Thursday, July 30, 2015

One night in Death Valley National Park.

Back in May when we were camping in Texas, Patrick was talking to a neighboring camper about our route. He mentioned that we were heading toward Utah's Mighty Five (to which the neighbor nodded) and then Death Valley National Park (to which the neighbor frowned and said, "oh... why?").

Well... because it was on the way, and we'd never been, and we were curious. Why not? Here's what we found out about this fascinating national park.

Most important - it's very much alive! Death Valley is home to more than 1000 species of plants, 50 of which are found nowhere else in the world, and many species of mammals, birds and reptiles.

People have also thrived here and continue to thrive today. We watched a video at the visitor center where tribal members lamented the English name of their land. "The Timbisha Shoshone Indians lived here for centuries before the first white man entered the valley. They hunted and followed seasonal migrations for harvesting of pinyon pine nuts and mesquite beans with their families. To them, the land provided everything they needed and many areas were, and are, considered to be sacred places." (Quotes from the National Park Service web site.)

Hot, harsh, and very much alive.

The hikes. Um, right. We didn't do any.


Most of the hiking is backcountry and we'd love to go back one winter to explore, though.

We drove around most of the park during our short visit. Our Nevada friends had warned us that the "lowest point" was not terribly exciting so we skipped that photo op, but we did enjoy the occasional road sign letting us know we were -102' below sea level.

Zabriskie Point

Charcoal Kilns -
super cool ...

... and surprisingly large!

Panamint Valley

The views were all pretty spectacular even from the road, and those charcoal kilns were really impressive. A few more photos can be found here...

The campsite. With temperatures predicted over 120°, we were not even considering camping here. After talking with the park ranger we learned that Wildrose Campground was at a high enough elevation that camping would be really pleasant (80° during the day, 60° at night), so we gave it a shot.

empty campsites = AWESOME

the sunset just made it all the better

Eventually a few other campers joined us but the campground was so large that we didn't really see them until the morning.

The food. Before we left Zion one of our camp neighbors offered us some of their spare food so they wouldn't have to carry it home. Normally we pass on canned vegetables but we made an exception for free beets.

Death Valley beet salad

The summary. We obviously went during the wrong season; we'd love to go back in cooler weather or even in early spring after a rainfall when the wildflowers pop. The drive through Death Valley National Park was pretty stunning in the summer, though...

don't rule it out!

Only two more national park summaries to come... And then I (finally) get to write about how weird it is to be back in Portland after two years of travel!

Overnighting in Nevada and Northern California.

After Zion and before Death Valley, there was Las Vegas.

well, okay, first there was this...

... and this ...

... and this

We are not Vegas people, and we are usually not 113° people, but we are "catch up with traveling friends" people. We had hoped to just be able to meet up with Jen's kayak buddy from Antarctica and her partner to share a few hours of good conversation - we didn't expect to be treated to a homecooked meal, delicious wine (not from a box!)... and an invitation to stay in their beautiful home as long as we liked.

we were also treated to Dean and Frank's goofball presences

We seriously thought about it. (Did I mention our friends had air conditioning? And do you see that pool?)

After almost 800 days of travel, we'd been noticing that being temporarily comfortable made it very difficult to adjust back to life on the road. It wasn't just that, though. Utah really took a toll on us - it was absolutely stunning but the heat, the dust, the dry, the constant movement, the overloads of people and the overstimulation from all that beauty just exhausted us. Suddenly we were in a clean, comfortable, quiet space at our friends' house. If we stayed one more night we would seriously never leave.

So we left in the morning... begrudgingly.

On our way out of town we stopped by Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. It was still about 113° so we mostly toured the park from the comfort of our car. It was really beautiful and we bet it's amazing in the fall when temperatures aren't so ridiculous.

best sign we saw all week

13 miles of scenic drives - the east side

13 miles of scenic drives - the west side

we were here

And then we went to Death Valley National Park, and that was good.

On our way north from Death Valley we stopped at Manzanar National Historic Site. At one point during World War II over 10,000 Japanese Americans and immigrants were held in this internment camp; many were held for over three years. The visitor center was very thorough and the ~3 mile tour of the grounds gave some perspective into what life would have been like.

Manzanar cemetery

Like many things we saw internationally as well as domestically, it was pretty harrowing to be reminded of this side of our country's past. Without getting overly political I'll just say I know this type of thing is happening elsewhere in the world as I type, and I hope people recognize that and work to change it, and I also hope this is a history that doesn't repeat itself within our own borders.

Anyway, from Manzanar we continued north. Our goal was Mono Lake - but that was a pretty lofty goal as it was also Friday afternoon on a gorgeous weekend - so we decided not to press our luck. We stopped at Mammoth Lake instead, camping at the Devils Postpile National Monument campground and exploring that area for a bit over the next 16 hours.

super cool, like the tessalated pavement
we saw in Tasmania (only not really like that)

side view of the postpile (60 feet high!)

the most relaxing view we'd seen in weeks


more Trader Joe's precooked brown rice for the win

bearproofing the food

morning hike to Minaret Falls

Minaret Falls

another amazing national monument

A few more pictures of all of this here. After our morning hike we continued north, passing Mono Lake...

save Mono Lake!
(is that still a thing?)

and Tahoe
(completely under construction, apparently)

... and we stopped briefly in Truckee to decide if we wanted to push on to Lassen National Park. It was 5pm, we'd been on the road since about 10am, and Lassen was another three hours of driving. Stopping around Truckee would mean weekend Tahoe(ish) campers; pushing on would mean more time in Lassen.

Shirking our whole "slowly" motto, we pushed on and endured the longest drive day of the past two months. Aventura! (Sigh...)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Five hours in Arizona (including the Grand Canyon's North Rim).

Our original plan was to camp in the North Rim of the Grand Canyon between our visits to Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks.

Actually, our original original plan was to skip the Grand Canyon altogether, for a few reasons. I've been to the South Rim several times already; this park wasn't high on Patrick's list; we both knew that the best way to explore was by backpacking down into the canyon (or maybe a rafting trip), which we didn't have time to do on this road trip.

But the North Rim is only open during the summer and since we were going to be fairly close (and probably not back in the area for a long time), I was interested in checking it out. We hoped that the remoteness of the North Rim would give us a better chance at a tent site. No such luck - the campsites are mostly (or all?) reservation-only and of course the campground was full. (Of course it was! It was summer in the Grand Canyon, for pete's sake!) The visitor's area was packed too... So much for remoteness.

This will probably sound crazy but we didn't even drive the scenic route. We ended up eating lunch at the North Rim, taking a few pictures (really, just a few), and heading back toward Utah.

we've had worse lunch views


we were here

feels wrong to even count this as a visit

To make up for our poor showing at the Grand Canyon, though, we stopped by Pipe Spring National Monument on the way back to Utah.

Over the last 2000 years, Ancestral Puebloans, Paiutes, missionaries, explorers, and Mormon pioneers were all sustained by Pipe Spring. We didn't take the guided tour of Winsor Castle but we did explore the museum pretty extensively, and we also wandered around the grounds.


harder times

looks very comfortable

Pipe Spring has an interesting and extensive history, from its tribal farming days, to Brigham Young's desire to use the land to expand his church, to its standing now as a national monument. It also has a slightly unusual history - this fort was once used as a hideout for polygamous wives after this practice was made a felony in the late 1800s.

not a polygamous wife

Pipe Spring National Monument is managed cooperatively by the Kaibab Indian Reservation and the government, and as such it's the only joint Tribal-National Park Service monument. It's also probably the only place where the National Park Service encourages picking the plants - they have a large community garden and park visitors are welcome to take whatever vegetables they would like. It was a little odd, but also pretty cool!

thanks for the onion and peas, Pipe Spring!

So that was our five hours in Arizona. Someday we'll get around to that backpacking trip down in the canyon...

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Utah: so much more than the Mighty Five!

So yes, we did hit the "Mighty Five" (Canyonlands, Arches, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Parks) while we were in Utah. But there is so much more to the Beehive State than just national parks!

For example, there's Moab. You can do just about anything in Moab - ATV, zipline, river raft, tube, paddleboard, kayak, canoe, mountain bike, rock climb, horseback ride, take a hot air balloon ride...

YOU can do any or all of those things. WE chose to skip them all and just visit Moab Brewery. Twice.

6/10 sampled

While in Moab we stayed at the Lazy Lizard International Hostel for one night, where for less than $40 we enjoyed a quiet, spacious room with shades over the windows, air conditioning, and wifi.

That was all we enjoyed about the Lazy Lizard. If you're 23 and looking for a job leading river tours for the summer, this is your place. If you're us, you move on to the craptastic RV park up the road for a few nights so that you can take in Arches and Canyonlands' Island in the Sky without having to deal with a dozen 23-year-olds looking for jobs leading river tours for the summer (and without having to pay Moab's ridiculous hotel prices).

After Moab and those surrounding national parks, Patrick found something called "Goblin Valley State Park" on the way to Capitol Reef National Park. A valley covered with sandstone "goblins" that's often compared to the surface of Mars? Sounded intriguing so we checked it out.

the only campsite available was a pretty good campsite

goblin way taller than Patrick
(not pictured: Patrick)

another goblin way taller than me
(not pictured: me)

a whole valley of goblins taller than both of us!

The "goblins" (giant hoodoos that looked like aliens) were pretty amazing and we spent a good hour or so in the midday heat exploring the valley. We also took a walk along the Curtis Bench Trail that evening. If the valley was like Mars, this trail was a bit like the Moon.

Henry Mountains in the distance

Dinner was udon noodles, tofu and veggies. As the sun went down the group of kids next door went down to the valley to play flashlight tag in the hoodoos, and we enjoyed a quiet evening under the desert stars.

simple and tasty

We probably wouldn't recommend the campground unless you're traveling on a budget but the park itself is definitely worth a few hours.

do we look like goblins?

From there we headed down to Capitol Reef National Park, checking out the sights along the way...

like this one
("and vote yes 4 Sanders!"
surely, that's what they meant to add?)

And after Capitol Reef we headed to Kodachrome Basin State Park, chosen specifically because of that Paul Simon song. (I sang that song for days after our visit. I'll probably sing that song for days after writing this post.)

When you think "kodachrome" what kinds of images come to mind?

something like this, perhaps? ...

... or something like this?

Those were taken from the Panorama Trail. It was pretty overcast while we were hiking and I'm honestly not sure if that helped or hurt the pictures. I actually think it's pretty hard to take a bad picture in this state park.

Our first campsite at Kodachrome Basin was fine. Pretty basic, close to the pit toilets and water pump (but just a short drive to showers), nice view of the park...

campsite #8 for the "A-OK"

madly cooking in prep for the storm

the storm
(slowly passing us by, we didn't even get rained on)

(yeah, the view of the park from our campsite was alright)

Kodachrome Basin was just a 30-minute drive from Bryce Canyon National Park, so on our second day we headed over to Bryce Canyon but got back in time to hike the Angels Palace Trail.

worth the extra effort after 7 miles around Bryce Canyon

We'd had to switch campsites that morning because #8 was reserved, but that was just fine - our second campsite proved to be even better than our first. And it was just across the road from our original campsite so we literally picked up the tent and walked it over to the other campsite. Easiest move ever!

campsite #10 for the win

Dinner was another tasty but uneventful salad but the ginormous bottle of Woodbridge wine made up for it. (Don't judge - it was Utah after all, we were just looking for anything over 4% at that point.)

(and also, we are very, very cheap)

The sunset over the basin that night was absolutely gorgeous.

Kodachrome colors of a totally different sort...

We owe our stay at this park to Paul Simon. We seriously did pick it because of the name ("how could it not be awesome?" we wondered). It was totally worth it and we are so glad we stopped here. Thank you, sir.

mama don't take my kodachrome away

After Kodachrome Basin and Bryce Canyon, and our failed attempt at camping at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, we decided to stop in Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park for a night. It was close enough to Zion that we could get an early start, and who doesn't love sand dunes? One night at this park quickly turned into two, though - we got in pretty late that first night, the park hosts were so friendly and the park itself was pretty spectacular so we decided to stay an extra night and check out the surrounding area.

site #17 to start

grilled tofu, grilled veggies, rainstorm held out (thank you!)

Maryland sand representing in their sand display

sand dunes nature trail sunshine

meandering around the sand dunes

We had to switch campsites the next morning. This was a bit more of a move than our Kodachrome Basin move, so we enlisted the help of the Subaru.

reason #349 to love this car

The park hosts recommended that we check out Moccasin Mountain Tracksite, home to at least six different kinds of preserved footprints from dinosaurs in the Early Jurassic time period. The map of the footprints was definitely not to scale but eventually we found one, and then eventually many, footprint fossils.


We took a bit of a cultural detour after Moccasin Mountain and hit up Kanab's Little Hollywood Museum, Gift Shop, Restaurant and Photography Studio. We only partook of the free museum part of the program but it was really interesting to see clips and photos from some of the old westerns shot in Kanab back in the day. Film buffs would really love this place - and the museum is free!

name that movie

the guy on the far left is actually a tree

After our little Kanab adventure we headed back to camp and enjoyed some words with campsite and a delicious dinner.

inquiring minds want to know -
what word would you make with these letters?

cheddar jalapeno burgers
on the most amazing buttermilk biscuits in the SW
(thanks, Honey's Marketplace in Kanab!)

and thanks, Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park!

So many more pictures here... Utah's state parks were almost as memorable as the national parks, and all we really did was hike and camp. Sorry, 23-year-olds looking for river jobs - we are not your target market but we did love this state!