Take a Good Walk in South Dakota

Take a Good Walk in Badlands, South Dakota

(note: this blog was updated in 2020.)
Take a Good Walk in South DakotaSouth Dakota doesn't necessarily invoke a good walk in the mind. With the Gatlinburg-like overabundance of tourism in Rapid City and the reputation of the ill-named Badlands National Park, my feet surprised my mind by finding one of my favorite walks yet. My good South Dakota walk is in Badlands National Park on the Notch Trail.

The Notch Trail sits just two miles to the east of the eastern visitor center. Most folks who park in the lot wander out to an overlook not far from the lot. Taking on the Notch Trail requires some bravery and guts, as the ladder to the top invites the adventurous. Before heading out, be sure you've got enough water. Yes, everyone says bring water. But I'm not kidding. This is a hot, dry hike through the aptly named Badlands. Don't fool yourself.

Climbing the Notch Trail at Badlands National Park

Take a Good Walk in South DakotaThe hike starts off fairly easy. But within the first 15 minutes, you'll find yourself at the ladder of the brave hearted. With about 50 rungs, you'll pull some and climb some up to the top. The top rung is actually the worst, as the distance between the top rung and the pole to help you ascend is just *this much* out of reach. Be careful.

Take a Good Walk in South DakotaAfter the ladder, you'll meander along a dry creek and then climb along a ledge. The signs that say dangerous curves ahead aren't kidding. Stay close to the bluff and stay sure-footed. This hike isn't necessarily difficult, but it does require you to take time. Once you get past the curvy area, you'll continue walking toward the overlook. But don't get pulled into the overlook, remember to look behind you. The views to the rear are almost as good as the views ahead.

Take a Good Walk in South DakotaAt about 45 minutes, you'll reach the final overlook. Get ready to gasp. Although the elevation is not that high, the depth of view goes on for ever. Here at the top, you'll also find some shade to take a well-deserved break. Have a seat, cool off, and take a look around. The gradation in the sand bluffs, the clear blue sky against the cliffs, and the greens and yellows in the distance overcome their namesake.

When you're ready, return down the path whence you came. Congratulations, you've survived a hike of the Notch Trail at Badlands National Park.

50 Hikes 50 States--Arkansas

50 Hikes 50 States--Arkansas

After a quick dipping of our toes into Texas on our 50 Hikes 50 States Project, we returned to Arkansas for our next hike. On our way to Little Rock, we stopped at the William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home in Hope to experience the awe of how an average boy can become President of the U.S. It was an inspiring story that reawakened our hope for a strong democracy.

From Opulence to Tacky to Elegance Again

We stayed the night in the historic Arlington Hotel, now under new management and renovation. It appears Hot Springs has survived a downturn and is on its way back to a thriving destination for southerners and others to enjoy elegance at affordable prices. The next morning, we couldn't wait to get to the visitors center of Hot Springs National Park.

An Old Bathhouse Comes Alive

The day started with warm skies and 65 degrees. It would turn to rain at 1, so we hurried start our day. At the visitors center, we got to tour the old Fordyce Bathhouse. What a fascinating place! With restored locker rooms, ceramic tubs with fancy faucets, original showers with pulsating shower heads, massage rooms filled with ointments, an old style gym, and even a parlor restored to opulence, we felt like we had stepped back in time. The National Park Service's skills to restore history remarkably to original condition is world-class.

And then we talked to the Ranger.

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Walking for Wellness?

Little did I know that we had stumbled upon the perfect Eat Walk Learn adventure. We asked about hiking in the National Park. She then launched into an historical chat about how people would consume the Hot Springs. Generally, their visits would start with a consultation with the doctor where they would expose what ailed them. Then the doctor would prescribe a whole-body prescription that included, not only a series of treatments at the hot springs, but a series of walks in the woods behind the bath houses.

The woods, now part of Hot Springs National Park, are still filled with the trails that the doctor would prescribe. Patients started at the easiest trails, and if they felt up to it as they got better through the treatments, they would work their way up to the more difficult trails. They might start on the Hot Springs Mountain Trial, an easy stroll of 1.7 miles and a grade of .5%. They then could work their way up to the Glupha Gorge Trail, only .6 miles long, but a grade of 13.8%. The doctor would prescribes routes and elevation gains based on health and progession. How cool is that?

Wouldn't it be great if doctors did more of this now?

We couldn't wait to get started. Out behind bathhouse row we went. Climbing an historic stair case, we continued straight up on a series of the trails, eventually arriving at the Hot Springs Mountain Tower. Our hike took us through well-maintained trails of mostly dirt past just-about-to-bloom dogwoods and red buds.  Native oak, hickory and short-leaf pine dominated the views. I imagined that in just a few short weeks, the hillsides would explode with color from azaleas and magnolias.

Topping the Top

From the top of the mountain, we could see down into the valley and the city of Hot Springs. I'm sure the view has changed drastically since the first Hot Springers arrived. I giggled to think, also, about how my clothing and shoes have morphed from what folks originally wore to climb these mountains over 100 years ago. No hoop skirts and heeled shoes for me, my skort and Solomon boots were just perfect.

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We scurried down the mountain in front of rain drops just starting to threaten. But we couldn't resist promenading along the Grand Promenade and past the green boxes that top the fuming spring. It was such a step back in time.

A Deadhead Lunch

As usual, my stomach growled at the end of the walk. We had heard about Grateful Head Pizza, and couldn't resist a stop through this Grateful Dead landmark. We grabbed a slice of Treehugger and tuned into music my husband loved. Me, what's a Jerry Garcia?

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History Tells Stories We Shouldn't Repeat

An image on display at Central High School Historic Site.

On the way to the airport, we had some extra time and pointed the GPS to downtown Arkansas. But on the way, a brown sign caught our eye. "Central High School Historic Site" drew us to a place I've read about and studied so many times, but it never occurred to me that it'd be a place I could visit.

We flipped a u-turn and drove the few blocks to where the "Little Rock 9" students desegregated Central High School. The school is still operating as a high school; the visitors center was fascinating. Sharing the chronology of the events that led up to the day these amazing nine black children walked into the school, the exhibit also delves deeply into States' Rights. I had no idea.

To a nice surprise, a friend reached out to me while we were in Little Rock. She wanted to grab a cuppa. And we did at the quaint MyLo Coffee where everyone goes on a Sunday. From there, we jetted to the airport to catch a late Sunday evening flight. With Coronavirus starting to scare up the US, we flew on flights that had empty seats: a first in a long time. What will happen next?

What You Need to Know about This Hike (click for interactive map)

Hiking Arkansas and Supporting EatWalkLearn

I hope you’re enjoying my 50 Hikes 50 States Project and following along as I hike all 50 states. I share these experiences with you to provide motivation, information, and adventure. Please feel free to share my info, ask me questions, and provide suggestions. I’d love it too if you’d follow me on social at @eatwalklearn.

I also write about my trips. Why not pick up a copy of my #1 Amazon best selling book, Travel Magic Postcards: Vignettes from the Walking Traveler? It’s a quick ebook read about when travel moments become travel memories. You can support me by buying a copy of my ebook or any of the other books written by me. Thank you!

See you on the trail, Chris


50 Hikes 50 States--Texas

50 Hikes 50 States--Texas

Sweet gums and moss welcomed us to Texas.

I was sitting in a hot tub in Hot Springs, Arkansas, when a lady asked me why I was in Arkansas. I mentioned I was there for my 50 Hikes 50 States Project.

She asked details.

I explained that I was hiking one hike in every state. Once a month, I leave Denver to a destination and at that destination I try to hike 2-3 states while at that destination.

Again she asked why I was in Arkansas.

"To hike Texas and Arkansas."

And she replied, "There's no place to hike in Texas."

To her credit, she admitted she wasn't much of a hiker, lived in Dallas where everyone drives, and wished me luck.

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There's No Place to Hike in Texas

Hello hardwoods

Despite Texas being the second largest state by geography in the country, and despite that Texas has amazing open spaces of rolling hills, canyons, woods, deserts, rivers, and lakes, people generally balk at calling Texas an outdoor state. Loaded with oil, oil rigs, oil men and almost more cows than residents, I can understand why people might think this way. But there's great hiking in Texas.

The problem with Texas in my 50 Hikes 50 States Project is that it's hard to hike Texas and then 2-3 other states in one trip. The geography is difficult. The distances are great. The airports are sparse.

So despite wanting to hike in Big Bend National Park, the rolling hills outside of Austin, or along the river in San Antonio, we found a wonderful state park with a gorgeous lake in northeastern Texas near Arkansas.

Atlanta, Texas Has a Wizard of Oz Trail

Wizard of Oz Trail in Texas

Which is why I was in a hot tub in Hot Springs, Arkansas. We had just hiked the Volksmarch Trail in Atlanta State Park just outside of Texarkana, Texas. It's near Atlanta, Texas, which was named by the railworkers who settled in the area and were originally from Atlanta, Georgia.

Atlanta State Park sits just south of Wright Putnam Lake, created when the Army Corp dammed the Sulphur River to create a flood control mechanism in 1958. First known as Lake Texarkana, it was later renamed after a Democratic Populist congressman who wanted to pass taxes and fees on large chain stores to help protect mom-and-pop stores from competition. Boats and water crafts zip along the lake now, while several parks skirt its banks.

I love my skorts!

We found the Volksmarch Trail along the southern edge of the lake. Starting in a campground, it meanders though hardwoods to the lake's natural edge, which fluctuates with rain fall and dam draw down. While hiking to the end of the trail, we could see where the end frequently changed based on water levels, and trees marked flood levels all around us.

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Our out-n-back hike wasn't long; maybe 3 miles total. Hiking as a whole is not well developed in this park (see my friend's comments above!) But our trail had one distinct feature I've never seen. A light moss covered the trail, providing a mustard yellow blanket of color throughout the forest. A bit "yellow brick road" and fairy mischief combined, the color and texture entertained us as we made our way out to the water view along this Wizard of Oz adventure.

As we finished the hike, my husband made another interesting comment about hiking in Texas. He said, "We hiked Texas without having to deal with Texas." Meaning, we dipped our toe into the state, hiked, then jumped right back out. But as for "dealing with Texas," I just sighed.

From Oil Rigs to Stuckey's Pecan Rolls

I've been in Texas plenty. My first memories of Texas were from the back of a Porsche 911. My mom would get mad at my dad, and she'd load up my sister and me in the back of the Porsche. We'd drive from San Diego to West Virginia, passing through Texas. I learned the saying then: "The sun has risen, the sun has set, and here we are in Texas, yet." Driving through Texas takes days.

On that trip, I learned how to spot oil rigs, figure miles per gallon, find Texaco stations, look for American Express Card Accepted signs, and trust truckers. I was four, five or six. I learned to read the road and understand what it's like to be three women (okay, one mom and two young girls) crossing the country with two credit cards and no cash. I also learned that the pecan rolls at Stuckey's were awful, but they were worth the wait and an awkward treat. Texas was a big part of that.

Additional memories come from frat parties at TCU with high school friends, walking the length of Austin with my walking advocate friends, and sipping margaritas on the San Antonio. But sadly, my hiking memories in Texas are really just limited to my Volksmarch Trail Hike at Atlanta State Park.

Where to Hike in Texas

So, I need to remedy this. I believe Texas has great hiking because my many friends have told me so! What's on the list for the next time I'm in Texas? Big Bend National Park, Santa Elena Canyon Trail, and Gorman Falls Trail. So hang in there, I'll get to Texas again. And then, I'll have some great pics of some super hikes that I know Texas has. Yeehaw!

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As we left our little hike just outside of Texarkana, our bellies rumbled. With nothing but a gas station near by, we headed back towards Little Rock for our Arkansas hike and stopped in Hope, AR. Land of Bill Clinton's boyhood home, which we stopped in, we dropped into a family run place named Sheba's. I snagged some delicious grilled veggies and pinto beans along with a super sweet, sweet potato. It wasn't glamorous, but it was filling. If you want home cooking, Sheba's is the place.

What You Need to  Know About This Hike (click for interactive map)

Hiking Texas and Supporting EatWalkLearn

I hope you're enjoying my 50 Hikes 50 States Project and following along as I hike all 50 states. I share these experiences with you to provide motivation, information, and adventure. Please feel free to share my info, ask me questions, and provide suggestions. I'd love it too if you'd follow me on social at @eatwalklearn.

I also write about my trips. Why not pick up a copy of my #1 Amazon best selling book, Travel Magic Postcards: Vignettes from the Walking Traveler? It's a quick ebook read about when travel moments become travel memories. You can support me by buying a copy of my ebook or any of the other books written by me. Thank you!


See you on the trail,



50 Hikes 50 States--Utah

50 Hikes 50 States--Utah

You-Taaaahhhh. That's actually how I feel when I drive across the eastern border into Utah from Colorado. My hearts beats gleefully thinking about the fabulous hiking and amazing parks that invite outdoor enthusiasts. With the Big Five beckoning every good American roadster, anyone could hike for years and never cover all the unbelievable beauty of Utah.

Where to Hike in Moab

I've been to Utah countless times. The Southwest is my favorite region of the US; Utah, of course, grabs top ranking for the best parks overall. But I won't kid you. My favorite place in the Southwest is Monument Valley (read 5 Unusual Things to Do in Monument Valley), which is not a National Park, and my favorite Southwest state is Arizona. But Utah is a close second in every category.

Picking a hike in Utah for this 50 Hikes 50 States Project might just be the most ridiculous challenge yet. Just off the top of my head, I can recommend five hikes to get started (Corona Arch, Newspaper Rock, Delicate Arch, Double O, Slick Rock) and I've even written a blog post about the three best moderate hikes to do in a weekend at Moab.

Criteria Are Important

But I always have to go back to my criteria for this project (within 2 hours of a major airport, a 3-5 mile loop, and quintessential to that state.) With Utah, I ignored the first requirement unless you count Grand Junction as a major airport. Many people fly into Salt Lake or Denver and drive to Moab, which will take about 4-5 hours. Lucky for me, I drive.

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If I were to fly, I'd actually fly into Vegas, do the Big 5 and try to hit the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The roadtripping you can do through the Southwest is blind blowing. Here are two trips that I've done that you're welcome to steal. One takes you west to California, the other takes you north to Yellowstone.

As for the 3-5 mile loop, that's actually hard to find in Moab. Most of the trails take you on out-n-back hikes to major view points of geological features.

For the third criterion, how the heck could I delimit one arch, one geological feature, or one ruin from another?

And finally, I have an unwritten fourth criterion that I strive for earnestly, and in Utah, it's certainly a challenge: whenever possible avoid access fees. In Utah, that's tough. Unless you have an America the Beautiful Pass which gets you into most public lands, you'll be shelling out $30 and $40 per entry.

Where to Hike for Free in Moab

I had a challenge on my hands for sure. Lucky for me, I have a friend I met through US Servas who lives in Moab. Whenever I drive through, she invites me to stay at her house. And she knows the trails. Intimately. She's lived in Moab for a long time, and her hiking group and she hike weekly. Their goal is to avoid the crowds, find unique places, and enjoy each other's company while outside in Moab's beauty.

She recommended Fisher Towers, which is northeast of town on BLM land, and exactly on my way between my home and my daughter's school in Arizona. I travel this route a few times a year, so I was thrilled when the geography worked out to my favor.

Hello Fisher Towers, Finally

The first time I attempted Fisher Towers, I got lost. At the trailhead, a RV had blocked the trailhead sign. I didn't see it, and I went off in the exact wrong direction. I had an interesting hike, but after about a mile, it ended in a crevice. Hanging down the crevice was a rope. Hand etched into the side of the canyon was a "Do Not Use." I heeded this advice and turned around.

When I got back to the trailhead, I saw the sign I originally missed. So I headed off down the trail in the right direction, only to pass the subtle left-hand turn into the canyon. I walked out on the butte for a good two miles before I realized there never was going to be a left-hand turn. I turned around and finally find my, now, right-hand turn to the Fisher Tower Trail. By then, though, the sun was soon to set and I was due for dinner at my friend's. So I never even started the Fisher Tower Trail on my first attempt despite hiking almost five miles to find it!

Thus, when I returned this time, I knew what to look for. And bam, there it was!

Trailhead to the Right

I arrived to the trailhead at 3:30. Sun set at 6, so I scurried down the trail to the left turn that I had originally missed, and descended into the canyon. If you've read my previous 50 Hikes posts, you know I'm not a fan of hiking by myself (see my monkey brain in Missouri.) Here I was again, hiking alone, but there's a certain calmness I feel when I'm in Utah. Whether it's the glorious red dirt, the geometric buttes, or the native vibe that calms my soul, I'm not sure. But whatever it is, I melt right into the hike and don't fret like I do when in the woods.

No one was on the trail. I knew, though, that a hiker I had met at the trailhead was in front of me, and this gave me reassurance in case something happened. The trail went from bone dry to slushy to icy to muddy. I wished I had my cleats (stupidly, they were in the car because the trail was dry at the trailhead, ugh!!!), and my waterproof boots were tested in the muddy slush. But despite the trail conditions, the views sparked my soul. By the way, I recommend Korkers for cleats on ice; read my review after wearing them for one year.

Giant, rising towers of red stone and mud reached the sky. Climbers stretched Spider-man style across the Tower faces. Officially the towers are a series of towers made of Cutler sandstone capped with Moenkopi sandstone and caked with a stucco of red mud and named after a local miner from the 1880s. The Towers shoot up 1000-3000 feet, with great hiking canyons between them. If you're an Austin Powers fan, you've seen them in the opening scene in Austin Powers in Goldmember.

Don't Fear the Ladder

Me, I just wanted to hike. About halfway to the viewpoint is a ladder shooting you down the canyon about ten feet. You must climb back up the other side, getting back on the trail to take you out to the point. Don't freak out at the ladder. Just take your time and approach it with clean boot bottoms. I had to take a breath or two and wish I had someone with me. But then, I just counted to three and did it. No biggie.

I made it out to the point in about 1.5 hours, with just enough time to take a pic then hustle back to the car right as sun was setting. Next time, my third time!, I will start hiking by 3 so I can be sure to enjoy the entire experience. And I'll bring my cleats. Unless, of course it's summer, than I'll just lug two gallons of water. :-)

Great Eats in Moab

As for somewhere to eat in Moab, for this particular trip, I ate dinner with my friend at her house. But if you want some comfy Italian, grab it from the infamous Pasta Jay's. Everyone goes there, especially in season. Try your best to get a reservation. Also, the smoothies at Peace Juice Cafe are worth a stop. Top them off with some good grab-n-go grub from the Moab Co-op, Moonflower.

What You Need to Know about This Hike (Click for interactive map)


50 Hikes 50 States Florida

50 Hikes 50 States Florida

When thinking about Florida, not many people would say it's a hiking state. Sun, sand, seniors. They don't think about hiking, despite that fact that one of the hardest thru-hikes in the country is the Florida Trail. (If you don't get eaten on the FT, you'll die by heat, by weird Floridians, or by sinking in a swamp.)

What's Quintessential About Florida?

So when I perused Florida for my "Florida hike" in this 50 Hikes 50 States Project, I had to return to my criteria.

  • Within 2 hours of a major airport
  • A 3-5 mile loop
  • Quintessentially unique to that state.

Major airports dot Florida's landscape (Tampa, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale), so criteria item number one is easy. Loops are also easy to find. But quintessentially Florida? I had to scratch my head.

When most folks think of hiking in Florida, they think beach (check out Johnathon Dickson State Park in Hobe Sound), swamp (try the Everglades National Park), or pine forest (think Blackwater or Ocala National Forests.) Since I had lived in Florida for over twenty years all over the state, I had hiked all of these areas.

They're all hot and buggy.

Space? The Final Hiking Frontier

See the Assembly Building in the distance?

Granted, there are tricks to avoid the heat; hike early, hike late, hike in the winter. And there are tricks to avoid the bugs: wear bug spray, hike in the winter, hike elsewhere. The Florida Trail Association maintains lists of how to better enjoy hiking in Florida, which is a good read. By the way, I'm a huge fan of FTA. They were the first hiking group I ever joined and had me falling in love with Long Leaf Pine/Wiregrass/Pitcher Plant Forests (see Mississippi.)

Even with my experience hiking all over Florida and my friend's experience hiking Hillsborough County's super fun Hiking Spree in Tampa, I really stumbled on the third criteria above: "quintessentially Florida."

Besides sun, surf, sand, and seniors, what else is Florida known for? And then it hit me in my S literations. Space! Florida has Space! As in Go-to-the-Moon Space. Why not find a hike that included all these "s"'s and we could add another S and hike the Seashore, as in the Canaveral National Seashore.

Snowbirds of a Different Feather

Visiting Florida is always difficult for me. I have roots that go deep; family and friends that go deeper. For this crazy 50 Hikes Project, I always seem to be rushing through the weekend to do as much as I can, and of course, Florida was no exception. How could we not only hike Florida, but also squeeze in Georgia, see family, enjoy friends, and catch our flights?

We flew into Tampa. From there, we scooted up to Gainesville to dine with our daughter, then we drove to Georgia to hike Okefenokee, and finished up in the darling and quaint Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island. There I had a vegan Greek burrito in a cute bistro, The Patio Place, that was to die for. We loved Fernandina Beach so much, we might have to move there eventually!

Don't Miss Timucuan. It's Important

Make a pit stop and do some thinking.

On Sunday morning, we set our sights for Canaveral National Seashore. But first we made a pit stop at a place I've been before and is a must-stop for anyone visiting the Space Coast. Tucked in a corner just south of Amelia Island is the Timucuan National Preserve. There you'll find a plantation home made of original seashell tabby. But the most important item to experience is the still-standing slave quarters. Be sure to read the interpretation and the tale of Mrs Kingsley. It will knock your socks off, and I hope one day Hollywood tells her story so more people will learn it.

Toes in the Sand

South to Titusville we drove for another couple of hours, arriving at the New Symrna Beach entrance to Canaveral National Seashore. With 72 degrees, bright blue skies and a gentle breeze, we parked in lot 3 and crossed the road to our trailhead. The Castle Windy Trail meanders through oak scrub of saw palmetto, Sabal Palm, cypress, and Florida rosemary.

It's not a long trail. But our purpose was to get to the intracoastal waterway, which here at the park is the Mosquito Lagoon along the Indian River. Fortunately for us, the clear skies granted us a view all the way to the south and the Assembly Building. This structure is where NASA puts together the vehicles that will launch from the pad nearby. With nothing on the docket to launch in the near future, we didn't see any spacecraft. But it was fun to be toes in the sand while looking at the Kennedy Space Center in the distance.

Launch Yourself

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If you want to get closer to the launch pads, you'll want to either go to the amazing Kennedy Space Center (the best tourist place to visit in Florida, hands down) or at least hike in the Titusville Section of the park near Allenhurtst. There's not much "hiking" there, but you can get a good view of the space pads.

Since our out-n-back hike on the Castle Windy Trail had clocked a bit over a mile, we decided to cross back over to parking lot 3 and hike along the Seashore.

My toes were happy.

My soul jumped for joy.

There really is nothing like walking in the sand on a winter's day after arriving from a cold, snowy clime. That morning, Denver's weather reached 17 degrees. Florida felt divine.

We ambled along the shore for another couple of miles, then turned around and went back the way we came. Honestly, although I loved the instant feeling of a fresh breath when we arrived to the beach, I am not a fan of beach hiking. I actually find it quite boring. And difficult.

The angle of the beach always jars my hips and knees, and I can never quite get the hang of walking in the sand despite having grown up on beaches and living on them my whole life. My sister, on the other hand, is the Queen of Beach Walking. She can have it. Me, I'll take it once or twice a year.

Shrimping for Lunch

From there, we scooted to Titusville to meet friends at Dixie Crossings. Yup, it's a tourist trap, but isn't everything in Florida? If you're looking for good shrimp, Dixie's got it. I wasn't; I settled for a mediocre veggie burger. The fritters were good, though.

And then from there, we crossed the state back to Tampa to join another friend for dinner at the hole-in-the-wall Alpha's in Apollo Beach. I used to live near here, and Alpha's was our go-to for yummy and reliable comfort food. Their eggplant Parmesan is still as good as I remembered; it was great to be back in town with good food and good friends.

On Monday morning, we jammed one more thing into our jammed weekend. On the way back to the Tampa airport, we had to stop at another one of my favorites, The Floridian. Everyone will tell you to go to the Columbia House in Tampa to get a good Cuban and some black beans. Me, I'll tell you to avoid Columbia House and go straight to The Floridian, which is practically next door. I scooped up some black beans and rice, plantains, and Cuban bread, the best in town, before jumping into our plane back to Denver.

And then, the next week, I headed to Utah to attempt my Utah hike for a second time.