Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

 Can you spot the sand dunes at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains?

Can you spot the sand dunes at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains?

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These huge dunes look totally out of place at the edge of the snow-covered Rocky Mountains. Located in south central Colorado (about 2.5 hours from Colorado Springs and nearly four hours from Denver, they lie at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. They are the tallest sand dunes in North America.

There are no official trails into the dunes and because of the soft, ever-shifting sand, possibilities for exploration are limitless. It is permitted to walk anywhere, and one popular target is the top of the tallest dune, which conveniently is only half a mile from the edge. Still, the journey takes up to one hour and it is often a case of one step up, half a step down. It is easier to walk along sand ridges, rather than up the side of the dunes. The surface temperature of the sand can rise to over 140 F in the summer, much too hot for barefoot walking, and very hard on your dog’s paws (bring booties). Note that this is one of the rare National Parks where dogs are allowed on hiking trails. It is written everywhere that you need to keep your dog ON LEASH. I know the dunes feel like a sandbox of epic proportions, but please respect that rule so we can keep coming here with our pups (most people had their dogs off leash…).

It is often windy on the dunes (it was when we were there) and it was not a pleasant experience. Wear long pants and non-mesh shoes (or walk barefoot if the sand is cool enough), a windbreaker and buff and tight-fitting hat, as well as sunglasses if you plan to hike the dunes on a windy day. It will make your journey much more fun.


You can also rent sand board or sand sleds to play on the dunes just outside the park (regular sleds or snowboards don’t work well on dry sand). Another amazing feature of the Great Sand Dunes is Medano Creek - a small stream fed by melting snow that is only about ten miles long and flows most strongly during spring and early summer. It starts in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, runs along the east edge of the dunes and disappears below ground in the valley.


It is also a great area for stargazing and there are often ranger-led astronomy programs in the park. A really unique experience would be to camp overnight in the dunes (when weather is calm and clear to avoid blowing sand or dangerous thunderstorms with lightning). You can pitch your tent anywhere in the dune field that lies outside the day-use area. You'll have a minimum hike of 1.5 miles over the dunes, but will experience a unique overnight setting. Don’t forget that hauling your gear up slippery sand dunes is quite the workout.

There is a limit of 6 people per party, and limit of 20 parties in the dune field per night; permits are first-come, first-served (gas stoves only; no campfires). Dogs are not permitted in the dunes backcountry.


Though not inside Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, Zapata Falls is a terrific little hike (0.8 miles) during a visit to the area and a fun place to cool off from the hot sun in the summer since you have to walk in the water to get there.


There are a few options for camping in the area. The Piñon Flats Campground is run by the National Park Service, with 44 sites that are first-come, first-served and 44 that visitors can reserve in advance.

For those traveling in 4WD vehicles, there are 21 campsites along Medano Pass Road within the park that are free and available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Outside the park, there is the San Luis Wilderness area, which was a state park until last year, where you can camp FOR FREE WITH 30/50 AMP power, sheltered picnic tables and fire ring in a gorgeous setting. Too good to be true? That’s what we thought, but we had a hard time leaving.


A hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

 Nymph Lake

Nymph Lake

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 Emerald Lake Trail

Emerald Lake Trail

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 Emerald Lake

Emerald Lake

When we arrived at the trailhead, it was cold and rainy. Aisha grumpily got out while Mara pranced across the parking lot, oooing at the gorgeous yellow aspens. Mathilde had stayed behind with our friends and their baby. The air was thin and fresh at 9,500 feet, and it felt so good to be surrounded by tall mountains! I wanted everybody to be happy and have a good time, but it seemed like someone just needed to complain about something and I had a really hard time finding empathy… This was Rocky Mountain National Park. On a Monday. Girl!!!!

But after a few miles, nature worked its magic, the weather cleared up and we all found our groove. I'm so glad my man reminded me to just give her space, not question her or try to fix her. Just let her be.

It doesn't have to be complicated.

If only I could remember that next time (or like tomorrow…).

I'm so thankful for this stable calm man in that sea of hormones!

As you probably have noticed, I haven’t been in this space much. Now that we are back on the road, I’ll post more about the destinations we visit. I’m posting regularly on Instagram and Facebook. Here’s something I posted about there a week ago that I’ve decided to repost here:

This year, the girls are homeschooling completely online. It’s new for all of us and it was quite the ordeal to get everything up and running. We really wanted them to do the bulk of their classes in French, so they have a patchwork of classes from different provinces, but it is finally set up. Their Humanities class (a cool integrated Yukon combo of English 9 and Social Sciences 9 with lots of content on First Nations) is a virtual class where they have to be online for 1 hour, 3 times a week, with the teacher and other students. The teacher was a traveling homeschooling dad himself and mountain biked quite a bit with his daughters. As you can imagine, they quickly clicked with him. The French class (from BC) is really interesting (BC has adopted a new curriculum last year and it is great!). Their science (from Alberta) and math (from Ontario) classes are more traditional.


I’ve created a Google calendar for each girl in which their classes are well laid-out with deadlines for assignment and times of day (with alarms). On top of their core classes, they are doing a great Art 2D/3D with the Vancouver animation school and two afternoon a week, I have asked them to pick a personal project they wanted to work on. For now, Mara is writing a book, Mathilde is working on upcycled bike parts jewelry and Aïsha is sewing a storage pouch. Their bike training schedule is in the calendar too.


We also invite them to spend some time reading the news each day (American - in English,  and Canadian - in French). Our goal for this year is to feed their growing minds and have discussions with them on different topics. We watch documentaries and movies on varied topics with them at night to broaden their horizons. We are very aware that these are some of the most formative years where their brains create tons of connexion. It’s the best time of life for learning!


They have daily tasks that rotate monthly and are responsible for 1 dinner a week. It might seem pretty regimented, but it is quite interesting to see them relax into that schedule. After years of relaxed homeschooling/unschooling, they have demanded a more structured learning process in the last few years and we have created it for them.


Some people will say that our girls are sheltered; they would be right in a sense. We have sheltered them from the mainstream, but not from real life. We have always believed in offering them a rich environment in which they could explore the world, themselves and their interests. And I think we are succeeding in that. Yeah, us.


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).

 

 

 

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.

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.

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!

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.

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?

Mountain biking, hiking and fishing in Carcross, Yukon

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 Reading aloud around the bonfire.

Reading aloud around the bonfire.

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 Emerald Lake

Emerald Lake

 Drawing plans since 2007!

Drawing plans since 2007!

 Getting ready to ride on Montana Mountain.

Getting ready to ride on Montana Mountain.

 Ending our ride right on the beach by Bennett Lake.

Ending our ride right on the beach by Bennett Lake.

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 Her first catch! A beautiful 5 lbs lake trout! She got a second one that was a little smaller!

Her first catch! A beautiful 5 lbs lake trout! She got a second one that was a little smaller!

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 Fish anatomy lesson with Philip.

Fish anatomy lesson with Philip.

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 Hiking up Nares Mountain. Steep, but beautiful!

Hiking up Nares Mountain. Steep, but beautiful!

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 Lots of board game time!

Lots of board game time!

 The Carcross Commons

The Carcross Commons

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Mountana Mountain is a mountain biking mecca and people come from far away to ride these beautiful trails. Be warned though, that this is not the best place for a beginner rider. The riding is technical and steep in places, but there is plenty to keep the comfortable intermediate busy. For a longer ride, ride Mc Donald Creek or Nares View. For a quick afternoon ride we like to combine Maggie's Run, Sporting Wood, upper Dei Kwan, Sam McGee and AK DNR (then Mossy all the way to the beach on a nice day). Another good combo is Holey Roads, upper Dei Kwan, Lower Wolverine and Fox. Upper Wolverine will delight the more advanced riders, so will Black Bear and Goat. You can shuttle up or ride the nice uptrack (or do a bit of both!). Get more info on the trails here.

There are two places to camp in the area (on top of an ugly pricy RV park): the Carcross campground is right in town, but in a nice wooded area (that's where we like to stay, riding and walking distance from everything, good cell signal, free wood, included in our Yukon camping pass). There is also a new territorial campground 10 minutes out of town called Conrad. It's also treed and more quiet, but there is no cell signal and you need to drive to get anywhere.

There is the famous Carcross desert where every tour bus coming from Skagway (AK) stops, but there are also some beautiful (and hard!) hiking trails that rewards you with beautiful views of the area after only 10-15 minutes of hiking (no need to go all the way to the top, but we highly recommend it!). I especially recommend you hike Nares Mountain, Caribou mountain or Sam McGee (also called Mountain Hero), 2 km passed Conrad Campground. Bring your bear spray and make lots of noise, we have seen bears on these trails every year we came to hike them.

Carcross is a really cute little town with one of the most beautiful (although often very windy) beaches in the Yukon. The new Carcross Commons is a cluster of tiny houses with Tlingit-inspired facades featuring artisans, an amazing coffee shop, a gelato shop, an authentic maple products shop, a bike shop and lots more. There is also a delicious restaurant called The Bistro. 

There isn't much in terms of supply in Carcross. A corner store with pricy crappy food, a laundromat at the RV park (and that allowed us to fill our water jugs there) and dump and fill for $10, no propane, so make sure you come prepare and grocery shop in Whitehorse before coming.

By the way, for those interested, I think my love affair with the Fujifilm x-100t is already over. I miss the bokeh of my Nikon 24-70 mm (on the D700). I know I cannot ask this little camera to do it all well (as my friend Michel says, it's not a grand piano, it's a synthesizer, it doesn't do everything, but what it does, it does well). It's a great second camera, but since I cannot afford 2 cameras, I'll go back to my super heavy work horse. Maybe the xt-1 + the 56 mm f 1.2 would be the answer, but I would need at least another lens (23 mm?), which adds up...

If you really knew me...

You would know that I sometimes feel like a fraud. I’ve been climbing on and off for 20 years and I still struggle on a 5.9. Granted, I’ve never committed to it seriously and never really trained (if it’s boring, I’m not doing it, I don’t train, I play). I can’t call myself a beginner in mountain biking, but I often make rookie mistakes. I walk most of the hills, I have a panic attack when I am too out of breath and I grunt like a woman in labor while trying to do power moves…

I have strong legs, but poor cardio (see higher: I don’t train). I’m a strange mix of adventurous daredevil and anxious wuss. I’m not a natural at sports, physical things don’t come easily to me. I learn and improve *very* slowly.

I was the kid that was often picked up last in the teams in Phys. Ed. I was the kid that hid at recess to not have to play dodge ball. I was the kid that was scared to bike to school. I was the kid who didn’t do any sports *for fun*. Oh, I danced and even went to semi-professional ballet school in Italy at 18, but at 5 feet tall, they didn’t even consider me for an audition…

I’m not the typical wiry, sinewy rugged looking woman you see on the trails that seem to be born with a bike under her and flows and flies with her every turn.

Why do I keep doing it then? Some days, I have wondered that, but I do less and less. As long as the fun vs fear/frustration ratio is leaning on the right side, I’ll keep at it. I’m just happy to be out there with my family, heart pumping, learning alongside my girls. They are actually the ones teaching me now, calling the features ahead (big drop on the left mom! Tight sandy corner!), cheering for me and waiting for me. It’s awesome and humbling. But growing is pretty humbling.

All I want to say is that: you don’t need to be born with the athletic gene to enjoy yourself out there. This is not a select club, even if it might look like one from the outside.

After reading an inspiring article last year, I’ve stopped saying: “sorry to keep you waiting” every time I go on rides with people that have to stop for me to catch up with them at intersections, but rather: “thanks for waiting”! It’s not a small difference. It’s like saying: I’m proud to be out here even if I’ll probably never be the one who waits for others, but I’m doing it and having fun!

And to all the guys who wish their girlfriend would love mountain biking, don’t bring her on your favorite trail the first time, she probably won’t like it. Rent her a good full squish bike with big tires and ask the bike shop if they have a woman saddle (trust me, those cheap hard men saddles they put on rental bikes make the ride much less enjoyable). Take her on a fun green trail (I know green doesn’t rhyme with fun in your head, but try to remember what it feels like to be a beginner). Pack a lunch (with beer!) and take picture breaks on top of hills so she doesn’t feel like you’re stopping just for her to catch her breath. Tell her you’re happy to be out here with her and that you don’t care to do an easier ride if it means riding with her (go do a harder ride before, so you’re nice and relax and full of endorphins!). Remember that most of us don’t like feeling vulnerable in a situation like this (me, well, you’re reading that post, vulnerability is my second name), especially in a discipline in which you kick our butts. Be reassuring and understanding. And try to have fun! 

**The pictures are from our hike to the Fisher Towers in Moab. It was the most beautiful hike we did in that area. A real Dr. Seuss landscape. The first picture was taken on the morning of my birthday when we were woken up by a hot air balloon taking flight just outside our bedroom windows!

Sedona, Sedona!

Hike to Devil's Bridge.

One of the views on Devil's Bridge Trail.

Red rock scrambling on the Devil's Bridge hike.

Look carefully, the girls are standing on the bridge! A bit nerve wracking for a mom!

We spent a lot of time by the river near the Mezcal trailhead, building structures, cooling off and washing ourselves a bit.

Reading by the river during the hottest time of day.

Exploring ruins on the West Fork Trail.

The first of many river crossings on West Fork Trail.

Many beautiful evening by the fire with our friends.

Meeting people on the road and traveling with others is one of the most amazing parts of this lifestyle. Needless to say, it’s also one of the most challenging. Setting boundaries when sharing the same public space is not easy. Making plans as a group can be an exhausting task.

But karma is an interesting beast (bonus points if you use the word Karma while in Sedona, extra bonus points if you can combine it with the word Vortex in the same sentence). So it is that I get plenty of opportunities to practice... a vortex of opportunity ;)

I love meeting new people. I am also pretty active on social media, so I am in touch with great people living on the road. After 4 years of this life, we’ve had lots of amazing encounters... and a few harder ones. This week, we had a miscommunication with a family we were eager to meet and the whole thing turned sour. People got their feelings hurt and I felt like shit. So long for trying to be more assertive and honest in setting boundaries...

So back to Sedona. It’s a gorgeous place, but man it’s touristy... We had to go on bike rides and hikes early in the morning to beat the crowd (lots of retired people hiking the trails and young spring breakers, which makes for not-so-flowy bike rides)... It feels like Sedona’s infrastructure has not adapted to the amount of visitors (or maybe it’s all part of the business plan). The trailhead parking lots are almost always overflowing along the roads, the roundabouts in town are always jammed... We were lucky to find a great boondocking spot away from the craziness of the town in West Sedona, near Nolan Tank/Loy Canyon. We were a 12 minutes drive from one of the best trail networks in town and midway between Sedona and Cottonwood (doing laundry and grocery shopping is much cheaper there).

The Crystal crowd is real in Sedona. You can have an aura reading followed by a vortex tour or a UFO tour??... People make eye contact in that I-sense-your-beautiful-spirit kind of way at Safeway... and when I bought chicken necks for the dog at Whole Food, the cashier assumed I was making bone broth, the old lady at the coffee shop who laid hands on our friends’ dog hips saying she was sensing pain without first acknowledging them (because, you know, connexion with the animal kingdom)... The convergence of these different crowds (the old hippies, the mountain bikers, the retired RV community, the people that come here to do Pink Jeep or Hummer tours and on top of it this week, the Spring Break kids...) makes for quite the combo. But that’s what makes Sedona, Sedona and it’s all part of the experience.

We have explored only a fraction of the trails Sedona has to offer and saved many for next time. Sedona is known for its pretty advanced mountain bike trails and I had heard many times there was nothing except the Bell Rock Path (a wide green trail) that was not hard. We were happy to discover a loop that we really liked near our camp spot that was fun without being too technical (Park at Mezcal trailhead, do Long Canyon + Deadman Pass + Aerie, turn left on Cockscomb, turn left of Dawa, return on the road to trailhead). The Mezcal trail is beautiful (blue-black) if you are comfortable with some exposure (and maybe walking a few pretty rocky sections). For more intermediate/advanced riders, Slim Shady, Templeton and Llama are great. Hiline was JF’s and Antonio’s favorite (solid black). We didn’t get to ride Canyon of Fools, Chuckwagon and many more (JF and Antonio wanted to do the Hogs but ran out of time).

As for hiking, it’s the same network, plus some. We only did two hikes during our week: Devil’s Bridge (the hike itself is only 1 mile to the Bridge, but you have to walk down a rugged Jeep trail for a mile prior, so this part was not so great, but the Bridge hike is nice, but so very crowded). Same thing for the other hike we did on the other side of town (towards Flagstaff), another one of the most popular hikes in the area called West Fork, during which you have to cross the river 13 times. A super fun family hike on a warm day, but get there early since the parking lot is small and gets full before noon. You then have to wait in line for someone to leave to be allowed to enter. Also, even if it is a National Forest (Coconino) and you have a National Park Pass, this is a special fee zone ($10 per vehicle). Bring hiking poles and shoes that you don’t mind getting wet, walk straight through the creek to avoid the crossing line-ups (yeah, it’s that busy). Both hikes were dog-friendly.

Hiking to Miller Peak and exploring the Coronado Cave, Sierra Vista, AZ

Beautiful boondocking spot at Miller Canyon

There was a beautiful creek running 300 yards from camp.

We loved that huge oak tree and sat under it during the warm hours of the day.

The snowy peak is Miller Peak. We hiked all the way to the top (9 700 feet). It was quite the hike (photos below).

We went to explore the Coronado Cave, one of the biggest unimproved cave in AZ. It's a half mile uphill hike to the cave. I highly recommend you check it out!

It was amazing! 

Then, we drove up to Montezuma Pass trailhead at 6,300 feet of elevation.

Can you see us on the mountain side?

Some parts of the trail were quite windy!

We made it to the top! Mexico on one side, USA on the other.

Cloud volcano

Right from Dr. Seuss!

Miller Peak is a landmark mountain located in far-south Arizona near the town of Sierra Vista and the Fort Huachuca Military Base. The summit reaches to 9,700 feet and is one of just five mountains in Arizona with over 5,000 feet of prominence (a so-called "ultra" peak). The summit is accessible via the Crest Trail, which runs along the main range crest (5,3 miles). It is also the first leg of the Arizona Trail, so it was fun to see thru-hikers on their first day heading towards Utah! 

It was a beautiful hike, but it was challenging given the length of it (and the fact that we had hiked to the Coronado Cave in the morning on top of it!). The trail is well-designed and is mostly of moderate grade thanks to the many switchbacks. The vegetation changed as we meandered along the ridge from the North Side to the South side. The kids and the dog were delighted to see snow.

Given the peak's proximity to Mexico, there are often border crossers who are entering into the United States via the Crest Trail. There is a border patrol on duty in the Montezuma Pass parking lot and the guy asked our friend Jason if he was carrying a weapon to hike the trail since we could possibly see some smugglers on the trail.

We don’t carry weapons... but it was still interesting to hear that AZ Trail thru-hikers have to pay close attention since the crossers trail are so used that they can be confused with the official trail! Here’s something I found on a hiking site: Attacks on hikers just do not happen. They (the smugglers) want nothing to do with you and will hide given the chance. If you should come across a group, use your best judgement.

This area is defined as a Sky Island since it is high enough to rise above the valley floors of desert scrub or desert grassland without being connected to woodlands. It ranks as the second most biologically diverse ecosystem on the planet because of the overlap and blending of several major biogeographic zones: it is the meeting place of two great deserts, the Chihuahuan and the Sonoran, and two large mountain chains, the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Madre Occidental. The nearby San Pedro River serves as a migratory super highway for birds and other wildlife, while the Huachuca Mountains host another world of flora and fauna as they rise above 9,000 feet.

If you are planning to visit the Coronado Cave, make sure to bring a headlamp and gloves (as to not alter the rock formations) and I would have liked to have a buff or scarf because of the dust in some areas. The cave is one of the few open, undeveloped caves in southern Arizona. It is 600 feet long and in most places about 70 feet wide. It was super fun to explore!

 

Another Christmas in Tucson

The boys made tourtières and meat pies for Christmas!

I made blueberry and cherry pies!

The girls offered us a gastronomic 3-course meal for Christmas. We were completely blown away!

Aïsha prepared us a mango-avocado-shrimp tartare that could not have been better at an high end restaurant.

Mara made a Garlic Basil Chicken with Tomato Butter Sauce. It was delicious.

 Mathilde made us a Layered Chocolate Cookie Sundae. Yum! I think that a tradition is born!

Mathilde made us a Layered Chocolate Cookie Sundae. Yum! I think that a tradition is born!

And on Christmas day, we went for a geocache hike on Brown Mountain. 

We love spending Christmas with this sweet family year after year!

It's the fourth Christmas that we spend in Tucson and it has become a tradition that we all look forward to. Pascale and Antonio always welcome us with open arms. It is such a treat to see their boys grow every year and to be enjoying the outdoors with them a bit more every year.