Joshua Tree National Park

“One time I saw a tiny Joshua tree sapling growing not too far from the old tree. I wanted to dig it up and replant it near our house. I told Mom that I would protect it from the wind and water it every day so that it could grow nice and tall and straight. Mom frowned at me. “You’d be destroying what makes it special,” she said. “It’s the Joshua tree’s struggle that gives it its beauty.” –Jeannette Walls

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When our time in Slab City had come to an end, we headed an hour north to Joshua Tree National Park. As we picked the spot we would camp in for the week, I looked over at I-10 in the distance and thought about all the times we have passed this area during the years we lived in Arizona. I never gave much thought to the beauty that was hidden along this stretch of highway. It’s funny how much you start to notice when you’re no longer so distracted.

The tree itself, is an interesting sight. I saw Dr. Seuss in the makeshift structure of Salvation Mountain and the theme continued here in Joshua Tree. The harsh desert creates interesting characters. In the several days we stayed here, we found striking contrasts in our experiences. The days were hot and the nights were cold, we had peaceful days with no one around and we had busy nights with neighbors playing EDM music till 3 AM. We met wonderful individuals then met drunk ones who like to heckle rangers. But in the end, we found a way to balance our encounters, learn to be flexible and walk away with a memorable experience.

Camping details:

Camping ranged from $15-$20/night inside the park. Due to Joshua Tree being located in California and near major cities, the best thing to do is plan ahead and reserve a campsite prior to leaving.We were also unaware until we arrived that it was a holiday weekend. Dates and time often becomes irrelevant when living on the road! So the park was full and every campground was packed during our stay.

Lucky for us, we planned on BLM camping. Free is always better! The area is located just outside the south entrance along I-10. When we arrived, there were several RVs parked in the area so it’s very hard to miss. The downside to BLM camping is that it is completely primitive meaning no toilets! But, if you can dig yourself a deep hole or hold it in until you get inside the park, it’s totally worth all the money you can save. The upside is it’s free and you can gather vegetation for campfires at night.

Here’s a tip: Find dead and fallen ocotillo branches for fire. Take a walk around your campsite and don’t be afraid to venture out. Ocotillo branches are lightweight and long so you can drag a bunch back to your site. Check out the boys gathering wood below.

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What to do:

Day 1: When arriving at any national park, make sure the Visitor’s Center is your first stop. I grabbed a newsletter and brochure that listed all the hiking and off-road trails. On our first day we decided to hike around the Cottonwood Spring area and up to Mastodon Peak.

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We had an awesome time roaming around this area. Riley walked around with his Jr. Ranger booklet filling out the questions and got a kick out of the old mines around the loop. We climbed to the top of Mastodon Peak which gave us an amazing view of the park. The trail up the peak is not maintained, but it’s really short and not difficult.The narrow climb combined with the rocks can be intimidating and caused several people to turn around, but I recommend giving it a try if you have proper footwear.

Day 2: On our second day, we needed to buy groceries so we drove through the park to Twentynine Palms. The south visitor center to the north visitor center is about 40 miles and since we were driving at slow speeds through the park, it takes quite a while to get from one end to another. We stocked up on food and supplies so we didn’t have to make that trip twice.

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Joshua Trees at dusk on our way back to camp

Day 3: We decided to go off roading on Pinkham-Canyon road and bushwacked through a random hill for some exercise. Be sure you have 4wd if you decide to do this! There were a couple areas where our truck worked hard in the sand. It was a bumpy and fun ride, and even for a holiday weekend, there was no one out there! Here is the info from the NPS website:

Pinkham Canyon-Thermal Canyon Roads
This challenging 20-mile (32.4-km) road begins just south of Cottonwood Visitor Center, travels along Smoke Tree Wash, then cuts down Pinkham Canyon, exiting onto a service road that connects to I10. Or you can pass Pinkham Canyon and continue on to Thermal Canyon Road. Sections of these roads run through soft sand and rocky flood plains. Drivers should be prepared and should not attempt travel on these roads without a high-clearance, 4-wheel-drive vehicle and emergency supplies. “

Day 4: We drove halfway through the park and explored some of the boulders! There was a ton of running, jumping and climbing. A simple day without any plans, and we had the best time.

Day 5: We hiked Ryan Mountain then headed over to some more boulders and jumped around. The trail on Ryan Mountain was fairly crowded, but overall it was a good hike with nice views.

 

Overall, a fun and relaxing 5 days for us at Joshua Tree. If you go, we recommend: camp for free so you can stay longer, talk to a ranger to attend the free events, do some hiking, and don’t be afraid to explore off road away from the crowds. Have fun!

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Jack enjoying the desert views.
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Gorgeous desert sunset from our free campsite!

 

 

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Redwood National Park

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I’ve mentioned several times on this trip how the feeling of insignificance constantly emerges whenever we go sightseeing. I can still say that the most intense feeling of insignificance was definitely during our trip to see the Redwoods in northern California.

Standing at the foot of these trees and looking up a couple hundred feet with the knowledge that many of these giants existed before Christ is a mind-blowing experience. Seriously, I just stood there several times and couldn’t wrap my head around it. Our existence as human beings is nothing compared to these trees. As we walked around, we talked about the changes of humanity since these trees made their first appearance on Earth. How many human beings have passed the redwoods, looking up in amazement as we did? It’s a crazy concept.

Our first stop was at Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Upon entering, there are signs that warn visitors against entering with towed trailers and RV’s. Lucky for us, Bear is small and has big tires so we were able to ride on through without any issues.

Our plans to camp while exploring this area changed when we arrived in Crescent City, CA after dark. We headed to the local Wal-Mart and saw several people camped out in the parking lot, even people with rooftop tents! They were open 24 hours and had a coffee shop inside so ultimately it was an easy decision to make Wal-Mart home for a couple days.

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The following day, we drove over to Trees of Mystery in Klamath, a private park with a gondala ride that takes you through the trees. We saw our first billboard for this place around central Oregon and Riley would not stop asking about it. The billboards continued and Riley kept asking, so we promised to take him. When we stopped at the Visitor Center in Crescent City, the lady who worked there said it wasn’t worth visiting, but I disagree.

You can’t miss this place. It’s right on highway 101 and there is a giant Paul Bunyan and Babe at the entrance. The price of admission wasn’t outrageous, but it also helped that Riley got in for free. They are also pet friendly so Jack got to go inside the gift shop and ride the gondola! Overall, we thought it was a fun, touristy place to visit. We enjoyed seeing some of the strange trees and Riley loved the gondola. I think it’s a fun place to check out especially if you have kids.

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Next stop, “The Last Free Place” Slab City, California.

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Ashland, OR

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Girly beer at The Growler Guys

Southern Oregon is a definite spot on our list that we would love to visit again. We are no strangers to Oregon and the Pacific Northwest was my home until my teens. It wasn’t until this trip that I had no idea how unfamiliar I was with the southern part of the state.

Our first stop was in Ashland where one of our good friend’s, Christian, moved from the SF Bay Area. Like us, Christian needed an adventure, so he left his life behind in California and found a job through WWOOF on a biodynamic farm. Not familiar with WWOOF-ing? It stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. The jist is, you pay a one-time fee for a book filled with locations of organic farms around the world. If you contact a farm and agree to work for them, you will be provided with free meals and a place to live in exchange for your work. I’ve heard of people working on vineyards in Europe as a way to travel through the continent without paying for food or lodging. In Christian’s case, he lived in a small off grid cabin on the farm’s property. When the season was over and his work was done, he loved Ashland so much he decided to stay. When we visited, he was living in an apartment and working at a local restaurant. Thanks to Christian, we got to experience the way the locals eat and drink, and it was pretty awesome.

Here is what we did in Ashland:

FOOD: 

Mihama Teriyaki Grill 1253-B Siskiyou Blvd. Ashland, OR 97520

We almost ate at Mihama every night we were in Ashland. The prices were incredibly cheap and the food was bomb. They had delicious Udon bowls, a good children’s menu, and it was vegetarian/pescetarian friendly. They also had toys and coloring pages to keep the kiddo’s occupied. Highly recommend this place!

Ruby’s Neighborhood Restaurant 163 N Pioneer St. Ashland, OR 97520

We had breakfast at Ruby’s one morning and it was a great find. We had vegetarian breakfast burritos and the ingredients tasted very fresh and healthy. Ruby’s is located inside a cozy little building where it feels like you’re having a meal at a friend’s house! The food is not the cheapest, but we were happy to pay for good quality food.

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Riley approved of Ruby’s!

Elmer’s Restaurant Medford, OR (Several locations along I-5)

We stopped at Elmer’s for breakfast before heading out to Crater Lake. Elmer’s is your typical American fare, but we enjoyed our food and the service was very friendly. The servers were very sweet towards Riley! They have several locations in Oregon, many along the freeway. It’s definitely a step up from Denny’s if you’re craving a good ol’ American breakfast.

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Chocolate Milk and Pancakes at Elmer’s

DRINKS:

The Growler Guy’s 345 Lithia Way Ashland, OR 97520

Very cool tap house with a ginormous selection of craft beers and ciders from all over the country. Downside is when you ask to taste the beer, the sample is super tiny, you can’t really get an idea of what you’re drinking. Other than that, it’s a cool place with a cool vibe. I had a peach cider (not sure what I was thinking there, I’m usually a dark beer kind of girl!) we sat by the fire on the patio where I met a fellow MSW (Master of Social Work) who was also on a road trip. Nice night with nice conversations. I think this place is worth checking out!

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Beer and growlers behind my child haha yes, it’s kid friendly!

 

Case Coffee Roasters 1255 Siskiyou Blvd Ashland, OR 97520

Locally owned coffee shop with a simple menu, ridiculously delicious cold brew coffee, ah-mazing hot chocolate, and vegan donuts. This place feels super hipster, but that’s just a part of the Oregon experience. The service is super friendly, so even non hipsters (like myself) feel comfortable in this place. I still dream about their cold brew coffee… We’ll be stopping here on our next trip to Oregon!  

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Big thanks to Christian for showing us around Ashland!!

 

 

Want more information on WWOOF-ing? Visit: WWOOF.net

Next stop, Crater Lake National Park!

Lake Tahoe

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Along Highway 50, Bridal Veil Falls.
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Trail to Fallen Leaf Lake

We rang in 2016 in South Lake Tahoe, California. Growing up in the Bay Area, we were very familiar with Tahoe and its beauty. We knew it would be cold and snowy, but our plans were filled with hikes and more hikes. I imagined picturesque views of the lake where we would play in the snow everyday and take awesome photos we could share with friends on Instagram. Unfortunately, our time in Tahoe was not as eventful as we had hoped. We came down with terrible colds during the holidays and for a family who rarely gets sick, this was a big blow for us. Our immune systems seemed to have taken a toll from the holidays and we found ourselves in very bad shape. So forewarning, this post is short. Our time in Tahoe was mostly spent indoors, wrapped under a blanket indulging in cold medicine and probiotics. But no worries, we made it outside for one hike and of course, food!!

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Jack loved running through the snow.

New Year’s dinner: Latin Soul at Lakeside Inn

168 Hwy 50

Stateline, NV 89449

Bear took a break during this trip since we were able to stay with our friends in their cabin. It was of course a holiday, so they made reservations for all of us to go out to dinner. We were sick and the only ones with a kid, so we offered to stay home so they could enjoy their night out. They insisted and even confirmed with the restaurant that there would be items on the menu to fit our dietary restrictions (we are Pescetarian, the only meat we eat is seafood). It was a thoughtful gesture, so we went ahead and joined them for dinner at Latin Soul.

To our surprise, the restaurant was located inside a casino. One of our friend’s opted for the $35 all you can eat Brazilian barbeque and was disappointed at how dry the meat was. We ordered a vegetable soup and confirmed with the waitress that it was vegetarian. She said yes, but after careful inspection discovered the soup had bacon. On a positive note, we traded in the soup for a chile rellano and it was pretty delicious. Staff was also really nice. Long story short, I wouldn’t return here. But per yelp reviews, the food is good, except the Brazilian barbeque.  

Breakfast: Heidi’s

3485 Lake Tahoe Blvd

South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150

Heidi’s has the most amazing breakfast. It’s one of those restaurants known for their giant portions, but in addition to the big plates, the food is also incredibly delicious. We shared an omelet, home fries and pancakes. The pancakes stood out and I enjoyed every bite. My only regret is ordering juice and getting a refill. Refills aren’t free and that tacked on another $6 to our bill!  My advice: get there early and don’t arrive starving because they have a long wait. And don’t order drinks if you’re on a budget!

Hike: Fallen Leaf Lake

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g28926-d116646-Reviews-Fallen_Leaf_Lake-California.html

It’s a short and easy hike to Fallen Leaf Lake. We were thrilled to be back among pine trees after spending the holidays in the busy jungle of the SF bay area. Along the way, we had a snowball fight and we were in awe of the scenery once we made it to the lake. I would have loved a more challenging hike, but our bodies were trying to beat our colds so it turned out to be just perfect for us. Click on the link to trip advisor above for more details.

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Snowball fight!

Although we spent most of our time indoors, we felt like our time at Lake Tahoe was the perfect transition from the holidays in the Bay Area to going back to our lives on the road. After we left Tahoe, we headed north to Chico since Clayton wanted to show me the town where he spent his first years of college. I was intrigued by Chico, but more so wanted to see the Sierra Nevada Brewery. Unfortunately, Sierra Nevada turned out to be a bust. Minors are not allowed on the tour (we thought it would be similar to the Coors Factory) and their restaurant was closed, so we used that time to catch up with friends in the area. While in Chico, I got word that my grandparents were asking if we were going to visit. We thought “well, we’re this far north, we should just go!” That’s the beauty about this road trip. Next stop, Oregon!

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Next stop, Oregon!!

Yosemite National Park

“I am losing precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news” -John Muir

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It’s not hard to understand why John Muir was so inspired by Yosemite. The deep valleys and massive stone walls are mesmerizing. Everything from the trees, to the flowers, to the waterfalls, to the ability to view wildlife in their beautiful habitat could captivate anyone, even those who don’t deem themselves as “nature lovers”.

Our time at Yosemite was short. After Monterrey, we headed inland towards our cabin in the Sierras where we planned on spending Thanksgiving and the first 3 weeks of December. Visiting Yosemite in the winter seemed less ideal than visiting in the warmer months, but we were in the area and had to take the opportunity.

Let’s just say that our time in Yosemite did not go as planned. The initial site we planned on camping at felt too far from the park, so we decided to drive straight to Yosemite and camp in the park. When we arrived at the park, we found that camping was $16/night. It was cold and getting late so we figured we’d set up for the night and figure something else out in the morning. We took a loop around the campsite and had no idea that taking that loop would change our plans for the rest of the night.

We found a man standing alone next to his car. He was wearing a bright safety vest and had a look of defeat on his face. His name was Darrell and his old Buick was filled with papers and his belongings. Did he live in his car? Was he camping in his car? We greeted him with a “how are you?” and he replied that he wasn’t good and that he needed some gas. He asked us to drive him to the gas station 5 miles away. He explained that he had a leak in his fuel line. He was in the campsite helping a couple from Oregon who had broken down. He said that as he was helping them, all of his fuel leaked out and now he was stuck. We offered to help, so he quickly grabbed his gas can. I jumped out and let him sit in the front seat.

As we went through the gates of Yosemite, he smiled at the rangers and said “hey, it’s me again, just grabbing some gas”. They smiled back and acted as if they were familiar with him. That eased my mind about letting a complete stranger in our car. I mean it was only 5 miles, right?  He was a nice man and everything seemed normal until we started making small talk. We asked him how long he was staying at Yosemite. He said he was just passing through and was very vague about his destination. We asked where he was from and he answered, “here and there” then said he spent some time at a nearby town. His responses were strange. I figured maybe he was living in his car, but was too embarrassed to tell us.

The more he talked, the more I got uncomfortable. You see, we meet a lot of people on the road and often, people are talkative. The conversation usually goes the same direction… we share where we are from and details of our road trip, and the other person usually does the same. The conversation then leads into details about places to camp, places to visit, places to hike, stories about the road. Darrell was unable to have a genuine conversation which made me question his honesty.

Then it got worse. He told us he was working for the park as a campground host. Since we have always been intrigued by camp hosting, we asked about his position and what perks he receives. He quickly replied “uhh yeah, I get a free spot to camp, that’s it”. He then followed that up with “details” about Yosemite to make it appear that he was knowledgeable about the park. As he explained that all of the Visitor Centers were closed for the season, I got a knot in my stomach. The Visitor Center was open and this guy was definitely not a camp host!

In what felt like the longest 5 miles, ever, he then started to reassure us that he was a good person. He promised us that he had never been to prison and that his record is clean. I sat quietly in the back pretending to play with my phone thinking the topic he brought up was awkward and unnecessary. We finally arrived at the gas station and he got what he needed. The ride back was quiet and uncomfortable. Clayton stayed friendly, but I could tell he was giving up on the conversation. There is no point in trying to talk to somebody when everything they are saying is a lie. We continued to nod as he continued to make up facts about Yosemite. At that point, I felt like nodding guaranteed our safety.

After 5 long miles back to Yosemite, we arrived at our campsite to an even more unsettling scene. There were 2 ranger vehicles circling the lot. Our trailer was sitting alone on one end of the campsite while Darrel’s car was sitting alone on the other end. Were they looking for him? Did the rangers at the entrance notify somebody he was with us? We dropped him off and watched him walk towards the rangers with his hands up. We waited for a ranger’s approval to leave and quickly drove away when they waved. After that strange encounter, we decided we didn’t want to camp inside Yosemite alone.

Note to self: If someone needs gas, just grab their gas can and get it for them!

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Pondering with John Muir…. maybe we shouldn’t give rides to random strangers…

Here is what we did instead: Yosemite Lakes RV Resort at 31191 Hardin Flat Rd., Groveland, CA 95321 (same turn as the gas station). Located 5 miles from the west gate entrance to Yosemite National Park. We paid about $40 in December. Many amenities including a club house with showers, laundry, wifi, satellite TV, and a billiards room. https://www.thousandtrails.com/california/yosemite-lakes-rv-resort/

A couple photos from our short time in Yosemite! And yes, the Visitors Center was open and it was amazing. Don’t miss the short movies they have to offer!

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Mt. Whitney (Lone Pine, CA)

The lowest point in North America is Badwater Basin at 282 feet below sea level.

The highest point in the lower 48 is Mt. Whitney at 14,505 feet.

Did you know they are only 84.6 miles away from each other? Pretty crazy. Mother Nature is amazing.

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Bear heading to Lone Pine

 It was November during our visit and it was cold. We stopped in Lone Pine after Death Valley for a night before continuing towards the coast. When we have the opportunity, we will visit Lone Pine again. I’d like to explore the Alabama Hills and take a hike on Mt. Whitney. I’ve read pretty amazing reviews on the hiking in the area, so if the weather is good, please go exploring!

During our one-night stay, we found a spot to park behind McDonald’s. We got the tip from freecampsites.net and the parking is fairly inconspicuous. You’ll see a large area behind the parking lot with unmarked spaces. A semi parked next to us for the night as well. In addition to the free place to stay, McDonald’s wifi can be reached from the outside. This McDonald’s also has several outlets so it’s a good spot to recharge devices as well. Lone Pine is a very small town, so you won’t miss McDonald’s right on the 395.

The morning we left, we went to the Visitor’s Center to obtain more information. I highly recommend stopping in so you have a general idea of what you want to do or see in the area.

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Information:

Visitor’s Center: LonePineChamber.org, 120 South Main St. Lone Pine, CA 93545

McDonald’s address: 601 South Main St. Lone Pine, CA 93545

Alabama Hills Information: http://www.blm.gov/ca/st/en/fo/bishop/scenic_byways/alabamas.html

Mt. Whitney Trail information: http://www.wildbackpacker.com/backpacking-trails/mount-whitney-trail/