Ramblings | Keeping Up

Phwew. I don't know about any of you, but lately, I have just been EXHAUSTED! Maybe it's the oncoming heat of the summer, maybe it's the semi-increased stress at work due to low staffing, maybe it's just my body telling me to rest. Either way, I will listen to my body and mind when they speak.

I am learning to set boundaries and be very mindful with my time. That doesn't mean I spend every waking moment doing something meaningful that makes me feel good. Sometimes that means choosing to spend my time lounging on the sofa watching Netflix or getting in bed at 7PM to read a book. I'm learning to not make time for people and things that don't serve me (like... why am I just now getting this??!). I'm not overly committing myself to anything and, especially with this business, I'm not forcing anything. 

It does feel hard to keep up with everything most of the time. Single mom, full time job, side business, hobbies. While all of these things fulfill me, it's only when they come in appropriate amounts and with a good balance between them. Sometimes, things have to fall by the wayside. That is basically what has happened with my writing on this site!

As I finally take a moment to pick up where I left off back in January, fresh off our Arizona road trip, I feel ready to come back to it. And, to me, that's the most important part. I would rather take some time off and be able to come back with purpose, with thought, than to just come back to go through the motions with nothing to say just for the sake of keeping the business active here. 

Anyways, all this to say - I think I feel ready to dedicate more time to writing again and that feels good. I've enjoyed focusing on the social media aspect of content for a while, but I like this medium because I can get more in depth. So, expect to see more of my ramblings, our travels, and tips & tricks than you've seen in the past six months! Drop me a line if you have something or somewhere that you want me to talk about!


Petrified Forest National Park | December 2021

Our second stop in Arizona on our winter road trip was Petrified Forest National Park. Located outside of Holbrook in the northeast corner of the state, this park is exactly as it is named - a 'forest' of petrified wood scattered all over the damn place. Like.... ALL OVER. It is everywhere and there is sooooo much of it! 200 million-ish years ago, dead trees were washed into a river and created log jams. I think a volcano erupted, burying the wood under lava and ash and stuff, then - voila - petrified wood! 

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Not gonna lie, I don't really understand how it happens. For that, I would have to defer to my geologist brother, but stuff happens underground and the wood gets turned into quartz. Petrified Forest National Park is considered to be one of the largest concentrations of petrified wood in the entire world! So, needless to say, it's a pretty cool place.

We didn't have as much time to explore as I would have liked due to a flat tire from the previous day and needing to make an unscheduled trip to Discount Tire. We mostly played windshield tourist, but that's okay. There is no camping allowed in the park so we just went for a day visit.

The park has two entrances - the north and south. We started at the south end in the Rainbow Forest and worked our way north to the Painted Desert. Upon entering the park, we stopped at the visitor center to look around. Of course, Lily had to get some souvenirs so I bought her a tshirt and sticker (and somehow managed to lose the t-shirt before we ever made it back to Texas because it is MIA now). After the visitor center, we walked over to the trailhead for the Long Logs trail. It was cold AF but we were determined to get at least a short hike in! The Long Logs trail also includes the Agate House trail, which leads you to a small pueblo that was made entirely out of petrified wood about 700 years ago. Combined, the two trails make a 2.6 mile trail which ended up being the perfect distance, since the cold was a little unpleasant. 

After hiking, we drove up through the park towards the Painted Desert. We stopped at a number of overlooks along the way and, when we reached the northern end of the park, we stopped at a picnic area and I busted out the grill and made a late breakfast for us since we hadn't eaten before heading out.

The park is beautiful and has a variety of geological attractions! If you're in the area, it's definitely worth a stop!


Chiricahua National Monument | December 2021

Chiricahua National Monument was our first stop in the state of Arizona on our winter road trip. It was stunning. The rock formations were so cool and it was a small enough park that we got to see a lot of it during our short stay there.

Chiricahua is located outside of Willcox, AZ and ranges from about 5,000 feet to 7,000 feet above sea level. It was chilly while we were that, that's for sure, but we had the right gear to be warm and cozy overnight in the tent. We camped in the Bonita Canyon Campground, which is the only campground in the park. It was fully booked while we were there so I was glad that I had made reservations in advance! We had the most eerie, still night of camping I think I have ever had in my life. Normally, the sound of the tent flapping, even very lightly, lulls me off to sleep. Here, though, nothing moved. It was so still and so quiet. 

We didn't arrive until after dark so we had to hold off on exploring until the morning. We picked one hike to do since we only had a short amount of time. The Natural Bridge trail was our choice because it was a good length (4.8 miles) and it was listed as being the least used trail in the park. No people? Count me in!

It was a really beautiful hike that takes you up to the top of the canyon, back down the other side, then through the bottom to a viewing point for a natural bridge, carved through the years by water. It was a great hike to start the day and work up our appetite for breakfast!

Before leaving, we drove the 8 mile scenic drive to Massai Point, which was a beautiful overlook but it was fucking cold up there so I snapped a couple pictures and got back into the warmth of the car. 

Chiricahua National Monument was up there at the top of our list of favorites from this trip & we will definitely try to get back again in the future to explore more of what it has to offer!

Chiricahua | December 2021


Two Week Travels | Arizona Desert

We were SO excited to finally plan a trip to some more Arizona National Parks! I have been wanting to bring Lily to Saguaro National Park for quite some time and, after the busyness of work and the holidays, I was looking forward to spending a little over a week in the desert. I wish we could have spent more time in the area, but we had to get back to school and work (boooo hisssss). We hit some new West Texas state parks along the way and explored some of the most iconic Arizona parks! Stay tuned for more details, but here is the basic itinerary as part of our Two Week Travels series (okay, okay, so this is only one week but sshhhhhh)!

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Ramblings | The Year in Review

I think it's no coincidence that 2021 was not only one of the happiest years of my life, but was also a year that was filled to the brim with travel. We took lots of road trips, both big and small. We spent time in 8 states, with two more to add to the list before the year closes out. We saw National and State Parks, slept under the stars, went on our very first backpacking trip, swam in the summer heat and huddled around a campfire in the cooler weather.

This year, Ramblin' 'round Texas was created as an outlet for my energy, creativity, and passion. It provided just that. It pushed me to get outside more. It pushed me to learn about website creation, social media, and design. It has been tremendously fulfilling and I feel so grateful that I get to dedicate my life to the outdoors, both in my day job and my side hustle. Nature gives me a sense of meaning while simultaneously reminding me how small and meaningless we really are. I feel like I belong in nature, with Lily by my side. 2021 is just the beginning. I've got so many hurdles I still want to conquer and I'm so glad you're here for the ride with us.

I like lists, so here is our year recapped in list format:

STATESTexas, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, New Mexico, Arizona

NATIONAL PARKS | Hot Springs National Park, Mammoth Cave National Park, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, New River Gorge National Park & Preserve, Shenandoah National Park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, White Sands National Park, Chiricahua National Monument, Petrified Forest National Park, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Saguaro National Park

TEXAS STATE PARKS | Huntsville State Park, Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Abilene State Park, Lake Colorado City State Park, Government Canyon State Natural Area, Colorado Bend State Park, Pedernales Falls State Park, Mother Neff State Park, Blanco State Park, Old Tunnel State Park, Cooper Lake State Park - South Sulphur, Caddo Lake State Park, Lake Whitney State Park, Lake Mineral Wells State Park, Guadalupe River State Park, Lake Somerville State Park - Nails Creek, Meridian State Park, Dinosaur Valley State Park, Copper Breaks State Park, Enchanted Rock State Park, Monahans Sandhills State Park, Franklin Mountains State Park

MISCELLANEOUS SITES | Bracken Cave Preserve, Lake Georgetown


Tips & Tricks | Lessons Learned from Our First Backpacking Trip

We took our very first backpacking trip right before Thanksgiving! We decided that the Good Water Loop around Lake Georgetown was a great first trip for a number of reasons. It is not super remote (so if we got into a bind, we wouldn't be out in the middle of nowhere), it was a reasonable distance (27 miles around the lake), and it wasn't too far away from us. After lots of research, purchasing packs (and proceeding to stuff them full of shit), and planning our route and daily mileage, we headed to our starting point of Cedar Breaks Park. Three days and like 100,000 steps later, we made it back with aching feet but a sense of pride and accomplishment. Was it a perfect trip? Absolutely not. But it was an adventure and there were a few key takeaways that we got from the experience.

WATER IS IMPORTANT

This should go without saying, but we stupidly did not appropriately plan for water. We packed about 7 liters into our water bladders. I was convinced I was overpacking and never considered the alternative. Well, on the second day, we ran out of water with about three miles left in our hike. This happened due to a number of different factors, but it doesn't really matter WHY because, really, it can be anything. It's not so much about the why but about the obstacle that it presented. Everything I read recommended two different methods of water - packing in, a water filter, boiling, iodine tablets, etc. All we did was pack in, thinking that we'd have plenty to get us from refill point to refill point. I had carefully planned out where we would be able to refill and when we'd get there. All that went out the window when we got on the trail. Without a back-up plan for water, we were left thirsty AF and had to ask some fellow hikers for a spare bottle (that we proceeded to chug the fuck out of). Luckily, there were plenty of other hikers on the trail with us, but I will never again not have a back-up way to obtain water.

STRATEGICALLY PLAN YOUR ROUTE

We didn't think much about our route besides mileage. I wish that I had done more research and considered the difficulty of each section of trail, as well. We did the hardest part of the trail on the very first day when our packs were at their heaviest. This then led to us stopping short of our daily goal, which had a ripple effect for the rest of the trip while we tried to catch back up. This won't always be possible if the trail has one very defined starting point, but for a loop like the Good Water Loop, there are so many different places you can start and, if and when we do it again, we will be starting from a different location next time!

DON'T OVERSHOOT

We were a little too optimistic about what we would be able to accomplish each day, I think. Especially considering that we did not do any training with our packs (lol oops don't judge). Our plan for each day was (in chronological order): 6.5 miles, 9 miles, 6 miles, and 5.5 miles. What we ended up actually doing was: 4.5 miles (that for real almost killed me - I totally puked), 6.5 miles, 10 miles (this was rough), and 5.5 miles. I wish I had been a little bit more realistic about what we would be able to do each day and planned accordingly. Because we had a finite amount of time, we had to push really hard on that third day to catch up from falling short the first two days. I'd probably throw an extra day in there if we do it again. There are absolutely people that can do the whole loop with only one night on the trail. We are NOT those people. And that's okay. 

TRUST THAT YOU CAN DO IT

For me, this was just as much a mental challenge as it was a physical challenge. After the first day, I was seriously considering giving up. We talked about maybe just staying at that first campsite the whole time, but then I realized we couldn't do that because we needed water (refer back to the first point haha). At the end of every day, our feet were hurting, we were tired, and every step was a feat (feet lol) of strength. But through the hurt, through the exhaustion, through the weight of the packs and the humidity and the puking and the blisters, we fucking did it. I needed that reminder. The reminder of how strong I am, how much I am capable of. A reminder of how fucking AWESOME my body is, the body that carried me slowly but surely over 27 miles of rocky trail with 40lbs of weight on my back (and, for a while, Lily's pack on my front to give her a break). It may be soft and squishy but it is also fucking strong. It had been a while since I had been challenged the way this challenged me and it was nice to feel it again. I feel different on the other side of the trip. The experience changed me in a way that I don't really know how to describe just yet. It wasn't life shattering or anything, but I feel renewed.

If you're considering going on your first backpacking trip, DO IT. Be prepared to be challenged and be prepared to leave it all out there. You can do it!


Copper Breaks State Park | October 2021

We spent Halloween weekend at Copper Breaks State Park, located up near the Oklahoma border in Quanah. It's a rugged, quiet park with a lot to offer! We did a ton of hiking, tried our hand at fishing, and marveled at the magnificent night skies that this International Dark Sky Park boasts. If you're into mountain biking, most of the trails allowed bikes, in addition to foot (and for some, equestrian) traffic. If you're planning a trip to visit Copper Breaks State Park, here's a little bit about our experience!

Hiking

We hiked six of the trails in Copper Breaks, which is more than half of them! We really liked that the trails offered a variety of views, terrain, and difficulty levels!

  • River Run + Rocky Ledges Trails - moderate to challenging, the River Run wasn't too bad but Rocky Ledges had a lot of rocky terrain, navigating between big rocks, etc. Worth it for the views, though!
  • Equestrian Trail - a longer hike for those that want it! We did this one Saturday morning. Easy terrain, very quiet. We didn't see a single other person on the trail!
  • Thirsty Horse trail - super easy for kids! Very short at only 0.3 miles. Leads you to a little lake.
  • Bull Canyon Homesteader + Short Loop Trails - moderate, really pretty as you go into Bull Canyon. Some areas had more difficult terrain than others!

I highly recommend all the trails that we did. With some long, some short, some difficult, some easy, you're pretty much guaranteed to find one that works for you and your family!

Fishing

We don't fish too often, but they were selling kid's fishing poles in the gift shop and Lily decided she wanted one so we gave it a go! There is a small fishing pier that we fished on. They were sold out of bait so we used grasshoppers that we caught and some deli turkey. We're nothing if not resourceful. We didn't have a whole lot of luck, only catching one fish, but I hiiiiiiiiighly recommend evening fishing and watching the sunset on the pier. It was absolutely stunning. The colors were so vibrant and they reflected off the surface of the still water. So lovely.

Camping

We camped in the Comanche loop. I love the shade shelters that they have! They're so cool looking. However, there were very few trees in this area, so no shade and nowhere to hang the hammock, which was tragic. We were in a site right by the playground and Lily made some friends and played Among Us on the monkey bars and slide. Some of the other campgrounds looked superior in terms of aesthetics, but Comanche is the only one with electric hook-ups.

Stargazing

I wish they had held some astronomy programs or something, but hooooooooooooooooooooooooooboy, Copper Breaks has some pretty amazing night skies. They rival the skies I had when I lived in Fort Davis. Night sky darkness is rated on what is called the Bortle scale. The scale runs from 1 (super, super dark) to 9 (cities). Copper Breaks has a Bortle rating of 2, so almost as good as it gets!

We would definitely consider going back to Copper Breaks! We had a lovely, relaxing time out in the rugged landscape of North Texas!


Ramblings | 3 Things This Park Ranger Wants You to Know

Please be nice to us! | We all work so hard and we are underpaid and it sucks when someone gets mad at you for things like the weather or bugs or that something is closed. 99% of the time, it is legitimately something that we have absolutely NO control over. It's not our fault! We are doing the best we can! I'm not saying don't complain or get sassy if a staff member is giving subpar customer service or something (which hopefully doesn't happen very often), but just don't do it for things that we can't control please!

Please visit a location's website before coming! | Look up what the hours of operation are. If you're not sure, call and ask! I know a lot of people come SO excited to explore and they show up at closing and then get upset with US. ALL of the essential information about where you are going can generally be found on the first page of the website. Taking a few minutes to read it through will prevent disappointment and frustration on your end (and ours!). We get it, last minute things happen and a lot of people just pull in off the highway out of curiosity, but please understand it's not our fault if we are closed when you arrive late in the day.

We are all still learning. | Yes, that includes us park rangers. I literally make a living working in the outdoor industry and there are sooooo many things that I have never done and things I know nothing about. Don't feel any pressure or think that you have to know everything before you go out on an adventure. We are all learning as we go (and hopefully having a fucking great time learning and growing... I sure am!). Literally yesterday evening before I wrote this, we went hiking at Enchanted Rock and I fell into a FUCKING CACTUS. I've been picking little spines out of my hands and arm all evening. Shit happens. Don't let it bother you, just laugh at yourself. I fall down in front of people out in parks more often than I'd like to admit. It is what it is. The moral of the story is - don't let that stop you!

Okay, that's all I can think of right now. Maybe there will be a second volume in the future.


Tips & Tricks | Learning to Fish

We have been spending more time practicing our angling skills lately. We are 100% not experts, not even close. I used to lead Fishing with a Ranger programs when I worked at Mustang Island State Park and I faked it the entire time. Luckily, we rarely caught anything. I still remember one time during a program where it was just me and one gentleman and we were both fishing and chatting. All of a sudden, I felt a huge tug on my line and proceeded to reel in a giant Redfish! My hands were shaking from the adrenaline. We measured it to make sure it was legal & I gave it to the guy for dinner. 

Anyways, I don't have any real knowledge when it comes to fishing. I don't know how to tie proper knots, I panic when I have to remove hooks, and I'm always terrified that I am going to get spined when I handle a fish. I really only know how to use a push-button reel (I even had to google to see what they were called).  It's been quite a learning curve, but even still in the beginning stages, there are a few lessons that we learned pretty quickly! If you're just getting into fishing (or are interested in starting), read our tips below to avoid our rookie mistakes!

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Learn how to properly bait a hook

We lose a lot of bait pretty regularly, but are starting to learn how to prevent that and to have a better success rate with hooking the fish. Don't use too much bait, just enough to cover the hook. With worms, I try to thread the hook through them, or at least try to have multiple points where the hook goes through to make sure it's more secure and less likely to come loose. Different types of bait can call for some different techniques, but if you're having issues... Google it!

Bring needle-nosed pliers with you

We definitely learned this one the hard way. It's relatively simple to unhook a fish when the hook has just gone through its 'lip' (do fish have lips...???), but if you gut-hook a fish (the hook goes into its stomach), it becomes much more difficult to remove and you often need some pliers to reach into the fish to get a hold of the hook. This happened to us recently and I had to call my boss and ask him to stop on his way home from the park to help us out with his multi-tool! Poor fish ended up dying because of the struggle.

A friend of mine that is an avid fly fisher recommended hemostats vs. pliers. We bought some to throw into the tackle box, but any old pair of needle nosed pliers from your toolbox is just fine if you don't want to buy anything new!

A pair of work gloves doesn't hurt either

We have been catching a lot of perch (aka Bluegill) and they've got spines on their back and belly (dorsal fins and ventral and anal fins, respectively). Manhandling them barehanded makes me a little nervous. I'm sure experienced anglers don't think twice about it, but a pair of gloves made me feel just a little bit less at risk of getting stabbed. If you don't have gloves, try to grip near the head and slide your hand back to the middle of its body, compressing the fins as you move.

Get a small tackle box with just a few extra supplies stocked so your day doesn't end prematurely

We snagged our line the other day and lost the hook and, stupidly, we didn't have any extras. Soooo... that was that. Time to go home. As soon as we got home, I ordered a small tackle box with the basics - hooks in varying sizes, swivels (little clip things), floats, weights... you get the picture. We got our tackle box off of Amazon (booooo Jeff Bezos) for $10. 

Learn how to tie ONE knot

You can use a basic shoe-tying knot (is there a specific name for that? I don't know), but there are some knots that are a bit stronger and better for fishing! One that I learned and is literally the only one I use (well, because it's the only one I know), is the Clinch Knot. Seems to work well enough for the basic fishing that we are doing and it's pretty easy!

 

An important thing to remember is that it isn't about perfection and knowing everything! Learning is part of the fun and you've got to accept that, when you're just starting something new, you're going to make mistakes and screw up. Embrace it and enjoy learning how to fish!


Ramblings | Overcoming Fear

It's been a long time since I've been scared in the outdoors. As you spend more time in nature, you learn it. You become intimately familiar with it. The rustling of leaves at night, the unknown sounds, the dark - you have spent so much time with it, that it is no longer unknown. Fear of the unknown is a powerful thing. It's something that I find myself facing as I think about one of our next trips. Our first backpacking trip. I'm not sure why it is causing me so much anxiety. We aren't going anywhere terribly remote. I'm fairly certain we will probably have cell service the entire time should something happen. But for some reason, I am scared.

Doing something new is scary. Getting out of your comfort zone is scary. But let's be honest with ourselves, most of things that we are anxious or scared about (public speaking, a nerve-wracking meeting at work, etc) just about always end up being okay. And when it has passed, you breathe a huge sigh of relief. It's over. I did it. That wasn't so bad.

How to get to the point where you can just do it? I wish I had an easy answer. For everyone it will be different. I think in general, removing as much of the 'unknown' as possible can help. This is one reason why I research my trips in detail. I'm an anxious person by nature and equipping myself with knowledge gives me some semblance of control (and I like to be in control). Don't let your imagination run away with you. I often (like, way too often) find myself worrying about murderers and dying and terrible things happening. It's a problem, I'm working on it. I often have to reel my thoughts back in and convince myself to be more realistic. Sometimes it's as simple as finding something else to focus my thoughts on. Meditation, singing, etc.

Ultimately, I have found that the best way out is through. Facing your fears can be SUCH an empowering thing. That saying "Do something every day that scares you" is popular for a reason. While I don't know that I would like to spend every day in a state of anxiety, I do think that the most growth happens by facing the thing you're afraid of - the hard conversation you have to have, the spider, the outdoors. Whatever that thing is for you. You don't have to jump into the deep end right away. If you need to slowly desensitize yourself, do it. There is no 'right' way to do this. You have to do what works for you. If you're scared of getting outside, start small. Start in a group. Start close by. Start in a cabin. You don't have to enjoy nature in the same way anyone else does. Find what you enjoy and are comfortable with and keep building upon yourself, pushing yourself a little farther each time.

Starting this business was scary. Putting yourself out there is scary. Doing the thing you've always wanted to do but have been too scared to do is, well, SCARY. But damn, it is empowering. I've always loved writing but never thought I was good enough to do it seriously. Or maybe I just was too scared to be judged. But I finally realized... I want to do this for ME, not for anyone else. So... here we are! 

Take the plunge. Do the thing. You only live once, don't let fear get in your way.