Colorado National Monument (What to Know Before Going)


Do NOT underestimate this gem based solely off of its name. Although not deemed a national park, Colorado National Monument is worth the drive West from Denver and has one of the cheapest entrance fees for parks in the Southwest at $15/vehicle or $25 for a 7 day pass.  However, I highly recommend purchasing the annual park pass for $80 which lasts for 1 year and allows you to visit any National Park Service- affiliated park in the U.S. It was a great investment and definitely worth the money.  Continuing on… The monument includes multiple hiking trails that differ in difficulty and bike trails as well. There are no bodies of water in the monument and is mainly for hiking, photography, and scenic driving.

For the 1 day visitor who simply wants a summary of the monument, a drive through would take 1-2 hours, and this includes stopping at the major impressive points and taking photos quickly. For those who want a more in-depth summary of the monument, it would take approximately 3.5-5 hours, and this includes stopping at every point, taking photos, and walking down to the photography points (which are at the most a 5 minute walk). There is only one path to drive through the monument although a couple stops may require divergence into a smaller road. There are two entrances into the monument, a West entrance and an East entrance. Those who are entering from Colorado would likely enter from the East and those who come from Utah are would likely enter from the West. As I entered from the East, I exited from the West and a complete drive through the monument would take you towards the town of Fruita and Highway 70 on the way to Utah. The drive to Arches National Park from the monument takes approximately 1.5 hours and the drive there is barren, with only miles or crude land, so I highly suggest getting a full tank of gas before going into Colorado National Monument and filling the car up with snacks and water. Using the restroom in the monument before heading out would be a smart move.

From personal experience, I highly recommend the following stops, as they are extremely breathtaking and worth the stop, but of course if time allows, all stops are worth the stop.

1.) Cold Shivers point: the first major point when entering from the East side. The spot is just as it sounds. It will give you the cold shivers due to its high elevation and massive drop below your feet that was carved out from rapid waters. Beautiful and daunting photography spot.

2.) Echo canyon at Upper Ute Canyon Overlook: This one stop is the most memorable and fun stop in the entire monument; it is also not written on the monument map or labelled anywhere so this is sort of a hidden gem. There is a mummy-like statue that lays on the opposite canyon walls, but beyond that, the walls have the best ability to echo your voices. It is surreal and enigmatic in a way because it truly does sound like your twin is thousands of feet away from you, repeating your words a couple seconds after. I spent about 10 min here, yelling at the walls. This is a must!

3.) Artists Point: A very photogenic spot due to its array of rock colors, hence the name. The vibrance of colors will depend on weather conditions of the day, and is most colorful to the human eye on a day when clouds partially cover the sun.

4.) Independent Monument View: Stop here to see an odd rock formation that looks as if it were carved by humans.


side view of Independent monument

5.) Grand View: Why would you even skip this stop when the magnificence is IN ITS NAME? It’s Grand.. no further explanation needed.

Thus, these are my top 5 stops, but once you visit the monument, you, of course, will eventually come up with your own top list.

Additional spots:


Ute Canyon


Balanced Rock



Taiwan Day 6: I Made It on the News!



Processed with VSCO with g3 preset

Tossing the Chinese yoyo

The only time that I’ll ever be famous was the day local Miaoli reporters flocked to the elementary school with their load of technical equipment, ready to interview the principal along with its fellow volunteers, such as me. We had known the day before that the reporters would come, so we prepared a simple medley of talents for the camera. I felt composed knowing that the reporters were coming, but the moment I saw the white van roll up in the parking lot with three people hauling out massive tripods, video recorders, and a box of microphones and audio devices, my composure escaped my insides and was replaced with queasiness.

The schoolchildren upstairs had been sweeping floors and tidying up the classrooms since the first bell, when suddenly from below I heard thumping footsteps and echoes of children repeatedly hollering, ” 他們到了! 他們到了!” (They are here!) To keep all procedures organized, the principal, calm yet assertive, spoke on the intercom for all students to gather in the foyer and instantly all the schoolchildren frantically raced each other, competing who could sit down criss-crossed applesauce first. When the children had arranged themselves in columns by grade, the principal spoke with authority, “Today is the day, and we are so thankful for our volunteer teachers here. The local reporters have come and are ready to report all that has gone on in the past week at our school. We have been preparing for this for a couple of days so try your best and just have fun! All the yo-yo kids, head downstairs first and let’s attempt the “dragon”!” While the yo-yo kids set up on the grass, me and my fellow volunteer mates were approached by the reporters, who set up audio microphones on our backs and told us to write our Chinese names on a sheet of paper. Having the cameraman clip the audio box onto the back of my jeans and guide the wire to the back of my neck was tremendously awesome. I was about to be on Taiwanese News! Who would’ve imagined my first time on television would be in a foreign country?

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Elementary schoolkids

After I was set up, I waited to be interviewed. My stomach felt empty because I didn’t know what type of questions the reporter would ask and I had to respond in Chinese, which I am quite good at, but having to spontaneously respond on the first try on camera was frightening. In my head, I predicted some simple questions she could possibly ask, so I repeatedly rehearsed my responses in my head until I was called on. The double emotions of excitement and nervousness was overwhelming, but I confidently greeted the reporter and stood in an area of good lighting. She instructed me to speak loudly and about 2 inches away from the microphone and within seconds, my two minutes of fame began.

Initially, the reporter asked me elementary questions which thankfully I had rehearsed in my head, but I was at the highest extent of nervousness that I even had to ensure I wouldn’t butcher my Chinese name. Eighteen years I have lived with this name and even such pressure could’ve caused me to forget. More advanced questions were thrown at me and the camera was fast and rolling, but surprisingly, I briskly soared past them one by one, and by the end of two minutes, I had only stuttered once. I felt proud at the moment. Public speaking was never my forte and I personally know of my low self-esteem, but the girl that would appear on the Miaoli News later tonight would be someone of full confidence.

But my fame did not end there. I eagerly moved on to the patch of grass where the children were warming up their master yo-yo skills, and boy was I an amateur among the kids, but I had picked up Chinese yo-yo quickly in the past few days so I agreed to join the yo-yo squad on camera. The first trick performed was the “dragon”, which is great for cameras because it shows teamwork, unity, the Miaoli elementary school as one. It took only the second try for the yo-yo to smoothly move down the line of ten people, from one persons string to the next, and the toss back reached great heights and was successfully caught. We all happily cheered and we, as a school, truly were one in unity. Following the “dragon”, we performed toss ups, around the leg, spider web, and throw and catch. I performed around the leg, which can be perpetual for the ultimate yo-yo guru, but as a non-guru I was currently at 21 loops, when everyone, including the reporter and cameramen, gathered around and loudly chanted the counts in unison. I had reached 40 loops when I saw my yo-yo wobble in which I tried to straighten, but once I hit 43, my yo-yo tumbled off and rolled away on the grass. Everybody joyously hollered, clapped, and laughed and I put on a broad smile because 43 was a great number for a dilettante like me.

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

On the Miaoli news

After the yo-yo portion was recorded, I was approached for a second interview on how I was so talented on the Chinese yo-yo, which, umm… I honestly wasn’t, but because I am an American who had just picked up the sport, it was pretty impressive. They then moved on to the Chinese top acts, which I had no place in because I actually had zero talent in Chinese top.  An hour had passed as I watched these little town children, flawlessly execute impressive top tricks, only wishing I was as skilled as they were. Performance can be exhausting, thus when the medley concluded with one last top trick, a lunch of fried oyster mushrooms, fresh bamboo shoots with Kewpie mayonnaise, bitter melon with salted egg, and leafy vegetables was served for all the hungry performers. All plates were later emptied of their food, and classes resumed as usual.




Taiwan Day 4: Trying Hakka Food

food, travel
Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Fried pork with pomegranate

Food served at the elementary school was relatively the same throughout the weeks. There was usually a broth-based soup with leafy vegetables and meatball pieces, white rice, and tempura-fried vegetables. I was grateful for the school cook, a friend of the principal, who came daily at around 11 AM to prepare sufficient amounts of savory food to feed the mouths of all 50 people at the school. However, on a Saturday, I was treated to a lavish meal of traditional Hakka food. Miaoli is the only county in Taiwan that is predominantly Hakka people, a group of Han Chinese people who came from Hakka-speaking areas in South China. Since my first visit to Taiwan when I was just 9,  I heard of the Hakka culture, but I never really fathomed what it truly was, but here I am 12 years later, immersed in the culture, ready to sample the delicacies of Hakka cuisine. Hakka food tends to be salty and spicy, extremely bold in flavor because Hakka migrants toiled lengthy days under the intense sun farming, resulting in salt content loss in the body so food intake regains the salt.

We entered a semi-fancy restaurant, decorated with strawberry wallpaper about 25 minutes away from the school. The locals recommended 1.) the Hakka stir fry (Xiao Tsao), a traditional dish composed of dry tofu, preserved meats, peppers, and green onions, 2.) Dragonfruit pork, fried pieces of pork topped with dragonfruit jam, and 3.) water lily (shui lian), crisp straw-like vegetable strands sauteed with garlic and peppers. Devouring the food, yet still showing class, I went through 3 bowls of white rice, pairing with the 3 dishes. And no, 3 bowls of white rice is not an exaggeration; the dishes were extremely palatable and salty that it was necessary to pair the dishes with rice. The tanginess from the preserved meats paired so well with the relatively bland dry tofu and the sweet dragonfruit jam complimented the crispy pork skin. And lastly, the lightness of the water lily vegetables toned down the two other salty dishes.

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Sauteed water lily

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Hakka stir fry

Thirty minutes passed, and we all held our hands to our stomachs, gently rubbing our food babies. Each plate was clear of food and the looks on our faces indicated we needed a nice nap after our feast. Indeed, we all plopped on our beds and napped for a good 2 hours until a few school children banged on our doors and politely hollered at us to venture with them. We totally could use some exercise after today’s fine eats so we agreed, quickly got dressed, and headed out. We took an insanely steep and winding path up the mountains that was later alongside running waters downhill. The three energetic schoolchildren sang, ran, and gently pushed each other while I and the other teens were red in the face and lethargic as hell. Clearly, I was getting old. We reached the highest point of the pathway, where only one house resided. It was a polished, wooden house that seemed too nice to belong in the area. The house overlooked a vast part of the town and was surrounded by greens and tall trees. I assume because of the kids’ loud chatter, a 50 something year old man walked out the wooden doors and greeted us so kindly, asking where we were from, and cordially invited us to the back for some tea and snacks. Smoke arose from his grill, where charred bamboo lay, chickens ran around the backyard, feeding on bamboo scraps, and a beautiful german shepherd rest on the grass, eyeing the children frantically chasing the poor chickens. Everything about the house was so homey and down-to-earth with its all wood furniture and calligraphy on the walls. It was absolutely beautiful. The man told us that the house is actually a Bed & Breakfast but not many people come, so he and his wife (both now retired) just relax in nature and have no future plans apart from that.


Processed with VSCO with f2 preset


Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Large wild beetle

Processed with VSCO with g3 preset

Chickens snack on bamboo scraps

Processed with VSCO with g3 preset

Chickens on the road

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Miaoli mountain views

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Miaoli mountain views

We said goodbye to the kind man and his chickens and walked the steep, winding roads to return to the elementary school. Our feet were sore and our bodies were covered in sweat so we took our showers and had movie night in our little hostel.