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Dirtbag Beta: Climbing at Hueco Tanks without a Reservation

It’s no secret that Hueco Tanks State Park is home to one of the best bouldering areas in the United States (and arguably the world) – which means that a lot of people want to come and climb. The evidence of past overuse is abundant throughout the park, and to combat the influx of visitors, Hueco Tanks designed something called the Public Use Plan.

Only 70 climbers are allowed into the park each day.

Of those spots, 60 are available through pre-registration. During the peak climbing season, these spots fill up fast – so what’s a climber to do?

The remaining 10 spots may seem like a long shot, but Niko and I didn’t have a single reservation during our trip to Hueco Tanks, and were able to get in every single day we were there.

The park opens up the 10 walk-on spots at 8:00 on a first-come, first-served basis – with a twist. If you’re camping inside the park, you can line up directly at the headquarters, but if you’re camping at the ranch, you line up at the entrance gate 2 miles away. And the folks inside the park get first dibs. Another issue is that if the climbing reservations are full, the campground likely is too. But you can still get in!

There’s a fairly simple sequence of events you have to unlock to get in, and it goes a little something like this:

1. Wake up EARLY.

Whether you’re camping inside the park or at the Hueco Rock Ranch, the most crucial part of snagging one of those elusive 10 walk-on spots is getting yer ass up, and I mean early.

Niko and I woke up every day at 5:45 to make the 10-minute drive from the ranch to the front gates. On the first two days, we were first in line, but as the weekend drew closer, we found ourselves beat by one or two cars on the final days.

The Craggin' Wagon lined up at the gate at Hueco Tanks State Park, ready for a day of climbing.

NOTE: Depending on who you ask, some rangers may tell you that folks get in the line at the gate the night before – but this is NOT allowed. There’s a cop who lives in the area, and is not so thrilled with all the climbers, so he’ll gladly issue you a ticket. Do not sleep at the gate overnight!

2. Bring breakfast.

Once you roll into the queue at the gate (or at headquarters), you’ve got a couple hours to kill before the rangers open the gates and let you know the status. We went back to sleep in the van a few mornings, but the best days where when we cooked breakfast and brewed coffee in line. If you’re lined up directly at headquarters, bring a laptop and take advantage of the free wi-fi.

3. Consider buying a Texas State Parks pass.

We calculated the costs, and if you’re staying at the park for more than five days with two or more people in your car, or 10 days by yourself, you are better off buying a park pass than paying the 7$ entry fee each day. And you make the process a bit easier on the rangers each morning.

Hueco Tanks State Park, a true mecca for American bouldering.4. Be patience and think positive.

If you don’t get one of the initial 10 spots during the morning, don’t worry. You’ll be put on a waitlist, and at 10:00, the park releases any reservations for people who haven’t shown up. While you’re waiting, don’t hover around inside the park office – go hang out in your car, make some coffee, and wait for the rangers to let you know the status.

If all else fails, you can hop on a paid tour to get you to one of the other mountains. Some are professional guide services, and some are held by volunteers – but they all cost a pretty penny. You can pay up to $25 per person to get on these tours, so it’s really a last resort for the true dirtbag.

If you want to climb anywhere beside North Mountain, you’ll need to book a tour – but there is more than enough climbing on the main mountain to keep anyone occupied for weeks.

Additional advice on Hueco Tanks:

–       If you can, visit the park on weekdays. You have a much higher chance of getting reservations and walk-ons.

–       Keep calling the park to check for reservations (in a kind and respectful manner, of course). Niko and I called every day leading up to our visit to check for spots, and a few randomly opened up through cancellations.

–       For a tasty and cheap taco dinner, head to El Pasito’s on Montana. The burritos cost us $2.69 each, and tacos are equally inexpensive. You can get everything from menudo to carnitas – and beer.

–       The nearest grocery store to Hueco Tanks is Vista Mercado on Montana, but on the way in through El Paso off I-10, you can stock up on the cheapest produce I’ve ever purchased at Pro’s Ranch Market. It’s huge, loaded with Mexican food (both grocery and ready-to-eat), and outrageously affordable. Get a churro and some freshly squeezed orange juice!

Got additional advice for getting into Hueco Tanks?
Leave your thoughts in the comments!

A Beginner’s Guide to Car-Camping

Earlier this week, I received an e-mail from a reader who had some questions about camping in a car. I’m not talking decked-out Sprinter van camping; I’m talking about the nitty gritty, sleeping in your sedan car-camping. For most of us van-dwellers and seasoned road-trippers, car-camping is how it all began.

A shot of the Jeep from my 2010 road trip adventure.My first big adventure was a nearly month-long journey in the summer of 2010 – traveling from Florida to Utah in a cramped two-door Jeep with three of my male climbing buddies. To call it an adventure would be an understatement. It was one of the dirtiest, haphazard, ill-planned journeys I have ever embarked on – and it also sparked a lifetime of road travel (and began the adventure-driven purpose of this blog).

Here are my top four car-camping tips learned from that trip:

  1. Less is more. Whether you’re traveling alone, or with friends, you’ll quickly discover that less is more. When packing for any road trip adventure, try to minimize from the get-go. After my first car-camping road trip, I came home and realized that I hadn’t worn half of the clothes I brought, or even touched most of the gear and food I packed. Downsize, downsize, downsize. Trust me, you’ll savor those extra few inches of space.
  2. Do some pre-trip planning. During this inaugural road trip, I basically just jumped in the car and let the boys take the lead – another mistake. We spent almost an entire month on the road, yet climbed for less than five days total. Why? Because we didn’t plan ahead. We traveled out to Arkansas to climb at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch, but didn’t realize that the summertime renders this crag a nightmare of overgrown vegetation and intolerable swarms of insects. We were totally unprepared, and it took a big toll on our trip’s overall success.
  3. You can (usually) sleep in National Forests for free! The majority of our nights were spent sleeping in National Forests, which we learned are for the taking for overnight stays. For bonus karma points, explore the area around you when you wake up, and do some litter pick-up to show some appreciation for your free nights stay.
  4. Beware the wind in Kansas. Seriously, beware the wind. We had a giant canvas storage container strapped to the top of the Jeep, and during a stretch of particularly nasty gusts, the wind tore the canvas apart – and we lost nearly everything that was inside. I escaped the situation missing only my sleeping pad, but our buddy Jeff lost all of his clothes and camping gear. Major bummer. (You can read more about it in this post.)

The second road trip I embarked on was a five-week coast-to-coast excursion in the summer of 2011 with Niko – a post-graduation celebration spent exploring climbing areas, meeting new lifelong friends, and living out of my parent’s Honda Pilot (which they claim still has a faint residual odor of dirtbag, oops).

Niko sets up a makeshift kitchen atop a rock during our 2011 car-camping adventure.

Here’s what I learned during that life-changing trip:

  1. Wal-Marts are a lifesaver for late-night pit stops. If you haven’t already, check out my guide to car-camping at Wal-Mart. ‘Nuff said.
  2. Organization is key. Living out of a small space requires diligent organization to maintain your sanity. I am a huge fan of plastic tub containers, in varying sizes. I have two smaller containers for gear/random stuff, and one of those standard large ones where I keep all my cooking supplies/food. I prefer the clear containers so you can always see where things are inside without having to dig around.
  3. Crack a window. While sleeping in your car, you may feel slightly uneasy about the idea of leaving your window open – but trust me, you need some fresh air. Otherwise, you’ll fog up your interior and wake up in a pool of humid, sweaty misery. I’m paranoid, and always make sure my windows are closed enough that a wrist wouldn’t be able to fit inside.
  4. Crash pads make excellent beds. If you’re a climber, this should be a no-brainer. Crash pads aren’t just for bouldering – they make fantastic beds. My Stonelick pad fits perfectly into the hatchback of my old Scion tC, and it created the ultimate little nest. Otherwise, sleeping pads or other mats will add some comfort to sleeping in your car.
  5. Always keep extra plastic bags handy. Frequent trips to Wal-Marts during trips inevitably leaves you with a supply of seemingly useless plastic bags – but don’t toss those horrible pollutants into the trash just yet!  They make fantastic mini-trash bags, serve as makeshift gloves for scooping leftover mash potatoes out of your pot (and, you know, picking up poop and the like).

Perhaps my most powerful car-camping experience was the seven-week solo trip I took in autumn of 2011. I learned a lifetime’s worth of car-camping techniques and wisdom, and had nothing but positive interactions with fellow travelers and adventurers during my one-woman trek from Florida to North Carolina, Kentucky, Colorado, and the south.

Here’s what I discovered during my 6,657 mile solo trip:

  1. Always keep your keys within reach while sleeping in your car. Let’s face it, sleeping in your car leaves you slightly exposed, and there’s no way around that. No matter where you are, or how safe you feel, it’s always a good idea to keep your keys within reach. Don’t ever leave them in the ignition, and it’s smart if you can keep them tucked somewhere out of sight from anyone who might be peeking in your windows.
  2. Similarly, when rearranging your gear to make room in your car for sleeping, always try to keep the driver’s area clear in case you need to make a quick getaway. Especially when traveling in a smaller car, you may find that you need to rearrange your supplies to make proper room for a sleeping area. My rule of thumb is to always keep the driver’s area clear in the event that I need to jump into action and drive away quickly.
  3. Hoarding napkins is always a good idea. This goes hand-in-hand with the plastic bag idea. Inevitable visits to fast food restaurants will leave you with a mound of un-used napkins, and tucking them into that cubby on the side of your door will arm you with an arsenal of clean-up supplies. Blowing your nose, cleaning up spills, wiping down cookware, you name it.
  4. Rest stops are not as scary as you think. This is one stigma that I quickly overcame while road tripping. Do not fear pulling off at an interstate rest stop to snag a few hours of sleep – everyone else there is doing the same thing as you. Major gas stations like Loves and Flying J’s also welcome weary travelers to spend the night in their parking lots, and I’ve never had a bad experience snoozing at any of those places. Be confident, be aware, and you’ll be a-okay.

One of the most joyous occasions of my life, finally seeing the mountains as I passed through the flatlands for one last time before settling in Denver.Additional advice includes concepts like spending one hour a week to clean out and re-organize your car, make sure all your registration and tags are always up to date, keep a real map handy for those times when your GPS fails you, and always follow your urges to pull off at random places along your adventure.

Once I depart on a yearlong adventure of living out of a car, I’m sure I’ll collect a novel’s worth of advice for car-camping, but until then, heed this advice and feel free to add your own tips and tricks in the comments section – and if you have any additional questions about car-camping, feel free to leave comments or shoot me an e-mail directly at katieboue (at) gmail (dot) com!

Two weeks to travel across the country! – A road trip planning Q&A

As much as I love to share the stories of my adventures, my best satisfaction comes from hearing about my reader’s own excursions into the outdoors. When reader Jordan Blair e-mailed me with a few questions to help him prepare for his upcoming road trip from Virginia to California, I thought answering his inquiries would make for a great post to help others plan their own trips.

Check out this road trip Q&A, and let me know if there’s anything I missed! Jordan is heading out in a few days, and is open to pretty much anything along the way – so leave him a few comments with your favorite destinations, eateries, and travel advice! He’s planning a stop in Salt Lake City, but other than that has a very open two-week agenda.

Read More…

A guide to the Outdoor Retailer summer show with #ATQA

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – or so I hear. The annual Outdoor Retailer show is gearing up to begin its popular summer event, and I’m gearing up for my first ever attendance at this legendary gathering of outdoor brands, reps, and industry enthusiasts.

So what can you expect from the OR Show? Well, frankly, I haven’t a clue. Fortunately, last week’s #ATQA Adventure Travel chat took an in-depth look at the event – and in lieu of the standard chat recap, I thought it would be much more fruitful to turn our conversation into a mini guide to Outdoor Retailer’s summer show.

Read More…

Tips for beating the heat during summer adventures

I have always been a summer gal. Winters were never my thing, and nothing pleased me more than the promise of a hot summer – until I started climbing and camping. Now that I understand the torture of sleeping in a tent that’s steamier than a sauna, and the agony of hiking up the side of a mountain with sweat puddling in my boots, I’m not quite as big of a summer fan. 

Despite the heat and brutal sun, summer remains a prime season for adventure. You just have to know how to cope with the summertime swelter.

After a recent trip up to Tennessee for a weekend of bouldering, I found that one can effectively battle the side effects of summer – you just have to employ crafty tactics for beating the heat. Here are my top tips for staying cool while embarking on summertime adventures:

Stay hydrated.

Let me say this again – stay hydrated. After working on the Hydration Summit with GeigerRig, I learned how incredibly important it is to continually be pumping your body with water. Nothing will zap your outdoor chutzpah quite like dehydration; and it’s all too easy to forget to drink enough.

Personally, I’ve found that a hydration pack is key to making sure you’re drinking enough, and drinking regularly. I used to solely carry a Naglene bottle around, but it’s such a hassle to drink from while you’re on the move. A hydration pack with a convenient tube allows you to take a quick sip without slowing down. (Pssst, stay tuned for a GeigerRig hydration pack giveaway coming up this week!)

Don’t want to take my word for it?
Check out my interview with Gatorade Institute veteran John Seifert for an expert opinion.

Take it slow.

Where’s the rush? Niko tends to practically sprint during crag approaches, and always leaves me panting in his wake. Overexerting yourself is a waste of energy, and will only serve to get you real hot, real fast. Get an early start, and alleviate the pressure of “getting out there in time.

Slow your roll, keep an even pace, and remember that whole hydration thing. Stop to sip water frequently – your body will thank you.

Take a siesta.

Summertime swelter isn’t just hard on your body; it makes rock downright impossible to hold onto. Those sexy sloped crimps on Cleopatra at Stone Fort? Forget about it once the sun hits that sultry slab of sandstone. Attempting to project a boulder that’s been baking like an oven is frankly a waste of time – so save your strength, and go take a nap.

Seriously. Niko and I hit our heat threshold around noon, just in time for the sunshine encroach on even the shadiest of spots. We hiked back out to the car, drove to a more appropriate parking lot (napping on the gravel at a golf course is kinda frowned upon), and quickly settled in for a nice afternoon sleep session. With crash pads splayed out on the ground, we enjoyed a nice lunch break and rest before heading back to the crag to finish up our climbing conquests.

Did it help me climb better? You’ll have to judge for yourself, but I’ll tell you this – after a satisfying nap, I returned to a route, Super Mario (V4), that had plagued me for over two years, and quickly sent it.

Seek the shade.

This one feels like a no-brainer. When you’re out in the boulder field, hang out under trees and overhangs. You’ll likely be sweating either way, but keeping your body out of the sun helps to prevent the bright rays from zapping all your energy out.

My favorite shady spot? Certain caves, boulders, and cracks tend to offer unbelievably cool pockets and drafts of air. I’m talking a stiff 70 degrees of refreshing bliss if you find the right little nook. The boulder problem Cleopatra is one of those spots. Snuggle up in the corner, and you’ll notice a huge temperature drop.

Keeping your cool and maintaining a hydrated body are key elements to making the most out of your adventures into the heat. Do you have any tips or tricks for staying cool while hiking, climbing, or exploring outside? 

Introducing “Simply Adventure” – Reinventing the art of adventure in 2013

In May 2011, Niko and I embarked on a five-week trip across the country to climb, explore, and gain a new perspective on living. My leg of the journey began along the Atlantic coast in Miami, and together we traveled across mountains, prairies, and forests until reaching the Pacific ocean. After over a month spent living out of my parent’s Pilot, waking up with the rising sun, and spending afternoons splayed out in the sunshine of boulder fields – we returned home entirely changed.

It was quickly realized that we needed more.

We spent the next six months apart, with Niko studying in Tallahassee while I voyaged out on a seven-week solo trip and moved out to Denver for the fall and winter seasons. Upon reuniting, we decided our lives were better spent together – but that togetherness had a purpose.

We were built for a life of adventure.

And so, the plans began to form for a yearlong trip across the entire length America. At first, we dubbed it “The 2013 Trip,” but this epic journey deserved a more proper name – and thus, Simply Adventure was born. 

What are we doing?

We’re two perfectly regular people, proving that adventure is within anyone’s reach – all you have to do is choose a trail and follow it. We’re selling everything we own, buying a used van and building a home on wheels, simplifying our needs, and traveling America to discover everything that the land of the free has to offer. Our strongest passion is climbing, and through our journey we plan to support and advocate for local climbing communities and organizations. We also want to revive a love for living locally, focusing on local eateries and farmers markets.

Why are we doing this?

The common thread in all of our passions? The land.  We’re going to spread an appreciation for the unrivaled nature that sprawls across our country, and we hope to inspire others to embrace the values of land stewardship, conservation, and taking full advantage of what the outdoors has to offer. Whether it’s working to ensure access to a climbing crag in Tennessee, or supporting local farmers in California, we want to give back to communities who love the land.

We also want to demonstrate that what we’re doing isn’t some special journey reserved for a handful of folks daring enough to break free. Simply Adventure is a journey for EVERYONE. This experience is accessible to anyone – and we want you to come along for the ride. We hope to inspire you to forge you own path, dream about your own epic trips, and hit the road towards your adventure.

Where are we going?

Frankly, we want to go everywhere. Our map is still evolving, but we have a rough idea of our seasonal destinations. The adventure begins in January 2013, with a few months of climbing around the southern states to avoid the brutal winter up north. Once spring has sprung, we’ll begin meandering towards the mid-west and Pacific coast. Summertime will be spent in the northwestern region, and across the northernmost states. As the heat resides and the colors of autumn begin to blossom, we’ll follow fall along the northeast, and back down to our beloved southeast. The trip will conclude with a circuit around our favorite southern climbing areas.

For Katie, this trip will be the cherry on top of a lifetime of American travel. With only a handful of state lines left to be crossed, Katie will fulfill her goal of visiting all 50 states by summertime. And Niko? Well, he’s always up for exploring new territory.

So, how can you get involved?

Without you, our trip is meaningless. Simply Adventure is about inspiring, challenging, motivating, and educating others. We want to bring you along during our adventures, and we want to provide everyone with the opportunity to take part in the journey. By sharing our experiences, providing valuable tools and resources, helping local communities, and spreading the good tidings of adventure, we hope to create a new breed of explorers. We want you to adventure.

You can keep up with us through social media, personal contact, the blog, and even joining us during the trip. We’ll be documenting the trip as we go, via The Morning Fresh, and will be collecting material for a series of books, including photography books and a guide for creating your own epic adventure. (Stay tuned for an upcoming Kickstarter to help us fund the dream!)

Check out all the ways to stay in touch with Simply Adventure and The Morning Fresh:

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SimplyAdventure
Twitter: http://twitter.com/SimplyAdventure
Instagram: http://statigr.am/themorningfresh
Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/themorningfresh/
Yelp: http://simplyadventure.yelp.com

The journey has just begun – and we invite you to travel with us during every step of the way. Updates shall begin flowing, plans will solidify, the dream will inevitably grow, and Simply Adventure will soon come to full fruition. Will you join us for the adventure?

A Guide to Car-Camping – in Walmart Parking Lots

As any experienced road tripper, climber, or long-term traveler can attest, one of the biggest issues with life on the road is finding a place to rest every night. Between tight budgets, uncertain routes, and evenings spent driving at ungodly hours, there is often a need to find a makeshift place to catch a few hours of sleep.

One of the tried and true traditions of my climbing trips and cross-country excursions is the practice of spending a night (or two) in a Walmart parking lot. I was extremely reluctant and nervous my first time, during which I hardly achieved a few moments of rest. However, after nothing but positive experiences, the sight of a glowing Walmart sign on the side of a highway has become a welcoming landmark.

While Walmart founder Sam Walton has allegedly been quoted in feeling strongly that all travelers should reverie his stores as a destination for safe rest and refuge, there has been a lot of debate surrounding the practice of overnight camping in the parking lots. While I have never been approached during my brief stays, I have heard plenty of stories of people being asked to leave, or told they couldn’t stay.

So, should you spend the night in a Walmart parking lot? I’d say sure, but first, educate yourself on the do’s and don’ts of overnighting at one of these fine American institutions (ha).

What You Should Do:

Depending on your attitude, calling ahead to inquire about a specific location’s overnight policies is the safest course of action. However, if you’ve pulled into a random store in the middle of the night, desperate for sleep – you will likely be fine. Always be discrete. While large campers and RVs are sitting ducks in the parking lot pond, sedans and smaller vehicles have the advantage of blending in fairly well.

A few crucial elements of discretion include parking away from store entrances where shoppers should have priority, keeping your ‘space’ clean, and leaving as early as possible in the morning. Additionally, you should make an effort to give patronage to the place that is giving you a safe place to sleep – buy something. If you just grab a protein shake and cheese stick in the morning, fine. Need to stock up on some camping supplies? Even better – you’ll make the entire car-camping community look good.

Just because Walmarts are generally a secure place to stop for the night doesn’t mean that every location stands equal when it comes to safety. Always be aware of the surrounding neighborhood – a sketchy area equates to a sketchy Walmart parking lot. Be smart. Always keep your keys within reach. I prefer to keep the driver’s seat open and easy accessible, in case there is a need to make a quick getaway.

What You Shouldn’t Do:

*Note: Niko wasn’t actually in a Walmart parking lot in this photo, no worries.

Basically, don’t be that guy. If you roll up to a Walmart at 11 PM, pop open the hatchback, and set up a few chairs around your parking spot while throwing back a few beers – don’t be surprised when you get the boot. Anyone traveling in a non-car rig is should never set-up camp in any conspicuous manner. If security or management approaches you, don’t be disrespectful. It is a privilege to have access to staying overnight, and travelers must remain understanding that some locations have had bad experiences with long-term or disruptive ‘campers.’

Don’t leave a mess. You should be practicing this in all aspects of your adventures, but littering free accommodations is especially offensive. Nothing leaves a bad taste in a manager’s mouth than rude overnighters.

Despite the usually relaxed overnight regulations at most locations, there are some stores that are actively against travelers shacking up in their parking lots. Check out this listing of Walmarts that do not allow overnight stays.

Niko says: “I’ve been crashing in Walmart parking lots ever since I was able to drive — it’s a “simple comfort” for dirtbags. On long nights, you know that just down the road there’s a parking lot where you can grab some munchies, clean up in the 24-hour bathrooms, and shut your eyes for a couple hours. I always crack a window in my car to get some fresh air, and like to stop in the store to grab breakfast before heading out – think of the cost of your milk and cereal as a camping fee.”

If you aren’t bothered by the unavoidable florescent lighting and likelihood of waking up in a sea of cars from Walmart’s morning floods of blue collar customers, pulling into one of their many parking lots provides a great venue for catching some rest before embarking on your next day of adventuring.

Have you ever spent the night in a Walmart parking lot?
Got good any experiences to share? Any bad experiences?
Sound off in the comments and contribute to the conversation!

 

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