Top Ten Favorite Hikes of 2018

As the year comes to a close, I wanted to recognize the one hobby of mine that completely transformed me this year: hiking. There is no doubt that I found something to truly love out there on a trail. At times, I feel like I know the moments when my life has changed while I’m living them. Well, I feel that almost every time I hit a new trail. Hiking has truly helped ease anxieties, created a passion for fitness, reinvigorated a love of the outdoors, and got me connected to a wonderful network of friends, family, and coworkers. So, I present to you, my top ten favorite hikes of 2018.

10. Mission Concepcion to the Alamo Urban Hike San Antonio, TX (Aug 2018)-This summer is when I really hit my hiking stride. I was doing 5-6 hikes a week and feeling great. I met my wonderful boss, Lorena, at 7a one sleepy Sunday morning. We trekked nearly 9 miles through the city. It was a magical and exhausting morning.

9. Badwater Basin Salt Flats at Death Valley NP, CA (January 2018)-It was our first time in Death Valley and the park is quite magical. It’s hard to imagine the scale of the giant mountains against the vast flatlands. Ryan and I spent the morning walking through the muddy salt. It was oddly majestic and a very fond memory from an epic road trip.

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8. Eisenhower Park Night Hike (May 2018)-I did not know what to expect when my friend, Jordan, suggested we go hiking at night. Everything I’ve ever read told me not to do such a thing. I was feeling a little brave, so I decided to go. I’m so glad I did! It was a wonderful journey to the top of the observation tower. We watched some fireworks, took in the night breeze, and hiked back down to our cars. Since then, I’ve gotten friends and family to get out and night hike with me.

7. Dinosaur Tracks at Government Canyon State Natural Area, TX (June 2018)-There are very few things that make me geek out more than dinosaurs. This was such a wonderful experience seeing prehistoric footsteps and wandering around in the backcountry with my favorite person.

6. Carlsbad Caverns NP, NM (January 2018)-Ryan will tell you that this was very hard for me. I started getting anxiety as the ranger was explaining it would take at least two hours down in the dark. Descending into the cave, I made Ryan hold my hand to steady my vertigo. Truly, though, once we entered the “twilight zone” of the cave it felt magical. We had so much fun roaming around in the dark. It was one of the most magical experiences of my life.

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5. Fraser Experiment Forest in CO (July 2018)-As we were headed to the trail that morning, a local suggested we take a side trail and follow the creek. It made for a much better view than the first time around. Spent the morning roaming through the forests of Colorado. Nothing makes you feel so lucky as being in the middle of nature surrounded by family.

4. Joshua Tree NP Backcountry in CA (April 2018)-This trip will always remain one of the most life affirming experiences I’ve ever had. My love of Joshua Tree is large. The first moment I fell in love with nature was in this park. The first time I realized that Ryan and I truly had something special was in this park. The icing on this delightful journey was adventuring in the park with a handful of women I love, women who have created the person I am today. We spent the day under a big, beautiful oak tree. We met a nature photographer in the middle of his work. We wandered around the backcountry, and I felt so alive wrapped up in sisterhood.

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3. Jim Creek Trail at Arapaho National Forest, CO (July 2018)-I love this hike because it was just Ryan and me. I fell in love with him all over again. We started out hiking with the family, and they let us go ahead to see a beautiful waterfall. It was an amazing journey, even though the trails were a bit run down so we got lost. We didn’t panic and made our way back to the trail through the field of falling down logs. This was my favorite Colorado experience of the trip.

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2. Friedrich Wilderness Park (April 2018)-On a wild and weird Friday the 13th, I headed out on my first solo hike in a park I had hiked a few times with Ryan. This was absolutely the park that changed the course of the year for me. However, it was this hike that finally made me realize how much I had let fear drive my life. When I stepped out of my comfort zone, I truly had an amazing experience alone in nature. I haven’t looked back since.

1. Devil’s Hall Trail at Guadalupe Mountains NP, TX (January 2018)-This was the first time I took an “I can’t” and made it happen. We got to a really steep facing, and I was so afraid of falling that I stayed behind. Then, when Ryan was out of sight, I forced myself to make the climb alone. And I DID IT! It was the first time hiking ever became a metaphor for life: see an obstacle, and kick its ass.

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Anjanette MartinComment
National Park Spotlight: Joshua Tree

I remember the exact moment when I fell in love with the outdoors, and it started with a rainstorm in the middle of the desert.

In January 2017, Ryan and I did what most new couples would never dare to do by embarking on our first road trip adventure together. We had been exclusively dating for about nine months, so spending long stretches in a car with the new love seemed entirely rational at the time. Truth be told, the trip was already planned, as I regularly traveled across country to visit my beloved Coachella Valley. I just spontaneously asked Ryan if he wanted to join me for my annual California excursion one day, not expecting much. He thought about it, and agreed to go under one condition: the trip had to be about more than California. I spent several months going into plan mode. We talked it over and decided we'd spend one night camping in Joshua Tree, something I had never done while I was living in the Golden State. With the itinerary finalized, we made our way to Roswell, Vegas, and Los Angeles before making the drive to my favorite national park.

The morning we were to arrive in JT, Ryan and I were moving kind of slow. We hung around LA for a while and stopped for camping provisions along the way. We finally got to Joshua Tree as the sun was settling in for the night. By the time we made it to Black Rock, it was so dark that we drove right past the visitor center and had to pay for our site the following morning. We used the headlights from the car for light and set up camp as quickly as possible. I gazed off into the horizon and sighed. We could see all of Coachella Valley and the high desert from there. The lights sparkled in the desert sky. After an hour or so, we had our fire started and were getting our food ready when I felt something fall on my face. I wiped my forehead and continued eating my veggie dog, not thinking much about it. Then, I felt a big drop fall from the sky and onto my arm. I looked down in horror as I realized it was starting to rain. Ryan and I hurriedly broke down the fire and moved our food to the Jetboil under our tarp. The rain started pouring down harder than I had seen it pour in recent memory. We packed up our things and decided to settle in for the night. The last thing I remember before I fell asleep was how cold the streams of water felt as they flowed under our tent. The rain spilled down on us, ferociously beating on the tent, and the steady sound slowly lulled us to sleep.

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The next morning was like any other day. I woke up before Ryan and stumbled outside of the tent. The ground was still wet from the night before and the air was thick with the smell of rain. My boots crunched on the saturated sand, and I stood in awe of all the dunes covered in twisted and deformed Joshua Trees. What a marvelous sight! As I stood there, soaking in the hope of a new day I felt something click. Ryan and I had survived! We had conquered the elements and thoroughly enjoyed a truly memorable camping experience! It is hard for me to put into words the visceral feeling that I experienced in that moment. I felt truly free for the first time in my existence. I felt all the fears that gripped my heart beginning to subside. The desert had challenged me, and I had passed the test. From that moment on, my connection to Joshua Tree was cemented. Nothing could break our bond. There is a silence in the desert that cannot be replicated. That silence resonates with me and soothes my soul. It brings me peace. That morning was the first time in my life I thought that maybe, perhapspossibly I could be an outdoors woman.

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By the time Ryan woke up, the sun was shining and the two of us couldn't wipe the dumb grins off of our faces. We were connected. As he cooked breakfast, he listened to me ramble on and on about how the previous night was perfect and unexpected and magical. We scarfed down the hot food and basked in the warmth of the morning sun as it dried up all the rain. That morning we made the decision to skip San Diego and stay an extra night in this special place, where we had successfully weathered the storm. Joshua Tree belonged to the two of us now, and we were not ready to let her go...

Joshua Tree National Park is located in Southern California about an hour away of Palm Springs. This park is the marriage of two deserts (Mojave and Colorado) with varying ecosystems. The plant and animal diversity is truly astounding! Peak season for the park is October to May before the summer heat rolls in. The $30 entrance fee gets your vehicle a 7 day pass to the park, and it is worth it!

THINGS TO DO: Camping, hiking, climbing, stargazing, birdwatching, mountain-biking, and so much more! MUST SEEJumbo Rocks CampgroundCholla Cactus GardenSkull Rock, and Night Sky Festival.

Anjanette Martin