Canyonlands National Park + Independence Pass

For day four of our best friend trip, Katie and I had an early start at Canyonlands National Park. Canyonlands is divided into four districts: Island in the Sky, The Maze, The Needles, and The Rivers (Green and Colorado rivers).  There are no roads that link each section of the park, so keep that in mind while visiting. We decided to visit the Island in the Sky section, as it was the closest to Moab. The 34-mile round trip scenic drive was gorgeous. There were many overlooks to stop at, as well as a few trailheads if you wanted to hike. I definitely recommend the short, quick hike to Mesa Arch. *Tip: I recommend using a map to get to, from, and around the park. Your GPS will get you lost.* After we spent a few hours at Canyonlands we headed back to the cabin for the night.

On day five we drove another five hours east to Colorado Springs to visit my dear friend, Caitlyn and her sister Heather and her family.  We took Independence Pass, the highest paved pass in North America. It passes over North America’s Continental Divide, which the geology nerd in me loved. It was the most gorgeous drive I’ve been on. I highly recommend it.

So without further ado, here are the last three days of our best friend road trip.

Our first viewpoint featuring White Rim Road. For those who have multiple days to devote here and don’t mind a soft, narrow, and rugged road, White Rim Road is a great option.
Mesa Arch was gorgeous! A popular sunrise spot (I can definitely see why). We arrived around 9 a.m. to Mesa Arch and still had gorgeous morning light.

Buck Canyon Overlook

On our last night in Norrie, I had to photograph some of the gorgeous Aspen trees. There was also a mountain rain shower that ended with a beautiful rainbow. What a gorgeous farewell, Norrie!

Independence Pass was stunning. The road is paved the entire way, but is narrow and doesn’t have guard rails at times. So keep your speed in check, though that wasn’t an issue for us, as we were gawking at the gorgeous sights!

We got to spend a wonderful 24 hours in Colorado Springs with these lovely people! I’m sad it wasn’t a longer stay, but am glad we got to see them. Heather made us a delicious homemade Indian meal. They definitely always spoil their guests.

Heather runs a lifestyle and fashion blog over at The Arbitrary Fox. You should definitely head over to the site and check out her fun style and gorgeous family!

Heather’s two dogs, Gretta and Buffy were upset they weren’t invited to be outside with us humans.

That’s all for this trip. Until the next adventure!

Please do not crop, edit, or alter the image(s) in any way. All images and their copyrights are the property of Samantha Kurtz Photography, LLC. All rights reserved.


Arches National Park

Katie and I headed five hours west to Arches National Park in Utah for day three of our best friend road trip. Arches National Park has always been high on my list of “must see first” national parks, and I was thrilled to finally be seeing it. It did not disappoint. Luckily, we were staying in a nearby town, Moab, for the night, so we had all day to explore this park. Arches National Park has the most natural stone arches in close proximity in the world. There was a cold front that moved in mid-morning, so we had an unusually cool, cloudy day at the park. Katie and I definitely enjoyed that. We spent 5.5 hours driving around the park and leisurely hiking to some of the arches.

So without further ado, here is day three of our best friend road trip.

First stop was The Courthouse Towers, which provides the first grand view of the park.

The next section of the park was The Windows Section. It is home to some of the largest arches in the park: North Window, South Window, Turret Arch and Double Arch. There were short trails that led to the arches in this section. You can walk right up to them and even climb up some of the rocks.

Hi, mini Katie!

Next section was the Fiery Furnace Section. It provides a view of the Salt Valley overlook and the famous Delicate Arch. We sadly were running out of daylight to hike to Delicate Arch, so we didn’t get to see this one. Next visit though!

The last section of the park was the Devils Garden. Here many trails, both easy and more difficult, branch off for continued explorations. We enjoyed walking around while the sun was setting.

As we were leaving the park, we were fortunate to see a grand, final display of Arches National Park at sunset.

That’s all for this day! Part three is coming soon.

Please do not crop, edit, or alter the image(s) in any way. All images and their copyrights are the property of Samantha Kurtz Photography, LLC. All rights reserved.

Rocky Mountain/Black Canyon National Parks + Norrie, CO

Early September my best friend of 22 years, Katie, and I took a best friend road trip to Colorado and Utah. Now, this best friend road trip has been 10 years in the making. We have been wanting to do a best friend road trip together since we were fifteen.  Katie and I have taken plenty of weekend road trips, but this is our first six-day adventure! We definitely made the most of it! We landed in Denver at 7:15 a.m. and we were immediately off to our first destination, Rocky Mountain National Park. We ended day one with a four-hour trek west to Katie’s family cabin in Norrie, CO. Day two we visited Maroon Bells in Aspen, CO., Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, and eventually back to the cabin. As always, links to everywhere we went will be in the post. So without further ado, here is day one and two of our epic best friend road trip.

We arrived at Rocky Mountain National Park around 10:30 local time. We only did the scenic drive via Trail Ridge Road, as we were sadly limited on time at this park.

Unfortunately, there were nearby fires in Colorado, so we didn’t get to see Rocky Mountain in its full glory, but nonetheless the views were majestic.

Middle photo: Katie naturally had to climb up any rock she could.

Luckily, our trip fell during the beginning transition of the leaves from summer to fall. I just love Aspen trees!

Day two: We started the day with a 4 a.m. wake up call to get to Maroon Bells by sunrise. The view was 100 percent worth the lack of sleep! It is hands down  one of the top five most gorgeous views I’ve ever seen.

Next we headed to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Here we had quite the shambley experience as we ended up on the wrong side of the canyon. (Two hours off of where we were suppose to be). Moral of the story, don’t trust Siri with directions to this park. Luckily, both Katie and I are extremely laid back so we went along with this minor hiccup. We ended up on the north side of the canyon and did the North Rim Road. The North Rim Road consisted of a gravel road, whereas the South Rim Road has a paved road and more amenities (more ranger stations, gift shop, etc.) Either side of the canyon provides grand views of the canyon.

Photos don’t do this canyon justice. The view down is a little unsettling. (Honestly gave me mild anxiety if I looked too long. Ha!) This canyon is narrow in comparison to the Grand Canyon, and with that you can literally look straight down 2,000+ feet.

Fun fact: This canyon is constantly eroding deeper each year thanks to the Gunnison River, but strangely enough it is not eroding nearly as quickly width wise. I can’t imagine in five or 10 years how even more unsettling the view down will be.

At the end of day two, we headed back to Norrie, CO. Unlike the first day, we actually drove back before dark so I got to see the mountains around where we were staying. Norrie is a colony in Colorado. Katie and her family own a cabin in the colony. I have heard of the cabin in Norrie since elementary school because Katie and her family always visited in the summer. It was a neat experience to finally see where Katie spent every summer growing up. I definitely understand the appeal of the place. The river and reservoir amongst the grand mountain range, it draws you in and embraces you like an old friend.

Left: Entrance to Norrie. Right: the lovely cabin we stayed in

The Fryingpan River runs right behind the cabin. I loved listening to the river all night. It was so relaxing. The water though was frigid. Thus, I didn’t venture in much more than the photo on the right. Also note, Katie and her pizza in the left photo.

That’s all for this part of the trip. Part two is coming soon!

Please do not crop, edit, or alter the image(s) in any way. All images and their copyright are property of Samantha Kurtz Photography, LLC. All rights reserved.

Black Hills + Badlands National Park

The beginning of April, my friend, Sarah, and I took a quick trip to South Dakota. Now, why South Dakota as opposed to somewhere else? Well, there’s two National Parks there and it’s been on my bucket list, since the creation of said bucket list, to visit all of them. Also, Calamity Jane takes place in the Black Hills and Sarah loves this musical. When we arrived in Rapid City, we immediately headed toward the Black Hills. We stumbled upon this beautiful lake named Lake Pactola. The next day we visited Badlands National Park, Crazy Horse Memorial, and of course Mount Rushmore. On our last day we drove to Wyoming to visit the nation’s first National Monument, Devil’s Tower. We also visited Wind Cave National Park. So without further ado, here are some photos from our trip to South Dakota.

Lake Pactola provided us with some beautiful sights on our first day in South Dakota.

Sarah is skilled with many talents, including skipping stones.

Next we visited Badlands National Park on Sarah’s birthday. (Happy birthday!) Badlands is home to the largest bison reservation in the nation. Sarah being Native American and consequently a bison-enthusiast, was eager to drive around and see her beloved bison. Badlands was a neat national park! This park contains one of the world’s richest fossil beds, as it used to be a shallow sea. Starting from the most eastern entrance of the park, you stumble across colorful spires and pinnacles, massive buttes and deep gorges. As we drove west, we entered more of the prairie part of the park. This park is an open, free-range park so you can roam around wherever, unless a sign says otherwise.

We spotted a lot of bison off Sage Creek Road (dirt road) and had many photo opportunities. Some even crossed the road in front of us! Obviously, do not approach wildlife. We did not leave our car and we stayed an appropriate distance away from them. If they notice your presence, you’re too close.

Sarah was freaking out by the amount of bison we saw. 


Next on our trip we visited Crazy Horse National Memorial and Mount Rushmore. Construction on Crazy Horse started in 1948, and while it doesn’t appear that they have made much progress. It was still cool to see. The memorial also had an awesome museum filled with Native American history.

Left: Current progress of Crazy Horse Right: Model of final project. Completion date…eventually.

Sunset in the Black Hills

Mount Rushmore at dusk.


On our last day, we drove a few hours west of Rapid City to visit Devil’s Tower. It was well worth the extra drive! You can hike all the way around it. We sadly, were rushed for time so we didn’t have the chance to. I’d definitely recommend going to see it if you have the time!

Finally we visited  Wind Cave National Park. This park was a pleasant surprise for me. I visited Carlsbad Caverns National Park a few years ago and thought, “How different could the two be?” So, really I went in visiting the park just to check it off my list, but I was amazed with the differences between the two caves. Wind Cave is one of the longest (142.7 miles) and most complex cave systems in the world. Our park ranger called it one of the true final frontiers of the world, as most of the cave is still uncharted and unexplored. Thus, now Sarah wants to become a cave explorer/spelunker. Wind Cave is a dry cave, meaning there aren’t any stalagmites or stalactites found in the cave, but instead is full of boxwork. (Seen below). I didn’t take many photos in the cave as I was trying to keep up with the group and not fall on my face. You do have to book a cave tour with this park, so keep that in mind as you visit.

That’s all for this trip. On to the next adventure!

Please do not crop, edit, or alter the image(s) in any way. All images and their copyright are property of Samantha Kurtz Photography, LLC. All rights reserved.

Oregon Adventures: Oregon Coast

On the last day of our Oregon trip we drove about an hour and half west to the coast. Normally I’m not a beach and ocean person, I’d much rather be in the mountains, but I’ve fallen in love with the west coast. It’s different from the beaches my family and I would visit in Florida and around the Gulf of Mexico. We visited Cannon Beach and Ecola State Park, luckily they were about 10 minutes away from each other so we didn’t have to travel far. Cannon Beach is a charming tourist town filled with local shops and tons of fresh seafood. It is also home of the famous Haystack Rock, which was an incredible sight. Ecola State Park was lovely and definitely worth the fee you have to pay to get into the park. Both places provide stunning views of the ocean on one side and cliffs with tons of trees on the other. If you are ever in the area, these places are a definite must visit!

We got in around lunchtime so we grabbed lunch at Ecola Seafood Restaurant and Market. This restaurant offered fresh seafood. It was delicious!triptych

Next we got coffee at Insomnia Coffee Co. Such a great coffee shop!


We then headed out to Ecola State Park and Cannon Beach. We spent most of the day here walking around and exploring.IMG_8136 IMG_8286 diptych2 IMG_8153 IMG_8205 IMG_8293 IMG_8210 diptych4 IMG_8307 diptych3 IMG_8262

That’s it for this trip! Now onto the next adventure!

Please do not crop, edit, or alter the image(s) in any way. All images and their copyright are property of Samantha Kurtz Photography, LLC. All rights reserved.