Career Break Month 2 Recap

September is always my favorite month to travel, and this year was obviously no exception! September was my first full month on the road, too! Last month I said I was looking forward to slowing down and that definitely did not happen! The most time I spent in any one place was 3 nights, but more often it was two nights and I had more one-nighters than I would have liked! I tried to cover a lot of ground, which I won’t be doing going forward!

Great Sand Dunes National Park

I started the month in Colorado with 3 nights of camping near Salida. Bailey and I took a day trip down to Great Sand Dunes National Park, and my friend Deborah joined me for a dayhike to Waterdog Lake near Salida.

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Starting out for new (to me) territory, I moved on to Ouray, taking the long way through Pagosa Springs and Durango. Ouray may be my new favorite mountain town. I loved it!! We spent two nights at the KOA, and because of the heat, did a lot of scenic driving. I also took a Jeep tour, which was really fun. There were teeny tiny splashes of fall color and I can only imagine how spectacular it was a few weeks later. I loved the contrast of the Red Mountains and the other Rocky Mountains. (After 1 day, smoke blew in from the PNW fires and everything got a bit hazy)

Red Mountains

Downtown Ouray

Colorado West Jeep TourImogene Pass

After two nights in Ouray, I moved to a hotel in Grand Junction for one night so that I could visit the Black Canyon National Park and Colorado Monument. These are both really cool spots worth exploring, and Grand Junction (or Montrose) would make a good base for a few days.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Colorado National Monument

After Grand Junction, I moved on to Salt Lake City and spent 3 nights at a TownePlace Suites in Layton. SLC was a bit of a bust for me, in part due to poor planning. (I’m struggling with trying to be flexible but that backfires on me a bit as I get lazy if I don’t have a specific plan.) Aside from a short side trip to Park City and a quick drive through Antelope Island State Park, I spent most of my time taking advantage of the wifi and catching up on blogging and photo editing. Basically the same thing I did in Denver. So I need to avoid cities. Or hotels.

Antelope Island State Park

After hibernating in SLC for 3 days, I moved on to Bend, Oregon, where I camped at Tumalo State Park (no wifi) which forced me to get out and about to enjoy nature and stuff. I loved the campground and was super relaxed here, even if I did sneak a little wifi from parking lots! On my birthday, B and I hiked at Smith Rock State Park, and I had a marvelous birthday dinner at Currents restaurant at the Riverhouse hotel, which I will be writing about soon!

Smith Rock State Park

Birthday Dinner at Currents at the Riverhouse

The next day, I made a side trip (2 hours each way) to the Painted Hills National Monument. It’s a long drive for a day trip, but I’m glad I went as I don’t know when I’ll ever be in that area again!

Painted Hills - John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

From Bend, it was time to head south towards Crater Lake. Unfortunately, the fires were not 100% contained, so the views were hazy and the main roads through the park were closed. I visited the Rim Visitor’s area twice, but really want to return and stay at the lodge, which isn’t pet-friendly.

Crater Lake National Park

We spent 2 nights at the Klamath Falls KOA (terrible!) basically killing time until I was due in Medford for a hosted stay with the tourism board. The campground was swarming with midges, and in a sketchy neighborhood, but I had wifi in my tent so I basically hunkered down and tried to get more work done.

I spent two nights in Medford, exploring the dog-friendly options in town, which I’ll also be writing about soon! The highlight of my stay, though, was visiting Harry & David for a factory tour!

Harry & David Store in Medford

After 2 nights in Medford, it was time to take B to a kennel and get ready for my whitewater rafting trip on the Rogue River. I spent the night before the trip at the Grant’s Pass KOA, and met up with the group on Monday morning. We had 3 nights and 4 days that were cold and rainy. At one point, I had 7 tops and 4 bottoms on – basically, everything I owned! But we still had fun, and enjoyed lots of great scenery!

After the raft trip, I spent one night drying out at the Courtyard Inn in Medford, before springing B from doggy jail and heading to Northern California. I polled all the California folks on the raft trip and everyone recommended Lassen Volcanic National Park as a good midway stop on the way to Lake Tahoe. It was described to me as a mini-Yellowstone, which I think was pretty accurate (scenery-wise, minus the wildlife) There was even fresh snow to play in!

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Up next is Lake Tahoe, where we spent two nights at the Basecamp Hotel. I had no idea how large Lake Tahoe was, and it’s certainly a beautiful area! The overnight lows were already dipping below 30, though, so I’m glad I had a hotel room! On a hike along the lakeshore, we apparently just missed a bear feeding on salmon!

Basecamp Tahoe South

Now it was time to head south for the desert. I decided to take the long way and drive down the Sierra’s and through Death Valley National Park. Such a cool park that definitely deserves a special trip. I’ll definitely be back sometime, preferably for spring wildflower season.

Death Valley National Park

I reserved 1 night at the Holiday Inn Express in Pahrump, Nevada just on the East side of the park. After 1 night, I didn’t feel like leaving, so I decided to just stay another night and have a rest day. I actually even used the hotel pool! A first for this trip!

Next, I rolled into St George, Utah with no reservations and couldn’t find a campsite for two nights. Silly me. I didn’t feel like setting up my tent for just one night so we found an $89 room at the Crystal Inn. (Actually way better than I expected for that price!) This still left me with a Friday night before my cabin reservation at the Grand Canyon and St George is pretty pricey on the weekends, apparently. Like over $200 for a Holiday Inn Express! Our room at the Crystal Inn was jumping by $50 for Friday night so after much online searching, I decided to say screw it and booked at room at the Red Mountain Resort. I have been eyeing this place for years and always wanted to plan a visit, but 1 quick night would have to do for now. As long as I was there, I managed to squeeze in a pedicure and a yoga class, which all just left me wanting a longer stay. I’ll be back for sure!

I closed out the month near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, but I’ll include that in my October recap!

Here’s my month in numbers:

  • Miles Driven: 4,614
  • States Visited: 7 (Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona)
  • National Parks Visited: 5 (Great Sand Dunes, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Crater Lake, Lassen Volcanic, Death Valley)
  • Hotel Nights: 14
    • Candlewood Suites, Grand Junction, CO (1)
    • TownPlace Suites, Layton, Utah (3)
    • Rogue Regency, Medford (2)
    • Courtyard Inn, Medford (1)
    • Basecamp Tahoe South (2)
    • Holiday Inn Express, Pahrump, NV (2)
    • Crystal Inn, St George, UT (1)
    • Red Mountain Resort, St George, UT (1)
    • Jacob Lake Inn, Grand Canyon, Arizona (1)
  • Tent Nights: 16
    • Heart of the Rockies Campground, Salida, CO (3)
    • Ouray KOA (2)
    • Tumalo State Park (3)
    • Klamath Falls KOA (2)
    • Grants Pass KOA (1)
    • Rogue River Trip (3)
    • Lassen KOA (2)
  • Expenses: $4757
    • Lodging: $1620 (way too many hotels!)
    • Gas: $487
    • Food: $451
    • Bailey: $339
    • Other: $1860 (this includes fun stuff like Jeep Tours and bills like cell phone, health insurance, etc)

In October, I swear I am implementing a 3-night minimum at each stop, and hopefully 5 nights at most stops. I had this vision of waking up each morning, going for a hike, working or reading through the heat of the day, another evening hike, etc and it’s not really working out that way because we’re moving too much! So, I guess you can say I haven’t found my groove yet. Maybe I need a job, lol!

My biggest plan for October is meeting my hometown girls in Albuquerque for the balloon festival, and then spending a couple of nights in Santa Fe before they all fly home. Aside from that, I think I’ll spend 2 weeks in the Flagstaff/Sedona area, 1 week in Southern New Mexico and 1 week in West Texas. (I’m hoping to spend the entire month of November in Tucson, maybe even in an apartment, but I need to get through October first)

How was your September?

For all of my pictures from September, click here!

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5 Month Travel Plan

Last week I announced that I left my job of 11.5 years in pursuit of some long-term travel. Right now, I see this as a six month journey. However, that could easily change to shorter or longer depending on a million things, because…life.

I am a meticulous planner; I love travel planning and I think it’s half the fun of travel. For this trip, though, I’m trying to leave as much open as possible. I want the option of lingering in a town I like, working with tourism boards or jumping on a press trip, changing my route to avoid weather or rerouting to see something new. There are a few spots on my itinerary that require advance planning but for the most part, what follows is a very loose agenda of where I’ll be spending the next five months!


I worked until the 3rd of August, moved my belongings into a storage unit and I’m now on a bucket list hiking trip in Switzerland.

Switzerland Haute Route

After two weeks of wandering the Alps, I fly back to Chicago, with a 24-hour layover in Reykjavik! Upon landing back in the States, I’ll spend a few days with family and friends, tidying up any loose ends in Illinois and then hit the road. My first stop will be Olathe, Kansas. I will then head west to Colorado, where I’ll end the month of August.

9.19.09 - the historical village of Twin Lakes


In September, I’ll spend a bit more time in Colorado, and then boogie on over to Utah. The Salt Lake City area is high on my list for a home base if and when I’m ready to stop moving. I’ve been there twice for quick job interview visits, so I want to spend some quality time here and get a feel for what it might be like to live here. From SLC, I will head up to Oregon for a bit. Despite living in Washington for 3 years, I’ve spent very little time in Oregon. I want to visit Bend and Crater Lake, then I am booked on a 4-day whitewater rafting trip on the Rogue River with OARS. After this, I will head to Lake Tahoe, another first for me, and then swing through¬†Southern Utah, one of my favorite regions in the U.S.

9/12 - Bryce


I will kick off October at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, followed by a trip to Page, AZ for as long as is needed to see all the amazing sandstone features I can. Then it will be time to make my way to New Mexico, where I’ll be meeting up with my favorite ladies for a girl’s weekend in Santa Fe. We’ll start at the Albuquerque Balloon Festival and then travel to Santa Fe for a few days of girl-time. Once the girls have gone home, I will spend the rest of the month bouncing back and forth between New Mexico and Arizona. Places like Taos, Sedona, Flagstaff, Silver City and Ojo Caliente are all on my wish-list.

9/9 - cow pie formation in Sedona


As winter approaches the high country, I will make my way back to a spot that captured my heart many years ago – the Big Bend region of West Texas. I won’t be able to do a ton inside the National park with Bailey, but will explore by car as well as the areas outside the park. I missed out on a lot my first trip because I was sick, so I’ll revisit places like Marfa and Ft Davis. For the rest of the month, I plan to explore¬†Tucson. Tucson is another place that I’ve considered for relocation as I love the desert and there is high elevation nearby to escape the heat. A couple of weeks should give me a sense of whether I might want to come back and settle in.

3.1.09 - Sonoran Desert Museum


Detouring from the road trip, I will begin December in Maui. I got a timeshare pitch/offer that I couldn’t refuse, so I will likely head to San Diego from Arizona and jump a flight to Maui from there. Once I return from Maui, I will make my way down the west coast as far as I can. I would love to spend the whole month in Baja Sur, but will need to iron out the details of driving through Mexico and what my comfort level is with that. I’m told it’s mostly safe, and the danger is in the road hazards more than anything else. I’ve also found online forums of snowbird gringos who drive down and organize caravans. If I decide I’m not comfortable doing that, I’ll kick back in Ensenada for the month, as it’s just a short drive from San Diego.


This is where my plans fizzle out…I have no idea what I’ll do when the new year arrives. If I’m having fun, and not yet broke, I’ll keep going. I would love to spend the whole winter in Baja, eating $1 tacos and drinking Corona to my heart’s content. (My ultimate dream? Winters in Baja, summers in Alaska, with a long, leisurely drive in between) I would love to squeeze in an international trip as well, possibly South America or Central America. Or, I may be heading back to civilization and looking for stable employment again.

So…that’s my plan! Some parts of it feel super rushed. Winter comes early in the mountains and I’ll be racing the clock in September and October. I’m surprised that in a 4-month road trip covering only seven states, I’m still not going to see everything I want. With a plan to camp most nights, I don’t want to move every night, and I’ll supplement with hotels as needed. In anticipation of this trip, I traded in my American Airlines credit card for a International Hotels Group card – this way, every penny I spend will earn points towards stays at Holiday Inn Express, which I have found to be the most convenient dog-friendly option when traveling.

As much as I want to leave up to chance, I would love to hear what your favorite spots are along this route! Especially hikes, campsites, diners, bakeries, taco stands, swimming holes and pet-friendly hotels. Let me have it!


trips out west

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