Skip to content

A Cave Adventure

For years now, I have wanted to visit Rifle Mountain Park and the ice caves. I tried to convince AJ to drive the extra 45 min each way out of the way (plus the time to hike and explore) on the way to Utah to visit his family multiple times. I kept dropping hints here and there this winter, and AJ finally gave in. We decided to take a quick weekend adventure down to the caves the last weekend of January.

We paired the trip with a hotel stay in Glenwood Springs along with a hot springs visit while we were there. Other local towns near the park are Rifle and Carbondale.

Trail conditions changed from snow to mud and even dry in some places.

The caves are naturally formed by freeze and thaw cycles and can typically be seen in various stages between December and mid-March weather dependent. Cave and trail conditions will vary based on recent weather. We experienced areas of dry trail, areas of mud, spots of pure ice and packed snow. Invest in (or borrow) some ice cleats for the trail.

Trail conditions changed from snow to mud and even dry in some places.

You will see a parking lot a bit after the entrance to the park on the left hand side. Park there and head a bit down the road towards the entrance. On the right hand side, you will see a brown wooden sign that says Koper’s Trail Ice Cave. Follow the sign, and you will begin your hike to the ice caves.

The lower cave is known as the Ice Palace- cue “Into the Unknown,” from Frozen 2. The ice gives off a blueish hue and resembles a waterfall of ice. Icicles cascade down from the cave ceiling. The inside of the cave was slippery in spots, but we felt comfortable in our cleats navigating across it.

The ice formations are delicate, so it is best to look but not touch. Also be careful if you walk under any of the icicles. On the backside of this cave is a fun punchy hill you can climb to get another look of the cave from the other side.

The hike to the second cave was a mix of snow, ice and rocks with some incline. You could see more of the mountain park as you went deeper into the canyon. The second cave requires a bit of crawling to get into if you enter it from the front side. This cave is known as The Final Curtain.

An alternative if you aren’t a fan of tight spaces is to continue on the trail past the ice falls (where you may catch some climbers) where you can enter the cave from a wider opening.

This cave is much tighter and was pure ice. Even in spikes, we ended up doing some crawling and sliding. The ice was wet to the touch, so our gloves and snow pants got wet when we were crawling around.

With exploring time, we spent about 1.5 hours at the ice caves. We definitely recommend a stop at the Rifle Mountain Park Ice Caves. We ended up getting stuck in some traffic we didn’t expect on the way there, so we weren’t able to explore Rifle Falls State Park on this trip. It comes highly recommended, so be sure to add that to your itinerary if you can squeeze it in.

Adventure On,

Courtney

On the Geocache Trail

While geocaching really started with the “GPS Stash Hunt” started by Matt Stum on May 30th, 2000, my 7-year- old daughter Emma just started taking interest in it. It started with an outdoor meet up with friends at a local park where a friend of hers showed her a cache. From there, it has escalated to a fun way for us both to get some more outdoor time. An added bonus is that we can ride our bikes to some of the caches or plan a hike or walking route that passes by multiple caches. Our one-year-old pup Roxy has even got in on the fun. Not only do we get in some exercise, but my daughter is learning to read GPS and maps. It also fits in perfectly in the 1,000 hours outdoor challenge we are participating in.

Tips to Get Started

Cache house hanging from the tree to the right and above Emma’s head
  1. Download an app to help you find local caches. We use the Geocaching app at a basic level since this is a new hobby that may or may not last.
  2. Bring along a trinket on each hunt. Trinkets are often left at the cache site. Be sure to leave a trinket for every trinket you take. My daughter has left small ceramic animals, fun character erasers and a pull back car. She has received a button flower, a cookie cutter and a plastic fish amongst other items.
  3. Take along a pencil or pen as well. Most sites have a spot to include your name and the date you found the cache. We learned from experience that not every cache spot has a pencil or pen to include your info.
  4. We found it was easiest to mark the find right away on the app. That way, you can click on the find on the map right away to log it, and you don’t have to spend time finding it on the map again later.
  5. Leave a note to the person who placed the cache. We do this through the app typically. Tell them thank you for placing the cache. Tell them if you had issues finding it or if there are any changes or improvements they can make (maybe the sheet to log the find is full and needs to be replaced). This will help keep the community going.
  6. Be safe. Be sure to follow safety and traffic laws and be courteous when finding a cache.
  7. Plan an outdoor date with friends to discover some finds together.
  8. Add your own cache to the fun. We are still working on where to place ours, but we look forward to keeping track of who has visited it.
  9. Have fun!

8 Alternatives to New Years Resolutions

The tradition of creating New Year’s resolutions dates back more than 4,000 years to the Babylonians. But, according to a recent Forbes article, 80% of those resolutions are broken. ”Making resolutions can be overwhelming and defeating,” says Nell Osborne, a mental health counselor at the South Carolina Department of Mental Health. “Instead, it’s important to think of something that’s attainable to do each day. For example, to be kinder or more present with your family.” 

So, this year, instead of sticking with traditional resolutions (“I want to lose 20 pounds by March”), try one of these eight alternatives. These ideas will help you keep what’s important as individuals and as a family in focus.


Make a 2021 bucket list

Think about what experiences you’d like your family to tackle in the new year—think about specific goals for school, work, relationships and home life. If you’re a tech person, apps like iWish allow you to keep track of what you want to achieve. If you’d like a visual daily reminder you can put up around the house, try this simple bucket list—print out one for each member of the family to fill out as you count down to the start of 2021.


Create a monthly challenge

A monthly challenge can be anything from reading three books to skiing at least five days. It can be about educating oneself on certain topics or learning to only shop sales at the supermarket to save money. Make sure the challenge is achievable in the allotted time. 


Try gratitude exercises

One way to change your life in a positive way for the new year is to incorporate more gratitude into daily practices. Start with gratitude exercises—they help reduce anxiety and depression, make you feel more energized and aid in getting you a better night’s sleep. “I suggest gratitude journaling or having each person in the family share something they are grateful for that day over dinner,” says Dr. Jocelyn Petrella Gallagher, a child and family psychologist based in Denver, CO. 


Put goals in a jar

Write down family goals that aren’t time-sensitive (ie: you can complete them at any point in the year), fold them up and place them into a jar. Family goals could be anything from spending more time outside and volunteering to reading the Harry Potter series together. Once a goal is fulfilled, pick out a new one. 

Similar to the jar activity, Osborne recommends having everyone write down the strengths of other members of the family or things they appreciate about the other members. “For example, a child may say that their mom is a good listener,” she says. “Put the strengths or appreciative words in a jar and choose one each month. Then, everyone focuses on that word—whether it be listening better or helping more with cooking.”

Practice mindfulness

2020 brought on stress—for adults and children alike—in a whole new way. This year, incorporate mindfulness practices into daily life. “Often, our minds are focused on anything but the present moment and regular mindfulness helps with this,” says Gallagher. Some practices she recommends include meditation, going on a mindfulness walk and doing a body scan.


Make realistic lists

If the past year has taught us anything, it was to slow down. One way to kick off 2021 is to reflect on what you want to do more of, less of or stop doing as a whole in the new year. Make a list of them and add the steps you need to achieve those things. Maybe you want to stop staying up late binging Netflix so you get more sleep. Perhaps you want to spend more time volunteering and less time on Facebook.

Be sure to be realistic when it comes to the things you add to the list and be conscious of the process it will take to achieve them. “When working on activities like a list, make sure it’s diverse with different levels of intensity or ability,” says Osborne. “That way it won’t seem as intimidating and you are more likely to follow through. For example, try not to say for an entire month, I won’t watch television. Have smaller increments that are realistic and achievable such as, I’ll cut down to 30 min of television per day.”


Use a vision board

Also referred to as a dream board, vision boards keep us focused on where we want to go and what we want to achieve in life. The best approach for a board is to cover aspirations in all areas of life. Boards can be created from a variety of materials including cork (bulletin board) or canvas. Words, photos or drawings are the perfect way to express the direction you want life to go. Everyone can create their own boards to place in an office or bedroom or a family one to put in the living room. “Make vision boards appealing to the eye by using colors that you love, then add things that will remind you of the importance of what you envision,” suggests Osborne.


Have a word or mantra of the week/month/year

Encourage everyone to choose one word for the year that defines what their focus will be. Reflect on that word (or mantra!) during dinner or while in the car on the way to the grocery store, and make sure to place it in an important place in the house. Repeat the word or phrase to yourself every morning or when you need to refocus. Remind children of their intentions when a new day starts or if they have a moment of struggle. If one word or mantra for the year seems like too much of a challenge, break it down to a word or mantra for the week or month. 

This article in its entirety can be viewed at: https://www.mommynearest.com/article/8-alternatives-to-new-years-resolutions.


10 Fun Alternatives to Trick-or-Treating in 2020

by Courtney Johnson

October 25, 2020

With the CDC placing trick-or-treating on the high-risk list when it comes to Halloween activities, many of us are re-thinking our holiday plans this year. But that doesn’t mean Halloween is canceled! We rounded up 10 fun alternatives that are a real treat and allow your family to safely celebrate—think drive-thru haunted houses, spooky scavenger hunts, at-home movie marathons and more. 


1. Boo a neighbor (or two!)

Sneak a basket of Halloween goodies onto a friend’s porch to bring some cheer this Halloween. Grab some of their favorite candy—maybe Snickers or Reese’s! You can also include coloring books, fall crafts and spooky decor (think Spot Section at Target). Don’t forget the parents, too. Fall flavored coffee, pumpkin beer, hot cocoa or apple cider are festive drinks to celebrate the season.


2. Try a Halloween science experiment

A quick Pinterest or Google search will help you find all kinds of experiments from creepy to mesmerizing using common household items and fall treats like pumpkins and apples. Your kids will love a pumpkin volcanoghost eggs and a creepy gelatin heart.


3. Drive-thru a haunted house or visit a Haunted forest

Drive-thru haunted houses and haunted forest tours are popping up across the country as a safer alternative to getting spooked than the traditional haunted house. Load the family up in the car in your cozy best or dress for a crisp fall evening of scary fun. The CDC says open-air scaring is a moderate-level risk made safer by wearing masks, following one-way routes and socially distancing. Cities including DenverHonolulu, Albuquerque and Orlando have confirmed drive-thru haunted houses.


4. Go on a spooky scavenger hunt

Go on the hunt for witches in the window, pumpkin blow-ups and spider webs around the neighborhood. Add an element of fun by doing a scavenger hunt for treats in your own backyard or house. Boost up the spookiness and challenge by doing the hunt by glowstick or flashlight. Glow-in-the-dark eggs (you can make them by painting plastic eggs with glow in the dark paint), glowing toys or even glow in the dark candy are recommended for your hunt.


5. Have a neighborhood Halloween parade

Bring out the bikes, scooters, skateboards and wagons to have a festive neighborhood Halloween parade. Begin by designating a sidewalk parade route that is safe and can lend itself to social distancing. Decorate your modes of transportation with streamers, spider webs and other decor. Bring along the speakers to play spooky favorites like “Monster Mash” and “Thriller.” Throw on costumes and get down to the beat as you strut your stuff along the route. Be sure that participants stay six feet apart—bikes, wagons and scooters can help with that. Don’t forget to create an event page on your neighborhood Facebook page to bring out spectators to enjoy the parade from a distance on their driveway or porches.RELATED: 15 Virtual Halloween Events Your Kids Will Love

6. Learn about Halloween traditions

From Dia De Los Muertos to Ognissanti in Italy, learn how other cultures celebrate the holiday. Play the Irish card game where cards are placed face down with a treat underneath them. Whatever card a child picks is a prize to keep. Maybe leave water, bread and a lighted lamp on your kitchen table before going to bed on Halloween night. Austrians believe that magic will bring loved ones back. 


7. Plan a Halloween movie marathon

Snuggle up in PJs, grab the pillows, turn off the lights and pop plenty of popcorn to watch the best Halloween movies. If the weather is nice, consider creating an at-home drive-in experience with movies on an outdoor screen in the backyard or on the garage wall. If you live in a warmer climate, check to see if your local drive-in is hosting Halloween-themed movie nights. Some of our recommendations include Spookley the Square PumpkinGhostbusters, It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, Hocus Pocus and Disney’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow/Ichabod Crane.


8. Read scary stories by flashlight

Request eerie and spine chilling books from the library, look through your own book stashfor chilling tales, or download a book or two on your Kindle. After you pick some books, snuggle in bed or set up a tent with sleeping bags. Grab a flashlight or lantern and get ready for a frightfully good time. In a Dark, Dark RoomBeneath the Bed and At the Old Haunted House are a few suggestions.


9. Take a free Halloween-themed class online with KidPass

Through the end of the month, KidPass, the leading website for finding online kids’ classes, is hosting free virtual Halloween-themed classes. All you need is a computer or phone and Zoom! Whether your little goblin is all about the tricks or gravitates towards the treats, there’s a free spooky (or not-so-spooky!) class that’s perfect for them. Create spooky witch hats with The Craft Studio on October 27 and dance to Halloween tunes on October 28. They also have tons of paid classes, too, for those who want to continue the Halloween theme!


10. Bake pumpkin-themed goodies

If you’re feeling that irresistible pull towards pumpkin spice, you are not alone! You can easily make pumpkin-themed recipes at home with the kiddos. We’re talking everything from pumpkin muffins and pumpkin soup to pumpkin ravioli. See all the recipes here.

This story was originally published on mommynearest.com.

Tips for Being Active With Kids

With the release of Women In Sport’s new campaign to encourage mom’s and daughters to #TimeTogether to get daily exercise, I thought this would be an opportune time to blog about how my family is active together.

According to research in the UK, “currently, only 42% of teenage girls meet physical activity guidelines and just under a third of girls (32%) are inactive, engaging in less than an average of 30 minutes activity per day, while 32% of mums stated that they couldn’t prioritise time for exercise as they were too busy looking after other people,” said the article by Women in Sports. In the United States, numbers of inactivity are also high. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services , 28.0% of Americans, or 80.2 million people, aged six and older are physically inactive.

Remember that exercise can take all forms from a dance party to riding bikes to school. Here are some quick tips on how my family is active together.

  • Take Advantage of the Seasons/ Weather- If you love the stars, take an evening hike to a dark spot to catch an annual meteor shower. Take advantage of the extra daylight of summer and play old school childhood games. A snowy day home from school means a date on the sledding hill. Hot Cocoa never tasted so good after some outdoor ice skating. Throw in some exercise during a day at the beach with some paddling. A favorite way for my family to see holiday decorations is by taking a “spooky” or “festive” walk or bike ride to check out the blow ups and lights. We take a hike to the Boulder Star every year during the holidays.
A Hike to the Boulder Star
  • Involve a Pet– If you have a dog, encourage that you take family walks because not only do you need exercise, so does your pup. Get out in the backyard and play with your furry friend as a family too to burn some extra calories.
  • Mix it up– Switching up how you exercise can keep things fun and fresh. Shoot some hoops one day and play some tennis the other. Lift weights together on Monday and go for a hike on Tuesday. There are endless ways to mix it up to keep moving.
  • Take Active Brain Breaks– While many families are learning online and parents are working from home, it is easy to sneak in a little exercise during break/down time. Some of our favorite things to do are a Go Noodle workout, a Kids Bop dance workout on YouTube or taking a bike ride.
Skating at Millennium Park in Chicago

Adventure On,

Courtney

How to Support Diversity in the Outdoors

I recently finished reading The Adventure Gap by James Edward Mills . After reading it, I was encouraged to find ways on how I can help more people of all backgrounds to enjoy the outdoors.

This ABC News story reiterates the fact that there is truly a gap in who enjoys the outdoors. It is important to take steps now, so that future generations will enjoy nature.

If you are looking for organizations you can donate to/ support in bridging the gap, here is a list of some organizations doing great things.

Black Outside, Inc.

Brown People Camping

Brown Girls Climbing

Legacy on the Land

Nols

Sierra Club

Stoked

Adventure On,

Courtney

 

Sie

7 Tips for Staying Safe While Camping This Summer

Instead of hopping on a plane for a summer vacation, many American families are choosing to stay closer to home this year amid coronavirus. As we all search for a break from being cooped up inside, camping—with its fresh air, hiking and s’mores—is emerging as one of the most popular choices. It’s also being listed as one of the least risky activities to engage in during the pandemic.

“Using normal precautions for COVID-19, camping is one of the safest activities your family can do this summer,” says Dr. William Johnson, former Vice Chairman of Microbiology at the University of Iowa. The overall consensus is that many outdoor activities are low risk while having high reward both mentally and physically. “Follow the CDC guidelines and the tips below to ensure that your family has a safe and enjoyable time under the stars,” says Johnson.


1. Follow the rules

Most states continue to be under a safer at home order which means finding a campground close to home is certainly the best option. With that in mind, educate yourself on the rules and current restrictions of the area you’re camping at—it varies from county to county.

Be sure to follow all instructions to keep your family and others safe. This may mean wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and restricting the use of off-limit areas or places that people tend to congregate. Some places you may want to visit (think national parks) may require entry reservations purchased ahead of time.


2. Book camping sites with plenty of space between sites

Campground websites often have sitemaps and actual campground photos you can view to choose sites that allow for proper distancing. State parks, national forest and BLM-managed land tend to have great space between sites. Be sure to use the designated tent or RV pads and be cognizant of where your site begins and ends.


3. Try to camp during the week

If possible, book a camping trip during the week. Campgrounds tend to be less crowded during the weekdays than the weekends. This gives you the chance to easily follow current procedures in place.


4. Prepay for your site and extras ahead of time

Campgrounds are allowing guests to prepay for sites ahead of time and skip the check in to avoid close contact. Confirmation emails allow for hosts to let campers know their designated site number ahead of time, so campers can just head straight there. If there are any extra costs (a fishing license perhaps), most of those can also be purchased online ahead of time, too.

5. Bring your own supplies

Being self-sufficient is the safest way to be when camping. Plan on eating all meals at your campsite and pack all the necessary food. Bring additional water to clean dishes at your site and for washing hands. Sanitizer, wet wipes, soap and extra paper towels are also smart things to pack. Bring trash bags for collecting and keeping trash at your site. Dispose of your trash at home if possible.

Many campgrounds are also asking campers to bring their own toilet paper, soap and sanitizer for use in public facilities. Some shared areas including bathrooms, showers, laundry facilities and picnic tables may be off-limits based on the campground. To be sure you are prepared, consider bringing solar showers, a bucket/portable toilet for the bathroom, and your own camp table and chairs. If allowed (it varies by state and campground), bring your own firewood to avoid having to purchase in town or in person at the campground.


6. Pick low-risk activities to engage in

Outdoor activity and camping go hand and hand. According to the CDC, the lowest risk activities include ones where there aren’t too many people, where you can maintain distance and where you can limit the length of exposure to others. Try lower risk activities like bike riding, hiking, fishing, or spending time on the water in a boat, kayak or on a SUP. Choose trails to hike or bike on that aren’t the most popular, or hit up popular trails during non-peak times such as morning or evening. Bring along masks and be prepared to put them on when six feet of distance is not possible.

You may want to also bring your own equipment including watercraft and fishing poles. Be sure to maintain proper distance along the shore for fishing and don’t congregate when getting on and off watercraft. And don’t forget to wash your hands after activity.


7. Invest in entertainment

It is easy to hike, kayak or fish with your own equipment while giving proper distance, but other activities offered at campgrounds might not offer the same safety. Bring your own entertainment to enjoy at your tent site—things like bubbles, board games, balls and frisbees will keep kids busy. Lawn games from ladder ball to cornhole now come in travel sizes and are sold at major stores and online.

 

*This article appears on mommynearest.com.

How Having a Puppy is Like Having a Toddler

Going into week four of having a puppy, I have noticed many similarities between having a puppy and those toddler years.

87451715_643933539744069_9201961414430818304_n.jpg
  • The rocks, sticks and snack wrappers that are typically in my jacket pockets have been replaced by dog treats and things the puppy shouldn’t be eating (mulch is a big one).
  • There is a 50/50 chance I will call Roxy the name Emma especially when the pup is doing something wrong.
  • The toddler toys that used to clutter the floor have been replaced by dog toys.
  • I still haven’t mastered opening baby gates!
  • Just like a toddler, puppies like to put everything in their mouths.
  • Sleeping in is a thing of the past!
  • Toddler proofing= puppy proofing
  • Neither one of them knows how to close the patio door (or Emma just always forgot to).
  • The constant saying, “Let’s go potty,” or “Go potty!”
  • You go from checking if places are toddler friendly to if they are dog friendly.

Life sure has changed since bringing Roxy home, but certainly for the better! We look forward to lots of adventures, lots of snuggles and lots of fun with her!

 

 

 

 

Welcome Roxy!

AJ and I have always talked about getting a dog. There was always something getting in the way- travel, life, parenthood. At our old house, many people had dogs despite the small yards. We always talked about how we would get a dog if we had a bigger yard.

It was a cold night in November when AJ turned to me and said, “I think it’s finally time to get a dog!” I agreed, but we both thought waiting till spring would be best to get our pup housebroken.

We were having a lazy Martin Luther King day morning when AJ showed me a Facebook post about available Aussiedoodle pups. We had talked about wanting a hypoallergenic dog for both the lack of hair to clean up and for friends that have allergies. Aussiedoodles were on our list.

“Should we go see her,” I asked. On the fence a bit, we both thought I should first message the lady about the price etc. That night AJ and I talked a bit about names. One of the names we thought of was Roxy.

It took a day to hear back. I thought for sure that the pup was already claimed. I was on a break from subbing when I got a message back about coming to see the puppy. I texted AJ and said we were set to go see Roxy today after school.

In the meantime, we had kept it a secret from Emma. We told her that we were actually headed to a place to pick up wood for a school project. She seemed to buy it until we pulled up to the farmhouse. “What are we doing here,” she asked.

As we approached the house, there happened to be a pile of wood by the door. “We are really getting wood,” she said disappointedly. Despite hearing a bunch of dogs barking, we convinced her that all we were doing was grabbing the wood. With a sad face, I asked Emma to knock on the door.

Emma looked confused as we entered the house. We went into a room and waited for Roxy to come. She ran right up to AJ and Emma feeling safe and playful. Without saying anything, we played with Roxy giving her treats and throwing a ball.

As we talked with the owner about the breed, the parents and other important info, she mentioned, “We’ve been calling her Roxy.” AJ and I just looked at each other. We knew it was meant to be! AJ asked Emma, “Should we take her home?” Emma looked half like she was going to cry and half happy too. “Really,” she asked hopefully.

We went over the logistics and discussed picking her up the following week. Now it was time to get all the things we needed to make our home Roxy’s home.

Life sure has changed since we brought her home almost two weeks ago. It’s a lot like going back to the toddler days of proofing and time commitment. We are still learning. Roxy is still learning. But, we are doing it as a family. We couldn’t ask for anything more!

2020- The Year of Getting Back to Adventure!

Happy 2020, and welcome to a new decade! The year 2019 started off with a bang (literally) for me with the fireworks above in Ixtapa, Mexico. While I had the best intentions of getting outside more this past year, I didn’t truly make it happen.

There were wrenches in my plan- my publisher/editor being let go during the editing process of my book, a cross town move, working and volunteering. But, I also lost sight of priorities along the way.

In 2020, I am working on habits and not resolutions. These habits including making travel and time in the fresh air a priority. I want to develop habits that help my mental and physical wellbeing, and to say yes to only what is important to me (or necessary like work). I fell too quickly into habits that took me away from what is important. I said yes too often to helping others rather than working on myself. I am thankful to have a new book in the works- The Best Cortez and Mesa Verde National Park Hikes to help me get back out on the trails.

I’ve spent a few days over the break thinking about where I want to explore and when. I’ve made plans with friends to go for things as simple as a walk. As small as a walk seems, it can have incredible affects on mood and wellbeing.

Here’s a small list of things I want to do outside in 2020. I’ll be adding to and editing it along the way.

Outdoor/ Adventure/Travel Bucket List 2020

  • Snowshoe/hut trip
  • Women’s climbing class (kick climbing fear/learn to belay again)
  • Climb outside 4-5 days
  • Four summer camping trips
  • Visit Mesa Verde NP, Hovenweep and Cortez
  • Backcountry camp 1-2 nights
  • Complete a trail 10k
  • Get on my mountain bike
  • Climb, hike and mountain bike in Switzerland
  • Kayak/paddle in the Atlanta Ocean
A snowy New Years Eve hike on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail

Adventure On,

Courtney