Tag Archives: hiking

Iceland Must Do: Hike a Glacier

If there’s one thing you do in Iceland, hike a glacier. It’s worth it.

We almost didn’t do it because it’s a costly venture for two and half hours of walking on ice, but M convinced me with some sound logic: How often do we have the opportunity to hike a glacier? Answer: Not often.

I used our Chase points to allay the costs – about $240 for the two of us with Arcanum Glacier Tours. Iceland is filled with amazing glaciers, but most of them are more than a day trip’s drive. Sólheimajökull glacier is a two hour drive from Reykjavik, giving us some time to stop along the way back for additional sightseeing.

Our group was just four people and our guide – us and another couple. It’s about a 20 minute walk from Arcanum headquarters to the base of the glacier. We stopped to put our ice clamps on our sneakers, and then we began to climb.

@IMG_6747@IMG_6783@IMG_6959***IMG_6765***IMG_6871***IMG_6965**IMG_6687**IMG_6694**IMG_6751I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve never even seen a glacier before. But I quickly discovered two things. One — glacier hiking is a workout! Not only was I climbing an ice mountain, I was doing it with clamps strapped to my shoes. Two — it is so damn beautiful, I quickly forgot about the effort. Once we got up onto the glacier, it’s just ice for as long as the eye can see. Ice and sky and waterfalls. Every couple of minutes, I’d look around and wonder: How in the world am I here? 

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Hiking a glacier is a singular experience, and one of the coolest things I’ve done. Put it on your to-do list asap.

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Take a Hike… In Iceland

Iceland is heaven for hiking enthusiasts. The natural landscape is so different, so breathtaking, it’s pretty much an outdoor playground.

While there are many full- and multi-day hikes for serious trekers, there are also plenty of hikes for the exercise challenged/couch surfers (who could she possibly be talking about??). One such hike is just a short drive outside Reykjavik.

I discovered Reykjadalur Hot Springs on one of my many stumbles around the Internet, and our new Icelandic friend decided to take us there by a happy coincidence.

Reykjadalur, which translates to “steam valley,” is an aptly named 3 km hiking trail outside of Heverageroi. As we began, we were accosted with lush fields, fresh springs, and steam swirling up around us.

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Then, the trail gets steep. Luckily, there was plenty of beautiful scenery to distract me from my huffing and puffing.

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As we neared the end, the steam grew intense, fogging up my camera lens.

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The water is literally boiling, and there are signs warning not to touch it.

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Watch how thick the steam is in this video!

Finally, the trail turns into a boardwalk, and you can even take a dip in the geothermal springs if you are so inclined. While I had absolutely no desire to strip in 45 degrees, plenty of locals and tourists spent the afternoon in the warm, soothing waters – accompanied by bottles of beer, of course!

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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 #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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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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Canyonlands National Park

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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Hiking Havasu Falls: Part 4

If you missed previous installments, you can read them here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

We woke up the next morning around dawn, which was felt like 8:30 a.m. for the east coasters among us so it wasn’t so bad. Packing up all of our gear was time consuming and yet another reason to sleep in the lodge. By the time we left the camp grounds it was 7:00 a.m. It was an hour’s hike to the village with all of our gear and me stopping to take pictures. Yes, it’s a sickness.

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Now, I have to pause to tell you how brilliant I am. The Havasupai people fly people and supplies in and an out of the canyon everyday via helicopter. After I purchased a much needed and obscenely expensive diet coke, I took all of our rented gear — our sleeping bags, sleeping pads and tent — and hooked them together with some cheap climbing hooks. I handed them to the kind village man at the helicopter pad along with a $10 bill. For a mere $10, he flew our gear up in the helicopter and we picked it up at the top of the canyon. It was one of the smartest things I have ever done in my life. If you ever hike Havasu Falls and choose to camp out, I highly recommend it.

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After eating breakfast and dropping our gear off at the helicopter pad, it was already 9:00 a.m. We were off. It was a beautiful day as we made our way through the canyon floor.

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What The Boyfriend does while I take pictures…check for service.

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It didn’t occur to me until we reached the start of the grueling hike up the last 1.5 miles that there was a price to pay for our dilly-dallying. It was 1:00 p.m. and about 90 degrees with a hot and heavy sun beating down on us. I was also low on water, exhausted, and close to full-on panic mode. 1.5 miles does not seem like a lot of miles. But when it’s straight up hill, it quickly becomes an eternity. And when your brain starts saying things like: “I”m going to die here of dehydration and never get to brag about hiking the Grand Canyon,” you start to believe it.

In the end, I did not die of hydration. The Boyfriend gave me plenty of his water  and even carried my backpack for me (he’s a keeper). As we neared the top, the weather cooled thanks to the increased elevation, and when I finally collapsed on a log in the parking lot, i felt a mixture of extreme euphoria, exhaustion and pain. It was a thrilling experience, but also a grueling one. While the elevation is not that great compared to other hikes we’ve done, the heat, the lack of water, and the 17.5 miles we had hiked in order to reach that point all played a role in pushing me toward my limit.

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A map of the elevation by distance

But all the exhaustion and pain is worth it when you get to set your eyes on this awesome sight:

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One day, I’d like to return to Havasu Falls and see the beautiful blue-green waters the Havasupai people are famous for. When I do, I will be mindful of these lessons I learned.

1) Book a room at the lodge in the village months in advance.

2) Bring plenty of water – even if you think it’s too much.

3) Wear super thick hiking socks that will (hopefully) prevent blisters.

4) Bring less food.

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