Memorable Nomadic Moments – Top 10 of 2019

2019 was our first full year of nomadic travel and it has been one full of amazing destinations, wonderful people and encounters with wildlife. We haven’t even begun to tell all the stories from the epic adventures we’ve had. Traveling and working full-time isn’t without its challenges but as we look back on our 2019 adventures it is hard to imagine a year with more wonder and beautiful destinations. Here are our top 10 most memorable nomadic moments of 2019.

The Top 10 Most Memorable Nomadic Moments of 2019

#10 – Surprising a Rattlesnake

Silver Creek Rattlesnake
A rattlesnake is ready to strike. My 300mm lens really helped to safely catch this shot.

While most of the memorable moments on this list were a result of intentionally seeking out a beautiful place, this experience was the result of using an outhouse while boondocking off the grid for a workweek. We were walking back to the camper when Jennifer jumped five feet to her left nearly taking me out in the process. This action was followed after hearing the distinct rattling sound of a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake. When Jennifer put her foot down less than a foot away from the creature he sounded the alarm and Jennifer took the warning to heart. Luckily the reptile didn’t strike but instead posed as I used my long 300mm lens to grab a few nice pictures. Needless to say, this is a memorable nomadic moment Jennifer won’t soon forget.

#9 – Alone in the Dark of Carlsbad Cavern

Alone in Carlsbad Cavern
Getting to spend time alone in Carlsbad Caverns is one of the most memorable nomadic moments of 2019.

We loved Carlsbad Cavern but it can be very crowded so this is a cave where it can be hard to find solitude. I, however, was hiking out of the cave just before closing time and found myself alone in the dark—or at least alone in the cave lighting. Sound permeates our modern world to such an overwhelming extent that these ultra-quiet places always seem to etch a memorable moment in my brain. 

This one was special because for nearly an hour I walked uphill as I exited the cave and didn’t see another person until I reached the natural entrance. A ranger was awaiting the other ranger apparently hiking up behind me whose job it is to ensure the cave was empty for the night. If you seek solitude, I highly recommend you find out what time the park service closes the natural entrance and head that way about 15 to 30 minutes prior to that time. You’ll enjoy having one of the most visited caves in the world all to yourself.

#8 – Stumbling Upon Elephant Seals

Elephant Seal Harem
A harem of Elephant Seals lazily lie on the beach near the Mattole Lighthouse in Northern California.

The only thing better than getting to experience nature in its natural habitat is doing so unexpectedly. In October we were camping on the remote West coast of northern California at Mattole Beach. This is not an easy place to get to as the roads here, while paved, are poorly maintained (read lanes literally missing because they have slid off the mountainside). However, this remote spot was one of the best places we camped in 2019.

During our stay we decided to walk down to the abandoned lighthouse 3-miles down the beach. While there are signs that elephant seals do inhabit the area seasonally we saw no signs of them on the entire 3-mile hike until I nearly stepped on one as we approached the lighthouse. The wind was howling and blowing sand was periodically pelting us so we had our heads down to keep the sand out of our eyes. So when I nearly stepped on the first elephant seal I rose my head to see a beach covered with the massive seals. 

#7 – The Stillness of the Petrified Forest

Milky Way & the Badlands
The Petrified Forest has one of the darkest skies in the U.S. making for great camping and one of our most memorable nomadic moments in 2019.

Arizona’s Petrified Forest is a place of extreme dichotomies. It is a seemingly barren landscape that has extraordinary beauty being literally eroded and revealed from the soil. The contrast of a treeless badlands revealing an ancient lush forest that is now revealed in astonishing color is something everyone should see. A night spent in the stillness of this place is a moment not soon forgotten. The complete quiet can overwhelm a person. But here it can also help you acknowledge and appreciate the age of the wood and the starlight above. One is left feeling very small in our limited sliver of time. It is a moment that could humble the most bombastic person.

#6 – Waking Up Next to a Furry Creature

Early in the summer Jennifer and I were backpacking the Skoki Loop located in Canada’s Banff National Park. After two long days of hiking, we found ourselves at a backcountry campground at the edge of Baker Lake. I was awoken from a deep sleep by Jennifer nudging me aggressively and asking me puzzlingly, “What is that sound?” I sat up and peered into the darkness hearing a clicking sound that was ominously close. As my eyes adjusted to being awake I made out a dark figuring sitting underneath the rain flap to our tent.

Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 Tent
This is our Big Agnes tent. The culprit slid under the rainfly in the middle of the night. You can see how tight that is by looking at the outside flap to the right.

For those unfamiliar, most small three-season backpacking tents have a rain cover that extends well beyond a mesh door. This area makes a kind of covered vestibule where shoes and bags can be stored. The tent itself is much too small for such things.

What Was on My Pack

After discerning that something was sitting on my backpack I quickly found my headlamp and lit up the area. A porcupine turned his head to look back. He looked rather perturbed that I had disturbed his midnight snack. He was indeed enjoying the salt that my sweat had deposited on my backpack’s shoulder strap. After I yelled at him to “go away” several times he finally got the hint that he was not welcome and slowly sauntered off, scrapping his quills on the tent flap as he went.

One Last Encounter

Memorable Nomadic Moments - Porcupine on the Skoki Loop
We caught up with the porcupine the next morning. He was trying to eat the outhouse’s wood.

Shortly thereafter we heard someone from the neighboring tent let out a shrill scream. The furry creature had awoken her from her deep sleep no doubt. Later in the night after having pulled in all our gear and making for a very crowded tent, Jennifer awoke once again to a pink noise being pressed up against hers through the tent’s thin mesh. The porcupine had returned to his favorite salt shop for another tasting but we were closed. Not only do I have this unique and memorable nomadic moment etched into my brain, but every time I go backpacking now I get to look at my duct taped shoulder strap and remember our furry friend.

Baker Lake Skoki Loop
The beauty of Baker Lake is one of the highlights of the Skoki Loop but watch out for the porcupines.

Memorable Nomadic Moments #5 – Sunrise in the White Sands

Memorable Nomadic Moments - White Sands National Park Sunrise
The sun rises over White Sands National Park in New Mexico.

White Sands National Monument received National Park status in December of 2019. Having visited earlier in the year I can see why. This is the largest gypsum dune field in the world. Here in the desert, the white sand stays cool to the touch. The days can be blindingly bright with sunlight reflecting off of every inch of the earth’s surface for hundreds of square miles. In contrast, we spent a night in the backcountry and enjoyed not only a beautiful sunset but one of the best places we’ve ever experienced the sunrise. The early morning light highlights the contours of the dunes while simultaneously illuminating the closest mountains to the dunes on the west side—a truly memorable nomadic moment.

#4 – Close Encounter of the Owl Kind

Barred Owl
One of the two Swamp Owls that we spent nearly an hour watching in the cypress swamp. This one swooped in and sat on the railing less than ten feet away.

When we encounter wildlife in its natural habitat, we are guests in their home and privy to a world that is foreign to us. It is a gift and our nomadic lifestyle allows us to do this in some amazing ways. Perhaps the most memorable place for our encountering wildlife was at Highlands Hammock State Park. We got to see snakes, alligators, turtles, deer, and my favorite creature, otters, living out their lives in the wild. As much as I love otters the Barred Owls at Highland Hammock stole the preverbal show. Watching a pair of owls fly through the cypress forest and at one point land a few feet away made for a very memorable nomadic moment in 2019.

#3 – Hearing a Glacier Calve in the Night

Icebergs at Berg Lake
One of the many icebergs that broke off Berg Glacier in the middle of the night.

We have said it before that the trip to Berg Lake in Canada is arguably the best backpacking adventure we have ever taken. It is full of unique and wonderful beauty throughout the 20+ mile adventure. While it was full of beauty and memorable moments the one that stands out the most was lying in our tent at night listening to the glacier calve (break off). It is amazing how the uncertainty of potential doom paired with the ethereal sound of raw nature can etch an indelible mark on the memory. This out-of-the-way and very unusual environment made an epic and memorable nomadic moment.

#2 – Camping on Top of a Waterfall

Memorable Nomadic Moments - Mooney Falls
Camping above Mooney Falls was one of the most memorable nomadic moments of 2019.

When we started planning our nomadic lives, one of the possibilities I was most excited about was having the flexibility to acquire a backpacking permit for Havasu Falls. The entire adventure into the Grand Canyon is one of the most memorable adventures of 2019, but the moment that stands out the most was camping above Mooney Falls. Where else in the world can you pitch a tent so close to a 100’ tall waterfall and spend days exploring the area or just relaxing and hearing the water crash into the canyon below?

Memorable Nomadic Moments #1 – Hiking Through a Blizzard in July

Winter in Summer Memorable Nomadic Moments
Jennifer hiking through a surprise blizzard in the middle of the summer. This is the Canadian Rockies on July 18!

We spent our entire summer in the Canadian Rockies and one of the highlights was making the 36-mile journey to the base of Mount Assiniboine. When we set out on this adventure on July 18th the last thing on our minds was the possibility of trudging through a blizzard above tree-line. To etch this experience forever in our minds the Lord blessed us with lightning and thunder. I recall a few years ago when Jim Cantore of Weather Channel fame made a huge deal out of snow lighting. Being above tree-line when we experienced the phenomenon for ourselves, we found it to be more terrifying than thrilling, but either way it is the most memorable nomadic moment for us in 2019. 

Memorable Nomadic Moments - Mount Assiniboine Landscape
Traversing a bit of life-threatening weather is well worth it when this is the destination.

Conclusion for 2019’s Most Memorable Nomadic Moments

Memorable Nomadic Moments
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We had a heck of a time narrowing down an entire year full of incredible adventures into only 10 memorable nomadic moments but we hope you enjoyed them. We will continue to tell our 2019 stories into the new year so use the subscribe button above as to not miss out on any of those adventures. Happy New Year Everyone! We look forward to having many more memorable nomadic moments to share in 2020. 

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