This has been the summer of road trips. We take every spare moment and pack in some camping or hiking, no excuses or exceptions. Driving into the Sierra Nevada Mountains in central California is always a treat. Either by entering from the eastern desert or the western grasslands, the drive up always brings a sense of excitement into my heart. Carrie had spent time there last year, but this would be my first time camping and hiking in Sequoia National Park – land of the world’s biggest trees.
Entering Sequoia National Park we finally escaped the lingering smoke of the Central Valley. It had been a hard summer for California wildfires, and we were thankful that the smoke was not in the park at the moment. The trees got bigger and bigger and soon we were driving through the Giant Forest, feeling quite small in our Prius, but comforted by the calming energy of the amazing nature.
We camped at Lodgepole Campground, at a beautiful spot near a stream at the end of the road. There was a little waterfall which created a constant calming flow and the sites were well spread out with friendly people occupying them. The first night we went to bed early, ready to do some morning exploring.
Day two was all about trees. Giant sequoia trees, that is. We drove all the way in to bordering Kings Canyon National Park and entered the General Grant Grove. Grant Tree was in the grove, the second largest tree in the world by volume. There was also a cool tree you could slide down, and a few trees with big holes at the base where you could enter and hang out inside of the tree. The sequoia trees don’t rot like normal trees, so when they die they remain standing for many hundreds of years. We walked through some tunnel-like fallen trees that were used as shelter by the first people to stumble upon the forest.
Driving back into Sequoia towards camp, we made one more stop at the Sherman Tree, the largest tree in the world (by volume) and one of the most popular attractions in Sequoia National Park. This tree was MASSIVE and the energy put off by the world’s biggest trees was hard to ignore. We got a buzz just by walking around, it was a really special experience.
Our last day was a hiking day. We wanted to see some high altitude lakes in Sequoia National Park and maybe do a little swimming, so we asked the rangers for the best way to do that. We don’t like to disclose locations of our most amazing and less-crowded excursions, so if you’d like to do this hike yourself you can probably figure out which one it was.
Our hike ended up being nearly 13 miles, as we rightly chose to venture to the end of the trail and what was suppose to be the most beautiful lake. It was well worth it, our favorite trail of the 2018 summer and one of the most fun in our lives. The finish was this incredible lake. We walked around to where no one could see us and took our clothes off for a nice swim in the clear and not-too-freezing lake, then got some mountain sun laying out on a rock. It was the perfect way to relax before heading down the trail.
Sequoia National Park ended up being more beautiful than we could have hoped. We can’t wait to check out more trails in the future and the world’s biggest trees do not disappoint. Make sure to check out our quick video of us playing with sequoia trees!
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BURNING MAN 2017 – The dust, oh the dust. I can still smell it if I think hard enough. The Playa sticks to everything that’s ever been there. Like a tattoo, it never comes off. Whenever Burners are feeling sad or nostalgic, they can open up their dusty costumes bin and give their dinosaur print tights a shake, Playa poofing out. The memories we make out at Black Rock City stick to us the same way. They change who we are, and who we were at the same time. The person you are when you are waiting to get into the city will never return to the default world. Accepting this fact and letting it happen is one of the most important things you can accomplish at Burning Man. The ego must die for us to truly be alive.
This is not a guide like “How to go to Burning Man” or “My Favorite Photos of Burning Man 2017″and this is not a memoir, but merely a reflection. Not everything is rainbows and unicorns in Black Rock City. Things get hard and there are hourly challenges. However, it’s these moments of struggle that make it all worth it. If easy is your thing then go to Coachella, because I don’t want to hear you whining when I’m having a good time.
“Welcome Home,” oh how nice it was to see those words! Burning Man 2017 started with a bang and took off at the speed of light. We somehow missed the gate line, getting in in under two hours. We set up in the night, a windless night perfect for assembling our shade structure. Before dawn we were all up and running, so we went for a bike ride to give our virgin Burners a sense of direction. The stars were clear and you could see the Milky Way, letting us know things were good, beacons of normality in a city of the unimaginable.
The first few days we had perfect weather, then a huge windstorm came out of nowhere. The normal dust blows in a shade of grey, but this was a deep orange tan. Our shade structure was strong, but I yelled for everyone to grab a corner. For what seemed like eternity we held onto that tent as I couldn’t see my hands that were holding the poles in front of my face. I crouched down, fearful of less stable shade tents flying through the air like deadly weapons. The storm left as soon as it came, leaving us to make some quick repairs. My hand was bleeding but I didn’t feel it, the adrenaline pumping hard and WE WERE ALIVE!
We sure had some crazy nights. A particularly memorable night went something like this: rode our bikes to the center, left them near Pink Heart then wandered by foot. Found a black light camp with a fish theme, they gave you 3D glasses than made you walk though a sort of 3D maze. Upon exiting, we noticed the Charlie The Unicorn art car not far away. We walked out towards the light and had a really good dance party; Charlie was a great host. From there were heard the “crack clack tak tak tak ztaaa cap” of the giant Tesla coils. I stared at them for what seemed like hours, unable to convince myself that they weren’t shooting electricity to the sounds of Charlie’s beats. Eventually we went back to camp for a water refill or something, then stayed up all night laughing with our campmates. Around 4am we went searching for the Dusty Rhino art car. After about an hour we found it and followed it off into the desert where Tycho played his annual sunrise set. The music was chill and when the sun peaked over the horizon, shining though the dusty haze, it was one of the most spectacular things I’ve ever seen.
By the time the man burned things had already gotten out of hand. Everyone was strung out (Carrie interjection —not everyone! Sober burners do exist!) and the weekend warriors had arrived the night before with their RVs, and drugs, and moopyness. MOOP, (Mater Out Of Place) is one of the most important words on the Playa. Not one piece of anything should ever hit the ground and one must always be watching for moop. Some people are born moopers, leaving an ugly trail of trash through their entire lives. Once you are mindful of mooping, it’s easy to avoid. The Playa is generally spotless until the weekend warriors arrive. Not really Burners, they just come for the party and fail to notice the details, the point of the whole thing.
Saturday night, everyone is sitting around the Man for the big burn. Firemen made a circle at a safe distance to keep back the crazies. The whole ritual is very pagan feeling, with masked fire baring dragons who light the fuse. There were fireworks and, as always, a huge explosion that you can feel from the edges of the city. Fortunately for us we watched from the 6 o’clock side as viewers on the 12 o’clock end had to witness a man break through the perimeter and end his life in the flames.
We didn’t hear about this until the morning. The man didn’t make it to the fire, but collapsed from the heat far away from the flames. When the structure had fallen, a team of volunteer firemen risked their own lives to drag the man out of the heat. He was still clinging to life but died soon after rescue. Many people had seen it, and it had affected them greatly. Sunday is always a day for tears, but this time was different. There was pity and grief, but lots of anger as well. Suicide can be viewed as selfish, but it touches too closely to home for us. Carrie and I have both had loved ones take their own lives and we have helped friends though times that they felt were the end. There is always hope, never give up, never give up.
In the United States our health care is terrible. Our mental health care is worse. There are no cheap ways to get help and most sufferers of depression keep the feeling locked up inside for years, embarrassed or their weaknesses. It’s our society as a whole that creates this feeling, this lack of spirituality, empty living without purpose. We are always striving for the next material thing, next vacation, next promotion, because then we will be happy! But the truth is, these rat races are fueling the sadness, perpetuating the emptiness that our lives have become. Only through turning off, tuning out, and releasing ourselves from the chains of modern desires can we truly be free to be free from pain and suffering.
The Temple burn on Sunday is always a somber event. The art cars mute their beats and its the first silence you’ve heard it weeks. The fire burns slowly, the structure strong. One soul in the middle of the crowd let out a howl of the wolf. This howling spread organically through the masses until we were all howling at the moon, upset at ourselves and our inability to control the world around us. Tears flowed from many of our fellow Burners that night; it was one of the hardest days I can remember in Black Rock City.
The experience ended in a rough way. There were always mixed feelings when leaving, but this was not the way it was suppose to go. We were supposed to be happy, high on life and our experiences, excited for next year and sharing our ideas for it. But we were left far more questions than answers, the uncertainty of the whole things growing deeper. What were we even doing out here, where life shouldn’t exist? The idea of a shower and the comforts of home kept us going as we used our last bits of mental fuel to navigate the dusty exit road and reenter the hard pavement of the default realm.
We arrived at Burning Man 2017 as seven friends, and left as one. The experiences you share create a bond that can’t be broken. Once you truly see and you look into someone else’s eyes and you just know that they see it too, there is no turning back.
As soon as we entered Oregon we could tell that this thing was going to be huge. Every car was loaded down, tents and coolers strapped to the roof. The Great American Eclipse, as it was being called, was turning small towns across the nation into giant festivals with fields full of thousands of campers. Several years before, a few farmers near Madras, Oregon had noticed that the eclipse would pass right over their fields. More than 5000 campsites were sold just in those fields, with other farmers hosting similar events nearby. We arrived on Saturday in the evening; the big event to happen Monday morning. The place was already a mad house and I believe we took the last available space, with many more people circling for spots. Solar Town was the name of our event and Solarfest was happening in the town a few miles away. We were already super efficient and competent campers so we had ourselves some chuckles at everyone struggling with their new tents. The town was simple with portapotties and free showers, along with a variety of food vendors that we never sampled because of the long lines and our tight budget.
We had fun meeting our neighbors and even got to hang out with our friend from home Kelly, who ended up being camped in the next field over!
We made a short video about our experience so you can get a taste of what it was like. We didn’t actually get a shot of the eclipse happening because we didn’t really try to. We wanted to be fully present. But you can see Solar Town and see our reactions to the wonder! We both cried when totality happened. There was nothing that could have prepared us for those moments. If you ever get the chance to witness an eclipse, DO IT!
Entering Oregon was something we were super excited for. Carrie hadn’t been there yet, so it was her 44th state. Headed towards Crater Lake National Park, we found a free campsite in a quiet spot on the shores of Klamath Lake and set about relaxing for the afternoon. We had been using a site called FreeCampsites.net which was hit or miss. Make sure to read the reviews and find recent ones. The sky was again smoky from distant forest fires which created a cool haze. After dark we had to escape into our tent because the mosquitoes were intense.
It the morning we got an early start and made our way north, passing through beautiful empty spaces. Getting close to Crater Lake National Park we passed many cyclists racing up to the lake. It looked like a fun ride, but grueling. Our first view of the lake was very impressive. I had been here before as a child and enjoyed it then just as much. My family tells me stories of how I talked about it for weeks.
Crater Lake was created almost 8,000 years ago by the collapsing of a volcano. It is the deepest lake in the United States, at 1,949 feet deep. There are a couple of beautiful islands, Wizard Island being the most prominent. We drove around to the north side, which took a lot longer than expected but was a stunningly beautiful drive.
We parked at the top of the Cleetwood Trail, the easiest way to the bottom. I had also heard from my father many times about how he had to carry my brother and I back up this trail after the whole family went to the base. It was much easier now with full-sized legs. There trail was just over a mile one way and we were quickly at the bottom. The water was icy cold still even though it was August, but Carrie just had to get in so she cliff jumped off an awesome rock. You’ll see it in the awesome trip highlights video we are making! You can never complain about blue blue water and rocks, no matter how cold.
On the way out we joined the traffic headed north for the big event. It was eclipsing time and we were pumped. Stay tuned for stories from Solar Town…
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. In the morning we would be hiking San Jacinto, one of the tallest peaks in Southern California
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 hiking San Jacinto Peak to the summit. 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.
Enjoy reading about hiking San Jacinto Peak? Click HERE to read about our epic hike up Mt Whitney in central California!
We needed to get out of town and breathe some open air for a couple nights, so we settled on a hastily-researched camping Anza Borrego getaway. Anza Borrego is a State Park in Southern California. Some of California’s State Parks are as incredible as some National Parks we’ve been too. 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 for another Anza Borrego getaway 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!
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After dropping our dog Dusty off in Arizona to be kindly taken care of by her grandparents for the next two months, we headed off toward Zion National Park 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 Zion National 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!