Category Archives: Hiking

Part 8: Hiking Professor Creek

Part 1: Road to Arches
Part 2: Arches Galore
Part 3: Delicate Arch
Part 4: Hiking Dead Horse Point
Part 5: Canyons For As Far As The Eye Can See
Part 6: Waking Up At The Crack of Dawn To See Dawn
Part 7: Into The Fiery Furnace

With two national parks so accessible from Moab, it’s easy to ignore the rest of the surrounding area. But do so at your own loss! There are so many interesting sites and activities in the Moab region. From kayaking, to bike riding, to paddle boarding, to more hiking – there is something for everyone.

Our last day in Moab, we decided to wander off-the-beaten track. Our google research turned up the Professor Creek Hike (AKA Mary Jane Canyon), an 8 mile out-and-back hike through a small stream bed, deep into a canyon, and ending at a waterfall. When I say through a stream – I mean that literally. You WILL get wet. We found it impossible to stay dry, and 10 minutes into the hike, just gave into to the adventure.

At the same time, I recommend wearing some kind of sneaker and/or hiking shoe. The stream bed is very rocky and requires some maneuvering. You do not want to expose your toes to open rock, and some ankle support is helpful. We wore our regular sneakers and threw them in the wash when we got home from our trip.

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Our sneakers at the end of the hike.

As we started hiking, we marveled at the natural beauty and the sense of solitude we felt. The cold water sloshing on our feet was refreshing as we melted under the hot sun.

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This incredible structure overlooking Castle Valley is called the Priest and Nuns, for the obvious reason.

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About a mile and a half into he hike, the canyon walls start to rise. They continue to rise until you are hiking through a narrow slot which provides generous shade.

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The hike ends when the stream bed collides with a sputtering waterfall. At that point the water is quite high.

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Part 7: Into the Fiery Furnace

Part 1: Road to Arches
Part 2: Arches Galore
Part 3: Delicate Arch
Part 4: Hiking Dead Horse Point
Part 5: Canyons For As Far As The Eye Can See
Part 6: Waking Up At The Crack of Dawn To See Dawn

Five months before we even landed in Colorado, my sister and I booked two spots on the ranger-led Fiery Furnace hike in Arches National Park. While most of the hikes in the park are open to the public, Fiery Furnace is limited to a small group of people per day. According to the National Parks website, “The Fiery Furnace is a natural labyrinth of narrow passages between towering sandstone walls. To enter the Fiery Furnace, visitors must accompany a ranger-guided tour or obtain a hiking permit at the visitor center.”

The ranger-led hike is three hours long with many stops along the way to to talk about the geology and history of area. The website labels the hike “strenuous,” but I’m not exactly an Olympian and I was just fine. There are some tight spaces that involve a bit of scrambling, but those were my favorite parts!

The hike starts off with a scary sign and an introduction about the geology of the rock maze we’re about to enter. Confession: I spent more time taking pictures than listening…

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Our group took a break when we reached the cave below, featuring a natural arch. The guide talked about… something… Honestly, I was just taking pictures.

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I love the way the light peeks through the rocks.

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We took another rest stop at this natural water hole and the double arches below. Our guide told us about all the different types of bugs that live in the water. He warned us not to step or fall into the hole, lest we kill all of the bugs.

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We reach a particularly narrow stretch that involved some scrambling and creative maneuvering.

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My sister captured me at my most graceful.

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There were lizards everywhere.

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At the end of the hike, as we emerged from the furnace, we are treated to a beautiful array of red rocks.

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If you like guided hikes, Fiery Furnace is a must. If you get a little bored and prefer to roam on your own – like I – Fiery Furnace is still fun, and offers an exclusive peek into a different part of Arches National Park. Just remember: Book early. These tours get sold out! 

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Part #5: Canyons For As Far As the Eye Can See

Part 1: Road to Arches
Part 2: Arches Galore
Part 3: Delicate Arch
Part 4: Hiking Dead Horse Point

Canyonlands National Park is home to, well, canyons. It is much larger than Arches and much less populated. The park offers many hikes, mountain biking trails, and off-road routes. But we were dead tired after our hike around Dead Horse Point State Park, and all I really wanted to see was Mesa Arch. Mesa Arch is one of Utah’s famous arches, dressing the walls of many a Moab hotel (including our own).

You might be wondering, how many pictures can one person take of a single arch? Wonder no more. The answer is: A sh*t ton of pictures. That’s how many.

It’s a short quarter of a mile hike to the arch. Calling it a hike is a bit generous, but it is uphill. And then all of a sudden – bam – there it is. Miraculous and captivating. By mid-afternoon, the sky had turned a stormy grey/purple which made for a dramatic scene through the window of Mesa Arch.

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After Mesa Arch, we made a short stop at Grand View Point Overlook before heading back to our hotel. I’ve seen a lot of canyons in my travels, and sometimes, they blur one into the next. But Grand View Point Overlook offers a unique view of Canyonlands. We were exhausted, but it was definitely worth the drive.

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Part #4: Hiking Dead Horse Point

Part 1: Road to Arches
Part 2: Arches Galore
Part 3: Delicate Arch

On our second day in Moab, we headed west of Arches National Park to Dead Horse Point State Park and Canyonlands National Park. Dead Horse Point State Park is a hidden gem. It’s not one of the major national parks advertised in all the magazines, but it’s beautiful and feral, and we had it all to ourselves.

Once we entered the park, we got a map from the visitor center and settled on a five-mile loop around the park. The hiking is easy to moderate at an altitude of 5,900 feet, but little elevation change. The most difficult part of the hike is the constant maneuvering from cairn to cairn, with the occasional rock scramble. As we hiked, we were rewarded with vast and stunning views of the Colorado River as it winds its way through never-ending canyons.

Dead Horse Map

As we set out, the first thing we noticed was the electric blue water in the distance. It looks supernatural, almost like an alien colony. Sadly, it’s not that exciting. The blue water is a potash mine. Miners pump water into the ground, bringing potash ore to the surface in a potassium-filled brine. As the water evaporates,  salt crystals form. The water is dyed a bright blue to speed up the evaporation process, which takes about 300 days. Dark water absorbs more sunlight and facilitates evaporation.

That’s a lot of science when I really mean to say, the views were amazing. The electric blue water contrasted brilliantly with the deep red canyons and the occasionally stormy clouds.

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My love affair with Utah’s stark, half-dead trees continued. As did my sister’s teasing laughter.

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A little less than halfway through the hike, we reached Dead Horse Point – the point where the Colorado River curves around the canyon. The sweeping views are breathtaking. (As an aside, “breathtaking” describes pretty much every single sight on our Utah trip to the point of being utterly trite.)

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A picture of our faithful cairns. There’s a very good chance we would have hiked straight into the canyon without our trusty cairns guiding us. They were not always easy to spot!

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Dead Horse State Park is a short 37 minutes from Moab and on the way to Canyonlands National Park. If you’re looking for a strenuous calorie-burning hike, Dead Horse Point will fall short. But if you want to have a massive canyon to yourself while getting some moderate exercise, this park will hit the spot.

 

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Part 3: Delicate Arch

Part 1: Road to Arches
Part 2: Arches Galore

Delicate Arch is one of the most famous arches, if not the most famous, in Arches National Park. If you’re not hiker, or just plain lazy, you can catch a glimpse of this magnificent arch from below. Two short walks from the parking lot offer lower and upper viewpoints. But if you can muster the energy, skip the viewpoint, and huff and puff for three miles (round trip) to the base of Delicate Arch.

It is totally worth it.

The elevation gain is only 500 feet, but most of it is condensed into a short one mile. Bring plenty of water and just remember: There’s a beautiful arch at the end.

The hike starts out on a dirt path. As we walked past a log house, I thought, “this isn’t so hard.” I admired the exotic desert flowers and oddly shaped trees.

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After a half a mile, the trail peters out into steep slick rock. Sporadic cairns to guide the way, but we simply followed the stream of hikers in front of us.

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A small arch to tempt your appetite before you see the real thing.

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One minute, I’m hiking, and the next minute…… I’m standing in awe. Mouth open, eyes bulging, drool trickling. For this, I would hike 10 miles if I had to.

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In peak season, you’ll have to contend with a throng of other tourists taking photos under the arch, but people are pretty good about not hogging the spotlight. When my turn came, I eagerly inched my way underneath the gigantic miracle. Suddenly, it seemed overwhelmingly large. I felt like I was standing at the edge of the world. Maybe, because I was.

I am just a tiny spec in the pictures. You can barely see my goofy, triumphant grin. But rest assured, it is there.

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Part 2: Arches Galore

Part 1: Road to Arches

Arches National Park is one of the country’s smaller national parks, with one main road running 18 miles from top to bottom. It’s possible to see the best sights in one day if you’re short on time. In the end, we spent two half days in the park, and managed to check off most of the key sights on our list.

Arches Map

As we drove through the long windy road past the entrance, we took it all in. Red, flaming rocks everywhere. It was glorious. Our first top was Park Avenue, so named because the towering rocks resemble Manhattan’s skyscrapers.

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Can I just pause to compliment myself on the below shot? I love it.

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We hopped back in the car and continued north towards our first hike of the day. Of course, we had to stop a couple of times along the way…

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Here’s a gorgeous view of the Petrified Dunes with the Lasalle Mountains in the background.

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Tada! Balanced Rock.

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Shortly after admiring Balanced Rock, we turned right and headed toward the trail head for the Windows and Double Arch. We chose the 1 mile hike around the North and South Windows.

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The view of Double Arch from the parking lot.

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There are so many fascinating types of trees and flowers even in the desert

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The view of one of the Windows with many tourists

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As you face west away from the Windows, you have a wide open view of Turret Arch

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Slightly tree obsessed

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As we headed around to the back of the Windows we enjoyed some tourist-free views

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A perfect arch

The trail map gives visitors two options at this point: To circle around Turret Arch and head back the way we came, or to take the “primitive trail” around the back of the Windows. We opted for the primitive trail – and it was rather primitive. We followed a series of random cairns, only getting lost once. On the plus side, we left the crowds behind. From this vantage point, we enjoyed clear, perfect views of both arches, unmarred by throngs of tourists.

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There really aren’t words to describe how weirdly beautiful the arches are. Even better, they are easily accessible. The Windows is just a mile long, with little elevation. In other words, you have no excuses!

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Arches, Here We Come!

It’s been a very busy month, and I am a negligent and very out-of-shape blogger as a result. But that’s going to change soon (I hope). This Tuesday, I head to Utah to hike Arches and Canyonlands National Parks with my sister.

We planned this trip months ago – back in 2015 – and it turned out to be a very good thing. Nearly every hotel in Moab, Utah is sold out. Apparently, we are not the only ones who thought hiking Southern Utah over Memorial Day Weekend was a good idea.

Here’s how we planned our trip.

We are flying into Grand Junction Colorado Tuesday night, the closest airport to Moab, Utah, the hub of activity and lodging just outside Arches National Park. We found a cheap Courtyard Marriott near the airport for $125. We are renting a car from the airport and will drive the stunning one-and-a-half hour drive to Moab Wednesday morning. We are staying in Moab for four nights, our base to explore Arches and Canyonlands through Sunday evening. In Moab, we chose the Fairfield Inn and Suites because it is the closest hotel to the park and one of the nicer options. Even back in December 2015, the rooms at the Fairfield were going for $250 a night so I signed up for the Marriott Chase credit card and used 50,000 points to pay for my half of the nights (25,000 points a night). Sunday night, we will drive back to Grand Junction, where we will sleep in the same Courtyard Marriott before our crack-of-dawn flights Monday morning.

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Next Trip: Arches Here I Come

It’s been a couple of crazy weeks in the day job. For a while there, my next trip hung in the balance, a casualty of the political calendar and court decisions. I kid you not. On the bright side, everything has ironed itself out, and my Memorial weekend plans are still a go.

My sister wanted to go to Iceland, but the stress of an international trip was overwhelming. So we settled on Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in southeast Utah. I have already been to Zion National Park in southwest Utah, but have always wanted to see the magnificent arches in the east. I also liked the idea of planning a trip around exercise, instead of coming back from vacation feeling like the Pillsbury Doughboy.

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Arches National Park

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Can you say AMAZING???

Grand Junction, Colorado is the closest airport to Arches National Park, but it can be quite pricey to fly in and out of. And those prices jump up around a holiday weekend. No surprise there. I managed to find a flight from Reagan National Airport to Grand Junction on United for only 12,500 points. This was a steal considering flights were three-hundred dollars-plus for one way.

On the way back, I decided to cash in my Citi Thank You Points which can be redeemed on American Airlines at 1.6 cents a piece. I found a $415 flight that cost me only 25,975 Citi points. Not only will I earn miles on this flight, I’ll collect four segments on my path to Gold status on American.

We plan on doing a bunch of hiking in Arches and Canyonlands, including the ranger-led Fiery Furnace hike. Fiery Furnace is a three-hour rock scramble through beautiful terrain in Arches National Park.  The ranger-led hikes through the unguided labyrinth is limited a small group of people per day. We booked our tickets months in advance, and our tour date is already sold out with three months to go!

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Some of the stunning rock formations we’ll get to see on the Fiery Furnace hike

There are no lodging options within Arches National Park. All lodging is located in the anchoring city of Moab. The choices are not overly exciting – a range of low-end, overpriced hotels. My sister and I both applied for the Marriott Chase credit card, now offering 80,000 points per card. We’ll use these points to book four nights at the Residence Inn in Moab.

It’s still three months away, but I’m so excited to go hiking out west again. As much as I love traveling to far-flung locations, a low-key, outdoor trip is exactly what I need after an intense political season.

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My excited dance, special for all the Pretty Little Liar fans out there

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Scotland #13: Rubha Hunish, AKA The Hike From Hell

Scotland #1: Welcome to Edinburgh!
Scotland #2: The View from Arthur’s Seat
Scotland #3: The View from Scott Monument
Scotland #4: Going Forth to Forth
Scotland #5: The Beauty of Fife
Scotland #6: Whisky Fail
Scotland #7: Defeat at Culloden
Scotland #8: Cawdor’s Not-So-Secret Garden
Scotland #9: The Loch Ness Loop
Scotland #10: The Road to Skye
Scotland #11: Old Man of Storr
Scotland #12: Pieces of Skye

Rubha Hunish

The hike along Rubha Hunish (literally the head of Hunish) is located at the tippy top of the Isle of Skye.

Ironically, we chose to hike Rubha Hunish because it was billed as an easy, flat stroll to Skye’s northernmost point. I was still feeling under the weather and didn’t have the energy to huff and puff up a mountain.

That was our first mistake.

The hike started out fine enough, but grew a little treacherous as the “path” became increasingly muddy and wet thanks to Skye’s persistent wet weather. Every couple of minutes, one of us would screech when we accidently stepped in a pool of muddy water. The hike instructions were the opposite of clear, but we followed the stream of people in front of us and what looked like a reasonable path.

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This is a path. So far so good.

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Pretty views. No complaint here.

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Ditto.

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The aforementioned muddy puddles. You see how the “path” is a little more mysterious here?

It all seemed worth it when we got to this stunning view.

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And took these pictures.

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After taking way too many pictures (of course), we decided to follow the book’s instructions for a loop back to the starting point instead of heading down the same path we had started on.

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Heading back

That was our second mistake.

We hiked down to low land, walking along the beach. By this point, Skye’s infamous wind picked up, and it began to mist. The guidebook instructed us “follow a faint path diagonally inland, aiming for a corner of the [stone] wall to where it becomes a wire fence.”

UH…IS THAT SUPPOSED TO BE CLEAR???

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Walking along the beach…

Those would have been fine instructions if we could make out either the stone wall or the wire fence. Failing to see either of those things, we decided to move inland anyways.

That was our third mistake.

As we moved inland, the weedy grass grew taller – sometimes as tall as our waists – making it difficult to walk and impossible to see the mud puddles lurking throughout. By this point, our feet were soaked through and through. Our socks were black, and our pants weren’t much better. Every step we took made a sad squish sound. And, we had no idea where we were going.

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My poor sneakers…

I reread the instructions in our hiking path, finding little amusement in the authors insistence that the path may be faint, but still there. Faint my ass. If there was a path, it was long, long gone.

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This looks like a stone wall, but where the hell does it meet a wire fence?

We finally reached what appeared to be the aforementioned stone wall and wire fence. But there was no obvious door or path toward the “row of houses which were once the home of the coastguards.” We climbed over the wall and wandered for 10 minutes until we decided on a new plan: Make for the hotel in the distance in the hopes that someone – anyone – could point us back to our car. We turned around, climbed over the fence, and wandered in the opposite direction. Guess what? The elusive hotel was unreachable, barricaded by a wall meant to keep away nomads like ourselves.

So… we turned around, climbed over the fence and walked in the opposite direction. Again. At this point, we decided to simply keep going. I suspected we were headed in the general right direction, even if we had no idea where our car was.

After some period of time we came across a man herding sheep on the side of the road. He was very nice and accommodating even though we sounded a bit desperate. Okay, a lot desperate. He pointed us in the right direction, and a few minutes later we saw…

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…The red phone booth right near the parking lot. Lisa was so overjoyed, she gave the phone booth a hug.

Tired, cold, and wet, we made our way back to the hotel and promptly declared our socks unsalvageable.

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Our disgusting socks

And then I blow dried my sneakers, which is a) a bad idea if you’re trying to avoid a fire and b) not good for the sneakers, but desperate times… (Side note: When I got back to the U.S., Saucony was kind enough to send me a new pair of sneaker inserts after my original inserts mysteriously shrunk on my trip to Scotland.)

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And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how a pleasant Scottish stroll turned into the hike from hell.

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Scotland #11: Old Man of Storr

Scotland #1: Welcome to Edinburgh!
Scotland #2: The View from Arthur’s Seat
Scotland #3: The View from Scott Monument
Scotland #4: Going Forth to Forth
Scotland #5: The Beauty of Fife
Scotland #6: Whisky Fail
Scotland #7: Defeat at Culloden
Scotland #8: Cawdor’s Not-So-Secret Garden
Scotland #9: The Loch Ness Loop
Scotland #10: The Road to Skye

We chose the Isle of Skye because of it’s known for its uniquely, stunning scenery. Don’t get me wrong. All of Scotland is beautiful. But Skye is weirdly beautiful. Everything about Scotland is exaggerated on the Isle of Skye – the erratic weather, the fog, the intense beauty, the solitude, the oddly shaped mountains and cliffs. I love seeing beautiful things. But I love seeing weird and beautiful things even more.

We started the morning with a hike up to the Old Man of Storr, a short drive from our hotel in Portree. The forecast called for no rain, but the Scottish weather gods had other ideas. Even as the rain fell on us, my weather app continued to say zero percent precipitation. We started the hike with a light drizzle, and proceeded to meet a range of fog, rain, and even a short dalliance with some blue skies.

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The Old Man of Storr refers to one of the rocky pinnacles poking into the sky. Which one? Good question. I think it’s the isolated rock standing aloof in the pictures below, but I’m not entirely sure. The important thing is that the Old Man and his friends are freaking awesome looking.

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The hiking path used to be filled with trees, but they were cut down. Personally, I think it adds to the desolated beauty.

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A parade of cows burst onto the scene, running across the hiking path.

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I went a little photo crazy when I saw the sheep. I know, I know. We have sheep in the U.S. But taking pictures of sheep in Scotland seemed like a necessity and they had been dodging me all trip.

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The clouds began to part…

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Oh hello there blue skies (sort of).

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Did I mention I’m obsessed with sheep?

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