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!

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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.

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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.

Oregon Adventures: Crater Lake National Park

Next on our Oregon adventure, we drove four hours south of Portland to Crater Lake National Park. The drive in was breathtaking in itself! Crater Lake National Park is home to America’s deepest lake, a lake so blue it almost doesn’t look real. Surrounding the lake is an old-growth forest and cliffs with sheer drop offs. There are many options to get the most of your trip to Crater Lake including, a road that goes around the entirety of the lake (depending on the time of year), hiking trails, boat tours and trolley tours. We chose to drive around the lake, which took approximately two and a half hours. During the drive there are many lookouts to view the lake at different perspectives. The day we went it was extremely windy, with winds from the north. That made the temperature, with wind chill, a lovely 36 degrees with occasional freezing rain and snow flurries. Even with the cold weather the views were incredible and definitely worth the occasional numb fingers. Tip: Bring gloves.

So what should you see?  If you have half a day to a day, I would recommend driving around the lake. If you plan to stay longer than a day, hike down the Cleetwood Trail. It’s the only trail that safely goes down to the lake surface. There you can take a boat tour to Wizard Island. No matter what you do, you’ll be enchanted by the beauty of this place.
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National Parks: Carlsbad Caverns + Guadalupe Mountains

A few weeks ago two of my friends and I drove down to New Mexico and west Texas to went to visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park and the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Seeing all the National Parks in the United States is one of the items on my bucket list. (I’ve seen 7/59, Woo!) Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains are approximately 50 minutes away from each other, so we decided to visit both in a weekend. Both of these national parks provide unique experiences for both the extremely adventurous and not-so-adventurous folk.

Carlsbad Caverns offers self-guided cave tours, ranger guided tours (some include spelunking), a bat flight program and a night sky program. We did a self-guided tour down the natural entrance, which led into The Big Room. Approximately a three-mile trek. Sadly, we didn’t do either the bat flight program or night sky program due to time.

The Guadalupe Mountains offers many hiking trails both for the extreme hiker and the beginner hiker. Trails range from half a mile to 11.3 miles. This national park is not for the faint of heart (if you get ambitious, like we did) and requires some preparation for the hike.

So which one should you visit? Depends on what you want to see. If you have the time both are definitely worth seeing.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

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There are two options to get down into the cave: the natural entrance or you could ride an elevator down to The Big Room. We decided to take the natural entrance down to the cavern. It was steep, but was worth the extra views. (Left: Natural Entrance, Right: View of the “Twilight Zone” once inside the cave)cIMG_7363Once you get into the cave you are surrounded by incredible views, including some famous stalagmites and stalactites formations.cIMG_7373This is one of the many formations in the Hall of Giants.cIMG_7335 cIMG_7412The Big Room, the largest single cave chamber by volume in North America, is a 1.25 mile route. According to the National Park Service website, “roughly 6.2 football fields would fit into the Big Room.” So it is definitely a sight to see!cUntitled-2

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Guadalupe Mountains National Park

cUntitled-1cGuadalupe Mountains National Park, home of El Capitan (not to be confused with El Capitan of Yosemite) and Guadalupe Peak, the highest peak in Texas (8,751 ft). We chose to do the Devil’s Hall Trail due to time, weather (end of July in west Texas equals HOT), and lack of hiking experience. Ha!cIMG_7487 cUntitled-1Being in the desert (specifically the Chihuahua Desert) there were plenty of cacti. I was in love!cIMG_7484 cIMG_7477 cIMG_7455 cIMG_7479The last 2.5ish miles of the Devil’s Hall trail required some serious boulder climbing as it was in a river wash.

Carlsbad, New Mexico

Carlsbad, the town, is definitely a town because of the nearby national park. As a typical small town, there wasn’t a whole lot to do. They have a small downtown with many antique shops. Nearby is the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, which we didn’t have time to see. We ended finding some delicious restaurants and an awesome ice cream place (we went to it every day, it was that good).

carlsbaddLucy’s Mexicali Restaurant: (Rating 2/5 stars)
Right off the main road through Carlsbad, Lucy’s was a delicious Mexican restaurant choice. I have a sampler platter of Mexican dishes with lots of green chile.
Kaleidoscoops Ice Cream & More: (Rating 5/5 stars)
Best ice cream I’ve ever had! The handmade waffle cones are amazing. Definitely a must visit.
YellowBrix: (Rating 4/5 stars)
This restaurant was my favorite of the trip! It was cozy and slightly fancy. The food was amazing! Sarah and I both had Mexican dishes (when in New Mexico, green chile for every meal). Cecily had the Margarita Chicken and it was the best Margarita chicken I’ve ever had!
Danny’s Place BBQ: (Rating 3/5 stars)
Being from Oklahoma, I was a little skeptical of “new mexican” barbecue, but I was pleasantly surprised. I had a green chile burger (can you see my theme here) and it was really good! Definitely could taste the green chiles.

Roswell, New Mexico

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Carlsbad, NM was only an hour-and-a-half from Roswell, NM., also known as “the alien city.” So of course we took a little detour to see the aliens. This quaint town has really embraced the alien theme, as the International UFO Museum attracts many tourists a year. It also holds a yearly festival, the Roswell UFO Festival. Worth checking out, especially if you’re in to aliens.

For more information about Carlsbad National Park and the Guadalupe Mountains National Park visit the national park service website.
Carlsbad Caverns website
Guadalupe Mountains website
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Hot Springs National Park

During the middle of November a few of my friends and I went to visit Hot Springs National Park, which is located in the middle-of-nowhere Arkansas. Seeing all the National Parks in the United States is one of the items on my bucket list. (I’ve seen 4/59, Woo!) I’m not going to lie, after seeing national parks such as the Grand Canyon and Yosemite, I thought Hot Springs National Park was going to be a little underwhelming. But boy, was I wrong! This little national park is a gem. You have everything from hiking and waterfalls to spa retreats, shopping and a gangster museum. The park is smack dab in the middle of a historic downtown famous for its bathhouses and its illegal gambling during the 1930s. Al Capone, Frank Costello, and other infamous mobsters were known to visit this national park. Need more incentive to visit? For the outdoors lover, Lake Hamilton and the Ouachita National Forest are close by. There are many art museums and plenty of nightlife entertainment. So, what should you see? All of it.

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Buckstaff Baths is just one of the many bathhouses on Bathhouse Row.

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Quapaw Baths is the bathhouse we chose to visit. While I am not a huge fan of baths, it was a rather enjoyable experience. They have affordable individual aromatherapy baths that were quite relaxing. Visit their website for more information.

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A little sneak peek of downtown. The Ohio Club is a definite must see when visiting Hot Springs. It was one of the main “hangouts” for Al Capone and other mobsters. The bar is the original bar from the late 1800s. The staff was friendly and told us many stories about the bar and the city.

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Of course we had to take advantage of the hot spring water spouts all over town.

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Another shot of downtown. (Left) Hot Springs Mountain Tower (Right)

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An overlook of the city of Hot Springs.

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It rained or was foggy during our entire trip. Many would be bummed, but we loved the views on our hikes. It also gave us an awesome effect for our photos.

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For more information about Hot Springs National Park visit their website.