Almost Arizona Hot Springs

January 2021 the Hubby and I went on a long weekend trip to Las Vegas. While there, we took a day to hike and be outdoors, a requirement for every trip.

On this particular outing, we had a grand plan of visiting the Arizona Hot Springs, soaking in the hot waters together on our anniversary trip. I was ready! I had my comfortable capris leggings on, comfortable shoes, and my hiking bag packed specifically for this trip. Included in this pack was;

  • Water- a must for hiking in the desert or anywhere for that matter.
  • Knife- always.
  • Solar charger for my phone
  • Swimwear for soaking in the hot springs
  • Microfiber towel- lightweight, small when folded, dries fast
  • First aid kit
  • Snakebite kit
  • Cell phone
  • Snacks- granola bars, beef jerky, etc..

There were several mistakes made on this outing. I’ll start with that.

Mistake #1

After a hearty breakfast in Vegas and making our way to the car rental we hit the road following the GPS on my phone. Oh Google Maps, how I misuse you constantly (side note; my husband calls google maps Janice). Taking in the sites was really neat as I had not been to this part of Nevada before. Scott had been there previously for a couple of Marine Corps trainings. He was like my own personal tour guide as we passed Hoover Damn. Overall, not a bad drive out. And it felt a bit nostalgic, thinking of our time we lived in the Californian desert.

We enter Arizona and are driving for quite some time, Janice hasn’t said anything in a long while. I check it out and we haven’t come up on it yet. Then….. we pass it. Duh. How did we miss it?! Well, I tell you what, it’s not obvious. There is not a big sign or arrows, so keep your eyes peeled for a little parking lot on the north side of the road. I consult Janice to see how we missed it, thinking that I had the incorrect information plugged in, she is advising us to turn around WAY up the road as there isn’t much in the way of turn around points. Nope. We turn around at the earliest semi-convenience with few cars around.

Back on track… hopefully. Quite a ways before we get there, Janice says, “You have arrived.” We are really watching this time around and we do see a little turn off point that would have been difficult to view driving east. Woohoo!

Mistake #2

READ THE SIGN.

This is important. Read the sign clearly, take in the scene going on around you. Maybe those people returning from or just entering a certain trail are here for the main attraction. We missed all of that. Should have asked them.

We get up the map on this large board and debate which is the trail head for the Arizona Hot Springs. There is mention on the map of a historic bridge. I will tell you this now, that is NOT the trailhead. Do NOT go this way. The actual trail head is the trail that goes under the overpass and has a very clear marker. We thought it was weird that the trail would go under an overpass, that’s why we took the trail going over the historic bridge. Be sure you are taking the right path.

Mistake #3

So we are off on the wrong trail and are unaware of it. The views on this trail are kind of bland to start, so have the great idea to go off trail and climb up this hillside and get a better look. Nope. Don’t do that.

A view from our off trail excursion.

Yes, the view was better. But I know better than to go off trail in an unfamiliar environment. Did it anyway. After wandering the ridgeline a ways, it’s time to make our way back down the slope to the trail. Scott takes a steeper, quicker path and I choose a more gradual slope. I am watching my direction more than my footing, also a mistake. When you hike in the desert, watch where your feet go.

I heard it before I saw it. It wasn’t a rattle I heard. It was a slither. The gravel moving.

My head snapped down and I jumped off of one foot because my other was about to come right down on a small canyon rattlesnake. I jumped so high and let out a very embarrassing squeal! As I landed my ankle hit a rock. The pain from the ankle of course brought the thought of snake bite. Did this snake bite me that fast that I didn’t see it? The site is inspected for puncture marks, none are found. Just a small bruise from the rock. Pfew! That is why you carry a snakebite kit, might seem silly, but I’d rather have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.

Mistake #4

This one is all on Scott. Being far more careful about where I am putting my feet, we hike on. Scott is keeping a sharp eye as well, his eyes are better than mine and I feel better with him looking out too.

Suddenly, Scott shouts, “There’s a snake!…… somewhere out there.” Gesturing to all of the desert around us.

Argh! If you are wondering, yes, I did hit him. I was so mad! It’s funny now, but at the time I was not having it.

So my pace slowed drastically now that I was on the lookout for snakes. I will say, I was not afraid of snakes before this trip. I still like the snakes in Minnesota, we mostly have nonvenomous snakes with the exception of one species in southern Minnesota. But I will be quite wary of them in future snake-infested adventures.

Mistake #5

Though Mistake #4 was just some jackassery from my husband, we’ll move onto mistake #5. This one also involves leaving the trail.

I cannot stress this enough. Do Not Do this!

After hiking for a couple of hours, we finally realize that we are not on the Arizona Hot Springs Trail. This is nothing like the pictures I’ve seen on Pinterest. Okay. Decision time. Do we turn back or cut across to save time?

Following my snake encounter, you’d think that I would have that answered already, right? Wrong. We decide to go off trail again. I am going at turtle pace watching for snakes. And Scott so graciously reminded me about scorpions as well. Lovely. I somehow still trust him to be my eyes and to get us out of this mess. He used his land navigation skills from the Marine Corps to set a course to get us back to the rental vehicle. All we have to do is climb down and out of a gorge with all kinds of nooks and crannies.

If this type of thing happens to you, turn back and stay on the trail. Follow it out or call for assistance.

That being said. This turned out to be the coolest part of our hike. Scott found a relatively simple area to descend into the gorge. He was still my eyes and was very patient with me going at my ‘don’t want to step on a snake’ pace. Once in the gorge we found lizard and rabbit tracks and rabbit poop. That was really neat, I am always on the lookout for animal sign when in the woods. It was a treat to find it in a place I wasn’t looking for it. And it’s not scaring me out of my mind. Bunnies are cute and non-life threatening.

Down in the gorge.

Time to ascend the other side of the gorge. It was not as hard as I was anticipating. Scott found an area with very little spaces for critters to hide in for my climb up. I was very appreciative of this. After we cleared another hill, we could see the parking lot. But we had to climb down along an oddly placed fence to get there.

Back at the parking lot, we could very clearly see the marked trail. Duh. We felt so silly. But we still had an adventure together. I can say that I didn’t die of fright or venom from a rattlesnake, and made it back in one piece.

If you are planning on doing the Arizona Hot Springs, please choose the correct trail and stay on said trail! Always pack a snakebite kit, you never know when you might need it.

Share your adventure fail!

3 Days in South Dakota

This may sound a little weird, but this was one of my favorite trips. South Dakota was a blast! We hit some great spots! A little something for each of us.

Timing it Right

Crowds are not for me, so we plan our trips in the off seasons. Sandy just so happens to have a birthday mid-September. Perfect timing for a birthday trip, don’t ya think?

September is still warm enough to camp outside, the bugs have died off a bit, as have the crowds. Parks are still open and reservations are easier to get. I did notice that when we were planning this trip that the earlier season camping slots were filling up fast. Thankfully we had ‘pick of the litter’ so to speak with our later date. If you are planning to go during the warmer months, book early to get your very best site.

Day 1

The Drive

From our little town in Minnesota, we had a 9 hour drive to Custer State Park. We broke that up between one evening and part of the following day. This meant a bonus park!!

We stayed at the Palisades State Park in South Dakota. It was great! We had made our reservation ahead of time and arrived late at night. Pitched our tent in the dark and slept hard that first night. Sandy was excited about our bonus camp night. Our Day 1 was really a short day of only driving.

Day 2

Palisades State Park

This park really turned into a great little spot! In the morning we had a look around and found a little hiking trail to explore before hitting the road. Sandy climbed up some of the little cliffs and came upon some clam shells. She came up with many theories as to how they made there way up so high. Great imagination! If you are looking for a little park for a short trip close to Sioux Falls this one might be the ticket for short weekend or a one-nighter.

Camping at Custer

Gorgeous!!! This state park is truly stunning. The views are breathtaking. I took photos but my simple cellphone camera didn’t do it justice. I may need to invest in a higher quality camera if I am to really capture the beauty of these amazing places.

We stayed at the Sylvan Lake campground, lot 16. I was a little apprehensive while making this reservation. It’s not really my style of camping. I’m used to the pack-in/pack-out style of camping. You know, the kind of camping that takes you miles away from civilization. But I was thoroughly impressed with this campsite. Sylvan Lake Campground is at the northwestern tip of Custer. It’s basically it’s own section of state park, it’s clear in the map. Click the link to check it out.

Camp set up was quite simple, and we really didn’t need much in the way of prep. In fact, there was already a space cleared and leveled for our 4-person tent. It fit perfectly, such luxury!

After camp was set up, it was time to explore our surroundings. And boy did we!! We climbed with our newly 7 year-old way up the giant rock next to our camp. For Sandy, this was quite impressive.

The hike around Sylvan Lake was unreal, in parts it felt fake. Like we were in some kind of fairytale. We also passed an area being set up for a wedding, that will be a very memorable destination wedding for that couple. There were so many nooks and crannies to check out and climbable places to get a better vantage point. This hike isn’t really that long, but with all of the things to see, it really took a while to make the loop. At the end of this little route, there is a little gift shop where Scott was able get his coffee fix for the morning.

**Hiking Tip** Watch out for the Squirrels! We were yelled a few times by them, we actually thought it was a bird, we had never heard a squirrel make that noise before.

Time to Eat

Adventuring sure does make your hunger peak. Scott’s main goal on a trip is to find a great meal. We took Sandy to the Watiki Waterpark in Rapid City, this is we were able to find Dakotah Steakhouse. Scott had the Buffalo Burger, delicious! A perfect meal after spending the day meandering about in Sylvan Lake.

Day 3

Breathtaking Morning

I woke first on the morning of day three to a view that I did not expect. It was so calm and peaceful. Having a few moment to myself to soak in the morning was just what I needed to fuel me for the rest of the day. I do not think we could have found a better campsite at Sylvan Lake.

As most of the day two was spent in the Sylvan lake area, we had the rest of Custer Park to do on day three. That was a lot of ground to cover in one day.

Wildlife Loop Road

If you have a lot of ground to cover in a shorter amount of time, I suggest driving the Wildlife Loop Road. It goes around the whole park with areas for overlooks and short trails to explore.

Some of the best views that we had were at random unplanned stops along the way. Some had unique rock stacking, signs for the kids to read, and some small areas with ruins.

After a time Scott and I were being asked where all the animals were. It is true that we didn’t see any right away, with the exception of the rodents back at camp, but there had to be more critters than that! At long last, when we were on the southwestern portion of the trail we came around the bend and BOOM! Buffalo! We only saw 3 buffalo on our whole trip, but it was truly something to see them out in the wild. We also got a glimpse of the little prairie dogs and some pronghorn. All of these critters were found in areas we were not looking for them in. So stay ALERT!

Lunch Break

This is a MUST for a western South Dakota trip. The Purple Pie Place. Complete with a purple pig! I usually order my basic chocolate or french silk pie when in the mood for pie, always afraid of being disappointed. But I went out on a limb and ordered Strawberry Rhubarb Pie. It was probably the best pie that I have ever had, Chocolate or otherwise. I highly recommend this slice ala mode. The rich creamy ice cream is a perfect accent!

Crazy Horse & Mount Rushmore

Crazy Horse is still under construction but it was still worth the stop. This was actually not a planned stop, we happened to see a sign for it on our way to get pie. It was worth a stop. At this location there is a museum with so much Native American history packed inside. They have many artifacts on display, we were lucky enough to catch one of the presentations outside in the square. You can see a finished model of the Crazy Horse monument in the square as well, Sandy thought this was pretty cool.

Mount Rushmore is of course such a traditional stop on the trip. Parking was a little difficult in the afternoon, arriving earlier in the day may be the way to go. As it was the off season, the crowds were small and we were able to view the indoor area with less hassle.

Heading Home

After a great 3 days, it was time to head home. This is a great little getaway for a long weekend. If we decide to do this trip again, which is highly likely, we will certainly be making our plans for September.

Share your South Dakota adventure!

Tettegouche: An accidental Trip

Well…. Not every trip can go according to plan.

The Original Boundary Waters Trip Plan

So here is what was supposed to happen:

  • Pack the Rogue while Scott finishes some last minute work
  • Leave midmorning and arrive at BWCA Entry point Larch Creek by 3pm
  • Set up camp and have s’mores as a treat for a hard days travel
  • Relax in camping bliss until noon on Sunday.

Easy day, simple trip. Right?

WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED

Friday Morning

Scott leaves to take care of some last minute work for a customer. Sandy and I get to work packing up the Rogue and loading the canoe. We ladies have everything ready to roll when Scott returns. All according to plan.

We hit the road feeling great about our exciting weekend ahead. As we drive along, I notice that the vehicle is giving a jerk every now and then when accelerating. We noticed this in Mora, Minnesota. We brush it off, knowing that the vehicle has been driven pretty hard and might just be showing her wear and tear. **Note- We should have stopped here.

Tobies!! This is one of our northern trip traditions. We always plan a stop at Tobies in Hinckley for an amazingly gooey caramel roll. Hinckley is a good spot for a potty break and to stretch your legs, too.

We fill up the tank and soldier on. Duluth at last! As we approach the giant hill that brings you up over Duluth, the car starts to struggle more. Huh… That’s not good. Scott is looking more concerned at this point, the decent into Duluth is smoother. And the Rogue hasn’t died on us yet. We start discussing what could be wrong and end up pulling off to the side of the road just north of Duluth. We smell something goofy, and aren’t entirely sure what it could be. We are no longer making good time and we have to keep moving if we are going to make it to our entry point on time. **Note- We should have stopped here.

Onward… I guess. Once we reach Two Harbors we are in rough shape. I am trying to keep the vehicle moving, we are getting so close to our destination. All I have in my mind is just to get there. I am longing so badly to be back in those serene woods and hear the rhythmic splash of my paddle against the water. **Note- We should have stopped here.

We make a stop to get something to eat in Two Harbors. Culvers was the most convenient and quick meal as we hurry along. As we load back into the Rogue we spot something that really grinds our gears. A little, rusted out, beaten down, ancient white car loaded up with a canoe and an obscene amount of gear has just been filled up at the gas pump and is headed off down the road with no problem at all. WHAT?! How is that thing even running without the gear? And our sporty SUV is struggling to make it along. Ridiculous.

Anyhow, we carry on. But just barely. Silver Bay is where we finally accept defeat. It seems that our circumstances are just to great to overcome. The Rogue is not going to make it there. We are not going to see those pristine waters. This is not the trip we were hoping for… **Note- We stopped here. Ugh. 3.75 hours from home.

Hurray for technology!! I hop on my phone call the Tofte Ranger Station to inform them that we will not be making it and cancel our reservation. Next, I search on that nifty Google machine for the nearest camping options. BAM! Tettegouche it is, I give them a call. They have just one campsite left, we’ll take it!… If I can get the rogue started again. Thankfully we do, but we can no longer get the Rogue to go past 40mph. Other drivers are obviously getting upset. We creep into Tettegouche State Park, it is a battle to get up the hills and finally into a parking space at our makeshift campsite.

Scott searches for an auto body shop and makes arrangements for the Rogue to be towed away. Meanwhile, I break the news to Sandy that we will not be making it to the BWCA this time. But we look on the bright side, at least we get to camp at a new place and see something different. We get to work on setting up camp with lifted spirits. That’s my girl!

Scott managed to find us a place to have the vehicle towed to. They even let us use a car to get back to our campsite. But first, dinner.

Another Boundary Waters Trip tradition that cannot be ignored. On our BWCA trips we usually stop at Northwoods Family Grille, formerly known as the Northwood’s Café. My family has been stopping at this same restaurant for breakfast before BWCA entry since I was a kid. Great food and a welcoming atmosphere. Though Sandy enjoyed the S’mores French Toast it was a little too sweet for me, but my mom loves their biscuits and gravy.

After dinner we took the little borrowed car back to camp. The three of us made the best of it, our goal was to bring Sandy on a camping trip. And that we did. We played cards in our tent until we were playing by lantern light and could barely hold our heads up.

In the morning, we made ourselves some oatmeal and hot chocolate with our new camping gear that we were supposed to tryout that weekend. It worked great! Sandy was very excited to hear that Grandma and Grandpa were coming to spend the day with us. Surprise!

Scott and I had made a couple of calls to family. My parents picked up a trailer from Scott’s dad and made the drive up to rescue us. As it turns out, the transmission in the Rogue burned out. I was unaware that I was driving with the vehicle in overdrive THE WHOLE WAY UP. Did you know there is a button for that? I must have bumped it at some point. Honestly, I still don’t know where that button is. That was a $3000 mistake. Whoops. Don’t do that.

We are very thankful to have the kind of family that will drop their Saturday plans to make a 6 hour drive to rescue their kid and her family. Again, we made the best of the situation and it turned into a neat visit at Tettegouche State Park.

While we waited for our heroes to arrive, we packed up our gear and hit the trails. We got a map at the visitors center and decided to go exploring some falls. Sandy was very proud to lead the way. The trails are well maintained and some would really be acceptable for a stroller. We did happen upon a set of stairs that was rather long and steep, but it lead to an area of the Baptism River that we were able to jump on rocks in.

Once my folks had arrived, we explored in a different direction. Not too far from the visitors center is a trail that leads down to Lake Superior. This was where the Baptism River enters Lake Superior. It was a perfect place to skip rocks and hunt for crayfish. We had a blast in this spot.

The coolest thing about Tettegouche, in my opinion, were the trees. The root systems were so unique. Watch your step! It made for some great photo opportunities too.

This is one of our most interesting and memorable trips. Not because we were going somewhere grand or because it was the most perfect trip. It was the most memorable because it wasn’t the perfect trip and we learned the most from it. Sure, at the time we were very frustrated and scrambled to figure out what to do. But we know now that we can handle that kind of situation when our plans go awry.

Lessons Learned

  • Take the most capable vehicle you own & make sure it can handle the trip
  • Don’t put it in overdrive if it isn’t necessary; $3000 people, yikes
  • Be thankful for your rescuers
  • Even when things turn sour, you can still salvage a trip
  • Some of the best memories come from mistakes made
  • Even on an accidental trip, you can still give your kids a great weekend full of adventure

Share your trip mishap and the lessons learned, I’d love to hear it!

Crystal Caves

While we were unable to do our annual trip to the BWCA in the summer of 2019. We did get a chance to take Sandy’s Birthday trip to Wisconsin. Crystal Caves is a great day trip or pit stop on your way to other places.

This little gem is tucked into a rural area in Wisconsin. It’s not a very big attraction, especially in September so it really is appealing with my dislike of crowds. Being 8 months pregnant at the time of this trip, I was a little concerned be we went for it and it was a success.

Things to do

  • Hike the nature trail
  • Guided tour of the cave
  • Pan for Gems & Stones
  • Mini Golf

Hiking the Nature Trail

We were unaware of the nature trail prior to our visit, so this was a surprise little treat. The trail is rather short but offers a variety of interesting things. There are signs at different locations on the trail.

One of the coolest things was the sinkhole. What?! Yes, a sinkhole, don’t see that every day. It isn’t like you’d expect, no Indiana Jones action. But it is very clearly spotted just off of the trail. No, a rock isn’t going to get sucked right down if you throw one in, but still very cool.

Some of the other neat scenes on the trail include different berries, like gooseberries, and an interesting array of ferns, bushes, trees, and mosses. A sweet little escape away from the main attractions.

Guided Tour of the Cave

Of course the main attraction being the Crystal Cave itself, we took the tour down underground. In case you were wondering, you can take this tour while pregnant, I actually called ahead while planning just in case. If you’re planning a trip while pregnant, it doesn’t hurt to check ahead on something like this. There are not many places to sit on the tour, so be prepared for quite a bit of standing and walking around. There were a few places that Scott held my hand just in case of a slip, but no such things happened. There are no strollers allowed on the tour, so be prepared to carry any little ones.

Our tour guide was great! She was very knowledgeable and was able to answer our questions. Sandy had a lot of them! For those who are afraid of bats, we did see one. But it was asleep and didn’t make a peep while we visited her cave.

A couple of things that really peaked Sandy’s interest were experiencing “total darkness” in one part of the cave and the gems that glowed in the dark near the end of the tour. We did get a chance to see fossils in the cave walls, disolving agents, different rock formations, stalagmites and stalactites and learned the difference between the two. It really is a fascinating tour for the science nerd and the outdoorsman.

**Travel Tip** Wear a sweatshirt or jacket no matter what time of year you plan your trip. The cave is always a steady 50 degrees all year round. Also, wear comfortable, close toed shoes that grip well.

Pan for Gems and Stones

At the end of your tour, you’re escourted back up to the shop above. After being saturated with neat cave history and facts, it really gets you amped up to search for some cool stuff. And of course they have just the thing to satisfy that itch.

We purchased a bag of sand that contained a multitude of gems to be found. Sandy was so excited to go do some hands on exploring at their panning station outside. The bag she received contained a guide as well, so she was able to identify the rocks she didn’t already know. The panning station is under an overhang so even though we visited on a nice day, the Crystal Cave is a great location to visit rain or shine.

Inside the gift shop, there is an abundance of items to choose from for souvenirs. Sandy chose a Geode of course. She was on a rock kick at the time, so this trip was really fascinating to her. They have a device inside that the kids are able to crank to crack open their geode themselves by turning the lever. She only needed a little help from dad. Her first geode turned out to be a dud, It was very dirty inside and didn’t show much in the way of sparkles. They offered her a second one that turned out to be beautiful inside, and still let her keep the dud. We took a toothbrush to the dirty one when we got home and it ended up being quite beautiful too. Two for one!

Mini Golf

The mini golf course is a little route filled with dinosaur galore. It’s really quite cute and fun for everyone. There were some real little ones climbing on the statues and older kids trying their hand at putting.

We gave it our best, though we weren’t very good. It was really fun and a great way to end our trip.

Overall, this is a great little spot for a day trip or a pit stop. Your can make it as long or short as you want to. For a near end of pregnancy trip, I’d say it’s doable.

Share your cave adventure!