Category Archives: Other

Hot Springs and Kayaking Around the Tetons

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Like Yellowstone, the Tetons can be crazy crowded and while visiting some of the must-see spots (Snake River Overlook, Jenny Lake) is, well, a must-do, we found some spots on the water that tend to be a bit quieter.

Kelly Warm Springs, north of Jackson, Wyoming.

Kelly Warm Springs, north of Jackson, Wyoming.

Kelly Warm Springs: First of all, I appreciate the naming of this swimming hole as a warm spring instead of a hot spring because this is truthful. It’s not hot, but it’s warm enough to be comfortable on a summer day when the sun’s out. We arrived in the middle of the afternoon and there were a couple families there with kids, but there was plenty of space to spread out on the grass next to the springs. There is one larger swimming hole that gradually narrows into the stream. Along with views of the Tetons, the smell of sulfur greeted us and we followed it upstream to see if we could find a hotter spot. We slipped over rocks and got stuck in the muck, stopping at times to look down on the goldfish and what we thought were cichlids. How these types of fish got into the warm springs…we don’t know. Failing to find a hotter area we returned to the main swimming hole where it was deep enough to float around. And when we’d had enough water time we laid down on the bank to soak up the sun.

To get here: Follow highway 191 north out of Jackson. Turn right at Gros Ventre Junction, following signs toward the town of Kelly. Continue north through the town of Kelly and follow signs for the warm springs, which will be a right turn.

Kayaking on Jackson Lake:  The first time we thought to rent a kayak on Jackson

Kayaking on Jackson Lake in the Tetons.

Kayaking on Jackson Lake in the Tetons.

Lake was 5 years ago, when I had blisters so bad from hiking that I couldn’t even bear the thought of putting shoes on my misshapen feet. Kayaking proved to be a worthy alternative to hiking in the Tetons, especially when we were able to observe a Bald Eagle at close range, so we decided to go on an evening kayak excursion this time around too. It’s $19 an hour to rent a tandem kayak on Jackson Lake and we ended up being out for about an hour and a half at the end of the day. Although you won’t be alone on the lake, you’ll have plenty of space to yourself as you paddle around the islands, enjoying uninterrupted views of the Tetons. If you have the time it’s always fun to pull your boat up on one of the rocky shores and spend a couple minutes exploring on land. We also figure that a quick kayak trip is a good way to keep the body balanced if you plan to do a lot of hiking in Yellowstone and the Tetons.

To get here: Take Highway 191 north out of Jackson until you reach Moran Junction. Turn left, following signs for Grand Teton National Park entrance. Continue to follow Highway 191 to the Colter Bay area. Rent your kayak at the Colter Bay Marina.

The small, natural hot springs pool below Granite Falls, south of Jackson, Wyoming.

The small, natural hot springs pool below Granite Falls, south of Jackson, Wyoming.

Granite Hot Springs/ Granite Falls: A little bit south out of the hustle bustle of Jackson, the Tetons, and Yellowstone Granite Hot Springs is the dead end of a dirt road that heads right into the Medicine Bow range. Ahhhh, sounds glorious already doesn’t it? We took the road to the hot springs to take a look and found that for a low rate ($6 I believe) you are granted access to a small, hot swimming pool. Having heard from Alex’s cousin that there is a hot spot in the river below the paid-entry pool, we set out to explore this option further. We didn’t find anything directly below the pool so went back down the road to Granite Falls (it has a sign and a small parking lot). We took one of the trails down toward the falls and saw two people soaking in a little nook on the far side of the river. Hmmmmmm….. After some debate about whether to pay $15 and stay in the nearby campground or pay $0 and stay in a national forest campsite down the road we …headed down the road. We ended up finding a free national forest spot nearby, set up camp, ate dinner, and organized the car. Then, first thing in the morning we packed up and headed up to the waterfall to get in that nook. We crossed the icy waters and stuck our numb feet- followed by the rest of our bodies- into a small, built-up pool just big enough for two. We were tucked in along the rock wall below the waterfall, with a hot springs waterfall flowing gently down into our little private pool. Oh, how I love Wyoming! We enjoyed quiet solitude here for about an hour and a half before dragging ourselves out of that little piece of heaven and heading down the road back to Colorado.

To get here:  Take Highway 191 south out of Jackson. Stay on Highway 191 at Hoback Junction. Follow signs to Granite Hot Springs. If you get to Bondurant, you’ve gone too far south.

There’s No Place Like Stone

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**Video credit to Alex Romanyshyn

Usually, I am a person who would rather go somewhere new than revisit somewhere I’ve already been. It’s hard for me to understand why I should go back instead of exploring something different. Why would I hike the same trail twice or visit the same city over and over? My usual mentality: there’s so much out there to see; there’s no time for revisits.

But then I start to think about the concept of familiar and unfamiliar vs. old and new. Going back to somewhere familiar? Now that’s different. Yellowstone is probably one of the most familiar places of all to me. After I worked there for the summer after high school I told myself I would make a little time to come back every year. I spent one more summer there and have visited every year since, except for one. It’s one of few places I feel compelled to go back to over and over.

First, there is about a thousand miles of trail in the park so most times that I go back I am able to discover something new in this familiar place. The second reason I keep going back, I realized this year, is that this place is familiar in feeling and emotion. To revisit Yellowstone in a geographical and physical sense is to revisit somewhere emotionally familiar. Have you ever forgotten a thought and tried to retrace your steps through the house back to where you first had the thought? And once you reach that place in the house you remember what you were thinking. Is my crazy brain the only that works like this? For me, physical places cause my brain to recall certain thoughts or emotions that were felt strongly in that place previously. Yellowstone is a physical place where I experienced a lot of personal and emotional growth-we’ll save that story for another day- so I suppose it makes sense that in most revisits to the park I have been overwhelmed with emotions and memories. And I usually shed a few tears and wallow in the painful nostalgia and strange feeling of being just another tourist in a place I’ve called home.

This year though, it had been two years away from the park instead of the usual one year. This year it was kind of like visiting an old friend. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? Emotions aside, I just wanted some Yellowstone time. And I didn’t even cry on this visit J Mostly what I felt was gratitude for this place that is a part of me, that is so much bigger than me , and that is permanent; Gratitude for a place and a feeling I can always revisit.

Engine Crime Scenes

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The end of the San Juan River Trip has come, and we are back at our car. Almost everything is too hot to touch in the 103 degree heat, and we fumble through our dry bags looking for the car keys. We part ways with our group and head north toward Moab.

“Uh oh,” Alex says, about halfway there. “The car is doing that weird thing with the gas pedal.”

If you’ll recall, we had some issues with a faulty fuel pump in Alex’s car last summer and got a little bit stranded outside of Buena Vista. We replaced the fuel pump and a couple of spark plugs and everything seemed good to go in the last couple months.

Now, the gas pedal stops working again and we coast for as far as we can with no gas pedal…which is about a quarter mile. Then we sit in the stagnant heat for a moment, restart the car, and sputter on down the road. Of course, we talked to the car and gave her the reassurance we could muster while trying to reassure ourselves. We stopped in Monticello to stare at the engine, fill gas, fill all our water bottles in case we got stranded, and let the engine cool off. On we went, with an engine that was working extra hard to go. It kept revving and pulling and we kept thinking it was probably just overheating a little bit (weird gas pedal problem aside, because we still don’t really understand why that happened…again). We stopped a couple times and finally, as Alex backed up in a rest area to get a ‘running start’ onto the highway entrance ramp, we got a hold of our river trip group and told them to wait for us.

As we pushed the old Subaru up to the highway speed limits, we realized that the trouble seemed to be in getting going. Once we got up to 70mph we could coast there, but if we had to go uphill or if we got stuck behind a semi we were once again talking to the car, urging her to make it. The decision to stop and check things out more seriously came when we were revved up past 5 [you can insert unit of measurement here…I don’t know what it is] and only going 50mph.

At a gas station in Fruita, we examined things with a more keen eye and what we found was quite gruesome: blood splattered on the inside of the hood, fur on the alternator belt, and some cooked guts nearby. It quickly became clear that we had killed a nesting critter and that there were probably some bones caught up in some belts. It all made sense! We got to work scraping some guts away with a knife and then Alex had the brilliant idea to go through a high-powered manual car wash and flood the bits of critter out of the engine. We took some back roads over to Grand Junction and the search began. We got sidetracked by Chik-Fil-A, where I went in to order food and inquire about car washes while Alex searched on the smartphone. About an hour and a half after this all began in Fruita, our engine was squeaky clean and we were on our way once again. Lucky for us, the car ran perfectly all the way home and we will always remember to check for engine critters.

At the Oars: Notes on Uncomfortable Moments in Nature

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Cece at the oars in a rapid! Yikes...

Cece at the oars in a rapid! Yikes…Photo courtesy of Robyn Thomas

Let me just start by saying, it wasn’t that intense. It usually isn’t. This time, it was in a rocky Class 3 rapid on the San Juan River. Overall, this river is super mellow and relaxing but when the time came to go through the most questionable rapid, I happened to be on the least maneuverable boat: a catamaran river raft.

Before the rapid, we pulled all the boats out and our whole group walked ahead to scout and to choose the best route through the rocks. One of our smaller rafts made it through with no problem and then it was the cat’s turn. Our fate was quickly sealed as we went reeling toward the largest rock and slid right up onto it like an orca whale showing off at a Sea World show. I sat there, surely looking slightly alarmed, as Pam got out to try and push us off the rock. Ryan, Alex’s cousin was still at the oars for a moment before handing them over to me and jumping off to push.

“Pam? Pam?” I called, looking over my shoulder for her. “Don’t you think you should be doing this or something?”

Now I was definitely alarmed. I had no idea what I would do if they succeeded in muscling us off the rock. I had kind of steered this monstrous boat on really calm water in the previous days, but there was actually whitewater here…and rocks. So I just sat there holding the oars. I waited to hear the awful sound of us sliding off the rock, which would mean I might have to do something. Yikes! Then the sound came: the scraping of raft rubber on the gritty rock, the slap of the boat onto the water, and the scramble of feet on the running boards as Pam and Ryan hopped back in.

I slid over onto the running board as Ryan took the captain’s seat. I saw the oar being pulled back toward my head and flattened myself on the running board to avoid getting clobbered with the oar.

As we pulled the boats to shore to wait for the rest of the group Pam, with her usual enthusiasm, pumped up my confidence by making me feel like I was really cool by ‘handling the oars’ in the rapid. I laughed at my fear and my clumsy maneuvers, and I recognized the naïve feeling of learning a new skill in nature.

What was familiar to me was that bumbling that happens as you try to pretend like you know what you’re doing. You feel kind of dumb and uncomfortable, but eventually you get better and then something new comes along that makes you feel that way. When I was 18 I went off to Yellowstone to live and work for the summer. I didn’t really know how to set up a tent, how to pack a backpacking pack, how to filter water, how to cook yummy dinners in the backcountry. Now, those things are like second nature to me, but being at the oars in a mellow rapid? I’ll definitely be bumbling.

A Ducky Love Story

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I jumped off the boat and swam to Alex, who was enjoying some alone-time in the Ducky. I scrambled onto the one-person vessel, causing the back to sink lower into the river. We were laughing and messing around, trying to tip each other off the boat. We went along like this for a while: Alex paddling and me sitting back and enjoying the view. Until he decided that I should do the work of paddling and he should sit back and enjoy the view. Problems: I couldn’t see anything ahead except for his head and I couldn’t reach far enough for a good dig because his body was quite close in front of mine. So, when I heard Alex saying the word ‘rock’ over and over as the current pulled us forward, I tried to spot the obstacle but didn’t have much luck and I tried to dig deep in the water to steer us away from the unseen obstacle but also didn’t have much luck. Within seconds, we were sideways on a smooth, slanted rock, laughing so hard we didn’t come up with a strategy right away.

“Uhhhh,” Alex finally muttered, before he started wiggling his butt, which would gently wiggle the boat, hopefully, off the rock. A couple of wiggles and that boat was tipping off the rock. And we were swimming.

“Hold on to the paddle!” Alex was shouting to me from his position downstream. “Hold on to the boat!”

Who’s doing the work now?

I succeeded at holding onto both of these things and keeping my head above water- thanks to my handy dandy personal flotation device- until the current got a little calmer. We floated down the middle of the river, again laughing hysterically, this time at the fact we had flipped a boat that was said to be ‘almost impossible to flip.’

Pam and Ryan came up next to us on their raft.

“You flipped the Ducky,” Pam said, laughing. “It’s like, impossible to flip that thing.”

“Yeah, well, you know, when Cece and I get together we can pretty much do the impossible,” Alex joked back to her. “We can really do things you’ve never seen before.”

I too was surprised that the Ducky flipped; I went through a Class 3 rapid in that thing and just bumped and bobbled over all the whitewater, water splashing up in my face all the while. Out of the three watercraft I was on on this trip- catamaran raft, river kayak, and Ducky- the Ducky was my favorite. Not only was it a stable option for a river newbie like myself, it afforded its one and only captain some quiet time to think things over. I didn’t have much thinking over to do, but if I had I knew the Ducky would be there for me. Additionally, it’s quite cool in the Ducky because you’re really low-down and close to the water, and with each stroke of the paddle you get a little splash of river water on your hot legs. And I can’t forget to mention the maneuverability of the Ducky. For the sake of exploration and shade-seeking it could go places that a big raft couldn’t, like under the low cliff overhangs of the canyon walls.

 

 

One Idea of a Beach Vacation

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Lunchtime on the rafts! Photo Courtesy of Robyn Thomas.

Lunchtime on the rafts! Photo Courtesy of Robyn Thomas.

When we were first invited to join Alex’s family on the San Juan River trip, we both figured it was in southern Colorado. Hearing ‘San Juan,’ we assume ‘San Juan River in the San Juan Mountains.’ Lucky for us, we were wrong. While the San Juan Mountains are quite dramatic and beautiful, a river running through them would have been much. Southern Utah, on the other hand, is very, very hot in June, and this is where the San Juan River is.

We left Fraser on Friday after work, at about 6pm. We turned on the music and drove and drove. I was ecstatic to find Coke in the bottle at City Market in New Castle, Colorado; For us, Coke in the bottle signifies vacation. America doesn’t sell Coke in the bottle often, but I remember sipping on one while waiting for buses in Costa Rica or washing down some Tanzanian rice and beans with one. So, we were officially on vacation! We drove on into the night, turning off of I-70 at the Moab exit. Through Moab we went, admiring the cute stucco-sided restaurants and patios lit by white Christmas lights. The night was so dark out here that we couldn’t even make out the shadows of all the rock formations we knew lined the side of the road.

Finally, at about 2:30a.m, we reached Mexican Hat, Utah. You could almost miss Mexican Hat if you looked down for a moment to change the radio or yawn or check the time. Not knowing exactly where our group was camped out, we followed a small sign to the boat launch. As soon as we turned off the highway, a creature pranced across the road.

“A fox?” I asked Alex.

“I think it might have been a ring-tailed cat,” he said. “That’s cool.”

“A ring-tailed lemur?” I asked, giggling.

“You’re delirious.”

“Delemurous?”

Late-night digressions aside, we found our group and slept in the back of Alex’s Subaru for the next 4 hours until the sounds of morning woke us. The temperature was climbing toward 100 degrees, and a few hours later we were on the river. We were to spend the next 5 days soaking up the sun, swimming in water as warm as any heated pool, and burying our toes in the sand on the shore. Sounds like a typical beach vacation, right?

River mud fights. Photo Courtesy of Robyn Thomas.

River mud fights. Photo Courtesy of Robyn Thomas.

But we also did things that you probably wouldn’t do on a typical beach vacation, like having mud fights, going through whitewater, and pooping on a small, portable toilet called a Groover. And instead of palm trees to shade us in the heat of the day, we sought shade from the red canyon walls. Coming home a little crispier, wiser in the subjects of geography and watershed, sweaty, and covered in sand, we knew that this was one idea of a beach vacation.

River sunset just as good as any on the beach. Photo Courtesy of Robyn Thomas.

River sunset just as good as any on the beach. Photo Courtesy of Robyn Thomas.

Capitol Reef National Park: Scenic Drive, Frying Pan, and pie

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The views of sandstone domes and iron-rich spires in Capitol Reef National Park.

Enjoying the views as we walked around our backcountry campsite in Capitol Reef. Photo credit to Alex Romanyshyn at alrophoto.com

Our short tour of southwest Utah began in Capitol Reef National Park, a quiet and less-talked-about park between Moab and Bryce. We spent the early afternoon on the Scenic Drive, which starts at the visitor’s center. At the end of the paved 10 mile road, we continued for a couple miles on a dirt road that got us up close and personal with the canyon walls.

Capitol Reef is varied in its geology: towering canyon walls, white sandstone domes, potholes (solution cavities) carved into the sides of rocks, hoodoos, and red spires. It may not be as dramatic as Utah’s other national parks, but it seems to have a little bit of everything.

After the Scenic Drive, we got our free overnight backpacking permit and headed to the Hickman Bridge trailhead. The first backpacking trip of the season is always interesting; every single year, I tend to feel like I’m new to backpacking as I try to remember what to pack and how it all fits just right. I guess feeling like a bumbling novice at least once a season is part of what keeps the hobby fresh!

From the Hickman Bridge Trailhead we headed up the Cohab Canyon trail until we reached a junction where we could either head through Cohab Canyon and end at the campground or head up the Frying Pan trail. Because this trail links to the campground, we encountered a fair amount of big groups of hikers (including one with a diapered toddler that was crawling over rocks) within the first mile or so. But we didn’t see many other people after we were about a mile up the Frying Pan trail.

Backpacking in Capitol Reef is all dispersed camping, which means that you can pitch your tent in non-designated campsites as long as you are out of sight of the trail. We soon left the trail and tromped around, careful to scamper from rock to rock and avoid stepping on the living soil, which is made up of lichens, mosses, bacteria, green algae, microfungi, and cyanobacteria and accounts for 70-80 percent of the living ground cover. We climbed up, around, and through various small rock faces with no success in finding a suitable site. We endured a blowing drizzle, during which I started thinking about flash floods, which is my number one biggest hiker’s fear even if I am high up on top of a plateau. Soon, we were in a sunny sprinkle and watched the storm move over the tops of the Henry Mountains, the the Southeast of us.

After about an hour, we found a spot to camp on the west side of the trail. From here, we had almost a 360 degree view. We can see the Cohab Canyon to the north of us, the rounded slot canyons striped red and white like candy and backed by the tall sides of plateaus. West of us are rich, rust-colored spires, slowly separating from the plateau walls as wind and water grinds them. To the south we see tall Navajo Sandstone formations, Fern’s Nipple, and surrounding red and white hoodoos, with the Henry Mountains as a backdrop. And to the east are more rolling domes of Navajo Sandstone.

We set up camp and go exploring. Climbing among the rocks, with no trail to follow, we are reminiscent of the freedoms and mischief and simplistic adventures of childhood. We marvel at the various rock formations we come across and try to guess at the science behind them. In the morning it is especially still and quiet as the mustard-yellow sun rises over the white rock. As it gets higher and hotter in the sky, we pack up and set out on our short journey back. Before we head on to Bryce Canyon National Park, we stop at the historic Gifford House to share a delicious mini-pie, something we’ve never had the chance to do in a national park before. The park’s history has shaped it in a unique way.

Sharing a mini-pie at the historic Gifford House in Capitol Reef.

Sharing a mixed berry mini-pie at the historic Gifford House in Capitol Reef.

Native Americans in the area left their mark in petroglyphs carved into the rock walls and the later Mormon settlers planted orchards that are still present throughout the park. Fruit products from the orchards are sold in the visitor’s center and the historic Gifford House. The heart of the park has a lazy spring day feel about it: the groomed and wide-open picnic area, the picturesque country horse barn, and the blooming apricot trees. Situated between Utah’s more dramatic parks this one is easily passed by, a well-kept secret worth the short detour.

Hot Sulphur Springs

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The name for the hot springs in this tiny Colorado town is fitting. They are definitely hot, with some pools getting up to 109 degrees, and, well, they smell like hard-boiled eggs. It took months to get the smell of sulphur out of my towel and swimsuit last time we visited these hot springs (don’t wash your towel with other clothes…or everything will smell like sulphur). This resort has 22 pools, some only big enough for one person; two if they don’t mind rubbing up against each other. There is a pool for every preference it seems: covered pools, a mountain view pool, super hot pools, a cold pool, pools out of the way of the others, a pool with a waterfall, pools that seat 1,2,4,10 people. Most of the pools have underwater benches in them, which makes it easy to lounge and relax. Because of the lack of shade and the heat of the pools, I find Hot Sulphur Springs hot springs in the summer to be more enjoyable at night than during the day. However, I look forward to going back this winter (when it just might be negative 56 degrees) since I live right around the corner from these hot springs.
We were at the hot springs until closing time and then went to camp with our friends at the free campground right across the train tracks. The pros of this campground are that it’s free, it’s easy, it’s in pretty good shape, it’s on the river, and I don’t think it fills up too fast. Suspicions about why it doesn’t fill up fast? One: There are frequent trains that barrel by, honking and rattling and screeching, on the tracks right next to the campground.Two: There’s a steady flow of people (we thought they were high schoolers) speeding by on the dirt road that goes by the campground. Three: Hot Sulphur Springs is weird and gives off creepy vibes…I don’t really know why. With the fire ban in Grand County lifted, we were able to enjoy the campground with a long fire before we good ol’ fashioned Coloradoans retired to bed in our Subarus for the night.
The last part of our visit to Hot Sulphur Springs was 18 holes of Frisbee golf the next day. This was a challenge. The course has a lot of long holes and is also populated by many trees, bushes, and tall grasses to lose a disc in. It’s possible that we spent a longer time searching for discs than actually playing, the climax being when we kept throwing them over the fence that blocks the course from the train tracks (lucky for us, someone who must play the course frequently cut conveniently-placed holes in the fence for disc retrieval). After this hours-long game in the midday sun, we stopped at the Dairy De-lite for a satisfying dipped cone.

A quick tale about how Mother Nature always wins

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Our family group waiting to go down the alpine slide at Winter Park.

Our family group waiting in the rain to go down the alpine slide at Winter Park. So close!

When we made plans to go ride the alpine slide at Winter Park I was, admittedly, nervous. I was only hoping that i wouldn’t come away with fiberglass burns and that no one would yell, “My grandma goes faster than you!” from the chairlift…which happened last time I rode an alpine slide. I mean, I’m not really a daredevil now and I certainly wasn’t then, at the age of 12. Nonetheless, I was embarrassed and traumatized enough to not ride alpine slides for the last 11 years.

We bought our tickets Saturday and stood under heavy gray clouds, waiting to get on the chairlift to the top of the slide. About three quarters of the way up it started to drizzle. This left us waiting in a shed at the top of the chairlift with a group of grumpy guests. We laughed at the bad timing of the rain.

Ha ha ha ha ha.

We rode down on a school bus with an enthusiastic driver: he had us raise our hands at bumps, he made jokes about the slow bus, he pointed out mule deer in a sarcastic way that many passengers seemed to miss (“Hey, there’s the interesting and elusive mule deer to the left.” ) This excited the passengers beyond belief (“OHMYGOD a deer! Two deer!”)

Soon, we were back at the bottom and, voila, the rain had stopped. We immediately got back on the chairlift. We got our little slide carts! I was doing that thing they teach you in high school sports…envisioning your success. My success would be to NOT get yelled at by little bastards on the chairlift. We were sitting on our carts, in the slide, just waiting for our turn to go down.

And then it started to rain. We waited a few minutes. We decided it wasn’t going to stop. We all put our slide carts back to the sound of a toddler wailing about wanting to go down the big slide. Our group knew the drill and, instead of waiting in the shed, we got right onto the school bus that was parked there. We were the first passengers. A man pulled up in a new, smaller bus and beckoned us. We got on the small bus. About 50 people tried to cram on there.

“Is he seriously going to try to fit ALL of us on here?” someone says in astonishment.

Alex and I looked at each other. We had an Africa moment.’ Ohhhh there’s plenty of room!’ our looks said.

“One more,” I said to him, referring to the ‘how many people can you fit on a Kenyan matatu? One more.’ phrase.

The driver then realized he could not fit all these folks on this bus. We got back on the first bus and ended up standing in the aisle on the bumpy ride down.

“I haven’t had a good, cramped bus ride in a while!” I joke to Alex at the bottom.

The rain has, of course, died down.

And that is how mother nature won.

Breckenridge International Snow Sculpture Championships

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Cece and bear sculpture

Cece with a big bear sculpture.

Here are some pictures from this year’s International Snow Sculpture Championships, which ran from January 16 to February 5. Sorry to get this up after the event has ended…silly me. But maybe you’ll be inspired to attend next year’s event. This year, there were 15 teams from 11 countries. Contestants start with a 20 ton block of snow and spend five days carving it! Snow sculptures or not, Breckenridge is always a fun place to spend a day or two!

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