Hitched Up: Southern Utah and Northern Arizona

Hitched Up: Southern Utah and Northern Arizona

I just returned from a wonderful tour of Central Europe with my mom and have already started writing about our experience. But, before I share all about that adventure I figure I should catch up on an older one- the quick trip to southern Utah and northern Arizona Mitchell, Gaius, and I made in March. Since our journey out west took us north from Texas to Canada, then across to the Pacific coast, we didn’t have an opportunity to explore much of Utah or Arizona before winter hit. With spring on the horizon we decided to head out and see as much as we could before I jetted off to Europe at the end of the month with my mom.

Snow Canyon State Park, St. George, Utah.

We planned a quick trip from California with stops in Las Vegas, Nevada, St. George and Kanab, Utah, and Page and Sedona, Arizona. Of course the week we chose to travel to Las Vegas they had their first snowstorm in 11 years and the highway we needed to take was closed. Luckily the storm only lasted one day, the roads were reopened quickly, and we were able to travel through safely.

I-15 From CA to Las Vegas, NV.

We only stayed in Vegas for two nights and the first was spent setting up camp then trying Sushi Twister, an all-you-can-eat Japanese restaurant off the strip. Our RV park was also off the strip but conveniently offered a free shuttle service that we used to get around.

We spent the day walking along the strip and stopped for lunch at Guy Fieri’s Vegas Kitchen & Bar. We ordered “Trash Can Nachos” which were stacked and baked in a tin can before being inverted and poured onto the plate at our table. We also ordered a hawaiian chicken sandwich and a mac-n-cheese burger. It was all terribly unhealthy but super delicious.

Our main objective in Vegas was to see the Cirque du Soleil show “Ka.” We love catching the touring Cirque shows and had just seen “Volta” with my mom in San Jose, CA. We saw “O” with family when we were in Sin City for our wedding and were excited to see another performance on one of the big stages. We attempted to walk off some our lunch then headed over to the show, which turned out to be a disappointing experience due to the person seated next to me using a bright cell phone to scroll social media and text for nearly the entire show. They didn’t even silence their phone so in addition to the brightness, noisy alerts and notifications sounded every few minutes.The person got mad and became even more rude when I politely asked if they could put their phone away or step out of the theater, and with no staff in sight to help, the rest of the show was quite uncomfortable.

After that incident we were so ready to escape the crowds and head out into nature again. After a short drive we arrived at Snow Canyon State Park near St. George, Utah. Though its name suggests wintery weather conditions, Snow Canyon is actually named after an explorer and only sees about an inch of snow on average each year. However, we arrived just in time to see the aftermath of the largest snowstorm the area has experienced in over 20 years…

…Not enough snow to pull out the skis but temperatures did drop down below 30 for the first few nights of our stay and we had to take precautions to keep the pipes and tanks in our RV from freezing. During the days, we had clear skies and bright sun with a cool breeze. Hiking conditions were fantastic. We hiked over massive petrified sand dunes, through a cool slot canyon, and along the nice paved, ADA accessible trail.

The park has two great accessible trails. One is paved and runs along the main park road while the other is an old dirt and gravel service road that travels through the park and has stunning views of the canyon. These are the only trails within the main park that dogs are permitted to use. Dogs are permitted on all trails that are part of the separate Paradise Canyon trail system which is accessed from a road outside of the main park. We didn’t see the Paradise Canyon trails this visit but I’d love to check them out with Gaius next time.

Our next stop was to the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, where we volunteered working with dogs, pigs, bunnies, and parrots. To read about our volunteering experience, click here. After volunteering in Kanab we traveled to Page, Arizona and stayed at Lake Powell’s Wahweap campground.

Lake Powell is a manmade reservoir and although I’ve learned that reservoirs are not among my favorite destinations, during our off-season visit things were quiet and peaceful. We enjoyed walking along the huge accessible trail that travels through the campground loops, to the picnic areas, and down to the lake. Lake Powell also has accessible parking spaces for RVs and vehicles with boat trailers.

During our visit in Page I was most excited to see Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon. Both sites have become extremely popular, largely due to social media, and stay busy pretty much year-round. But, what else would you expect from a place that looks like this?

Horseshoe Bend.

We woke up early hoping to see Horseshoe Bend before the crowds arrived and to avoid using the shuttle service that is mandatory between 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, due to construction. I learned the construction project includes adding an ADA accessible trail (yay!), visitor center, and larger parking lot. During daily construction hours the parking lot is only open to shuttles. The shuttle is accessed just down the road from the trailhead and the fee is $5 per person.

The early morning trip was well worth it and although the small parking lot was half full by 6:30 am, we had no trouble finding a spot. The view at sunrise was spectacular and we even caught a really cool rainbow on our walk down the short trail to the bend. Visiting Horseshoe Bend is free but to see the equally stunning Antelope Canyon, one must book a tour.

Heart-shaped lighting on the canyon wall in upper Antelope Canyon

Also worth it! I had seen many amazing pictures on social media depicting a seemingly empty, peaceful, and colorful canyon. Though the canyon is truly magnificent, those pictures are somewhat misleading in terms of what to expect out of the typical Antelope Canyon experience. The canyon is fully-packed with tour groups and photo ops are basically staged by the tour guides who move visitors along through the canyon ensuring that everyone is able to take pictures without any photobombers.

Our guide was very eager to point out the most interesting features to photograph and served as a personal photographer, taking pictures of each party with their phones. The experience can be somewhat overwhelming if crowds aren’t your thing, but if you want to enjoy the beauty of the canyon up close then this is the only way to do it. The canyon has an upper and lower section with tours offered for both.

We chose the upper canyon because it is supposed to have better lighting during the winter and spring when the canyon is typically not as well-lit. The upper canyon is more accessible with a level walking trail. The lower canyon requires guests to climb a few short ladders. Both are reported to be equally as stunning. We thoroughly enjoyed visiting the upper canyon but I’d love to try the lower canyon on our next visit.

Next we headed to Cottonwood, Arizona and stayed a few nights at Dead Horse Ranch State Park located on the Verde River Greenway. The area is very popular for bird watching and mountain biking though I’ll admit we didn’t do much of either.

We did attend a chuckwagon supper and western show at the Blazin’ M Ranch adjacent to the park. Neither of us had ever been to such an attraction and thought, “well why not?”

The ranch is set up like an old western town with shops selling local goods and a saloon that makes surprisingly strong drinks. I had the most amazing prickly pear margarita.

Guests of the ranch can also enjoy the shooting range, farm animals, museum, western portrait studio, and tractor-pulled wagon ride before heading into the dining hall for the barbeque supper and dinner show. Everything was very good and although it could be considered a bit hokey, it was a nice family-friendly way to spend an evening.

Our next stop in Arizona was Sedona. I had heard so many great things about this little desert town but I was not expecting it to be so beautiful. And we weren’t the only ones with an itch to visit- it was packed! Crowds were possibly a little higher than usual due to spring break season but we still had a nice time on the trails and exploring town.

We met up with two other couples that I follow on Instagram who happened to be traveling through the area at the same time. One couple we met for drinks and a fun hike to Bell Rock, and the other we met for a nice dinner. It’s always great making new friends and meeting other travelers on the road.

We had a great time hiking with our new pals (and their fur babies) at Bell Rock, one of Sedona’s vortex sites, believed to radiate soothing and healing energy that can be felt and harnessed by visitors. Maybe it was all in our imaginations but we agreed that we definitely felt a little extra chill and peaceful near the vortex.

Just down the interstate in Camp Verde is Montezuma Castle, one of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in the country. Ninety feet up into a limestone mountain sits this impressive, 5-story dwelling that was built and inhabited by the Southern Sinagua people, who were indigenous to the southwestern United States. Early American settlers erroneously credited the masterful engineering of the Southern Sinagua to the Aztecs, naming the site Montezuma Castle, after the famous Aztec emperor. Doh!

A short, paved, accessible nature trail leads visitors to the best view of the castle.

Nearby Montezuma Well was used for farming and has a few additional dwellings. Though the water in the well is carbonated and contains arsenic, it’s home to several unique species of leeches, water scorpions, and freshwater snails that are found nowhere else on earth. Southern Sinagua farmers made their homes in the limestone cliff along the well and built canals for irrigation.

We did some hiking out in the Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness, away from the trails most popular with tourists. The hiking here was just as beautiful and offered the more peaceful, quiet experience we prefer. We also felt comfortable bringing Gaius along, who isn’t a fan of loud noises and does better in smaller (or no) crowds.

After hiking all morning we dined at the Hideaway House restaurant where we had an awesome lunch, complete with drinks and a view of the red rocks. Their patio is dog-friendly so Gaius was able to join us for the meal too.

The week in Sedona seemed to fly by, and though it was beautiful, it was also a bit expensive. We visited the farmers market and a few craft markets during our visit but didn’t end up buying much because things were too pricey.

Next we stopped in Needles on the California-Arizona border for a bit more exploring. By night we had amazing cotton candy sunsets and by day we hunted for bright, delicate wildflowers.

We made a quick trip to Lake Havasu City to see the London Bridge, which was little more than a tourist trap. The bridge formerly spanned the River Thames in London, England but now sits over a canal on Lake Havasu in Arizona. The City of London dismantled the original London Bridge and put it up for sale when they realized a bigger and sturdier bridge was needed. It sold to the founder of Lake Havasu City, who hoped it would bring people and new development to the area. It worked!

From there we headed back to my mom’s house. I packed my bags for Europe, kissed my dog and husband goodbye, and off we went! Stay tuned for the first country of our tour: Poland! Thanks for reading!

Volunteering: Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

Volunteering: Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

Out in southern Utah, nestled in a serene desert canyon exists a vast and magical safe haven for animals big, small, healthy, or unwell. Literally described by some as “heaven on earth,” Best Friends Animal Sanctuary provides care to over 1,600 abandoned and rescued animals with the help of their animal-loving staff and eager volunteers. The sanctuary has a “no-kill” policy, meaning animals stay as long as it takes until they are adopted and move on to their forever homes.

I first learned of this amazing non-profit when I was talking with a coworker about our plans to travel the country in an RV and to do volunteer work. She immediately recommended Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and shared her experience as a volunteer. She insisted that if our RV travels brought us anywhere near Utah, we simply had to make the trip.

The sanctuary makes registering to volunteer a breeze. Those interested can visit their website, create a volunteer account, watch a short orientation video, and schedule when and where they would like to volunteer. Animal areas that accept volunteers include Dogtown, Cat World, Horse Haven, Marshall’s Piggy Paradise, Bunny House, Parrot Garden, and Wild Friends. If working directly with the animals is not your thing, volunteers are also needed to help out in the sanctuary store, at the Angels Rest pet cemetery and memorial, and with landscaping projects around the property.

There are two volunteer shifts each day from 8:15-11:30 a.m. and 1:15-4:00 p.m. We spent two days at the sanctuary and volunteered both shifts each day. We also enjoyed delicious lunches at the sanctuary’s cafe. More on that later.

On our first day, we attended a brief 15-minute registration meeting at the Welcome Center then headed off for our first shift at DogTown. The residents and caregivers from DogTown were featured in a television documentary series carrying the same name and produced by National Geographic. Our work in DogTown consisted of walking juvenile dogs out on the beautiful snowy trail. We were also able to sit in on an agility training session and a clicker training demonstration. The information was great and we learned training skills that we were able to take back and use with our own pup.

…And then it was time for that lunch I mentioned earlier. An all-you-can-eat buffet lunch is available onsite for a mere five bucks. Aligning with the sanctuary’s commitment to show kindness to all animals, the lunch is also completely vegan. I have to say how impressed we were with the quality and taste of the food, along with the ambiance of the dining room. In addition to the daily entree items, there was a full salad bar, fresh fruit, and yummy baked treats.

Since the lunch period is from 11:30 am – 1:15 pm, we had plenty of time to enjoy our meal and drive back to the RV in town to check on our little dog and take him for a quick walk. For our second shift that day we worked in Marshall’s Piggy Paradise. Working here with the piggies and their awesome caregiver turned out to be our favorite experience. We started off by scooping pig poop. That’s right, volunteers aren’t just there to pet pigs, there’s real work to be done and the job can get pretty dirty.

Scooping aside, there were many, many opportunities to pet and socialize with the pigs. One of my favorites was Papa, a very shy pig with a strong love for naps, almonds, and Fig Newtons (my spirit animal, perhaps). Papa usually shys away from people, but came out of his shell for us and even let me pet him while he got his snack on.

We also helped keep the pigs calm and distracted while their caregiver trimmed their hooves, then we helped feed the pigs their dinner. These piggies loved peas, corn, carrots, and lettuce.

Day 1 was an absolute success and we were excited to spend another day at the sanctuary. The next morning we started off in the Bunny House where we scooped poop, mopped floors, changed out soiled linens, poured fresh water for the bunnies, and reassembled their indoor living quarters.

Each bunny dorm houses two or more bunnies and must be cleaned daily. These adorable furballs poop approximately 300 times per day and their urine contains ammonia, which can be dangerous to their sensitive respiratory system and soft coat. Bunnies also love nibbling on egg cartons and wooden toys which can leave quite a mess. After we finished housekeeping duties, we switched over to room service and delivered lettuce snacks to each bunny suite.

Something I noticed right away was that everything at the sanctuary is kept very clean. All of the animal cages, play pens, and outdoor areas were well-maintained and I was happy we played a part in the upkeep. It was also clear that the sanctuary staff really want volunteers to enjoy their experience and to have fun. Volunteers should always check with the animal caregiver before pulling out a camera during a shift, but taking photographs is allowed in most animal areas and even encouraged, under safe conditions of course.

After another fantastic lunch we checked in at the Parrot Garden for our last shift of our visit. We started off by giving the indoor atrium a good ole deep cleaning. We swept, mopped, scrubbed the walls, and wiped down all surfaces in the atrium. The atrium is used heavily in the winter when the cold weather limits visits to the outdoors cages.

We also played chauffeur, carefully loading big beautiful birds onto our forearms and walking them over to spend time in the freshly-cleaned atrium. I carried LaQuita, the blue and gold, male macaw pictured below while Mitch carried his red, lady friend, Kaimi. Can you believe LaQuita is older than I am? He’s fabulous at 40-years-old!

Kaimi (red, female) and LaQuita (blue, male).

We also spent some time with the rainforest birds where we did a bit more cleaning then showered the birds with a faux rainstorm. As soon as the hose was pointed into the cage, the birds would squawk and quickly climb their way over to the sides of the cage putting themselves directly in front of the stream. It reminded me of kids laughing and playing in the sprinklers.

Next we were tasked with preparing a large batch of bird food by following a special recipe that blends various seeds. Our kitchen duties were supervised by a sweet little birdie who recently lost his friend and has been feeling lonely. We learned that parrots bond in pairs, forming a deep connection with either another bird (like Kaimi and LaQuita) or a human caretaker. When a parrot loses or is separated from their bonded pair it can be devastating and the bird can become depressed or self-destructive. For this reason, the sanctuary tries to keep bonded pairs together while they live at the sanctuary and when they move on to their forever homes.

After our final shift we drove over to Angels Rest, the sanctuary’s animal cemetery and memorial site. Each month the sanctuary holds a special service to honor and remember the animals placed in Angels Rest. Here there are hundreds, if not thousands, of windchimes that have been dedicated to lost pets and animal lovers. When the wind blows, they play a soft, enchanting melody that fills the canyon with peace. It was beautiful and the perfect place to reflect on our visit.

We plan on volunteering again (and again) and I highly recommend the experience to others too. The sanctuary offers free, guided tours daily and their are a few options for lodging onsite, including cottages, cabins, and two full-hookup RV sites. Though onsite accommodations can fill up quickly, the town of Kanab has several hotels, RV parks, and restaurants. Groups and families are welcome to volunteer together- I can’t think of a better team bonding activity for coworkers or a cooler way to get kids involved in volunteering. Volunteers as young as 6-years-old can work in Cat World or the Bunny House when accompanied by an adult. The other animal areas have minimum age requirement for volunteers beginning at 8 years. During summer months, the sanctuary also hosts a day camp for children ages 6-9. For more information about becoming a volunteer visit https://bestfriends.org/sanctuary/volunteer. If traveling to the sanctuary in Kanab is not in the cards, there are still many other ways to help out, including sponsoring an animal, purchasing a memorial wind chime, sending an honorary or remembrance gift, or making a donation. For more information visit https://bestfriends.org/donate.

Thanks for reading!

China Explored, Part I: Travel By Groupon

China Explored, Part I: Travel By Groupon

I’ve always dreamed about visiting China and seeing the Great Wall someday but it seemed like a bucket list destination that was just too far out of reach. That all changed when I saw an amazing travel deal on Groupon offering a 10-day guided tour of China for $649. If you’re not familiar with Groupon, it’s essentially an online marketplace where you buy vouchers to redeem for activities, goods, and services. Groupon vouchers are usually available at a fraction of the usual cost for the purchase, making the service a great way to try new things. For example, when we lived in Texas I purchased a Groupon voucher for a beekeeping course for two with a local farm. The voucher was $79 and had to be used within 90 days of purchase, but had I bought the course without the voucher I would have paid $200.

From our 3-hour beekeeping course in November of 2016.

Since I use Groupon pretty frequently to try things I wouldn’t normally jump to spend money on, I didn’t think the fact that I booked this trip using Groupon was even worth mentioning. That is, until I started mentioning it to people who seemed surprised and eager to hear more. I also learned about a little thing I can only describe as “Groupon shame.” Our trip to Iceland back in December was also made possible through a Groupon deal and now that I’ve got two trips under my belt I’ve had several questions about how to book travel through Groupon. I’m working on a follow-up post that includes everything you need to know and how you can travel cheaply using Groupon that I will share later. For now, I want to tell you that there is nothing shameful or inauthentic about booking a discounted vacation package through Groupon (so long as you read and understand the fine print), and I hope to show you this as I guide you through our 10-day itinerary.

High rise homes in Beijing viewed from the airplane.

Our Groupon travel package was for a 10-Day guided tour of China with stops in Beijing, Suzhou, Wuxi, Hangzhou, and Shanghai, including hotels and roundtrip nonstop flights. The package was offered by the company Rewards Travel China and also included transportation, 13 meals, and several day tours. The price was a bargain at only $649 per person, especially considering that the airfare and transportation between cities alone is over $600 when priced separately. So what’s the catch? A series of mandatory visits to government-owned showrooms featuring popular Chinese exports where visitors sit through tours and heavy sales pitches. That may be a dealbreaker for some but we considered the value and opportunity to visit a place we never thought we’d have the chance to see and decided to book our tickets.

Government owned jade factory and showroom. More on day 4.

So off we went! Day 1 and 2 were essentially travel days. We had a direct flight that left San Jose, CA at 1:30 pm and arrived in Beijing just under 13 hours later, which would be around 6:00 pm on the following evening, China time. We quickly spotted our guide with Rewards Travel China after we landed and he helped us through the security checkpoints and assisted with obtaining our travel visa. Prior to departure, Rewards Travel China applied for a group visa on our behalf- all we had to do was scan a copy of our passports and fill out a simple form. We waited for more travelers from the tour group to arrive, then loaded up into one of those giant charter buses that seat about 60 people and headed off to the hotel.

Checking in at the Great Wall Sheraton Hotel in Beijing.

I’ll admit I always thought traveling with a huge group of tourists in those big charter buses seemed kind of lame but it’s actually quite practical. You get to meet other travelers (we made some great new friends in our group), there’s always someone nearby who won’t mind taking your picture, and the massive carpooling is definitely better for the environment- especially in China where the air pollution is so terrible (I’ve been home for over a week and am still coughing from exposure to air pollution as I type this). They also sold water and Chinese beer on these buses for super cheap- so that’s also a plus!

Bus beer.

Our hotel in Beijing was very nice, 5-stars to be exact, and offered a massive breakfast buffet spread across 3 large dining rooms every morning. Not a bad place to call home for the next three nights.

View from our room in the morning.
Part of the buffet.

Our first real chance to explore Beijing came on what was technically day 3 of our itinerary. This was a free day but we decided to purchase the optional full-day excursion ($65/person) that included a trip to the Summer Palace, Forbidden City, and Tiananmen Square with a provided lunch. These are all popular attractions in Beijing and places I would want to visit on our free day anyway, so booking the excursion was the most convenient option.

Our hotel.

Our first stop was to the Summer Palace. We saw an interesting snack shack on our walk to the gates from the bus. In addition to honey covered fruit kabobs there was a variety of dried, fried, and barbequed critters, including scorpions, starfish, spiders, snakes, and beetles. Though our guide pointed out that finding critters on a stick is pretty common in Beijing, it seemed more like a novelty and less like an everyday food so we decided not to try any.

Outside the Summer Palace.

The Summer Palace was stunningly beautiful, even in the winter, and rich with history. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this lavish royal retreat is filled with grand pavilions, colorfully painted halls, decorative statues, vast lakes and gardens, and an iconic bridge with 17 arches.

Frozen Kunming Lake below the Tower of Buddhist Incense.

During winter, Kunming Lake freezes over and people take to the ice on skates and sleds. I’ve visited several indoor and outdoor rinks but ice skating on a frozen natural body of water is one of my bucket list items, so I was tempted to head back to Kunming and give it a try.

The gardens in the Summer Palace are a popular meeting space for singing and dancing. We were treated to the sounds and sights of locals practicing Tai Chi and singing traditional songs.

Singing group.

Something I noticed on our first day out was the lack of foreign tourists. Since we were visiting popular tourist attractions in Beijing, I expected to see many tour groups filled with Americans and foreigners from other countries. Surprisingly, all of the people and tourists we saw were Chinese. In fact, I did not see any Americans or foreign-looking folks outside of our own tour group for the entire trip. Not a single one. This probably explains why many of the Chinese people we encountered tended to stare when we walked by and many whipped out phones to take pictures of us. On several occasions, we were asked to pose for pictures with Chinese people who admitted they had never seen Americans in person before.

We stopped for a quick lunch with rice, veggies, noodles, soup, tea, and beer before heading off for more sightseeing. All of our meals were served family style where dishes were placed on a large lazy susan at the center of the table.

Our next stop was Tiananmen Square, one of the largest city squares in the world and a place of deep cultural and political significance. I couldn’t help but feel a bit solemn as we walked through the area, knowing its dark history. In 1989, students who protested in support of democracy, were met in Tiananmen Square with gunfire and massacred by the Chinese Army.

Tiananmen Square.

The official death toll from the tragic incident is unknown. Following the attack, the Chinese government suppressed media coverage, discussion, and investigation efforts, ultimately reporting the casualties ranged from 100-200 civilians. However, files that were more recently declassified from the U.S. and British governments revealed an estimated death toll of over 10,000 people. There are no memorials to be found in Tiananmen Square, and in fact, those who appear to be mourning publicly without government approval can be arrested.

Bridge from Tiananmen Square to Tiananmen.

Next we moved on to Tiananmen, also known as the Gate of Heavenly Peace, which marks the entrance to the Forbidden City. The gate with it’s imperial-style architecture is featured on the National Emblem of the People’s Republic of China.

At the Gate of Heavenly Peace.

The Forbidden City was our final stop and had much more upbeat vibes. For nearly 500 years, this huge complex sitting on over 180 acres served as the home of China’s emperors and was the center for political proceedings.

The Imperial Garden of the Forbidden City.

Worthy of its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Forbidden City holds the worldwide record for the most ancient, preserved wooden structures. Building rooftops are covered with intricate patterns while their interiors and exteriors are adorned with bright, detailed paintings.

During our tour I learned that the Forbidden City took 14 years to build and it required the hard work of approximately 1 million laborers. The entire complex is surrounded by a moat and 32-foot wall. As the largest imperial palace in the world, it attracts between 14 million and 16 million visitors every year.

Frozen moat around the Forbidden City walls.
Rocks in the Imperial Garden.

Another new experience was using a public squat toilet. All of the hotels had regular old toilet bowls and it was business as usual. However, most public restrooms in China have squat style toilets and are strictly BYOTP (bring your own toilet paper). I kept a small baggie of TP in my pocket (except one day when I made the mistake of leaving it on the bus and had to borrow from a friend) and antibacterial wipes for hand-washing afterwards. The plumbing systems aren’t equipped to handle wads of toilet paper, thus a small trash bin is provided. Most of the public restrooms we visited had multiple squat toilets and usually one or more western-style toilet bowls. Typically the western toilet stalls had a line, so I ended up using the squatters. If the stalls are occupied, the protocol is to line up outside of whichever individual stall you want, vs. forming one single line and taking the stall that opens up first. If you stand back and wait, you’ll definitely miss your turn.

It had been a long day of sightseeing and new experiences but we still weren’t done. We went back to the hotel for a quick dinner on our own, then hit the town again to go see a Shaolin kung fu performance. We walked to a restaurant across from our hotel and managed to order by pointing at the items we wanted on the menu. A little embarrassment but ultimately a success!

The food at dinner was really good, though it didn’t seem too different from American Chinese food in my humble opinion. Of course there was no “General Tso’s chicken” but most places we visited served a variety of rice, noodle, and steamed bun options.

Kung fu performance.

The show was pretty spectacular and featured insanely talented artists who told the story of Chun Yi, a boy who went to a monastery to become a buddhist monk and faced many challenges before becoming a kung fu master and reaching enlightenment. My jaw dropped at the sight of children who did front and backflips landing directly on their bare heads. After landing the flip they balanced for a moment then continued to flip from feet to head over and over again, hands never touching the floor. I should have grabbed my phone to take a picture but I think I was in too much shock.

That’s a wrap on days 1-3. Initially I was concerned that since we were participating in a guided tour, we would have little time to do things on our own. However, at each place we visited we were allowed a specified amount of free time (usually between 45 mins and 2 hours) to explore and roam around independently. For me this was a pretty good compromise.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed reading along so far and I hope you’ll stay tuned for my next post detailing days 3-6 when we climbed the Great Wall of China, walked in the beautiful Lingering Garden, sat through a sales spiel in a silk factory, and fell awestruck by the giant Lingshan Grand Buddha. Thanks for reading!

Off the Beaten Path: Glamping and Offbeat Destinations

Off the Beaten Path: Glamping and Offbeat Destinations

Before we started living and traveling in our little 150-square-foot roaming home, my favorite way to travel was to stay in offbeat and unique places. I’m talking yurts, treehouses, cabins, and anything off the beaten path or different than a conventional hotel. I wasn’t able to narrow it down to my top three, so in this quick trip down memory lane I’ll be sharing my four favorite glamping and offbeat destinations, ordered chronologically based on our visit date.

1. Moonbeam Cottage- Uncertain, TX

Moonbeam Cottage at the Moonglow Lodge.

Picture a whimsical little cabin surrounded with flowers and ivy out on a small island in a lush bayou far away from the city lights, and you’ve got the aptly-named Moonbeam Cottage located in Uncertain, Texas. This quaint little retreat sits on Caddo Lake, which is on the border of Texas and Louisiana. Home to one of the largest flooded cypress forests in the country, this biodiverse ecosystem is also an internationally protected wetland.

The Moonbeam Cottage has a cozy and modest interior with a queen-size murphy bed, kitchenette with coffee pot, microwave, and mini fridge, and a bathroom with shower- but we spent most of our time enjoying the beautiful outdoors. During our visit in 2015, the cottage also had an awesome little indoor hot tub and screened porch but I believe the hot tub may have been removed after the property flooded in 2016.

The cabin has access to a large pier with a lovely sitting area, perfect for admiring the cypress trees and Spanish moss. Canoes are also available for exploring the peaceful waters and abundant wildlife. Caddo Lake State Park is just a short drive away and offers hiking, paddling, fishing, and camping.

Relaxing on the deck.

We enjoyed hiking in the nearby state park and just walking around the small island. One morning were joined by a friendly dog that we dubbed “swamp dog” after he jumped into the murky water to try and retrieve a turtle we moved from the road.

Caddo Lake definitely has a mysterious charm and some locals even believe the area is enchanted with special powers. Musician, and native Texan, Don Henley also treasures this special place and has played a large role in its preservation.

Caddo Lake

2. StoneWind Retreat- Chester, AR

StoneWind Retreat in Chester, AR

While we were still living in Louisiana we took a trip across the state line to Arkansas where we stayed in a secluded yurt up in the mountains. I had always wanted to stay in a yurt and this one was nothing short of magical with plenty of natural light, warm furnishings, and a beautiful deck with a jacuzzi tub and unbeatable view.

Jacuzzi with a view.
Outside the yurt.

The yurts were quite comfortable when we visited in late summer and are equipped with central air and heat, a full bathroom, and a kitchen complete with cooking supplies. The retreat center offers in-room massages and wellness classes including meditation and qigong.

Breakfast in the yurt.

There’s also plenty to do nearby, especially if you like playing in the dirt. We went out on a day trip and found some lovely hiking trails and walked around a serene lake. On our way up to StoneWind we went mining for crystal quartz on Mount Ida, the crystal quartz capital of the U.S. (this still ranks as one of my favorite adventures to date).

Years later, I used some of the crystal quartz points we mined in Arkansas to make the unicorn crown I wore at our wedding. Did you know that in addition to being beautiful, crystal quartz is believed to cleanse and purify energy? Arkansas will always be a special place to us and I still consider the state an underrated beauty.

3. Savannah’s Meadow- Celeste, TX

Another one of my favorite offbeat adventures was when we went glamping high up in the Majestic Oak Treehouse just on the outskirts of Dallas in Celeste, Texas. This definitely isn’t your average backyard treehouse fort. This bungalow is a real stunner with its shabby-chic decor and was featured on Animal Planet’s popular TV show, Treehouse Masters.

Room with a view at Savannah’s Meadow.

Literally built in, on, and around an old, majestic oak tree, the main cabin in this treehouse features a kitchen with sink, fridge, and cooktop, and a unique set of stairs that leads to a crow’s nest with 3 twin beds.

I really loved the floating sky lounge, which is basically a net suspended in the trees and the perfect spot for relaxing or reading a book. The shower was also a treat with large floor-to-ceiling windows. Don’t worry about peepers- plenty of privacy is provided by the trees.

Sky lounge in the tree.

My absolute favorite spot was the master bedroom where the walls and roof can be rolled up providing an open-air experience, ideal for admiring the trees or sleeping under the the stars. If you choose to roll up the walls like we did, a dainty mosquito net is provided to help keep any bugs away- this is Texas after all. We found a few friendly spiders hanging around on the outside of the mosquito nets when we woke up in the mornings but we credit them with keeping the mosquitos away. We didn’t have any encounters with any other bugs or critters during our stay and we found the treehouse to be very clean and peaceful.

Majestic Oak Treehouse.

In the heat of the summer (and likely most of the year in Texas), the small but private swimming pool with a floating rubber ducky provides the perfect place to cool down. There’s also a private jacuzzi tub on site, a few short hiking trails through the wooded property with interesting decorations, a large field of lavender, small fishing pond, rustic wedding chapel, and a friendly neighborhood donkey.

4. Stormking Spa and Cabins- Ashford, WA

I found the last on the list of my favorite little offbeat accommodations in Ashford, Washington near beautiful Mount Rainier National Park. Nestled in a grove of large, fragrant cedar trees, the round Bear Cabin and its private deck with jacuzzi proved to be the perfect place to unwind after a long day exploring the park.

This cabin sits on absolutely stunning property. We saw all sorts of beautiful birds and enjoyed the soothing sounds of a trickling stream right from our cabin’s deck. Sitting there you’d never even know you left the park boundaries. One thing to keep in mind is that the cabins were specifically designed for couples seeking a romantic getaway and children are not allowed.

We had a wonderful time lounging by the fireplace, enjoying the beautiful view from the deck, and soaking in the jacuzzi tub. There are a few other cabins on the property but they are spaced apart and feel very private. We actually never saw or heard any other guests and it felt like we were the only ones there in our own private little nature sanctuary.

That’s a wrap on my favorite glamping and offbeat destinations. If you’ve stayed someplace unique and would like to share, I would love to hear about your experience! I hope you enjoyed reading along and reminiscing with me. I definitely encourage you to try a yurt, cabin, or treehouse that’s off the beaten path for your next adventure.
Thanks for reading!

An Icelandic Adventure: Part II

An Icelandic Adventure: Part II

Our third full day in Iceland would be a long one. We woke up early to head out for a tour of the Golden Circle, a route that travels approximately 190 miles in southern Iceland, covering some of the country’s most scenic natural landmarks and attractions. But first, breakfast!

Our hotel offered complimentary breakfast every morning and I have to admit it was one of the best free breakfast spreads I’ve ever seen. My plate was a little boring but there was fresh fruit, fish, meats and cheeses, yogurt, cereal, pastries, eggs, bread, cereal, and a waffle bar. Everything was very fresh and paired with coffee, provided the fuel we needed to start the day.

First stop: Friðheimar grehouse.

The first stop on our tour was Friðheimar, a geothermal greenhouse where organic tomatoes are grown year-round. Agriculture can be tricky in Iceland because of the climate and shortened daylight hours during fall and winter. From May through August, Iceland’s sun doesn’t sleep and daylight persists for 24 hours a day. However, for the remainder of the year Iceland is under much darker skies with only 3-5 hours of light each day.

Visitors can dine on all things tomato right inside the greenhouse.

At Friðheimar, plants are grown using geothermal water and light is sufficiently provided through green electricity produced by hydro and geothermal power plants. A restaurant is also onsite serving up a variety of tomato dishes, drinks, and even desserts. We weren’t feeling very hungry since we had just eaten at the hotel, but looking back I really wish I would have tried the homemade tomato ice cream à la Friðheimar or maybe a tomato beer. Next time!

Friðheimar also specializes in breeding Icelandic show and riding horses. We were able to meet a few of these beautiful animals who didn’t seem bothered by the snow or cold one bit.

Next we were off to the Haukadalur valley, an area with a lot of geothermal activity. Here we saw Geysir, Iceland’s most famous, though mostly dormant geyser. Although she’s been inactive for several years, Geysir is truly the mother of all geysers as she was the first ever to be recorded in earth’s history and all other geysers discovered after her have carried her name. 

These days the crowds tend to form around Strokkur, one of Iceland’s most popular and reliable natural geysers. Strokkur erupts every 5-10 minutes blasting its boiling water upwards of 49–66 ft on average.

Thar she blows!

The Haukadalur valley has over 40 more geothermal features including smaller pots of boiling mud, hot springs, and steam vents. The landscape in the area is also stunningly scenic, rich with colorful grasses and algae.

You might recognize this photo of Haukadalur from my last post. It’s one of my favorites from the trip.

I had purchased ice cleats for our trip just in case we needed them and was glad to have them when I started sliding around on the slippery walkways. Once I had the cleats on my boots I felt very confident trotting along through the ice and snow. After exploring the valley for a bit longer we ventured into the nearby visitor center where we had lunch- nice hot soup and cold Icelandic white ale.

I was really excited to visit our next stop on the tour, Gullfoss or golden falls.  This massive and powerful waterfall sits on the Hvítá river and is fed by the Langjökull glacier, Iceland’s second largest. It was so windy we had a hard time walking and an even harder time trying to hold the camera still for a picture. Nevertheless, I managed to snap a few without getting blown away by the wind or sacrificing my phone to the falls.

View from the upper observation deck.

Before Gullfoss became a nature reserve, the land belonged to a sheep farmer. Over the years foreign investors sought to use the waterfall for generating electricity.  The farmer’s daughter, Sigríður Tómasdóttir fought to preserve the falls, hiring an attorney and even making the journey to Reykjavik barefooted for court proceedings. Though the court did not rule in her favor, plans to exploit the falls ultimately fell through and Sigríður’s efforts helped bring awareness to the importance of preserving Iceland’s natural beauty.

View from the lower observation deck.

The last stop on our tour of the Golden Circle was Þingvellir National Park, a site that is truly one-of-a-kind. The Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, runs through the park. This is the only location on earth where visitors can snorkel or dive between two tectonic plates. I’m definitely adding that activity to my list for our next visit! It’s also the only location where the ridge sits above sea level, allowing visitors to walk along the crest on land.

The rift valley from above.

In addition to the beauty and geological significance of this site, it’s also culturally and historically rich as the birthplace of the Althing, Iceland’s national parliament and the oldest parliament in the world. Þingvellir was also Iceland’s first national park, founded in 1930, and was designated as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations in 2004. Any Game of Thrones fans out there? The park was used as a filming location in season 4 and you may recognize the rugged terrain from the iconic battle between Brienne of Tarth and The Hound.

I made an eerie discovery about Þingvellir after we returned home. I took some photographs of what I thought was just a pretty pond with a small waterfall. I did a little research to see if such a beautiful feature in the park had a name. I learned the site is known as the Drowning Pool and it’s where at least 18 women were legally drowned by Vikings for behavior considered immoral, such as adultery. I also learned that a small memorial plaque listing the names of the women is posted somewhere near the site, but I didn’t see it during my visit. And, although you won’t find any informational signs revealing the grim details, there are several more historical execution sites which exist in the park. As tourists, I think it’s easy to get caught up in the beauty of a place, and in some cases, fail to fully understand its history.

Drowning Pool.

Back to our adventure…after a long day out on the Golden Circle we were feeling pretty famished and decided we needed to head back to Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur for some of those amazing hot dogs we had on the food walk tour. How could we not? We started off modestly ordering one each but then went back for seconds not feeling any shame.

Still dreaming of those hot dogs…

We also went back to Apotek for dessert and tried their Christmas special- spice crumble topped with a scoop of vanilla sorbet, a caramelized white chocolate mousse with apple filling atop a gingerbread cookie, dulce de leche sauce, raspberry and lime gel, fresh fruit, chocolate pearls. It was divine! They had a case full of adorable little pastries that they use for their desserts and I wanted to take them all home with me.

I’ll have one of each, please!

Since it was our last night in Iceland we decided to spend it exploring more of downtown Reykjavik, which was within walking distance of our hotel. One thing we absolutely loved about Iceland was the abundance of art. Art was literally everywhere and we probably looked a little silly taking photographs of beautiful, artful things that are probably just normal sights to Icelanders.

Another delightful and artful sight in downtown Reykjavik is the Harpa concert hall. The design for this contemporary, steel-frame building that sits on the atlantic ocean was inspired by the basalt landscapes of Iceland. Harpa’s walls are adorned with geometrical glass panels, which after dark, are illuminated by led lighting and dance in every color imaginable.

Water feature in front of Harpa.

Everything also felt extra magical because of the Christmas season. The Christmas holiday is very important in Iceland and nearly every business and home we saw was decorated in some way. Our local guide explained that Icelanders enjoy having the extra light and cheer during December when the days are shorter. Even tombstones in cemeteries are often lit up with christmas lights in remembrance of lost loved ones.

There was no shortage of beautiful lights or Santas. The Icelandic Santas of folklore are known as the Yule Lads and there are thirteen of them. They’re also technically trolls and a bit mischievous, playing pranks on children, then leaving gifts for those who have been good and rotting potatoes for those who have misbehaved. We spotted a few of the Yule Lads hanging around on buildings while we were strolling downtown.

I wish we would have had more time to wander along the charming streets in search of the other Yule Lads. I wish we would have made it back to Cafe Loki one more time for another helping of that delicious rye bread ice cream.

I definitely wouldn’t have minded another visit to the Blue Lagoon or a trip to some of Iceland’s more remote hot springs. But, unfortunately our Icelandic adventure was coming to an end. The next morning as we begrudgingly headed off to the airport we saw the snow that had enchanted us over the past few days had melted away. It was almost reminiscent of when the clock struck midnight and Cinderella watched as the magic disappeared. Sigh. Overall it was a lovely trip and we left already planning for our return. For now, it’s back to California to celebrate Christmas and ring in the New Year. As always, thanks for reading and may your holidays be blessed!

An Icelandic Adventure: Part I

An Icelandic Adventure: Part I

I’ve always wanted to visit a Nordic country and found myself intrigued by photographs of Iceland’s rugged, other-worldly beauty. When I used to think of Iceland, I imagined…Bjork, if I’m being honest. Now when I think of Iceland, I also imagine…

…dark fields of lava covering the rich volcanic landscape, streams of chalky blue, glacier-fed waters flowing to the ocean, and billowy mist from crashing waterfalls and steamy geysers filling the air under the green glow of the aurora borealis.

Dramatic, but accurate! Though our trip was short, it was packed with a ton of adventure and I’m already dreaming of a return voyage. After spending a full day hopping on connecting flights between California and New York, we finally headed off to Keflavik, where Iceland’s international airport is based. Maybe it was the excitement of visiting a new country or maybe it was the cool airplane entertainment system loaded with new movies, but we got very little sleep on the flight. When we arrived it was just after midnight and we were exhausted. Still, there was no time to rest because it was only 8:00 a.m. local time and officially day 1 of our Icelandic adventuring.

Lucky for us, our first day would be spent relaxing. What better way to start a vacation and cure jet lag than with a nice trip to the spa? Though not lacking in any natural beauty, Iceland’s geothermal hot spring retreat, the Blue Lagoon, is technically a man-made attraction. The lagoon was formed when runoff water from a nearby geothermal power plant began pooling in the surrounding lava fields. People began bathing in the pools believing the water possessed healing properties and eventually the site was transformed into a fully operational spa, becoming one of Iceland’s most popular destinations.

Sunrise on the lagoon.

Just a day before our arrival, southwestern Iceland had received its first snowfall of the season. It snowed lightly as we left the airport to board a shuttle that would take us directly to the lagoon. When we arrived, we checked in our luggage and headed off to the locker rooms to change.

Pathway from the parking area and luggage storage to the lagoon entrance. Dark at 9:00 a.m.

I was very pleased to learn that the Blue Lagoon is super accessible. Facilities in the main complex including the changing area, showers, and restrooms are all accessible. The pool is equipped with a mechanical lift and also has a ramp where visitors can enter the water using specialized waterproof wheelchairs. Another wonderful feature the Blue Lagoon offers is free admission for a person assisting an individual who has a disability.

Visitors enjoying the lagoon.

I was concerned that the Blue Lagoon’s water would be lukewarm given the recent snowfall and chilly 32°F weather. The water was actually quite pleasant and I learned the average temperature of the pool is between 98 and 103 °F.

Although highly visited, the Blue Lagoon’s water is completely replenished with fresh geothermal seawater, which has high levels of silica, algae, and minerals, every two days. There’s a fun mask bar where visitors can slather on silica and algae masks or purchase a lava scrub. And of course, there’s a regular bar serving drinks too. Visitors can swim-up for sparkling wine, beer, smoothies, or juice. At check-in, all visitors are given waterproof, electronic wristbands that can be used to make purchases anywhere in the Blue Lagoon, which means you don’t have to carry around cards or cash. The wristband also serves as a key to the provided lockers. Smart and simple to use!

Sipping on sparkling wine and enjoying the colorful sunrise.

After wading in the pool for a bit we headed over to the Lava Restaurant for lunch. We toweled off then walked over in the flip flops and robes that were included with our admission. Entering a restaurant wearing a robe felt strange at first but we quickly realized how comfortable and cozy we felt.

The restaurant has great two or three course set menus but guests can also order a la carte. Hoping to catch a good variety, we ordered the seafood menu and the Icelandic gourmet menu. Our first courses were langoustine soup (basically icelandic crawfish) with dulse (a salty seaweed-like vegetable) and birch and juniper cured arctic char with horseradish, cucumber, rye bread, and pickled mustard seeds.

Complimentary wine with rye bread and butter topped with lava salt and herbs.

As soon as the food hit our bellies we drifted off into a state of sleep deprivation and food coma. I failed to take any additional pictures of our meal but we also enjoyed cod and lamb main courses and a caramel chocolate mousse for dessert. Everything we ate was absolutely delicious and we thoroughly enjoyed dining in our robes overlooking the lagoon. After we dined we planned on visiting the sauna and steam room but we were pretty tired so instead we showered, bunded up in our winter clothes, retrieved our luggage, and caught a shuttle to our hotel in Reykjavik.

Frozen pond outside of the spa.

Our hotel room was small but clean and quite cozy with a beautiful view of the ocean. The floors were heated and radiant heat warmed the room to a comfortable temperature. After getting settled in we took a nap before our 8:00 p.m. northern lights tour that evening.

View from our hotel window.

Feeling rested and suited up in our snow gear, we headed out to chase the northern lights. We eagerly boarded a shuttle and our guide, an enthusiastic physicist, shared some of Iceland’s history with us and the science behind the glowing green lights.

Unfortunately, we didn’t see any beautiful bands of green illuminating the sky. It was snowing pretty heavily and we weren’t able to see the lights through the cloud coverage. The skies wouldn’t be any clearer for the duration of our stay so we decided against attempting to go out to see them again. But, we were having such a wonderful trip so far it was hard to feel disappointed and it was easy to say to ourselves, “guess we’ll have to come back to Iceland again.”

Food walk tour in downtown Reykjavik.

Feeling well-rested and eager to explore the city, we started off our second day with a food walk tour in downtown Reykjavik. Our guide was a local, born and raised in Iceland, who shared a ton of information about the city and Icelandic culture as our group toured the streets.

At our first stop on the tour- Islenski Barrin, a popular spot for food and beer.

Looking back, the food walk tour was one of my favorite activities on our trip. The other travelers in our small tour group were great and we all really seemed to enjoyed the food, conversation, information, and company. There was even another couple from Texas in our group. Yee-haw!

We visited six different restaurants and walked approximately 1.3 miles on the 3-hour tour. Our first stop was a popular bar for Icelandic lamb meat soup, a special schnapps made from potatoes, and a sample of hákarl, fermented shark. Yup, shark, which is a national food of Iceland, infamously known for having a horrible taste and odor. Honestly, I didn’t think it was bad, especially chased with the schnapps. Next we visited a cheese shop where we sampled black Gouda, Gull Ostur (gold brie), and bleu cheese. We also sampled cured Icelandic lamb seasoned with rosemary, thyme and anise, smoked Icelandic goose with raspberry champagne vinaigrette, and cured Icelandic horse seasoned with rosemary, thyme and curry. Yep, horse. Eek! I’ll admit I was feeling a bit reluctant while pondering the ethics behind eating shark, and especially horse. However, in the U.S. we eat fish, cows, and pigs (a species even more intelligent than horses) without a second thought. It was also somewhat comforting to learn that Icelandic horses and sheep roam free out in the wild, hopefully living their best lives, before farmers round up herds for slaughter.

Cheese and meat tasting.

Next we indulged in rye bread ice cream with whipped cream and caramelised rhubarb syrup from Café Loki. This was one of my favorite foods on the tour. The texture was similar to cookies and cream but the flavor was buttery and lightly sweetened. Our main course was at Messinn and served up family style. We had arctic char cooked in honey and almonds with potatoes, tomatoes, and mixed greens, and an Icelandic fish stew called plokkfiskur, a mashed cod dish with potatoes, onions, butter, cream, garlic, celery, white wine and lime served with fresh rye bread.

After a bit more walking we arrived at Bæjarins Bestu, for a treat that some sources have crowned the “best hot dog in Europe.” Established in 1937, this Icelandic national treasure serves up lamb-based hot dogs dressed with sweet mustard, ketchup, raw onion, crispy fried onion, and remolaði, a mayonnaise-based sauce with sweet relish. Possibly the best hot dog I’ve ever had! In fact, we returned the following day for more.

Our last stop was to the trendy restaurant and bar, Apótek. Here we had coffee and a Skyr mousse dessert with strawberry and lime gel, sponge cheesecake pastry, and fresh berries. So good and a great way to end the tour.

After our tour we decided to continue exploring downtown Reykjavik on foot. During our tour we passed by Hallgrímskirkja, the largest church in Iceland and one of the country’s most stunning works of architecture. We weren’t able to see the inside because a funeral was being held but we returned after dark to see the church lit up. In the photograph below, you may notice the national flag is flown at half mast, which is a traditional Icelandic practice for honoring a resident who is being laid to rest. I learned that the statue that stands outside of the church depicts explorer Leif Erikson and was a gift from the U.S. to celebrate the one thousandth anniversary of the Althling, Iceland’s parliament.

Before sunset.
After dark.

The city was beautiful covered in a layer of fluffy snow. We had fun venturing into shops and galleries and admiring statues and art displays along the way. It was a great way to burn off some of the calories we consumed during the food walk tour.

We couldn’t resist a photo op with the yule cat sculpture unveiled earlier this year. Her proper name is Jólakötturinn, and this giant, red-eyed, feline beast from Icelandic folklore is believed to devour those who don’t receive warm clothing to wear for Christmas. 

The next morning we headed out early for the Golden Circle tour to see some of Iceland’s stunning natural beauty, which I’ll cover in part 2 of our Icelandic adventure. Thanks for reading!

Hitched Up: Desert Dwelling

Hitched Up: Desert Dwelling

We’ve parked our little home on wheels in all sorts of different climates and environments on our travel journey but setting up camp out among the desert cacti would be a new experience for us. My unorthodox way of planning our adventures thus far has been opening up Google Maps and zooming in on the green areas, which indicate a national or state park, and picking destinations that sound interesting. Through this method I stumbled across Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and began researching the area.

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Ranking as California’s largest state park, Anza Borrego is pretty remote with the nearest town being the small community of Borrego Springs. When I looked further into Borrego Springs, one of the first images that popped up in my search results was a huge metal sculpture of a dragon weaving through the sandy desert floor. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen, and since Mitch has always loved dragons I knew right away we had to see this work of art in person. You won’t find a Walmart or fast food restaurant in Borrego Springs but we were pleased with several locally-owned restaurants and markets to choose from. The Center Market had the best prepared foods in their deli section- if you get the opportunity to visit, I highly recommend the mango, jicama salad.  

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We camped in the Palm Canyon Campground located within the state park and surrounded by tall, rocky mountains. Our site had had full-hookups, which means we were able to run our air conditioning in the dry heat of November. From May until October, temperatures stay in the triple-digits and even in November the high of 85 felt more like 95. We had one of the pull-thru sites on the edge of the campground loop (#28). These sites offer more privacy, however the utilities sit on the same side as the picnic table and fire pit which means most RVs will either need hoses and electrical cords long enough to reach around the RV, or camp will be set up with the RV door opening to the road instead of the campsite. Luckily we have long hoses and cords and we were able to get hooked up with no problem.

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The campground has four accessible full hook up sites (#3, 21, 49 and 52) and three accessible developed sites (#118, 119 and 120) which have no hook ups. Accessible restrooms and showers are available in each campground loop and each building has an accessible parking space out front.

We went on a few hikes during our stay, the first being a canyoneering adventure on the Slot Canyon Trail. Reaching the trail requires a 2-mile drive down a rocky, sandy road. I had read 4-wheel drive was recommended because the sand was soft in some areas and cars can easily get stuck, but we saw several small sedans and low-clearance vehicles handle the terrain with no problem.

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A large parking area is located at the trailhead but beyond the parking area the road serves as a multi-use, 4wd and hiking trail. The Slot Canyon Trail can be hiked as a loop by taking the 4wd road back to the parking area or as an out-and-back by heading back into the canyon instead. There is one sign pointing to the trail near the parking area and from there the trail leads into the slot canyon without many opportunities for getting lost. The canyon isn’t as colorful as some of the famous slot canyons of Arizona and Utah but it was still beautiful and a lot of fun to hike through. 

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img_1701img_1700After exiting the canyon, identifying the trail becomes much more of a challenge. There are no trail markers along the way and the space opens up revealing 4wd roads in every direction. We ended up hiking to the top of the 4wd road and had an awesome view of the open desert. We hiked in the morning when temperatures were cooler but it was still hot. Beyond the canyon there aren’t many areas where escaping the sun is a possibility, so having enough water is critical.

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We also hiked the Palm Canyon Trail, which has one of the easiest trailheads to reach and is the most popular trail in the park. The trailhead is located in the Palm Canyon Campground and has restrooms and a water fountain. This 3-mile trek into the desert  travels between rocky hills and ends at a beautiful lush palm oasis. 

The Palm Canyon Trail is well-marked, making it much easier to stay on the correct path.  The trail is also lined with large boulders, some of which provide protection from the sun. Some boulder scrambling is required and there are a few sets of stairs, but otherwise the trail is mostly flat and an easy hike. The cool and shady palm oasis is a nice reward after being out in the heat. Though rarely spotted by humans, endangered bighorn sheep also take refuge from the sun and find water in the grove of palms. Because water sources in the desert are so scarce, visitors are reminded to stay on the trail to help protect wildlife.

 

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Most of the trails within the park are pretty remote and unfortunately not accessible. There are two accessible trails in the park, including the Visitor Center Interpretive Trail and the Culp Valley Trail (0.5 mile, located in the Culp Valley Campground).  The Visitor Center Interpretive Trail, also known as the All-Access Trail, is paved and provides great view of the valley and seasonally, beautiful cactus blooms. The trail travels through the desert between the Palm Canyon Campground and the Visitor Center 0.7 miles away. 

 So how about that metal dragon sculpture? It was awesome and so were all the other interesting pieces of art to be found scattered about Borrego Springs. I learned that the artist behind the work is Ricardo Breceda, who was commissioned by the late philanthropist Dennis Avery to create the 130 metal sculptures that are found around Borrego Springs. The dragon is one of the largest of the bunch at 350-feet-long. 

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Avery’s vision was to create an open-space museum, free and available for the public to enjoy. Breceda’s magnificent artwork is displayed on Avery’s estate, know as Galleta Meadows and visitors are welcome to drive through for an experience like no other. Most of the artwork can be enjoyed from the comfort of a vehicle, though hiking, biking, and horseback riding on the property is also permitted. 

img_1841img_1833img_1834img_1815-492095065-1542220182345.jpgContinuing on with our desert journey we headed northeast to Joshua Tree National Park and camped in the Indian Cover campground near Twenty-nine Palms. The campground does not have any hook ups but the weather was cool and there was no need to a/c. When we arrived I was stunned by the beauty of the giant, towering boulders that surrounded our campsite, then appalled by the amount of litter I found near our picnic table and fire pit.

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I was glad Gaius was not with us because all around our site I found shards of glass from broken beer bottles in every color. I picked up plastic bottle tops, food wrappers, cotton swabs, cigarette butts, and bread ties, among other pieces of trash, some of which looked like it had been sitting there on the dirt for months. If you couldn’t tell, litter bugs me! 

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I felt much better after cleaning up all the trash and putting it in its proper place. Then after the sun had set, the stars really came out to shine. I don’t think I’ve ever seen stars so bright. The dark sky was literally filled with a twinkling sea of stars. We fell asleep gazing up at the sky from the window over our bed. The Indian Cove Campground is very popular with climbers, due to the huge boulders that line the campsites.  The posted climbing rules instruct climbers to ask permission before entering an occupied campsite to climb. I was a bit annoyed when a group of climbers walked right into our site, plopped their gear down, and started scaling the surrounding walls without checking with us first. After I watched for a moment and said “good morning,” someone from the group said, “Oh is it okay if we climb here? We’re already set up” while pointing up to the ropes. I imagined by eyes rolling out of my head while I smiled and said “Yeah, sure!” If we hadn’t been heading out I think I would have reminded these folks of the rules. Call me an enigma, but I believe you can be free-spirited, lead an unconventional lifestyle, and STILL show other people courtesy, and STILL respect the rules of places you visit. Okay, end rant. There’s also a really lovely nature trail located within the campground that we enjoyed hiking at sunset. Though there are some mild grades and unevenness in areas, this trail may be accessible for some. An accessible restroom is located within the campground. 

img_1980img_1953The Indian Cove Campground sits just a short drive from the park’s North Entrance Station, so we headed in for some hiking. The drive along Park Boulevard is beautiful with many pull-outs that allow visitors to stop and take in the otherworldly scenery, including the gnarly Joshua trees. 

img_1976We hiked the Hidden Valley Trail and drove down the unpaved Queen Valley Road which travels through the Joshua Trees. 

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The Hidden Valley picnic area is a great spot for lunch. There are several accessible picnic tables, accessible restrooms (pit toilets), and a few accessible parking spots. 

img_1894Unfortunately there are only a few accessible trails, including the Bajada Nature Trail near the South Entrance, Cap Rock Nature Trail at the junction of Park Blvd. and Keys View Road, Oasis of Mara Trail in Twentynine Palms at the Oasis Visitor Center, and the Keys View Overlook. I chatted with a ranger who told me the Barker Dam trail is currently under construction and will be accessible once renovations are completed.

Joshua Tree was beautiful and camping in the desert was fun but it was time to drop off our trailer for warranty work. Next stop- Lancaster, CA.

Thanks for reading!

Hitched Up: California Coasting

Hitched Up: California Coasting

The next leg of our journey involved a scramble down the California coast. We purchased our Lance travel trailer from a local dealership in Austin, TX back in November of 2017. We made the purchase several months ahead of our May departure date because we wanted to have time to become familiar with the trailer and its amenities before heading out on the road. Our fast-approaching purchase anniversary also marks the expiration of the manufacturer’s one-year warranty. Since we’ve discovered a few minor issues that need repair (cabinet locks malfunctioning, entry door not sealing properly, television image distorted, etc.), we made an appointment at the Lance factory in southern California to have the work completed while still under warranty.

Our first wedding anniversary also provided another reason to make a dash for southern California, and what better place to celebrate in than Disneyland, the happiest place on earth. We were married last year in Las Vegas on Halloween weekend so Halloween will probably always be special to us. I’ve actually always wanted to see Disneyland during the spooky season while the park is decorated with characters from the Nightmare Before Christmas. So, whereas we would normally spend several weeks traveling across the state taking our time to explore as many places as possible, we found ourselves making a dash for southern California to celebrate our anniversary in time for Halloween and to have our trailer to the manufacturer before our warranty expired.

The first quick stop on our journey down the coast was San Francisco where we stayed two nights at an RV park in the neighboring city of Marin. The RV park was walking distance from the Larkspur ferry, so we headed to the port via the accessible, paved trail and sailed into the city for some sightseeing.

Many popular attractions and landmarks can be seen from the ferry, including San Quentin State Prison, Angel Island, Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, Treasure Island, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge, and of course, the city’s beautiful skyline.

We grabbed some coffee at the Ferry Building Marketplace then strolled the iconic Embarcadero, which is home to several piers loaded with restaurants, shops, street performers, museums, and more.

We weren’t planning on a trip to the Exploratorium, a popular hands-on science museum, but we saw that it was Community Day and admission was pay-what-you-wish. We were happy to leave a donation and head in to check out the exhibits.

A trip to San Francisco would not be complete without sampling some of its famous seafood. My favorite is clam chowder served up in a fresh, sourdough bread bowl.

After a quick bite we continued along the city’s eastern shoreline until we reached the National Park Service’s Aquatic Park Pier. On the way back to the ferry we popped in at Ghirardelli Square for an ice cream sundae.

Later we met up with my friend, her husband, and their baby girl for dinner. The last time I saw my friend was years ago when we traveled together to London and Paris. It was so much fun catching up over a great meal.

We headed further south and stayed with my mom in my hometown for a few days. We went out for dinner in historic San Juan Bautista and spent some time in one of my favorite places, Monterey. I remember visiting the beaches with my mom as a kid and taking trips to the famous aquarium. Later I would graduate from California State University Monterey Bay and work in the area for years before relocating to the sunny southern U.S.. We saw a movie, walked along the wharf, visited the farmers market, and had a lovely dinner. Since we’ll be spending the holidays with my mom, there will be many more adventures in Monterey and central California coming up soon.

It was nice to be home for a few days but we had to keep moving of we wanted to make it to Disneyland and the manufacturer on time, so we headed out on the road again. We stopped off in beautiful Morro Bay where we camped right on the beach.

The sunsets here were phenomenal, painted with purple and pink tones. When the fog rolled in, the beach looked like something out of a dream.

We visited Morro Bay State Park and walked the accessible Marina Peninsula Loop Trail, which provided stunning views of the bay and estuary.

The paved trail near Morro Rock was also accessible and was a great place to enjoy excellent views of the ocean.

We took a quick trip to nearby Sam Simeon to check out the elephant seals lazing on the beach. The Elephant Seal Vista Point is located right off of Cabrillo Highway (Hwy 1) and has plenty of parking, including accessible spaces and large spaces for RVs. A long, accessible deck and short trail runs along the beach providing visitors with an up-close view of the seals.

We were so close, we could actually smell the blubbery mammals as they soaked up the afternoon sun. The view was fantastic though the smell is something I’d rather forget.

Later we toured the magnificent Hearst Castle, built by the late newspaper and magazine mogul William Randolph Hearst. After his death, the property was donated to the state of California and it became a state park in 1958. The exquisite castle was designed by Julia Morgan, California’s first licensed female architect, and is filled with antiques and an impressive collection of art.

I’ve visited the castle a few times during the day but this was my first time visiting the property at night. We reserved tickets for the evening tour and arrived just in time to watch the sun setting. Though high up on a hill, the castle has an amazing view of the ocean.

The evening tour takes visitors up and down a few flights of stairs, but an accessible tour is also available.

We really enjoyed the beach but were excited to move on to Anaheim for our anniversary celebration in Disneyland. We stayed at an RV resort about a mile away from the park gates. Though we were technically within walking distance, we decided to purchase shuttle passes figuring we’d spend enough time on our feet while in the park. It turned out to be the best idea ever, as we averaged 12 hours standing and 8 miles walking every day. Even with sore and swollen feet, Disneyland was nothing short of magical.

We felt like kids running around the park, hopping on the rides and catching the shows.

We ended up spending 2 full days at Disneyland and 1 day at California Adventure. Both parks were awesome in their own way. California Adventure was modern, had more thrill rides, and offered a Broadway-quality production of the Disney hit Frozen.

We also caught an awesome sunset over the pond at California Adventure.

Still, Disneyland felt more whimsical, magical, and classic while offering a variety of attractions for all ages. The canoe boats were great for an upper-body workout.

The food in both parks was really, really good. Who knew Disney could pull off an authentic and deliciously southern shrimp and grits?

We loved the time we spent in both parks and did not want to leave. Both parks were also super accessible. We saw tons of visitors using wheelchairs, scooters, and walkers. Each attraction has an accessible entrance. Some rides require a transfer from wheelchair to the seat, but several rides have accessible buggies or cars that can accommodate wheelchairs. I wanted to snap a picture but every time I saw a ride with an accessible buggy there was a person in their wheelchair enjoying it. Awesome!

We also visited Downtown Disney one evening for an open-space, interactive virtual reality experience. Being the Star Wars fans that we are, we could not pass up the opportunity to visit The Void for their Secrets of the Empire attraction.

Paired with another couple, we suited up in vests and helmets then were given a mission where we would impersonate storm troopers to infiltrate the Empire. The screens in our helmets displayed a virtual world before us and we walked through mazes working together to meet our objectives. The attraction is also accessible allowing people with varying mobility abilities to get in on the fun. Though I’m not much of a gamer, I have to say it was pretty awesome and I’d definitely try it again. I liked it so much I even bought the souvenir photo instead of taking a blurry picture of it with my phone like I normally do.

While we were in the area we took a day trip to L.A. on Halloween to see Universal Studios and their Halloween Horror Nights. I was most excited about the Harry Potter attractions, especially the famed butter beer. It did not disappoint.

We purchased an afternoon pass which allowed us access to Universal starting at 2:00 p.m. and access to the halloween mazes starting at 5:00 p.m. As we roamed around the park we received many compliments on our matching Star Wars shirts we could not leave Disneyland without.

We also splurged on the Universal express passes that way we could avoid the long lines. We were able to get to everything in the park, including the hour-long studio tour, except for the Waterworld show.

We also were able to jump ahead of the long lines for the halloween mazes, where others without express passes waited 90 minutes or longer. Universal Studios was a lot of fun but we definitely preferred the magic of Disney. I didn’t get a ton of pictures at Universal after dark but I did catch a pretty cool shot in the Stranger Things maze.

Before we left the greater Los Angeles area we spent some time visiting with an old friend from Monterey. I hadn’t seen her in 10 years but it was like nothing changed (in a good way). It was so nice to catch up and to meet her husband and sweet little ones. Reconnecting with old pals as we travel has been one of my favorite things to do on this journey.

With our service appointment about a week away we still had some time to explore southern California. Next stop, the desert! Thanks for reading.

Hitched Up: Rogue Valley to the Redwood Coast

Hitched Up: Rogue Valley to the Redwood Coast

We headed off from the high desert towards Oregon’s southern coast in search of its beautiful beaches and redwood forests that lead into California. Before we would get there we stopped off in the colorful Rogue Valley. We had a great campsite in Valley of the Rogue State Park that backed right up to the Rogue River, was very spacious, and had full-hookups. 

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The park has plenty of amenities, including accessible campsites, picnic areas, and a large fenced dog park. My favorite feature is the new, accessible hiking and biking trail that runs directly through the park. The trail is currently being developed and only a few segments had been finished during the time of our visit. We rode about 3.5 miles on the completed section that runs from the park to the neighboring town of Rogue River. This time of year the scenic trail was bursting with bright autumn colors.

Once completed, the Rogue River Greenway Trail will span 50 beautiful miles. Accessible parking and restrooms are available near the trailheads in Valley of the Rogue State Park. The section of the trail we traveled had rewarding views of the Rogue River and only a few mild inclines. There is an accessible drinking fountain and water fountain for dogs along the trail located just before Rogue River. 

We also ventured out to hike the moderately steep Lower Table Rock Trail just east of the park. A 1.5-mile climb through the trees brings you to the top of the flat rock’s surface. Much of the trail is shaded although once you reach the top it’s full sun and wide open space.

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Operated by the federal Bureau of Land Management, the trail was very well-maintained. The Lower Table Rock Trail is partially accessible for the first 1/8 mile or so, but beyond this point the trail becomes steep with uneven surfaces. The shorter Oak Savannah Loop Trail is flat and wide with packed gravel. Accessible parking and restrooms are available at the trailhead.

Next we were headed back to the coast and our first stop was Harris Beach State Park. We had a large campsite tucked away into the trees and were only a short walk from the beach. Like other beaches we’d seen in Oregon, Harris Beach was gorgeous and Gaius had a blast running around on the sand. 

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One day we spent an hour picking up litter on the beach. Luckily there wasn’t a ton but we still managed to fill half of a plastic grocery bag with garbage in about a mile. I learned that the community regularly hosts beach clean-up activities where volunteers take to the sand and pick up trash that can be harmful to wildlife. The park’s day-use area is awesome and accessible. There is a long, paved, switchback ramp with rails that leads gently down to the beach. There are accessible restrooms, picnic tables (with a great view), and ample accessible parking. 

We loved being close to amazing beaches while also being just a short drive to majestic redwood forests. After a few days of beaching, we decided to change things up and enjoyed a lovely hike on the Redwood Nature Trail in the Rogue Riber-Siskiyou National Forest and the connecting Riverview Trail located within Alfred A. Loeb Oregon State Park.

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Neither trail is accessible although both have accessible restrooms and picnic areas near the trailhead. Loeb Park has accessible parking and an accessible trail that leads down to the river. Vehicles can also drive down the trail and park right on the bank.

We also spent some time traveling the segment on Hwy 101 known as the Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor. Along the picturesque route there are multiple scenic overlooks with trails and beach access. Accessible parking is available at most of the stops and a few includes accessible restrooms.

We crossed the CA border to continue our redwood journey and camped near the Redwood National and State Parks, a collection of four parks co-managed by the National Park Service and California State Parks. The parks include, Redwood National Park, Del Notre Coast State Park, Prairie Creek State Park, and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. I would love to explore all four parks someday but for this trip we stuck with Prairie Creek, home to some of the tallest trees in the state.

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Hiking through the stunning redwood forest was spectacular. We hiked the handful of the park’s accessible trails, including the Redwood Access Trail, Revelation Trail, Cathedral Trees Trail, and the Elk Prairie Trail. The trails appeared to be well-maintained with packed dirt or gravel surfaces and the occasional wooden bridge.

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Prairie Creek State Park was also a filming location for the sequel to the Jurassic Park movie. Scenes for the action-packed dinosaur adventure flick were shot in the park’s lush Fern Canyon. I had to see it for myself. To reach the trailhead, visitors have to either take a long hike (10 miles round trip) or take a long drive down a narrow, windy, gravel road shaded by dense forest. Access is limited to vehicles 8 feet wide and 24 feet long- and with good reason. Once the wild ride reaches the coast, it travels along the beautiful Gold’s Bluff Beach and through a few water crossings before ending at the Fern Canyon trailhead.

img_0189 The canyon features 50-foot walls covered in a variety of green ferns. A quiet creek runs the length of the canyon requiring visitors to travel through the water or carefully cross fallen logs. The trailhead is a gravel lot with an accessible restroom. The short trail to the canyon is wide and mostly flat with packed gravel. Once the trail meets the canyon is becomes submerged under water and is not accessible.

The park is home to a thriving herd of Roosevelt Elk which roam freely and can be very aggressive. We saw one of these magnificent creatures on the Fern Canyon Trail just before reaching the canyon. The elk was grazing a safe distance away so we passed on the trail behind him without incident. On our way back out we turned a corner on the trail and I had an eerie feeling. I could feel eyes on me and when I scanned the environment I saw a huge elk staring right at me through the trees just ahead. The elk stared. We stared. We slowly backed away and he went back to grazing allowing us to sneak by. Phew! Once we were at a safe distance I snapped a few quick photos of our friend from the creepy encounter.

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With that we ended our redwood journey (for now) and were off to explore more of California, starting with a brief trip to San Francisco.

Thanks for reading!

 

Hitched Up: Oregon’s High Desert

Hitched Up: Oregon’s High Desert

Searching for sunshine we left Oregon’s gorgeous, but cloudy coast for the High Desert. Our first stop was Prineville Reservoir State Park. I’m typically not a big fan of reservoirs because oftentimes they’re artificial and really look the part. Another thing— speedboats. Don’t get me wrong, boats are loads of fun, but their loud engines aren’t as thrilling when you’re watching, speedboat-less from the shore. The last reservoir we visited was terribly littered and appeared to be more of a place to party than a place to connect with Mother Earth. I can almost still smell the stale beer in the air. Prineville, however, was quite different. Perhaps during busy season we would have had a different experience, but our late-September visit was quiet and peaceful. The park was clean, the campground was full of trees, and the water was smooth. 

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Our campsite overlooked the water, like several others, including an ADA accessible site with a view of the reservoir through the trees. As I explored the grounds I was really impressed with the park’s accessibility overall. Near the boat ramp there are standard accessible parking spaces and extra-long accessible parking spaces for vehicles with boat trailers. There is also a large accessible fishing pier with benches.

An accessible, paved trail runs throughout the campground and there are multiple accessible restrooms and showers. The day-use area is also accessible with horseshoe pits, picnic tables, and a trail that leads to the beach. The accessible picnic area provides a great view of the water and beach (in fact, the best view out of all the picnic spots). There was also an observatory for star-gazers, though it’s only open seasonally from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

We hadn’t been out in the kayak lately so we suited up Gaius in his little puppy life vest and headed down to the boat launch. The smooth water made for a very pleasant paddle and with the exception of a few fishermen, we pretty much had the entire reservoir to ourselves. 

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We enjoyed our stay but were pretty excited to head over to our next destination. We camped near the city of Bend, OR in La Pine State Park and it turned out to be a great home base while exploring the area. We were only a quick drive from Newberry National Volcanic Monument and stopped by to check out a really cool cave I was eager to visit.

img_8482The cave is a massive lava tube that was formed by a volcanic eruption over 80,000 years ago. The exact size of the cave is unknown but visitors can travel a mile into the pitch-black darkness before reaching a stop sign with instructions to turn around.

Unfortunately, the cave is not accessible. Though the floor inside the cave is mostly flat, there are lots and lots of stairs to navigate upon entering and exiting the cave. Throughout the cave there are several areas with large rocks and holes and a few passages with low-clearance where most adults will need to duck down. The park has high-power flashlights available to rent for $5 but we opted to bring our own light. And of course, it died. In the middle of the cave. Leaving us in absolute darkness. Luckily we had our cell phones handy and used their flashlights until we reached the exit. Did I mention the cave was freezing? If you look closely at the picture of Mitch below, you can see his breath (and also that he gave me his jacket to wear because I forgot mine). 

We also did a bit of exploring at our campground in La Pine. The park sits along the beautiful Deschutes River in a forest of ponderosa pines. In fact, Oregon’s largest ponderosa pine is located in the park and can be visited via the short and accessible Big Tree Trail.

Another accessible option is the McGregor Memorial Viewpoint which offers breathtaking views of the winding Deschutes River.

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We headed a bit further south to camp near Crater Lake National Park. Our campground was right on the outskirts of a state and national forest so there were plenty of beautiful trees and a beautiful little creek ran right behind our site. Mitch even took to the outdoors with his guitar and played by the water. We had a little fun and didn’t kill each other trying to maneuver a canoe through the log-ladden creek, although we learned quickly that we much prefer our kayak.

We had some down time in the RV due to a few days of rain but once the skies cleared we made a trip to Crater Lake National Park. Contrary to popular belief and its namesake, Crater Lake was not formed by a meteor. The lake was formed when the volcano Mount Mazama erupted 7,700 years ago then collapsed forming a caldera that eventually filled with melted snow and rainwater. At 1,943 feet, the lake is the deepest in the country and as far as I can tell, one of the most beautiful too. When we caught our first glimpse of the water, we were completely astonished by how blue it was.

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The cinder cone that sits above the water’s surface is known as Wizard Island and can be reached by boat. I’d love to trek out there someday but for this trip we decided to stick to the roads (and our heated seat-warmers). One can drive around the rim of the lake on the scenic 33-mile loop that has several viewpoints and trailheads. There are four trails specified as “accessible to wheelchair users with assistance” within the park-  Sun Notch, The Pinnacles, Godfrey Glen, and Plaikni Falls. We hiked the Sun Notch trail and after a bit of an incline reached the rim’s edge overlooking the water. This short, but somewhat steep loop trail is approximately .08 miles and its terrain is mostly pavement or packed dirt.

The sun was shining bright but the wind was in full-force and we were shivering in the 39 degree temperatures. Too cold to attempt any more hiking, we stuck to the pullouts along the rim trail. They did not disappoint and we had amazing views all around. Most of the overlooks are accessible though many do not have developed parking areas or designated, lined spaces. Those with developed parking areas have accessible parking spaces and paved paths.

On another sunny day we grabbed Gaius and hopped in the truck to check out the Wood River and determine if it was paddle-worthy. We found that not only was it paddle-worthy, it was downright dreamworthy! Gorgeous shades of green and blue glimmered through the crystal clear water while yellow and orange grasses and tall green trees lined the shore.

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The water was so pristine and clear that its surface was barely even visible. As we floated along the smooth water it almost felt like we were hovering or flying above the riverbed. Before too long we reached some fun obstacles to conquer, like forks in the river, downed trees, and shallow beds of sand (where we accidentally beached our boat a few times). We had a blast and even Gaius seemed to enjoy riding along.

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We had the whole river to ourselves on a lovely day. It was beautiful, peaceful, and quiet as we gently floated along watching hawks and other birds near the banks. Rowing our boat gently down the stream, merrily, life really was was but a dream…

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And then it wasn’t. Suddenly the wind picked up and the sun hid behind the clouds. The current grew stronger, carrying us faster, and we decided to turn back before things got worse. Our 35 minute joyride downstream yielded an hour-long paddle against the current. We rowed and rowed and rowed with all of our might. Sometimes it felt like we weren’t moving forward at all and if either of us stopped paddling for even a moment we would quickly lose ground and drift backwards. Now cold and wet we paddled nonstop until we finally made it back to where we started. It was an adventure and totally worth it.

Tomorrow we head off on our next adventure- Western Oregon and the southwestern coast.  Thanks for reading!