Eat, Wander, Love: Our journey through Cinque Terre and Florence

When I look back on our Italian vacation, Cinque Terre and Florence are two highlights that bring back fond memories. A vast contrast from our time in Rome, we experienced a slower pace even amongst the crowds of tourists. Maybe it was the fact that I could sit quietly on the streets without a vendor in my face or the amazing food we enjoyed in both places. Overall, I know that if we ever return to Italy, Cinque Terre and Florence will definitely be on the list.

Riley enjoying a red sunset over Ponte Vecchio

Cinque Terre

I’ve learned that a sign I had a great time is when I barely have any photos. I can easily get caught up in the moment and forget to take my camera out. Cinque Terre was a definite “living in the moment” experience. It’s hard to put into words the magnitude of how amazing this place is so my advice to everyone is, you need to experience it for yourself.

I booked our accommodations in Cinque Terre at the last minute and was unable to find a hotel or Airbnb close to the water. Initially, I was concerned when I looked at Google maps because our spot looked incredibly far from the main towns. Turns out, my procrastination was a blessing in disguise. Located in the Cinque Terre National Park, in the middle of the mountains, the bed and breakfast I booked was a small farmhouse with beautiful views. The cold mountain air and the sound of silence was a familiar feeling of home, and for the first time during our trip, I felt comforted by my surroundings.

After a night of quiet and restful sleep, we found ourselves waking up later than expected and forgoing our plans of hiking through the five towns of Cinque Terre. Luckily, it started raining and we were told that the trails are closed when it rains. Despite not being able to hike, there was so much to see and eat within the five towns that we kept busy the entire time. We purchased an all-day train ticket, hopped around each town, ate seafood, and drank cappuccinos. I walked around with my head looking up the entire time. It’s honestly such a pretty place. I kept mentioning to Clayton that it felt like we were walking around a movie set or Disneyland because the buildings looked surreal. Next trip, I’d like to visit when the weather is warmer. The water looked crystal clear in some parts, I can only imagine how amazing it would be to swim in it!

Calamari at La Scogliera in Manarola
Seafood pasta at La Barcaccia in Monterosso
My way?! It was meant to be, I loved Cinque Terre!

Florence

Prior to writing my post on Rome, I came across discussion boards where people hated Florence and loved Rome. I read through these posts of self-described “Rome girls” and realized it must be a personality difference because I LOVED Florence.

The significant difference between Florence and Rome? For me, it was the obvious cleaner streets and the lack of vendors constantly in my face. Those “skip the line” tours that are so aggressively advertised in Rome are non-existent that I was able to sit on the steps in the middle of the Uffizi Palace and read my Florence guidebook without anyone approaching me. It was also refreshing to see the people of Florence take care of their city.  The amount of garbage in the streets was significantly less, almost non-existent, compared to the streets of Rome. I saw a man who was literally vacuuming the streets! The locals were also much nicer and it was easier to find spots that wouldn’t charge you an arm and a leg for a bottle of water.

In addition to the better ambiance, the restaurants and coffee shops were incredible. It was hard not to find a spot for a delicious meal, a good cappuccino, incredible desserts, or even an IPA American style beer.

Here are some of my favorite spots in Florence:

Venchi: I am well aware that this is a chain, but I was first introduced to Venchi in Florence and I truly miss it. Grab a gelato then buy some souvenirs! We purchased a bottle of the Cuba Rum which is a delicious dessert liqueur and a few pieces of chocolate. I was obsessed with the Chocaviar which is a super dark chocolate and the chocolates with pistachios in it.

Caffe Gilli: I LOVED the cappuccinos at Gilli’s! It was so creamy and made to perfection. I went here twice in one day! Just be aware sitting here is really expensive,  I believe about 7 euros per seat so just stand at the cafe and enjoy.

Ditti Artigianale: Another great cafe with a delicious cappuccino. I don’t remember how much it was to sit, but we sat so it must have been cheap. This place had a young/hipster vibe and service was very friendly. Riley also ordered a tiramisu and loved it!

Osterio Santo Spirito: Great food, friendly service and a really awesome outside seating area. It’s a pretty popular place and quite small, so I suggest making a reservation.

Fishing Lab Alle Murate: The fish and chips were delicious, and they have a take-out option which is great when you’re on the go! It’s really nice inside, plus they had an American IPA which was delicious and made me miss good beer at home.

Caffe Liberta Firenze: Cappuccinos were decent, but what really stood out were the pastries! They were so good!

Gelateria De’Medici: The best gelato we had on our entire trip. Many say that it is the best gelato in Florence. They had some really cool, exotic flavors and it wasn’t expensive!

Dragon Fruit, Chocolate Rum, Rum

 

Cinque Terre and Florence were exactly what I imagined when I pictured our time in Italy. Historical sites, friendly people, amazing food, and lots of coffee and wine! If you’re looking for a great time and plan on eating your way through Italy, I recommend starting in Florence and Cinque Terre. Come hungry and enjoy!

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Phoenix/Flagstaff/Sedona

A list of our favorite places in Phoenix, Flagstaff, and Sedona.

Hopefully, our “best of” list will guide you if you’re not sure where to go in Arizona!

Sedona

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Sedona can be a pricey place to stay and eat while enjoying the red rock views. If you have a ton to spend, it can be a luxurious getaway. But, if you are a budget traveler like us, consider the following:

Red Rock Visitor Center and Ranger Station needs to be your first stop when entering Sedona. Not only do they have educational info about the area, but the rangers are incredibly helpful in finding the best trails to explore. If you don’t stop here, you might find yourself stopping at all the crowded trails waiting for people to get out of your way just to take a picture!

Cave Springs Campground and Pine Flat Campground located between Sedona and Flagstaff in the Oak Creek Canyon. Both campgrounds are very shady and have spots along the creek. Good for tent camping and there are no hook-ups available. There are vault toilets at both sites and Cave Springs has coin operated showers. Be sure to make reservations online since they both fill up fast, especially on the weekends!

Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood, only a 30-minute drive from Sedona and away from all the crowds! There is a $7 entrance fee, $15 fee for tent camping and $60/night for camping cabins. We tried out the cabins for a night and loved it! Check out the website for all info on recreation plus it’s also close to Jerome!

My favorite hot dog place in Sedona closed down, so the only recommendation I have for quality food on a budget is Wildflower Bread Company. Since Sedona is a big tourist town, I feel like they lack decent food unless you are willing to spend a ton of money. We usually avoid all of the restaurants on highway 89 because they tend to be overpriced for the quality.

Flagstaff

We had a very memorable hike up to Fisher Point Overlook. The overlook is an intermediate trail that ends at 6, 620 feet where you get an amazing view of the forest. After the overlook, we wandered around the surrounding trails and found beautiful rock formations and caves. It’s also an awesome place to bring your mountain bike if you have one!

After a big hike, I suggest visiting Beaver Street Brewery and Historic Brewing Company. Both places have beer and food. The burgers are awesome at Beaver Street!

Payson

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Near the Tonto Creek Campground is the Horton Creek Hiking Trail. The hike is 7 miles RT but overall an easy trail. At the end of the trail, there is a beautiful gushing creek that is the perfect setting for a picnic.

The Tonto Natural Bridge State Park has the world’s largest natural travertine bridge. It’s a short, but slippery hike that brings you under the bridge and gives an incredible view. Also, a great place to bring the family for a picnic!

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I accidentally forgot my bag with my hiking clothes and shoes! Don’t be like me! This was incredibly slippery in boots.

Beeline Cafe, 815 S Beeline Hwy in Payson is a small diner along the highway that offers big portions, delicious food, and good prices. Great for those of us on a budget, just remember to bring cash!

Phoenix

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Bartlett Lake

There are so many amazing places in Phoenix, I could go on for pages giving recommendations on camping, hikes, things to do, things to eat! Instead of rambling, I’m giving you my top favorites. Use my guide if you get overwhelmed by google and yelp!

Food:

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Butterfield’s Pancake House and Restaurant in Scottsdale is Clayton’s favorite place. They offer a traditional American breakfast with big hearty portions. This seems to be a favorite for locals and snowbirds. Clayton recommends the pancakes, German pancakes, benedicts, and omelets.

Butters Pancakes and Cafe in Scottsdale was more of a favorite for me. It’s a bit more trendy than Butterfield’s and has an assortment of omelets, benedicts, and pancakes with interesting toppings. Avoid the fresh squeezed orange juice if you’re trying to save money!

The Breakfast Joynt in Scottsdale has amazing red velvet waffles. And that is the only thing I’ve ever gotten there!

Spinato’s Pizzeria has the best pizza I have ever had in my life. They have 5 valley locations, so there is bound to be one near you. You have to try Mama Spinato’s Signature Spinach pizza. I would fly to Phoenix just to eat this pizza!! But be warned, some people don’t like it because the sauce tends to be on the sweeter side.

O.H.S.O. Eatery and Nano Brewery has 2 locations and has an amazing happy hour!! They are also extremely dog-friendly. You can find free dog treats and pictures of dogs on the walls. I love grabbing an AZ Burger while having a beer or sangria on the patio. They are also gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan friendly!

Postino has 7 valley locations and is known by locals for their $20 Monday/Tuesday deal. On these days, you can grab a bottle of wine and a bruschetta board for only $20. At Postino’s you can be fun, fancy, and cheap!

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We enjoyed some delicious fish tacos and margaritas at So Cal Fish Taco Company in downtown Gilbert. Their happy hour was incredibly cheap and they have a great patio.

Talking Stick Resort has the most amazing buffet, Wandering Horse Buffet. This is not your ordinary casino buffet. Their food is top notch, especially during dinner. They even have a full on gelato bar! If you have an RV, they also offer free parking so you can fill up on food then go straight to sleep in the parking lot.

Hikes:

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McDowell Mountain Regional Park

McDowell Mountain Regional Park in Scottsdale is a family favorite for us. You can have an easy to difficult hike, all within the same area. Pick your trail, spend however long you want, and enjoy the awesome views of the valley. No fee to enter this park!

Usery Park has the Wind Cave Trail that is an easy hike for those wanting to take in awesome views without taking the whole day.

Camelback Mountain is a favorite for locals and visitors. It can get extremely crowded and parking is incredibly limited. I don’t recommend this one for young children. The crowds plus the steep trails might make parents a bit anxious even if your kid is capable of difficult hikes. Many people have fallen at Camelback and have gotten seriously injured. Also, dogs are not allowed on any trails!

Tom’s Thumb in Scottsdale is a heart pumping hike surrounded by beautiful desert scenery and awesome rock formations. This one is at the top of the list for us!

Spur Cross Ranch Conservation in Cave Creek has tons of trails for hiking or horse back riding. Make sure you bring cash for the entrance fee!

Lakes:

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Bartlett Lake

Lake Pleasant Regional Park located in North Phoenix has beautiful waters to go boating or swimming. It is also home to a ton of wildlife including bald eagles! $6 per vehicle at the gate.

Canyon Lake in Tortilla Flat. This lake is at the top of our list because the scenery is incredible. You will need to purchase a Tonto Pass to spend the day here.

Bartlett Lake in Scottsdale is beautiful and typically less crowded than the other lakes. This is a popular spot to go camping right along the water. You will need to purchase a Tonto Pass to spend the day or night here.

Saguaro Lake in Mesa is a beautiful place to find wild horses. It is also close to the Salt River where most locals float during the summer. A Tonto Pass is also required here.

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Horse traffic jam at Saguaro Lake.

More Fun:

Catch a Spring Training game for as low at $8! It’s an awesome way to spend the day even if you’re not a baseball fan. Spring Training begins the end of February and usually lasts about a month.

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McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park is one of Riley’s favorite places! Catch a ride around the park on their dog-friendly train, hop on the carousel, grab some ice cream, and check our their train museums. It’s a low cost, fun way to spend the day with any train lover in your family. They also have events during the holidays and a summer concert series.

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Arizona is an awesome, diverse state with so much to do! It’s obvious why it’s one of our favorite states to visit. Have fun and comment below if you have any questions.

KOFA

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Off-roading to Skull Rock

 We left the bustling area of Joshua Tree and headed east towards Arizona where we decided to spend time in a state that we love and used to call home. When we lived in Phoenix, our many trips west to California had us driving past Quartzsite without any thought as to what this area of the desert had to offer. Before our nomadic streak, we would pass this little town and think of it as a place with many rock shops, clean restrooms and some fast food. Turns out, Quartzsite is a gem (pun intended!) and it gave us one of the most memorable stops of our trip.

 KOFA National Wildlife Refuge is located between Quartszite and Yuma, and camping in this area is primitive and free. The refuge was created to protect bighorn sheep and covers over 600,000 acres of the Sonoran Desert. Kofa comes from King of Arizona, the name of a goldmine that used to be active in the area. This area of public land is filled with rugged rock formations, fascinating hikes, endless opportunities for off-roading, and wildlife sightings that left us in awe during our stay.

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Cholla “jumping cactus” got all of us as we hiked by!
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A coyote’s dinner?

 When we arrived in Quartzsite and headed towards KOFA, I noticed most travelers were camped closest to I-10. We drove out about 18 miles south to our campsite near the Palm Canyon Trail. Our area was empty compared to the hundreds of RVs we saw near the interstate. I wondered if people knew they could camp this way? Or did the inconvenience of the road turn them away? As usual, the road less traveled always leads to the best destinations.

 We set up camp not far from the trail to Queen Palm Canyon. It was midday when we arrived. The blazing desert sun right over us as we unpacked and stared down at the cars who quickly drove past us and blew dust in our direction. We didn’t have any neighbors camped nearby, but the dirt road we parked on had frequent visitors who would drive up to the trailhead and quickly turn around.

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View from our campsite.

 By the time we prepared dinner, the influx of visitors had disappeared. The rising rock formations that stood over us glowed a deep red as the sun began to set. I looked at the valley in front of us, at all the tall cacti casting long shadows along the desert sky. Once again, it was that feeling of freedom, that incredible feeling of being small. We were graced with a vibrant sunset then the winter night sky gave us a clear view of the bright moon and stars.

The entire week we were there, we’d start a fire just after dinner. As the coyotes began to howl, we’d spot Venus in the distance and laugh at how we watched the moon and the stars glide past Queen Palm Canyon. As insane as it sounds, every night we danced with Venus. We’d focus on one part of the canyon and move along with the planet. We’d laugh then look silently, and I’d quietly reflect on how amazing this time was with nature and with my family.

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Getting the cholla out of Jack’s paw!
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Home is where you park it!

Our hike up the Palm Canyon Trail:

 A short walk from our campsite was the trailhead to the Palm Canyon Trail. This trail is very short, only about a half mile. The reviews on TripAdvisor are a bit misleading citing the trail as somewhat difficult. It’s a bit rocky and I can see it being a fall hazard for certain people, but for the average person, it’s literally a small uphill walk to view the palm trees in the canyon.

What’s cool about this hike? These palm trees are native to Arizona. Apparently, the theory is certain animals had eaten the fruit of these trees and brought their droppings into this canyon which in turn planted palm trees.

Once we saw the palm trees, it was an interesting sight, but definitely not enough of a hike for us. We decided to continue on, ultimately bouldering up the mountain until we could no longer safely climb up. We did our best to follow the cairns placed by other hikers, but we eventually hit a dead end. We finally stopped and turned around realizing that every inch of effort in that climb was totally worth it. We had the whole place to ourselves and the view was stunning.

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Our week at KOFA was one of the most spectacular sights we saw on the road. I still dream about our beautiful campsite and the feelings of peace I had during our stay. My advice is, take the road less traveled and stray away from the rest of the visitors. KOFA has so much to offer even though it may not be evident at first sight.  I promise you won’t reget blazing your own trail.

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!

 

 

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

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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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Big Sur, CA (Highway 1)

“The pleasure we derive from journeys is perhaps dependent more on the mindset with which we travel than on the destination we travel to.” ― Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel

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Highway 1

California is a place loved by many. Residents and visitors alike can go on for hours about the wonders of the Golden State and the various activities available for all. Many flock to the state each year, soaking up the sun, the beaches, and the mountains. It’s a paradise for city folks and nature lovers. When I tell people I grew up in California (SF Bay Area to be exact), I’m often told “Lucky you. It’s beautiful there.” And that’s usually followed up by, “why did you leave?” Now that, that is a long story. A quick synopsis would be something along the lines of: it’s too crowded, it’s too expensive, I’m afraid of earthquakes, we have family drama. Bottom line: California creates a ton of anxiety for both myself and my husband. As we made our way towards the coast, I said to Clayton “my chest hurts, I’m feeling anxious.” He nodded and said he was feeling the exact same way.

And that is where the Alain de Botton quote comes in. We had to change our mindset. I was certain this wouldn’t be the last time we’d feel uncomfortable while traveling. We had to come up with a plan, something we could revert to when we feel like this again. At that moment, we decided that a pep talk before hitting the road would get us through our travels in California. We’d discuss worst case scenarios and how we would handle them…”there’s going to be a lot of traffic. That’s okay, we’ll just talk about something fun and listen to the radio”, “gas is going to be very expensive. That’s okay, at least it will be cheaper when we visit other states”, “we might encounter negativity from our families. That’s fine, we can always leave if it gets bad.”

As salty as I was feeling (pun intended), I knew that everything was worse in my mind and if I approached this anxiety differently, everything would be fine. Why am I sharing this story? I like the quote above, and I feel it’s something we can all relate to. When we travel, I find that most of us will accentuate the negative like it needs to be paired with the positive. Think about it… when asking someone about a trip they’ve been on, they usually name the bad parts. “It was too hot”, “it was too cold”, “my flight got delayed and they lost my bags, I was so pissed”, “I got a million mosquitos bites, it was terrible”, “the food sucked”, “the people were rude”, and so on. I’ve recently started to notice this much more because when we tell people about places we want to visit, we often hear: “oh, I didn’t like it there…” (fill in the blank with specific reason), or “watch out, people are really racist there.” My thoughts are, we should try to cut down on the negativity and try to keep an open mind. In my case, I eventually saw the beauty in a place that makes me anxious. I took the bad parts and realized it was part of the experience. Travel isn’t always sunshine and rainbows, there are also hard times and that’s okay. That being said, I’m currently working on saying “California is a definitely an experience everyone should have” and I’ll follow that with a positive and honest comment like, “I LOVE San Diego!”

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Note to self: be positive and happy like Jack. He’s enjoying the journey!

Now enough with the chatter. Here’s what we did:

Day 1: Arrived at Pismo Beach after sunset. Found a campground for $30/night with no amenities. Couldn’t justify the price so we headed to the nearest Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart had signs everywhere stating that overnight parking was prohibited. We spoke to another RVer who stated that the city is pretty strict with that rule. We went inside and spoke to an employee. The employee stated they usually send people to K-Mart down the street. We headed to K-Mart and no signs were posted. We were exhausted and decided to opt out of asking a K-Mart employee if overnight parking was okay. If we were told no, then we’d have to leave. If we didn’t ask, then we honestly didn’t know. I’d rather get a couple hours sleep and get a knock at our window to leave rather than getting no sleep while trying to find a place.

Day 2: We woke up at 6am and grabbed coffee at Carl’s Jr in the same parking lot. As we were ready to leave, a police officer slowly circled us. I waited for him to wave or come out to talk to us, but he didn’t. He left and so did we. This day was also our wedding anniversary, so we had to do something special. We headed north on Highway 1 and made our way towards San Simeon and Hearst Castle.

HEARST CASTLE

I was super excited to see Hearst Castle even though we knew nothing about it. I heard about it growing up in northern California and always heard great things. We arrived at Hearst Castle and saw that the area is a California State Park. The place was busy and they only had port-a-potties due to the drought. We went inside to the information desk and I literally said “sooo.. what is this place all about?” The older man behind the counter laughed and gave us a brief yet in depth history of the castle. He also suggested that we visit the free museum. We headed over to the line at the ticket counter and found the prices for the tour were a bit high. $25 per adult and $12 for children over 5. We were not in the mood to spend $62 on a tour, so we grabbed food at the café then headed to the museum which was fairly empty. If you’re on a budget, skip the tour and head to the museum. It’s full of information and interesting exhibits.

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We headed across the street to San Simeon State Beach. Beautiful place and dogs are allowed. We played around in the water for a bit. It was November, but it was warm and sunny. We had so much fun that we worked up an appetite, so we headed to our next destination down the street.

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DOG FRIENDLY BEACH!

HEARST RANCH WINERY/ THE TASTING ROOM AT SEBASTIAN’S

We walked over to Hearst Ranch Winery/Sebastian’s for some wine tasting to celebrate our anniversary.  Wine tasting is $10 per person, but if a bottle is purchased, one tasting is waved. We told the bartender that we intended on purchasing a bottle, so he suggested that we share a tasting to save $10. The tasting room also serves as a café so we also ordered food and Riley went through 4 small cups of ice cream. We had a really great time and the folks at this place were incredibly friendly. We chatted with them for a while and told them about our roadtrip. It was cool to also hear about their travel stories and places they would love to visit. We left with a $32 bottle of Malbec which was half the price of a castle tour! The day ended up being perfect and a very memorable anniversary for us.

WILLOW CREEK ROAD DISPERSED CAMPING/ LOS PADRES NATIONAL FOREST

We headed north on Highway 1 and spent 4 nights at a free campsite with an amazing view of the ocean. We found this spot on freecampsites.net and it was a great find. The only downside was the amount of trash we found scattered in the bushes, but I’ve sadly come to expect that from people these days. Our time at this campsite was AMAZING. We had this incredible view, I couldn’t believe we were camping for free. People pay good money to have a view like this from their hotel room, yet there we were in our homebuilt teardrop, camping for free while watching the sunset on the horizon.

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Bear heading back down the road to the first campsites. We needed a view of the ocean!
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Found our spot!
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Campsite View!
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Happy Campers!

Day 3-7: HIKING-BEACH ACCESS

There are many spots right off the 1 to go hiking. We love finding trails on everytrail.com

Here is a link to a comprehensive list http://www.everytrail.com/best/hiking-big-sur-california

We took a mini hike behind the Ragged Point Inn and Resort. This trail leads to a small black sand beach that is open to the public, but is known as a “private” beach because it’s hidden and usually empty.I read that beach access north of this point is very rare, so it was a treat to find beach access in Big Sur. Head behind the cafe and you’ll see a warning sign at the start of the nature trail. The rugged trail is steep with switchbacks and drops 300 feet in 1/8th mile. It was a short yet heart pounding hike. I lost my footing a couple times, so I’d recommend a good pair of hiking boots. There were several people looking at the view from the top of the trail, but we were the only ones who hiked it. There was a family dressed in workout clothes at the trailhead, so I thought maybe they were going on a hike, but when their pre-teen kids asked to hike down, they were quickly reprimanded! That kind of gives you an idea of what this trail looks like. It’s definitely not for your average tourist, but it’s totally worth the views and having an entire beach to yourself.

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If Riley can hike it, you can hike it!
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View from the trail on the way down to a private beach!

See, I told you California is an experience. Information is below!  

*HIGHWAY 1 CAMPSITE – source: freecampsites.net

Willow Creek Rd

Big Sur, California

GPS: 35.886967, -121.45916

Elevation: 273′

Website suggests rigs should not be longer than 30 feet.

Keep an eye out for the Treebones Resort, it’s the same road off Highway 1. Once you make the turn on Willow Springs, turn left for free camping because a right turn takes you towards the resort. You’ll see the National Forest signs with  camp rules. We camped on one of the first pull outs up the hill. Initially, we kept driving up the steep hill and realized we lost our great view of the ocean. Turning around with the trailer took a bit of skill, but luckily Bear’s giant tires made it easy to turn around and head back down the hill. I would not recommend this site to big class A’s. You might get stuck!

*SAN SIMEON STATE BEACH:

http://www.yelp.com/biz/san-simeon-state-beach-san-simeon

I wanted to add the yelp site so you can see what others are saying about the beach. This is located right across the entrance to Hearst Castle on Highway 1. And it’s DOG FRIENDLY!

*HEARST RANCH WINERY/TASTING ROOM AT SEBASTIAN’S:

442 SLO San Simeon Road, San Simeon, CA 93452

Hours: Open Daily 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM

http://www.hearstranchwinery.com/Tasting/Sebastians-in-San-Simeon

*RAGGED POINT INN WITH TRAIL ACCESS TO BEACH

19019 CA-1, Ragged Point, CA 93452

Hiking List: http://www.everytrail.com/best/hiking-big-sur-california

*K-MART NEAR PISMO BEACH: 

*The store is actually located in Arroyo Grande

1570 W Branch St, Arroyo Grande, CA 93420

Phone: (805) 481-8484

Death Valley National Park

 “Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the word.”   -Gustave Flaubert

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By the time we arrived at Death Valley, we had explored brightly colored rock formations and canyons that were so tall, we were often in disbelief. Now we were in the desert where the scenery was completely different, and yet we were feeling the exact same way as we did in Utah: small and insignificant. Almost every day, I reflect on that. I find it funny that we place negative connotation on those 2 words. We learn from a young age that being small is a temporary stage. As we age, that small feeling we had as a child begins to fade. Our culture teaches us that our size equals importance and as along as we don’t feel small, we can conquer the world.  On an individual level, of course we are all significant. I like to think I am important and that the world somehow benefits from my presence. But I have come to understand that on a larger scale, I’m really not a big deal.

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I now see that our exaggerate beliefs about the importance of our existence is detrimental to ourselves and to the world. The way we destroy land for buildings, destruct habitats for goods, or kill animals is justified because it provides us with something we “need”. I am guilty of being a part of that, but I am now grateful that I can see my place in a different light. If there is anything I appreciate on this trip, it’s the ability to feel small and insignificant. I stood on a hill in Death Valley and I accepted that. I am tiny. This desert will continue to live years and years after I am gone and I find that humbling. I am grateful for the ability to feel humility over and over again while we travel. With this humility, I am learning how to distinguish a “need” versus a “want” and my respect for Mother Nature continues to evolve and grow.

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We found ourselves at Death Valley the day after we left Zion. The drive is about 4 1/2 hours total, but we split the drive in two by spending the night in Las Vegas. We unexpectedly found ourselves spending the night at a Love’s truck stop in the outskirts of Vegas when we couldn’t figure out where we were going to camp. It may sound a bit sketchy to those who aren’t familiar, but our night at Love’s was pretty legit. We appreciated the availability of restrooms, food and coffee right outside our trailer door. In a sense, the convenience was a bit luxurious compared to what we’ve been experiencing so far.

Love’s is known as a big truck stop and overnight stays are not uncommon. We did ask the workers inside if it was okay for us to park in the main parking lot even though we were certain there would be no issue. The next morning, we contemplated visiting the strip, but decided not to since it was early in the morning. We’ve visited Vegas many times before and figured we’d enjoy Death Valley much more.

The entrance fee for Death Valley is $20 for 7 days. Payment for the park can be accepted at self-service kiosks located at different areas in the park. There are also several campsites located throughout the park and some sites are free (check the NPS website for specific details). Since it was November, the park was fairly crowded. The sun felt warm, but the wind was cool. After experiencing freezing temps in Utah, it felt like summer time for us. We passed a couple campsites filled with RVs and the view looked very familiar. I pictured the scene from Independence Day when all of the RVs are driving through the desert to fight the aliens. The open desert was filled with several campers enjoying the sun.

We spent most our time in the Furnace Creek area. Zabriskie Point was definintely a favorite for us. It might have been because the badlands had awesome colors mixed in, but the view point was an incredible sight to take in. We stopped for lunch at the 49’er Café located on highway 190 in Furnace Creek. Our server was really friendly and also used to live in Colorado Springs! The prices were a bit high. We split a veggie burger and Riley ordered mac and cheese, making our bill over $20. Cooking our own food would have been more budget friendly, but the wind was blowing at 30mph making less than ideal cooking conditions.

Our recommendation when visiting Death Valley is to stop by the Visitor’s Center. There you can watch the orientation video to learn about the land and pick out which sights you want to see.

Interesting facts about Death Valley:

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

The highest ever recorded temperature in the US was in Death Valley, 134 degrees on 7/10/1913

 

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Conundrum Hot Springs

Our very first hot springs experience was at Conundrum Hot Springs in Aspen. Conundrum Hot Springs is the highest elevation natural hot springs in North America sitting at an elevation of 11, 200 feet. The only way to access the hot springs is by hiking the 8.5 miles up through the Maroon Bells-Snow Mass Wilderness. With an elevation gain of about 2,700 feet over 8.5 miles, we figured what an amazing way to experience our first hot spring! A challenging hike paired with camping and relaxing hot water sounded like a dream.

We left Colorado Springs at 11:00 PM and started our 3 hour drive towards Aspen. As usual, we had no idea where we were spending the night. Our hope was to find a campground or a parking lot by a trailhead where we could park Bear (our teardrop trailer) and sleep. Around 1:30 we started to pass several campgrounds and decided to turn in to Lostman Campground in the White River National Forest. We saw a sign stating that a bear canister was required, but we weren’t planning on renting one until the next day. We pulled into a campsite and snuggled Riley in his sleeping bag while I gathered all of the food we had and did my best to hide it from any potential bears. In the pitch darkness with only one flashlight, I gathered the apples, cereal bars, apple sauce and granola, and tightly wrapped it inside a reusable grocery bag. While trying to fit the bag under the seat of the car, I decided to also throw in a little prayer and asked God for some protection. Since we came to the campground unprepared, I didn’t want us to be the reason our campground got a visit from some hungry/curious bears.

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Falling asleep was an easy task since both Clayton and I had work the day before. We must have had amazing sleep because as we struggled to wake up, we checked our phones to find that it was 8:45 in the morning. We slowly got up, changed our clothes, and packed our backpacks while Riley sat in the truck and ate a couple cereal bars. It was past 10 o’clock when we arrived in downtown Aspen and looked for a store to rent a bear canister from. We found Ute Mountaineer, rented the canister for $13, and headed towards the trailhead for the hot springs.

We left downtown, headed towards the mountains, and drove down the narrow Conundrum road. The parking lot at the trailhead was very small, so Clayton parked towards the end where the truck and Bear didn’t intrude on anyone else’s parking space. We carefully packed our bear canister with food, put on our backpacks, and headed towards the trail. This was the first time I carried around 20 pounds on my back. Typically, I rely on Clayton to carry everything while I carry a small bag with snacks and water. For this trip, I had to carry my own weight and once I put my pack on, I knew this was going to be the hardest 17 miles I’ve ever done.

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The first half of the hike started off pretty smooth. There were slight inclines here and there, then we’d reach a long stretch of flat ground in a valley filled with wildflowers. We crossed a couple bridges, crossed streams and creeks, and encountered a few animals. While we were walking through one valley, I looked to the side of the mountain and saw a black bear about 100 yards from us, lying in the grass. The only black bear experience we’ve ever had was a drive through Bearizona, so this was epic. I felt the bear was in a safe enough distance so I started yelling “bear, look it’s a bear!!” That’s when the bear perked up, looked in our direction, then started running the other way. I felt a little bad for ruining the bear’s relaxation, but boy, Riley was so excited to see him.

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As we continued on, we encountered a large boulder field that was a big pain in the ass to cross over. I found it difficult to maneuver around the rocks while carrying a large pack and holding the camera. I watched Riley cross over the boulders with no assistance and my anxiety began to rise as I pictured him falling between the rocks. As I yelled over to Riley reminding him to be careful, we looked up and saw 2 moose grazing in a field about 30 yards from us. They were amazing and so large, and they didn’t pay any attention to us. As we passed the moose, I stood on a log sitting in the creek we were attempting to cross, and tried to get a picture. I didn’t have much luck zooming in, but it was definitely exciting to see.

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Without any mile markers or signs, we started to wonder how much longer we had to go. Every person we passed had a different sense of how far they had travelled. We soon realized we couldn’t rely on the estimate of others, so we trekked on watching the hours pass and feeling like we were not making much progress. When we had about a mile to go (we didn’t know we were that close at the time), Riley started to give up. It got to a point where about every 10 minutes, he would force us to sit and he would lay on our laps and close his eyes. I welcomed the breaks since the weight on my back was starting to take a toll on me, but we nervously looked at our watches and realized we were racing daylight.

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Riley was frustrated with us because we refused to carry him. As much as I wanted to relieve my child of his tiredness, it was physically impossible for us to pick him up since I had 20 pounds on my back and Clayton was carrying over 40 pounds. We continued to empathize with Riley when suddenly Clayton slipped and fell on mud covered rocks which in turn scared Riley who was holding onto Clayton’s hand. Riley burst into tears and I announced to Clayton that we had to let our little guy rest. We consoled Riley and agreed on 15 more minutes. Wherever we were in 15 minutes, we would set up camp and find the hot springs in the morning. Luckily, as we approached 15 minutes, we saw the first tent. Hallelujah! Seven hours later, we reached the first camp site.

Taking off my backpack was the most glorious feeling. We set up the tent and while Clayton organized our camp area, Riley and I quickly pulled out our sleeping bags and snuggled while eating all the snacks within reach. It was getting late and it was still a half a mile to the hot springs. Part of me didn’t want to leave my sleeping bag, but the thought of sitting in the hot springs and relaxing my aching body sounded too good to pass up. After laying for about 30 minutes, we gathered our swim suits and headed towards the hot springs. When we arrived, we found the main pool was filled with several people, most of the folks were clearly under the influence (this is Colorado), but they didn’t bother us. Honestly, we’d rather we share the pool with a bunch of relaxed stoners than rowdy drunk people. We sat in the 100 degree pool and felt our muscles relax. I tried my best to hold in my laughter as I listened to several philosophical questions get passed around from person to person. One guy was seriously asking people if they liked the sun or the moon better, and the reasons for their choices.

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After about 30 minutes, we reluctantly got out of the hot springs. The mountain air was so cold so I dressed myself first then pulled Riley out of the water to dress him as fast as I could. We headed back to our campsite in the dark which turned out to be an adventure in itself. It pretty much consisted of crossing a high narrow bridge in pure darkness, crossing an incredibly muddy creek where we lost our footing and got foul smelling mud all over our feet, we then reached a really cold stream where I bent down to wash Clayton’s feet and ended up sitting in the cold water, getting my entire backside wet. Regardless of those mishaps, we were so tired, it didn’t matter. When we got back to the tent, we found that Riley’s camelback had leaked and one end of our sleeping bags were soaked. This then led to an entire night of sleeping with wet feet.

Since we didn’t have the best night sleep, we welcomed the morning with open arms and slowly got ready, ate breakfast, and packed up camp. We decided to have everything ready to go so that after another soak in the hot springs, we’d be set to start the 8.5 miles back to the car. When we arrived at the hot springs, we found only 4 people who had been there since early morning. After about half an hour of sharing the springs, we finally had the whole place to ourselves. The mountain views were just incredible and it was surreal to be sitting in hot water at tree line in the mountains. I told Clayton I never wanted to leave and Riley shared the same feelings. As expected, we had a little difficulty convincing Riley to get out of the water.

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He finally agreed to go, so we dressed him and headed back to our camping area where we left our backpacks. The hike back wasn’t as difficult and we definitely made better time. It helped that we were hiking mostly downhill, leaving behind that 2,700 ft gain. As we made our way back, Riley announced that he wanted pizza, so it was the thought of devouring pizza that helped keep up the pace. This time, there were no tears from Riley. He hiked back like a champ with only a few reminders that he was tired. When I saw the Aspen trees that surrounded the trailhead and parking lot, it was like I had just witnessed a miracle. I felt like I had been walking in the desert and finally found a well full of water. Seeing those cars was the most glorious site. I was walking in front of Clayton and Riley when I turned around and yelled “Thank God!” I just really wanted to take off my boots and eat pizza.

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We headed back to downtown Aspen, returned the bear canister, parked the truck and Bear, and walked to the nearest pizza place. We devoured a veggie pizza, and Riley was thrilled to get his pizza and sprite, just as he requested. We talked about our exhaustion, our tired feet, and how bruised our hips felt from our backpacks. That conversation then turned into “so what should we do next?” It’s in those moments that we realize, this is what we live for. Our lives revolve around taking the opportunity to experience God’s creation, challenging our bodies physically, and immersing ourselves in nature while enjoying each other’s company. This is what makes us feel alive and helps us appreciate what life is really about. And Riley… Riley if you ever read this when you grow up, you are absolutely amazing. There was not one other kid on that trail, and even when you wanted to quit, you kept going. We are so proud of you, bubs. Sometimes I look at your little legs and wonder how you do it. You are truly an inspiration and I hope others recognize that too.

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Home Built Teardrop Trailer: Our First Camping Trip With Bear

We’d like to take the opportunity to introduce another member of our family. His name is Bear and he is our home built teardrop trailer. Clayton has been working on Bear off and on since July 2014. The initial plan was to build Bear and take him out on his first road trip through Utah, Colorado and Wyoming. In December of last year, we decided to move to Colorado which in turn halted our road trip plans and the continuation of building Bear. While making our move to Colorado in February of this year,  unfinished Bear made the trip from Arizona and his finishing touches were put on hold due to the cold Colorado winter. When the weather began to warm up, Clayton started slowly working on Bear again. This past weekend, we put Riley’s full size mattress inside, loaded it up with sleeping bags and food, and took Bear on his first camping trip.

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After this camping test run, Clayton fitted Bear with bigger tires and a diamond plated sheet on the front area. Bear looks a bit more aggressive now, but we still have a lot of work to do. The walls need insulation and Clayton is currently working on building cabinets for the kitchen area. Even though Bear is unfinished, we had an amazing time camping and we’re incredibly excited to bring him on more adventures. Here is a look at our camping trip outside Woodland Park, our mini hike to Rampart Reservoir, and our night primitive camping outside of Deckers with Bear!

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We made our way towards Woodland Park Friday night after Clayton got off work. With no plans on where we were going to camp, I figured we’d just wing it once we pulled into town. Since Woodland Park is only 20 minutes up the road, it didn’t seem too difficult to figure out a place to park and camp in the woods nearby. Once we got into town, we turned onto highway 67, headed about 10 miles north to Rainbow Falls Rd and found ourselves among other people who were primitive camping. We maneuvered our way through the dark road and eventually found an open spot not too far away from a small RV. We settled in as quietly as we could and for the first time in our lives, we jumped out of the truck and straight into the trailer. Since we’ve become pros at setting up our tent in the dark, it was kind of cool to just jump in the trailer and go straight to bed!

Before we fell asleep, we talked about how awesome the trailer is and how there was a slight downside to not being able to see the stars like we do from our tent. As I dozed off, I thought about how impressed I was with my husband. What started out as an idea has now become reality, and we were spending the night in something that he worked so hard on. This trailer was built from the ground up and I couldn’t help but be proud of him.

We woke up that morning during golden hour. I’m not sure what time it was exactly, but I can still picture the golden light shining on the pine trees and the mountains. In a nearby field, we saw several deer walking through the grass. We stayed in our sleeping bags while staring at the pine trees and taking in the fresh air. Riley woke up smiling from ear to ear. He told us how happy he was and how much he loved the trailer. We headed back to Woodland Park to grab a quick breakfast then headed to Rampart Reservoir. Rampart Reservoir is one of our favorite places to spend the day since it’s beautiful and so close to home.

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We love bringing the hammock on hikes!

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After relaxing by the lake, we quickly rushed back to Colorado Springs since Clayton had to return to work. After dropping him off, Riley and I headed back home where we showered and grabbed some clothes and food for another night of camping. At around 11, we headed back to Clayton and made our way past Woodland Park. Once again, we had no idea where we were going. We continued to drive on the 67 until we reached the town of Deckers. It was pitch black and there was no one around this tiny town with only one store and one restaurant. We pulled over to the side of the road and looked around for any signs of a campground, but had no luck.

As we continued to drive, we saw a sign for Lone Rock Campground. Thinking we had finally found a place to rest for the night, we were quickly disappointed to find a sign that said “campground full”. Feeling completely exhausted, I suggested we keep driving up the road, and before we knew it, there was a marvelous brown sign on the side of the road with a tent on it.

We turned on a dirt road and saw a sign for Flying G Ranch and several other sites. I honestly can’t remember the names of everything because it was so dark and I started to feel a bit anxious. We slowly made our way up this bumpy dirt road and the pure darkness started to make my imagination run wild. I thought about everything from Big Foot to ghosts to a big cliff waiting to pull us down on my side of the road. My fears started to creep into nagging comments towards Clayton reminding him to drive carefully. Finally, I felt a bit of relief when I saw a campfire in the distance. We eventually reached a fork in the road where we encountered other campers enjoying the night. Once again maneuvering our way through the dark, we found a spot to camp and quickly fell asleep.

I woke up around sunrise to find that Clayton had been up since dawn taking pictures of the view. My most favorite thing about finding a campsite in the dark is not knowing what the view will be like when we wake up! As I expected, the view did not disappoint. After waking up and getting ready, we decided to make our way back to Deckers to check out the little restaurant that we passed the night before. We ended up having breakfast and beer on the patio right by the highway. It was such a cool little town, and the mountain air and scenery was perfect.

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Riley and I are still asleep.

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Breakfast and beer in Deckers.

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We were thrilled with our first camping trip with Bear. This mini camping trip reminded us of how lucky we are to be living in Colorado and how cool it is to have the wilderness so close to home. I was also reminded of how amazing Clayton is and how as a family, whenever we focus on accomplishing something, we’re always able to reach our goals. As I’m typing this right now, we are getting ready to leave for another adventure with Bear. This time we’re going a little further and we’re so excited to leave tonight! I can’t wait to share it with you all on the next post!