Category Archives: United States
It felt weird to be back in Arizona. Not our home for six years but the comfort remained as we checked out all our old favorite spots. We hiked to our favorite swimming hole, which was still as beautiful as ever, water a perfect way to cool off in the middle of a seven-mile, 90-degree hike. Nearing the end, we witnessed a teenage couple— the guy foolishly hiking into a deep part of the canyon to get water, cursing back up at his girlfriend for not following him down. They showed up at the swimming hole about an hour later. Apparently on the edge of death, the miserable looking boy pulls out a small battery-powered fan, his girlfriend using his precious water to wash sand off her butt. I never did see them get into the water.
On the way back we drove through Sedona and up Oak Creek Canyon. The views in this region are unbeatable! We had forgotten what an amazing place this is.
The next day we hiked a section of Bill Williams Mountain, starting at the ranger station east of town. The hike has some pretty nature and I enjoyed finding four types of wild mushrooms nestled beneath the pinion pines. The grasshoppers buzzed around the woods, their sounds always startling and interrupting the tranquility. We didn’t finish the hike, which round-trip totals seven miles, because we have done it a few times before and we had been hiking a good deal.
Our third day we got up at dawn and drove to the Grand Canyon. We hiked along the rim until there were less crowds with selfie sticks and climbed over the edge to a nice place to hang our feet over. In the distance we spotted two California Condors which we had never been lucky enough to see before. They circled through the sky, catching air streams, and eventually cruised right in front of us. The sound of their feathers rippling through the wind was mesmerizing, wings stiff like a hang-glider. Easily the coolest birds I’ve seen in the wild.
Day four we finally got some climbing in. We went bouldering at a place called Priest Draw off of Lake Mary Road in Flagstaff. The Draw is famous among the climbing community and we were excited to check it out again, having last been there in 2011. We sent some of the easier problems, leaving the classic cave problems for the pros. It was a great spot to spend the morning with our pup Toby who loved tramping around in the woods. We planned to go across the street to The Pit, a sport climbing area, but it started to rain as we entered the parking lot so we went to Flagstaff to a gear shop. We needed just a few more things for our coming Mount Whitney trek.
Our Prius has been carrying us everywhere and we are calling it the “Rock Crawler” now. Every day seems to bring about some new dirt road for us to conquer. We are decked out with gear and a new solar panel/battery bank. Wish us luck as we head to hike Mount Whitney!
We woke up at the crack of dawn without getting much sleep because we were so excited to finally put our backpacks back on and do some adventuring!
I feel like I’m finally doing what I am meant to do again! It’s been a long year and half of helping other people travel (my job is Assistant Manager at a hostel), feeling a little bit more bored by the routine of it every day. I’m happiest when I have a light pack on my back and a plane ticket in my hand!
There is now a pedestrian bridge (Cross Border Express) from the San Diego side of the border into the Tijuana International Airport. The cost is $15 per person, but it’s super convenient as opposed to crossing on foot and having to take a Mexican taxi to the airport. I slip in and out of sleep on the flight from Tijuana to Chihuahua, catching glimpses of the turquoise-blue passage over the Sea of Cortez, then dry, craggy, cardboard-brown mountains jutting violently out of the flat, barren desert.
Chihuahua at first glance seems like the Wild West of Mexico. Lots of men wearing owboy hats and giant belt buckles, very few gringos. We had to use an ATM to withdraw pesos because there was not even a “casa de cambio” in the airport.
Chihuahua is close to Juarez and the landscape reminded me of the scary, violent scenes from “Sicario” as we rode into town on a taxi. I think it’s much safer, although not very touristy. Our friend from here warned us to stay in the main tourist town of the Copper Canyon (Cañon del Cobre), Creel, and not spend any nights in the small villages, as that’s where we could get kidnapped. Creepy.
Our taxi quickly dropped us off at the office of Autotransportes Turisticos de Noroeste. The ticket saleslady said something about our trip being slow but our Spanish was not up to par enough to understand why at that moment. On the bus, the city ended quickly and we rolled through open desert with mountains in the near distance. About an hour outside the city at the first toll plaza we saw the protest. People and trucks were blocking the highway in both directions. Apparently the price of fuel had been raised 20% overnight and everyone was mad. We had to wait about an hour before they let our bus through. The bus was slow and we had to wait at another roadblock; the mountains got bigger and trees started replacing the cacti as we got higher. It looked a lot like northern Arizona.
After roughly seven hours (should have only taken 4.5) we rolled into Creel, a cold and sleepy town after dark. Hotel Temescal was welcoming and warm, with super-cute Chihuahua pups to play with! Some authentic food at Restaurante Veronica was exactly what we needed. Zach got “El Norteño”, a cast-iron skilled of beef, cheese, and veggies, a traditional local dish.
We dropped into bed early, happy to have made it through our first big travel day and ready for more adventures!
From our campsite we looked down over the dusty towns of the Inland Empire, imagining their residents choking in the thick layer of smog that was ever present. But the air on the mountain was clean and as the sun set over the desert below, the stars shown brightly down on the lights of the towns, like scars strewn across the desolate landscape. We went to bed early as we sometimes do when camping, not having brought firewood and wanting to wake early to hike the peak. We left the cover off the tent so we could fall asleep under the stars in the brisk mountain air. Peaceful dreams came fast.
We stayed at the Marion Mountain Campground. There were only a few other people staying there, all quiet and keeping to themselves. We picked site number 8 because it overlooked the valley. It wasn’t a very shady spot and didn’t have trees for our hammock, but the view was worth it.
We made some breakfast in the morning and decided NOT to go on the 12 mile round trip hike to the summit of San Jacinto Peak. The weather man was predicting possibilities of rain and being caught on a giant mountain in a thunderstorm is not one of our favorite things to do. So we went to the ranger station in Idyllwild town and they recommended the Deer Springs Trail to Suicide Rock, a more manageable hike to some white rocks overlooking town.
The hike was moderate and peaceful, with only us on the trail. Lizards of various sizes ran away as we made our way upwards, there were also birds and chipmunks scurrying about. Once at the top there was indeed a few perfect places to off yourself.
I climbed to the highest rock over looking the biggest drop and looked down on the town of Idyllwild, hidden beneath me in the pines. The iconic Tahquitz Rock was across the valley. We ate some snacks and took some Go-Pro shots. We started back down with a lot of morning left and were down the hill before noon, glad that we didn’t do the big hike.
Our car took us back to town where we grabbed some tasty sandwiches at Idyllwild Bake Shop & Brew. There were lots of interesting people walking around; climbers, outdoors people, Asian tourists, old hippies. We checked out a few of the smalls stores. They had few customers but very friendly shopkeepers. We especially liked the pet shop where the owner told us that Idyllwild was the most dog-friendly town in America and gave us a magnet of Mayor Max, the golden retriever. We were tired from hiking and wanted to take our boots off, so we headed back to camp and relaxed for the rest of the day. The city life had destroyed our connection with nature, so we were happy to take it back for a day.
We needed to get out of town and breathe some open air for a couple nights, so we settled on a hastily-researched camping getaway in Anza Borrego State Desert Park. Boy, did it deliver! The stars our first night out there were shining brighter than any I’ve seen anywhere else in California! Breathtaking!
We camped at Tamarisk Campground, which had spacious spots, clean bathrooms, and water spigots, basically everything you need for a good campout! The temperature dropped to around 50 F at night so the campfire was much needed! We spent the next day driving around the massive park getting our bearings. We didn’t do too much hiking because we had the dogs with us. They weren’t allowed on many trails and it was too hot to leave them in the car in the middle of the day. We’ll definitely have to come back to explore the Mud Caves and do the famous Palm Oasis hike.
We did check out the awesome visitor’s center, drove to the Ocotillo Sand Dunes, and then ate great cheap Mexican food in the tiny town of Borrego Springs. There were huge rusty animal sculptures all over the town so we had some photography fun with one of those.
The road home took us through Julian, so naturally we had to stop for some famous Julian apple pie! I’m so glad we were able to get out in nature for a couple days. My soul always feels refreshed after some time in the middle of nowhere!
“It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” -Java Johnny
Burning Man is so impossible to write about. Life on the playa is so radically different, full of childhood wonder and fantastical ideas that become reality. It reminds us that life is art, that giving is good, and that surprises are around every corner.
We found Java Johnny, our favorite old coffee-slinging nonsense-talking character, right in the same spot he was 3 years ago. (“Attention campers! If you’re wondering what time is it, I have the time for you. Get ready to set your clocks! The time is….THURSDAY!”) Naked Lady was there too, and so was an awesome couple from Portland who brought a whole box of Voodoo Donuts that stayed fresh enough for the first 2 days.
I met a kid who went to Hofstra University with me and was in the same major a couple years younger than me. We drank Zach’s homebrewed saison and reminisced about old professors. “Come to New York,” he told me, “I’ll get you a job.”
On the first day it rained, which never happens. The playa turned into thick, cement-like mud, which coated our shoes like glue until everyone had a 4-inch platform of mud. My cheap old boots somehow didn’t attract the mud as much, but Zach and others went around barefoot or wrapped their feet in plastic bags and slid around the neighborhood. It was fun.
Our neighbors formed “Camp Let It Go”, a hodgepodge group of Americans, Aussies, and Brits. They built an amazing multi-level shade structure with hammocks and a fully-stocked bar and DJ setup. They also built a flower dome, one of those old playground domes covered in twinkly lights and lined with pillows and carpets. The best part was the top level of their structure, an elastic-rigged hangout lined with sleeping bags and stuffed animals. We fit a lot of people up there, watching the sunset. You just had to make sure everything was arranged well enough that no one fell through the straps! After all, “safety third.”
On Friday there was a dust storm. It got terrible right when we got to the temple. The only quiet place on the playa, people kneeled praying, meditating, honoring loved ones, as the dust swirled. Biking back, you couldn’t see 4 feet in front of you. I was terrified of getting lost out there, dusty and dried out like a lizard. We made it back and laughed at how our faces were different colors inside and outside our goggles.
My bike got stolen. It was right outside our camp on the outskirts, and we were only next door at Camp Let It Go. Yesterday we got a comment on our blog from the thief. He must have read the “La Aventura Project” bumper sticker stuck on there. You can read it under the “Maps” section. To whoever you are, I’m not that mad about it. I didn’t want to carry that crappy bike back home anyway. I just wish you wouldn’t have taken it on Wednesday! Maybe you’ll keep reading our blog.
There were more moments, more laughs, more awestuck-staring than I can ever remember properly. New best friends whose names you’ll never remember. Swirling stars and subtle realizations that you can’t put into words, but they change who you are. It’s hard and dirty and difficult and immensely creative. I hope I’m blessed enough to return.
“Hot sand on toes, cold sand in sleeping bags. I’ve come to know that memories were the best things you ever had.” -Ben Howard
After dropping our dog off in Arizona to be kindly taken care of by her grandparents for the next two months, we headed off on a long meandering path to Burning Man! The first stop was Horseshoe Bend, a crazy geological formation near the eastern end of the Grand Canyon. It’s only a mile off the lonely highway but it’s still surprising to see so many tourists and hear so many foreign languages being spoken in this crazy desolate area. The short walk down to the overlooks is totally worth it if you don’t mind your stomach turning a bit! No guard rails here, as in most of the canyon. With more than a 1000 foot straight drop off in most places, I wouldn’t recommend cliff jumping either.
After seeing the bend we crossed Lake Mead into Utah. Since it was Friday and we hadn’t made a reservation, we were assuming Zion National Park would be full and we’d just find a campsite outside the park. But, lo and behold, luck was on our side and we pulled up to the gate just in time to nab the last campsite in the park, over at Watchman Campground.
After setting up our tent next to some way-too-tame deer and a little fawn, we hiked the Watchman Trail, along the Virgin River and up a small bluff. I remember tubing in this river when I was a young girl. Warped memories from when I was really small plus the western drought in recent years made it seem significantly less “rapid” than I remembered, haAfter a good night’s sleep, we set off the next morning on the trail to Angel’s Landing, one of the most popular and strenuous hikes in the park. We were repeatedly warned of the difficulty-steep grades and sheer dropoffs and do not attempt if you’re not a confident hiker! Call us crazy, but as relatively-well-seasoned hikers, we didn’t think much of it. Granted, the trail was a lot of steep switchbacks, really tough on the thighs! The trail was really wide though so the “sheer dropoff” wasn’t quite as dangerous as they made it sound. Or so we thought! It wasn’t until we got ourselves almost 2000 feet up to the last section of trail that we got our rude awakening. I’m not sure “trail” is even the right term for the last climb up Angel’s Landing! It’s literally a skinny outcropping of slanted rock layers, with a chain bolted along the side for you to desperately cling to, while you place your feet into crazy contorted positions, precisely one after another, trying to ignore the sheer drop to your right! Ahh! Oh, and there’s only “one lane” for all hikers, so sometimes you’re practically climbing over the top of people or bear hugging them so they can pass or you can pass them. They needed some traffic control up there!
The thing is, I am not really scared of heights that much. Strap me into a harness on a belay system and I’ll hang out off the top of that precipice all day. But when I know that it’s only my own strength keeping me from falling to my death, that’s when I freak out. I know I can do it, but I’d wayyyyy rather have a lifeline. Anyway, we’d come so far, so we kept going to the top, stopping to snap a few pics, all the while our hearts still beating and palms sweating at the thought of having to go back down the same way. Luckily, we kept our cool and no one went hurtling. After finishing the sketchy section, we practically ran down the rest of the trail, and finished the whole round trip in 1/2 the time the rangers tell you it takes. Ha, at least we’ve still got that on them!