Layering for Winter Adventures

Layering for Winter Adventures

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It’s already snowed a few times in the midwest, so now is the time to think about how to stay warm during winter adventures. The best way to keep up your body temperature when you’re out hiking, snowshoeing, skiing, or doing anything else outdoors, is to layer properly.

The key to dressing in layers is knowing what each layer looks like and is for.

Base Layer

The base layer is your first layer of clothing, worn next to your skin.

Designed for skiing, Meetyoo’s thermal compression set is a great option for a lower-priced base layer. The moisture wicking, breathable fabric has four-way stretch, making it perfect for any activity.

I love all the bright colors Under Armour’s mockneck longsleeve comes in! This top is made from brushback knit fabric, so it maintains breathability without sacrificing warmth. Four-way stretch and anti-microbial technology mean this top will be comfortable and odor-free through snowshoeing, skiing, or anything else you’re up to.

This Burton Long-Neck Top is made from breathable, wicking fabric to make it super quick-drying. 360° stretch fabric makes it easy to move for outdoor sports and activities. An Agion antimicrobial finish fights odors, so this top will keep smelling fresh no matter how sweaty you get. My favorite thing about this top is that it’s extra long and the sleeves have thumb-holes, so you don’t have to worry about the fabric riding up and exposing skin on those extra cold days.

Mid Layer

The mid layer provides warmth and some weather protection. Different materials offer different degrees of warmth and weather protection, so be sure to choose a material that best fits your needs.

Fleece, a common material for a mid layer, is a comfortable, warm, and breathable mid layer, but doesn’t offer as much protection in damp conditions as other materials, such as hardfleece or synthetic fibers.

Amazon Essentials’ Quarter-Zip Polar Fleece is a great lower-priced option for a mid layer. With 18 cute colors and patterns, this top makes it easy to stay stylish without sacrificing warmth.


Columbia’s Basin Trail Fleece Pullover features a cowl neck and toasty warm pockets to keep your neck and hands warm. Made from anti-pill microfleece, this hoodie’s long length means you don’t have to worry about it riding up and leaving your waist exposed.

The North Face Crescent Hooded Pullover is a synthetic fleece made from recycled materials. In addition to being more eco friendly, I love the zippered pockets that provide security for whatever items you’re carrying. Although it’s a warm and heavyweight mid layer, it doesn’t offer much wind protection.

Insulating Layer

The insulating layer is what’s going to keep you the warmest on the coldest days. The most common materials for an insulating layer are down or synthetics. Down is warmer and more lightweight than synthetics, but doesn’t offer as much protection from the elements.

This Ultra Lightweight Short Down Jacket from Wantdo is filled with 80% duck down and 20% feather insulation. The nylon shell is coated with a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) finish to keep you dry in the snow. Elastic bands on the waist and wrist cuffs keep the warmth in. This jacket also features an interior pocket and a loop on the left shoulder designed to keep your earbuds easily accessible. This compact jacket can be packed down into an included pouch for easy storage.

 Columbia’s Lake 22 Down Jacket features down insulation and a water-resistant shell, keeping you warm and dry. The Heat Seal construction keeps the down filling from migrating, so every inch of this jacket will maintain warmth through any outdoor adventure.


The North Face Thermoball Jacket is water-resistant and has secure zippers and elastic wrist cuffs to keep out the cold. This jacket is also compact enough that it can be packed into its own hand pocket, perfect for those winter hiking trips when extra layers are necessary, but can be a hassle to carry.

Outer Shell Layer

A weather protective layer, the outer shell layer is what keeps you dry in the snow or rain and protects from harsh winds.

This Wantdo Ski Jacket has a water repellent coating and a drawcord waist and hood to keep in warmth. An internal pocket is designed to keep your earbuds easily accessible.

 Columbia’s Kruser Ridge II Softshell Jacket features comfort stretch technology and is water and wind resistant, perfect for any outdoor adventure.

The Arc’teryx Nodin Jacket is designed with minimalism in mind. It’s ultralight, fitting perfectly into any pack or bag when you don’t need it. A pouch in the collar keeps the hood out of the way when not in use. The 20D Tyono™ fabric keeps the jacket breathable while still providing protection from the wind, and a DWR coating keeps you dry.

You don’t need to have every single one of these layers in every outfit you wear outdoors. Sometimes you may not need an insulating layer between your mid layer and your outer shell layer, and sometimes you’ll be fine wearing just a base layer and a mid layer. The key is in making sure to check the weather and dress appropriately to stay safe and have fun on every adventure.


4 Women’s Gloves Perfect for Below Freezing Weather

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Winter in the Midwest is nothing to scoff at, especially with rumors of the polar vortex coming for a second year in a row. As a woman with tiny hands, something I struggle with every year is finding the perfect gloves. My unicorn gloves will keep my hands warm as I shovel snow in below freezing temperatures without being so oversized on me that they just get in the way.

After hours of research, I’ve found four pairs of gloves that will keep my hands and yours warm and dry during the brutal winter months.

Andorra Thinsulate Ski Gloves

These Andorra Ski Gloves are so warm and come in so many cute colors! They’re also touchscreen compatible and have a zippered pocket to keep small items like keys safe while you’re shoveling.

Anqier Winter Gloves

Anqier’s Winter Gloves are insulated with thinsulate and cotton to trap your body heat more efficiently, keeping your hands warm on the coldest days. They have durable polyurethane (PU) palms so you don’t have to worry about losing your grip on your ice scraper.

Want to keep the rest of your body warm on cold days? Layering is key!

Unigear Ski Gloves

These ski gloves from Unigear are super water-resistant, with a durable water repellent (DWR) shell and PU palms. The Primaloft insulation will keep your hands warmer longer for those extra cold days.

Galexia Zero Thinsulate Lined Ski Gloves

These Galexia Zero Gloves come in so many colors and patterns, so you never have to worry about someone “accidentally” walking off with your super warm gloves. Touch-screen capable fingers and non-slip grip palms make these perfect for those days when you have to wait in the cold for your car to warm up.

With temperatures dropping and snow falling, it’s important to make sure you have the right equipment before the weather gets dangerous. Don’t get caught in subfreezing temperatures with subpar gloves!


Kayaker Apostle Islands National Lakeshore via Flickr by Tim Wilson

3 Ways to Get Active in Wisconsin This Summer

Winter is finally over and it’s time to get active again! With state parks and natural areas featuring hundreds of hiking trails and bike paths, Wisconsin is a great place to explore the outdoors. However, without the limitations of a trail, there is so much more to discover. Leaving the trails behind can lead you to experiencing truly unique things and give you a view of nature that you’ve never seen before.

Ready to go beyond the basics? Here are three outdoor sports to get you off the beaten path.

Rock Climbing


Image via Flickr by Brady Wieland

Rock climbing is a great way to get off the trails and immerse yourself in nature. You can go almost anywhere in the state and find climbing areas, but Devil’s Lake State Park is by far the most popular climbing spot with thousands of climbs for every skill level.

There are plenty of rock climbing gyms and climbing guides in Wisconsin to help you get started. Joining a gym is a great way to ease yourself into the sport and build your confidence if you’re not quite ready to scale a rock formation, while a climbing guide will help you jump right in and have you up a bluff in no time. Either way, you’ll be sure to meet new climbing buddies and make lasting memories.



Image via Flickr by Tim Wilson

Wisconsin is bordered by Lake Superior and Lake Michigan and has more than 15,000 lakes and 43,000 miles of rivers, meaning there are plenty of places to go kayaking.

Water trails can take you to campsites that are otherwise inaccessible, making your camping trip an exclusive event. Lake Michigan and Lake Superior both feature water trails and several state parks and forests have marked water trails or water trails that are unmarked, but can be found on a map.

Don’t have your own kayak? The Travel Wisconsin website can help you find the perfect place to rent one. Buckhorn, Council Grounds, Devil’s Lake, Mirror Lake, and Perrot State Parks all offer adaptive kayak rentals so a disability won’t slow you down.

Scuba Diving


Image via Flickr by Robert Hornung

Scuba diving is a pricy sport, but well worth the cost for a chance to visit the underwater world.

A quick online search can point you toward a scuba shop near you where you can sign up for lessons. A mixture of classroom work and practice in a pool will have you ready to hit the lake for your certification dives in just a few weekends.

Once you’re certified, all you need is some equipment and a dive buddy and you’re ready to explore the world below the water’s surface. If you’re not ready to buy your own gear, you can rent everything at your local scuba shop whenever you have a dive planned. You can find a dive buddy by having a friend take lessons with you, meeting someone in your scuba class, or just by hanging out at your dive shop.

There’s so much of Wisconsin that can’t be seen from a  hiking trail or bike path. There are plenty of sports that will help you immerse yourself in nature. Rock climbing, kayaking, and scuba diving are just a few ways to begin a life of adventure.

Holly Geraldson Bucket List Adventures Kauai Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash @jakobowens1

Planning a Trip to Kauai

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Hawaii is one of my favorite places to visit. I spent a semester in college living in Honolulu and my mom and I took a hiking trip to Maui and Lanai a few years ago. One of my biggest goals in life is to visit every island in Hawaii.

Hawaii is six hours from the west coast. Check out my carry-on packing list to make your flight a breeze.

Since I’ve already been to Oahu, Maui, and Lanai, that leaves three more major islands: Molokai, the Big Island, and Kauai.

A few months ago, I saw a video on Facebook about a sugar plantation irrigation system that had been made into a tube run on Kauai. Since then, Kauai has been at the top of my list of where I want to travel to next.

Follow me on Facebook to keep up with my adventures.

When I’ll Go

Kauai Garden Isle Waterfall Aerial photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash @jakobowens1

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

Kauai, the Garden Isle, is the wettest of the Hawaiian Islands. This damp climate makes the island lush and beautiful, but it also makes some parts of the year better times to visit than others. Spring and fall are arguably the best times to visit, because it isn’t too wet and it isn’t too hot and there aren’t too many crowds, but I plan on visiting in winter. November through March is the rainy season on Kauai, but it’s also humpback whale migration season. I’ve never seen a whale in real life, so I’m excited to have to chance to spot some.

Where I’ll Stay

There are four major areas on Kauai to choose from: the North Shore, the South Shore, the West Side, and the East Coast, or Coconut Coast. The Guide of US: Hawaii website lists the pros and cons of each area.

The Coconut Coast sounds perfect for me. It has plenty to do, from learning about Hawaiian culture to trying out new activities, but it’s also a convenient spot if you want to explore the whole island.

The Coconut Coast has plenty of big hotels and resorts if that’s your thing. I like the charm of something a little smaller. Fern Grotto Inn in Kapaa looks adorable and has great reviews on Yelp. The plantation cottages are located along the Wailua River and have bikes, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and beach gear for guests to borrow. There are no restaurants on the property and breakfast isn’t served, but each cottage has a full kitchen or kitchenette so you can feel a little less like you’re on vacation and a little more like Kauai is your home.

What I’ll Do


That video of tubing down a sugar plantation’s irrigation system is what shot Kauai to the top of my list of places I want to go.  Kauai Backcountry Adventures offers zipline adventures as well as tubing. Their mission of providing eco-tourism activities means you can have fun without worrying about hurting the environment. Kauai Backcountry Adventures helped restore the plantation irrigation system that is used for their Mountain Tubing Adventure, so you can learn about the Kauaian history they’ve helped preserve as you float down the canals.


If you love the outdoors, Kauai is the best island in Hawaii for you. There are hundreds of hiking trails on Kauai, so it’s easy to find a place to explore no matter your skill level.

Sleeping Giant Trail

The Sleeping Giant Trail, or Nounou Trail, on Nounou Mountain is only 2 miles to a picnic area, but it’s far from easy. There’s a 1,000 foot elevation gain and the trail can be hazardous, especially when it’s wet. From afar, you’ll be able to make out the sleeping giant who forms the mountain. Legend says the giant was tricked by villagers into eating rocks hidden in fish. He fell asleep after the meal and still hasn’t awoken. The trail switchbacks up the mountain to the giant’s chest, where you can stop for lunch and admire the breathtaking views of the island and the ocean.

Kalalau Trail

Kauai Na Pali Coast Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash @jakobowens1

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

The Kalalau Trail in Napali Coast State Wilderness Park is one of the most difficult and dangerous trails in Hawaii, but also one of the most rewarding. The 11 mile long trail has an 800 foot elevation gain and some of the most beautiful views in the world. The trail, originally built in the 1800s and rebuilt in the 1930s, begins begins at Haena State Park and winds through five valleys before ending at Kalalau Beach.

The first part of the trail is a 2 mile day hike to Hanakapiai Beach. Even though it’s only 2 miles, this part of the trail isn’t easy. It crosses the Hanakapiai River, which meets the ocean, causing dangerous currents. Swimming in the ocean or the river can be dangerous and plenty of people have drowned here.

Beyond Hanakapiai Valley, you must have an overnight camping permit. There are campsites at Hanakoa and Kalalau, and while it’s possible for experienced hikers to reach Kalalau in one day, it may be better to take your time and stop at Hanakoa overnight. Remember, you’ll be hiking along switchbacks into and out of valleys and along dangerous ridges while carrying heavy gear. Stay safe and enjoy the views.

NOTE: The Napali Coast State Wilderness Park, including the Kalalau Trail, are currently closed due to flood damage. The Milolii section of the park will be reopened soon, but most of the park will remain closed for at least three months until repairs can be done.

Kuilau Ridge Trail

If you’re looking for an easier trail, Kuilau Ridge beginning in the Keahua Arboretum may be right for you. The trail is just over 2 miles each way and an elevation gain of just under 500 feet. While it doesn’t have the spectacular views of other, more intense trails, it does have plenty of beautiful native and non-native plants to admire and birds and other wildlife to watch for, as well as views of Mt. Waialeale, arguably the wettest place on earth. A small wooden bridge marks the end of the Kuilau Ridge Trail, but you can continue on the marked path that becomes the Moalepe Trail.

Don’t forget to dress appropriately and bring food and lots of water for your hike. Before any hike, you should always check the weather and let someone know where you’re going and what time you plan to be back.

Snorkeling & Diving

Honu Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle Kauai Hawaii Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash @tentides

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

If you’ve never been snorkeling before, Lydgate Park is a safe and fun place to practice your skills. However, it’s very popular and there isn’t much to see besides fish. If you’re a more confident snorkeler, Nualolo Kai on the Na Pali coast is an incredible place with so much to see. The beach is protected by a barrier reef featuring lots of healthy coral as well as plenty of fish. You may even see some monk seals lounging on the beach. Not all tours go to Naulolo Kai, so be sure to book with one that does. If you’re looking for an adventure beyond just snorkeling, Kauai Sea Tours’ Na Pali Coast Snorkel Raft Adventure will take you into sea caves and under waterfalls as you learn about some of Kauai’s history and legends.

If you have your scuba certification, Kauai has lots to see under water. Since Kauai is the oldest of the Hawaiian Islands, its reefs have had more time to develop than the other islands, giving it rich biodiversity. Humpback whales, spotted eagle rays, and manta rays can be seen in the winter, and there are plenty of tropical fish and sharks to see. What I’m most excited about, however, are the honu, or Hawaiian green sea turtle. My mom and I saw a few when we were snorkeling on Maui, but other tourists quickly chased them off before we could really admire them or get some pictures. Remember, wildlife should be enjoyed from afar and not interfered with!

There are plenty of dive shops on Kauai to help you get in the water. PADI‘s Find A Dive Shop search makes it really easy to find a Five Star Dive Center or Resort wherever you go. Seasport Divers caters to all skill levels, whether you’ve been diving for years or are just dipping your toes into the water. They even have different charter trips for divers of different skill levels. If you have plenty of experience, you can head out on the morning trip, but if you’re new to diving or less confident in your skills, the afternoon trip is for you. On Tuesdays and Fridays, Seasport Divers also offers a trip for experienced divers to Niihau, the Forbidden Island, which is privately owned and off-limits to most people. If you’re not yet certified or, like me, haven’t been diving in a while, you’ll still be able to get a few dives in after some lessons in the pool. You can even get the ultimate souvenir by completing your Open Water certification in Kauai!

Whale Watching

Humpback Whale Breaching Photo by Amy Humphries on Unsplash @amyjoyhumphries

Photo by Amy Humphries on Unsplash

Winter is whale watching season on Kauai. The kohola, or humpback whales, spend December through May in Hawaii’s warm waters breeding and giving birth to calves. While there are plenty of vantage points to see the whales from the shore, a tour or charter boat can get you up close (but not too close!) to these playful giants. Blue Dolphin Kauai‘s whale watching tours also offer hydrophones, so you can hear the whales talking as well as seeing them play.


Surfer Photo by Ryan Magsino on Unsplash @rymagsino

Photo by Ryan Magsino on Unsplash

Even though I’ve been to Hawaii a few times, I’ve never tried surfing. I’m used to calm lake waters, so the idea of intentionally going out into the waves seems scary. However, just because something is scary, doesn’t mean it isn’t fun, and I always like to challenge myself and try new things.

There are a lot of places that offer surfing lessons all over the island, but some of the best reviews I’ve seen are for Learn to Surf on the East Shore. Lessons last an hour and a half and kids as young as 5 can participate, so this is a great way to spend the morning having fun with your family.

You can surf the Great Lakes! Read my article about lake surfing here.


Kayaking is an amazing way to experience Kauai, but it isn’t for everyone. If you’re prepared for a challenging adventure, Kayak Kauai has several options for ocean tours. Spend a few hours, a day, or several days exploring Kauai’s beautiful coastline from the water. Be aware that tours can change or be canceled due to weather. The one-day tour of the Na Pali coast is not offered in fall or winter.

If you’re not quite up to kayaking in the ocean, Kayak Kauai also offers a tour on the Wailua River to Wailua Falls. This kayaking and hiking tour is much more relaxing than the ocean kayaking tours, making it perfect if you’re looking for a less strenuous adventure.

NOTE: As mentioned with the Kalalau Trail above, flooding has altered access to many areas on Kauai, which affects some of these tours. Always check the website for any tour you plan on booking or call the company to get the latest information on any tour changes.

Don’t forget to pack…



Badger Balm Sunscreen is reef safe, so you know coral will be as safe from you as you are from the sun when you hit the beach. Most sunscreens contain oxybenzone, butylparaben, octinoxate, or 4-methylbenzylidene camphor, all of which damage coral reefs. Always check the ingredients before purchasing sunscreen to be sure you’re doing your part to protect our environment.

A cute swimsuit


Any time there’s a beach, a cute swimsuit is important. Whether you’re playing in the water or laying on the sand reading some trashy romance novel with Fabio on the cover, you want to look good.

This adorable one piece from Eomenie has adjustable straps, so there are several different options for how to wear it. I love switching it up, so this suit is great for when you want to pack light, but have a new look every day.

I love halter tops, so this beautyin bikini caught my eye when I was searching for swimsuits. It comes in several different floral patterns, but the one constant is the adorable striped top.

Can you tell I like stripes? This Cupshe bandeau one piece is so cute! You can wear it strapless or with the removable halter if you’re like me and need a little extra support.

Water shoes

If you’re going tubing, you’re going to need water shoes. These ALEADER water shoes are actually pretty cute, which is not something you expect from water shoes. They’re also sturdy, so they can hold up to any adventure you take them on.

An Underwater Camera


There’s so much to see beneath the surface in Kauai and you should have a camera that can capture it all. The camera I use right now is a GoPro, which is great for when you want to focus on the experience and worry about what you got on film later. If you’re looking for more control of your images and footage, a SeaLife camera is a great option that has plenty of add-ons so you can customize your camera for your exact needs.

What does your dream vacation look like? Let me know where you’d go and what you’d do in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

Travel Tips Header Image Girl Sitting with Backpack Stock Photo

How to Pack Your Carry-On Bag Like a Champ

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more info.

I travel a lot, which means I fly a decent amount. One of the worst parts of flying is figuring out how to pack  your carry-on bag perfectly so you’re not bored during the flight, but you also don’t have a lot of stuff you don’t actually need to carry around the airport.

I’m definitely an overpacker, so lately I’ve been working on honing my carry-on list down to the absolute essentials. Here’s everything that I bring on an airplane, and you should too.

The bag

Right now my carry-on backpack is one that I’ve had since college. It’s still a nice backpack, and has held up great, but it really is more for school than for travel. After 8 years, the stitching is starting to fray as well, so I’m worried a strap will break while I’m running for a flight one day.

I’ve had my eye on this Matein backpack as a replacement. It’s got so many pockets that are perfect for organizing your things while you travel, and even though it looks small, it’s big enough to fit a 15 inch laptop.

That black feature on the side between the two big pockets is a charging port. You plug your power bank into the inside and your phone into the outside, and then you can charge as you’re walking.

The back has a luggage strap, so you can hook the backpack over your suitcase handle and not have to carry it once you’ve picked up your luggage at your destination.

The Entertainment

I always have my phone and ipad when I travel, so I always have games to play or books on my kindle app. I also like to bring a physical book on a plane even though it takes up space in my bag.

My favorite book is American Gods by Neil Gaiman. It’s got the fantasy element that I love and it’s also set in the midwest, so I love when the characters go to places that I know. It’s kind of long, so it’s great for a long plane ride and since I love to read it over and over, I don’t need to bring any other books.

The Accessories

One thing I hate that always ends up happening is my headphones getting tangled. I have to spend so much time untangling them and getting them tangled up means they’re more likely to break. Luckily, I found this headphone wrap from Hide & Drink. I love how easy it is to wrap your headphones to keep them from tangling and it comes in somanycutecolors. The key ring means you can stick this anywhere and it will stay there so you never have to dig through your backpack for your headphones again.

These iPhone chargers are the best ones I’ve ever gotten. I usually manage to break charger cables within a few months, but I’ve had these for over a year and they’re going strong. It’s super handy that there are four cables in three lengths, but for a flight you only need a 3ft cable.

If you have a short flight on a cheap airline, there’s no place to charge your phone or iPad on the plane. I use my phone and iPad for everything, especially for keeping myself occupied on a flight, so after a few hours my batteries are pretty dead on both. Having a power bank in my backpack is an absolute must, and this one from Poweradd is not only super pretty, but it also can charge your phone several times before needing to be recharged itself.

Finding a place to charge all your things before you take off is a great way to save on how much you’re using your power bank. The worst thing about airports is having a long layover and not being able to find a place to plug in all your electronics. This cute power strip makes it easy to charge everything as long as you can find one open outlet. I usually have my iPad and my phone and sometimes my computer as well when I’m traveling, so I love that I can charge everything at once with this little guy.

You need a reusable water bottle for the plane. Just make sure it’s empty when you go through security and fill it at a water fountain once you’re through. This Under Armour bottle is my favorite for airports. At 18oz, it’s a smaller than a CamelBak water bottle, which comes between 20oz and 32oz, but it’s a lot better for air travel. When the plane is taking off and landing, pressure changes force water up the straw in the CamelBak bottle and it dribbles all over everything. The Under Armour bottle doesn’t have a straw for water to be forced up and it has a locking cap to keep your water inside instead of all over your stuff.

The Clothes

You should always have an extra outfit in your carry-on in case your suitcases get lost by the airline. I like to bring three extra pairs of socks and underwear, a tshirt, and a pair of jeans. Layers are great, but I hate bringing sweatshirts in my carry-on because they’re bulky and take up so much space if you’re not wearing them.

A jacket is a great layer to bring instead of a sweatshirt. I love utility jackets like this ViiViiKay anorak because they have so many pockets for when you’re arriving at the airport or going through customs and need your ID and boarding pass easily accessible a lot.

The Toiletries

You’re going to need the basics, like your toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, mouthwash, hairbrush, and comb. Every Walgreens, Wal-Mart, Target, or similar store has a travel section, so these are easy to find. What’s more important is finding the right containers for everything else.

Having the right toiletries is super important to me. The wrong products will ruin my skin and hair and hotels don’t even have conditioner half the time, let alone one that will work for me. This travel set is adorable and also made of silicone, so it won’t break easily like plastic travel-size bottles do.

Keeping my (non-liquid) makeup organized is an important part of traveling too. Nothing is worse than getting somewhere and not being able to find my eyeliner or the right brush. I love this makeup bag because it’s not too bulky and it has pockets for everything I need. The big pocket is great for my actual makeup products, while the smaller pocket has a mirror, a pouch for things like wipes, cotton balls, and qtips, and slots to keep my brushes organized.

The Snacks

Besides books and entertainment, snacks are the most important thing in my backpack.

I love KIND bars. I’m pretty sure no granola bar is actually healthy, but I like that they’ve got all the gluten free and super grains information on the packaging so I can pretend these bars are healthy. They’re probably a lot more healthy than any other granola bar. I don’t think it helps that I like the peanut butter and dark chocolate ones, but at least I’m getting antioxidants from the chocolate.

I also love fruit leather and Stretch Island is my jam. These strips are really small, but individually they’re around $.59 each, so they’re not expensive. I think they’re actually healthy since they’re made from 100% juice. This variety pack has apple, apricot, cherry, grape, raspberry, and strawberry flavors. I’ll probably have eaten all of them before takeoff.

Did I miss anything that’s a must-bring on your packing list? Let me know in the comments what your favorite products for flying are.

Travel Diaries Lake Washington Arboretum Waterfront Trail Header Image

Walking the Lake Washington Arboretum Waterfront Trail

Recently I took a trip to Seattle to visit my friend Steven. He’s lived there for a little while now, and while spring isn’t the best time to get outside and do things, he was excited to show me around.

Sign at the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle, WA Trail along Lake Washington

One of the first places he took me is the Washington Park Arboretum, which is super pretty. My favorite part of the trip was the Arboretum Waterfront Trail along the edge of Lake Washington.

Map and information about the Arboretum Waterfront Trail near the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle, WA

The trail is a 1/2 mile long. Most of it is pretty muddy and the parts that aren’t are floating walkways that allow you to walk across the water from Foster Island to Marsh Island.

Steven walking along the muddy Arboretum Waterfront Trail in the marsh along Lake Washington near the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle, WA

The Arboretum Waterfront Trail is in the largest wetland in Seattle, hence all the mud. The floating walkways give beautiful views of Lake Washington, but a lot of the trail is actually in the marshes on the lake’s edge. Willow and birch trees hide the lake from view in these areas, but there’s still plenty to see. If you watch carefully, you may spot some dragonflies, marsh wrens, or even a turtle.

Sign showing prohibited activities on the Arboretum Waterfront Trail along Lake Washington near the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle, WA

The marsh is a fragile environment, so bikes, runners, and dogs are not allowed.

Since the trail is all mud and floating walkways, it’s not accessible for wheelchairs or strollers and you should be prepared to get a little dirty.

Holly standing on the steps of the raised observation platform overlooking Lake Washington on the Arboretum Waterfront Trail near the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle, WA

There is a raised observation platform on Foster Island as well as several other platforms on Marsh Island, but they don’t look very well maintained. Steven assured me that the observation platform was *probably* safe, but the wood looked like it would give way at any moment, so I didn’t want to risk going all the way up to the platform. Even getting on the steps was tricky, since there was a mud pit in front of the platform and the bottom step was missing.

A bench in the marsh on Marsh Island in Lake Washington on the Arboretum Waterfront Trail near the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle, WA

The benches along the trail looked just as dilapidated and unsafe as the platforms.

Save This Trail sign from Seattle Parks and Recreation for the Arboretum Waterfront Trail along Lake Washington near the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle, WA

At the end of the trail is a sign from Seattle Parks and Recreation asking for help in preserving and improving the trail. If you’ve used the Arboretum Waterfront Trail, be sure to take the survey about how often you go, your favorite activities, and how to improve the trail, or email with how you would like to see the trail preserved or improved.

Travel Diaries Header Washington Park Arboretum Seattle

Exploring the Washington Park Arboretum

Recently I took a trip to Seattle to visit my friend Steven. He’s lived there for a little while now, and while spring isn’t the best time to get outside and do things, he was excited to show me around.

Steven at the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle, WA.

One of the first places we went was the Washington Park Arboretum, right next to Lake Washington.


The Washington Park Arboretum was established by the University of Washington’s Board of Regents and the City of Seattle in 1934. Originally named the University of Washington Arboretum, it became the Washington Park Arboretum in 1974.

The Arboretum was originally designed by James Dawson and Fredrick Law Olmsted, Jr. of the Olmsted Brothers firm as an ordered taxonomic system. The plants were ordered from most primitive to most advanced in order to help students and scientists study plant evolution. However, this system did not take into consideration the needs of the different plant types and many of the plants and trees ended up in environments they could not thrive in. In 1947, director Brian O. Mulligan stepped in and moved many of the plants to more suitable environments.

Through the years, more and more gardens have been added to the Arboretum.

In 1949, Mulligan added a winter garden, now known as the Joseph A. Witt Winter Garden, featuring cedar and fir trees, along with Chinese witchhazel, daphnes, rhododendrons, and many more plants that thrive in winter.

The Japanese Garden was completed in 1960 and is one of the best Japanese gardens in North America. In addition to the beautiful garden itself, the Japanese Garden also offers the experience of a tea ceremony. It is the only part of the Arboretum that has an entrance fee.

Pacific Connections Garden Sign at Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle, WA

My favorite part of the Arboretum is the most recent addition. The Pacific Connections Garden features plants from Cascadia, Chile, China, Australia, and New Zealand. The New Zealand forest alone has almost 10,000 plants. The garden also has an audio tour that can be found on the Pacific Connections Garden page on the University of Washington Botanic Gardens website.

The Arboretum is currently jointly managed by the University of Washington Botanic Gardens, the City of Seattle, and the Arboretum Foundation.

Environment & Wildlife

The 230 acre park is home to one of the Northern Hemisphere’s biggest collections of temperate trees and plants.

Work on the park’s newest trail, the Arboretum Loop Trail, has uncovered a stretch of Arboretum Creek that previously flowed through pipes underground. This and other restoration work done during the project has helped create more habitats for wildlife in the natural wetlands.

The Arboretum is a great place for bird watching. The wet and temperate environment provides a home to hundreds of bird species, including my favorite, the American Coot, as well as Bald Eagles, Ospreys, Trumpeter Swans, Anna’s Hummingbirds, Pacific Wrens, and many others.


Holly Walking on a trail at the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle, WA

The Washington Arboretum has several miles of trails throughout its 230 acres, most of which are paved.

The Arboretum Loop Trail, which opened in April, is one of the best ways to explore the Arboretum. The 2 mile trail is entirely paved and features several bridges over Arboretum Creek. The restoration work done during construction of the trail has helped increase the wildlife activity in the area, as well as allowing visitors to see previously hidden plants.

Hours & Fees

Most of the Arboretum is free to visit and is open all day. The Visitors Center is open from 9am to 5pm daily.

The Japanese Garden at the southern end of the Arboretum does have an entrance fee, which is $8 for adults, $6 for Seattle residents (have your ID!), and $4 for children, senior citizens, college students (have your ID!) and disabled persons. Admission is free on the first Thursday of every month from 3pm until closing and anytime for children 5 or younger.

The Japanese Garden opens at noon every Monday and 10am Tuesday-Sunday. It closes at 4pm, 5pm, 6pm or 7pm depending on the month. Guided tours are at 12:30pm every day April through October and are included with the price of admission.


Wizarding World of Harry Potter via Flickr by Diana Kelly

What’s on My Bucket List? Harry Potter World

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more info.

Like most 20-something year olds, I love Harry Potter. I love the magic and adventure of the books and movies, and I especially love that the Wizarding World has become so popular that I really can immerse myself in it.

Thanks to Pottermore, I know my Hogwarts House:

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My patronus:

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I am not happy about this.

What kind of wand I would have:

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I know, it’s disappointing that it’s not made of Holly.

And my Ilvermorny House:

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For several years, Pottermore was the best way to immerse myself in the Wizarding World. But that’s all changed now. Now there is Harry Potter World.


Image via Flickr by Diana Kelly

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter initially opened Hogsmeade in Universal’s Islands of Adventure in 2010 and was expanded to Diagon Alley in Universal Studios Florida in 2014, but rumors of a Harry Potter theme park had been swirling since the early 2000s, when I was still in high school. By the time the park opened, I was ready for it.

Getting there was more of a problem. I was a broke college kid in Wisconsin. Flying to Florida and spending thousands of dollars on a hotel, theme park tickets, souvenirs, and more wasn’t with in my budget.

Another Wizarding World opened at Universal Studios Japan in 2014 and another at Universal Studios Hollywood in 2016. Still, I haven’t had the opportunity to go to any of them.

I’ve spent the years I’ve been dreaming of visiting Harry Potter World coming up with a plan for the perfect trip.

The Plan

My birthday is a few months away and I would love to spend it in Harry Potter World.

The two parks at Univeral Orlando Resort are the original Wizarding World, the biggest, and from what I’ve heard, the best, so obviously I’m going there. In addition to Universal’s Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida, Universal Orlando Resort also has a third park, Universal’s Volcano Bay Water Theme Park, so even if I get bored with Harry Potter World, there’s still plenty to experience.

Diagon Alley

If you want the full Wizarding World experience, you may want to make Gringott’s Money Exchange your first stop in Diagon Alley. Here you can exchange your muggle money for Gringott’s bank notes that can be spent in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade as well as a few other places throughout Universal Orlando.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter Ollivanders Wand

Getting a wand will be my first priority once I land in Orlando. It is possible to order your wand beforehand so you can already have it when you arrive, but I want to get the full experience. I’m heading straight to Ollivanders to get an interactive wand so I can cast spells.

Pottermore told me I would have a wand made of cypress wood, but Harry Potter World doesn’t have a cypress wood wand (not even a replica of Remus Lupin’s wand). I’ll have to settle for either a Holly wand, because that is me, or a Vine wand, because that is the wood corresponding with my birthday.

In addition to the Ollivanders in Diagon Alley, there is a smaller one in Hogsmeade. One commenter on the Hogsmeade Ollivanders page on Universal Orlando’s website says that the wand-choosing ceremony is slightly different in Hogsmeade than in Diagon Alley, so it may be worth it to go see both.

Another option for getting your wand that may be less crowded than Ollivanders is Wands by Gregorovitch. The now-defunct forums at the Orlando Informer suggest that you may be missing out on a branded wand box and bag by making your purchase from Gregorovitch instead of Ollivander, but the posts are from 2014, so things may have changed now.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter Escape from Gringotts via Flickr by Theme Park Tourist

Image via Flickr by Theme Park Tourist

Once I have my wand, it’s time for a ride. The only real ride in Diagon Alley is Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. According to the Orlando Informer, Escape from Gringotts is all special effects and hardly any roller coaster, which is disappointing. I think it will still be worth a ride to experience a different kind of theme park ride, though.

After escaping from Gringotts, it will be time for more shopping! Luckily, one thing that Harry Potter World is not lacking is places to buy souvenirs.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter Wiseacre's Wizarding Equipment storefrontWiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment is the gift shop for Escape from Gringotts, so that’s an easy place to start. Even though they’re pretty much just paperweights, I kind of want a divination ball or a prophecy orb.

Since I’m a writer, I’m really looking forward to visiting Scribbulus. I adore notebooks, journals, and pens, so I’m excited to see what I can pick up here.

Being a wizard means looking the part, so of course I’m going to go to Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions and Borgin & Burkes for all my clothes and accessories. At Madam Malkin’s you can even buy Hermione’s Yule Ball dress!

Wizarding World of Harry Potter Quality Quidditch Supplies storefront

I don’t really like sports, but everybody needs some quidditch gear, so I’ll stop by Quality Quidditch Supplies to get a golden snitch. There are a few options for your snitch, but I like this flappy one that sits on a pedestal.

At the Magical Menagerie, I’m definitely going to adopt a pygmy puff. I don’t really have a use for one, but I want to experience the adoption ceremony.

You can also get a pygmy puff at Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, along with a lot of other magical toys and candies. The Skiving Snackboxes don’t really make you sick and the UO Fan Guide says they’re not super high quality candy and they cost $39.95, which is kind of expensive, but I still want one.

I’m saving Sugarplum’s Sweetshop for last, since I have a weakness for candy and I know I’ll overspend there. I’m going to get the Peppermint Toads and Chocolate Frogs and maybe even some Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, but what I really, really want from Sugarplum’s is a Sugar Plum Apple, which the UO Fan Guide says is the shop’s signature snack.

Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees and a puppet show of The Tales of Beedle the Bard are performed throughout the day on a stage in the Carkitt Market section of Diagon Alley. Neither is performed at a regular interval, but I found a schedule of Universal’s live performances so you’ll know when to head over to the stage. Certain performances also have an ASL interpreter.

It’s going to be hot and humid in Florida during my birthday, but there are plenty of places in Diagon Alley to get a drink or some food and cool down. Eternelle’s Elixir of Refreshment, The Fountain of Fair Fortune, and The Hopping Pot all offer a variety of magical drinks. You can also get cornish pasties or butterbeer ice cream at The Hopping Pot.

The only real place to eat in Diagon Alley is the Leaky Cauldron. They have a breakfast menu as well as lunch and dinner food. A lot of it is traditional British food, but there are a few things that are more familiar to Americans, especially on the breakfast menu (pancakes!).

For dessert, Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour offers pretty much any flavor of ice cream you could want. They have my favorite flavors, banana and pistachio, but I’ll probably try something more unusual while I’m there. Chocolate chili or clotted cream could be interesting flavors to try.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter Platform 9 and Three Quarters King's Cross Station Hogwarts Express

Once I’ve seen and done everything there is to see and do in Diagon Alley, I’m going straight to King’s Cross Station to board the Hogwarts Express for Hogsmeade. To ride the Hogwarts Express, you need a Park-To-Park Ticket since Diagon Alley is in Universal Studios Florida and Hogmeade is in Universal’s Islands of Adventure.


Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hogsmeade

At the other end of the Hogwarts Express is Hogsmeade Station. Theme Park Tourist says that the ride from Diagon Alley to Hogsmeade is different than the ride from Hogsmeade to Diagon Alley, so I’m definitely going to be riding the Hogwarts Express in each direction at least once.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is supposed to be the best ride in Harry Potter World, so I’m heading straight there. Like pretty much everything else in Harry Potter World, even just waiting in line is part of the experience. You get to explore several different rooms in Hogwarts Castle before you get to the end to board the ride. The Orlando Informer says the ride itself is super scary and well-worth the wait in line. Since you go every which way except upside-down, you may want to stay away if you’re prone to motion sickness.

For little kids, Flight of the Hippogriff is much more tame than the Forbidden Journey. I am not a little kid, but I will definitely be riding this to see an animatronic Buckbeak.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter Monster Book of Monsters

There are a few gift shops in Hogsmeade, but not nearly as many as Diagon Alley. Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods and Dervish and Banges are the places to go for anything you forgot to get in Diagon Alley. Dervish and Banges also sells The Monster Book of Monsters if you want a souvenir that will take off a few fingers.

I’ll probably be out of chocolate frogs by the time I get to Hogsmeade because I have no self-control. Luckily, Honeydukes sells pretty much the same things as Sugarplum’s Sweetshop, so I can easily get more of every candy.

The Three Broomsticks and the Hog’s Head are the only places in Hogsmeade to get food or drinks. The Three Broomsticks has a breakfast menu and a lunch and dinner menu. The breakfast menu is very similar to the one at the Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley, with a few differences. The lunch and dinner menu is much less British than at the Leaky Cauldron, which I find a lot more appealing. If you need another drink once you’re done eating, just head to the back of the Three Broomsticks, where you’ll find the Hog’s Head bar.

No vacation is complete until you’ve sent postcards to friends and family. At the Owl Post, you can mail your postcards and letters complete with a special Hogsmeade postmark. I’m definitely going to be sending a postcard to my friend Steven, even though he is a filthy Gryffindor.

Like Celestina Warbeck and The Tales of Beedle the Bard in Diagon Alley, Hogsmeade has a few live performances that happen at irregular times. The Frog Choir and the Triwizard Spirit Rally perform at various times throughout the day and certain performances have ASL interpreters, so be sure to check the schedule to make sure you don’t miss either one.

Another show that doesn’t happen every day is The Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle, a light show that I’ve only heard is spectacular. The schedule looks like it does happen most nights, but not every single one, so I’m definitely going to be planning a day around seeing it.

What a Hufflepuff Wears

My phone is the most important part of me, so obviously I have to make sure it looks good. This minimalist Hufflepuff phone case is so cute and doesn’t have a design that will be ruined by a popsocket, making it the perfect case for any Hufflepuff.

I got a popsocket a few months ago and now I can’t live my life without one. This Hufflepuff popsocket is absolutely adorable and I need it to survive my trip to Harry Potter World without losing my phone.

If you know anything about me, you know that I love to be comfortable on a plane. I still love to look cute, though, even when traveling. This raglan tshirt looks so comfortable and cozy, I can’t wait to fall asleep in it on the plane ride! I’m not usually a leggings-as-pants kind of girl, but I’ll make an exception for a plane. This shirt will be so cute with some plain black leggings and a pair of slip on shoes.

Speaking of shoes…

These Converse sneakers are my absolute favorite shoes ever. These are kids shoes, but I have tiny feet, so they’re perfect for me. If you wear anything below a women’s size 8, you can probably fit into children’s sizes too. I love this particular style of Converse because the laces are elastic and the backs are velcro, so they’re easy to take on and off quickly at airport security. In fact, I never even use the velcro, they’re so easy to slide on and off. They’re easy to run in too, if you’re late for a connecting flight.

A jacket is a must-have on a plane, and this Quidditch jacket is absolutely the one to bring on a Harry Potter World trip. Pockets are important on any trip to keep your ID, boarding pass, phone, and headphones handy so you don’t have to dig through your backpack all the time. Since the rest of my plane outfit is devoid of pockets, this jacket will be my savior.

This jacket also comes in Ravenclaw, Gryffindor, and Slytherin colors for those of you who aren’t so just and loyal.

Like the one above, this raglan tshirt looks super comfortable. Even though it’s a 3/4 sleeve shirt, the thin, burnout fabric won’t heat me up in the Florida sun. Throw on some shorts and the Converse above and I’ll be ready for a long day exploring the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!

You can also get this shirt in Slytherin, Ravenclaw, and Gryffindor House Crests.

I don’t usually like short-sleeve tshirts, but this one is actually really cute. It looks super comfortable and I love the fit of it.

It’s also available in GryffindorRavenclaw, and Slytherin versions.

This Hufflepuff bracelet set set is absolutely adorable. Wearing all of the bracelets at once can get a little bulky, but it would look great with the short-sleeve tshirt above.

It also comes in Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin colors.
Chokers are my jam right now, so I was super excited to see this one with interchangeable House pendants. It will look amazing with an LBD for a night out at Bice Ristorante.
This A-line cocktail dresswill be super cute to wear out on my birthday, especially with the choker above. I’m so excited to be able to dress up and celebrate my birthday at Harry Potter World!

The Price

Spending almost a week at exploring all three Universal Orlando Resort theme parks will cost me $1,100.38, not including airfare, most meals, and most souvenirs.

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Universal’s Aventura Hotel

Universal’s Aventura Hotel has views of all three Univeral parks, so there’s the potential to get a room overlooking Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley. It opens in August 2018, so I will be one of the first people to stay in the hotel.

The hotel has shuttles to all three parks and there are also walking paths connecting the hotel to the parks if you don’t feel like waiting for a shuttle.

3-Park Unlimited Ticket

The 3-Park Unlimited Ticket includes admission to all three parks for my entire stay as well as admission to a few venues on Universal CityWalk.

Early Park Admission

Early Park Admission gets me into Harry Potter World and Volcano Bay an hour before the park officially opens.

The Flight

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These are Google’s flight results at the beginning of May. The flight will probably not end up being more than $300. Hopefully I’ll be able to book a direct flight and not have to deal with a layover.

The Food

Unfortunately, since the Aventura Hotel won’t be open until August, there isn’t any information about the prices at the various hotel restaurants. I’m going to try not to spend more than $50 a day on food.

The Souvenirs

My wand will cost $50 since I’m getting the interactive one. I’m going to try not to spend more than $200 on souvenirs (and candy!) in Harry Potter World. This will be hard since everything is so cool and so expensive, but bringing a small bag instead of a giant suitcase should help since I won’t be able to pack everything to take home.

The Total Cost

The trip package will cost me $1,100.38, the flight will be at most $300 (hopefully), the food will be around $300, and I shouldn’t let myself spend more than $200 on souvenirs. That makes the total estimated cost for my trip . I’ll round up a little bit and say that the whole trip should cost me around $2,000.

Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

Hiking Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

Last weekend I took a trip to the coast and ended up visiting the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach. If you follow my blog (hit the follow button on the right if you don’t), you know that I love hiking and exploring new places, so I was super excited to discover Bolsa Chica. I haven’t gotten to do as much exploring in California as I’ve wanted, so a trip to Bolsa Chica is just what I needed.


Bolsa Chica has a tumultuous history. The earliest known inhabitants lived here 8,000 years ago, but not much is known about them. Since then, other Native American groups have moved in, later to be culturally dominated and killed by diseases brought by Spanish colonists and missionaries.

It was one of these Spaniards, Joaquin Ruiz, who gave the land its name. His sister had inherited land from her father-in-law and given Joaquin 8,000 acres of her inheritance. She had named her land Rancho Las Bolsas, The Purses, so he called his small tract of land Rancho La Bolsa Chica, The Little Purse.

In the 1800s, when California became part of the United States, Spanish land grants were required to be registered. Many Spaniards had to take out loans to pay these registrations that they could not repay, and so lost their land. A portion of Bolsa Chica was lost in this way and sold to some Los Angeles businessmen for a duck hunting preserve. The tides made for poor hunting, so a dam was built across one of the channels. In a short while, this dam transformed the salt water marshes into fresh water ponds, devastating the local ecology.

In the 1900s, Bolsa Chica was the site of oil and natural gas drilling and later an artillery battery during World War II. In 2004, efforts began to restore Bolsa Chica to its original conditions. More than 500 acres have been restored thus far.

Environment & Wildlife

Bolsa Chica is a salt marsh wetland. It is also a seasonal estuary, where the ocean tide and the river current flow into each other. Salt water enters the wetlands throughout the year at several points. During the rainy season, freshwater flows into the wetlands through a flood control channel. The meeting of salt water and fresh water creates brackish conditions in several areas of the park.

One of the main draws to Bolsa Chica are the birds. Hundreds of bird species frequent the reserve, so you’ll be sure to spot something cool during your visit. I saw plenty of sandpipers and other water birds fishing, but my favorite birds were the hummingbirds. There were several flitting among the flowers along the path. I got as close as I could to get some pictures before the moved on to the next flower.


There’s plenty of life in the water as well. Since Bolsa Chica is on the ocean, marine life abounds. Be sure to bring polarized sunglasses so things in the water are easier to spot. I saw a school of smelt, which looked really cool with the sun reflecting off their bodies as they swam. I also spotted a little stingray, which I was excited about because I’ve never seen one in the wild before. If you’re lucky, you may also see a shark or a guitarfish or even an octopus hiding behind the rocks.


Of course, you’ll always see animals on land when you hike. I saw plenty of rabbits and ground squirrels running around. They do blend in with the brown dirt and grass really well, though, so you have to have a good eye to spot them. I don’t often see wild lizards, so I was very excited to spot a western fence lizard.


There are 5 miles of trails at Bolsa Chica. I hiked along the Mesa Trail and part of the Pocket Loop Trail. The trails are very well maintained and mostly flat, so it isn’t a strenuous place to hike as long as you stay on the trails.

If you go off the trails, there are rattlesnakes, black widows and poison oak to contend with. Bolsa Chica is also home to some rare and endangered plants and animals, so staying on the trails can prevent damage to the plants and the animals’ environment.

A trail map of Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve can be found here.

Saline Valley Death Valley Sand Dunea

New Year’s in Saline Valley

My boyfriend, Bryce, and his friends have a tradition of camping in Saline Valley for New Year’s. This was my first year going with them.


It was getting dark as we headed into the desert, and the view of the joshua trees against the sunset and the mountains rising up in the distance was beautiful. Saline Valley is surrounded by mountains, both from the Sierra Nevada Range and the Inyo Mountains. As we drove in over washes that made the road almost impassable (completely impassable to 2-wheel drive vehicles), I was told that when it gets cold, the three passes into the valley can become snowed in and visitors can be trapped in Saline Valley for up to a week while they wait for the snow to melt. We lost phone service almost immediately after leaving Lone Pine, the last town before the valley, so a week trapped in Saline means a week with no way to contact the outside world.

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As we drove through the mountains via South Pass, Bryce and his cousin George talked about hearing about a car that had flipped on the way in, as well as a Jeep Cherokee that had caught fire and been abandoned. When we arrived at our campsite, Bryce’s cousin Doug and his wife Dana told us they had heard about a car flipping on North Pass as well. The car that had flipped on South Pass was gone by the time we drove in, but we passed the burnt out Cherokee. It was still there when we left four days later.

Saline Valley has historically been home to nomadic communities. The original inhabitants were the Timbisha Shoshone and their ancestors. Petroglyphs from these ancient peoples can still be found in parts of the Valley. Some of our group had hiked to find some of these petroglyphs before and Bryce’s cousin Doug was able to show us where they were. It was amazing standing in a place and knowing that thousands of years before, other people had stood in that place and made these markings on the rocks.

Salt mining began in the valley in the early 1900s. Bryce had pointed out some salt flats as we drove into the desert. Most of Saline Valley is a dry lake, part of which is still a salt marsh. A tram had been built to carry the salt from the valley over the Inyo Mountains to the Owens Valley on the other side of the mountains. The remains of this tram, the steepest ever constructed in the United States, is still in the valley along with other remnants of the salt mining operation.

Much of the salt flat is solid enough to walk on if you’re careful. If you step wrong, it’s easy to punch through the salt to fall into the water and mud beneath. Bryce and I had fun finding salt crystals in the footprints of people who had stepped through the salt. As the salt forms into crystals, other minerals are drawn out, giving the crystals layers of colors beneath the white salt.


In more modern times, the hot springs in the valley drew hippies who built the tubs at the campground we were headed to. Water is piped from the sources of the springs to the four tubs for visitors to soak in.

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The upper springs at the north end of the campground has the Volcano Pool and the Wizard Pool. Wizard Pool is named after Wizard, who was camp host, a permanent resident and caretaker of the valley, until his death. I heard the pool was named after him because he once spent an entire day soaking in it and drinking beers without ever getting out.

The lower springs at the south end of the campground has the Sunrise Pool and the Crystal Pool, the spout of which is surrounded by crystals found nearby. There’s also a grassy area next to the lower springs, along with a koi pond and another small tub.

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I was the only first-time visitor from our group, so I was shown where the showers are to rinse off in and where the footbath to rinse your feet at each pool is. I had been told that most of the visitors to the springs were old timers who had been coming for years, but they clearly weren’t the secret oasis they once were. There were more young people than old timers and many seemed not to know the rules about showering and rinsing your feet to keep the hotpots clean for everyone.

The spirit of the original builders of the oasis prevails in the modern day and most people soak nude in the hotpots, though there are still many who choose to wear swimsuits.

Though secrecy of the hot springs’ location is encouraged to protect them from an influx of tourists and people who won’t respect the communal atmosphere, I heard plenty of rumors of famous visitors through the years. The most legendary of these was Charles Manson, who several people told me had visited with some of his followers.

Most of Saline Valley became part of Death Valley National Park in 1994, which brought new regulations to the springs. While before there had been many people who were permanent or semi-permanent residents, now there is a 30 day per year limit on how long visitors can stay. The exceptions are camp hosts, like Wizard. The current camp host is Lizard Lee, who oversees the care and cleanliness of the springs.

The annexation into Death Valley National Park created a controversy for the springs. The improvements of creating the hotpots with water piped from the sources and the green space and pond would not have been allowed had it happened as part of a national park. However, these improvements were created and became a beloved part of the valley before annexation. There have been suggestions of dismantling the hotpots and green spaces and returning the springs to their natural state, but for now it seems those plans are on hold.

I’m lucky that plans for dismantling the hotpots have not yet been put into action. Spending the new year surrounded by friends and strangers all brought together by a sense of community and a love for the desert and the springs was an amazing experience. I can’t wait to see what new adventures lie in store for me this year that will lead me back to Saline Valley.

Thanks to George and Bryce for contributing photos to this post.