Port Angeles Hikes

Our house sit in Washington state may have been short, but we took full advantage of the Port Angeles hikes. The city is located adjacent to one of the most diverse ecological systems in the world. Although there are a million and one amazing hikes on the Olympic Peninsula, the few listed here are all within a 30 minute drive of downtown Port Angeles.


Hurricane Ridge – Olympic National Park

Hurricane Ridge is part of the expansive Olympic National Park system. Though not very far from town, the drive takes almost a full half hour due to the narrow, winding road. However, the drive itself is worth the $30 per vehicle park entrance fee (or free with your America the Beautiful Pass). The road climbs up through both the temperate rain forest and the evergreens to take visitors up above the tree line, offering an amazing view of the surrounding mountain ranges. Unlike the rain forested areas that Olympic National Park is most known for, this Port Angeles hike is high and dry up in the mountains.

View of mountain range from the top of Hurricane Ridge

Staring at the Hurricane Ridge Visitor’s Center, we hiked a little over two miles along the interconnected trail system. The Overlook gave us a tiny glimpse of the Puget Sound over the hills. Once we reached Sunrise Point, we returned to the parking lot via the High Ridge Trail. This one ended up being one of our favorites, with unbelievable views of the mountains and even a peek at of one of the park’s far off glaciers.

View of the Hurricane Ridge Visitor's Center at Olympic National Park with the glaciers and mountains in the background.

At over 5,000 feet (1,667 m) above sea level, the Hurricane Ridge Visitor’s Center was breathtaking. It was fascinating to go from beachside to frozen mountain top in only seventeen miles. The trip really drove home the incredible ecological diversity of the Olympic Peninsula.



Spruce Railroad Trail

Part of the much longer Olympic Discovery Trail, Spruce Railroad trail is a gentle, low impact hike along the north shore of Lake Crescent. Although part of Olympic National Park, this hike is free. With its lakeside bridges, dark mountain tunnels, and vibrant greenery, this was one of the most interesting and exciting lakeside strolls I’ve ever taken. Located only 25 minutes outside of town, it was easily one of our favorite Port Angeles hikes.

Crescent Lake and bridge over Devil's Punchbowl.

There was a bit of a drizzle during our hike, but in a place that averages 26 inches (2.5 cm) of rain each year, that’s not too bad. Starting at the Spruce Railroad Trail Head off E. Beach Road, we worked our way south along the lake. About a mile in, we found a lovely bridge and a still water pond known as Devil’s Punch Bowl. Just beyond that was the first of two tunnels, McFee Tunnel.

That’s right, this Port Angeles hike wasn’t named after a railroad for nothing! The whole trail runs along the old railroad route that was abandoned in 1951, leaving two railroad tunnels behind. We made it as far as the second, Daley Rankin Tunnel, about 1.5 miles in. Then we were forced to turn around due to renovation. It was still a wonderful, 3 mile there-and-back hike. I can’t wait to see the finished project scheduled for late 2019.





Marymere Falls

Lake Crescent had more in store for us as we continued on to our favorite walk of our Port Angeles hiking adventure, Marymere Falls. Off the southern bank of Lake Crescent, Marymere Falls is about 25 minutes away from Port Angeles. This hike is a two mile there-and-back walk through lush forest, culminating in a 90 foot waterfall.

Marymere Falls - Port Angeles Hikes - The Places We Live

We parked for free in the large parking lot at the Storm King Ranger Station, then took the pedestrian walkway under the highway to the trailhead. There was an excellent mix of terrain on this hike, from paved walks, dirt paths, bridges, and stairs. I really enjoyed the variety to match the diverse scenery.

Marymere Falls Trail - Port Angeles hiking - The Places We Live

It didn’t rain the day we enjoyed this Port Angeles hike, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t get wet. During our 10 day stay here, we got wet and muddy every day during our walks regardless of the weather. I’m really glad we brought an extra pair of shoes and quality rain jackets.





Far Afield

I limited our adventures to hiking that was within 30 minutes of Port Angeles, but there is so much more to see and do in this area. Even a full weekend road trip of Olympic National Park wouldn’t be enough to see all of the natural beauty this area holds. We are both so grateful that we got the opportunity to house sit in Port Angles and hope that we will get the chance to come back and spend much more time here.


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3 Hikes within 30 minutes of Port Angeles, WA - The Places We Live


Craters of the Moon National Monument

Between Yellowstone and Boise lies Craters of the Moon National Monument, a region of the Idaho desert filled with dormant volcanoes and fields of ancient lava beds. Having grown up in Idaho, we were both aware of Craters of the Moon, but had never actually visited before, so this was a natural next stop for our #Vanlife adventure.

It turns out that Craters and Yellowstone were both created by the same source of volcanic activity. Yellowstone National Park sits on the Yellowstone Caldera, a supervolcano spanning an area of 1,530 square miles (3,960 sq. km). The caldera is fueled by a hot spot that, over the course of millions of years, has migrated across the whole of southern Idaho. Craters of the Moon National Monument, then, is essentially Idaho’s Yellowstone of the past, a volcanic wasteland that stands as a testament to the raw power of the earth and the passage of time on an inconceivable scale.

Craters of the Moon National Monument - The Places We Live

Craters of the Moon National Monument

Craters of the Moon National Monument is located 18 miles (29 km) southeast of Arco, Idaho. The entrance fee is $20 per vehicle, or free with the America the Beautiful Pass. The major points of interest include the Visitor Center, loop road, and underground caves. Unfortunately, we were unable to enter the caves on our visit. A disease known as White-nose Syndrome has been sweeping the USA and Canada, decimating bat populations. Therefore, some restrictions have been placed on cave entry at Craters. Because our shoes had been inside of several caves within the last year (Seven Star Cave in China, Khao Sam Roi Yot Cave in Thailand, and Batu Caves in Malaysia), we were politely asked not to enter the caves. It was a bit of a bummer, but I would rather save the bats than take the risk.

Instead, we explored the stops along the loop road. Before getting to the loop, we first visited North Crater Flow Trail. If you’re in a hurry, this could easily be the only stop you make. It displays great examples of the types of volcanic rock found throughout the area. There were even Syringas (Idaho’s state flower) sprouting amongst the rocks. After that we walked Devil’s Orchard Nature Trail, which wasn’t nearly as exciting and could be skipped if you’re pressed for time.

Cinder Cone Fragments, Craters of the Moon National Monument - The Places We Live

Craters of the Moon Loop Road

After passing Devil’s Orchard, there is a one-way loop road that takes drivers past some of the monument’s best features. The first stop we came to was the 6,181 ft (1,884 m) Inferno Cone. It looked like a mountain made of black sand. It’s a bit of a hike to get to the top, but it’s worth the effort, as the crest offers a panoramic view of the park.

Inferno Cone, Craters of the Moon National Monument - The Places We LiveTop of Inferno Cone, Craters of the Moon National Monument - The Places We Live

However, our favorite stop was the Snow Cone. It’s a short hike to the top for an amazing payoff, home to long solidified lava tubes that still look wet and sticky, as if they’d just hardened moments before. Certain sections of the tubes had broken open over time, revealing the hollow core. The trail puts you right next to the volcanic rock, so you can feel how light and brittle the stone really is.

Volcanic Rock, Craters of the Moon National Monument - The Places We Live

After the Snow Cone, we enjoyed the remainder of the loop’s scenic drive, only slightly bummed at having to skip the caves (it’s kind of our thing). Craters of the Moon National Monument was a lot of fun, and definitely worth the drive for anyone traveling across southern Idaho. It was a short visit, lasting about two hours, the perfect scenic pit stop before continuing on across the desert on the way home.


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Idaho's Craters of the Moon National Monument - The Places We Live


Yellowstone National Park

After an amazing couple of days spent hiking and looking for aliens at Devils Tower, it was time to move on to granddaddy of all parks, Yellowstone National Park. The farther west we travel, the larger the states become, and each leg of the journey gets longer. In this case, we had a 450 mile journey ahead of us. I don’t like to spend more than four consecutive hours in the car, so we split up our drive and stayed at a  free campsite just outside of Billings, Montana. The next morning, we woke up early and drove the remaining 247 miles to Yellowstone so we could secure a camp site and explore the park.

Devils Tower to Yellowstone National Park - The Places We Live #Vanlife

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is an American treasure than spans almost 3,500 square miles (8,900 km²) and is spread out over three states. It is particularly famous for its geothermal features, hosting half of the world’s geysers and the world’s largest petrified forest. Sitting on the largest volcanic system in North America, the Yellowstone Caldera has been termed as a Supervolcano, which is reserved only for volcanoes that have maxed out the Volcanic Explosivity Index at a magnitude of 8.

Although the park is green, wooded, and full of wildlife, the volcanic activity is apparent at nearly every turn. It was chilling to wake up in the morning, hear the birds chirping and feel the cool wind on my face, then look to my right and see steam coming out of a random hole in the ground. Although a picture perfect landscape of solitude and natural beauty, this park is creepy AF!

Yellowstone National Park Welcome Sign - The Places We Live

  • Yellowstone National Park is open year round
    • Most campsites and service stations close for winter (Sept – May; for those keeping score, that’s an 8-month winter!)
    • During the summer months, roads and gates are open 24/7
  • It costs $35 per car to enter Yellowstone National Park for 7 days
  • The best season to visit Yellowstone is spring and fall
    • Summer – 40° to 80°F
    • Spring and Fall – 20° to 60°F
    • Winter – 5° to 40°F

Mammoth Hot Springs – Day One

We drove in from the north on HWY 89, so our first scheduled stop in Yellowstone National Park was Mammoth Hot Springs. This area hosts the park headquarters, gas station, hotel, Albright Visitor Center, and of course, the hot springs. Before we could even reach our first natural wonder, we came face to face with the park’s wildlife, spotting a bull elk wandering down the streets near the hotel/visitor’s center.

Water bubbles up out of Mammoth Hot Springs atop hills of travertine (a kind of limestone formed by spring water deposits). The water here is a little cooler than some of the other springs, allowing algae to grow and turning the travertine brown.

Travertine at Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park - The Places We Live

There are two main terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs. The upper terrace does not allow RV or bus parking and leads almost immediately to a hike down some stairs (scaring off some of the seniors), so I strongly suggest parking and starting on the upper terrace. The hike around Mammoth Hot Springs is mostly on wooden boardwalks that provide amazing views of the travertine and the bubbling pools below.

Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park - The Places We Live

From Mammoth Hot Springs, we had planned to visit Indian Creek, but unfortunately it was closed for the season. We visited in September, and much of the park was closed due to remodeling/repair or simple seasonal shutdowns. However, that didn’t keep the park from being busy – there were tourists EVERYWHERE. Several times we pulled in to hiking spots or water features, only to have to keep driving for lack of parking. If you are going to Yellowstone (which you absolutely should), be sure to bring your patience with you!

Norris

With Indian Springs closed, we continued on south to the Norris area. This section of the park hosts Norris Geyser Basin and the Museum of the National Park Ranger. We attempted a visit to Norris Geyser Basin without much luck. We drove through the parking lot three times before we finally got a spot, but once we were inside it was almost shoulder to shoulder traffic, and we were already tired and a bit grouchy, so we left. It’s supposed to be very nice, though.

Thankfully, our next stop was nearby and really gave our spirits a lift! Artists Paintpots was a fantastic hike and really something to see. It ended up being our second favorite stop in Yellowstone National Park. It’s a slightly longer hike than some of the others (1 mile round-trip), but well worth the effort. It starts out with a walk through the forest, which for the most part looked normal, except for the parts with dead trees and the ground steaming eerily. At the end of the hike are the “paintpots” which are bubbling mud and clay pits. Again, there is nothing quite so creepy as boiling dirt.

Norris Campground

Norris also happened to be the place where we camped for the night. We got a parking spot with a picnic table, bear box (to store food), and a fire pit. The campground included a lovely view and bathrooms, but no showers, electricity, or wifi. It got pretty chilly at night, dipping down to below freezing, but it was overall a comfortable stay.

Note on Bear Boxes – Yes, there are bears in this part of the country and yes, they will eat you and all your food if they get the chance. Bear Boxes are a common amenity found in campgrounds around the western USA. They are large metal cupboards with an awkwardly shaped handle. If visiting bears smell food, they are likely to trash whatever container the food is in in order to get to it. This means ripping tents apart and clawing at cars. It is just safer and easier for everyone to store all food in the Bear Boxes, which were created specifically to keep bears out.

Bison at Yellowstone National Park - The Places We Live

Bison are America’s national mammal. They are beautiful, majestic, and total dicks. They like to wander through camp sites like they own the place. Do not approach bison, as they are huge and can be grumpy as hell! Also, they are not super bright, and will walk through your clothesline and get all tangled up, which makes them angry and smashy. Not a good thing when Bison are in your campground. For this reason, campers are not allowed to hang clotheslines between trees. If you, like us, find yourself out of clothes and needing to do laundry, consider hanging your clothes from the back of your hatchback (assuming you have one).

20180918_171607.jpg

Canyon Village – Day Two

Canyon Village is a short drive east of Norris and hosts a visitors center, service stations, and the Yellowstone River Canyon. This was our absolute favorite stop in Yellowstone National Park! The canyon is stunning, and there are plenty of hiking options, all of which are worth the effort to visit.

Our first stop was Brink of Lower Falls which took us, surprise surprise, to the brink of the falls. It was a long, steep, switchbacked hike to the viewing area, but once we were there, we had a view of the valley and the upper edge of the falls.

Brink of Lower Falls, Yellowstone National Park - The Places We LiveYellowstone Canyon, Yellowstone National Park - The Places We Live

Our next stop was Grand View, which Josh and I agreed was one of the best hikes we have ever done. It wasn’t particularly long, but included both dirt trails and wooden boardwalks. There were switchbacks, but also steps and long stretches of slope. The variety was great, but the view at the end was even better.

Grand View, Yellowstone National Park - The Places We Live

Lastly, we visited Inspiration Point, a short walk that overlooks the canyon from the opposite end of the brink. It was windy and a bit crowded, but still offered a nice view of the falls from afar.

Old Faithful – Day Three

A visit to Yellowstone National Park would not be complete without a visit to Old Faithful herself. We made a couple of stops along the way, including Lower Geyser Basin, Midway Geyser Basin (very crowded), and Biscuit Basin. We really enjoyed Biscuit Basin with its variety of colorful pools.

Biscuit Basin, Yellowstone National Park - The Places We Live

The Old Faithful area had a huge parking lot, three hotels, service stations, and visitor’s center. We, of course, showed up exactly as Old Faithful was doing her thing, glimpsing only the top of the spray above the trees lining the parking lot, so were forced to wait around for the next go.

After exploring the area and reading just about everything in the visitor center, I grabbed a front row seat (that’s a thing) for the show. Old Faithful is a large geyser and is the star of Yellowstone. It is called Old Faithful because it is very predictable, erupting every 70-90 minutes. Wikipedia says “Eruptions can shoot 3,700 to 8,400 US gallons (14,000 to 32,000 L) of boiling water to a height of 106 to 185 feet (32 to 56 m) lasting from ​1 12 to 5 minutes. The average height of an eruption is 145 feet (44 m).”

Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park - The Places We Live

It was the perfect ending to our Yellowstone National Park adventure. After nearly three full days without a shower or internet, we were more than ready to move on. Next up, we’re back in our home state of Idaho for a volcanic adventure of a different kind: Craters of the Moon!


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3 Days in Yellowstone - The Places We Live


Badlands National Park

We were so excited to visit Badlands National Park after having such a wonderful experience at Palisades State Park. South Dakota was proving to be an insanely beautiful state. We drove 288 miles (463 km) along I-90 and started our new audio book, Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut and read by James Franco. I was very skeptical about a reading by the beautiful Mr. Franco, but his voice actually fit perfectly with the feeling of the story, and the misadventures of Billy Pilgrim kept us entertained all the way to the Badlands.


Badlands National Park Overview

Badlands National Park is located in the southwest corner of South Dakota, off of the I-90 freeway. The three sections of the park include over 240,000 acres (97,000 h) of national park land. The North Unit, which is the one we explored, is the most popular and includes a convenient looped road along the major stops within the park.

When to Visit

The best time to visit Badlands National Park is in the spring or fall. There is very little shade and the sun can be quite intense against the light colored rock formations.  The spring will provide the best temperatures at 35 – 80°F (2 – 27°C), but also has increased chances of rain. The fall temperatures are a few degrees colder, but you’re less likely to get rained on. Regardless, I strongly suggest sun protection no matter when you decide to visit the Badlands.

How to Prepare

The town of Wall has several hotels and RV campgrounds (plus the famous Wall Drug), but it is bit of a drive to the park. The absolute best place to stay is within the park itself at Cedar Pass Lodge. The lodge includes cabins, RV parking, and camping sites, all of which overlook the national park.

The price to enter Badlands National Park is $20 per car, $10 per motorcycle, or $10 per hiker (as of 10/2018). Each pass is valid for seven consecutive days. As we plan on visiting at least four national parks within the next 12 months, we opted to purchase the America The Beautiful Pass for $80. This allows everyone in our car to visit all of the USA national parks for free for the next 365 days.

America The Beautiful National Park Annual Pass

I am a big fan of nuclear history and strongly suggest including the Minuteman Missile National Historic Sites in your trip. To get the best experience, reserve your Delta-01 tour as soon as possible. The tour lasts 30 minutes and costs $6. When we went in the off-season, tickets had already sold out three weeks prior. Without a reservation, we were limited to the visitor center and the Delta-09 site, where you can take pictures of the exterior of a decommissioned Minuteman silo. But if you want to tour the inside of the bunker (and who wouldn’t?!), reserve ASAP.

The Places We Live: Badlands National Park Loop

    1. Minuteman Missile National Historic Site Visitor Center
    2. Delta-01
    3. Delta-09
    4. Pinnacles Overlook
    5. Homestead Overlook
    6. Ben Reifel Visitor Center (Park Headquarters)
    7. Door Trail

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site Visitor Center

Location: North of I-90 Exit 131

Time: 30 minutes

Price: Free

Sign for Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in South Dakota with the visitor center in the background.

During the Cold War (1947-1991), the United States produced over 1,000 ready-to-launch nuclear-tipped missiles and stationed them in hidden silos throughout the Great Plains. This was done to close the missile gap between the USA and the Soviet Union, allowing the United States to apply the military strategy of mutual assured destruction.

The LGM-30 Minuteman is an intercontinental ballistic missile developed in the mid-1950s. Like the Revolutionary War’s Minutemen, whom the missile was named after, the LGM-30 Minuteman missiles were armed and ready to strike at a moment’s notice.

Walking through the visitor center gave us a great idea of what it was like to live during this time when the whole world was facing death on a hair trigger. More importantly, in my humble opinion, it outlined the history and the philosophical dilemmas surrounding such an instant killing arsenal. As a physics hobbyist with an interest in nuclear energy, I found the whole thing fascinating.


Delta-01

Location: North of I-90 Exit 127

Time: 30 minutes

Price: $6 for adults and $4 for youth under 16 (as of 10/12/2018)

Tours begin and end at the gate outside of the Delta-01 compound gate. Tickets must be reserved in advance as only six people are taken in at a time; I strongly suggest booking at least three weeks before visiting. We were unable to take the tour since all of the spots had been booked out beforehand. The tour takes visitors down into an old Minuteman control bunker, including the upper support building and the actual launch control site 31 feet below the surface.

Get more information about visiting the Delta-01 Site HERE.


Delta-09

Location: South of I-90 Exit 116

Time: 10 minutes

Price: Free

Pictured: not a real missile

Honestly, I was a little disappointed with the Delta-09 compound. There is a self-guided cellphone tour available, but all of the stops are above ground, and there isn’t much to see. The main attraction is a window with a limited view into a launch silo (pictured above). It was a great way to get a glimpse into a silo without access to the Delta-01 tour, but it left us wanting more.


Pinnacles Overlook

Canyon of jagged rocks at Badlands National Park

Pinnacles Overlook is the first major pull-out we came to as we entered Badlands National Park. It ended up being one of my favorite stops. There were several different overlook areas with varying levels of accessibility. I think the view at Pinnacles Overlook gave the most expansive view of the rock formations the park is known for.

Josh from The Places We Live looks through binoculars at a bison who is grazing in the grass across the road

Just outside of the Pinnacles Overlook parking lot is where we spotted our first wild bison. Bison are America’s national mammal and are often called “buffalo” within the USA and Canada. Although they played a major roll in the lives of the Native Americans of the Great Plains, the American Bison nearly went extinct in the 19th century. Now the bison population is doing very well, though most only live domestically or within national parks and reserves.


Homestead Overlook

Midwest grassland surrounded by canyons of jagged rocks at Badlands National Park in South Dakota

Homestead Overlook isn’t particularly impressive without knowing a bit of the history of the area. The overlook offers a view of the main settlement area for homesteaders of the 19th century, Lakota peoples before that, Arikara people before that, and even the nomadic mammoth hunters before that. This place is so arid and windy, home to little more than scrub grass and hardy shrubs, so it’s strange to think anyone would call this “home”.


Ben Reifel Visitor Center

“Jen, you just skipped so much of the park!” Yes, I know. Driving from Homestead to the visitor center was absolutely stunning. We stopped at a couple of pullouts along the way but, I’ll be honest, they weren’t really worth the heat. Panorama Point was similar to the rest of the sites and the Fossil Exhibit Trail might be cool for kids, but was a huge disappointment for me (there are no actual fossils there). Save your energy for the amazing hikes that await just past the visitor center.

Ben Reifel Visitor Center is the main visitor center for the Badlands National Park and is open year round. The southern visitor center, called White River Visitor Center, is a great starting point for the Stronghold Unit of the park, but is only open seasonally. The visitor centers are a great place to learn about the historical and geographical aspects of the park. It is also a great place to hit the bathroom and cool down in the AC!


Wooden boardwalk curves between two rocky hills and into a canyon overlook at Badlands National Park

Hands-down, our favorite adventure in Badlands National Park was our brief hike of Door Trail. It begins with a short boardwalk into the canyon. Once inside, the boardwalk ends and a more technical hike begins.

The hike is no longer handicap accessible after the boardwalk ends; the ground becomes very uneven and rocky. The trail is not paved or even very obvious, marked out by numbered yellow poles you had to spot and find your own way to. It wasn’t always easy to spot the next marker (I’m still not sure where number 7 is) and reminded us a lot of the Harrier House Hash Run we did in Thailand. Although it didn’t seem particularly easy to get lost, it was obvious that we could, in fact, get lost. The surrounding landscape had very little in the way of distinguishing features, and I can imagine how easily I could get turned around if I made a wrong turn.

Jen from The Places We Live holds her hat against the wind at the end of the Door Trail at Badlands National Park. Behind her are jagged rocks and canyons

Thankfully, we didn’t make any wrong turns and successfully reached the end of the trail, which gave us an amazing 360 degree view of the Badlands. It was hot, windy, barren, and beautifully ugly. It was like being on another world.


Wrap Up

We spent three days at Badlands National Park and enjoyed every moment. Like every national park I have been to so far, it truly exceeded my expectations. In those three days, we were able to see everything the park had to offer, plus the surrounding neighborhood, and get some work done. One day should be more than enough to visit all of the best parts of the park. Next up, we’re traveling just a few hours away to the eastern border of Wyoming and our next camp site below the awe-inspiring Devils Tower!


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Badlands National Park - The Places We Live


Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park

After our daring escape from the police road block on the motorbike, we were off to Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park. It is one of the top sights in Thailand and only 40 miles away from our house sit in Hua Hin. The drive was wonderful, with views of both small farming villages among the hills and modern beach-resorts along the coast. After a little over an hour’s drive, we had arrived.

Sam Roi Yot Beach

Postcard. "Hello from Sam Roi Yot Beach! The Places We Live" Beach with islands visible in the background. Foreground has a colorful boat parked on the sand.

Our first stop at Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park was to the beach, one of three we visited that day. Sam Roi Yat beach was quite long and very flat, with plenty of space for walking around in the sunshine. Several islands lay just off the coast, all of which looked like they’d be fabulous for a day trip and picnic, if you have access to a boat. There’s a road that runs along next to the beach, with little locally-run shacks selling ice creams, teas, and other tasty treats. The other side of the road was lined with restaurants and bars, each with a little parking area. It’s easy to imagine this area being quite busy during the height of tourist season.

Jen from the Places we Live stands with her arms outstretched on the long beach of Sam Roi Yot in Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park, Thailand.

We, thankfully, had the beach to ourselves that day. Many of the brightly colored shacks were boarded up, and the bars had only a few locals hanging around. We took a nice walk along the shore, enjoying a lovely view of the islands and the scattered fishing boats. There were lots of little crabs crawling along the beach and tons of large sea snail shells scattered about. The sun was really hot, but there was a cool breeze off the ocean that made it quite enjoyable.

Bang Po Beach

Our next stop in Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park took us through some hilly farmland to a small town hidden in a valley along side Bang Po Beach. To get access to the park, we had to enter through a gate where we paid 10 baht ($0.32 USD) for parking the motorbike. Once inside, we had easy access to the lovely beach and the line of small shops and restaurants that lined the parking lot.

"The Places We Live" Bang Po Beach from the top of the nearby mountain. The beach appears to be part of a cove with small mountains surrounding 3 sides.

Right off the parking lot, in the Southeast corner, there was a National Park stand selling tickets to the Phraya Nakhon cave. There are two options for getting to the cave. You can either walk, which costs 200 baht ($6 USD) each for foreigners, or you can take a boat around the edge of the island, which costs an additional 400 baht. We opted to walk up and around the small mountain separating Bang Po Beach and the hidden beach of Laem Sala.

Laem Sala Beach

The hike to Laem Sala Beach was a fairly easy, up and over hike along the coast. Like most hikes in Asia, the trail was a set of concrete/stone stairs. These stairs were not particularly well-kept, making it a bit treacherous in places, and climbing stairs in ninety-degree heat and humidity isn’t the most pleasant activity, but the views were very nice and, despite the constant engine revving of the cicadas, the walk was very peaceful.

Josh from The Places We Live stands on a mountain-top overlook. He is surrounded by jungle trees and boulders.

The moment we touched the sand at Laem Sala Beach, however, we were attacked by mosquitoes. We practically ran from the entrance of the beach to the exit on the opposite end. This was unfortunate as the beach did look very comfortable and inviting. There were pine trees along the edges of the sand and cabins scattered around. It reminded us a lot of Ponderosa State Park back in Idaho. But, we missed most of it in our rush to not get eaten alive.

Postcard. "Laem Sala Beach. The Places We Live." Laem Sala Beach in Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park Thailand is a sandy beach, perfect for camping. There are thin trees spread out throughout the beach to provide shade.

Phraya Nakhon Cave

The trail to Phraya Nakhon Cave was another stone staircase, but this one was well maintained, and had much more traffick moving in both directions. It was a challenging climb among the large, vine-covered trees. Everything looked like a snake! Thankfully, we didn’t see any actual snakes, but the massive amount of vines and roots kept us on our toes. We DID see a couple of monkeys in the distance, however, so that was fun.

After half an hour of hiking through the Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park, we arrived to the mouth of the cave. It was slightly cooler and smelled like bat poop. It was at that moment we noticed we have visited a lot of caves during our adventures abroad… not important… but weird.

Seven Star Cave in Guilin, China. 

Dark Cave in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Large cave with a slanted rock wall with drooping stalactites. A person stands off in the distance reflecting how large the Phraya Nakhon cave is.

The tourist access area of Phraya Nakhon Cave has two caverns. The first has a small window where water looks to constantly drip in. The only dark stretch was a short path between the two caverns. The second one is quite a bit larger and has a large window in the center, big enough to host trees and a temple.

Light shines through a hole in the roof of the cave. The cave is large and filled with tall, green trees. In the center of the sunlight on the ground is a thin, Thai Buddist temple. Phraya Nakhon Cave in Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park, Thailand

It all seemed quite simple: a cave, with a hole in the roof, and a small, basic temple inside. But something about it felt magical. Maybe it was the lighting? Or the trees surrounded by the cave walls? I don’t know how to describe it, but it was mystifying. You definitely got a sense of the power of this place.

Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park One Word Summary – “Itchy”

The trek back to the bike was the same thing, just in reverse, complete with swarms of ravenous mosquitoes. We swatted at ourselves the whole way down the mountain, ran in near-terror across the beach, and practically leaped over the hill to the other side.

Why? Why were being attacked so viciously? I had put repellent lotion on my skin and spray on my clothes. And, despite the heat, I wore sneakers, thick socks, jeans, and a long-sleeved sweater to protect myself from the sun. Maybe these mosquitoes just really enjoy American cuisine?

Collage of Jen from The Places We Live. To the left, she is standing in front of a sign written in Thai. She is wearing a long-sleeve, grey sweater, blue jeans, and sneakers. The picture to the right shows the back of her legs while she is wearing shorts. Her thighs and calves are covered in large, red bumps.
Yep, they got me, right through my jeans!

By the time we made it back to the motorbike, we were tired, sweaty, and itchy. We grabbed some much needed (and much enjoyed) Thai Tea, then headed back home. We didn’t see everything that the Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park had to offer, but we saw some of the top attractions and had an amazing time.


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"Sam Roi Yot Beach Thailand. The Places We Live" Colorful boat on Sam Roi Yot Beach in Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park, Thailand

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Arches National Park

I have to admit that Moab blew my mind. Arches National Park Service was right. There is no other place like it. It took my breath away and I can’t wait to go back!

The second and final day of our Moab, Utah adventure was centered around Arches National Park. The National Park Service webpage describes the park as having landforms and textures unlike any other place in the world with over 2,000 natural sandstone arches. They did not disappoint.

After the long drive to and throughout Canyonlands National Park yesterday, I was very surprised how close everything was in Arches. From the highway, we drove through the park gate, up a butte, and bam!, there it was.

Arches National Park mountain road

There were a ton of places to stop and take pictures or go on hikes. As we were all a little tired (and maybe a little hungover), we kept to the short hikes and road-side stops like Balanced Rock, a rock balancing on a another rock surrounded by phalluses.

Arches National Park Balanced Rock Moab Utah

And over to the Windows Section where there were arches and more phalluses just steps away from the parking lot and public bathrooms.

And finally, another phallus in front of a slot canyon that lead to Sand Dune Arch where I climbed over the boulders, ripped my pants, and peed outside of a cave with an amazing view.

Arches National Park Sand Dune Arch slot canyon Moab Utah

After all the adventuring, driving, and heat, we were ready to hit the road for the long ride home. I have to admit that Moab blew my mind. The National Park Service was right. There is no other place like it, it took my breath away, and I can’t wait to go back!

Canyonlands National Park

We were treated to a weekend in Moab, Utah by a couple of friends who know the area well. Day one was filled with beautiful views and wine.

We were treated to a weekend in Moab, Utah by a couple of friends who know the area well.

Moab is a town of 5,000 people bordering Canyonlands  and Arches National Park. There are round-trip flights to Moab from Denver and Salt Lake City for around $300 on Boutique Air. We chose the less comfortable option of cramming four adults into a car filled with camping gear for a “relaxing” 5.5 hour journey through the Utah wasteland from Salt Lake City.

It was a little early in the season and our first over-night adventure with these particular friends, so we went with two separate KOA Cabins just outside of town. The cabins were absolutely adorable, had an amazing view, and were surprisingly clean and comfortable.

KOA Cabin Moab Utah

Our friends picked out the perfect adventure for us today. We woke up late, had a tasty breakfast in town, then hit the road for a scenic road trip along the Utah-128.

The UT-128 winds along the Colorado River for a little over 30 miles. We drove nearly the full 30 miles just enjoying the scenery and soaking up the sun.

Utah HWY 198 Moab

After we’d made the full lap, we drove back towards town and made a pit stop at the Castle Creek Winery. It is one of only three wineries in Utah as the soil is too salty in most areas… and let’s face it, we’re in the middle of a desert. I’m still uncertain if this oasis of wine and happiness even existed and was just a mirage. Whatever it was, I am grateful for their delicious Outlaw Red and Lily Rose White.

Castle Creek Winery Moab Utah

Next on the list was Canyonlands National Park. You guessed it. It’s a park full of canyons carved out by the Colorado River. There are several key stops within the park and each one takes some time to drive to. First stop was the Grand Viewpoint Overlook.

This may have been my favorite part of the whole trip. Despite the other tourists with the same idea, the area was amazingly quiet and the view held enough to look at for hours on end. I don’t suggest drinking alcohol next to a cliff edge, but I have to admit that it was quite pleasant.

 

We wrapped up the day with short hikes to Upheaval Dome, Mesa Arch, and Dead Horse Point State Park. But of course my phone died and I wasn’t able to take pictures, so did it really happen? No one knows.

Bellies full of wine, we are ready to enjoy a night of s’mores and deep conversation by the campfire.