90 Years of Route 66: A Celebration of This American Icon

2016 07 Route66AZ Road paint

Originally written for RootsRated

Route 66, or “the Mother Road” as John Steinbeck called it, is one of the founding members of the U.S. highway system. Spanning just under 2,500 miles, this historic roadway cuts across the U.S. from Chicago to Santa Monica and, needless to say, passes through an almost unbelievable amount of iconic sights and sites along the way.

This infamous road has been the catalyst for many things in her day, but she’s perhaps best known for her role in the classic American road trip. Alongside the boom of the automobile industry, Americans fell in love with the freedom and joy that can be found on the road and, while there are now several iconic trips to take across the U.S., Route 66 consistently claims the top spot, no doubt because of her historic links to American culture.

A painted road sign along Route 66.
A painted road sign along Route 66.

As if you needed another reason to hop on Route 66, this beauty is celebrating her 90th birthday this year. So if you’ve been looking for an excuse to take a road trip, consider it found. Even if you’re not already looking for a way to get outta dodge, after soaking up all the Route 66 glory that follows, we dare you not to end up planning a drive along the Mother Road sometime soon.

History lovers rejoice

Before its formal establishment in 1926, Route 66 was once a testing route for the feasibility of camels as pack animals in the southwestern desert and, later, a conglomeration of privately marked “auto trails.” It wasn’t until the early 1900s that Congress passed an act that established public highways that included Route 66.

Eventually the route became a popular truck route in its own right and even more so during the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s. Route 66 became a central pathway west for those seeking a new shot at life; thus, it quickly became a lifeline for the towns along the way. While crops were suffering across most of the country, folks along the roadway could make a living by running gas stations or working in restaurants frequented by travelers. Route 66 was massively influential in the rise of mom-and-pop shops of all kinds, many of which are still around today and have earned spots on the National Register of Historic Places.

An inn along Route 66 in Arizona.
An inn along Route 66 in Arizona.

In 1938, Route 66 became the first fully-paved road. It grew in popularity through the 1950s as vacationers hit the road for LA. History followed closely behind—Route 66 lays claim to the first McDonald’s, and caverns that supposedly housed Jesse James when he was on the run.

Later in the 1950s came the Interstate Highway Act, which marked the start of a decline for the roadway. In the following years, Route 66 was re-routed and by-passed and even converted to four-lane highways in some places. However, despite the massive change and development the route has seen, several stretches of it remain in their original forms and are now official members of the National Scenic Byway system.

Get your kicks

As if the incredible amount of history to be encountered along the road isn’t enough in its own right, Route 66 has so much to offer when it comes to pit stops and sightseeing as well. The road has a practically endless amount of kitschy gas stations, restaurants, hotels, and more to enjoy.

As far as snooze time goes, quirky hotels reign supreme. The Belvidere Motel in Illinois, the Blue Swallow Motel in New Mexico, and the New Corral Motel in California are all great representations of the art deco-inspired digs that dot the road. If you’re still looking to get a fix of the outdoors at night, there are plenty of places to camp along the way, but Enchanted Trails and Cactus (especially if you need a wifi fix) are two of the best.

Abandoned buildings and gas stations dot the roadway from beginning to end.
Abandoned buildings and gas stations dot the roadway from beginning to end.

When it comes to filling up your tank, Route 66 gas stations aren't simply fill spots—they’re full blown attractions themselves. These vintage beauties deserve their own consideration along the way: Ambler’s Texaco Station, the Magnolia Service Station, and Provine Service Station (known to many as “The Mother of the Mother Road”).

As meditative as road trips can be, sometimes breaks are necessary. Luckily, there are lots of options for entertainment throughout, like the 66 Drive-In (you don’t even have to get out of your car!), the McLain Rogers Amphitheatre, and the Rialto Theatre.

And last, but certainly not least, are the one-of-a-kind roadside sights you’ll see along the way. From water towers disguised as giant ketchup bottles to a milk bottle atop a grocery store and a ton of old school bridges, the unique sights along Route 66 will have you swooning with delight.

All that’s left is a plan

If Route 66 has suddenly jumped to the top of your travel list (and no one will blame you if it has), there are so many places to get all the extended info you need: Check out the route’s site itself, Road Trip USA’s take on it, and national66.org to kick things off and you can’t go wrong.

Originally written by RootsRated for Craghoppers.

Featured image provided by Vincente Villamon

Enchanted Rock: The Mystical Bedrock of Texas


Originally written for RootsRated

A mere 90 minutes from Austin, Enchanted Rock is one of the best outdoor playgrounds in Central Texas and a local favorite for many Austinites. It offers great camping, plenty of trails suitable for anyone—from children and the elderly to hardcore hikers and trail runners—and about 50 different climbs for avid rock climbers.

Summiting Turkey Peak.
Summiting Turkey Peak.


Enchanted Rock is a massive pink granite dome that rises up from the green hills midway between Fredericksburg and Llano, the two major gateways (southern and northern) to more rugged country. I enjoy making a big Enchanted Rock loop weekend trip, driving out through Fredericksburg early in the morning, stopping for a hearty breakfast at one of the many German eateries, such as Rathskeller (try the duck hash). Then make it to the park, set up the tent, and beat the crowds to the summit. Spend the night under the stars, have a morning on the trails, and then drive up to Llano for world-class BBQ at Cooper’s . Then try to make it home through the food coma.

Enchanted Rock is popular for many reasons, and sometimes the crowds are proof of that. If you don’t get out there early enough, expect to find long lines of cars out on the highway waiting to get in. The lot has capacity limitations, so get there early, especially on summer weekends.

Below is an overview of the main trails and sites. It's definitely not an exhaustive list, as there are many little side trails not indicated on the park map, but this will get you started.

Vernal Pools harbor fragile life in little craters atop Enchanted Rock.
Vernal Pools harbor fragile life in little craters atop Enchanted Rock.

satanoid via Flickr

1. Visitor’s Center – First, too many people overlook the visitor’s centers at parks. I think it’s important to know the natural and human history of the ground your standing on, or the massive batholith you’re about to climb. Besides picking up your trail map, the displays here are really good at giving you a picture of just how old and special Enchanted Rock really is. The entire state (and surrounding states), which previously existed as a sea bed, formed around this ancient rock over millions of years. You’ll also learn about the rock’s fragile vernal pools and endemic biology, all of which trust you to tread carefully. And there's plenty of interesting Native American folklore as well, which stretches as far back as 11,000 years. So taking the time to learn about all of it will give you even more appreciation for your experience here.

2. Summit Trail – The park’s main trail is a steep and solid uphill for a good 30 minutes, but depending on your condition, this is a relatively simple uphill jaunt. If you dare, this makes an absolutely perfect calf-burner trail run. Whether going slow or fast, the view from the top is one of the most rewarding in Texas.

Crowds have no problem going downhill.
Crowds have no problem going downhill.


3. Loop Trail – Just as its name implies, this is a nice, 4-mile, easy route around the whole park, perfect for trail running. A little flat and boring for those who prefer sturdier hiking, but going the whole length can offer some random surprises. Because not as many people do the whole loop, the quieter, more isolated back corners can hold some amazing wildlife encounters.

4. Echo Canyon Trail – This is a cooler spot for pleasant midday, mid-summer hikes when you find yourself not able to get into the park until noon. A stream coursing most of its length, little watering holes, and lots of vegetation (in places) make this one a personal favorite.

satanoid via Flickr

5. Turkey Peak – Though not as heavily visited by most guests, Turkey Peak offers a unique view of the area. There are a few ways to get to the top of Turkey Peak, including difficult rappelling-only routes for real climbers. This peak is especially nice around sunset.

It's also very possible to create your own route and combine a bit of everything by making the summit hike, then wandering down the southern slope down to Echo Canyon. Follow Echo Canyon around the wooded back side of the main rock, around to Turkey Pass trail, and climb to the top of Turkey Peak. Hike back toward the parking lot with a stop at the Frog Pond, for a great end-of-day meditation.

Of course, more trails and rocky peaks surround Enchanted Rock. But I’ve left some out for you to discover on your own. Enjoy!

Originally written by RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Ed Schipul

The Hardest Day Hike in Central Texas? Lost Maples East Trail


Originally written for RootsRated

Locals know that the Lost Maples State Natural Area East Trail is one of the most challenging day hikes in the area. The 0.8 mile climb required is demanding, to say the least. But it's also very rewarding and worth the effort, even for rookies and novices. After your heart rate has recovered from the punchy 400 foot gain in elevation, you are rewarded with a phenomenal view of the Sabinal Valley below.

To commence with this challenge, park on the northeast parking lot of the park and take the aptly named East trail. Hike 1.29 miles to Monkey Rock to pump yourself up for the climb. The simian resemblance of this rock is uncanny. You can also take the Maple trail which connects back to the East trail. After the first bend, you may choose to free climb a bit and explore near a large crevasse. You can't miss the crevasse because of it’s attention-grabbing size.  

Around the first bend at Lost Maples
Around the first bend at Lost Maples

Chrstine Hersh

Keep hiking about 2.7 miles along the relatively flat East Trail until you hit the warning sign. Pro tip: If you see a warning sign, 100% of the time it means you absolutely should take that trail.

Warning sign = Go for it!
Warning sign = Go for it!

Christine Hersh

Once you hit the warning sign, you can start mentally preparing yourself to ascend 0.8 miles up rugged terrain to the top. At first, you will see the trail stairs. You will quickly pass the trail stairs and use Mother Nature’s stairs (read: rocks), for the remainder of the way. You can always stop for a breather, turn around and look at the view behind you, or chat with other hikers until you get to the top. Many hikers turn around before getting to the top. Do not despair! Once you see the bench, you're almost there. This entire stretch is a great sunrise location.

Only one way...Up.
Only one way…Up.

Christine Hersh

When you reach the top, you are graced with a beautiful vista of the Sabinal Valley below. Walk south towards the scenic overlook (point of interest number three on the LMSNA map) for another inspiring view. This overlook is a great panoramic lunch spot for large and small groups with plenty of space to sit. Turn around due north and walk the return 0.3 mile path back to the East Trail. You will pass another scenic overlook (point of interest number four on the map).  

View from the top.
View from the top.

Christine Hersh

Christine Hersh

Make sure to take a picture at the scenic overlooks before you descend the 0.35 miles down the valley on the rocky terrain. Be careful as the rocks can slide.  

The way back down is rocky -- watch your footing.
The way back down is rocky — watch your footing.

Christine Hersh

The base of the valley reveals a pond with plenty of shade. This is another pleasant spot to stop for a lunch break, located near Primitive Campsite C.

Christine Hersh

At this point, you can either take the East/West Trail 1-mile back to the parking lot or take the West Trail to add on more miles. Since you are here for the hills and not the flats, you will likely take the West Trail 2-miles through dried up creek beds and woods. Make sure to stop hiking for a minute and listen; it's quite a relaxing experience. Most of the other hikers return to the parking lot via the East/West Trail, so along the West Trail, you won't have to see or hear crowds of people (and their cell phones).

After about 2-miles, you will find another 400 foot ascent (this time without a warning sign!). The grade isn't as steep as the East Trail’s climb, but it is still a challenge and is just as rocky as the descent from the previous climb. The top of the incline provides a little bench to take a breather, a snack, or a nap. The trail continues on the top of the plateau and then quickly descends into the valley via another rocky trail.

In fairness, Lost Maples does not have the steepest inclines in the world, but it is a good challenge in Central Texas that is easily accessed by Austin and San Antonio locals. The park is busy during November when the maple leaves change color but is rarely traversed in the off-season. Expect to see 15-20 people in the off season throughout the hike, particularly on the West Trail. During the inclines, your thumping heart and lungs will be thankful that no one else is around to hear you panting.

Originally written by RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Christine Hersh

10 Best Central Texas Swimming Holes

Hamilton Pool in Austin TX

Originally written for RootsRated

Austin is wonderful, but it’s hot as hell in summer. Everyone knows this, but often forgets. Until June, when the Texas heat starts its simmer, we begin the ritual of searching out cool water spots. Every swimmer has their Austin favorite, many of which aren’t on this list because they’re either too secret, or because, well, every Top 10 has to stop somewhere. Regardless, this list will give you a sampling of the variety of swimming holes Central Texas has to offer.

1. Barton Springs Pool

Barton Springs Pool
Barton Springs Pool

Lars Plougmann

Many reasons keep Barton Springs Pool on top of every Texas Swimming Holes list. Year-round 68-degree, clear water. Both deep diving and shallow kiddie areas. Grassy hills for sunbathing. Central location. You name it, this place has it. And everyone knows it, so get there early if you want a parking spot. Open 5am-10pm. Admission: $3 for residents; $8 for non-residents. Closed 9am to 7pm on Thursdays for cleaning.

2. Deep Eddy Pool


If you’re looking for a traditional public pool experience in the heart of Austin, Deep Eddy is it. Having been around for 100 years, it's the oldest public pool in Texas. Today, it's a super popular swimming hole operated by the City of Austin and featuring lots of fun events throughout the summer. For instance, they’ve got Splash Party Movie Nights when they show films on an inflatable screen. Check their site or call for show times. Open 8am to 9pm. Admission: $3.

3. Krause Springs

Dave Brown

Many reasons keep Barton Springs Pool Like Barton Springs and other spots on this list, the water at Krause Springs is a constant 68 degrees and flows continuously from its source, even during the current Texas drought. But this is a private park outside the city, so it is slightly less crowded and is strictly maintained as a natural oasis. In addition to swimming, you can camp overnight, bring a boat, and enjoy other activities that are more difficult right in the city. The 40-minute drive from downtown to Spicewood is well worth it. Admission: $7 for adults, $5 for kids.

4. Comal River

Jeff Gunn

Because of the Comal, nearby New Braunfels is the epicenter for Texas tubing. If you’re in Austin in summer, or anywhere in Central Texas (or sadly, if you don’t even know what tubing is), tubing the Comal is something you simply must try. You can rent tubes or bring your own, and there are plenty of tube-shuttle options so you can park and enter the river on one end and get picked up on the other. You should know that this is a party place with herds of college drunkards, and recent rule changes have re-allowed everyone to bring the beverage of their choice, generally as long as it’s not in glass. Whether it’s a good microbrew or water in your travel mug, you will have a great time floating the Comal. Float from drop-off to pick-up usually lasts 2 hours. River entrance is free, but tube rentals and shuttles are in the $15-$20 range. Tip: Get a tube with a bottom! Your butt will thank you.

5. Hamilton Pool

Hamilton Pool
Hamilton Pool

Sandra Hintzman

A 40-minute drive from town takes you to another world at Hamilton Pool . It’s a preserve, not your average “park,” so conservation of the pristine watershed here is paramount, but the waterfall and cave steal the show. The water is nice and cool for swimming, but be sure to check their website for water quality, as sometimes after-rain pollution spoils the show. Open 9am-6pm daily. Admission: $15 per vehicle. Reservations must be made in advance.

6. Hippie Hollow

Jeff Guth

Hippie Hollow is your best (and only) legal public clothing-optional option in Texas. Lots of rocky perches along the beautiful Lake Travis shoreline as well as raft parties make this place a fun spot for adults (only). Admission: $15 per vehicle

7. Bob Wentz Park—Windy Point

Lounging with the kids by the shoreline, scuba diving, and windsurfing—especially windsurfing—all work perfectly at Windy Point . Although it is populated in summer, it’s a big park, so there’s plenty of parking and lots of space for everyone. Admission: $10 per vehicle.

8. San Marcos River

If you want to try snorkeling in the middle of Texas, this would be the place. The San Marcos River , including its headwaters at Spring Lake , has a long history as one of the state’s most treasured rivers. It’s great for paddling, including some whitewater after a good rain, but when the water’s moving slower, it’s definitely a top swimming destination, with lots of holes to find.

9. Jacob’s Well

Jacob's Well, Wimberley, Texas.
Jacob's Well, Wimberley, Texas.

Nan Palmero

A quintessential example of Central Texas aquifer and spring formations, Jacob’s Well Natural Area gives visitors the unique opportunity to swim directly in an artesian spring. About 40 minutes from Austin, outside Wimberly, it’s close enough but far out too. The spring’s cool, clear water surrounded by rock ledges and lots of trees represent what all Texas swimming holes used to be, and should be.  Read more about it before you go to get a better appreciation of it history and beauty, and help keep it beautiful. Open 9am-9pm. Admission is free.

10. Inks Lake

If you want to get out of town a little farther, and prefer to dodge the tubing crowd south of Austin, head northwest to Inks Lake . Here you’ll find more of a rural Texan lake culture. A little quieter, slower, not quite as cosmopolitan, and still plenty of fun. Rent boats, swim, fish and even take a winery tour at nearby Fall Creek Vineyards while you’re in the area.

Originally written by RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Srini Sundarrajan

Lighten Up Your Load: Llama Trekking in Colorado

llama trekking

Originally written for RootsRated

Hit the trail with llamas and you might just find yourself falling in love. These quirky creatures have a way of winning over your heart with their smiley faces and gentle, loyal ways. Don’t tell your significant other, but a llama can seem like the perfect mate: strong, sensitive, and low maintenance, with long eyelashes and an endearing grin. And leading a llama is so easy, you might forget your four-legged friend is there—until a waft of hot llama breath hits your neck, an olfactory experience akin to burying your face in an alpaca sweater.

The best part is, with llamas along, you can bring an indulgent supply of gear compared to backpacking. A llama can carry up to 100 pounds, so toss in that extra bottle (or box) of wine and pack an extravagant meal. Heck, you can even cart a standup paddleboard if you’re so inclined.

With llamas carrying your gear, you can go gourmet.
With llamas carrying your gear, you can go gourmet.

Avery Stonich

Several operations across the state offer llama trekking trips, or you can lease a llama and do it yourself. Choose from day trips, backcountry camping, or a journey to one of Colorado’s huts. Here are some options to help you plan. Whatever you choose, follow our handy tips for your adventure llama trekking in Colorado. They might surprise you.

If you lead a llama to a backcountry hut, you can have a bed, too. Ask Paragon Guides to show you the way.
If you lead a llama to a backcountry hut, you can have a bed, too. Ask Paragon Guides to show you the way.

Avery Stonich

Paragon Guides in Vail has been leading llama trips since the early 1980s. Buck Elliott founded the business, and his affable son, Will, helps run it. Paragon offers guided wilderness camping trips or hut-to-hut trips with llamas. You can also lease a llama and do it yourself. If you just want a taste of llama life, opt for Take a Llama to Lunch , a half-day trip.

Will Elliott of Paragon Guides gives a llama briefing prior to hitting the trail.
Will Elliott of Paragon Guides gives a llama briefing prior to hitting the trail.

Avery Stonich

San Juan Mountains Llama Treks , based in Cortez, runs trips in southwest Colorado. Choose from day treks, overnight guided trips, or a llama drop camp, where llamas and a wrangler haul your gear to your camp, then pick you up later.

Redwood Llamas in Silverton has a huge permit area, stretching between Telluride, Ouray, Silverton, and Durango. This outfit offers seven set multi-day llama trips between July and September, as well as day trips. You can also lease a llama for a day, or a whole season if you’re really keen.

Spruce Ridge Llamas in Salida designs custom trips for groups of two to six, so you won’t be with anyone you don’t know. If you go in the fall, Spruce will take you on a spectacular foliage trek, venturing to the best places to leaf peep. Day trips are also available.

Leading a llama takes just a light touch. Some say it's easier than walking a dog.
Leading a llama takes just a light touch. Some say it's easier than walking a dog.

Avery Stonich

Antero Llamas in Salida can hook you up if you’re just looking for a llama to rent. They’ll provide Llama 101 if you’re a first-timer.

Buckhorn Llama Company out of Masonville is the place in northern Colorado for backcountry lovers to lease llamas.

Llama Trekking Tips
Sold on llama trekking? Before you head out with your four-footed friend, it would behoove you (pun intended) to prepare yourself for certain eccentricities of the experience.

1. Don’t bother trying to stop taking llama photos—it’s hopeless.
Let’s face it, llamas are ridiculously endearing with their cute yet odd faces and perky ears. Many people report not being able to resist the urge to take one more llama photo. Give in and take another. Better yet, make it a selfie and hashtag it #LlamaSelfie.

With such a cute four-legged friend, how can you resist taking another #LlamaSelfie?
With such a cute four-legged friend, how can you resist taking another #LlamaSelfie?

Avery Stonich

2. Don’t let your llama get lonely.
Llamas are pack animals that get anxious when separated from their friends. Lead your llama out of site of the pack, and he might let out a llama whine—a hum that’s a cross between a moan and a moo. When this happens, it’s best to let the llamas regroup.

3. Be patient while a llama pees.
It might take 10 minutes. Seriously. Llamas don't pee often, but when they do, they make it count. Go ahead—time it. It will give you something to do while you wait.

4. Get out of the line of llama spit.
Llamas get a bad rap for spitting. While it’s true they sometimes hurl foul-smelling green goo, the target is typically another llama, not you. The best advice? If a llama starts posturing at another, get out of the line of fire.

5. Look out when your llama is leaping.
Llamas can easily clear logs and streams in a single bound. If you’re leading a llama, get out of the way so your llama doesn’t land on you.

Beyond that, just relax and enjoy the adventure. After all, it isn't every day you have such a friendly creature schlep your gear for you.

Originally written by RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Avery Stonich

Insider’s Guide to Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park.

Originally written for RootsRated

The faded colors that dominate Petrified Forest National Park reflect centuries of erosion that have weathered the landscape into subdued hues of Arizona reds, oranges, and blues. Defying this trend are the marvelous samples of petrified wood strewn throughout the parched land. Unlike the dusty, powdery mounds of color in the Painted Desert, petrified wood is a glossy outlier. Brilliant, deep crimson patterns flourish in these stone-hard remnants, accented by sunset-orange rings and seafoam green strokes. Eons ago, ancient Arizona was part of a subtropical region and rich with aquatic life. Fast moving rivers trapped both flora and fauna in sediment, preserving a wealth of fossils as well as the wood husks of the namesake forest.

Fast forward 225 million years to see that time has drastically altered the land, changing the humid climate to barren, arid scrubland. The rivers and waterways are gone, only briefly resurrected in the form of the flash floods that occasionally scour the sandy washes. Yet, life sustains. The 218,553 acres that make up this unique national park were initially set aside in 1962. Though the moniker “Petrified Forest National Park” champions the most impressive relics in the area, there is much more to see beyond the hardened flora. The heavily eroded hills of the Painted Desert feature symmetrical stripes in muted colors, fossils are locked in stone outcrops, petroglyphs carved by ancient hands decorate remote rocks, and recent historical archives from Route 66 add to the attractions in the park. While the geology and history exemplify faded glory, the modern visitor will find plenty of amazing aspects to enjoy in this ever-changing region.

Classic Adventures

The beautiful colors of petrified wood.
The beautiful colors of petrified wood.

Chris M. Morris

The Painted Desert Visitor Center and Rainbow Forest Museums are the first places to check out when coming to the park. There are detailed explanations of the natural and human history, including the amazing process of how petrified wood turned from organic material to stone. Millions of years ago, rivers deposited minerals into the cells of organisms and they hardened, leaving behind the beautiful arrays of color in the ruins of a long lost forest (a process known as permineralization ). Stepping outside of the visitor’s center offers a look at several samples of the wood, along with a short (less than a mile), signed trail that overlooks some of the colorful mounds of sand. Rainbow Forest has access to Giant Logs, Long Logs, and Agate House Trails, showcasing more of the wood in the wild as well as the dwellings of ancient civilizations.

It cannot be stressed enough to leave behind samples of petrified wood. Even with strict regulations forbidding theft, the park service estimates more than 12 tons of petrified wood is pilfered each year. Please do not take any souvenirs from the land, no matter how small they are.

Despite having short walking trails, there’s a lot of information to enjoy in these two visitor’s destinations. The artistry of petrified wood is truly mesmerizing. For those curious  to know if man-made petrified wood has ever been made, it has, but it lacks the random beauty of natural wood.

Secrets of the Park

A smattering of petrified wood in the Jasper Forest.
A smattering of petrified wood in the Jasper Forest.

Andrew Kearns

While the landscape beyond the visitor centers and museums may seem barren, there are many secrets to uncover in the park. Driving from trailhead to trailhead happens naturally as you explore the park, so stopping as you go to wander on some of the hiking trails beyond the main attractions is definitely worth it. Note that it can get blazing hot and dry in the summer (over 100° on a regular basis, so bring lots of water!) so hiking in the autumn, winter, and spring is the most comfortable—though most trails are short enough to endure the summer heat for a short time. Be warned if you plan a winter visit, the record cold is -37° and winds can whip up over 50 mph!

One of the most impressive hikes, especially at sunset, is the Jasper Forest Hike. A 2.5 mile out-and-back trek, this was the first petrified forest discovered by western settlers. Great blocks of petrified wood sit in the desert sand, including delicately balanced cubes mottled with vermilion and blue-grey minerals. At sunset, colors transform into deep ruby-red and orange, creating a dreamlike ambiance as the earth begins to cool for the night.

Onyx Bridge is a slightly rugged, 4-mile round-trip hike that starts from the Painted Desert Inn and ventures out to a large, 30-foot tall Triassic era conifer tree turned to stone. The tree is mostly intact and is estimated to be over 200 million years old. Finally, the Blue Forest Trail is a 3-mile out-and-back that highlights the impressive, striated mounds of the Painted Desert. The grey, red, tan, and black stripes that decorate the hills are especially photogenic in winter light.

Immerse Yourself

The painted hills at Petrified Forest National Park.
The painted hills at Petrified Forest National Park.

Kimble Young

There are no overnight facilities in the park itself, but for the adventurous, backpacking is allowed in the park. This is only allowed in the wilderness portion of the park (which is separate from the fee area) and you must have a permit. Even more interesting, horseback riding is allowed in the wilderness areas and equestrian backcountry explorers can even go camping with their horses! Note that that there is not a drop of water in the park, so you must bring in all your own for yourself and your horses. Autumn and early winter are the best times of the year to explore the backcountry in this fashion. Most adventures start at the Painted Desert Inn and many routes use a combination of trail and off-trail access. Backpacking offers a great way to see some of the remote petroglyphs, fossil walls, and other secrets hidden in the park.

How to Get the Most Out of Your Visit

  • Don’t take any samples of petrified wood.
  • Seriously, don’t. It’s very easy to pocket a little piece and think you are doing no harm, but with over 800,000 annual visitors, this mentality will quickly deplete the park of its namesake resource.
  • Make sure to pack in enough water, even for short day hikes. This is an extremely dry landscape and people have been known to get heat exhaustion, even on the modest visitor center trails.
  • A lot of rugged wildlife exists in the park, from snakes to coyotes. Don’t feed them and try not to stress them if you encounter them.
  • People sometimes forget the altitude—the park is located at 5,800 feet above sea level. If you’re feeling a little winded, it could be the thinner air.
  • And once more… don’t poach any wood from the park.

Originally written by RootsRated.

Featured image provided by TLPOSCHARSKY

4 Must-Visit Swimming Holes Near Flagstaff


Originally written for RootsRated

Where to go on a hot summer day near Flagstaff? Fossil Creek is an obvious choice for many, and Chavez Ranch Creek, in nearby Sedona, makes for a beautiful creekside afternoon. But these 4 lesser-known swimming holes in the area simply have to be added to the list.

1. Wet Beaver Creek Campground

Wikimedia Commons

Drive to the Beaver Creek Campground for an easy place to cool off. Creek access is just outside the parking lot, and it's easy to bring coolers, towels, and anything else for a relaxing day by the water. Reasonably deep pools and flat rock shelves allow for kid-or-adult-friendly 'cliff jumping' and there's even a rope swing further down. This spot gets a little busy in the summer, but it's well worth the trip. Watch out for the crawdads, they're everywhere. No fee, but the parking lot can get full at peak times.

2. Red Rock Crossing

Anita Ritenour

This trail boasts the “most photographed view in Arizona” (Cathedral Rock), but Red Rock Crossing has much more to offer than just a few photo opportunities. Start at a paved parking lot with a picnic area, and hike out on an easy, sandy trail, crossing the river several times, until the trail peters out (or keep going to reach other, more strenuous, Sedona trails). The whole area is ripe for swimming and wading, and there's even a vortex nearby for the curious. Just remember to purchase a parking pass – a day pass is $5.

3. Bell Rock Trail “The Crack”

Coconino National Forest

Bell Rock combines hiking and swimming in Wet Beaver Creek Canyon (not to be confused with the campground). The hike is 11 miles total, though most of the swimming holes lie within the first few miles of trail. Spend the day exploring tiny offshoot trails, most of which have a watery reward at the end. Or, hike all the way to the end and back, taking time for a dip along the way. The trail is a little hard to follow at times, but stick with it for a rewarding, refreshing workout. A spur trail near the beginning leads to “the crack,” a large, flat rocky spot that is sometimes crowded during the summer. A parking pass is needed for this trail – a day pass is $5.

4. Sycamore Canyon Wilderness

Coconino National Forest

The adventurous will want to head to Sycamore Canyon, near Cottonwood. There are a few amazing trails in the area, as well as tons of creek access. It might be the only place in the area to see otters, and the canyon offers perhaps the best solitary watering holes and swimming spots in Arizona. Natural springs provide sudden bursts of water, and Sycamore Creek meanders through the wilderness, at times deep enough for cliff jumping and at other times hurrying along over rapids. The access roads start out rough and get worse – this keeps many visitors away, but the brave and well-equipped will find an oasis of cool, turquoise water with few other visitors to spoil the view. Backpackers, be aware that camping is not allowed in certain areas of Parson's Spring Trail.

The National Forest Foundation promotes the enhancement and public enjoyment of the 193-million-acre National Forest System. By directly engaging Americans and leveraging private and public funding, the NFF improves forest health and Americans’ outdoor experiences. The NFF’s programs inform millions of Americans about the importance of these treasured landscapes. Each year, the NFF restores fish and wildlife habitat, plants trees in areas affected by fires, insects and disease, improves recreational opportunities, and enables communities to steward their National Forests and Grasslands. Learn more at www.nationalforests.org.

Originally written by RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Stephen Landry

Bucksin Gulch: One of the Best Hikes in America


Originally written for RootsRated

One of the truly classic hikes in the United States, let alone the world, Buckskin Gulch swerves through a subterranean paradise for the senses. Attempt this visually-arresting walk as a day trip, or walk the entire 20-mile stretch over the course of four days.

Located in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (Utah) and Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness (Arizona), Buckskin Gulch takes hikers through the veritable layer cake of the Colorado Plateau's geographical wonderment. It is the longest and deepest slot canyon in the Southwest and offers obstacles like rock jams, pools, quicksand, and the potential for flash floods. Yet a day hike option via Wire Pass is moderately easy, and should be a must-do on any hiker's list.

What Makes it Great

The day hike from Wire Pass, a short tributary to Buckskin Gulch and the most scenic and direct way into the classic narrows, is an ideal alternative to the multi-day backpacking trip. You will plunge right into the Buckskin squeeze, where the canyon is rarely more than 10 feet wide and the corridor can be hundreds of feet deep.

With stone so deep it’s a challenge to see blue skies in places, this hike will be something that you remember forever. Via the Wire Pass trailhead, the hike is simple, walkable, and pleasant. Depending on the time of year, cold knee-deep pools of water or large swaths of mud will persist along the hike and must be forded. There are also a few areas that need to be ascended/descended that are easily manageable, but might make the faint of heart consider turning around; these are climbable sections that are only a few feet at the drop.

After you leave the trailhead, you’ll follow a wash to the entrance of the canyon at 1.3 miles in. The sandstone walls will confine and open up several times as you traverse to the confluence with Buckskin Gulch at 1.75 miles. There is a petroglyph at the base of the large alcove on the right. You can continue up Buckskin Gulch for as long as time will allow. And when you plan your trip, make sure to buffer lots of extra time for photography—you will need it.

What You’ll Remember

The dramatic, picturesque Navajo sandstone illuminated by indirect sunlight, thereby bringing out the quintessential hues of red rock country; how the curves of the rock have been smoothed by thousands of flash floods over time; the towering walls that, at certain points during the hike, lovingly squeeze in on you.

Who is Going to Love It

Austen Diamond

Anyone with a bucket list of the best hikes in America or anyone who will soon make a bucket list of the best hikes in America.

GPS Coordinates, Parking, and Regulations

GPS Coordinates for Wire Pass Trailhead:
(37.018981, -112.025483)

Park at the Wire Pass trailhead and follow the trail to Wire Pass. Permits are required for day hiking ($6) and overnight backpacking ($5). These can be obtained online or in the Bureau of Land Management office in Kanab. Day hike permits can be also obtained at the trailhead. There is a limited number of overnight permits available per day, and these can sell out up to months in advance. Dogs are allowed, but there is a $5 fee per dog.

Do this hike from April to June or September to October; during July and August, the chances for flash floods increase. All slot canyons are inherently dangerous for flash floods potential, so check the forecast before you hike.

Difficulty: 3

Originally written by RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Austen Diamond

800 Miles in 7 Days: A Quintessential Colorado Road Trip

Roadside on epic road trip.

Originally written for RootsRated

To many, Denver is the true gateway to the West. Sure, St. Louis may have an arch, but it also has 850-miles of Midwestern plains to contend with before the real West begins. And like so many early frontiersmen, who reached the western edge of the High Plains—where modern-day Denver is located—and gazed upon the Front Range in both terror and excitement, the Mile High City still, to this day, acts as the ultimate springboard for Colorado adventure.  

Here, we bring you a comprehensive guide to one of the best Colorado adventures you can have: a week-long road trip through the state. Combine the glory of the open road with the solace of the mountains on this 7-day journey from Denver over some of the nation’s most scenic highways. 

Day One

Denver to Buena Vista via US-285 S
122 Miles, approx. 2.5 hours

Pierce Martin

Do as the locals do and head south out of Denver to avoid the I-70 traffic. Take scenic route 285 towards the mountains, to the riverside town of Buena Vista, right in the heart of the Collegiate Peaks.

If you’re itching to stretch your legs early on, the Colorado Trail intersects with Kenosha Pass about 45 miles outside of the city, and it's a section that is a particular favorite for hikers and mountain bikers alike, so pick your poison!

For a more leisurely stroll with a bit of interesting history, stop in South Park City to reimagine the life of those old frontiersman in the re-created mining town, made from buildings salvaged from the 1800's. Tours lead you through to see old furnishings and equipment from the gold-mining boom.

If cool rivers are what’s calling to you, American Adventures in Buena Vista can take you through one of the state’s premier stretches of whitewater, Browns Canyon. With breathtaking scenery and a solid mix of calm water and exhilarating rapids, it’s easy to understand why this is a favorite run for whitewater enthusiasts. For more thrills, the Numbers Route will test anyone's mettle, but whichever you choose, owners Mike and Amber will take great care of you.

To replenish yourselves, treat your crew to Eddyline Brewery in Downtown Buena Vista. Delicious craft beers combine wonderfully with their elegant menu; and high quality burgers and beer are a good follow up to any adventure, after all. The brewpub is close to the river, which has a nice walking trail running alongside it. South of town is Angel of Shavano Campground, a first-come first-serve site with 20 spots among aspen and spruce trees. Nestled in the San Isabel National Forest, this is a gorgeous place to rest your head and wake up to in the morning.

Day Two

Buena Vista/Salida to Crested Butte via US-50 W and CO-135 N
92 miles, approx. 1 hour and 45 minutes

thomas paris

On day two, you’re headed to Crested Butte with a stop at one of the nation’s top mountain biking trails, Monarch Crest. Take route 50 west, about 19 miles outside Poncha Springs to Monarch Pass, where you’ll find the trailhead. There are shuttle services that go between the trailhead and Poncha Springs, or if you’re lucky enough to be in a road trip convoy, just leave one car at the intersection of highways 50 and 285. The trail is 35.5 miles, averages about four and a half hours and will be a ride you’ll likely never forget.  

Continue on 50 to CO-193, which will take you right into Crested Butte. Enjoy scenic views of the Sawatch Range along the way, or save your appetite for mountains until you get to town, where you can access world class climbing at Skyland Boulders. Since you will be exhausted, it’s a great thing that downtown Crested Butte is a slow-paced place to take a walk and find a bite to eat, and you can’t go wrong at Brick Oven Pizzeria and Pub.

As the sun begins to drop, make your way over to Lake Irwin Campground, nestled between Lake Irwin itself and the unreal Ruby Mountain Range. When you wake up, it would be a shame not to fuel up at the Sunflower Deli back in town!

Day Three

Crested Butte to Fruita via US-50 W
163 Miles, approx. 3 hours

Sheila Sund

Day three is one of the longer treks in the trip, but what's a good road trip without a long-haul or two? You’re taking 50 west from Crested Butte to Fruita. About 90 miles into the drive you’ll reach its main attraction, Black Canyon in Gunnison National Park. Try to hit the road early, as the views in the canyon can consume two to three hours of the day. Once in the canyon, you have several options for exploring it.

First is South Rim Road, a seven mile stretch featuring 12 scenic overlooks. Some take a short hike to get to the rim, which will be a great way to stretch your legs. The best views are Gunnison Point, Chasm View, Painted Wall, and Sunset View. There is a visitor’s center at Gunnison Point which opens every day in the summer and most days the rest of the year. If you're feeling super ambitious, you can hike down into the canyon, but be aware that the hike back up is very demanding. 

North Rim Road is closed in winter, but if you’re there in the summer, the vertical walls found on this gravel road provide some of the most awe-inspiring views in the park with six distinct overlooks.

If you need a bit more activity this day, the Kokopelli Mountain Bike Trail features red-rocks and river views that will take your breath away. Before bunking down for the night, fill your belly at the Hot Tomato Cafe, a local favorite!

Day Four

Fruita to Yampa via I-70 E and CO-131 N
182 Miles, approx. 3 hours


Today is your day to experience, first-hand, the biodiversity of the gorgeous state of Colorado. Twenty-five miles into day four, you reach the town of Palisade. How can a state that makes your nose so dry create fruit so big and juicy? The microclimate in Palisade is how.  

This section of the state, known as the Grand Valley, sits atop artesian wells and combines dry air, sunny days, and cool nights to provide an ideal home for two-thirds of the state’s award-winning wineries and the famous Palisade Peaches. Flying in the face of the well-known craft beer culture and cattle farms, this vineyard-rich part of the state lets you know just how unique Colorado is. Colterris Wines and the Clark Family Fruit Stand are two of our favorites.

About half-way to Yampa, enjoy the drive through 12.5 mile Glenwood Canyon. This historic railroad route boasts walls 1,300 ft high, the highest along that stretch of the Upper Colorado River. Shortly after, you’ll head north on CO-131 for the final push into Yampa.  

When heading into town, you’re about 15 miles from your campsite and one of the more dynamic trails in the state. But fair warning: only attempt the entire Devil’s Causeway if the wine has worn off! If it hasn’t, or if the conditions aren’t perfect, you can still hike the area and enjoy breathtaking views, but should probably avoid the highly dangerous Devil’s Causeway.  

To get there, take County Road 7 S for 6 miles, and continue on another 9 miles as it turns to Forest Service Road 900, which will take you to the north side of Stillwater Reservoir. Regardless of conditions, you can hike 2 to 3 miles into the Flat Tops Wilderness area to experience large table-top mountains that contrast the rocky pyramids in the rest of the state. A moderate elevation gain will bring you through wild-flower meadows and past a lake before you have to decide on conquering the causeway or not. A comprehensive trail guide is provided in the link above!

A few miles from the same trailhead is Bear Lake Campground, the $10 fee is well worth it!

Day Five

Yampa to Steamboat Springs via CO-131 N
30 Miles, approx. 40 minutes

Andrew Magill

After your intense day four, take a nice easy 40 minute drive into one of Colorado’s premier mountain towns, Steamboat Springs.  

The nearby Yampa River provides the opportunity to float one of Colorado's gorgeous mountain rivers, while experiencing Steamboat in a unique way. This family-friendly float can be anywhere from one to three hours, depending on river conditions, where you put-in, and if you choose to stop at a park or restaurant along the way! Whatever type of float you’re in the mood for, the folks at Bucking Rainbow can get you set up.

Take a break to fuel up with a homemade pretzel, served with porter cream sauce, at Mahogany Ridge Brewery and Grill.

To warm up, finish off your rocky mountain water day with a dip in Strawberry Hot Springs. These naturally fed hot springs are favorites of the locals for their natural feel and beauty. Numerous small to mid-size pools are shaped right into the rock and have an ice-cold stream flowing through, in case you want to counter your hot soak with a cold plunge. You’re sure to find a spot perfect for you at Strawberry Hot Springs.

If there’s no room for you to stay at the hot springs, get a head start on day six by heading down US-40 E to Meadows Campground in the heart of Routt National Forest. A serene night's sleep is a given, as it's nestled in the evergreens of Rabbit Ears Pass.  

Day Six

Steamboat to Estes Park via US-40 E and US-34
139 Miles, approx. 3 hours

Dave Dugdale

Just when you thought Colorado could not be more strikingly beautiful, you drive the stretch of 34 called Trail Ridge Road. This road is named for its proximity to the trails that Native Americans used to cross the Rockies, and it is the highest continuously paved road in the US, reaching an altitude of 12,183 feet. If the expansive rocky mountain views don’t get you, a siting of Elk or Big Horned Sheep surely will, as the animals are regularly seen from the road.  

You will be ready to get out of the car by the time you reach town, and luckily you’ll be close to a quintessential Colorado hike for aspen trees, panoramic views, and an alpine lake. Once in town, take MacGregor Avenue north 1.2 miles to the trailhead of Gem Lake, which will be on your left after briefly becoming Devils Gulch Road.  

The post-hike experience in this town is not complete without a margarita from Ed’s Cantina, and for your last night on the road, we recommend a real bed in town because it would be hard to beat Estes Park, if anyone ever tried! Don’t feed the elk, even though you will probably get quite close to one.

Day Seven

Estes Park back to Denver via US-36 E
66 miles, approx. 1.5 hours

Ken Lund

Get motivated for the bittersweet ending to your road trip with some locally roasted, fair trade coffee at Kind Coffee in downtown Estes; the floors are even made from bamboo, a renewable resource!

Boulder is your halfway point between Estes and Denver, and is a great place to polish off your trip.  The Flatirons in Chautauqua Park are some of the more unique rock formations in Colorado, because they literally look like they are laying on their side. Flatiron One is the perfect hike to experience the best of what Boulder hiking has to offer; it is steep which provides a bit of a workout, while also paying out priceless views of the Boulder Valley, Indian Peaks Wilderness, and Rocky Mountain National Park. Start the 2.9 mile loop at the Chatauqua Park Trailhead parking on Baseline Road if the lot is full, which it is prone to be early on weekends!

To re-fuel, it is hard to beat a burger at The Sink, a long-time Boulder favorite dating back to the time when Robert Redford was the janitor scrubbing the floors! Have a grass-fed Sink Burger with signature Sink Hickory Sauce to taste local history. The Sink is located on The Hill, a favorite neighborhood of CU-Boulder students.  

Homeward bound after Boulder, soak in the memories of a great road trip and bask in your new-found knowledge of this great state and all its beauty!

Originally written by RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Zach Dischner