C.A.L. Goes West Pt. 1

The tale that is about to unfold (in a series of posts…because ten days with a bazillion photos is FAR too much for one singular post) began in February when I received a wedding invitation from some very dear friends who had moved out to Washington. At the time it was an “oh that would super neat” kinda thought…just thinking about the potential of flying out to Seattle for their special day. Then move forward to March when I visited with another friend out in Colorado who mentioned he would be road tripping out to Washington for the wedding and that I was more than welcome to join him and the dogs (which if you know me in the least…adding the word dogs into the mix makes it just that more appealing).

What started out as a “that would be neat” and then into a “well maybe if I can get the time off”…turned into a real and actual adventure of epic proportions. I spent a week working in Texas before jumping on a quick flight from San Antonio, Texas to Denver, Colorado. And when I say quick, I mean it. It took less than two hours! After landing in the Centennial State, I grabbed my bags and hopped on the bus towards Boulder. This was a situation in which I refused to pay 2x more for the same car if I picked it up at DIA…so I saved myself a boatload of money by renting it from Boulder and got to enjoy a relaxing, scenic drive to boot! Before I knew it, I was off the bus and jumping into a shiny white Dodge Ram van. The adventure party had arrived.
After grabbing my rental, I headed over to Native Foods Cafe to grab lunch with Chris (aka the Bold Nomad). Now I am definitely a meat lover, but this food was downright scrumptious. I had the Crazy Good Chicken Sandwich (and yes, it is actually called that) – don’t ask me what was in it, just know that it was good. 10/10 would recommend.

Then I went and hung out with Bern + Oaken while Aaron did the real adult thing and worked. haha. Before long, Lija arrived and we started the planning for our trip, which up until this point had consisted of “head towards the Tetons then west to Washington” haha. There were MANY possible routes thrown out…and honestly any of them would’ve been amazing in it’s own right. At one point I suggested we write them all down and toss each itinerary in a hat…each spot we looked at sounded amazing and magical. But eventually we decided that we would head to the Tetons and then over towards the Sawtooths…then figure out the rest. We tried to play the game of keeping the schedule lite…knowing we’d want to spend more time in certain places or would stumble upon awesome previously unheard of spots along the time. In this instance, the adventure out is half of the fun…especially when you consider that I’m pretty Type A, Lija is Type B, and Aaron falls somewhere in between. As Aaron put it “without any itinerary you’d freak out and with a minute by minute, Lija and I would freak out”. So we opted for something to satisfy us all.

We made a half-assed run to grab supplies at Trader Joe’s (we all got fruit, some pasta, chocolate…aka half meals and snacks haha), then Aaron went to pack while Lija and I grabbed drinks with some of her friends. Before long, sleep was calling so I headed back to Aaron + Jess’s place and passed out for the night (remember, I’d been up at 03:30 that morning to make my flight…).

Day 1: 510.3 miles driven

We woke up at a leisurely pace…after all, we had four days of travel time to cover 20(ish) hours of driving. Our first stop was Lander, Wyoming. A solid 5+ hours away, it would make for a good breaking point in our first day. The road to Wyoming is flat and fast…definitely a weird feeling to be flying by opposing traffic at 65+mph (some areas have up to 80mph!). The state features a lot of beautiful rock formations that lead you to believe dinosaurs still roam about (fun fact: the Wyoming State Dinosaur is the Triceratops). Not that I was expecting it to be a boring state, but the geological beauty really blew me away. AND we saw some Pronghorn! The first one I spotted was standing on a huge rock outcropping on the other side of the road, perfectly silhouetted against the sun. Didn’t think to stop for a photo, but I did let Aaron keep driving so Lija could take a photo of some others! Our rule was I pointed stuff out and Lija took the photos (safe driving and all…).

The Pronghorn Antelope (Antilocapra americana) isn’t a true Antelope and is actually more closely related to the Giraffe!

We continued onward and eventually reached Lander. After fueling the vehicles we discussed whether or not we would continue on to the Grand Tetons so we saw them during the daylight or if we would detour over to the Popo Agie Falls. Google Maps told us the falls where 40 minutes away…but thankfully Aaron checked All Trails which told us the trailhead was only 15 minutes away and some other random spot on the trail was 40! So off we went to find the falls.

It truly is hard to describe this place. The trail runs parallel to the river, slowly gaining elevation until eventually you’re high above and the rock outcroppings provide a stark perspective to just how high you are. Sage lines the trail, providing both a lovely, wild scent and a depth to the deep greens of the trees. The trail itself is a well maintained dirt and rock path that meanders in a clearly defined direction. We passed a few groups on our way up, but it wasn’t so crowded that we couldn’t appreciate the solitude of nature.

I had flown in only the day before and got whacked with a good bout of altitude sickness for a hot second. Bern was very worried, but it was nothing a little rest and water didn’t fix (thankfully!). The whole excursion was just under 3 hours…with an hour and fifty minutes of moving time. We only gained just shy of 715ft, but hiked 3.7 miles (out and back). So if you don’t have an asthmatic, short-legged human, dogs, and a propensity for stopping to take photos, it wouldn’t take you that long. But if you’re ever in the area, it’s well worth the trip!

<— Bern all up in my grill ensuring I was ok. ❤

One of the groups we passed on the way up mentioned that the falls had a natural water slide and that the pool was more than deep enough to make it safe. What an experience that was! By the time we finally made it to the falls, you could clearly see how the flow of water had smoothed the rocks out enough to make a water slide. Lija and I jumped in the water while Aaron went to investigate the slide. Clearly there was some trepidation, but eventually down he went! Lija was next and again, clearly some trepidation…even though Aaron had just proven that it could be done successfully. But after some deliberation, down she went as well!

So now it was my turn. And after climbing up the rocks, I TOTALLY understood the moment of hesitation. haha. The entry point was a far enough distance back that it appeared that you’d just rocket off into oblivion or crash into the side of the rocks and shatter your ribs. BUT, I went here goes nothing and climbed into the rushing water. Seconds later, I cascaded off the chute (I’m claiming second place on most graceful haha) and into the pool I went. The water was such a lovely refreshing cold after hiking up in the direct heat of the sun. Oak was totally about the water…Bern was not so much. After relaxing in the pool, we headed back down to the parking lot. We had talked about making it to the Tetons before sunset, but there was no way that was gonna happen. However, we made the decision to make the trek out to the campsite Fox + Mel provided so that we’d have a headstart on the next day.

In the true way of driving in the country at dusk, the roads were LINED with deer – here, there, and everywhere. And all of them were facing the road…ie ready to jump out in front of my Corolla at any moment. But we safely navigated the twilight hour and continued out into the night. It is dark out there. Like DARK. Absolutely no real light pollution to speak of. Which makes it for perfect star viewing conditions. When we were planning the trip, Aaron mentioned how excited I should be for the stars…and he was right. On the way out, I looked to the left and saw THE MOST amazing comet ever. Like I couldn’t get the words out it was so cool. Lasted for several seconds and had a beautiful glow. Eventually we made it to the area we’d camp for the night…and HOLY MOLY STARS. Seriously unreal. The only place I’ve seen better stars was in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

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