A weekend in Baie St-Paul

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 The girls's start. I was the first time that the 3 of them were racing the same race!

The girls's start. I was the first time that the 3 of them were racing the same race!

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 It's no secret that bike races (or any other sporting events for that matter) are not my cup of tea. What's not to love about being woken up on a Saturday morning at 7:15 by “Eye of the Tiger” to spend all day on the sidelines, inhaling dust while cheering people you don't know, thinking: shouldn't she be here already? Who's this again? Look at those legs and ass (OK, I know I'm not the only one, that's the only perk...), while simultaneously having a near heart-attack when they call First Aid on the course during your kids’ race? There's also waiting for the award ceremony that is never on time (except for that one time you were late), being bossed around by an overzealous 15 yo who tells everybody that is 50 yards from the trail that THERE IS A BIKE RACE GOING ON PLEASE STAY AWAY (‘cause you know, I'm standing in the mud with a ridiculously heavy camera NOT KNOWING there is a bike race). What's not to love, indeed? But you know what the crazy part is? I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else when they race by me and I see their eyes light up when they see me cheering for them.

It's no secret that bike races (or any other sporting events for that matter) are not my cup of tea. What's not to love about being woken up on a Saturday morning at 7:15 by “Eye of the Tiger” to spend all day on the sidelines, inhaling dust while cheering people you don't know, thinking: shouldn't she be here already? Who's this again? Look at those legs and ass (OK, I know I'm not the only one, that's the only perk...), while simultaneously having a near heart-attack when they call First Aid on the course during your kids’ race? There's also waiting for the award ceremony that is never on time (except for that one time you were late), being bossed around by an overzealous 15 yo who tells everybody that is 50 yards from the trail that THERE IS A BIKE RACE GOING ON PLEASE STAY AWAY (‘cause you know, I'm standing in the mud with a ridiculously heavy camera NOT KNOWING there is a bike race). What's not to love, indeed? But you know what the crazy part is? I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else when they race by me and I see their eyes light up when they see me cheering for them.

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 Spotting daddy.

Spotting daddy.

 “Hit the jump!”I yell like an overly enthusiastic teenager, camera in hand, as he rides towards us. He gives me a grim look as he rides around it, which brings him close enough that I can see  the twigs sticking out of his helmet. “He fell on his head!” Aisha says, worried. Look closely, you'll see his branch "horns".

“Hit the jump!”I yell like an overly enthusiastic teenager, camera in hand, as he rides towards us. He gives me a grim look as he rides around it, which brings him close enough that I can see  the twigs sticking out of his helmet. “He fell on his head!” Aisha says, worried. Look closely, you'll see his branch "horns".

 Lots of love for papa who had two hard crashes during that race.

Lots of love for papa who had two hard crashes during that race.

 Ending the day in the village of Baie St-Paul.

Ending the day in the village of Baie St-Paul.

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 Gelato time!

Gelato time!

 Being twins in the world of competition is not always easy. In the past, the twins either did team races or competed in different categories (in AZ Aïsha raced with the 15-16 yo). But here, it's not an option. The 3 of them are in the same category and if they want to race, they will be racing together (or against one another, depending on how you see it). It was an excruciatingly hard week for Aïsha as she is still struggling with an injury and feels like she is not in race shape… but also wants on the race experience. So, at last, she told Mathilde that she would race if she also signed up for the race. And just like that, we had 3 girls on the course at once! They each chose an achievable goal for that race and reached it! Mathilde knew she would very likely be last and she was, but kept riding with a big smile, encouraging the boys that were lapping her and receiving cheers in return. I believe we all grew from that experience as a family.

Being twins in the world of competition is not always easy. In the past, the twins either did team races or competed in different categories (in AZ Aïsha raced with the 15-16 yo). But here, it's not an option. The 3 of them are in the same category and if they want to race, they will be racing together (or against one another, depending on how you see it). It was an excruciatingly hard week for Aïsha as she is still struggling with an injury and feels like she is not in race shape… but also wants on the race experience. So, at last, she told Mathilde that she would race if she also signed up for the race. And just like that, we had 3 girls on the course at once! They each chose an achievable goal for that race and reached it! Mathilde knew she would very likely be last and she was, but kept riding with a big smile, encouraging the boys that were lapping her and receiving cheers in return. I believe we all grew from that experience as a family.

 Cheering for Maghalie Rochette, their idol!

Cheering for Maghalie Rochette, their idol!

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 Mara during the XCT (the second event of the race, the other two didn't race that one).

Mara during the XCT (the second event of the race, the other two didn't race that one).

 Tired and proud to be 4th on 21 racers and to have been in the hot seat for a while.

Tired and proud to be 4th on 21 racers and to have been in the hot seat for a while.

 Wearing her team colors for the podium. So proud.

Wearing her team colors for the podium. So proud.

My childhood memories of Baie St-Paul involve lots of not-so-great art galleries and a mosquito apocalypse in that very same Westfalia at this very same campground which led us to leave for a chic restaurant to have dinner without being eaten alive. We were on a return trip from a Gaspe peninsula tour with my dad’s partner of that time. It had already been a tense trip (she didn't care for Bon Jovi and sang off-key to old French songs and it drove me nuts, so I spent a lot of time behind my walkman, lying down on the back bench NOT looking at the landscape that she nagged me to admire). She also loathed me for my bad manners. When we'd watch a movie together, she'd spend more time peeking in my direction than watching the screen to make sure she'd catch me picking my nose and call me on it.

So that night at the Mouton Noir (see, I remember the name of the restaurant 30 years later! That's PTSD!), she threw a scene because I had taken a bite off my bread roll instead of ripping a piece off with my fingers and THEN putting it in my mouth. I was ten. You might have guessed she had no children of her own. It went downhill from there.

I'm glad to report that the Mouton Noir is still in business and that the art galleries are still thriving, as well as the mosquitoes. So long Baie St-Paul, see you in less than 30 years I hope!

 

 

 

Mary Jane Canyon and some Moab updates

 Driving on Ranch rd/BLM 98 to get to Mary Jane Canyon. What a view!

Driving on Ranch rd/BLM 98 to get to Mary Jane Canyon. What a view!

 After about 5 minutes of walking on the trail, you have to get your feet wet!

After about 5 minutes of walking on the trail, you have to get your feet wet!

 And it just gets better.

And it just gets better.

 The sandstone is so red it's almost purple and when you walk in the water, it looks like there is blood around your feet.

The sandstone is so red it's almost purple and when you walk in the water, it looks like there is blood around your feet.

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 Finally found a quiet camping spot about 25 minutes out of Moab. With a gorgeous view of the  Fiery Furnace .

Finally found a quiet camping spot about 25 minutes out of Moab. With a gorgeous view of the Fiery Furnace.

 Silence. Finally. After days of constant OHV noise.

Silence. Finally. After days of constant OHV noise.

If you type Moab on the Home page search bar of the blog, you'll see a ridiculous number of posts pop up. We just love Moab and have been coming here every year for the last 5 years. The more helpful post for bike trails and general info that I wrote is this one and this one contains more photos or trails (all the info is still good, except that the coffee at Bike Fiend was NOT good this year, stick to Moab Coffee Roasters and the good cheap laudromat by the Village Market and Chili Pepper Bike shop is not a Domino Pizza and you are left with very few options for laundry... We ended up going to Moab Laundry (that we call the Gringo Laundromat, because it's pack full with travelers and it's ridiculously cheap and the driers take forever to dry... buuut, it's right by the City Market AND Gearhead (where you can fill your jugs with delicious spring water for free), so we can kill 3 birds with one stone.

Coming here every year for a while also means that we have seen the effects of more and more people camping on the public lands and that every year, we camp a little further away... Last year, we stayed on Dalton Wells Road since Willow Springs Road was packed and this year, after spending a few very noisy days on Dalton Wells with people riding and racing their OHV all day long in front of our bus, we moved further out of town.

There has been lots of discussions on Instagram lately among the vanlifers about the repercussions of sharing the exact coordinates of these free campsites (and other beautiful locations). Many of us feel directly responsible for drawing crowds there (and some of us truly are... I know I am for at least a few spots I first reviewed on Campendium). It’s a complex issue and many of us stand on the fence here. We’re not a select little group who should be the only ones to have access to this information. HOWEVER, as Kerri McHale (@asolojourner) says: “There’s surely enough info already out there to get anyone’s feet wet; even if every single one of us stopped geotagging today. (…) This land is open to everyone, and everyone’s free to explore it. We’re not putting up “no trespassing” signs; were just not putting up neon arrows to the road here”.

Of course, I will keep sharing these special spots with people I know. And I will keep sharing them here on the blog. I receive lots of messages from friends and acquaintances (and readers!) planning trips and never refuse them a piece of advice. However, I know these people and know they will not trash them. These places are our second homes, our refuges, as Kerri McHale says. She continues: It’s not good for everyone to crowd onto one pinpoint on a map—it changes the land, even when people *aren’t* trashing it. I’ve talked to many locals lately, who see places they’ve come back to for decades overrun and trashed. I once thought, “I don’t have that many followers…how could I really be affecting this?” But that’s kind of like saying, “I’ll just drop this one coke can on the ground. No one comes around here anyway,” isn’t it?

So if you have read this far, let me share with you here one of Moab's best kept secret: Mary Jane Canyon. When the crowds are invading Arches and Canyonlands National Parks (and Corona Arch trail too now...), there are a few hidden gems that you will likely only have to share with a few other hikers if you are willing to drive a few extra miles (or 20). Last year, I told you about the Fisher Towers (still our favorite hike in the area!) and this year, we discovered Mary Jane Canyon. Unfortunately, we didn't get to go all the way to the end where the true gem is: a beautiful 30 feet high split waterfall INSIDE the slot canyon because we ran out of light. It is a long hike (9 miles/14 km round trip) mostly IN the water, so plan accordingly. It is however perfect on a hot day when the crowds are all at Grandstaff Canyon (aka Morning Glory, aka Negro Bill Canyon) to get their feet wet. Some people have reported being able to keep their feet dry by rock hopping, but it'll be a lot of work (and you'll likely slip and get wet or injure yourself). You CAN be in the water 90% of the time, but you will likely have to be walking in it at least 50% if you follow the trail that meanders in and out of the creek. We don't have Keens, so we simply used our regular sneakers with wool hiking socks and it was perfect. JF did it in his Chaco sandals and said it was not ideal because the sole became abrasive under his feet after a while. If you have weak ankles, brink hiking poles. The water was pretty shallow when we did it at the beginning of April (mostly ankle deep, some spots mid-calf) and cold but not freezing. We called the BLM field office in Moab beforehand since it had rained a few days prior, but they said they do not monitor the water level there, so I guess it is not as likely to get flash floods there. The water level does vary during the year and it is usually dry at the end of the summer.

Once you reach the trail head, make sure you take the right trail. The more obvious one is for Professor/Sylvester Creek, which is NOT where you are going. The trail to Mary Jane Canyon is just across the parking lot by a no camping sign. The best info I found about it is on this blog (with photos of the trail head). The canyon walls get higher as you hike further into the canyon, and eventually will reach upwards of 100 ft. I also read that there are several side canyons that allow for exploring tighter slot canyons.

 

Exploring Utah's Canyons part 4: San Rafael Reef

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 Little Wild Horse Canyon is so sinuous, you feel like water walking through it.

Little Wild Horse Canyon is so sinuous, you feel like water walking through it.

 Mathilde is always ready to rest. Ahem.

Mathilde is always ready to rest. Ahem.

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 So, so gorgeous!

So, so gorgeous!

  Canyons have been described as sensuous and feminine, womb-like in opposition to mountains and spires or hoodoos. You see, something unique happen when you stand in the belly of the earth. You want to run your fingers along the round walls, like a pregnant belly or a breast. You want to linger, to drift… you don't want to get out of that embrace, to reemerge  and reenter the world beyond that womb.

Canyons have been described as sensuous and feminine, womb-like in opposition to mountains and spires or hoodoos. You see, something unique happen when you stand in the belly of the earth. You want to run your fingers along the round walls, like a pregnant belly or a breast. You want to linger, to drift… you don't want to get out of that embrace, to reemerge  and reenter the world beyond that womb.

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In their book Utah Canyon Country, Kathy and Craig Copeland warn the hikers pretty clearly about Bell & Little Wild Horse canyons: The circuit linking the two canyons is a merry-go-round of enthusiastic hikers: kids sprinting away from their ambling parents, young couples lugging babies in backpacks, seniors cautiously shrouded head-to-toe in sun-barrier clothing, experienced trekkers sheepish about participating in such a carnival yet enjoying it too. (…) Hiking here is like joining a hikers’ pride parade. It’s an act of solidarity with your comrades: the people raising hikers-to-be. Not convinced? Then come here simply to marvel at the bizarre beauty of the San Rafael Reef. These canyons are so extraordinary they’ll command your attention while the party swirls on without you.

Little Wild Horse Canyon (2-4 miles round trip to simply explore the first section of LWH Canyon or 9 miles to do the loop hike with Bell Canyon, easy, dog-friendly but lots of people, VERY HEAVY traffic):

There were over 60 vehicles in the parking lot when we arrived at 3 pm on a Monday afternoon (granted, it was during Spring Break, but still!). We decided to go find a camping spot on Little Wild Horse BLM just a few minutes from there and waited for the crowd to leave. We started our hike in the canyon at 6 pm and had the place pretty much to ourselves. It was AMAZING. We hike pretty fast, but we were able to see a lot of Little Wild Horse Canyon and return by 8 pm. It is undeniably the most beautiful slot canyon we have seen when taking in consideration the minimal approach and how easy it is to hike it (no technical challenge at all).

Most people simply walk a few miles into Little Wild Horse Canyon and turn around (like we did), but you can also do it in a loop starting with Bell Canyon and returning through Little Wild Horse Canyon. I believe it would be doable the other way around too (but you might want to double check that in case there are obstacles) in order to avoid the crowd if you start very early from LWH canyon.

 

 Our beautiful (and very windy) campsite on  Little Wild Horse BLM .

Our beautiful (and very windy) campsite on Little Wild Horse BLM.

 

To also check in the same area:

Crack Canyon (7 miles round trip, easy with a few obstacles requiring some gymnastic efforts, dogs allowed, but has to be pretty athletic, moderate to low traffic)

Chute Canyon (4.5 miles round trip, easy, dogs allowed, moderate to low traffic)

I'm not going to keep you from paying $15 to go into Goblin Valley State park and spend an hour (or less) climbing on goblin-like rock formations (why on earth do they allow people to climb on such fragile formations, I don't know...), but if you do and you have bikes, go explore a much less crowded area of the park with really nice easy bike trails and ride The Dark Side of the Moon to get very close to the San Rafael Swell.

Recommended books:

Map (note that there is no cell signal in most of these places, so you'll likely need a paper map) : Canyons of the Escalante

Hiking Grand Staircase-Escalante & the Glen Canyon Region: A Guide To 59 Of The Best Hiking Adventures In Southern Utah

Hiking from Here to Wow: Utah Canyon Country

Hiking the Escalante

Exploring Utah's Canyons part 3: Burr Trail

 On the Burr Trail, at about mile 15.

On the Burr Trail, at about mile 15.

 Driving the Burr Trail, mile 12.

Driving the Burr Trail, mile 12.

 Happy!

Happy!

 The Crown, on the Burr Trail. 

The Crown, on the Burr Trail. 

The last time we were here was in the Fall of 2012. We had fallen in love head over heel with this place, but could not come back because of the lack of connexion (needed for our work) and because we thought Route 12 would not be doable with the bus. So this year, for my 40th birthday, we took 2 full weeks off work and came back to our first love. At that time, we had also explored some of the canyons around Kanab (Wire Pass + Buckskin Gulch), The Wave and Waterholes Canyon (near Page, AZ).

We are happy to report that there is now signal in Escalante (and at the BLM on top of Hole-in-the-Rock Road), but still no signal past 5 miles on the Burr Trail (but signal in Boulder).

The entire 68-mile stretch of the Burr Trail Road is scenic and filled with natural beauty. I still think it is one of the US most scenic road. The drive takes you from Boulder through Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument, all the way to the Notom-Bullfrog road in Capitol Reef National Park.

 Hike to Wolverine Canyon.

Hike to Wolverine Canyon.

 The petrified wood field on the way to Wolverine Canyon.

The petrified wood field on the way to Wolverine Canyon.

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 LOTS of cows and calves on the trail at this time of year!

LOTS of cows and calves on the trail at this time of year!

 Those wholes in the sandstone are called taffoni. I always feel like Al Pacino when I pronounce it.

Those wholes in the sandstone are called taffoni. I always feel like Al Pacino when I pronounce it.

 These boulders are begging to be claimed.

These boulders are begging to be claimed.

 There are two giant alcoves in the canyon.

There are two giant alcoves in the canyon.

 Driving on Wolverine Rd.

Driving on Wolverine Rd.

 

Wolverine canyon (3 miles round trip to the petrified wood pile, 5 miles round trip to the narrow section of the canyon, easy, dog-friendly but lots of cows, low traffic): Located on the Wolverine Loop Road, this canyon begins wide and gradually constricts into beautiful sculpted narrows (from 8 to 15 feet, this is not a slot canyon) with huge alcoves (this is where we turned around, for a 5 miles round trip). There is an abundance of petrified wood (I know, I felt I was done with petrified wood, but this is something else…it was set aside by the BLM as an outstanding natural area). The black petrified wood attracts the eye because the purple and lavender hills provide such a vibrant backdrop. The only challenge when we hiked it were the many cows (and brand new calves) along the wash and we needed to give them some space and go off trail.

To also check in the same area:

Little Death Hollow (15.2 miles round trip through Horse Canyon and Wolverine Canyon, moderate to challenging, not dog-friendly, low to moderate traffic): This was closed when we got there because a cow was stuck inside the canyon. Most people do the loop starting at Little Death Hollow trailhead, through Horse Canyon and back up Wolverine Canyon in 2 or 3 days because there are some nice campsites along the trail, or a longer full day hike. Note that Little Death Hollow cannot be done as an in-and-out day hike unless you are a seasoned climber.

 

Singing Canyon (a canyon just by the road, 11.5 miles down the Burr Trail, dog-friendly): a great stop on the Burr Trail with little ones or just to go explore and break into a tune. This canyon offers spectacular acoustic and you might even see a violinist of flute player while you are there.

 

Upper Muley Twist (9.4 miles, moderate with some exposure, dogs not allowed, low traffic): Deemed the most beautiful hike in Capitol Reef N.P., this hike has it all: a wash approach, a rim trail and a canyon. Check the weather before going this is a prime spot for lightning strike.

 

 Our beautiful free campsite on the Burr Trail. Not sharing this one ;)

Our beautiful free campsite on the Burr Trail. Not sharing this one ;)

 Easter Pizza! That's a thing, right?

Easter Pizza! That's a thing, right?

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Exploring Utah's Canyons part 2: Hole-in-the-Rock Road

 Approach hike to Big Horn Canyon

Approach hike to Big Horn Canyon

 The incredible colors and texture in Big Horn Canyon.

The incredible colors and texture in Big Horn Canyon.

 Feeling like we are in another world, alone in Big Horn Canyon.

Feeling like we are in another world, alone in Big Horn Canyon.

 Playing in a shallow section of Big Horn Canyon.

Playing in a shallow section of Big Horn Canyon.

Hole-in-the-Rock Road has the biggest concentration of slot canyons in Utah. It is 57 miles one-way and 4 x 4 is strongly recommended for the last 7 miles. There was LOTS of wash board on this route when we were there and driving it in our van wasn't fun. We decided NOT to drive the 50 something mile required to get to some of the canyons we wanted to explore and stuck to the canyons located on the first 15 miles of the road for that reason.

There are no route markers on most canyon trails (sometimes a cairn here and there). You need a map and some navigation skills.

As the Copelands put it in their book: Hiking, particularly when routefinding rather than heedlessly following a trail, reboots our connection with nature. It requires us to engage directly. And canyon country is the ideal place to venture into trail-less terrain.

These places invite exploration, but if you want to veer off the path, you should stay on the cattle trails to avoid destroying the fragile desert crust. Do not add cairns, do not write with mud on the canyon walls, keep your voice down (and teach this to your kids). Enthusiasm is beautiful, but this is not an amusement park. Be respectful of others who are likely to look for a more contemplative experience.

Big Horn canyon (5 miles round trip, easy, dog-friendly, moderate traffic): Big Horn Canyon is an interesting tributary of Harris Wash in a rarely explored part of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It was our best *discovery*. The wide range of colors, textures and formations took our breath away. The canyon deepens quickly, eventually reaching a depth of 400 feet, and forms slot-like channels of varying narrowness mixed with wider, flat sections. It has two forks and all could be seen in five hours though adjacent parts of Harris Wash, and especially some of its nearby side canyons, are also worth visiting.

 Squeezing through an unnamed side canyon we discovered while hiking in Big Horn Canyon. It led to a beautiful cathedral-like area.

Squeezing through an unnamed side canyon we discovered while hiking in Big Horn Canyon. It led to a beautiful cathedral-like area.

 JF using his elbows to slowly get down this steep section of the side canyon.

JF using his elbows to slowly get down this steep section of the side canyon.

We have a tradition to pick a birthday hike (or ride). I had picked Little Death Hollow, but it was closed since a cow was stuck in it and someone else had been charged by an aggressive cow… So back to the drawing board we went and decided to check out Zebra Canyon.

Zebra slot canyon (5 miles round trip, easy to get there/moderate, some stemming required in the canyon, canyon is not dog-friendly, high to moderate traffic): This is a very short slot canyon (200 m) that require some wiggling and stemming to get through. It often contains water and quicksand. When we did it, there was two 50 feet-long sections of mid-calf freezing cold water. The slot canyon is reached after a 2 miles beautiful approach walk down to Harris Wash. There are not route markers here and it can be confusing for many. Make sure you have a map.

 The birthday hike crew

The birthday hike crew

 Canyons invite exploration

Canyons invite exploration

 Walking in the wash to get to Zebra Canyon.

Walking in the wash to get to Zebra Canyon.

 Getting closer.

Getting closer.

 There was two 50 feet-long sections of mid-calf freezing cold water. I got feet cramps that were so bad I could not stand for a minute.

There was two 50 feet-long sections of mid-calf freezing cold water. I got feet cramps that were so bad I could not stand for a minute.

 Mara-give-me-a-challenge Roldan

Mara-give-me-a-challenge Roldan

 Being tall is not always a good thing when exploring slot canyons.

Being tall is not always a good thing when exploring slot canyons.

 Left: int the narrowest and most beautiful part of Zebra Canyon. Right: JF helps Mara down a steep section.

Left: int the narrowest and most beautiful part of Zebra Canyon. Right: JF helps Mara down a steep section.

 Right: looking at a bird's nest in an alcove. Right: me, stemming to avoid a section of freezing water.

Right: looking at a bird's nest in an alcove. Right: me, stemming to avoid a section of freezing water.

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In many of these canyons, you will see Moqui Marbles. They are sandstone balls cemented by a hard shell of iron oxide minerals. They tumble from the pale, cream-colored navajo sandstone beds, when wind and water wash away the softer rock. The children of the Indian tribe who lived there were known to play with these stones, particularly the smaller stones, and used them like children today use marbles, hence the name Moqui Marbles.

The curious rocks have inspired fantastical tales of fairies, meteorites and dinosaur eggs, but their origin is fairly mundane. Water flowing through sedimentary rock leaves behind minerals that glue together masses of sand, mud or other particles.
Collecting them is prohibited. Please be respectful.

In my research online, I actually discovered that some people are selling them on eBay as shaman stones having special powers. I’m pretty sure this is bad Karma...

To also check in the same area:

Devil’s Garden Hoodoos (stroll around, up to a few miles, perfect natural playground for kids, a few arches and funky hoodoos, 12 miles from Highway 12 on Hole-in-the-Rock road).

 Devil's Garden Hoodoos (on Hole-in-the-Rock Road, not to be confused with Arches NP Devil's Garden).

Devil's Garden Hoodoos (on Hole-in-the-Rock Road, not to be confused with Arches NP Devil's Garden).

 Metate Arch at Devil's Garden Hoodoos.

Metate Arch at Devil's Garden Hoodoos.

 Mara standing on an arch at Devil's Garden. This is an amazing natural playground. You have to stop there if you have kids.

Mara standing on an arch at Devil's Garden. This is an amazing natural playground. You have to stop there if you have kids.

Peekaboo and Spooky Canyons (4.8 miles round trip, moderate, not dog-friendly, heavy traffic): These are undeniably the most visited canyons on Hole-in-the-Rock Road and for good reasons. The approach is short and the experience is unique. However, you might have to wait in line to enter through Peekaboo… it’s that crazy busy. People usually hike up Peekaboo and down Spooky (DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS HIKE IF YOU ARE IN ANY WAY OVERWEIGHT, these canyons are so narrow that people got stuck). Spooky will force even the most slender lanky types to carry their packs over their heads, turn sideways and wiggle through. There are a few chokestones and short drops. If you are #ho shapeshifter, you can also attempt Brimstone Canyon located at the same trailhead (darker and more obstacles, great to check you immunity to claustrophobia). We hiked these almost six years ago with the girls and it was quite the adventure (read the whole story here!)

Neon Canyon and the Golden Cathedral (9.2 miles round trip), moderate, dog-friendly, moderate traffic)

Note that there are many more very interesting canyons to explore on Hole-in-the-Rock Road (Davis Gulch, Llewelyn Gulch, Reflexion Canyon, Willow Gulch, Fortymile Gulch, Egypt 3, Spencer), but many require a 50 mile drive on that often very wash boardy road (it was in very rough shape when we were there).

We camped at this BLM while exploring this area. 

 

Recommended books:

Map (note that there is no cell signal in most of these places, so you'll likely need a paper map) : Canyons of the Escalante

Hiking Grand Staircase-Escalante & the Glen Canyon Region: A Guide To 59 Of The Best Hiking Adventures In Southern Utah

Hiking from Here to Wow: Utah Canyon Country

Hiking the Escalante

Exploring Utah's Canyons part 1: Skutumpah Road + Lower Calf Creek Falls

 Willis Creek

Willis Creek

 Willis Creek overarching walls

Willis Creek overarching walls

 Wavy walls inside Willis Creek Canyon

Wavy walls inside Willis Creek Canyon

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When we started traveling around the US 6 years ago, Zion and Bryce National Parks were the new Grand Canyon. Crowds were filling every trail and people that had never hiked in their life showed up on Angel’s Landing trail wearing flip flops and carrying a tiny 250 ml bottle of water they had just bought at the lodge. Now, mainly thanks to social media, Utah’s slot canyons seem to be the new Zion. Whereas we had enjoyed Peekaboo and Spooky Canyons with only a few other adventurous parties 6 years ago, the Escalante Visitor Center ranger told us to stay away from it because there were line-ups of people trying to get in and out. And many of them were not serious hikers, even less slot-canyon savvy.

We knew that Willis Creek slot canyon and Lower Calf Creek Falls would be busy, but we didn’t expect to have people literally crawl under us inside Zebra Canyon (I wish I was joking). It was just ridiculous. Granted it was Spring Break, but we never expected it to be THAT busy.

One of our best experience was at Big Horn Canyon, where we started early and had the place mostly to ourselves until we were on our return. It was also quite special since we *discovered* one of the side slot canyon and ventured inside it not knowing what we would find. It ended in a gorgeous cathedral-like cave. The experience is just not the same at all. Of course, nobody likes busy places, but a crowded slot canyon is just not fun. And can border on dangerous.

Mostly, people are not aware of canyon etiquette. They are loud (and their voice reverberates on the canyon walls and don’t give people space to enjoy the spectacular sections of a canyon. Don’t be these guys. This is not a race, this is an experience. Many are there to have a contemplative experience and don’t feel like chatting. Canyons invite silence and respect.

Here are short description of every canyon we visited (note that there are many more and in other areas of Utah too). These are all accessible from Route 12. To simplify things I have separated them in 4 different posts.

More info can be obtained online or at the Escalante Visitor Center for directions. ALWAYS stop at the nearest visitor center to get information about the state of the trail and the risks of flash floods.

When hiking Willis Creek, we camped on this BLM.

 It is easy to get good pictures in Willis creek: the narrow sections are not very long allowing ample light to come in.

It is easy to get good pictures in Willis creek: the narrow sections are not very long allowing ample light to come in.

 Willis Creek is very dog-friendly.

Willis Creek is very dog-friendly.

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From Cannonville (Skutumpah Rd):

Willis Creek (4.8 miles round trip, easy, very dog-friendly, high traffic): Many slot canyons are accessible only after a 2-3 miles hike in a usually pretty sandy wash (in full sun), but Willis Creek is an exception, which explains why it is so popular. In some books it is describes as the best bang for your buck experience, and I guess it is true if you are in a rush or you want an easy mostly flat hike with no obstacles to climb. However, unless you go very, very early or late in the day, expect to be with a crowd. From the parking lot, the trail quickly drops into the canyon, within 5 minutes, you will see sculpted Navajo sandstone walls rise on both sides. You will go into many sections of slot canyon that alternate with short sections of wash. This explains why it is easy to get good pictures in Willis creek: the narrow sections are not very long allowing ample light to come in. It is a 20 minutes drive down unpaved Skutumpah Road (from Cannonville, on Hwy 12). It is not big-rig accessible (you can leave your rig for the day at the Cannonville Visitor Center or at a nearby BLM).

To also check in the same area:

Lick Wash Canyon (8-mile round trip, easy, dog friendly, moderate traffic). We did it almost 6 years ago and didn't find it particularly interesting.

 Hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls

Hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls

 Hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls

Hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls

Right on Route 12, between Escalante and Boulder:

Lower Calf Creek falls (6 miles round trip, easy, very dog-friendly, high traffic): Note that this is not a slot canyon, but a hike that leads you along high sandstone walls (with a few petroglyphs) to a beautiful waterfall. The hike in itself is beautiful from the start. It is a great hike to do if slots canyons are vulnerable to flash floods. There are some sandy sections and some ups and downs. In warm weather, people swim in the pool at the bottom of the fall.

 Lower Calf Creek Falls.

Lower Calf Creek Falls.

Page, Lake Powell and the Wahweap Hoodos

 We camped two nights at  Lone Rock Beach by Lake Powell . It a beautiful camping spot, but it can get pretty windy. There is a beautiful beach, but it was way to cold to swim in March. We saw lots of people kayaking on the lake and exploring a cave inside Lone Rock.

We camped two nights at Lone Rock Beach by Lake Powell. It a beautiful camping spot, but it can get pretty windy. There is a beautiful beach, but it was way to cold to swim in March. We saw lots of people kayaking on the lake and exploring a cave inside Lone Rock.

 The beginning of the Wahweap Hoodoos hike. 

The beginning of the Wahweap Hoodoos hike. 

 The rickety fence I mention in the directions below.

The rickety fence I mention in the directions below.

 The fact that it a longish hike (14 km/8-9 miles) and that most of the hike is in a wash and has nothing exciting to offer (at least by Utah standards) makes it much less trafficked that the rest of the sights in the area. . A great plus: dogs are welcomed and can be off-leash!

The fact that it a longish hike (14 km/8-9 miles) and that most of the hike is in a wash and has nothing exciting to offer (at least by Utah standards) makes it much less trafficked that the rest of the sights in the area. . A great plus: dogs are welcomed and can be off-leash!

 Here we took a wrong animal path that led us close to the hoodoos, but we had to turn around because we could not keep going. Stick to the wash until you see the brush (description below)

Here we took a wrong animal path that led us close to the hoodoos, but we had to turn around because we could not keep going. Stick to the wash until you see the brush (description below)

 Exploring the first set of hoodoos.

Exploring the first set of hoodoos.

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 The Towers of Silence, the most stunning formatio. and truly a wonder of the geological world.

The Towers of Silence, the most stunning formatio. and truly a wonder of the geological world.

 The soft entrada sandstone is pure white in color and forms hoodoos that are often topped either by dark sandstone blocks or unusual boulders of purple conglomerate, composed of small pebbles bonded together. 

The soft entrada sandstone is pure white in color and forms hoodoos that are often topped either by dark sandstone blocks or unusual boulders of purple conglomerate, composed of small pebbles bonded together. 

 Left: eroded slope. Right: fluted bedrock.

Left: eroded slope. Right: fluted bedrock.

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 There are also tons of beautiful rocks in the wash, so that kept us busy!

There are also tons of beautiful rocks in the wash, so that kept us busy!

 Page is not known for its mountain biking, indeed there is only one 16 km loop around town. But we had seen pictures from that trail and wanted to check it out. It's like if Sedona trails and Moab trails had a baby trail along the Colorado River. The views are jaw-dropping and the trail is fun and flowy, with some exposure to keep it exciting. 

Page is not known for its mountain biking, indeed there is only one 16 km loop around town. But we had seen pictures from that trail and wanted to check it out. It's like if Sedona trails and Moab trails had a baby trail along the Colorado River. The views are jaw-dropping and the trail is fun and flowy, with some exposure to keep it exciting. 

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 While the Antelope Canyon parking lot was packed and there was a line of people looking like ants to get to Horseshoe Bend, we only saw one guy jogging the Rimview trail with his dogs and only 5 parties on the hike to the Wahweep hoodoos ON A SATURDAY! Definitely, two of Page area best kept secrets!

While the Antelope Canyon parking lot was packed and there was a line of people looking like ants to get to Horseshoe Bend, we only saw one guy jogging the Rimview trail with his dogs and only 5 parties on the hike to the Wahweep hoodoos ON A SATURDAY! Definitely, two of Page area best kept secrets!

There used to be two ways to reach the Wahweap Hoodoos. Now the only way is to hike 9.2-miles roundtrip from Big Water, Utah, which is located about 20 min from Page, AZ (the trailhead is marked on Google Map as Wahweap Hoodoos trailhead). It used to be possible to access them from the southern end of Cottonwood Canyon Road (located near Churchwells, Utah) for a mere 2-mile roundtrip trek, but the BLM closed it because people abused it. It says it is closed to vehicular traffic, but it might be accessible by bike, which would be a great way to shorten the approach to the hoodoos. Here is the info if you want to check it on bike (but it would be even better to check with the Big Water Visitor Center): The non-vehicular approach to the Wahweap Hoodoos is along an undesignated track, rough in places, that forks northeast 1.5 miles from the south end of Cottonwood Canyon Road, which joins US 89 between mileposts 17 and 18. This bends eastwards after a few miles, past several junctions and ends after 10.5 miles right beside Wahweap Creek, from where the hoodoos are a short walk south.

There is a 2 WD parking lot and a 4 WD parking lot 0.8 mile further after the sometimes muddy creekbed. When you arrive at the wash, look for a sign along a rickety fence that reads Wilderness Study Area. After 3 miles of hiking in Wahweap wash (a normally dry, hot and shadeless trek: be prepared with adequate water, sunscreen, and protective clothing), you see the first sets of hoodoos. Make sure to stay in the wash the whole time (sticking to hard mud patches to make your hike less strenuous) and not take the side animal trails or you will have to retrace your steps (even if they seem to lead closer to the hoodoos).

You will come to a big patch of high brush and see the hoodoos behind that. Just make your way through the brush. You have arrived to the first set of hoodoos. Make sure you keep going just around the corner to see the Towers of Silence, rising like white ghosts, which are the most stunning (look for the White Ghost on Google Map, make sure you have your phone with you to locate the formations, it was really helpful). GPS Coordinates for the Towers of Silence 37°09’45” 111°42’45”

We believe that big sections of the wash could be done on a fat bike or even on a mountain bike with wide tires, which would shorten that less interesting part. Of course, the wash structure will change according to the rain, so check before going! There are several very short slot canyon tributaries, on the east side (check topo map).

 

 

 

The Cactus Cup 2018

 Mathilde on the short-track course.

Mathilde on the short-track course.

 Mara on the short track-course. She's the only one who rides with her hair flying everywhere!

Mara on the short track-course. She's the only one who rides with her hair flying everywhere!

 Jason at the beginning of the 40-mile event, the Fat Tire 40. He did great and finished in second place for the Cactus Cup in the Single Speed Open category!

Jason at the beginning of the 40-mile event, the Fat Tire 40. He did great and finished in second place for the Cactus Cup in the Single Speed Open category!

 Mathilde and Aisha volunteering as course marshalls, telling racers where to go from there.

Mathilde and Aisha volunteering as course marshalls, telling racers where to go from there.

 Pro-rider Erin Hock finished in first place for the Cactus Cup.

Pro-rider Erin Hock finished in first place for the Cactus Cup.

 A young kid from the Grupito being guided by his coach on one of the Enduro sections.

A young kid from the Grupito being guided by his coach on one of the Enduro sections.

 The Enduro section on Scenic had many loose rocky spots.

The Enduro section on Scenic had many loose rocky spots.

 Mara having fun during the Enduro event.

Mara having fun during the Enduro event.

 Charlie finished first place in this category and won the Cactus Cup and the coveted Leader socks!

Charlie finished first place in this category and won the Cactus Cup and the coveted Leader socks!

The Cactus Cup is Arizona’s original mountain bike stage race. It is a 3-day stage race that features a short-track course on Friday, a 40 km or 40 mile course on Saturday and a Super D Enduro event on Sunday. Victory or defeat is determined by riders combined time for all 3 stages in each respective category. 

People can register for one or two events, or do the 3 events to be eligible for the Cactus Cup. Mathilde decided to do the short-track and to volunteer for the Enduro, while Mara did the 3 events and Aisha chose to volunteer with JF for every event. 

It was another fun weekend of cheering people on the course and soaking up the race atmosphere. I'll be honest though, I'm ready to move up to Utah, go hike in remote areas, explore some canyons and take a break from the racing scene for a few months!

 

The 24 Hours of Old Pueblo

 The storm before the storm.

The storm before the storm.

 Friday sunset cocktail party at the Whiskey Tree.

Friday sunset cocktail party at the Whiskey Tree.

 Tying a bottle to the Whiskey Tree.

Tying a bottle to the Whiskey Tree.

 Got Lobster?

Got Lobster?

 Let’s go ride bikes in AZ they said, it’ll be warm and sunny, they said...

Let’s go ride bikes in AZ they said, it’ll be warm and sunny, they said...

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 Jason in the stampede at the beginning of the race.

Jason in the stampede at the beginning of the race.

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 I love how these guys kept themselves entertained with that "piñata" while waiting for the dad to ride by.

I love how these guys kept themselves entertained with that "piñata" while waiting for the dad to ride by.

 Antonio on his first lap.

Antonio on his first lap.

 That's the spirit.

That's the spirit.

 The water bottles of the 24 Hours of Old Pueblo from the last 13 years.

The water bottles of the 24 Hours of Old Pueblo from the last 13 years.

 Lance Armstrong!

Lance Armstrong!

 The Saturday night Happy Hour crew at the Whisky Tree.

The Saturday night Happy Hour crew at the Whisky Tree.

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 Diedra rocking it.

Diedra rocking it.

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 The CycloKeg going down the rock drop!

The CycloKeg going down the rock drop!

 Antonio and Jason on their 6th lap!

Antonio and Jason on their 6th lap!

 Our friends 4-men single speed team, the Fearless Foursome, finished in 3rd place with 21 laps!!

Our friends 4-men single speed team, the Fearless Foursome, finished in 3rd place with 21 laps!!

 This is E.T. It’s his 14th year of doing the 24HOP in solo. He is a fascinating man. He bought that truck brand new in 1973 (he calls it the coyote den). He is a fire fighter and was sent to help during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the big fires of California over Christmas. He’s worked in Tok, Alaska and lives in a remote rural area near the Mexican border. He speaks Portughese and Spanish and asks the most interesting questions.

This is E.T. It’s his 14th year of doing the 24HOP in solo. He is a fascinating man. He bought that truck brand new in 1973 (he calls it the coyote den). He is a fire fighter and was sent to help during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the big fires of California over Christmas. He’s worked in Tok, Alaska and lives in a remote rural area near the Mexican border. He speaks Portughese and Spanish and asks the most interesting questions.

 It’s like someone had a deal with the weather gods... The weather was perfect for about 30 hours just for the race, and then it rained again!

It’s like someone had a deal with the weather gods... The weather was perfect for about 30 hours just for the race, and then it rained again!

 Rain in the desert is pretty special.

Rain in the desert is pretty special.

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This weekend marked 19 years of enjoying Sonoran Desert singletrack at the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo. One of the largest 24 Hour events in the world, this race has the reputation of being biking’s Burning man and can be anything to anybody... pro racers, party riders, soloists, corporate riders, single speeders... but it sure feels like there are two different races going on as my friend Antonio likes to say: the Spandex vs the Monkey suits.

Away from everything, this trail is only busy one week out of the year. The cows look at us in confusion as we ride by, the jack rabbits scamper off and they all probably wonder what they did to offend the gods for such mayhem to take over their otherwise quiet home...

There’s a new record for single speed solo male this year with 19 laps!! Imagine that! 19 laps 17 miles lap in 24 hours!!

Founded in 1999, Epic Rides has become world famous for producing events that celebrate the many positive aspects of mountain biking. Events such as the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo, Whiskey Off-Road, Grand Junction Off-Road and the Tour of the White Mountains are popular with participants because they offer challenging, fun riding and emphasize the joy and camaraderie inherent in the sport. 

Havasu Havoc 2018

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I sit on the pointy rocks on the side of the trails, carefully avoiding the cacti, camera ready, waiting for someone I know to ride by. Every time, I am surprised when JF tells me that one of the girls is first or second. I’m excited, I’m happy, I’m proud. Or is it the right feeling? I struggle with the idea of pride... JF and I don’t have much to do with their successses. I always tell the girls that I am proud FOR them, not OF them.

The world of competition is new to me. I’ve never been an athlete and never will be. I’ve never competed or stood on a podium. In my world, swimming lessons were synonymous of shame and anxiety. So I am a rookie here. Cheering from the sidelines, taking pictures, following JF’s lead. Like many, I used to assume that a lot of these kids were pushed by their parents to compete. What I see now is that this is more the exception than the rule. I see happy excited kids that raise to the challenge. I see our girls count the days before the race. Sure, I also occasionally see meanness and jealousy, over zealous parents and crushed egos, but I what I mostly see is excitement, self-confidence, satisfaction and pride. And it’s a pretty humbling experience. 

 

Prescott, AZ

 Exploring the Granite Dells.

Exploring the Granite Dells.

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 Willow Lake seen from the Granite Dells.

Willow Lake seen from the Granite Dells.

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 Riding the Sundog Trail. Photo by Jason Liske.

Riding the Sundog Trail. Photo by Jason Liske.

 Photo by Jason Liske.

Photo by Jason Liske.

 Photo by Jason Liske.

Photo by Jason Liske.

 Photo by Jason Liske.

Photo by Jason Liske.

 Watson Lake. Photo by Jason Liske.

Watson Lake. Photo by Jason Liske.

 Our campsite at White Spar Campground and the trails nearby.

Our campsite at White Spar Campground and the trails nearby.

 Cold Brew Negroni. Recipe on my  Instagram account . So good!

Cold Brew Negroni. Recipe on my Instagram account. So good!

The weather was unusually warm in Prescott for this time of year, so that meant we could comfortably camp (0 degrees nights and nice warm days) and most of the bike trails were rideable. Our original plan was to go on a BLM camping spot on Thumb Butte Mountain, but there was snow and mud on the steep climb to get there, so we turned around and went to White Spar Campground. For $10/night, you get a big asphalted lot with a picnic table and fire rink and access to a bathroom. There is no water on site at this time of year, but it’s easy to go dump and fill at Affinity RV for free. AND there are lots of bike trails that start right from the campground (Twist and Shout, Apple Blossom, Goldwater Lake). We rode a lot during our stay here and checked out many different areas. The number of bike trails here is just incredible! I think the favorite was Badger Mountain and Sundog and we also liked the new trails at Spence Basin (Tunnel Vision), but there were many more that we liked. Prescott has over 250 miles of beautiful trails. The Trailfork app is the best app to use for this area, as well as the PMBA website for trail conditions.

On the other side of town, there are two reservoir lakes (Watson Lake and Willow Lake) surrounded by the Granite Dells, a landscape reminescent of the Alabama Hills (where you can ride some pretty technical trails), and completely different from the area where we were camped.

 

Estrella Hedgehog 2018

 Amazing food to feed an army prepared by our friend Diedra.

Amazing food to feed an army prepared by our friend Diedra.

 Our little set-up at Estrella Mountain Regional Park competitive loop.

Our little set-up at Estrella Mountain Regional Park competitive loop.

 Leg marking to identify the categories

Leg marking to identify the categories

 Antonio.

Antonio.

 JF coming in hot!

JF coming in hot!

 Energy chew have to be accessible when you ride. They also might get extra crunchy...

Energy chew have to be accessible when you ride. They also might get extra crunchy...

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 She had that big beautiful smile the whole time!

She had that big beautiful smile the whole time!

 Mathilde at the finish!

Mathilde at the finish!

 Mara on the podium, 1st place! Sisters supporting sisters!

Mara on the podium, 1st place! Sisters supporting sisters!

 So proud of herself!

So proud of herself!

Just a week ago, Mathilde and Aisha were not interested in racing the next bike race - The Estrella Hedgehog, but at the last minute, Mathilde decided to register (she is in the same category as Mara, 13-14 yo – the age the child will have at the end of the year – so on the young side of her category) and Aisha decided to race up a category (in the 15-16 yo) because the course was more interesting in her opinion (the 15-16 are on the adult long loop -10 mile with some pretty technical and loose sections - instead of doing 5 junior loops like the 13-14). The other reason is because she finds it too emotionally hard to race against her twin sister. So this was perfect. There were 9 girls registered in her category and her only wish was to no finish last. She came in second and surprised us all (and herself!!). She so needed that confidence!
Mara had a great race and finished first on 15 girls in the 13-14 and Mathilde rode very well with a big smile on her face the whole time and finished 9th!
JF also had a great race and finished 12th on thirty-something racers. Our friends all had great races and podiums too!! What a day!

McDowell Meltdown 2018

 Our set-up for the race near the Competitive Loop (4 Peaks).

Our set-up for the race near the Competitive Loop (4 Peaks).

 Jason leading the pack of Intermediate Single Speeders.

Jason leading the pack of Intermediate Single Speeders.

 Antonio after his first lap.

Antonio after his first lap.

 Diedra at the start (women intermediate 40-49)

Diedra at the start (women intermediate 40-49)

 Mara on her first lap.

Mara on her first lap.

 Ben closing the gap!

Ben closing the gap!

 Mara at the finish!

Mara at the finish!

 Mara came in third (over 14 girls) in her category (13-14 yo girls)!!

Mara came in third (over 14 girls) in her category (13-14 yo girls)!!

Last year, the McDowell Meltdown was JF and Mara's first ever bike race. You might remember that they had registered just for fun. This year, they came in a little more prepared (but not super well-trained since they both got a nasty bug over the holidays). They still did great and had a good time. 

Some of you have asked why Aisha and Mathilde did not do the race. The answer is that they simply didn't feel like it. They might or might not ride the other races in a few weeks. Our girls are free to choose, of course! As for me, I'm not interested in racing (nor am I in racing shape!).

We had never stayed at the McDowell Mountain Regional Park campground (we rarely pay for campsites), but this was well-worth it since they could pre-ride the course during the week and because there are also tons of trails that you can ride right from your campsite. We explored some trails, but there are still lots we haven't had a chance to ride. There are all types of trails, from wide sandy washes to steep rocky trails.

The sites are huge and well-spaced, they all have power and water ($30), but make sure you reserve in advance online because they fill-up pretty quickly at this time of year. If the campground is full, there is an overflow where you can stay for $20/night with no services, but access to showers and dump station.

Ending the year in the Strongholds

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Don't you just love it when you are with people with whom everything is so easy and simple and fun? I've said it before and I'll say it again: these guys feel like family! We spent a wonderful laid back weekend with them in the Dragoon Mountains, also called Cochise Strongholds. I've written on the blog about this place a few times already, so if you want more practical info about the camping or rock climbing, just search the blog with the hashtag cochise. 

We just love this place. There is an incredible sense of peace in these mountains. I love watching every sunrise and sunsets from the top and see how the orange light plays with the dry grass. Some people have compared it to some areas in Australia and even the African Savannah. I cannot help but think about Cochise and his troops who hid in those mountains for 2 years...

P.S. There is a pretty cool story about that van… We bought it from a gut that had imported it from California in 2000, used it, crossed Canada in it with our big St. Bernard to move to the Yukon, and sold it in 2005 to our friends Antonio and Pascale when I was expecting Mathilde (we camped in it with the twins in the Yukon, BC and Alaska – the first time they were only 2 months old!). Antonio and Pascale were moving to San Diego for Pascale’s postgraduate study, so the van was going back to its original home. Many years later, while he was working on the van, Antonio came across the manufactured date… which happened to be on his exact birthday. Not only the same year and the same month, but the same day too! How cool is that! So Tony the van, turned 40 on the same day as Antonio! And they are both off to many more adventures!

Christmas and New Year in Tucson

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 e made lots of meat pies, tourtières, a sugar pie and a berry pie!

e made lots of meat pies, tourtières, a sugar pie and a berry pie!

 JF's pork roast.

JF's pork roast.

 Pascale’s famous gluten-free waffles

Pascale’s famous gluten-free waffles

 Rafael sporting a Christmas Paw Patrol hat the girls made

Rafael sporting a Christmas Paw Patrol hat the girls made

 Antonio cooked us an amazing Portuguese Christmas dinner again this year. Bachalau a Lagareiro (delicious potato and cod dish, literally the olive press owner’s cod).

Antonio cooked us an amazing Portuguese Christmas dinner again this year.
Bachalau a Lagareiro (delicious potato and cod dish, literally the olive press owner’s cod).

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 Antonio's delicious flan.

Antonio's delicious flan.

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 New Year's toast!

New Year's toast!

 New Year's fireworks in the yard and little boys that were a tad bit scared...

New Year's fireworks in the yard and little boys that were a tad bit scared...

I’m so grateful for the other adults in my daughter’s life. Since we live on the road, these people’s presence ebbs and flows and they get to spend concentrated amount of time with some of them. Antonio and Pascale are some of these important adults in our girls’ lives (and great friends!). They have contributed to so many great discussions with our girls and are always eager to offer them learning opportunities. I feel incredibly fortunate that we get to spend time with them and their sweet boys every year. 
 

San Felipe, Baja California, Mexico

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 That beach was so nice and clean. The only downside were the stray dogs. Traveling to Mexico with an non-neutered dog might not have been our best move... a tad bit stressful.

That beach was so nice and clean. The only downside were the stray dogs. Traveling to Mexico with an non-neutered dog might not have been our best move... a tad bit stressful.

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 We loved seeing our girls navigate a new culture and be so open and so eager to discover new things.

We loved seeing our girls navigate a new culture and be so open and so eager to discover new things.

 That place was great, and by that I mean that (one of) the shower had good pressure and hot water (without any risk of getting an electric shock from naked wires), there is TP in the (clean) bathroom, our palapa's second floor is solid enough to hold the 5 of us. If you've never camped outside the US or Canada, you might find this place pretty run down and trashy. Hey, we have water and electricity on our beachfront site for 25 USD per night and are walking distance from town. That is 5 stars in my Mexican camping book!

That place was great, and by that I mean that (one of) the shower had good pressure and hot water (without any risk of getting an electric shock from naked wires), there is TP in the (clean) bathroom, our palapa's second floor is solid enough to hold the 5 of us. If you've never camped outside the US or Canada, you might find this place pretty run down and trashy. Hey, we have water and electricity on our beachfront site for 25 USD per night and are walking distance from town. That is 5 stars in my Mexican camping book!

 Full moon rising over the Sea of Cortez. 5 million stars!

Full moon rising over the Sea of Cortez. 5 million stars!

 Cooking under our palapa.

Cooking under our palapa.

 Sunrise over the Sea of Cortez.

Sunrise over the Sea of Cortez.

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 We went to visit the Valle de Los Gigantes, where the world’s biggest cactuses live. These cactuses are called the Mexican Giant Cardon. Some of these live more than 2000 years and measure over 20 meters! It was a pretty special experience to walk among these true giants. If you ever go, make sure to stop for a chat with Miguel who will warm your heart with his stories and his big Mexican smile.  

We went to visit the Valle de Los Gigantes, where the world’s biggest cactuses live. These cactuses are called the Mexican Giant Cardon. Some of these live more than 2000 years and measure over 20 meters! It was a pretty special experience to walk among these true giants. If you ever go, make sure to stop for a chat with Miguel who will warm your heart with his stories and his big Mexican smile.  

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 After visiting the Valle de Los Gigantes, we drove another hour south to the little village of Puertecitos where a friend told us about some hot springs. The village entrance was a pretty sad sight of slums and old trailers. The place was empty. I guess that most people living there are fishermen who were gone during the day. When we finally found someone to ask about the hot springs, we found out it was only accessible at low tide, 4-5 hours later, which would have meant driving the hour and a half back to our campsite in the dark, so we turned around. 

After visiting the Valle de Los Gigantes, we drove another hour south to the little village of Puertecitos where a friend told us about some hot springs. The village entrance was a pretty sad sight of slums and old trailers. The place was empty. I guess that most people living there are fishermen who were gone during the day. When we finally found someone to ask about the hot springs, we found out it was only accessible at low tide, 4-5 hours later, which would have meant driving the hour and a half back to our campsite in the dark, so we turned around. 

 Some areas are as sad as the road side faded shrines in some of the steep curves along ruta 5. 2008 hit hard here. There are so many abandoned  buildings in different states of construction, big colourful gates announcing resorts that only existed in the minds of overly enthusiastic builders. So many makeshift shelters and a few expat gated communities sprinkled here and there for good measure. 

Some areas are as sad as the road side faded shrines in some of the steep curves along ruta 5. 2008 hit hard here. There are so many abandoned  buildings in different states of construction, big colourful gates announcing resorts that only existed in the minds of overly enthusiastic builders. So many makeshift shelters and a few expat gated communities sprinkled here and there for good measure. 

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 San Felipe was pretty much what we expected (minus the crazy wind that blew pretty much all day long for 4 days straight and forced is to wear all the clothes we had brought one on top of each other). It's laid back and perfect for a week off. However, there's just so much sitting on the beach, reading in a hammock, playing cards and eating tacos I can do before going crazy (well, maybe not the taco part). 

San Felipe was pretty much what we expected (minus the crazy wind that blew pretty much all day long for 4 days straight and forced is to wear all the clothes we had brought one on top of each other). It's laid back and perfect for a week off. However, there's just so much sitting on the beach, reading in a hammock, playing cards and eating tacos I can do before going crazy (well, maybe not the taco part). 

 For a bunch of antsy pants like us, there isn't much to do. No trails to hike or bike (a campground neighbor went for a run and got bitten by stray dogs), no waves to surf, no wall to climb. We walked to town a few times a day, but ended up stuck in the Westy because of the wind for many hours a day. 

For a bunch of antsy pants like us, there isn't much to do. No trails to hike or bike (a campground neighbor went for a run and got bitten by stray dogs), no waves to surf, no wall to climb. We walked to town a few times a day, but ended up stuck in the Westy because of the wind for many hours a day. 

My head is full of the pictures I didn't take. The harsh living realities of so many people, the trash everywhere, the striking contrasts between the expat houses and the locals’. It's always disturbing, and I hope I never become insensitive to it. As soon as we crossed into Mexicali, we were in a different world. The honking, the smells, the poverty, people selling stuff at every intersection, from tortillas and neon cotton candy to airplane models and cheap copycat go-pro cameras, Mexicans sellers got you covered. You need an alternator? Ramon is selling some from the back of his pick-up. Dreaming of a fuzzy leopard stirring wheel covers? That guy is coming to your car window with his selection. Guys would show up at our campsite, invariably presenting us with the same fare someone else offered us a few hours priors: *almost gratis* bracelets and hammocks. The weathered down musicians coming to our tables at night in the restaurants, dragging their old amplifiers behind them (everything has to be loud in Mexico, especially the music!)...

As we drove back to the border through the desolate suburbs of Mexicali, I was reminded of a conversation a friend had a long time ago with a Buddhist monk. She was telling him that her brother was dying of cancer while she was living a happy healthy life and how unfair this was. After a few minutes of silence, the monk simply looked at her with his wise eyes and said: Who said it would be fair?

We were dealt a pretty awesome hand while many are struggling pretty hard to get enough food to eat for their family. Life isn’t fair, indeed and traveling is quite humbling.

 

 

 

Sedona

 Riding Adobe Jack and Ant Hill.

Riding Adobe Jack and Ant Hill.

 Exploring the new bike park.

Exploring the new bike park.

 Hiking up Cathedral Mountain with our friends.

Hiking up Cathedral Mountain with our friends.

 Coming down Cathedral Mountain with our friends.

Coming down Cathedral Mountain with our friends.

 We celebrated Halloween in Sedona. I was a tree (and JF a tree hugger) and the girls were a bat, a pirate and a jail escapee who had just robbed a bank.

We celebrated Halloween in Sedona. I was a tree (and JF a tree hugger) and the girls were a bat, a pirate and a jail escapee who had just robbed a bank.

 Hike up and around Doe Mountain.

Hike up and around Doe Mountain.

 Doe Mountain hike.

Doe Mountain hike.

 Father-daughter ride on Highline.

Father-daughter ride on Highline.

 Riding Slimshady with the demo Scott Bikes.

Riding Slimshady with the demo Scott Bikes.

 Sitting at the Kachina Woman Vortex, near Boyton Canyon.

Sitting at the Kachina Woman Vortex, near Boyton Canyon.

We were in Sedona in the Spring and I wrote a post containing lots of information about biking and hiking trails already, so I won't rewrite that part here, but will add more about the new trails we discovered (and loved) this time. We explored the Adobe Jack sector with a family we had just met and really liked the trails there. The view from Teacup is amazing, but a good chunk of it is pretty technical. We were quite surprised by Jordan, a trail we hadn't heard much about, and it's beautiful slickrock sections. We really liked Javellina and Ant Hill also. 

I redid Aerie with the girls and it's just such a beautiful flowy trail, so is Adobe Jack (a great family trail!). JF and Mara went to ride Highline, Slimshady, Made in the Shade and Templeton. JF went to explore the Hogs by himself and report on how technical they were.

It was super fun to celebrate Halloween there too. We had no idea how it would be or which neighborhood we would visit to go trick or treating since the houses are all pretty far apart. We found out at the last minute that the big celebration was happening on Main Street where all the stores gave out candies and there were shows in the streets. There was a great zombie Thriller performance and the atmosphere was amazing. Tons of dressed up adults and kids alike. Definitely an Halloween that we will remember for a long time!

We hiked up Cathedral Mountain with our new friends (actually, the daddy and kids did, while the moms stayed down with the big dogs - it's not a place to bring your dog, way to sketchy).
We also hiked up and around Doe Mountain which was beautiful. That's also where we heard our first rattlesnake! It was surprisingly loud. Still very glad for the warning he gave us!

On our last day, we went to explore one of the vortexes too (the Kachina Woman) since it is one of the main Sedona attraction. I was kind of lukewarm about it. You know me, I don't like to go where the crowd goes... And well, many years ago, I got kicked out of an energy healing class because my skeptical energy was disruptive to the group (nobody told me to drink the cool-aid before registering). Anyways, I didn't think I would feel anything special at the Kachina Woman Vortex and went up there chuckling like a teenager among the serious vortex seekers, but I did feel something. That shut me up. Go life, keep surprising me, I love it!
 

 

The Grand Canyon or hiking across one of the Seven Wonders of the World for his 40th birthday

 Hike to Ooh Aah Point with friends.

Hike to Ooh Aah Point with friends.

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 JF showing Antonio where the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim will take him the next day.

JF showing Antonio where the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim will take him the next day.

 Looking down into the Canyon from Ooh Aah Point.

Looking down into the Canyon from Ooh Aah Point.

 One of the many morbidly obese squirrel...

One of the many morbidly obese squirrel...

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 It was pretty smoky in the canyon, which made it a bit more challenging to breathe.

It was pretty smoky in the canyon, which made it a bit more challenging to breathe.

 Waiting for JF and Martin to emerge from the big hole after their incredible Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim feat.

Waiting for JF and Martin to emerge from the big hole after their incredible Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim feat.

 Just a tiny part of the many switchbacks Martin and JF hiked on their 74 km long day.

Just a tiny part of the many switchbacks Martin and JF hiked on their 74 km long day.

 The champions!

The champions!

 More and more, Aisha and Mara sleep in the tent or the Westy so they have their little corner.

More and more, Aisha and Mara sleep in the tent or the Westy so they have their little corner.

 Our beautiful campsite in the National Forest near the South Entrance of the Grand Canyon.

Our beautiful campsite in the National Forest near the South Entrance of the Grand Canyon.

 Life at camp with the boys.

Life at camp with the boys.

We had visited the Grand Canyon 5 years ago with the girls and it was still one of the highlights of our first year on the road, mostly because of our memorable hike into the canyon in the dark to watch the sunrise from Ooh Aah Point

Last year, JF had decided that he wanted to run/hike the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim for his 40th birthday, that is from the South Rim to the North Rim and back, a 74 km feat with a crazy elevation change of 3,368 m. It was quite a challenge! I was glad his cousin Martin was joining him. Our friends Antonio and Pascale (and the boys!) came all the way from Tucson to spend the weekend with us. It was really cool to see the boys reaction to seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time. We had a beautiful day of hiking with them to Ooh Aah Point and many beautiful discussions as usual.

On the Sunday, Martin and JF left camp at 4:30 am and had only told us that they estimated it would take them between 12 to 16 hours to complete their adventure. So, the girls and I arrived at the Canyon Rim as the sun was disappearing. Lots of people were still coming up from the Bright Angel Trail before darkness fell. A worried friend was calling a name down into the canyon, the shuttle buses were packed with day trippers going back to their cars and hotels. Quickly, night fell and we could barely see down into the canyon, the bright half-moon illuminating only a few sections of the trail. Two rangers walked down with flashlights and came back 25 minutes later with an exhausted man. The girls and I got our hopes up every time we saw two headlamps down below on the trail, we tried to listen for familiar voices, knowing quite well that after 73 km, it was very likely that the boys didn’t have the energy to talk anymore. We were almost alone at the trailhead now, an eerie feeling in a place so busy during the day. A woman waiting for her friends sat nearby and started playing the flute. We sat in silence with the warm wind on our faces, listening to her melodious complaint.

We waited some more, danced and did jumping jacks in the moon shadow to stay warm, talked about fear and the ball that settled in our stomachs as time went by. After 3 hours of waiting, we finally heard from them (they had a pocket of connexion in the canyon). They were exhausted, but OK, and only 3.5 km away. We jumped in relief and joy and craziness took over as the building anxiety dissolved. It was hard to keep quiet but we wanted to surprise them! Finally, we saw one headlamp and a familiar shape. The girls were sure it was JF, but I couldn’t recognize his gait… and well, there was only one headlamp… it couldn’t be them… But as he neared the last switchback, we could see clearly that it was an exhausted JF, leaning on his poles as he painfully climbed the last stretch. The girls ran down the trail, screaming their joy and congratulations. We had never seen JF that exhausted! Martin was right behind (he had lost his headlamp). They had spent 15 and a half hours in the Canyon going from the South Rim to the North Rim and back (74 km). What an accomplishment! They both agreed that the last 20 km were too much before falling into bed, without dinner or celebratory beer.

Sawtooth Canyon, aka New Jack City, CA

 Our beautiful free campsite! If you zoom in, you can see Mara climbing on the right most crag, in line with the top of the picnic table roof.

Our beautiful free campsite! If you zoom in, you can see Mara climbing on the right most crag, in line with the top of the picnic table roof.

 She's free soloing now. We're cool with that. Just kidding, mom.

She's free soloing now. We're cool with that. Just kidding, mom.

 The Valentine Wall, where we saw 2 tarantulas...

The Valentine Wall, where we saw 2 tarantulas...

 Cat on Love Potion 9 (5.7) trying not to get blown away on that arete. We arrived at New Jack City on a Thursday night, which meant we only had Friday to climb before the weekend crowd got here. It was a crazy windy day (35 miles per hour constant wind gust crazy), but we still climbed in a super fun gully right behind our campsite (Valentine Wall).

Cat on Love Potion 9 (5.7) trying not to get blown away on that arete. We arrived at New Jack City on a Thursday night, which meant we only had Friday to climb before the weekend crowd got here. It was a crazy windy day (35 miles per hour constant wind gust crazy), but we still climbed in a super fun gully right behind our campsite (Valentine Wall).

 Mara on Cupid's Fever (5.8)

Mara on Cupid's Fever (5.8)

 Mara on My Bloody Valentine (5.10 a) on the Valentine Wall.

Mara on My Bloody Valentine (5.10 a) on the Valentine Wall.

 Stout wondering what the heck his human is doing up a rock wall.

Stout wondering what the heck his human is doing up a rock wall.

 Mathilde on Jack be Nimble (5.8)

Mathilde on Jack be Nimble (5.8)

 The twins on The Boy Scout Wall.

The twins on The Boy Scout Wall.

 Mara leading Green Eggs and Ham (5.7)

Mara leading Green Eggs and Ham (5.7)

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 Mathilde on top of Jack be Nimble (5.8), on the Boy Scout Wall.

Mathilde on top of Jack be Nimble (5.8), on the Boy Scout Wall.

 Climbing on the Welcome Wall, right by our campsite.

Climbing on the Welcome Wall, right by our campsite.

We spent most of our days in our climbing harnesses, taking turns on the routes, just shouting next when a climber was done. The bus door would open and another eager climber would spill out, pausing what he was doing. We translated and cooked in our harnesses. We were a funny sight, but it was wonderful to have so many great routes right by the bus. This place is so great! These perfect campsites are available for free (Sawtooth Canyon Campground: GPS 34.6703, -116.984)

The surrounding landscape is breathtaking. Most campsites are very private. There are 16 sites, and the campground is opened all year round. Each site has a picnic table, grill and fire pit. There are vault toilets. No potable water or dump station available on site. If you come from Barstow (25 minute drive), you can fill your water tank with potable water at the Flying J gas station. There is a big Vons grocery store there too. You must pack out your garbage as there is no trash can at the campground.

You will have to drive around to find the best spots for signal. Site 2 had great Verizon signal. The sites just behind the rocks don’t have signal, but the ones further at the back seemed to have good signal too. It can get very windy, very quickly, so don’t leave awnings out or things outside that could fly away. The only downside of this place is that there is a lot of broken glass everywhere (watch out for your dogs’ paws). We also encountered two tarantulas during our stay. The site is used by boy scouts association on weekends, so we were happy to be further from the crowd (who sets up at the far end where there is a group campsite area).

There are tons of amazing rock climbing routes right behind the sites, so be aware that you might have climbers in your backyard (or on your site) if you chose a site by climbing routes (look for bolts on the walls). Site 2 is just by the Valentine Wall and the Welcome Wall and we climbed all the routes on these two walls. We then moved on to the Boy scout Wall (near the group campsite area) on warmer day (it’s in the shade all day). There are many more walls to explore and we will be back when the weather is cooler.

The Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, California

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 One of the shortest approach walks we ever had to go climbing. 

One of the shortest approach walks we ever had to go climbing. 

 Our backyard for a week.

Our backyard for a week.

 Beautiful long routes.

Beautiful long routes.

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 It was the place we chose to stay to celebrate Mathilde's 12 yo birthday.

It was the place we chose to stay to celebrate Mathilde's 12 yo birthday.

 And JF's 40th!

And JF's 40th!

 The Sierras (and Mt. Whitney) looming just behind the Alabama Hills.

The Sierras (and Mt. Whitney) looming just behind the Alabama Hills.

 Hiking up to Lone Pine Lake from Whitney Portal.

Hiking up to Lone Pine Lake from Whitney Portal.

 Gorgeous Lone Pine Lake.

Gorgeous Lone Pine Lake.

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 We ended up moving to Tuttle Creek Campground to have good signal to be able to work (Verizon signal is bad and spotty in the Hills, AT&T was better).

We ended up moving to Tuttle Creek Campground to have good signal to be able to work (Verizon signal is bad and spotty in the Hills, AT&T was better).

 For $8/night, this place was amazing. Site 53 at Tuttle Creek Campground.

For $8/night, this place was amazing. Site 53 at Tuttle Creek Campground.

 And we were very close to another climbing sector called the Candy Store, with fun short routes, perfect for a few climbs before sunset after a day of work/school.

And we were very close to another climbing sector called the Candy Store, with fun short routes, perfect for a few climbs before sunset after a day of work/school.

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 Very smoky sunset behind Mt. Whitney.

Very smoky sunset behind Mt. Whitney.

 Red smoky sunrise in the Alabama Hills.

Red smoky sunrise in the Alabama Hills.

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The Alabama Hills are probably the free camping spot that made boondocking what it is today. It's also a very unique location where more than 400 movies were shot (lots of cowboy movies, but a few Sci-Fi too... remember Tremors?). After having heard so much about this place and seen so many pictures, I was afraid to be disappointed. It is a super vast area where you can find a secluded spot between boulders and have climbing routes right in your backyard while looking at the sunset over Mount Whitney. Sounded too good to be true. Well, it almost is... if you need decent signal to work. But if you don't (we had 5 days off for Mathilde and JF's birthdays), it really is the perfect boondocking spot.

For the work week, we ended up moving 5 miles away at Tuttle Creek Campground where there is very good Verizon signal (and beautiful campsites) for $8/night.

As for climbing in the area, there are tons of sports routes. The granite is similar to Joshua Tree, there are lots of slabby routes with small crimpy holds. We loved The Tall Wall (Rotten Banana, Bananarama, Banana Split), the Hoodgie Wall (Ankles Away, Leonosphere) and had fun on the short routes in the Candy Store for quick afternoon climbs after work. We didn't make it to the Arizona Dome.

We went to visit the Lone Pine Film History Museum and had delicious burgers (skip the fries, get the beer battered onion rings) at The Alabama Hill Café (note that it is only open from 7 am to 2 pm every day, no dinner hours).

The grocery store in town is nothing great. It's pricey and the quality of the produce and meat is not great. You can dump ($5, no fresh water at the dump) and fill (for free, near site 50 by the out house) at Tuttle Creek Campground. You can also fill with water in town at the gas station near the city park.