Forgotten Longwood Garden Photos and a Lesson in Extreme Gratitude

Today, I took on the daunting task of sorting through thousands of photos and videos. Deciding which to keep and which to toss was arguably the most time-consuming, emotionally-draining aspect of the whole endeavor, but the mere act of backing everything up takes time as well. Although I had been dreading this task for months, it swiftly morphed into a lesson of extreme gratitude. The highlight reel of my life quickly reminded why we collect memorabilia in the first place.

On a day-to-day basis, I find it so incredibly easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Most of the time, I can’t help but feel like I’m simply going though the motions. However, after sifting through what felt like an endless collection of photo and video footage, an overwhelming sense of gratitude washed over me. My heart felt like it was about burst. I mean, seriously, how lucky am I to have lived so much life in my short 29 years? Better yet, how lucky am I to have done so with such incredible people by my side? The best part of all is that I’m just getting started.

In the midst of re-living so many precious memories, I came across a group of photos that I had intended on sharing but ended up completely forgetting about. They were taken at Longwood Gardens on Mother’s Day of last year. I figured, better late than never, I’d share them with you guys. If Longwood Gardens is accessible to you and you have never been, do yourself a favor and visit its beautiful grounds this spring. If not, please enjoy some of my favorites from the day.

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Utah’s Mighty Five, Part 5: Arches National Park

Delicate Arch

If you missed the intro to this blog series, be sure to check it out here!

Day 7

Our last full day in Utah was jam-packed with adventure. First, we woke up super early for a much-anticipated hot air balloon ride with Canyonlands Ballooning. We definitely had some pre-flight jitters, but the pilot, Lou, and the rest of the crew made us feel insanely comfortable from the get-go. To get things started, we were driven out to the remote lands of Moab and watched a beautiful sunrise as the crew got ready for our flight. Then, we hopped into the basket, and up, up, and away we went!

There are truly no words to describe the experience. Although being thousands of feet in the sky, and despite anticipating a rush of adrenaline, the flight was actually quite serene. Both the ascent and descent were slow and steady, allowing us to soak in every single moment. And, my goodness, the views! To have panoramic, 360° views of Moab’s stunning landscape was awe-inspiring to say the least. After about an hour in the sky, we landed in the middle of the desert and were pleasantly surprised to learn about the tradition of a post-flight champagne toast. It was accompanied by the Balloonist’s Prayer, which is as follows:

“The winds have welcomed you with softness.
The sun has blessed you with its warm hands.
We have flown so high and so well that God
has joined you in laughter and set you gently
back into the loving arms of mother Earth.”

I can’t recommend the experience enough! If you ever find yourself in Moab, the guys with Canyonlands Ballooning were fantastic. We had a seamless experience from start to finish, and it was just as special of an experience as I’d always dreamt it would be.

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After being driven back into town, we made a breakfast pitstop at Love Muffin Café. The menu was totally my steez: organic, local, and seasonal. Plus, the service was fast and, most importantly, the food was delish! We got it to go and ate it en route to Arches so that we could squeeze as much as possible into our day.

First, we stopped at the park’s visitor center and picked up some souvenirs that we’d been eyeing all week. I grabbed a hardcover copy of 59 Illustrated National Parks: 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service. It’s beautifully illustrated and perfectly informative! I highly recommend it for all the nature lovers in your life.

Anyway, after our stop at the visit center, we headed towards the Devil’s Garden trailhead. You’ll know that you’re in the right place when the park’s paved road dead-ends. I absolutely loved this hike! It’s 7.8 miles long, with some portions being incredibly easy and other portions being extremely difficult. It took us roughly five hours to complete, but it was well worth it as it allowed for up-close-and-personal views of several of the park’s 2,000+ arches: Tunnel Arch, Pine Tree Arch, Landscape Arch, Partition Arch, Navajo Arch, Double O Arch, and Private Arch. What I loved about it most was that portions of the hike involve scaling up and over sandstone fins (read: future arches). So cool!

After an awesome hike, we beelined it to the Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint for sunset. This viewpoint allows for views of Delicate Arch from about a mile away. Now, this is where you pay attention, people. DO NOT DO WHAT WE DID. Instead, go to the Delicate Arch Trailhead, do the three-mile-roundtrip hike, and take in this iconic arch from the closest vantage point possible. After all, this is the arch of all arches, having earned itself a spot on the Utah license plate. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize our rookie mistake until the sun was setting and it was far too late to engage in a three-mile hike. The upside? The storm clouds that we witnessed were insane and made for some remarkable photo ops.

Double Arch, Park Avenue, Balanced Rock, and The Windows are some additional attractions worth mentioning. They were also on our “to see” list, but it simply wasn’t feasible to experience them given our limited time in the park. I think it goes without saying that one day is not nearly enough time to experience this magnificent park and all that it has to offer. As such, I’d love to revisit this park in the future!

After leaving the park, we briefly headed back to camp, freshened up, and headed to downtown Moab. We had dinner accompanied by local brews at Moab Brewery. Then, per the recommendation of our server, we hit up Woody’s Tavern. Think live music, top-notch people watching, beer mugs the size of yo’ face, and the perfect mix of locals and tourists. It was an absolute blast and is definitely worth checking out if you’re in the mood to party!

Tunnel Arch

Pine Tree Arch

Landscape Arch

Partition Arch

Navajo Arch

Double O Arch

Day 8

Verost and Miller behaved themselves the night prior, so they woke up at the ass crack of dawn to return to the Delicate Arch trailhead. Major props to them! Colleen and I, on the other hand, were feeling a little rough and decided to sleep in. Once Verost and Miller returned to camp, we packed up and headed to downtown Moab for some shopping. Eventually, it was time to embark on our four-hour drive to Salt Lake City and catch our flight home.

Words can’t express how grateful I am for this trip. It had been a bucket list trip of mine for years, and to have made it happen with an amazing group of gals by my side was the icing on the cake. It was hands down one of my favorite trips of all time, and I have no doubt that it will remain at the top of that list for years to come. #prairedawgsforever

…Next stop, home sweet home! <3

Utah’s Mighty Five, Part 4: Canyonlands National Park

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If you missed the intro to this blog series, be sure to check it out here!

Day 6

Boasting nearly 338,000 acres, Canyonlands National Park is massive. It contains four districts that are divided by the Green River and the Colorado River. The four districts are Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze, and the rivers themselves. Island in the Sky has a scenic drive with several overlooks, making it the best option for those with limited time to experience the park. The Needles, on the other hand, provide a backcountry experience that requires 4WD. Similarly, The Maze is incredibly remote and involves a fair amount of off-roading. This district tends to be visited by veteran campers for multiple days at a time. Lastly, the rivers are most commonly experienced by boating.

I’m sure that, given our timeframe, it comes as no surprise that we visited the Island in the Sky district. As this district sits atop a ginormous, 1500-foot mesa (a flat-topped hill), it is quite literally an island in the sky. Although I felt like I’d been on another planet the entire time that we were in Utah, I truly felt like I was on Mars while exploring Canyonlands.

Once we arrived to the park, we hopped onto the scenic drive and headed to the Grand View Point trailhead. It is an easy two-mile hike, but don’t underestimate it as the views are spectacular! The trail follows the rim of the mesa, allowing for views in every direction. Next, we headed to the Mesa Arch Overlook to take in one of the park’s iconic views. Mesa Arch is situated in front of Buck Canyon, and, if viewed from the perfect angle, it frames the La Sal Mountains. Lastly, we headed to the Green River Overlook for sunset. It was incredible to take in the vastness of the park while viewing the river that made the park’s larger-than-life canyons possible.

Before settling into our tent at Under Canvas Moab, we headed to downtown Moab for dinner. We decided on Peace Tree Juice Café as its menu had plenty of healthy, yet delicious options. The fact that we could eat outside while listening to live music was an added bonus. It was the perfect ending to our day!

…Next stop, Arches National Park!

Utah’s Mighty Five, Part 3: Capitol Reef National Park

If you missed the intro to this blog series, be sure to check it out here!

Day 5

Capitol Reef is considered the underdog of Utah’s national parks and I couldn’t disagree more. While it may not have the grandeur of Zion, it’s most definitely worth a visit. Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile-long buckle in the Earth’s surface, is the geologic landform that defines the park.

Upon our arrival, we headed to the visitor center and were excited to learn that Capitol Reef is home to the largest orchard in the National Park Service. Being that we took our trip in mid September, our timing couldn’t have been more perfect! We hit up a couple different orchards and had a blast picking a variety of apples and pears. Pickings were free if eaten within the park and a mere $2 per pound if taken out of the park. Not bad considering that the produce was super fresh and delicious!

Afterward, we headed to a talk about petroglyphs, led by Ranger Adam Lavender. You can’t make this shit up! He discussed the rich history and culture of the Fremont (read: ancestral Puebloan) people and how the petroglyphs came to be. These ancient carvings are estimated to date back to 600-1300 CE. As such, it was amazing to see them up close and personal!

We then drove along the Capitol Reef Scenic Byway (Highway 24). It was when we were doing this that I realized just how unique the rock formations are in each Utah park, despite them being only a couple of hours away from each other. Capitol Reef’s rock formations were hands down my favorite as they had deep, reddish-orange and light blue undertones. I’m clearly not a geologist given that lame description, but as you can see from the photos, they were magnificent!

Once we hit the end of the byway, we hiked the Capitol Gorge trail. It had a feel similar to the Narrows, minus the water. I loved this short but sweet hike! It was within a deep canyon, and the canyon walls were laden with historic inscriptions. While I’m usually not a fan of graffiti in a national park setting, it was pretty freaking cool to see that this park has been enjoyed by fellow nature lovers as far back as the 1800s. Anyway, the highlight of the Capitol Gorge trail is the short climb to the park’s waterpockets, also known as water tanks. It’s striking to see water in the middle of the desert! As you can imagine, these waterpockets are vitally important to the desert ecosystem.

We finally head back to our hotel, Capitol Reef Resort, which was conveniently located one mile from the park entrance. Our mountain-view room was incredible! We walked across the street for a night out at The Rim Rock Patio – a “spaghetti western cafe,” whatever that means. Considering that it was in the middle of the desert, we were pleasantly surprised by our experience! Think elevated pub food, Utah microbrews on tap, great music, and an overall cool vibe. I think it’s safe to say that we had a little too much fun that night. ;)

…Next stop, Canyonlands National Park!

Utah’s Mighty Five, Part 2: Bryce Canyon National Park

If you missed the intro to this blog series, be sure to check it out here!

Day 4

We arrived to Bryce Canyon in the early afternoon. Research made it clear that one of the best ways to experience the park in a short amount of time is to drive along Highway 63, also known as the Bryce Canyon Scenic Drive. As such, we hopped onto the drive right away and beelined it to the drive’s furthest overlook, Rainbow Point. At just over 9000 foot elevation, this overlook is roughly 18 miles from the park entrance and allows for expansive, spectacular views of the canyon.

From there, we hit up almost every overlook along the drive, slowly making our way back towards the entrance. Since Bryce Canyon is the only park in the National Park Service that is home to the Utah Prairie Dog, we became mildly obsessed with the idea of spotting one during our visit. These adorable critters are endangered, yet protected by the park as they are extremely important to the canyon’s ecosystem. As the likelihood of spotting one at Ponderosa Point is said to be the highest, stopping there was a must. While we weren’t lucky enough to lay eyes on one of the park’s 200 Utah Prairie Dogs, we made it a point to donate to the park’s protection efforts. #prairiedawgsforever

Another must-see along the drive is one of the park’s most famous arches, Natural Bridge. Although Bryce Canyon is largely known for its hoodoo rock formations, Natural Bridge is a majestic arch worth seeing. While we’re on the subject of hoodoos, let’s talk about what the heck they are. According to Nat Geo, they are freestanding spires of rock that are created by weathering and erosion in desert climates. This process takes place over thousands of years, in which “water from streams, runoff, and intense thunderstorms wear down the rock,” and “wind is the fine sculptor that does a lot of the smoothing and finishing.”

Last, but certainly not least, my favorite overlook of all was Sunset Point. We made it here about an hour and a half before sunset, which provided us with just enough time to hike the 1.3-mile Navajo Loop Trail. This trailhead is accessible from Sunset Point. I must say: while viewing the hoodoos from above was awe-inspiring, there was nothing like viewing them from below. This short, but sweet hike provided up-close-and-personal views of some of the park’s most well-known structures, including Wall Street, Thor’s Hammer, Silent City, and Two Bridges. Standing amongst these massive, extraordinary structures allowed for an entirely new level of appreciation for them.

Although the Navajo Loop Trail can be connected with the Queen’s Garden Trail for a longer hike, we were pressed for time as we wanted to catch sunset from none other than Sunset Point. Words can’t describe the way that I felt as I watched the sun set over the Bryce Canyon Amphitheater. The coloring of the hoodoos became significantly more vivid against a muted, pastel sky, and it was incredibly beautiful. As this was an unbelievable ending to our day in Bryce Canyon, I can’t recommend it enough.

While we did not set enough time aside to hike the Fairyland Loop Trail, I’ve heard that it’s another excellent way to experience Bryce Canyon. Please note that it is 8 miles in duration and is said to take 4-5 hours to complete. If you’ve hiked this trail before, I’d love to hear about your experience!

Anyway, we ended our day by eating a quick dinner and settling into our new digs. The “town” outside of Bryce Canyon has very limited food options, so be prepared to eat some mediocre grub. We ultimately decided to eat at Bryce Canyon Pines, and since it’s tough to mess up a turkey club, I was a happy camper. For lodging, on the other hand, we stayed in a cozy cabin at Bryce Canyon Villas, about 20 minutes outside of the park.

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…Next stop, Capitol Reef National Park!