Californication

Californication

It’s been about seven weeks since we left The Golden State, but I honestly started feeling the pangs of leaving immediately after crossing the state line.  I’m pretty sure that it’s not the traffic congestion, high gas prices, outrageous camping fees, the gangster neighborhood we did our laundry in or the constant thought of earthquakes that left my heart back there.  It could be the fact that in only a matter of hours I could find myself hiking through the forest, strolling along the beach, gallivanting around the city or exploring in the desert. Or maybe I simply felt spoiled by having affordable, local and organic produce at my disposal, a farmer’s market in every community, and a Trader Joe’s on virtually every corner.

We spent more time in California than we have in any other state in our 17 months on the road and are all in agreement that a return visit is absolutely necessary.  Factoring in winter weather conditions and our job at the tree lot (see Bri’s post), made for the unfortunate but necessary decision to bypass the mountains this time around.  We came in from the north in Humboldt county and basically hugged the coastline down to San Diego.  Here’s what we experienced in just two short months…

Redwood National Park

I love trees, all trees!  I remember spending many days as a kid in a tree fort,  My dream home is a log cabin (on wheels of course),  My very first crush was The Lorax!

Giant Redwoods
Giant Redwoods

The Redwoods are amongst the oldest and tallest living things in the world and to stand alongside these ancient giants one can’t help but feel the majesty of their beauty.  We spent an entire day in the Prairie Creek State Park area exploring the forest.  We stood inside the trunk of one of the gigantic elders, located the remnants of yet another giant which at one time housed an entire family, and hiked a foggy, misty trail which resembled something from one of the  “Jurassic Park” movies.

Where's Mom?
Where’s Mom?

A couple of days later we took a drive along the infamous “Avenue of the Giants”,  a 31 mile stretch of road nestled between these towering beauties.  Half expecting this to be a tourist trap, we planned on driving straight through….until we discovered the groves.  Founder’s Tree Grove was our favorite. A half mile nature trail, complete with an informational guide, provided for a very educational walk along the plush forest floor, abundant of uprooted and fallen trees.

Founder's Grove
Founder’s Tree Grove

I personally felt very much alive in the coastal redwood forest and found it difficult to leave….that is, until I discovered that we were also in Big Foot country.

He aint so Big!
He aint so Big!

Sacramento

We ended up spending a day here because we were graciously offered an awesome opportunity by Birkenstock for the kids to participate in the making of their own pair of Arizona sandals.  This experience, thanks to Anne, our contact at Birkenstock, and the owners of Birkenstock Midtown Sacramento, provided for a hands on lesson in what it takes to run a successful retail business with the added bonus of walking away with a custom-made quality product.  Even Daisy was given VIP treatment as California is truly a dog-friendly state. 

Arizona Birkenstocks
Arizona Birkenstocks
Birkenstock VIP
Birkenstock VIP

The second half of the day was spent in Old Sacramento, a historic landmark along the Sacramento River set within the time of The California Gold Rush and The Transcontinental Railroad.  We explored this quaint little district rather quickly along the docks, over the railroad tracks and through the alleys.

Old Sacramento
Old Sacramento

San Francisco

Having only one day to explore the city we took advantage of the public transportation system (minus the cable cars as the line was excruciatingly long) and covered many miles on foot.  Our first stop was the Golden Gate Bridge. Aside from being one of the most popular Facebook profile picture settings, the Bridge Pavilion houses various exhibits on its history and construction.  Mercy’s assignment for that day was to find out why this bright orange wonder is named The Golden Gate Bridge. It didn’t take her long to find her answer and I am betting that unless you are either a Californian or a geography buff, you wouldn’t know that it is named after the Golden Gate Strait which is the entrance from the San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean.  We braved the gusty winds and the three busloads of tourists ahead of us and walked out onto the bridge to feel its grandeur.  It truly is a technical masterpiece!

Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge

Haight Ashbury.  I’ve been wanting to get back there for 20+ years.  Unfortunately, the kids weren’t as hippy happy as I was to hang out in thrift store, iconic rock star heaven for any length of time.  We hit a local market, a few hip shops and a record store and called it good.

Hanging in the Haight
Hanging in the Haight

Fisherman’s Wharf.  We donned our tourist caps for this colorful waterfront community and spent a few hours popping in and out of various shops alongside spectating interesting street performances.  We made our way to the infamous pier 39 where we all decided on a restaurant as we had been looking forward to a fresh seafood meal for a while. Looking back, I find it quite humorous that we all ordered New England clam chowder and Maine lobster bisque.

Being in San Fran during the Christmas season provided for some interesting holiday entertainment amongst a few of the homeless characters.  Here is Bri’s spot on impression of a jolly street panhandler we encountered and grew very fond of…

Suffice it to say, this performance is sure to become a part of the Dunn family Christmas tradition!

Pacific Coast Highway

One of the most scenic drives in the country,  the PCH actually extends from the southern tip of Baja California to the top of the Olympic peninsula….roughly 2500 miles.  We knowingly ventured along portions of this highway while in Washington and again in Oregon, not realizing that it was just a preview of what would take our breath away when we hit the infamous route 1 along the central coast from Monterey to LA.

Pacific Coast Highway
Pacific Coast Highway

We were hesitant at first to take the 5th wheel along the hairy, twisty, turny, cliffy, misty, and at times foggy stretch of this highway. But, seeing as our max speed would only be around 25 mph, we figured we’d have enough time to jump ship if we got too close to the jagged edge.  So, we went for it.  And what a trip it was! Mountains to the left, ocean to the right, cyclists up ahead, idiotic, convertible sports car speeders passing you from behind.  All part of the experience I’m told!

The plan was to spend a couple of days exploring and hiking in the Big Sur region.  The only problem with that was that we didn’t plan.  We never really do plan. This time though, it was a holiday weekend (New Year’s) and that is when everyone else plans.  So, we were out of luck and couldn’t get into a campground.  I must confess that situations seem to work out for us as I feel we truly benefited from not being able to get into the campground. Instead, we pulled off on the side of the road just as the sun went down and set up camp for the night .  In the morning we awoke to this! 

PCH near Big Sur
PCH near Big Sur

You can’t get an unobstructed view like that  from a campground, even if you pay for it….which we didn’t!.

Heading further South that morning with our destination in mind and feeling totally sight satiated, we hadn’t planned on any more stops.  That is, until we noticed groups of people congregating along the pull-offs….and I’ll be damned if I’m missing anything!  So, I insisted Bri pull off at one and I believe everyone is thanking me that we did.  Otherwise, we never would have witnessed the unbelievably large colony of northern elephant seals covering the shoreline.  What an incredible sight and our timing couldn’t have been more perfect.  The female harems had just arrived and had given birth to the cutest shiny black pups!

Seal Pup
Seal Pup

Ventura

Said to be one of America’s most livable communities, Ventura has lots to offer.  Miles of surf-friendly beaches, neighboring mountains, and scenic bike paths combined with a mild year-round climate make for some healthy and happy residents.  The city also prides itself on supporting local businesses and promoting economic, social and environmental sustainability.  No wonder Bri and I both have placed Ventura at the top of our list for future,  part-time residency!

Trying to decide on the perfect place to hang out for a few days wasn’t easy.  One thing we discovered early on in this state was that we had to be prepared to pay higher camping fees.  Beach front with electric and water at an affordable rate was going to be a challenge…so we thought.  After making Bri drive up and down route 1 and pull in and out of tight areas we found Hobson Beach campground where we settled in amidst a mecca of care-free and friendly recreational surfers.  The price was attractive, the view spectacular, and the vibe sunny.  It was definitely one of the harder places to leave.  For me, exercising on the beach every morning and watching the sunset over the Pacific every evening is paradise.

Beachside living
Beachside living
Ventura Sunset
Ventura Sunset

Hollywood

Hollywood Baby!
Hollywood Baby!

Much fun was had by all four of us in the famous LA district which is nicely detailed in River’s post.   I will add that if it wasn’t for the hospitality of a dear friend who also played tour guide for the week, we would never have had the opportunity to experience as much as we did during the time we were there.  Aside from the studio tours, activities on Hollywood Blvd and our adult night out on The Sunset Strip (where Bri and I were hoping to bump into some rock stars…..instead we got Ron Jeremy),  I thoroughly enjoyed my morning hikes in Runyon canyon with Daisy where the view never got old. The drive through Laurel Canyon up to Mullholland Drive was also a highlight for me as I was envisioning a time when the bohemian neighborhood was alive with some of my favorite iconic rock legends, like Jim Morrison.

Runyon Canyon Lookout
Runyon Canyon Lookout
Sunset Blvd. fun
Sunset Blvd. fun

San Diego

We were all eager to get to San Diego for a few reasons.  First being, we had decided mid-way through working at the tree lot that this would be the place we would splurge, for the first time, and spend an entire week in a resort, complete with all the amenities.  In doing my research, I chose the one boasting of its central location, super sites, spa facilities and superior customer service.  Upon our arrival (after getting lost due to the lack of signage pointing us in the right direction), we soon discovered that the central location was nestled between the busy freeway and the active railroad tracks, the super site required our neighbor to move his vehicle in order for us to back our rig in, the spa facilities consisted of a two person hot tub in the pool area where we could barely carry on a conversation due to the noise level of the traffic, and the superior customer service was more than lacking.  I should have been clued in at the time I made the reservation when after I declared my budget wouldn’t allow for the weekly fee, the representative actually asked me what my budget would allow and gave me a pretty sweet discount.  Nonetheless, we decided to stay as we had a pretty busy agenda planned and we didn’t want to deal with the hassle of picking up and moving.

A visit to The San Diego Zoo and a whale watch excursion were two more reasons for our stay in the area.  The zoo had been on our list since the planning stages of the trip and it surely did live up to all of our expectations.  Our day spent there is nicely detailed in Mercy’s post.    As for the whale watch, we got lucky on two levels. Groupon happened to have a half-off deal for the 3 hour cruise and our timing couldn’t have been more perfect. It was migration season for the gray whales and they were passing through from Alaska on their way south to Baja which made for many sightings on our tour.  Such beautiful creatures they are.

Big Whale
Big Whale

Bri and I had our own motives for hanging in San Diego and that would be to re-live some memories from our first trip where we spent a large chunk of time living in and around the parks and beaches.  Surprisingly, we didn’t really notice any major changes.  It seems it is still a very popular hangout for those living out of their vehicles.  We actually found ourselves trying to locate a couple of characters we befriended there back in 1992 and then realized that one guy would be well into his 90s by now.  Hey you never know….once you’ve gotten a taste for the nomadic lifestyle, it’s hard to leave it! 

We hit the farmer’s market in Ocean Beach, took a drive through Mission Beach and enjoyed a local brew in Pacific Beach.  My favorite….Dog Beach!

Pacific Beach Alehouse
Pacific Beach Alehouse
Dog Beach
Dog Beach

Joshua Tree National Park

The trees, the trees, the Joshua Trees, I’ve never before seen trees like these!

The only thing any of us knew about this National Park was that it was home to these very unique looking trees that U2 had titled one of their albums….and that it was in the California desert.  The rest remained sort of a mystery to us and I refrained from researching anything but the campgrounds before our arrival so as to make it somewhat of a surprise.

The name Joshua Tree was reportedly given by a group of Mormons in the mid-nineteenth century as the trees’ form reminded them of a Biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky.  I guess this was before Dr. Seuss’ time.

Joshua Trees
Joshua Trees

Two deserts come together in this park, each with its own ecosystem. The Colorado, being at the lower elevation and occupying the eastern end of the park, is generally ten to fifteen degrees warmer and also where we chose to camp at Cottonwood Springs.  Unbeknownst to us, this was not where we were going to find the trees.  Their special habitat is located in the  Mojave, which is higher up in the western part of the park and about fifty-five miles from Cottonwood Springs.  So, being that it was nearing sunset, we decided to wait until the next day to drive to the west end and explore.  We hung out in the campground listening to the desert sounds and witnessed a fearless and apparently very hungry coyote rummage through everyone’s camp-fire pit.

Not so coy coyote
Not so coy coyote

The drive was spectacular.  To see and feel the crossover of the ecosystems and the changes in scenery was very interesting.  In the same day, we went from an arid land abundant of beautiful Ocotilla and Cholla cactus to a cooler, moister climate plentifully bestrewed with the park’s namesake trees. 

I could never tire of looking at the trees.  Each one, individually unique in size and structure, tells a story of survival and resilience.  Of course  Bri tried to locate the famous one on the cover of U2s album “The Joshua Tree”,  but to no avail.  We did have a lot of fun re-creating that cover in total “Dunn” style…..which so proudly graces the front pages of this blog.

Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree

Of other interest throughout the park is the amazing geologic landscape.  Huge eroded boulders lying on top of one another and naturally formed dikes within the granite made for some fun climbs.

Joshua Rock?
Joshua Rock?

We managed to fit in two fairly strenuous hikes during our stay, one in each of the deserts.  Ryan Mountain in the Mojave, took us up over 5,000 feet to the summit where the views of mountains and valleys in the background were complimented by the Joshua Trees in the foreground.  It was cold and windy up top.

Ryan Mountain summit
Ryan Mountain summit

In The Colorado, we hiked Mastodon Peak.  3,000 feet up this hike required some basic rock climbing skills.  The views from here included mountains, jagged rock formations and The Salton Sea.  It was warm and sunny on top.

 Mastodon Peak hike
Mastodon Peak hike

Slab City

Where to start?  Known by its inhabitants as “The last free place”, it’s no city at all.  Formerly a military training base during World War II, the only remains are the slabs of the deconstructed buildings.  There is no electricity, no water, no sewer, or no trash removal.  It is simply off-grid living in the middle of the desert where, during the winter months, you will find the likes of many nomads including RVers, squatters, hobos, and train hoppers hanging their hats (or bandanas).  However, there are a handful of permanent residents who weather the 120-130 degree summer temps. and therefore retain the authority to impose the ethics and courtesies that all visitors are expected to follow.

Welcome to Slab City
Welcome to Slab City

Slab City is also home to a fairly well-known attraction and most likely how we discovered it…  Salvation Mountain.  Created solely by one man,  this 50 foot tall and 150 foot wide painted adobe clay structure has a recurring theme of “God is Love” and is Leonard Knight’s tribute to God and his gift to the world.  It is listed as an official “Folk Art of America”, draws hundreds of visitors daily and has been featured in the movie “Into The Wild”. 

Salvation Mountain
Salvation Mountain

Speaking for my family, I can say that none of us was deeply moved by the message.  That is not to say that Leonard’s passion and dedication is not worthy of admiration and appreciation and his Seuss-like art style thoroughly fun and enjoyable.

Adobe Art
Adobe Art

There were many interesting sights in Slab City and certainly no lack of interesting characters.  We kept busy during our stay and by the time we left we were somewhat familiar with the “neighborhoods” and “communities” and all the happenings.  There was a one-man radio station, and a Saturday night talent show.  There were Canadian clubs and singles clubs. There was art and there was junk-art. There was hip and there was hippy.   There was trash and there was trashy.  There was clean and there was dirty.  There was young and there was old.  

Slab City Art
Slab City Art
Slab City Junk Art
Slab City Junk Art

If we took anything away from this out of the ordinary boondocking experience, I would say that it’s the realization that everything is not as it appears on the surface.  Our trepidation upon our arrival was totally overcome by the time we pulled out four days later and we now know that desert life is crawling with creativity and irregularity….in the good sense.

Slab City living
Slab City living

I would say that California was the state that exposed us to a multitude of diverse experiences in such a short time.  My hopes are, that if the four of us don’t get back there together, the kids will make it a point to at least get out to Yosemite National Park someday.  As for Bri and I, we’re already California Dreaming about getting back there.  And this time you can bet that Wine Country won’t just be a drive through!

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Elk and Moose and More Elk, Oh My!

Elk and Moose and More Elk, Oh My!

RMNPWhen we first drove into the Rocky Mountains in Colorado I was so amazed by how awesome they were. I felt like I had just walked into Narnia. There were so many mountains, and rivers in the distance. This was my first time going to the Rockies and it is definitely not going to be my last!

After driving a few hours we made it to the campground. It was not at all what we expected it to be. I thought there would be lots of trees and plenty of privacy, but I was wrong. Well it turned out there used to be lots of trees there, but all that’s left is a bunch of stumps. I guess they had to cut them all down because of a tiny little bug called the pine beetle. The beetles infest the trees which kills them so they have to cut them down. As we were driving along the road, I noticed a bunch of log piles in the woods. They were piles of pine trees that had to get burned because they got infested, and believe me, there were LOTS of piles! It’s hard to imagine what the campground would look like with a bunch of trees, but I think it would have been a lot better. Oh, and almost every evening we would have a herd of elk visit our campground.Mercy's Elkfriend At first the elk were cool, but then we would see them EVERYWHERE and they sort of started to get boring. I mean, they would be on the side of the road like ants would be on a chocolate cake that got left outside! While I’m taking about elk I might as well mention the moose too. We saw about 6 or 7 moose on our visit to the Rockies that’s including a mom and a baby munching away on some bushes by the river. Since the baby follows the mom everywhere, at one point the mom pooped on the baby! It was really funny! So we saw a mom and a baby, about 3 bull moose with antlers, and a few more females. They were all so cool!

Mama/baby mooseWe also attended a ranger program about moose, which was really interesting! Did you know that during the rut (the mating season), to attract the females the male moose do this thing called scraping. Scraping is when the moose picks a spot in the dirt and scrapes it with his hooves, then he urinates in it. Next he will then roll in it. I guess this makes him smell good to the females, although I don’t know how having pee all over you would be attractive!

The next day we drove on trail ridge road, the highest continuous paved road in America! The road’s highest point is 12,183 feet in elevation! That’s 4,183 feet higher than the road they take in “The Long, Long Trailer” which is like my favorite movie starring Lucille Ball, well…… actually it’s the only movie I’ve seen staring Lucille Ball. But anyway when we got to the top we were at the alpine tundra. It was about 47 degrees up there, and 77 degrees down at the bottom of the mountain! The wind was soooooo fierce and strong that if you jumped with your sweatshirt out like wings, you would fly about a foot in front of you! It was really fun, but what was even better was getting back into the nice and warm car! Tundra Girl

While we were driving along the trail ridge road we stopped at the continental divide. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s an imaginary line that runs from Alaska to Mexico where on the east side of the line all the water and melted snow flows to the Atlantic Ocean and on the west side it all flows to the Pacific Ocean. The Rocky Mountains were truly amazing, and our stay there was beautiful! This was absolutely one of my favorite parts of the trip so far, I will really miss it!

Colorado Rockies


Final Thoughts On The Grand Canyon: A Comedic Interlude 2

Final Thoughts On The Grand Canyon: A Comedic Interlude 2

    We were hiking down one of the Grand Canyon trails that leads down to the Colorado River. The trail winds it’s way down the cliff side through a series of switch-backs. Although not a particularly difficult or strenuous hike, it is quite steep at times and there is a real danger of getting yourself killed if you manage to fall over the edge.
    This particular day was slightly busy with plenty of other tourists and hikers. Some were prepared with plenty of water and the correct hiking attire, while others astonishingly decided to brave the dirt, dust, and turning inclines with heals, black slacks, and designer handbags. Oh, and plenty of bling! Of course you don’t have to journey all of the way to the bottom. Along the descent there are stop offs at the 1.5 and 3 mile marks, where you can refill your water and use a restroom if need be. It being a hot day, we decided on the 1.5 mile stop (making for a 3 mile hike round trip). Not a long one I know, but enough to get a taste of what it’s like deeper in the canyon, and enough that by the time Mercy starts complaining we are almost done.  
    Of course we weren’t the only ones thinking this way, so needless to say that upper tract of the trail was heavy with traffic at some points. Eventually we managed to run ourselves up (or down rather) into a large school group being led by a couple Park Rangers. Being on a school trip I suppose, they would stop often while one of the guides would explain this or that, and ask the students some questions. With all of the stopping it soon became a bit of a burden for us, so at an opportune moment during a little rest they were taking, we decided to bypass and continue down our merry way.  
    As you descend further down, you get some fantastic views of the canyon walls and edge which are now above you. With a different perspective than viewing down into the canyon from the rim, you get a closer view of the various plateaus, cliffs, and sub-canyons that make up the whole GRAND Canyon system. While truly a remarkable sight, I found myself repeatedly gazing up at the walls and down into the valleys trying to take it all in.Don't try this in heels!
    During one such gaze, I was looking back up the trail along the cliff side to see where that school group was. As I turned in my track, taking in the mesmerizing view, I somehow lost my footing and… you guessed it. I went head over heals over the side.
    Fortunately for me though, I fell to the INSIDE of the trail. The Grand Canyon experts and engineers had been wise enough to dig a little culvert of sorts about 8” lower than, and separated from, the main trail by 16” -24” high boulders to allow for rain water to run down the sides without washing out the trails. This is what I fell into. When I lost my footing I went over those boulders and with the weight of the backpack making me a little top heavy, I tumbled over into the culvert. I think I even screamed… a little (again!).
    So there I was with my upper body in the trench and my legs sticking almost straight up and kicking as I tried to get some leverage to right myself. Mercy finally came running over as I was able to extend an arm for her to pull me up. Unable to do it alone, Riv was fast behind her to give an extra hand and they were able to pull me up and back over. Tan of course thought I was faking the whole thing with my legs kicking and cries for help!
    I must admit that I was somewhat mortified. Suffering nothing more than a mildly bloody palm scrape, I was embarrassed that I, with my hiking boots and preparedness, was the one to suffer such insult rather than the lady with the high heals and designer city-wear. After my snippy and angry attitude wore off I realized that it was probably better me to weather that slight than the unprepared fools who wander down the trails as if they are entering the gift shop. THEY may actually go over the WRONG edge to the delight of some mischievous cliff spirit. And that wouldn’t be pretty.

Deserts and Canyons and Arches…Oh My!

Deserts and Canyons and Arches…Oh My!

America The Beautiful….The appropriately named National Park pass we purchased for $80 which has paid for itself 3 times over already.  We love the National Parks and experiencing as many as we can on this journey is a goal we are trying diligently and joyously to fulfill.  The campgrounds, the visitor centers, the rangers, the educational programs, the wildlife and the hiking trails all contribute to  the overall beauty which  in turn feeds the soul with such profound feelings and emotions, sometimes difficult to put into words….but here goes.

Grand Canyon….POWERFUL

This boundless view is capable of literally taking your breath away. Whether you’re a first time visitor or a return visitor (of 20 years, as are Bri and I), it takes more than a few moments to process its greatness. From the colorful layers of the earth, to the deep chiseled rock carved by The Colorado River, you literally feel as if you’re staring into a painting.Grand Canyon

We stayed 4 nights in the park campground at south rim.  And, although it is considered the “touristy” region, our experience was what we made it…spectacular .  We hiked several trails to various look out points, sometimes alongside mules and sometimes alongside unprepared tourists. This was the first time any of us did what we referred to as a” backwards hike” where the ascent was on the return route.  It was a slight challenge at first, but we were well equipped with the necessary supplies, mainly enough water, to prove the trek gratifying.  I’m not so sure the woman caked with face makeup, wearing flip-flops, one hand clutched to her Gucci bag, the other to a frappacino, felt the same way.  We also biked around a portion of the rim, attended a ranger led talk on The California Condor (a rare bird with a 9 1/2 foot wing span-which, unfortunately we did not see),  witnessed a small, intimate wedding, admired a very peaceful sunset and  had a beautiful elk visit our campsite for coffee one morning.

Grand CanyonColorado RiverG.C. sunset

Bryce Canyon……MAGICAL

Truly a fantastical backdrop of unique rock formations  everywhere you look.  Called “hoodoos”, these structures were formed by thousands of years of water and ice erosion. Boasting vibrant colors of red, orange and white, I initially had to remove my sunglasses to see if my eyes were deceiving me!Bryce

We stayed 2 nights in the park, again “backwards hiking” and walking the rim to the popular vistas. The names of some of the formations are quite fitting. “Fairyland”, “The Queens Garden”  and “Thor’s Hammer” were some of our favorites. After the first day, both River and Mercy, with a tinge of guilt in their voices, confessed to liking this canyon a little bit more than The Grand. We were also fortunate enough to have to stop for a herd of pronghorn, which aren’t often seen in the park.

BryceBryceBryce

Zion…….SPIRITUAL

Comprised of some of the tallest sandstone cliffs in the world and receiving its lifeblood from the ever flowing Virgin River, the scenery here is striking.Zion

We entered the park on the east side, coming through the 1.1 mile sandstone carved Mount Carmel Tunnel. In hindsight, we should have come in on the west side as some problems did arise. Our trailer just fit the size restrictions and we had to obtain a tunnel permit ($15, which our pass did not cover), and as with all oversize rigs, we had to wait for rangers to stop traffic and let us through. Despite losing our trailer tire rim and hubcap somewhere in the tunnel, we were still able to enjoy the stunning views exiting the tunnel and descending down the long, steep and winding mountain.  Until……..roughly 2/3 of the way down, the trailer brake controller started flashing these bright red letters….OL OL OL.  Then, that smell of burning rubber and Bri realizing that our braking powers had all but fled. Luckily, there was a pullout and after parking it  for a while to let the brakes cool (and to recover from a near heart attack) we realized we had enough power in the truck brakes to crawl the rest of the way down and into the campground.  Upon leaving the park, our brakes started working again. But, after inspection, we did require a new $800 brake job.

We stayed here 4 or 5 nights as the inherent change of landscape and the presence of flowing water refreshed us physically and mentally after having spent weeks in  hot, dry, and dusty deserts. The desert in Zion is different as it harbors more than one environment and the ability to witness the  diversity in one place was a respite.  The fact that many of the trails had water of some form or another (Emerald pools, weeping rock , and of course the river) made for five happy campers. (Daisy also got some swim time in). Witnessing the sun cast it’s effervescent glow upon the majestic cliffs in the late afternoon was something to look forward to each day we were there.

Zion tunnelVirgin RiverZion

Arches……..INSPIRATIONAL

Sculptured rock scenery consisting of towering spires, pinnacles, balanced rock, windows, natural bridges, and of course, arches, makes for some gorgeous photographic opportunities.  Although you can see a lot of the park by car, the foot trails and short hikes give you  more of a sense of the size, scale and density of the rocks.Delicate Arch

We stayed 5 nights just outside the park at a great campground in Moab along The Colorado. We did most of the park in just one day, hiking out to Delicate Arch, which is THE famous arch, the one seen on the State of Utah’s license plate.  A relatively easy but hot hike in which the payoff of seeing the enormity of  it in addition to having our photo taken underneath it was gratifying. I’m not so sure  it was like that for the young 20 something year old couple hiking out there with nothing but 2 bottles of Mountain Dew. I seriously thought we were going to have to forfeit all of our water when I saw the girl could only go approximately 8-10 steps before having to stop , sit down and catch her breath.  She claimed she was getting over a sickness.  Bri and Riv explained to her boyfriend that they should be carrying water and not a dehydrating, caffeinated, sugary drinks. I believe they made it back okay.  

Landscape Arch was our next hike.  After watching the park video, we learned that a portion of the arch broke off in 1992, witnessed and caught on film by some hikers. Today, you can see the pieces that broke off and as you look up.  It’s hard to fathom that the thinnest part of the arch is only 6 feet thick. Who knows how long it will be before the entire arch crumbles. I’m just glad it didn’t happen in our presence. Knowing me, I would’ve stayed to catch it on film and sold it to National Geographic or The Discovery Channel…..for the soul reason of prolonging our trip.   Mercy received her first Junior Ranger badge here and now she is hooked on the program.

ArchesLandsccape ArchArches

We have left the desert and are currently in Colorado. I do believe that the kids have a renewed sense of adventure after seeing such lush, green landscape in this state.  Or, it may have something to do with the fact that school is out and summer has been bringing more families to the campgrounds, which in itself is…..DELIGHTFUL!

BIG and Beautiful BIG Bend

BIG and Beautiful BIG Bend

As our drive out of Austin took us south into some vast open land, my soul felt as if it was headed north into some boundless open air.  This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy our time spent in Austin. I most certainly did. I love city living. I love city working. I love city partying. It’s fast, its social, and it’s a necessary balance when one is living on the road. Nevertheless, there’s something to say about being at peace with nature…..for me anyways.

For one reason or another, we never made it to Big Bend during our travels 20 years ago.  And, to be honest, I wasn’t even really sure what the draw was, then or (up until) now.  It is not one of the busiest National Parks and in doing my research, I hadn’t found much information outside of the fact that it was in the desert, very picturesque and pretty far off the beaten path .  It was more or less word of mouth that convinced us to make it a destination this time around and I am convinced that the decision to stick with this plan was by far the smartest one yet. I must admit that due to the reality of its remote location, our time constraints, and the outrageous jump in gas prices, we almost nixed the plan entirely. What a grand mistake that would have been. I now know and understand the reason why the majority of the visitors to Big Bend are return visitors.   We had 2 days  to explore and experience this enchanted land, and that we did!

Located in southwest Texas, the  park expands along the Rio Grande River, occupies the upper third of the Chihuahuan Desert and contains the entire Chisos Mountain range.  The unique geological structures, formed years ago by the earth’s faults are absolutely stunning!  Rising up from the desert floor into the openness of the blue sky, these formations of nature extend as far  into the horizon as the eye can see. Waking up to these views of grandeur each day was more of a perk than my morning cup of coffee.

We hiked along the river that serves as the boundary between the US and Mexico.   We descended down into a canyon laden with volcanic rock.  We climbed limestone cliffs embedded with prehistoric evidence.

We stood at the foot of a 1500 foot high canyon wall.  We sat  in the naturally purifying hot springs.

We witnessed colorful sunsets with the bats.   We enjoyed the starlit night sky with the coyotes.

We camped without hookups, without cellphone service and without wi-fi.

AAAHHH……..