then we returned back to our campsite via 14A. This allowed us to FINALLY see a moose (she ended up being the only one we saw the entire trip! 😕)

It’s highly unusual that we see so few moose in the Bighorns.  Usually, we are there in early September so I’m not sure if our lack of moose sightings was a result of the hotter weather over the summer, keeping them at higher elevations, or the crowds encouraging them to stay more isolated.  The babies would still be smaller and younger at that time of year which may explain why the mommas may want to keep them further from people. 

Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite

On the third day of the trip, we took Shell Canyon to the west on Route 14.  We’ve traveled this road before but never in this direction, so we got a different perspective on it.  Later we got to view the rain shafts hammering the canyon as we looked up at it from the west.  It was a very cool sight! 

Dry, dusty prairie with dark rain clouds hovering over the landscape in the background

Then we took Red Gulch Road to the Dinosaur Tracksite.  This was very cool and something I had just happened to stumble upon on the map.  They think this location was a beach on the edge of an inland sea during dinosaur times.  The “terrible lizards” would walk in the mud next to the water and leave tracks.  These eventually hardened and were fossilized!

Narrow holes left in rock
Fossilized shrimp holes at the Dinosaur Tracksite!
Three-toed, fossilized footprint left in rock
Dino footprint!

This attraction is small and free.  It was a nice place to visit for lunch and to let the pup run a bit.  I can imagine it being quite hot on a warmer, sunnier day.  They had nice picnic facilities, though.

We then finished this backcountry byway that we had completed the other leg of on another trip.  Ya’ll know how I LOVE finishing things that I start! 😁  This portion of the road was quite rutted and rough too, so it’s not really fit for a typical sedan (though a higher clearance SUV could handle it in dry conditions–we saw some CRV’s do it!)

If you’re looking for some great day hikes in the northern Bighorn mountains, check out some of these cool options! 

Have you visited any of these sites?  Tell me about your experiences in the comments!


**Mules are a hybrid of a male donkey and a female horse.  You can usually spot them because they’re the size of a horse, but with GIGANTIC ears.  And the other characteristic that makes them unique?  Because they are a hybrid, rarely can they reproduce…The More You Know 🌈 😉 !


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Three pictures: two waterfalls and a stormy, landscape scene. Pin reads Hiking in The Bighorns


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Dinosaur National Monument: the Colorado Side

This week’s post is Part 2 of the Trekkers’ recent trip to Dinosaur National Monument. Today I discuss the Colorado side of the park.


In this post, I reviewed the Trekkers’ visit to the Utah side of Dinosaur National Monument.  In this post, I’ll be discussing the Colorado side (as the park spans both states).

Scenic Drives on the Colorado Side of Dinosaur National Monument 

One of the main things we enjoyed on the Colorado side of the monument was the scenic drives.  There are several found throughout this portion of the park, though all but Harper’s Corner Road are suggested for high-clearance vehicles only.

As I mentioned in Part 1, under good conditions most of these roads are great to drive (honestly several of them were less bumpy than some of the paved, county roads we drove on).  I would have felt comfortable taking any vehicle with a higher wheelbase on these (such as an Outback), and we saw several SUVs.

I cannot stress enough though, that we were there in the most ideal weather possible.  According to the park, several of the roads are completely impassable when wet.  This seemed likely as we crossed many dry stream beds that could easily fill with stormwater runoff.  It also makes sense that the powdery dirt that covers the surface of many of these routes could quickly turn into slippery ooze when wet.  Many of the roads also only have one way in or out, so, if you reach the end, and then a rainstorm comes…you may not be able to get back out again.  Several also lead through low-lying canyons which are likely to flood quickly in a heavy rain event.  So please, be wary before attempting these roads if any bad weather conditions are present or expected.

Click here for the NPS website for the park which will have up-to-date info on current road conditions.

Harper’s Corner Road

This is the main road through the Colorado section of Dinosaur National Monument.  You access it near Dinosaur, Colorado.  This is also one of the only paved roads in the park.  At the end of it is the Harper’s Corner Trail which offers INCREDIBLE views.

Hiking on Harper’s Corner Trail

This trail is beautiful! At times you are hiking on an almost knife-edge of rock, with the Green River winding along beside you on one side, and the Yampa River on the other.  Did I mention you are up to 2500 feet ABOVE these waterways throughout the hike? 😮  It got my acrophobic-heart pumping a bit! (It really wasn’t too bad.  I only felt nervous in one spot where you get a healthy view of a chute, down a cliffside. 😋)

I would rate this trail as “easy”.  It’s about three miles in total length (out and back) and it doesn’t have much elevation gain.  Just about anyone wearing tennis shoes should be able to handle it (though I should note the park is at an altitude of over 5000 feet, so “flatlanders” may want to take it slow. 😉)  At the end of the trek you are treated to an AMAZING view down the canyon, and of Steamboat Rock from above, behind which the Yampa and Green Rivers meet.

A narrow river valley in a desert landscape as seen from above. Short trees are in the foreground while a thin, green river can be seen far below.
One of the incredible lookout points from the Harper’s Corner Trail. That’s the Green River far below, you can maybe see how it got its name.
Looking out over a desert, badlands landscape from above. Short trees are in the foreground with a large, rock formation in the background.
Steamboat Rock, from above…

Echo Park Road

This route takes you from Harper’s Corner Road, east, to Echo Park and its campground.  This area is called a “park”, like several other locations in Colorado.  It is really just a flat, meadow-like area.  It was cool!  (Hint, it’s called “Echo Park” for a reason, I encourage you to experiment with this 😁.)

This route traverses the lower “benches” of land that can be seen from above when traversing the Harper’s Corner trail.  They are called this as they are wide sections of terrain.  They literally look like benches, or steps, that rim the lower, river canyons. 

The road winds through an incredible canyon where sheer rock towers over you on both sides.  From here you can see Steamboat Rock from the bottom, where it’s much more impressive.

There is a short hike along the river’s edge that is around two miles long (out-and-back).  It takes you to the confluence of the Yampa and Green Rivers.  There is also a place on this road called Whispering Cave.  It appeared fairly unassuming, at first, as it’s just a vertical slit in the rock wall of the canyon, that you can stand in.  This was until we figured out its secret (and how it got its name).  If people stand at either end of this long slit and whisper REALLY quietly…you can hear each other VERY well (thanks to the unique acoustics of the rock structure).  And it’s far more effective than if you try the same thing outside (we checked! 😉)

Click here for a short video of the drive!

A dirt road snakes through a narrow canyon, rock towers on three sides.
The canyon on Echo Park Road.

A river with a desert landscape and rock rising in the background

A dry, yellowed meadow in a desert landscape and rock rising in the background
Echo Park!
A river with a large rock that resembles a shark's fin rising behind it, all in a desert landscape.
Another view of Steamboat Rock!

Yampa Bench Road

This route takes you from Echo Park Road, east, all the way to US 40 in Elk Springs (though there are a few places you can bug out before you get that far, dependent on road conditions).  This was the most difficult route we encountered.  The drive was beautiful though, with yellow grassland and scrub brush spread before you, all the way to the rock walls that rise above you on two sides.

Even this road wasn’t bad at this time of year, though I could see it being difficult if it was wet.  It was the steepest drive we took and it had the sharpest turns.  This was also the longest route we attempted, by far.  It was fun, but we covered less than half of it (around 20 miles) and that took almost two hours.  This did appear to be the most difficult part of the trek.  According to the map, the rest of it looked flatter and easier (and some parts may have been roughly paved).  We did finally escape, through a blessed hole in the rock wall called Thanksgiving Gorge (I think I know why they give it that name!) just as daylight was waning.  We were rewarded with a herd of elk…and LOTS of cows! 😋

A dry, yellowed grass meadow with rock formations in the background. The sun angle is low and shadows are long.
Sunlight is waning on the Yampa Bench Road

Beautiful Canyons in the Colorado section of Dinosaur National Monument

Flaming Gorge Reservoir

On Sunday we took US 191 north of Vernal, Utah, to the Flaming Gorge Reservoir.  It was named for its vibrant, red cliffs that were cut by the Green River.  The gorge spans both northeastern Utah, and southeastern Wyoming, just to the north.  It is absolutely beautiful, and the dam that created the reservoir is pretty stunning, as well.

A lake sits between two rocky hillsides in a desert landscape
Flaming Gorge Reservoir
A large, concrete dam in a desert landscape
The Flaming Gorge Dam

Gates of Lodore

From the dam, we then continued north on Route 191, just across the Wyoming line, and picked up Brown’s Park Road.  This we took east, back into Colorado.  From here we followed signs to the Gates of Lodore, another INCREDIBLE canyon that was cut by the Green River.  It sits on the northern tip of the monument.  This route was a mixture of well-graded dirt and rough pavement, though any passenger car should be able to handle it, at least in good weather.

I was pronouncing this location like “Gates of Mordor”, from Lord of the Rings, but was quickly corrected by a local.  Apparently, it’s supposed to sound more like “Gates of la-DOOR”. 😂 

There’s an easy, and fairly short, hiking trail that leads to the mouth of the canyon, from the parking area.  Due to its sheer, rock walls, there is no access through this rocky cleft, except by watercraft on the river itself.

A river winds through a desert canyon. Tree-covered, steep, rocky walls line both sides of the canyon.
Gates of Ladore!

A river snakes through a desert landscape with yellow-grass meadows and scrub brush-covered hillsides

Crouse Canyon/Brown’s Park Scenic Backway

We returned back to Vernal by way of the Crouse Canyon/Brown’s Park Scenic Backway.  This is another route that cuts through a beautiful canyon, and then a meadowy area.

This road was one of the rougher routes we traveled on and was basically only one lane wide.  This was unexpected as it was listed as a scenic drive in one of the local tour brochures, and wasn’t suggested to be high-clearance.  Our truck handled it easily but had we known how rough it would be we would have aired the tires down, just for a smoother ride.  In good conditions, any SUV with a higher wheelbase should be able to handle it (we passed a CRV or two) but I wouldn’t suggest attempting it in a typical passenger car (just because there were some rocks and ruts that had to be navigated).  An Outback probably could have managed it, but we would have been extra cautious. 

The drive was BEAUTIFUL though, with the yellow and orange leaf colors set against the red rock of the canyon walls, which contrasted with the blue of the sky above.  Click here for a short video of it!

We returned home via US 40 east, through Craig, Steamboat Springs, and Rabbit Ears Pass.  This is the one portion of northern Colorado we hadn’t been to yet.

Related posts: Conquer Lengthy Trails in Small Portions; The Best Hidden Gems of Northern Colorado

From there we took Route 14 north to Walden, then headed north to Laramie, Wyoming, and back to the Black Hills.  FYI, this is a great way to avoid the traffic in the Denver area, and much of I-25, if you’re heading north from northern Colorado!  It offers some great views too!

You won’t find a better time to visit this park than Fall.  Tree colors are bright, crowds are light and temperatures are cool.  So the next time you’re looking for a good autumn vacation spot, think of the out-of-the-way Dinosaur National Monument!

Have you visited this incredible place?  Tell me about your favorite parts of it in the comments!


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A narrow river valley in a desert landscape as seen from above. Short trees are in the foreground while a thin, green river can be seen far below. Pin reads, "Dinosaur National Monument: the Colorado Side"


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