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.

The Mammoth Lakes area

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Mulled wine is perfect for cold nights by the fire.

Mulled wine is perfect for cold nights by the fire.

One morning, we woke up to snow!

One morning, we woke up to snow!

Beautiful frost everywhere.

Beautiful frost everywhere.

Rock tub hot springs.

Rock tub hot springs.

Rock Tub hot springs.

Rock Tub hot springs.

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Hot Creek is NOT a hot spring for swimming. See below.

Hot Creek is NOT a hot spring for swimming. See below.

We rode many times at Mammoth Mountain even if the bike park was officially closed for the season (no lifts), the trails remained open. It is at 9,000 feet in altitude and it was pretty cold. That's the day it was 3 degrees C (35 F). We ended our day at the Mammoth Brewery. Delicious beer and food. Don't miss it if you are in the area.

We rode many times at Mammoth Mountain even if the bike park was officially closed for the season (no lifts), the trails remained open. It is at 9,000 feet in altitude and it was pretty cold. That's the day it was 3 degrees C (35 F). We ended our day at the Mammoth Brewery. Delicious beer and food. Don't miss it if you are in the area.

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Devil's Postpile National Monument.

Devil's Postpile National Monument.

Devil's Postpile seen from above (left) and another cool basalt columns formation from the area on the right.

Devil's Postpile seen from above (left) and another cool basalt columns formation from the area on the right.

Exploring Obsidian Dome.

Exploring Obsidian Dome.

Full moon rise over our camp.

Full moon rise over our camp.

Rock climbing at Owens River Gorge.

Rock climbing at Owens River Gorge.

The class 3 scramble approach to get to the crag at Owen River Gorge was quite something with big packs and a big dog!

The class 3 scramble approach to get to the crag at Owen River Gorge was quite something with big packs and a big dog!

Our free campsite at Shepard's hot springs.

Our free campsite at Shepard's hot springs.

You can see the bus in the distance.

You can see the bus in the distance.

Perfect way to start the day.

Perfect way to start the day.

Or to end it.

Or to end it.

The Crab Cooker was our favorite of the 3 hot springs we visited. It was also the cleanest (it looked like it had just been emptied and scrubbed). It was only a 5 minute walk from our camping spot at Shepard's Hot Spring. And yes, all this is on BLM land (and free!).

The Crab Cooker was our favorite of the 3 hot springs we visited. It was also the cleanest (it looked like it had just been emptied and scrubbed). It was only a 5 minute walk from our camping spot at Shepard's Hot Spring. And yes, all this is on BLM land (and free!).

Walking back to camp from the Crab Cooker tub.

Walking back to camp from the Crab Cooker tub.

One of the things your learn after many years on the road is that if you find a gem of a secret spot to camp in, you don't share it on social medias or camping sites/apps. Another thing that you learn is that if there is a long weekend coming, you stay put. Even if you would really like to go climbing at Owens River Gorge and take advantage of that long weekend yourself (because no, we do not make our work schedule and have full days off only on weekends). On long weekends, you stay around camp and explore less popular spots. For your own sanity.

There is a lot to do in the Mammoth Lakes ares. There is an awesome bike resort with lots of amazing trails. Mammoth Mountain closes mid-September, but the trails remain open for riders to enjoy. At 9,000 feet of altitude, it can get cold at this time of year. We went riding in 3 degree C weather (that's 35 F). There is also a great brewery (Mammoth Brewery), perfect for an after-ride brew and delicious meal.

There are also many hot springs in the areas, the most popular being Hilltop (aka Pulkey's) and Wild Willy's. These are often full of people. The thing is, most of the springs are bathtub size and can sit 4 to 5 persons at most (Wild Willy being the exception, there are a few pools there that can accommodate more people), so if you get there and they are full, the courtesy is to leave (not wait there or worst, try to squeeze in). Many of these are clothing optional too.

We really liked Rock Tub since it is right by the little parking area and you don't have to hike to find out if it's full or not. The first time we tried to go to the hot springs, on a very cold night after our bike ride, we found it full, so we turned around, checked out Hilltop and Wild Willy's which were also full... It's the reality of it... It's high season here and there are not secret spots anymore. So we came back the next day in the afternoon and lucked out as the man bathing there was just done. During the hour we were there, 3 or 4 cars drove in, saw that the tub was busy and turned around. The water gets pretty dirty from all the people (even if there is a constant flow in and out. There is a plug at the bottom, so you can empty the tub and let it fill back up. You can also bring a brush to scrub the slippery algea that covers the bottom if you want. Obviously, don't use any soap in the tubs!

We also explored Shepard's Tub and the Crab Cooker, that are *a bit* less busy. We ended up camping there for 2 nights and enjoying Shepard's Tub and the Crab Cooker morning and night. It was heavenly after a day of climbing! If you decide to go camp near a hot spring, remember that this is a public place and do not hug the tub (or park very near it). People will likely come and go every hour or so (and at every hour of the night on weekends!), so be warned.

Hot Creek used to be a hot spring in the 60's and 70's. We met a man at Shepard's who used to be a guide and would bring tourists there. He said there was a huge pool where there was always 50 to 60 people. It has been closed for 15-20 years because too many deaths happen there. He told us that most deaths were caused by people trying to rescue their dogs who had fallen in the blue pools of death (the beautiful Icelandic blue pool in the picture above) which is and has always been scalding hot. It is nonetheless a geological wonder where the cold water from the glacier meet the bubbling water from the underground volcanic activity. The ground is unstable in the area because of fumaroles and occasional geyser action also.

Devils Postpile (a National Monument) is an unusual rock formation of 60 feet high basalt columns. It looks like a tidy lumber pile created by OCD giants. They were formed when lava erupted in the valley nearly 100,000 years ago and filled the area to a depth of 400 feet. Then, glaciers overrode the fractured mass of lava. As you can see on the pictures taken from the top, the glaciers cut the hexagonal basalt towers, leaving behind something that looks like a tile floor. The John Muir Trail and Pacific Crest Trail merge into one trail as they pass through the monument.

Obsidian Dome is not your typical cone-shaped dome, but more like a big pile of shiny black rock. It is indeed volcanic glass that was formed by an explosion (a Phreatic Blast) when magma reached the water table, turned the water to steam, cooled and then turned to rock. There is not much else to do there than to simply scramble up and look at the beautiful obsidian formations (be careful, it is slippery). Obsidian is the sharpest natural material known to man, obsidian rocks have played a significant role in the evolution of homo-sapiens' tool-making ability. During the Stone-Age and beyond, obsidian rocks have played a major part as primary cutting tools in many cultures.

Yosemite National Park

Tioga Pass

Tioga Pass

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Tenaya Lake

Tenaya Lake

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Upper Falls

Upper Falls

Lower Falls

Lower Falls

Climbers near Camp 4.

Climbers near Camp 4.

What's so fabulous about Yosemite? It’s got dozens of incomparable meadows and more than a hundred lakes, plus waterfalls as tall as a 200-story building, trees the size of rocket ships, gorgeous mountains, 800 miles of trails and even a few beaches. It’s bigger than a handful of European countries and nearly the size of Rhode Island.

We have been wanting to spend time in Yosemite for a long time, but because you need to reserve a camping spot a very long time in advance and because there wasn’t cell signal in the Valley and that we could not be there during the week when we need to work, we never made it. We found out there is good signal in the Valley where the campgrounds are located, but the download was pretty bad… but it was on a busy Sunday afternoon, so it might be just fine during the week when there is less usage. So we only came in for a day to get a feel of Yosemite. I don’t know how I thought I could get a *feel* for such a special place in one day among a huge crowd of people (I don’t do well in crowds. At all.).

I believe that to really get a feel for Yosemite, you need to hike deep into it, to explore its wilder corners, to see half-dome from the top, to fall asleep and wake up on its ground. Walking in the Valley and hiking up to the very crowded Lower Fall didn’t provide this experience, and I knew it wouldn’t, but that’s all we could do this year.

I remember feeling a bit like that the first time I went to the Grand Canyon (after months of exploring Utah’s hidden slot canyons and less busy National Parks – at the time). It felt impersonal, it didn’t touch me until I walked down into the canyon before sunrise and could start feeling its immensity as the sun rose. It was the same thing for Zion. The first time we went there, we rode the shuttle, hiked a few shorter trails (the girls were little) and even if I could see its beauty, I didn’t fall in love with it until the next time we went and hiked all the way up to Observation Point very early in the morning without the crowd. And the third time, when I hiked the Narrows, again early in the morning.

We didn’t bring our climbing gear because it didn’t make sense to for only a day, but it was so impressive to watch climbers on these beautiful tall granite walls. Again, I expected to be moved by the fact that rock climbing really began here in the Valley in the 60’s with all the now iconic climbers living at Camp 4. I expected that I would feel something special walking through Camp 4, looking at El Cap and Half Dome, but I didn’t really. I mean, they are beautiful and impressive, but as a climber (a very occasional one), I guess I expected to feel something more… and maybe I would if I had climbed there. Just scrolling through my Instagram feed as we waited in line for over 30 minutes to get out of the park, I could see that many amazing *famous* climbers that I follow were there and climbing boulders and walls as we droved and walked past some of them…

If your schedule allows it, visit the valley on weekdays and spend your weekends exploring other parts of Yosemite. You can drive or take free shuttle buses to much of the valley, but most enjoyable way to get around in the Valley is probably by bikes. If you didn’t bring your own bike, you can rent one at Curry Village, near the east end of Yosemite Valley and look funny wandering around the valley on these big cruiser bikes.

There are four non-camping options in Yosemite Valley: the $500-a-night Ahwahnee Hotel, the Yosemite Lodge, the cabins and tent cabins at Curry Village, and the quirky tent/house hybrids at the Housekeeping Camp. Good luck getting into any of them in the summer without a reservation well in advance, though. Same thing for the campgrounds… The Upper Pines, Lower Pines and North Pines campgrounds contain 379 campsites between them. There is also the famous Camp 4, a tent-only group campground mostly used by climbers, where the rock climbing in America began.

Traffic can get severely backed up on summer weekends, particularly in the eastern end of the valley. Once traffic gets heavy, the park service will reserve lanes for official park vehicles (ambulances, shuttle buses, and the like), and though you can see why they'd want to do that, it does tend to compound traffic issues. Try to arrive before 9 am or after 4 pm to avoid getting stuck in traffic, and once you're in the valley, find a parking spot ASAP and then either walk or take the free shuttle buses to get around in the valley.

Most people enter the park through the West (near Fresno), but the drive from Mono Lake (East) through the Tioga Pass is beautiful. Tenaya Lake and Tuolumne Meadows are gorgeous and there are more hikes along the Tioga Road than in any other part of Yosemite, namely the very famous Cathedral Lake hike. The thing is, most hikes are either very long or very short in Yosemite (and the very short ones are very crowded and not that exciting in my opinion).

Because it was formed by glaciation, the valley walls are sheer and high, leading to world-famous cliffs: El Capitan, a mountain-climbing mecca, rises more than 3,000 feet (900 meters) virtually straight up from the Yosemite Valley floor, and Half Dome looms 4,800 feet (1,600) meters above.

Mono Lake

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Mono Lake’s “petrified springs”are spectacular examples of what nature can do with just a few basic ingredients. When calcium-bearing freshwater springs well up through the carbonate-rich lake water, a chemical reaction happens and solid limestone (aka tufa) is formed around a spring.

The towers are above the waterline now because the city of Los Angeles began diverting the streams that feed the lake in 1941, lowering the lake's level by more than 40 feet. Since a Water Board ruling in 1994, the lake has been gradually refilling to its 1963 levels; when it's done, part of this trail will be underwater again. So don't put your visit off for too long. Fortunately, tufa continues to form today where freshwater and lake water meet.

Mono Lake’s water contains 10% salt (just as a comparison point, the Pacific Ocean contains 3.5% and Lake Tahoe 0.001%). I was very surprised to find out that you can actually swim in Mono Lake (and yes, float!). It was too cold when we were there, but it would have been fun to try. You can actually snorkel to see interesting formations under water, but you’ll have to follow some precautions (like a wearing a very tight mask and applying Vaseline on your lips because of the very salty water).

The lake’s alkalinity (pH=10) makes life impossible for fish. However, there is a type of brine shrimp that grows only in that lake and that is sold as tropical fish food.

The best time to take pictures is very early in the morning before sunrise (so you can get a vast array of colors). I am not that dedicated a photographer, but got there at about 7:30 am and the light was still beautiful and quite surreal, even if I am not super happy with how the pictures turned out... (I still wouldn't get up earlier...). The entrance fee is$3/person or free with a National Park Pass (or interagency pass).

Hiking to Parker Lake

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Ansel Adams Wilderness. One of my all time favorite photographer.

Ansel Adams Wilderness. One of my all time favorite photographer.

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The aspens are turning yellow in the Sierras already!

The aspens are turning yellow in the Sierras already!

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Beautiful Parker Lake with Mt. Wood.

Beautiful Parker Lake with Mt. Wood.

On the return, you can see Mono Lake in the distance.

On the return, you can see Mono Lake in the distance.

Parker Lake Trail, located in the Mono Lake area of the Eastern Sierra, is a very popular hike and for good reasons. It is a relatively short easy hike (3.8 miles round trip) that arrives at a gorgeous pristine alpine setting with towering Mt. Wood, Parker Peak (12,850 feet high) and Mt. Lewis. The lake is situated just above 8,000 feet. Make sure you bring lots of water and that you wear sun protection (including a hat) if you are hiking in the warm season. The first part of the trail climbs a bit and is completely exposed (if you are not acclimatized to altitude yet, you might find this gentle grade more demanding than usual). Dogs are allowed on the trail. It seems like it is a great fishing destination too!

Lake Tahoe area

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Ever since I can remember, Lake Tahoe has always been synonymous of adventure in my head. When I worked in outdoor retail stores, there was always a Tahoe Jacket or aTahoe something... I collected pictures of Caribbean blue beaches with a snowy mountain tops background on my Pinterest boards and kept hoping we could make it there before it got too cold... it was always next year... Finally, we made it (by crossing the border much earlier than usual) and it's beautiful, warm and sunny. We got to ride amazing trails (the Corral trail system in South Tahoe is amazing, don't miss Upper and Lower Corral, Armstrong connector, Sidewinder and for a longer ride, Mr. Toads wild ride). 

JF went for a long run on the Tahoe Rim trail and the girls and I set to go explore Tahoe most beautiful beach at Sand Harbor State Park. After driving for one hour, we found out that we could not get in because we had the dog with us. They would not let us in even if the dog would stay in the Westy and I would just get out to take pictures. Have you ever heard of such a stupid rule? I get that dogs are not allowed on beaches and trails, no problem. But not allowed to enter a state park and stay in the vehicle for 20 minutes??? I was NOT happy. This is the beach I had waited to photograph and visit for 5 + years... Oh and the entrance fee is $12...  So we turned around, very disappointed and headed 6 miles south to Chimney Beach, a free public beach where dogs are allowed. We were not expecting much, but we were sweaty and determined to swim in Tahoe. Well, Chimney Beach was awesome!! You have to walk down a half mile path to the shore where there are tons of little rocky coves you can choose from (you can either go left or right once you get to the bottom of the trail, just keep exploring until you find a private spot you like... if you go left for a bit, you will encounter a nude beach, just so you know!). We went right and found a beautiful crescent beach where we spend a few hours WITH Stout! And as you can see from the pictures, the water was as turquoise as in Sand Harbor. 

Lake Tahoe is very expensive and since we needed gas, groceries, laudry, etc., we decided to stay in Gardnerville, NV, where everything is much cheaper and accessible. We could have camped on the shore of Lake Tahoe for $36/night, but we stayed in a quiet Walmart parking lot in Gardnerville. Not exactly by the lake, but the lower altitude made for warmer nights and we stocked up on groceries before heading down the Sierras where it would take a while to see big grocery stores. There is a Grocery Outlet and a Raley's (great grocery store) 4 miles north from the Walmart in Gardnerville and a great cheap 24 hours Laudromat 6 miles north (Village Laundromat). There is another Walmart where you can spend the night in Carson City, but it's much busier and not as quiet (but there is a Trader Joe's right by and a Costco).

 If you are planning to enjoy the Tahoe activities for more than a few days, it might be a good idea to pick a campsite near the Lake (I'd say between South Tahoe and Sand Harbor State Park, on the Nevada side) and go for a weekly rate. Driving from Gardnerville to the Lake requires you go over passes and it is longer than Google will tell you, especially with a Westfalia with its original engine...

Eldorado National Forest, Crystal Basin, CA

On our way down from the Lava Beds National Monuments, we stopped for a few hours at the Yuba River State Park. The river is an incredible deep blue turquoise and there are tons of secret spots along the river to swim and enjoy this area. It was late in the day and we didn't have time to explore, but still had a quick post sunset dip.

On our way down from the Lava Beds National Monuments, we stopped for a few hours at the Yuba River State Park. The river is an incredible deep blue turquoise and there are tons of secret spots along the river to swim and enjoy this area. It was late in the day and we didn't have time to explore, but still had a quick post sunset dip.

Union Valley Reservoir (Sunset Campground) and our friends Catamaran.

Union Valley Reservoir (Sunset Campground) and our friends Catamaran.

They took us sailing and it was so much fun!

They took us sailing and it was so much fun!

We also canoed on the beautiful lake. There is already snow on the mountain tops!

We also canoed on the beautiful lake. There is already snow on the mountain tops!

They brought us to another great spot in this area called Bassi Falls.

They brought us to another great spot in this area called Bassi Falls.

Sticks are so overrated. I retrieve pinecones.

Sticks are so overrated. I retrieve pinecones.

Bassi Falls paradise.

Bassi Falls paradise.

Upper Bassi Falls is full of beautiful basins flowing into one another. Some of them made for great waterslides too!

Upper Bassi Falls is full of beautiful basins flowing into one another. Some of them made for great waterslides too!

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We came here to meet our friends who had spend the summer in the area sailing their Catamaran and just enjoying this beautiful wild part of the sierras. They had told us how much they liked this region before and we were excited to discover it. It really blew our minds. Sunset Campground is beautiful and located on a peninsula. Unfortunately, it will be closed for the next two years for improvements. Luckily, there are other campgrounds very close by, namely Wolf Creek that our friends really like. Do not miss Bassi Falls and Wright Lake trails in the Desolation Wilderness (JF went running there) if you are in the area. It is about half way between Auburn and Lake Tahoe.

Lava Beds National Monument, California

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Mushpot Cave (the only lighted cave)

Mushpot Cave (the only lighted cave)

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The lungs of the earth

The lungs of the earth

So many cool textures! In the Golden Dome Cave, the golden ceiling is the result of light reflecting off water droplets that bead up on a coating of hydrophobic bacteria.

So many cool textures! In the Golden Dome Cave, the golden ceiling is the result of light reflecting off water droplets that bead up on a coating of hydrophobic bacteria.

Sunshine Cave

Sunshine Cave

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The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel

The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel

Lava fields 

Lava fields 

One of the many cinder cones in the national monument. Cinder Cones are the simplest type of volcanoes. They are built of particles and blobs of congealed lava ejected from a single vent. Cinder cones typically erupt only once.

One of the many cinder cones in the national monument. Cinder Cones are the simplest type of volcanoes. They are built of particles and blobs of congealed lava ejected from a single vent. Cinder cones typically erupt only once.

Too often when we visit a National Park or a National Monument, it seems like the story is always the same: once, this beautiful land belonged to Native Americans and then, the settlers came, tried to shoo them away and ended up killing them all because they resisted. Now, you can enjoy this gorgeous pristine nature that we protect and interpret for your enjoyment... So the truth about this place is that the Modoc Indians lived on this rugged land for over 10,000 years and they moved freely across *their* homeland until we forcibly removed them. They called it "the land of burnt-out fires". Tule Lake and the lava beds were then, and are still today, the center of their world.

I couldn't help but cringe when in the Visitor Center video, you see park rangers pronouncing a speech in front of a crowd of Modoc to honor their presence on this land...  

I'll tell you about the Lava caves instead (there are over 700 lava tube caves in the park!), because they are not controversial and they were pretty cool!

I had never been inside a lava tube before and it was fascinating... We are talking about eruptions that happened 30 to 40,000 years ago! Lava tubes form when streams of hot, flowing lava start to cool. The center of the stream stays hot and continues to flow as the outside begins to cool and harden. The hot lava drains out, leaving a pipe-like cave. There are even multilevel caves created by multiple eruptions that ended up stacking caves on top of one another.

There is a lot to see in the park and I wished we had planned more time there. The caves are listed by least challenging (high ceilings, smoother floors) to most challenging (involving crawling, helmets, kneepads and gloves, as well as a detailed map to not get lost!). Must visit caves are Skull Cave, Golden Dome and Sunshine Cave (the best to take pictures since there are some sky lights. If you are up for a more challenging exploration, going from Helcules Leg Cave to Juniper Cave sounds like a great plan.

We found a great (free!) camping spot only 10 minutes from the National Monument entrance. I have reviewed it here.

 

Umpqua National Forest, Oregon

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Harvesting Oregon grapes, which isn’t technically a grape at all, but a bush in the barberry family.

Harvesting Oregon grapes, which isn’t technically a grape at all, but a bush in the barberry family.

Also harvesting Salal berries. I love the taste of these berries (a complex mix of blueberries and blackcurrant).

Also harvesting Salal berries. I love the taste of these berries (a complex mix of blueberries and blackcurrant).

If you press the stem side of a salal berry, the other side opens up and creates a beautiful fruit flower!

If you press the stem side of a salal berry, the other side opens up and creates a beautiful fruit flower!

Salal berry gimlet 1 ½ oz London Dry Gin 1 oz lime juice 1 oz salal berry syrup Shake 20 sec with ice, strain over fresh ice.

Salal berry gimlet

1 ½ oz London Dry Gin
1 oz lime juice
1 oz salal berry syrup

Shake 20 sec with ice, strain over fresh ice.

It was quite something to drive through the very smoky part of the Umpqua National Forest being escorted by a pilot car (with signs saying: Active Wildfires, DO NOT STOP). It was hard to get accurate information online about the air condition (it changed fast and the sites were not up to date) and we thought we could camp near the Umpqua River Trail and bike part of it (it's an epic trail), but most of the campgrounds were closed because of the fires. We came across this little gem of a campground just as we were starting to feel a bit discouraged. The air was so cool and fresh by the falls! Oregon is full of incredible places.

We ended up staying there 2 nights and except for a few people driving in to see the falls, stay 10 minutes and leave, we had the whole place to ourselves. We had hoped to go to the Umpqua Hot Springs, but the access road was closed and it was cooking hot anyways. 

Ruby Beach and South Beach, Olympic Peninsula, WA

South Beach

South Beach

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Trying to take pictures of whales is quite frustrating...

Trying to take pictures of whales is quite frustrating...

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Reflexion of the orange sun from the forest fire smoke on the ocean.

Reflexion of the orange sun from the forest fire smoke on the ocean.

Ruby Beach

Ruby Beach

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Tons of green anemones.

Tons of green anemones.

Exploring the tide pools at Ruby Beach

Exploring the tide pools at Ruby Beach

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Look at all these sea stars!

Look at all these sea stars!

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Hermit Crab.

Hermit Crab.

Kelp crab

Kelp crab

The sea star population was decimated a few years ago by a virus called sea star wasting disease. This sea star is dying. It has lost a limb already, a sure sign of the disease.

The sea star population was decimated a few years ago by a virus called sea star wasting disease. This sea star is dying. It has lost a limb already, a sure sign of the disease.

The good news is that in the last year, we see lots of baby sea stars, like this tiny purple sea star, which means the population is growing back.

The good news is that in the last year, we see lots of baby sea stars, like this tiny purple sea star, which means the population is growing back.

From the Hoh Rainforest, we headed to the Pacific Coast of the Peninsula to Kalaloch Beach. We had made a reservation for an ocean front site there, but the site was too small for our rig and there was only 3G signal which was not good enough for work. The ranger sent us 3 miles down the road to South Beach campground where there was 4G LTE and some open sites. The campground is nicer and more treed at Kalaloch, but South Beach is right on the ocean. It looks more like a big parking lot than a campground, but at $15 per night, we didn't complain! And what was the first thing that we saw once we got off the bus? Grey whales jumping! We had no idea that South Beach is one of their stop on their way back to Baja where they go back to calve and nurse in the warm lagoons. They return in early Spring on their way to arctic feeding ground in Alaska. Somehow, across 4000 miles of ocean, they navigate precisely, on a predictable timetable!

We thought we had lucked out incredibly with our timing... until we found out through Ranger Meagan on the tide pool outing that for the first time this year, 200 whales stayed here all summer... things are changing for sure... She also told us that about 3 weeks ago, she was part of a rescue mission to help a whale that was life stranded on the beach. It took almost 48 hours for the crew to help her back to the water since the tides were not in their favor. They used a a pulley system to turn the whale so she could face the water and finally, it worked! 

The Amaroni is a cousin of the Negroni. Instead of the more in-your-face Campari that might not be love at first taste for many, this is a great introduction to the world of Negroni. AMARONI 1 oz gin (I used Hendrick's, but use your favorite Negroni Gin, Plymouth is a good choice here) 1 oz Carpano Formula Antica sweet Vermouth 1 oz Mia Amata Amaro (or your favorite amaro, Averna would be a good mild introduction, Ramazotti would be more along the same lines as the Mia Amata). Orange peel for garnish Stir with ice for 30 sec and strain on new ice. Garnish with orange peel.

The Amaroni is a cousin of the Negroni. Instead of the more in-your-face Campari that might not be love at first taste for many, this is a great introduction to the world of Negroni.
AMARONI
1 oz gin (I used Hendrick's, but use your favorite Negroni Gin, Plymouth is a good choice here)
1 oz Carpano Formula Antica sweet Vermouth
1 oz Mia Amata Amaro (or your favorite amaro, Averna would be a good mild introduction, Ramazotti would be more along the same lines as the Mia Amata).
Orange peel for garnish

Stir with ice for 30 sec and strain on new ice. Garnish with orange peel.

The Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park, WA

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On the Spruce Trail

On the Spruce Trail

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Uprooted Sitka Spruce

Uprooted Sitka Spruce

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On the Hall of Mosses Trail

On the Hall of Mosses Trail

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The Hoh Rainforest is located in the Heart of the Olympic Peninsula in the Olympic National Park. It is one of the most diversified national parks in terms of landscape. It is mind blowing to stand in the hot rain forest and to think that Mount Olympus and the Blue Glacier are a mere 18 miles away. We saw many people leaving for long treks on the glaciers and the girls were asking when we could come back and do it too. Another long hike to add to our ever-growing list!

From the Visitor Center (and the campground), there are 3 main hiking trails. The longer Hoh River Trail on which you can hike as long as you want and two shorter trails that offer spectacular views (where the photos above were taken), The Hall of Mosses trail (0.8 miles) and The Spruce Trail (1.2 miles). I highly recommend you hike both, but if you can only pick one, do the Hall of Mosses.

We came here on the Sunday of Labor Day long weekend thinking there was no way we would have a spot (all the sites here are first come first serve, so no reservations). To our surprises, there were still a few sites left that were big enough for our bus. Loop A is much less treed and offers sites on the river. We chose to be there for solar. Loop B and C are in the moss covered trees (Loop C has pretty tight turns, check it out on foot or with a tow vehicle first). And great news, there even was connexion on many sites in Loop A (very hit and miss 4G LTE, but good enough for JF to work).

I had no idea that the Olympic Peninsula used to be an island. In fact, ice-age glaciers have carved the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound, separating the Olympic Peninsula from nearby land. Years of isolation means that there are over 20 plants and animals that are found nowhere else on Earth!

It was so hot in the rainforest that I wanted a tangy refreshing drink. So I created this. The North Vanagon 1 ½ oz Hendricks Gin ½ oz St-Germain ½ oz Grand Marnier Juice of 1 ½ key lime ¼ oz simple syrup 5 drops of Bittered Sling grapefruit and hops bitters Shake with ice and pour on one big cube of ice.  

It was so hot in the rainforest that I wanted a tangy refreshing drink. So I created this.

The North Vanagon

1 ½ oz Hendricks Gin
½ oz St-Germain
½ oz Grand Marnier
Juice of 1 ½ key lime
¼ oz simple syrup
5 drops of Bittered Sling grapefruit and hops bitters

Shake with ice and pour on one big cube of ice.

 

Neah Bay and Cape Flattery, Olympic Peninsula, WA

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How fairies are born

How fairies are born

Hike to Cape Flattery

Hike to Cape Flattery

View at the tip of Cape Flattery

View at the tip of Cape Flattery

There are many caves at the Cape.

There are many caves at the Cape.

The beautiful rugged waters of Cape Flattery

The beautiful rugged waters of Cape Flattery

Hobuck Beach

Hobuck Beach

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Green anemones in the tide pools

Green anemones in the tide pools

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From Neah Bay, it is a short 10 minute drive to Cape Flattery, the northwest tip of the Lower 48. The hike to get the to the tip where the Cape is located is only 1.5 mile through a beautiful Coastal Forest. Since Cape Flattery is on the Makah Reservation, you need to get a permit to hike the trail ($10 per vehicle for the year). We got ours at Neah Bay's General Store. 

As for camping in the area, the options are limited. Hobuck RV Resort has 10 full hook-up sites with a seaview (but pretty close together) for $40/night. There is also a field down the road where you can camp for $20/night (access to shower and outhouses, but otherwise dry camping). It might be a good option on the off-season, but since we got there on the Friday before Labor Day, it was a zoo. The only other option was a new RV park called Hide-away RV park (that looked more like an RV storage lot than an campground), but they had full hook-up sites for $30/night (and a few dry camping spots for $20) and it was a short 100 yard walk to the beach. It was much more quiet there.

Keep in mind that the drive to Neah Bay from Port Angeles is pretty twisty and bumpy (frost heaves), so lock your cupboards and secure everything and take what you need for motion sickness. Take your time and enjoy the scenery!

There is a beautiful hike that can be done as an overnighter (you sleep on the beach!) to Shi-shi Beach or as a long day hike (it is part of the Olympic National Park). With Mara being injured (and with the amount of cars along the trailhead), we decided to keep it for another time.

Also, on a different note, I will publish cocktails here in some posts (you can find them in the cocktails category), but I won't publish them all (it's a traveling blog after all!), but you can access them all either on Instagram or Facebook with the hashtag redbusdrinks (#redbusdrinks). My friend Catheline is translating many of them and publishing them on her beautiful site (in French only).

My Manhattan 2 oz rye whiskey 3/4 oz @oddsocietyspirits Italian bittersweet Vermouth 1/2 oz rosemary honey syrup 3 dashes orange sage bitters Stir with ice and strain. Garnish with a rosemary sprig.

My Manhattan

2 oz rye whiskey
3/4 oz @oddsocietyspirits Italian bittersweet Vermouth
1/2 oz rosemary honey syrup
3 dashes orange sage bitters

Stir with ice and strain. Garnish with a rosemary sprig.

Gastown, Vancouver

Traveling from North Van to Gastown through the Seabus is really fun! 

Traveling from North Van to Gastown through the Seabus is really fun! 

The Paperhound Bookstore

The Paperhound Bookstore

Purebread has amazing everything! Try the crack bars and the giant meringues (right).

Purebread has amazing everything! Try the crack bars and the giant meringues (right).

Nelson the Seagull has amazing bread, lemon custard marzipan croissants and delicious Flat White Coffee (and Avo toast for $9 too... but that's another story... don't get me started on Avo toast...).

Nelson the Seagull has amazing bread, lemon custard marzipan croissants and delicious Flat White Coffee (and Avo toast for $9 too... but that's another story... don't get me started on Avo toast...).

And a walk through the Chinatown, of course. Lizard popsicle, anyone? The funniest thing was that amidst all these Chinese stores was a really cool vegan store that totally clashed with its surrounding. There is also a really funky store called Space Lab (with a totally hipster barber shop at the back) worth a visit.

And a walk through the Chinatown, of course. Lizard popsicle, anyone? The funniest thing was that amidst all these Chinese stores was a really cool vegan store that totally clashed with its surrounding. There is also a really funky store called Space Lab (with a totally hipster barber shop at the back) worth a visit.

Edgemont Liquor is one of the best places to find specialty spirits, beer and wines in North Van (not Gastown). I was so excited to find the Mia Amata Amaro from Odd Society Spirits, the Kina Tonic and that Sour Wheat Gose was amazing (still haven't taste the Kaffee one).

Edgemont Liquor is one of the best places to find specialty spirits, beer and wines in North Van (not Gastown). I was so excited to find the Mia Amata Amaro from Odd Society Spirits, the Kina Tonic and that Sour Wheat Gose was amazing (still haven't taste the Kaffee one).

And last, but not least, a little hole-in-the-wall pizzeria called Emilio FInatti in Langley that has one of the best pizzas I have eaten in my life (and I LIVED in Italy for a year). Seriously. I am still dreaming about it. Not all their pizzas a great, but this one is AMAZING. It's the Capo Piquante with calabrese, chorizo, curried butternut squash, goat cheese, jalapeno, arugula and mushrooms. Oh, and a great selection of board games to play while you wait (it's mostly a take out place and there is a lot of action!).

And last, but not least, a little hole-in-the-wall pizzeria called Emilio FInatti in Langley that has one of the best pizzas I have eaten in my life (and I LIVED in Italy for a year). Seriously. I am still dreaming about it. Not all their pizzas a great, but this one is AMAZING. It's the Capo Piquante with calabrese, chorizo, curried butternut squash, goat cheese, jalapeno, arugula and mushrooms. Oh, and a great selection of board games to play while you wait (it's mostly a take out place and there is a lot of action!).

Other locations that are not depicted and that are worth mentionning:
The Modern Bar Tender, where they sell a huge variety of bitters and syrups, but even better of herbs to make your own bitters for a fraction of the price. The great thing is that they have testers of every bitter for the clients to taste. 

A really cute consignment store called Hunter and Hare.

As for camping in the Great Vancouver Area, it is very limited. The only legit place to camp for free is in North Van by the Walmart in the street (not the parking lot). It's not the greatest neighborhood and it's not leveled, but it's free and only 2 km from the Seabus to Vancouver (Gastown). In Vancouver per se, forget it. We asked at the Costco in Langley if we could spend the night after shopping there and the manager said yes (always make sure to write down his/her name), but when we came back to the bus after less than an hour in the store, there had been an attempt to steal Mara's bike (a grab 'n go thing, but the thief didn't notice the big Shwab chain and the bike was hanging from it). So, we moved to an industrial area in Langley in front of the garage where we had an appointment for the Westfalia the next morning. It wasn't a great neighborhood, but JF had the good idea to switch the bike rack onto the bus, so the bikes would sit just behind our head as we slept. Late that night, as we had just fallen asleep, JF heard voices and opened the curtain to see 2 guys who literally had their faces in the bikes. That's when Stout heard them too and barked his powerful bark. It was pretty funny to see them scamper away like little boys!

So, like any big city, Vancouver is not camper friendly. The closest RV park is in Burnaby and charges over $50 per night. There is also this RV park that looks nice in North Van that would be closer to the Seabus to go visit Gastown. It's still probably your best bet for a safe quiet location to visit Vancouver.
 

Alice Lake Provincial Park and Squamish area, BC

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The Coastal Forest is just magical... You cannot help but smile when you walk in it, feeling like pointy elf ears are gonna pop on your head or that wings will appear on your back. 

Alice Lake Provincial Park is a beautiful campground in that gorgeous forest. It's a popular family destination, so it's not unusual that the 108 sites are all reserved (and they don't have First Come First Serve sites). There are tons of beautiful hiking and mountain biking trails in the park and four lakes (only Alice lake is OK for swimming), but the hiking around Stump lake is beautiful. Dogs have to be kept on a leash everywhere and are not allowed on some trails and on the beach.

Nairns Falls Provincial Park and North Arm Farm, Pemberton, BC

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North Arm Farm, in Pemberton.

North Arm Farm, in Pemberton.

Picking blueberries at North Arm Farm.

Picking blueberries at North Arm Farm.

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The twins are both injured (bike crashes), so they are taking it easy instead of biking and climbing as was the plan for this area...

The twins are both injured (bike crashes), so they are taking it easy instead of biking and climbing as was the plan for this area...

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The Farm store and Café, a wonderful place!

The Farm store and Café, a wonderful place!

After driving through a very smoky sectors from Prince George to Clinton and seeing vast expanses of burnt (and still smoking) areas, we turned onto the Sea to Sky Hwy and the landscape completely changed. We could not believe how many vehicles were parked along the highway at Joffre Lakes Provincial Park and a quick search revealed why. There is a gorgeous 10 km hike that leads to 3 different green and turquoise lakes that look incredible. We'll be back another year outside of the busy season (and early on a weekday!). 

The grades are pretty steep before arriving in Pemberton and the bus brakes overheated (and smoked) quite a bit. When we arrived at Nairn Falls Provincial Park (our destination for the night), the campground sign indicated Full. We still went in and asked and got the last available site! The hike to the fall was beautiful, especially at sunset (make sure your wear proper footwear and not worn Birkies like me, the rocks are pretty slick towards the end). There is a well-hidden beach where it is safe to swim (the Green river is pretty strong). More info here.

We rode some of the bike trails the next day (they are OK, but not great for the area). Aisha had a crash and ended at the Whistler ER (it's not broken!). The waiting room was mostly populated with other mountain bikers, full face helmet under their arms, limping their way in... All you could here on the interphone was: Bike crash coming in. 

We also visited the magical North Arm Farm just North of Pemberton (40 km north of Whistler) and picked organically grown blueberries and raspberries. We also ate wonderful homemade food at their beautiful Café (breakfast tart made of croissant dough topped with homemade pesto, a farm egg, goat cheese and caramelized onions) and had their gelato. Everything was very decently price, especially for this area. 

By the way, check out this fun graphics of us and many vanlife nomads at Mighty Goods. It's just too bad that they didn't include the girls and Stout in it, but still love it! Can you find us?

The Big Pig Bike Race at Boer Mountain, Burns Lake, BC

Wild blueberries are the best. But picking them in a lesson in patience.

Wild blueberries are the best. But picking them in a lesson in patience.

On the downhill section.

On the downhill section.

On the pump track section.

On the pump track section.

Finishing the cross-country section.

Finishing the cross-country section.

Cookie medals are the best!!

Cookie medals are the best!!

Really cute piggie cookies.

Really cute piggie cookies.

Race face on.

Race face on.

Creepy pig bike light. Nightmare material.

Creepy pig bike light. Nightmare material.

They finished in first place!! They did 7 laps of 10 km in under 5 hours. They are the only team that did 7 laps! 

They finished in first place!! They did 7 laps of 10 km in under 5 hours. They are the only team that did 7 laps! 

Downhill race on Charlotte's Web.

Downhill race on Charlotte's Web.

Downhill race on Charlotte's Web.

Downhill race on Charlotte's Web.

Downhill race on Charlotte's Web.

Downhill race on Charlotte's Web.

This incredible little boy was doing the race and his daddy was following behind. 

This incredible little boy was doing the race and his daddy was following behind. 

The Four Cross Race was quite a show!

The Four Cross Race was quite a show!

The Four Cross Race was quite a show!

The Four Cross Race was quite a show!

Keeping with the theme, of course!

Keeping with the theme, of course!

The Blood Sun (yes, that's the sun!) created by the smoke from the forest fires.

The Blood Sun (yes, that's the sun!) created by the smoke from the forest fires.

We have so much history here (just do a search with #burnslake on the home page)... A broken arm, mechanical problems, meeting friends, moon rise watching on the dock in our sleeping bags, bonfires and berry picking... It’s no surprise when a local comes and knock at the bus door, happy to see us returning once again and offers us a shuttle up the mountain.

I wasn’t excited to come back here again this year. You see, I long for discoveries and new places. All the time. My family likes a mix of both and the girls were *really* looking forward to come back here, especially for the Big Pig Bike Race that we have missed for the last two years since we left the Yukon too late... But as unexcited as I was, it didn’t take long for the magic of this place to hit me! I love Burns Lake. The bike trails are amazing, the community of riders is incredibly friendly and the camping is FREE right by the trails and by a gorgeous lake.

The BC Bike Ride event was here just before the Big Pig and they wrote a great article (with beautiful pictures) about this great place and the amazing mountain biking community.

So this year was the 10th year of the Big Pig Bike Race, which is the premiere mountain biking event in Northern B.C. It’s a family friendly festival, with kids events, downhill races, 4 Cross races, an epic cross country race and cross country events.

On Friday, Mathilde took part in the Pump Track, the Downhill and the X country challenges in the 10 to 12 categorie. She took the first place int he Pump Track challenge behind 12 yo girls and came in 2nd in the other two events! 

JF and the twins did the Dante’s Relay, a timed event in which teams or solo riders race to complete the most number of 10 km loops in a five hour period. For the past 9 years, one lap of 10 km was added every year to the Dante’s Inferno course. It culminated with a grueling 9 Rings of Hell last year (for 90 km). I remember reading Dante’s Inferno (in Italian!) when I went to school in Italy at 17. To describe it as dense and intense piece of work is an understatement!