Snow Canyon State Park, Utah

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A couple of weeks ago Blue Eyes and I spent a not-nearly-long-enough weekend in St. George, Utah as part of an Instameet. While our main event was some hiking in Zion National Park, we spent some time at sunset in Snow Canyon State Park, and despite it being a weekend at the beginning of the summer, this park was essentially empty. I could snap away to my heart’s content, capturing soaring red cliffs and tiny lichen clinging to the rocks.

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I love the many colors of lichen, I’ve seen minty green, lavender, orangey-red, a deep inky blue, and this bright lemon-lime. Lichen is one of the oldest and slowest growing plants on earth. Most species grow 1mm-2mm per year, some grow as little as .5 mm per year! Point five! That’s something like 4 inches in 100 years. There are some lichen in the arctic that are thousands of years old. Dah, I just love these hardy plants so much!

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Right before our trip to Southern Utah I finally splurged on a new camera, and I am so glad I did. My old Canon was 10 years old and just didn’t have enough oomph for the photos I wanted to take. Thirty seconds with my new Canon and I am in-love with photography all over again.

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Honestly, I just don’t see how I’ll ever get tired of those blazing red walls, part of my heart will forever belong in the Rocky Mountains where I grew up, and the other part lives in these fiery canyons and cliffs.

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Can we talk about this Instameet for a minute? I’ve never been to one, but have seen photos for years of various events in a number of locations. The idea is that a bunch of internet friends and strangers descend on one location for a day or a weekend, the itinerary was pretty loosey-goosey, with a few planned activities and a whole lotta time to explore on your own. Blue Eyes and I met up with old friends (Hi, Kristin!) and made a whole pile of new ones (Hi, friends!). I learned so much about the industry of travel blogging, which I wasn’t expecting and found quite intriguing. Now, I’m not a travel blogger, far from it. I love to travel, and I love to take photos, and I love to blog, but that does not a travel blogger make. However, it was really interesting to learn about how so many of these Instameet-ers make a living by traveling around the world, this was all very informal, there wasn’t, like, a break-out session on it or anything. Just by chatting with people on our hikes and such I learned so much about their lives, their travels, and their business of blogging. I’m still ruminating on all of that.

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See? More lichen. It’s my favorite.

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The sun was sinking fast, and I was scrambling to get a few more shots in before the light was too low for even my tripod. But breathing in the piney-sagey scent, and feeling the warmth and heart of red rock country…this trip was so good for my soul!

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Dah! New camera love!

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All of these photos were taken at the Petrified Sand Dunes in Snow Canyon, a super easy-peasy walk from the parking area with plenty of places to scramble and vistas and views that will take your breath away.

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This little aloe-cactus-thing was, maybe, 5 inches tall. Yup, totes in love with my new camera. I can’t believe how long I’ve survived on 12 megapixels, suddenly 24 seems like I’ve been unknowingly blind for YEARS and am finally able to see again. The detail! It’s flawless and stunning and has very little to do with me, that’s just mother nature and a proper camera.

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I would love to go exploring some more in Snow Canyon. Hopefully my next trip to St. George will have some more time among these glorious (and EMPTY) formations!

Tikal National Park, Guatemala

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When Blue Eyes and I were planning our trip to Belize I knew I wanted to spend some time on one of the northern caye’s (we chose Caye Caulker), and some time exploring some of the ancient Maya ruins in the interior. The more I looked, the more I really wanted to visit Tikal National Park in Guatemala, a few hours away. I know there are a number of amazing sites in Belize and others in Guatemala, but something about Tikal was calling to me. So, I researched various transportation options, figured out a way to get us from Caye Caulker to Flores, Guatemala, and set my sights on Tikal.

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Our guide, booked through our hotel, was AMAZING. He had a PhD in Central American archeology and spent his retirement days doing independent research, taking small groups through Tikal, and traveling to conferences to learn more about Maya culture, both ancient and current. He lived within a few miles of Tikal for most of his life and spent his childhood accompanying his archeologist father into the park. I know there is certainly something to be said for exploring such an amazing place on your own, and Tikal is ripe with places to explore. But I know I wouldn’t have had nearly the enriching experience without our super knowledgable guide.

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Tikal was built over several centuries, from about 600 BCE to the peak and eventual decline in 900 AD. Think of European cities from 900 AD, they were squalid cess-pools of plague and tribal fighting. To compare to this massive ancient city will make your jaw drop, the sheer SIZE of the various buildings is incredible, multiple stories, stone work that was covered in white plaster and painted in bright reds and yellows and blues and greens. The architectural genius of this civilization is still baffling; Blue Eyes is a civil engineer and he was amazed at so many of their inventions and strokes of genius, stuff that modern engineers are still struggling to figure out, these ancient people had perfected, without computers or power tools. This ancient world was stunning in every way.

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Many of the buildings, temples, and palaces are excavated, but there are literally hundreds more than are covered in jungle and just look like hills. I wish I had taken notes while we were wandering around the park, I have already forgotten so much of the history and detail, both of the reigning kings, the culture, the history…the layers of richness–and the quantity of information our guide was throwing around–are so amazing.

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This is part of the biggest plaza that has been excavated so far; you can climb all over these ruins, explore the rooms, and sit in the shade, your back cooling against a wall that was built 3,000 years ago. NBD.

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Part of the original Star Wars was filmed in Tikal, it stands in for the Rebel Base. And that is, literally, the least interesting thing about this place.

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The long, low buildings are palaces, mostly for living. The taller triangle-shaped pyramids are temples, which are for worship and ritual, and, to impress people, obviously. Each new king would try and build something bigger and better than the previous ruler, to show his dominance and general badassery. Dude, that strategy TOTALLY worked on me. Because, LOOK AT THEM!

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The main plaza, two enormous temples facing each other, with tiers of buildings in-between. We arrived in the park really early, but it was still oppressively hot, 108* and wicked humid with raging forest fires which turned the skies a dense, smoky white and made your lungs burn after several hours (or, after hiking a couple hundred steps to reach the top of one of the temples). We didn’t linger in many areas and I bought several bottles of water as we walked through the park.

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I kind of feel like I’m running out of ways to explain how AWESOME this place was, I was geeking out like crazy and wishing I could download all of the research on the ancient and modern Maya into my brain for reference. I have since ordered a few books (on recommendation from our guide) and I can’t wait to dig in and learn more about this amazing civilization.


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If you go: You must show your passport at the park entrance, and pay a cash-only fee of Q 150 quetzals (about $20, but they only take quetzals). Bring water and sunscreen! Bring your camera! SERIOUSLY consider taking a guided tour, we got so much back story and behind-the-scenes information, just because our guide told us where to look and then explained what we were looking at.

La Lancha, Guatemala

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I tend to max out my vacations, with a lot less of the “hang out and relax” and a lot more of the “hike this mountain! explore this national park! spend the day in these 12 museums!” While we were planning our five-year anniversary trip (and the first proper vacation we’ve taken since our honeymoon) I tried REALLY hard to maximize the relaxing part and minimize the 12 museums part. But, I was hoping we could visit Guatemala for a few days after spending most of the week in Belize. After some research on transportation and talking to Erica about a similar itinerary she took a few years ago, we decided to spend a few days in northeast Guatemala and I immediately booked our room at La Lancha Hideaway on Lake Petén Itzá, per Erica’s recommendation. This was, hands down, the best recommendation I have ever received in my entire live-long life. The two days we spent here are what swoony travel dreams are made of; the meals were some of the best I’ve ever eaten, the rooms were large and perfectly appointed, and the staff was friendly, kind, and went out of their way to ensure we had a lovely time.

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This is our little hacienda, the photos I took of the inside were somehow corrupted (I’m blaming the humidity…and maybe also the bugs?), but you can check out the interior spaces on their website. It’s a mix of modern furniture and antiques from Central America and Bali, with the most glorious textiles, an enormous luxury bathroom, and amenities up the wazoo. Seriously, the wazoo.

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You better believe that I spent some seriously quality time in this hammock with a book and a cold drink. I need more hammocks in my life. It was way hot while we were there, over 100 F plus 80-90% humidity, and we managed to be right in the middle of the burning season, the fires left a low white smoke over everything, not quite enough to sting your eyes, but enough to irritate your throat after a few hours. Visibility was really low, we could hardly see the lake, let alone the jungle on the other side. So, that was pretty disappointing, but truly the only real downside of our stay at La Lancha.

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La Lancha’s open-air dining room, which, if there wasn’t so much haze from the fires, would give you a beautiful view of Lake Petén Itzá. This space is built like the traditional Maya huts, soaring ceiling of branches and thatch supported by columns in the corners. We ate our breakfasts and dinners here, and I have never been happier with patio dining.

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Blue Eyes and I wandered all around the property, I’m glad we chose the room we did, it was a little more out-of-the-way and the chances of lost, nosey tourists clomping across our front porch was highly unlikely. (We didn’t clomp, we very carefully tiptoed and honestly didn’t see anyone in our wanderings. Aside from the packed dining room in the evenings, it honestly felt like no one else was staying here.)

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After a VERY hot and sweaty day at Tikal National Park, a dip in this cool, clear pool was so glorious! Blue Eyes and I “swam” laps for almost an hour. Ok, we slowly floated, moving just enough not to sink and not enough to exert any real effort.

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La Lancha has canoes you can borrow to go paddling on the lake, but the wind was pretty strong and after sweating all day in the heat, the last thing we wanted to do was sweat some more. The air was so hazey and the smoke smell was so strong (plus, it was still 100-ish degrees and humid), we opted for the cool water of the swimming pool instead of the lake.

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I dream of La Lancha, I would go back there in a half-minute. The two days we spent there were, easily, the most relaxing vacation days of my entire life. If we’d had more time I would have liked to check out the little town of Flores and Santa Elena, and visited some additional ruins. I can see myself going back to La Lancha, so perhaps some more exploring in Guatemala is in my future!

Scuba Diving in Belize

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Years ago I got SCUBA certified, both my Open Water and Advanced Open Water, but due to a really boring combination of circumstances, I had never actually gone diving in the ocean. Now, I don’t particularly like the beach, I don’t like sand in all my bits and I don’t like salt water in my eyes. After only diving in fresh water (and geothermal hot springs, no less), I was worried about my first foray into the actual ocean. Would I like it? Would I hate it? Would I freak out in all that WIDE OPEN water? Would I be eaten by sharks?

Mr. Blue Eyes and I talked about the possibility of diving while we were in the Caribbean, I mean, Belize is home to the second longest barrier reef in the world (Great Barrier in Australia is the biggest) and apparently has some amazing diving opportunities. Blue Eyes decided to get certified before we got there, just in case, and we decided we’d play it by ear a bit once we got to Caye Caulker.

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Blue Eyes finished up his certificate right before we left and I had done a little research on a few of the dive shops on the island, there were maybe a half-dozen options, but I was most impressed by Frenchie’s and we decided to pay them a visit once we arrived.

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One our first day on Caye Caulker we actually rode our bikes around the entire island checking out the other diving outfits, everything from a hand-painted sign tacked to someone’s carport, to a super fancy technical dive shop with a couple of their own yacht-sized boats. But after spending a few minutes talking with the staff at Frenchie’s we knew we’d come to the right place. The staff were helpful and okay with us newbie divers and promised to get us down with the turtles and tropical fish in short order. They fit us for wet suits and fins and got us tricked out with the rest of our gear. Blue Eyes and I signed up for a quick refresher course (refresher for me, old hat for him) and a couple of dives the next day. Blue Eyes INSTANTLY fell in love with diving and we ended up diving three days in a row with Frenchie’s! Totally. Worth it!

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See that? That’s me NOT freaking out under the big, vast ocean with all sorts of fishies and plants and the potential to come face to face with a SHARK and still, not freaking out. (Ok, the truth? My first several dives I was carrying WAY too much weight and I kept feeling like I was sinking…because I was literally sinking. I was having to essentially tread water to stay in one place, but I couldn’t figure out what the problem was and assumed it was just stupid anxiety. After 4 or 5 dives I finally realized I was probably just too heavy and I dropped half of the weights I was carrying (dropped into the boat, not, like, into the ocean, I’m not a monster). All of a sudden, I could float, effortlessly, and my experience was changed. I wasn’t tiring myself out by treading water for 45 minutes, and I wasn’t sucking oxygen because I was treading water…it was glorious. Note to Harriet: you need 8 pounds of weights, not 14.)

Scuba Belize 14_feistyharriet_April 2017Some areas had a lot more wildlife than others, but overall the floor (and walls!) were FULL of plants and corals and fish. Our Frenchie’s Dive Masters were really great at pointing things out, knowing where certain fish would hide or hunt, and navigating us along the reef.Scuba Belize 18_feistyharriet_April 2017

Our first two days of diving were pretty relaxed, lots of coral reefs and some amazing formations and animals. We saw green moray eels hiding in the coral, an octopus, angel fish and trumpet fish and camo fish and a zillion other brightly colored swarms that I can’t remember or name. There were crabs and lobster and conch and corals in turquoise and purple and lime green. I swam with sting rays and nurse sharks and barracuda, there were several massive spotted eagle rays (above), their wingspan is something like 8 feet. They are bigger than a dining room table and the most glorious creature I’ve ever seen. Whoever called them Majestic Flap-Flaps was on to something; these creatures are so amazing!

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The biggest dive we did was the Blue Hole, a massive submerged cave 1000 feet across with stalagtites at about 130 feet below the surface. We slowly made our way down to the hanging rock fingers and swam between them. It was dark, and murky, and there was LEGIT a freaking shark. Not a little shark (barracuda) or a harmless shark (nurse shark), but a 12 foot long Belizean Reef Shark. Ok, so maybe it’s not, like, Great White dangerous, but it is a SHARK. In 25 minutes I managed to face my three biggest fears: open water, the dark, and sharks. And I couldn’t scream and knew I couldn’t run…I just had to keep breathing. In the dark. In the ocean. With a shark. I am a freaking badass. (The Blue Hole is so deep and even though we were the first boat in for the day it was still pretty murky from kicked-up sediment, none of the photos turned out very clear, so, just believe me when I say that I came literal face-to-face with a SHARK and my heart didn’t stop or anything.

Between the Blue Hole dive and the rest of our day, Frenchie’s took us to Half Moon Caye, a tiny little island dedicated to the Belize Audubon Society. Our Dive Masters made us a traditional Belizean lunch  (rice and beans, pasta salad, fruit, spicy wings) and let us wander around for a while, stretching our legs and getting our nitrogen levels back to normal.

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I’m still dreaming of these white sand beaches and this tiny little island in the middle of miles of turquoise water.

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On our way back to Caye Caulker we had one more dive, The Aquarium. Honestly, it is just what it sounds like, a peep show at a zillion fish in their super gorgeous natural habitat.

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I think that big gaping hole is a coral tube? They were everywhere, some tiny ones, some that were several feet across and a hiding place for little creatures and home to colorful sea anemones.

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This last dive was amazing, another spotted eagle ray and a big ole turtle, just hanging out with us divers (that’s me on the right of Ms. Turtle). This wasn’t the biggest turtle we saw, but she was the most stationary. One of our earlier dives brought me face to face with a massive loggerhead, over 5 feet long and covered in barnacles and wrinkles, just like the Old Man of the Sea, poking his wizened head over the reef wall, seeing a bunch of us in his pool, and slowly swimming away towards less touristy waters, I assume.



PS. All these photos were taken with a GoPro, it’s tricky to take a photo underwater with low light and you floating around not staying still. Also, without a red underwater filter, most of the colors are far more chartreuse than they should be and my editing skills are not quite up to the challenge of combatting chartreuse. Some of these are from Mr. Blue Eyes’ GoPro, others from Jen from Australia. Thanks Jen!

Caye Caulker, Belize

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Want to hear my version of paradise? You better belize that it involves a tiny little island in the Caribbean, one so small that there are literally only three named roads: Front Street, Middle Street, and Back Street. Those roads aren’t really “streets” at all, but white sand packed hard from years of bare feet and beach cruiser bicycles taking residents and visitors from beach to bar and back to the beach. There are fresh fish tacos and shrimp ceviche and whole white fish with fins and eyes and everything still attached for sale at every restaurant, most food has some kind of Mexican-Central American flavor, or maybe a Chinsee-Arab-Kriole infusion that is both familiar and completely out of this world. The pace of life in this paradise is much, much slower than anywhere you’ve been before; the island motto is, literally, Go Slow. Also, this particular paradise is located in a country with an advertising campaign focused on how many ways you can use Belize as a pun for believe. Frankly, it is unbelizeable how much this word-nerd (points at self with both thumbs) swooned over ridiculous puns in paradise.

Caye Caulker (pronounced Key Caw-ker) is a tiny island off the northern coast of Belize and located just inside the barrier reef that runs along the Yucatan south towards Panama, it’s the second longest barrier reef in the world (and not to be confused with the Australian Great Barrier Reef, capitalized because that is it’s proper name). Caye Caulker is famous for being perfect for backpackers, a little rough around the edges with an unpolished tourism scene, and overall ridiculously low-key. Honestly, it was a perfect place to start our trip and I would go back in a heartbeat.

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This? This is the busiest street on the island, Front Street, at 2:00 in the afternoon. This sleepy island did so much to help me chill out, relax, and just go with the very laid-back flow.

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On the days we weren’t diving along the reef, we spent a lot of time riding bicycles around the island, lounging in the shade, and trying to decide where I’d get my next burrito and pina colada. It was REAL rough, ya’ll.

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The only downside to Caye Caulker was the humidity, I mean, it’s a sub-tropical island in the Caribbean, OF COURSE it will have humidity. I actually didn’t mind it too much until it was time to go to sleep, despite an AC unit in our AirBnB it was always a little muggy and too warm for my taste. But hey, if that’s your only real complaint? Frankly, sounds like a lovely way to spend a week, right? (Answer: you better belize it!) (Sorry/NotSorry)

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I think our two favorite restaurants were the Rainbow Bar & Grill, and Habanero’s, which had the most amazing Caye Lime Pie of my entire life (see? More puns! I love Belize!)

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I’m still sorting through my pictures of our SCUBA diving adventures, which I’ll post soon! Caye Caulker was amazing, you should definitely go visit at the next possible chance!