- Associated Press - Friday, May 2, 2014

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) - Ester and Bill Bultas hiked the scenic Porcupine State Park in Michigan in 2006 (Photo: Ester and Bill Bultas)

There’s the sharp smell of sulfur fumes emanating from the lava fields in Hawaii.

And the strange-looking deer they found tangled in a fence in Nebraska.

Oh, and the eight stitches she got from a nasty fall at Devils Tower in Wyoming.

Relaxing in their comfortable center city home in Springfield, the memories come in a rush for Ester and Bill Bultas. Although they started hiking in their 60s - relatively late in life - in just 14 years the couple managed to explore trails in all 50 states and parts of Canada. More adventures are on their horizon.

“There are places we never would have thought to hike, like Nebraska, but the Nebraska panhandle is incredible,” said Ester, 70. “That’s where we found this deer trapped in a fence, but it wasn’t a deer.”

She snapped a few photos and showed them to game officials who immediately recognized the animal as a young elk.

“We weren’t expecting to see elk there,” she said.

Ester, who taught high school science for 30 years, and Bill, 73, a retired Internal Revenue Service auditor, didn’t set out to hike in all 50 states. But in 2000, they took a trip to Quebec City, Quebec, and Montreal, and walked some trails. Something clicked.

The following year, they flew to Hawaii where they trekked across the black lava fields of a volcanic caldera at the Big Island’s Volcanoes National Park. There, they discovered the value of being properly equipped for hiking

“I wore sandals and had no hiking gear at all,” Ester recalled, laughing at the memory. “It was so hot from the sun. But it was otherworldly.”

“That’s an inspirational place, with the steam coming out from the rocks,” Bill added. “We were overwhelmed by what we were seeing. You could see where people had walked (the sharp lava sandpapered the soles of hiking boots), and there was a sulfuric smell from the volcano that was just fascinating.”

They never went the backpacking route, preferring to find places that could be hiked in a single day close to reasonably priced motels with a comfortable bed. They also explored close to home, and have put many miles on the Ozark Trail in Missouri, at Busiek State Forest south of Springfield and along the Buffalo National River trail in Arkansas.

“When we were first getting started, our son took us to see the falls at Hercules Glade (south of Bradleyville) and that’s where we learned about waterproof shoes,” Ester remembers. “Our kids also got us Garmin GPS devices so we wouldn’t get lost. They didn’t want to read about us in the news.”

With her science and biology background, Ester said she relishes seeing and identifying the vast range of plant species and flowers along the trails in different states.

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