New Year, New Endeavor… I’m very excited to announce that I’m now officially a backpacking guide for Explorer Chick! In March and April, I’ll be leading backpacking trips in the Grand Canyon for this badass all women’s adventure tour company: Explorer Chick.
In addition to offering both front country/ glamping and backpacking trips all over North America, Explorer Chicks also travel internationally, with trips to Iceland, Norway, Croatia, Uganda, Jordan, Peru and Chile… if you identify as a woman and you’re looking for adventure, check out Explorer Chicks 2023 trip offerings!
I’ll still be making my living as a freelance science and travel writer (I just finished my third book!) but I’m excited to develop my guiding resume and get to meet and connect with people in person, something I often miss as a keyboard warrior.
As many of my longtime readers know, I do a lot of solo hiking and backpacking. But after Covid I was keen to reconnect with friends and adventure partners. In 2021, I set a goal to organize a group multi-day backpacking trip every month of the year. I recruited friends for trips to the Grand Canyon, Paria Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, the Gallatin, Madison and Beartooth Ranges of Montana, Glacier National Park, Grand Staircase and Bears Ears National Monuments.
Some of these friends were expert backpackers and some had never spent a night in a tent. Along the way, I realized how much I enjoy sharing my love for snacking and strolling in beautiful places (forever my favorite description of backpacking).
Getting to share the Grand Canyon–my favorite place on Earth–with small groups of intrepid women is a dream beyond a dream. I celebrated both my 30th and 40th birthdays in the Grand Canyon and have spent more than 50 days below the rims, including a 22 day rafting trip and six multi-day backpacking trips. Next year, I hope to ride my own mule in the canyon but until then, I’ll cherish every step I take in that astonishing, spectacular place.
Yes, I mean mule packing literally: packing supplies and equipment on the sturdy back of the greatest hybrid species humans have ever cultivated.
As a young girl, I was in love with horses before anything else, and owned two. But after having my heart broken by my pony and my back broken by my horse, I said I’d never have a horse again. And now I’ve discovered mules. Mules are a cross between a horse mom and a donkey dad and the hybrid offspring are the best of both parents, with methodical minds and exceptionally strong bodies.
My newfound love is thanks to my other newfound love, a muleman, paraglider pilot, and professional chef named AJ. Two years ago, burned out on long-distance paragliding, and looking for his next project, AJ devoted himself to donkeys. One miniature donkey turned into two saddle donkeys, another mini donkey and then two mules; both crosses between quarter horse mare mothers and mammoth jack donkey fathers.
After AJ and I crossed paths in the desert, I spent the next few weeks riding his two sweet saddle donkeys with only a bareback pad (he only had one saddle). I loved the view between those long-ears so much that 28 days later, I bought my very own mule saddle and my very own mule: an 8 year old palomino quarter horse mule I named Zoroaster Rockytop aka Zorro because I want to ride him from the bottom of the Grand Canyon (where Zoroaster Granite is one of the basement rocks) to the tops of the Rockies.
Now, my muleman (cowboy doesn’t fit; he doesn’t know anything about cows and mule skinner is a bit too evocative) and I are living in a 100 year old cabin on the edges of two of the most spectacular wilderness zones in the western US, in the best possible place to learn how to explore the mountains on the backs of, and in the company of, these exceedingly capable equines.
Friends who’ve followed my travels for awhile—or even just the past year and a half, which I’ve spent living mostly in my Dodge Grand Caravan—might wonder if I’m settling down, having committed to at least a year in this cabin, not to mention the large equine that can live 40 years. As a geology writer, I don’t mind the word settle, in terms of my easing into a more centered place. I’ve been craving a home base, a haven, a place to park a few things for awhile; while also feeling ready for a new adventure partner; somebody who will push me to go farther than I go solo (and I go pretty fucking far on my own); lessons learned last frigid winter spent solo in an off grid school bus.
But I don’t see settling here in this 14’er-fed river canyon as a stationary chapter. On the wall of our cabin we’ve hung maps of our wildernesses. After months of riding and hiking every day, and highlighting our routes, we’ve added a few squiggles of marker to the map. My goal for my 40’s is now to hike or ride every passable route on these maps, to see the view from the top of every mountain and to drink from every creek in every canyon on this map. I figure it’ll take me at least five years, maybe longer, mule-willing.
I don’t update this blog very often anymore, but if you’re interested in following the mule adventures of the Blonde Coyote, find me on Instagram @theblondecoyote.
To celebrate, I recently packed both my books to the top of Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, one of my favorite hikes in the U.S.
From 500 Walks: # 83. Angel’s Landing in Utah’s Zion National Park
After Half Dome’s cable route in Yosemite, Angel’s Landing might be the second-most hair-raising popular hike in any U.S. national park. While Half Dome has cables, Angel’s Landing has chains bolted to the rocks in the narrowest, most white-knuckle spots. The 5-mile long out and back route starts with a whiplashing set of 21 switchbacks called Walter’s Wiggles and then tiptoes along a shockingly narrow ridge with drop offs on both sides to an astounding viewpoint of Zion Canyon.
I will have signed copies of both of my books for sale within the next month, as soon as I can work out some nomadic mailing address logistics (I’m back on the road again full time). When I do I’ll post a link here!
Next month, I’ll turn 40 and I cannot think of a better birthday present than my second book being born into this world! The World’s Best National Parks in 500 Walks, published by Simon and Schuster as part of the “500 Walks” series, is currently available for pre-order thru all major retailers!
Millions of people visit national parks each year to explore the great outdoors, see wild animals in their natural habitats and revel in the spectacular grandeur of Mother Nature. Intrepid travelers could spend a lifetime visiting national parks and still only see a fraction of the planet’s highlights. The World’s Best National Parks in 500 Walks is the perfect inspirational resource for every explorer, from the armchair traveler to the veteran hiker, with full color photos and vivid descriptions of some of the world’s most beautiful hiking trails.
The book begins where national parks began: in North America, and then moves across the western hemisphere to Central and South America before skipping across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe and Africa, then Asia and Oceania.
The 500 hikes are spread out among 336 national parks. Some parks are represented by multiple hikes of varying intensities, ranging from short and sweet scenic strolls to half day hikes to multi-day backpacking trips into remote wilderness. Reasonably fit people can hike around two miles an hour but steep elevation gains and frequent photo breaks can slow the pace. Which hikes you choose in this book and how far you go will depend on your level of fitness and experience.
I started hiking in college, when I adopted a young, hyperactive border collie mix and realized that both of us greatly benefitted from daily walks. Over the next 15 years, those walks evolved into hikes, backpacking trips and mountaineering expeditions. I’ve hiked most of the North American trails in this book and a few of the international hikes as well. I average 25 trail miles a week or 100 miles a month. At this rate, I’ll walk enough miles to circle the Earth before I turn 40.
Whether you’re looking for an easy stroll on a boardwalk to peer into the turquoise geothermal depths of Yellowstone’s Abyss Pool or to embark on a multi-day trek through prime grizzly bear habitat, The World’s Best National Parks in 500 Walks is sure to inspire you to lace up your hiking boots and see more of the world—and maybe even circle the globe—on your own two feet.
Two years ago, inspired by a 22-day rafting trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, I started a new feature column for Eos magazine called Living in Geologic Time, “a series of personal accounts that highlight the past, present, and future of famous landmarks on both human and geologic timescales.“
If Utah’s five national parks (Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion) are shining jewels in the public lands crown, Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments remain diamonds in the rough. Over the past 15 years, I’ve been exploring deeper and deeper into Utah’s canyons, graduating from easy, well-marked day hikes in the national parks to multiday off-trail backpacking trips in the national monuments.
Of all the places I’ve hiked in all 50 states, nowhere offers the feeling of wild exploration, discovery, and life-or-death self-sufficiency like Grand Staircase and Bears Ears. If you can make it out there, you can make it anywhere on Earth. Climbing the Grand Staircase and treading between the Bears Ears, I’ve learned some of my most indelible backcountry lessons by getting lost, running out of water, and crossing paths with bears and mountain lions and barefoot human tracks. Over the years, I’ve gleaned enough hard-earned desert intuition to know how to blaze an off-trail loop and where to find water, good campsites, seldom-seen Ancestral Puebloan ruins, rock art panels, and my way back home.
People have been living in southern Utah for thousands of years, but the famously rugged canyon country was one of the last areas in North America to be explored and mapped. Even today, few roads traverse the region, and trails are often unmarked. But for those intrepid scientists who brave the backcountry to seek needles in this geological haystack, the rewards are bountiful: Fossils have been found in 20 of the 24 geological formations preserved in Grand Staircase. And many of those finds are unique. “Every field season, you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you’re going to go out and find things that are totally new to science,” said regional district paleontologist Alan Titus.
Over the past 20 years, this prolific fossil record has painted one of the clearest pictures scientists have of Mesozoic ecosystems and the overarching role of climate change, which influences everything from the thickness of geologic layers, to patterns of fossil preservation, to pockets of regional biodiversity, to the future of a dry-and-getting-drier desert.
To read more click over to Eos. All of my Living in Geologic Time columns to date can be found here. Cheers and Happy New Year!
After all these years of neglecting this blog, I still regularly get lovely messages from both long-time and curious new readers.
I so wish I had the time and energy to do what you do. I love reading your stories and following you. You inspired me to go tent camping 4 years ago by myself at 64 years old. Loved it and go several times each year and going full time van life in the Spring of 2023 I will be 70 and fully retired. Can’t hardly wait. Thank you for all your Boondocking advice and stories.
I found you online and I love your travels. Are you still traveling in 2021 ?? I am going to start my traveling through out the US in 2023 when I retire at 70. I can’t wait to begin, I go to National Parks and see state parks now. Oh how I wish I had discovered camping and exploring when I was younger! I am going to see all I can before I leave this world!
So for anybody out there, wondering about the Blonde Coyote, here’s an update: Yes, I’m still traveling!
In March, after listing my house for sale, fully furnished (what can I say, it was a good short-term investment and homeownership didn’t stick), I moved back into my Toyota RV. I spent April skiing in Big Sky, Montana and then headed back to the Southwest. A desert dog to the end, Dio took the opportunity to gracefully exit very near to the place we started our twin souls journey together, 12 years ago.
In May, the house sold, and grieving Dio and to celebrate being houseless by choice once again, Vida and I hit the trail for my longest solo backpacking trip yet: 100 miles in 7 days on the Continental Divide Trail in northern New Mexico. Predictably, I caught the backpacking bug and spent the next five months section-hiking several hundred miles of the CDT and supporting my friend “Montana”, who thru-hiked the whole thing.
In August, I took a break from backpacking and flew east to board the world’s last still-sailing three-masted schooner with my sister, brother and his band for a six day musical sailboat cruise on the coast of Maine. Upon returning West, I hiked across Yellowstone National Park to Big Sky and then joined my thru-hiker friend for the final leg of her 3,100 mile journey through Glacier National Park to the Canadian border, passing five blessedly gracious grizzly bears on trail along the way.
This fall, after one last backpacking trip in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, I headed to New Mexico for the winter, where I’m currently renting an off grid school bus with two wood stoves near Taos. This winter I’ll be traveling around here, on foot along the Rio Grand Gorge, on skis at Taos Ski Valley and on the road in my stealth camper, a 2012 Dodge Grand Caravan.
In February, I’ll turn 40 (location TBA) and I’m thrilled that I’m still living the seasonally nomadic life, where my biggest commitments are to my daily hikes, my dogs, my rolling homes, my next deadline, wherever I buy my ski pass and to my ever expanding Family of Light. Onwards and upwards, always! Thanks to everybody who keeps following the Blonde Coyote…there is still so much of this world to see!
Speaking of traveling, I have a new book coming out soon all about traveling in the most beautiful places on Earth. Like so many things these days, its availability is delayed due to shipping snarls but as soon as it’s on a shelf near you, I’ll let you all know…
Two years ago, I started a new feature column for Eos magazine called Living in Geologic Time, “a series of personal accounts that highlight the past, present, and future of famous landmarks on geologic timescales.“
My latest column features a place very near and dear to my heart: Yellowstone National Park! I lived just outside the northern boundary of the park, in Big Sky, Montana, a tiny dot embedded in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Even after exploring and learning about the Yellowstone neighborhood for five years, I learned a lot writing this story!
Don’t Call It A Supervolcano: Scientists dismantle the myths of Yellowstone
Yellowstone National Park, the world’s first and arguably most famous national park, is home to one of the planet’s largest and potentially most destructive volcanoes. The 50- by 70-kilometer Yellowstone caldera complex is so massive that it can really be appreciated only from the air. But although the caldera isn’t always visible on the ground, it’s certainly no secret: Copious thermal features like hot springs and geyser basins dot the landscape and have attracted people to the uniquely beautiful and ecologically rich area for at least 11,000 years.
As people seek to explain the area’s geology, Yellowstone’s unusually active landscape has inspired myths and legends, from Indigenous origin stories to misleading headlines about the future. Every season, recurring bouts of earthquake swarms trigger sensational stories that Yellowstone could be gearing up for another “big one.” But there’s no need to cancel your family vacation to see the park’s free-roaming bison and grizzly bears: The geologists who keep a very close eye on the Yellowstone caldera system say it’s not going to erupt again in our lifetimes.
On January 14th, 2009, I pulled my car over on a random desert road and met one of the great loves of my life. From the moment I laid eyes on that shy, skinny, matted puppy, I knew we were destined to see the world together.
In nearly 13 years, D.O.G. aka Dio followed me all over North America, for thousands of miles, up hundreds of summits, across 47 states and Canada, missing only Minnesota, Wisconsin and Hawaii. He went from being a scraggly, half-wild pup to a strikingly handsome coal black chow-wolf who would make soul-searching eye contact with anybody, before backing up into their legs, jonesing for a butt scratch.
This spring, I sold my house and moved the dogs and myself back into our RV, nomads once again. As it often has over the years, the open road took us through Monument Valley. Of all the times I’ve been back since finding Dio, only once did I stop at the same spot where I found him; he wouldn’t get out of the car, with a look that said, I’m staying with you. This time, I stopped at a random spot, and snapped a photo of a majestic Dio sniffing the winds of his homelands. I posted the picture, alongside the shot I took of the scraggly puppy the day I found him. Little did I know at the time, these would be the first and last photos I ever took of Dio.
As I drove away, I reached behind me, where Dio always rode within arm’s reach and ran my fingers through his fluffy chow-mix lion’s mane and said, “Thanks for coming with me, D.O.G.” The next day, on our daily walk, Dio was slow but steady and regal as ever. But by the next morning, he was lethargic and unsteady and by the end of the day, had no interest in standing or eating, not even sardines. He didn’t seem to be in distress or pain, just deeply tired. I laid on the ground with him for hours and told him, if you’re ready, I’m ready. The next morning, I took him to the emergency vet in Durango and she agreed that he was on his way to the other side so we set him free.
In my experience working at a vet hospital in college, old animals don’t fear or fight death and I’ve always been determined to honor their path once they’ve decided to take it. Of course it breaks my heart to say goodbye to my best friends (RIP Bowie) but I know in my heart, just as I knew the moment I saw Dio, that our journey continues. I miss my fluffy dog but I’m also thrilled for him to be free of his tired old body and I feel both him and Bowie running around me on every walk. Their spirits also live on in Vida, who is very happy to have all my attention, although I’m sure she misses her friend too.
I donated Dio’s throne of dog beds to the dog shelter in Durango, embracing the floor space in my 100 square feet and spent the week in town with friends, waiting for Dio’s ashes to be ready; god bless that dog for leaving me in a place where I am loved. And then me, Vida and Dio’s ashes went backpacking.
Over the next month, we hiked over 200 miles of the Continental Divide Trail in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. One hundred of those miles were spent solo, on my longest solo backpacking trip yet. I loved every mile of the week-long trip. I relished calling all the shots and setting the pace, which turned out to be closer to 15 miles a day than my usual ten. After 15-years of backpacking, it felt incredible to raise my own bar and then clear it with gusto.
When we got to the Rio Chama outside of Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, a raft of riverpeople gifted me the biggest, juiciest slice of watermelon I’ve ever had. After enjoying every bite, I jumped in the river to wash off the mess and then did a yoga session by the river. Afterwards, as I stepped away to pee, a rattlesnake warned me from a pile of rocks not ten feet away from my mat. Vida looked at the rattler, looked at me, and didn’t move from her spot by my backpack, wagging her tail slightly to say, “Yes, I know better”. Dio survived being bitten by a rattlesnake and I swear, he passed his hard-earned snake wisdom onto Vida.
I am blessed by the best dogs, living and spirit. Today would have been Dio’s 13th birthday. Happy Birthday, D.O.G. Thanks for coming with me. Onwards and upwards, forever, my friend!
On April 1st, 2019 I bought a house (no foolin’!). Located in the southern Sierra, in a tiny town I’d never heard of, populated by 131 people I’d never met, the place captured my heart immediately. The house wanted me as much as I wanted it. As the realtor fumbled for the keys, I put my hand on the antique latch on the front door, polished by 160 years of thumbs, and found it unlocked. As the door swung open, I knew I was home and said, “I’ll take it” before I even stepped inside. Two years later, I still fall in love all over again every time I walk through the door, but the road is calling and I’ve decided to pass this historic property on to its next caretaker.
The Coppertop Cottage is the oldest house in Glennville, California. It was built in 1860, near the junction of two ancient Indigenous trading routes that run inland into the Sierra and out to the coast. The two bedroom house served as the town library from 1920-1950 and in the 1990’s, it was completely renovated down to the studs with the intention of turning it into a museum and antique emporium. Two of the walls in the front bedroom (which I use as my office and affectionately call “the Ghost Room”) were left partially original to showcase the newspaper wallpaper that dates to the late 1800’s.
I added a new copper metal roof to the house, watertower and pumphouse in 2019 and three patios and three raised garden beds in the backyard last spring. Despite its age, the house is not a fixer upper. All the work was done in the 90’s and then the house was only used as a guest house and to display the previous owner’s antiques until I moved in.
I’ve loved having this place as a basecamp. Sequoia National Forest is a 7-mile drive away and my lovely neighbors are used to seeing me walking my dogs on the quiet country roads and fields around town. The High Sierra is a 2-hour drive away and I’ve gone for many backpacking trips in the Domelands, Golden Trout and Ansel Adams Wildernesses, Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks, and Sequoia and Inyo National Forests in my two years here. But once a gypsy, always a gypsy it seems. The Road is calling… and I must go!
For more photos and info, check out the listing on Zillow. For those of you more interested in my travels than real estate, I’ll be back on the road soon! Stay tuned!
Last year, I started a new feature column for Eos magazine called Living in Geologic Time, “a series of personal accounts that highlight the past, present, and future of famous landmarks on geologic timescales.“
My family history runs deep in these New River coal mining towns: The town of Caperton was named for one of my relatives, my maternal great-grandmother was born in Fire Creek, and my paternal grandparents lived and worked in Ames, where New River Gorge Bridge pylons now stand on the east side of the gorge. When my dad was 2 years old, the family moved to Fayetteville, on the west side of the gorge, where my uncle still lives in the family home.
I spent the summers of my childhood exploring the woods and creeks around the New River Gorge, hunting for salamanders and seashell fossils from a long-gone ocean that predates the ancient Appalachians. Every time I visit the New, I feel like a salmon returning to its home stream; I imagine my great-grandmother’s mitochondria in my cells vibrating in tune with one of the world’s oldest rivers. I’ve hiked all over the New River Gorge, visiting the overgrown sites and ruins of Ames, Kaymoor, and Nuttallburg, but I have not yet made it farther upriver to Caperton or Fire Creek. Someday an anadromous upriver backpacking trip awaits (although I have no plans to spawn).